Dear Doc Schelling
The original copies of the following letters, written by Ezra Pound to Felix Schelling and other people at Penn over a 20-year period, are in the special-collections department of Van Pelt Library. No attempts have been made to correct Pound's idiosyncratic spelling and grammar.
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To Dr. Felix Schelling, professor of English
17 November, 1916
Dear Dr Schelling:
I keep on writing in "Poetry," a distressful magazine which does however print the few good poems written in out day along with a great bundle of rubbish, ... the sentence is getting out of hand....
I keep on writing on the subject of fellowships for creation as a substitute for, or an addition to, fellowships for research.
It is true that [former Provost Charles C.] Harrison is a barbarian wanting to erect a pyramid to his progenitor and wholly indifferent to the curricula or intellectual status of the university,
And [Provost Edgar Fahs] Smith is a barbarous chemist interested in the Y.M.C.A. and a parvenu system of morals.
But then NO American University has ever tried to be a centre of thought.
Pennsylvania would score if she were first to institute such a fellowship. A fellowship given for creative ability regardless of whether the man had any university degree whatsoever. The fellow would attend lectures when he liked and then only, he would have no examinations for the thought of them is poison in a man's ear, he can not hear through it. The lute sounds like a cash register, and a cadence is weighed down with a "job."
I have in mind a couple of youngish men whose work will stay imperfect through lack of culture. Sandburg is a lumberjack who has taught himself all that he knows. He is on the way toward simplicity. His energy may for all one knows waste itself in an imperfect and imperfectable argot.
Johns is another case. A year in a library with a few suggestions as to reading and no worry about their rent, might bring permanent good work out of either of these men.
Masters is too old and instead of rewriting Spoon River he has gone off into gas. Still a years calm would do even him some good. But his expenses are probably too heavy to make him a possible candidate.
I admit such an irregular student might be a dam'd nuissance, but he might also be a stimulant.
I don't know whether you will have time to consider this. It is perhaps more in [English professor Cornelius] Weygandt's province ???
Dr. [Dean] Child is an ideal companion for the young barbarian but hardly, I think, the politician to get the thing done. Weygandt's interest in contemporary literature has however always appeared typical of himself and America. That is to say he wrote to me for free copies of my books, just after he had come into a comfortable inheritance and at a time when I was working my own way on the edge of starvation. But there is no reason why he should suspect that the thought of this fellowship comes from me.
I should have had to buy his free copies and it would have cost me a dinner.
It is dull repitition to say that every other art has its endowed fellowships. Poetry which needs more than any other art, the ballance of study, is without them. ...
Oh well, I grow lengthy.
[signed] Ezra Pound
[p.s.] The English department might even apply its present fellowships in this way now and again. [Dr. Rennert's last letter to me five years ago implies that the "advancement of learning" clause had come to be interpreted "continue as professor" but then there was the university personal loathing me behind that decision.
15 November 1921
Dear Dr. Schelling:
I send you the enclosed in case you are interested in contemporary literature; also perhaps in view of possibility of the educated one/millionth in America doing something against the tyranny of fools and imbeciles, as witnessed in the Sumner prosecution of the L.R.; illiterate apes on the bench and buffoons in court room; and great thinkers like Leonard Wood rising mountainous on the sky line.
"Corny" [Cornelius Weygandt, professor of English] will be interested to know that the Irish Times is now trying to bribe somoeone to write a nice ladylike book about Erin, without "brogue or psychoanalysis". At least he used to be interested in Oireland, though probably still opposed to the idea that anyone has written anything since he summered with Yeats.
8 July 1922
Dear Dr. Schelling:
May I thank you for the grave tone of your review which has just reached me; and also since there is so little tempered criticism; and since there can be no sort of literary life in America unless at least two or three people talk about the same subject once and a while, may I take up one or two points.
Criticism I take it, is written in the hope of better things. With all my legendary cantankerousness, I think I have tried to learn from critics [...]
