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Visiting Pound

SIR: To the books and articles occasioned by the Pound centenary it may perhaps be worth adding a word from his quondam English publisher. I first met Ezra Pound when he came to London with Olga Rudge to attend the Memorial Service for T.S. Eliot in Westminster Abbey on 4 February 1965. He had wanted to come to the funeral a month before but had been persuaded not to attempt to travel from Venice in early January, especially as the funeral was to be a small private ceremony. Pound sat in the stalls in the Abbey while Olga Rudge was in the nave with her brother Dr Rudge, who was then living in East Anglia. I didn’t speak to them after the service but felt that I should call on them while they were in London. I was at the time Vice-Chairman of Faber and Faber; the Chairman, Richard de la Mare, was in Australia on business.

I arranged to go to Durrants Hotel, near Baker Street, where Ezra and Olga were staying. Olga met me in the lobby and took me to the bar, which was rather a small room. She ordered two glasses of sherry and I wondered why there were not three. Suddenly Ezra appeared at the door and Olga almost immediately left. Ezra and I sat at a table in the corner and I felt that everyone in the bar could hear every word we said. I tried hard to make conversation, about the Abbey service, the English weather, and anything that came into my head. There were long silences. Ezra suddenly said he had been to the Tate Gallery to see Epstein’s Rock Drill; it was not displayed, he thought, as well as it had been originally. At last I felt I could ask the main question that was in my mind. Would he consider making a selection of the Cantos to provide an easy introduction to the poems for readers coming to them for the first time, rather on the lines of Eliot’s selection Introducing James Joyce? After a pause, Ezra said – or I thought he said: ‘Why not publish them all together?’ To which of course I replied that we did and always would publish a complete volume of the Cantos. But I had misheard him. ‘I said, why not abolish them altogether,’ was his rather startling reply. I can’t remember how I answered this, but in fact he did make a selection for me, which Faber later published. A marked volume of The Complete Cantos arrived with side-lining in red ink by the parts he wanted included (which we carefully followed) and further side-lining in pencil for a possible larger volume, which perhaps might still be considered for publication.

Before he left London he came to the Faber offices at 24 Russell Square to see what had been Eliot’s room; he was photographed leaving the building. He also visited Mrs Eliot in Kensington. It is well-known that at the last minute Ezra and Olga decided not to return at once to Venice: they went to see Mrs Yeats in Dublin. So the visit must have revived many memories.

My second visit to Pound was in Venice. My wife and I were attending the third International James Joyce Symposium in Trieste from 14 to 18 June 1971. I telephoned to Olga to ask if we might come to see them while we were so close. She had been asked to bring Pound to Trieste during the meetings and was uncertain what to do. I have to confess that I advised her not to come; I hated the idea of Ezra, who at that time remained silent in public, being paraded like a performing bear before the assembled Joyceans. At any rate they didn’t come and we took the train one morning from Trieste to Venice, a delightful journey along the northern coast of the Gulf of Venice.

When we arrived at Olga’s tiny house in San Gregorio we went upstairs to the sitting-room where Ezra was sitting in his big basketwork chair. He had a pad of paper on his knee and a pencil in his hand. Words were being arranged on the paper and I felt I had a glimpse of the creative spirit that couldn’t stop attempting to build a structure of words, even if no satisfactory result could any longer be achieved.

Olga took my wife to a bedroom to leave her coat and as soon as Ezra and I were left alone he started to talk volubly. He was anxious that Olga should be properly provided for after his death. I did my best to reassure him, not really knowing what was to be done. (I believe she is in fact well looked after.) After Olga and my wife returned Ezra was silent again. They took us out to a pleasant lunch at a small restaurant close at hand. Ezra walked well and looked splendid: tall, handsome, erect. But he remained silent. My wife sat next to him and offered to pour him some wine. Poco, poco, he requested and those were the last words we heard him say.

Peter du Sautoy
Aldeburgh, Suffolk


Francophile

SIR: Military governments are tiresome, even Fidel Castro’s. But so are Leftist litanies, and in his review of The Transformation of Spain by David Gilmour (LRB, 18 July), Anthony Pagden uses them to oversimplify both the complicated character of General Franco and the diverse motivations of his regime. If the Republicans in the Civil War were often referred to as ‘Rojos’, it was because many of them were Reds, and proud of it, too. Pagden has only to turn back to George Orwell to find their effect on the Loyalist cause. He places Franco himself in the 15th century, with an understanding of modern political societies ‘practically non-existent’: ignoring his very shrewd statesmanship. How else can one explain his stunning marathon interview with Hitler, who arrived expecting Spain on a platter, Gibraltar for dessert, and control of the Mediterranean thereby – and who left with little more than a sick headache? Compare it with the performance of Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta, for which millions are still paying, when they had to face Stalin. If it is ‘15th-century’ to be astute rather than gullible, then our leaders should rush to reread Machiavelli. Even more fragile is the currently obligatory accusation of anti-semitism: particularly when I think of many of my friends who managed to reach a haven South of the Pyrenees during the war. Some were so grateful that they returned as residents to a country where they had been better treated than in their homeland (France). On a different level, it was during Franco’s regime that the first Centre of Studies of Sephardim Culture was set up; but I suppose that is 15th-century too. It was a complex century – just like our own.

Peter Todd Mitchell
Sitges, Spain


Failed Coup

SIR: Two small points about Anthony Pagden’s excellent review of David Gilmour’s book The Transformation of Spain (LRB, 18 July). Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero’s failed coup happened on the afternoon of 23 February 1981, not 1980. And the view that ‘the regionalists in Catalonia by and large got the measure of autonomy they had asked for’ is not one, I believe, that is shared by the vast majority of the Catalonians themselves.

Maria Eugenia Frutos
Barcelona


Hydropolitics

SIR: It was generous of John Ryle (Letters, 1 August) to apologise for one of his errors, but there are others, I’m afraid. General Gordon kept order in the Sudan for more than three years. From 1874-1880 he was law and order, even if for the first three years he was nominally in charge only in the Equatorial provinces (indeed only of Equatoria); John Ryle should read Romolo Gessi, or even my new biography of Gordon. Nor is John Ryle right to say that ‘Christian missionary activity had barely begun there’ in Gordon’s day: it was a hive of missionary activity, and Khartoum alone had five churches prospering. Nor is he right to say that the word ‘animist’ was not in current use. I do not know what he means by ‘high-minded’, but it is not an adjective I should use about the Khedive Ismail; the whores he hired at the Paris Opera thought highly of him as did the British bankers who beggared him, but ‘high-minded’?

Yes, I do think the Christian and animist South of the Sudan must be hived off from the largely Muslim, Arab North. Maybe they would be happy in the Congo, a loose enough federation. If I were John Ryle I would not be so ready to use the word ‘corrupt’ about what is now called Zaire. The United Kingdom is no place for angels – at a recent local government conference in North Wales, a councillor said to me: ‘Al Capone wouldn’t have lasted for a week in Rhyl.’

Finally, I am not Mr MacGregor-Hastie. This would imply that I was a Harley Street physician. They mask their doctorates for some reason, but I do not. Dean, Professor or Dr – it is all the same to me: but I am nobody’s Mr.

Roy MacGregor-Hastie
Provincia di Trento, Italy