EZRA POUND ON G. K. CHESTERTON
To John Quinn, 21 August 1917
L 170-71; SL 116-17
Dear John Quinn:
3. I am worried by your cable received this A.M. re the two lines on Chesterton. Do what you like about them. Only they are part of my position, i.e., that one should name names in satire. And Chesterton is a vile scum on the pond. The multitude of his mumblings cannot be killed by multitude but only by a sharp thrust (even that won’t do it, but it purges one’s soul).
All his slop—it is really modern catholicism to a great extent, the never taking a hedge straight, the mumbo-jumbo of superstition dodging behind clumsy fun and paradox.
If it were a question of cruelty to a weak man I shouldn’t, of course, have printed it. But Chesterton is so much the mob, so much the multitude. It is not as if he weren’t a symbol for all the mob’s hatred of all art that aspires above mediocrity.
I feel very differently about Belloc, who once wanted to do the real thing, and for a long time, at least, had moments of bitterness (I think) that he had taken the journalistic turning. Still, he has left ‘Avril’ and his translation of Bedier's Tristan.
Chesterton has always taken the stand that the real thing isn’t worth doing. (Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration???? Complex of my own vanity??) My feeling is, perhaps, heightened by a feeling that I should probably like G.K.C. personally if I ever met him. Still, I believe he creates a milieu in which art is impossible. He and his kind.
However, I don’t want to be hysterical over two lines. If you want them out or if Knopf thinks it will cost him too much to retain them, do what you think best. It is not so important that it should appear in America as here. (It has appeared in BLAST anyhow.)
Still, someone had to be the first to say that Hall Caine wasn’t Christ returned, and Marie Corelli wasn’t Flaubert, etc.
On the other hand, the lines are contemptuous, and contempt may not be a very formidable weapon. Leave the lines in the limited edition, anyhow, and do what you like with the other.
The two lines discussed in the letter are “The New Cake of Soap,” a distich published in Blast I 49:
Lo, how it gleams and glistens in the sun
Like the cheek of a Chesterton
Hofer, Matthew. “Modernist Polemic: Ezra Pound v. “the perverters of language.” Modernism/modernity 9.3 (2002): 463-489.
Pound, Ezra. The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D. D. Paige. London: Faber, 1951.
Pound, Ezra. The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D.D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.