Sum total of debts to date:
One caution against homophones, recd. from Robt. Bridges
Considerable encouragement to tell people to go to hell, and to maintain absolute intransigencerecd. from Mr. W.P. Yeats.
Any amount of good criticism, chiefly in form of attacks on dead language, dialects of books, dialects of Lionel Johnson etc. recd. from F. Madox Hueffer.
One impractical and infinitely valuable suggestion recd. from Thomas Hardy
Years ago Yeats was struggling with my rhythms, and saying they wouldn't do. I got him to read a little Burns aloud, telling him he cd. read no cadence but his own, or some verse like Sturge Moore's that had not any real characteristics strong enough to prohibit W.B.Y. reading it to his own rhythm. I had a half hour of unmitigated glee, in hearing "Saw ye bonnie Alexander" and "The Birks o Aberfeldy" keened, wailed with infinite difficulty and many paused and restarts, to the Wind among the Reeds
Perhaps as the poem goes on I shall be able to make various things clearer.
Having the crust to attempt a poem in 100 or 120 cantos, long after all mankind has been commanded never again to attempt a poem of any length, I have to stagger as I can.
The first 11 cantos are preparation of the palate. I have to get down all the colours or elements I want for the poem. Some perhaps too enigmaticly and abbreviatedly. I hope, heaven help me, to bring them into some sort of design and architecture later.
this being buoyed by wit. NO. Punch and the rest of them have too long gone on treating the feator of England as if it were something to be joked about.
There is an evil without dignity and without tragedy, and it is dishonest art to treat it as if it were funny. It is perhaps more difficult to treat it at all; the Brit. Empire is rotting because no one in England tries to treat it. Juvenal isn't witty. Joyce's isn't harsh enough. One hasn't any theology to fall back on.
I am perhaps didactic; ... It's all rubbish to pretend that art isn't didactic. A revelation is always didactic. Only the aesthetes since 1880 have pretended the contrary, and they aren't a very sturdy lot.
Art cant offer a patent medicine.
Eliot's "Waste Land" is I think the justification of the "movement", of our modern experiment, since 1900. It shd. be published this year.
P.S. If I ever plagued you about Shaw in the old days I apologize. He is fundamentally trivial. ...
Also if I am unlike other people, how is it a pose, isn't it merely common honesty. There are twelve or more vols. to prove some slight biological variant between me and the other ex-Penn '05 or or ex-seminarists. Isn't it nearly time that one allowed me the honesty of never having pretended the contrary.
Shock troops. All right. There are things I quite definitely want to distroy. And which I think will have to annihilated before civilization can exist ...
Being intemperate at moments, I shd prefer dynamite, but in measured moments I know that all violence is useless. (Even the violence of language. . . . . . . however one must know an infinite amount before one can decide on the position of the border line between stong language and violent language. The governed explosion of dynamite in a quarry, useful, O.K., and the clamaitous useless explosion.
La la. I run on too long.
[21 November, 1934]
Jeheezus gord, Schelling.
Hawud asked Eliot, and then turned back to Binbin ... who is at any rate poor of wit but honest ..
But do you think the U.P. in inviting Shane Leslie is setting a pace that will shed honour on the said Univ.???
Really.... if there were an ounce of intellectual seriousness in the whole gang of you ... there wd/ emerge a gale of laughter from some corner of the campus ...
and the students??? You are playing the game with them honestly?
There are no serious men of letters in either Europe or America??
Cowards; cowards; companions of pusillanimous Cal. Etc. Are you worth
[15 December 1934]
Dear Doc Schelling
As one of the most completely intollerant men I have ever met, the joke IS on you if you expected to teach anyone liberality.
As for my being embittered, it won't wash, everybody who comes near me marvels at my good nature. Besides WHAT does it (intellectual sabotage in the U.S.) matter to ME, personally; I don't get scratched by it, but the howls of pain that reach me from the pore bastids that are screwed down under it, and who have no outlet, save in final desperation writing to someone in Europe.
A letter from a state university this a/m/ (along with yours) from a man whom I never heard of till he wrote me two months ago; assured me that the Americ. College, univ. etc. are farther gone than I (E.P.) think.
I have never objected to any man's mediocrity, it is the idiotic fear that a certain type of mediocrity has in the presence of any form of the REAL.
It is nonsense to talk about my being embittered. I've got so much PLUS work going on that I have had difficulty in remembering what particular infamy I wrote you about.
As for "expatriated"? BALLS, you know damn well the country wouldn't feed me. The simple economic fact, that IF I had returned to American I shd/ have starved, and that to maintain anything like the standard of living, or indeed to live IN AMERICA, from 1918 onwards I shd. have had to quadruple my earnings. I.E. it wd. have been impossible for me to devote ANY time to my real work.
You subsidized drifters/ can talk.
What little life has been kept in american letters has been largely due to a few men getting out of the muck and keeping the poor devils who couldn't, at least informed.
HELP ! america/ God damn it. Look at the facts. What have I done right down to this year/ GET AMERICAN authors printed abroad, when the foetid american publishing system won't print 'em in America; because the filthy money won't flow, because the profits to Judas aren't sufficiently probable and tempting.
If there weren't a hundred american writers younger than myself, who are grateful to me for services rendered, you might have some grounds for talking about HELP!
No doc, it wont do. You ask anyone who has met me; or any one of a hundred correspondents, about my being embittered. Disgust is one thing, but letting it get into one's own private Anschauung is another.
For every lid you think I shd/ tolerate, there are a hundred good guys screwed down UNDER that lid. (Whether in la vie intellectuelle, or in the accounting system.
You ain't so old, but what you cd/ wake up. And you are too respected and respectable for it to me any real risk. They can't fire you NOW. Why the hell dont you have a bit of real fun, before you get tucked under?
Damn it all, I never did dislike you.
[26 November 1936]
University of Penn. Press
Gentlemen. I was on point of ordering the memorial vol. to Dr. Ames; which I shd/ very much like to see. But the only form of protest I can utter (as evidently MONEY is the only language spoken in your press room) is to deprive my self of that plesure and you of a little small change.
A little live thought has come out of the U.P. A great deal of otiose writing occurs. But that you shd/ aid in deluding the students by importing that very DEAD FISH Art Salter, is beyond a joke.
If you can not or dare not print men with living minds, you might at least refrain from importing an ape already discredited in so backward and dark a country as England.
Salter DARE not meet modern economy in the open. If he don't know he is damned liar, that proves only his ignorance;
At any rate it is disgrace to the Univ. Press to print him. Though I don't suppose any other exPenn man will take enough interest in yr/ list to notice the fact that you have done so.
The Univ. COULD erect a decent memorial to Dr. Ames by starting to teach the vital parts of American history still excluded from text books and very much scaMped in ALL curricula.
Does the spirit of Josiah the Frozen Pennyman still obstruct you?
Was Salter imported as DuPont propaganda? I mean is there a venal motive behind the pubctn? Or are you BOOBS falling for the Henglish lecturer who comes to the U.S. when he is THROUGH in Britain?
At any rate god damn HIM, and heaven help the poor freshmen.
19 December 1936
But damn it all; my dear Mr. Soule
Your letter is an indictment of the Press. IF you wd/ make contact with the live thought of today instead of frousting and frumping
EVEN the freshmen wd/ discover yr/ existence.
Another Penn man whom the campus frumps ignore is Doc. Williams.
To the shame of Weygand and co/ Bill/ sprouted with a decree in medicine/ untainted by the "arts" courses.
If you persist in keeping live matter (what little there is) OUT of your press/
naturally the Freshmen won't notice that you are there.
If you import decayed carrrion the name of which rouses a laugh in it is country of origina
you will stay SUBURBAN; you will die and be damned as provincial.
Have you EVER tried to get a LIVE book for yr/ press??
I am asking that in all seriousness.
WHAT sources DOES the Faculty use for information about the thought of today??
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