Duff Cooper, Hunched Against Loss; Ford Madox Ford Flogs Footsloggers

Duff Cooper‘s third day of mourning for Patrick Shaw Stewart occasions an unfortunate metaphor:

January 6th. I played tennis in the morning… I felt more and more depressed as the day went on. I had enjoyed my visit and had felt happier in my misery than I thought possible. I had been like one with a bad wound in a hospital and I felt that I was leaving the hospital before the wound was healed… I was indeed treated like an invalid these days, given the best of everything, sat in the best places, everyone being very kind to me….[1]

 

Just before Christmas I mentioned a new poem by Ford Madox Hueffer. “Footsloggers” is finished, now, which leaves Ford with nothing to do but to undertake the miserable task of flogging an “unrepresentative” piece of his work. He wrote to the editor James B. Pinker today, a century back:

…won’t you have a shot at something new?

I attach a long poem I have just completed. It expresses the spirit of the poor old Infantry & of the Bn. in which I have the honour to serve in a war that no other poet johnny has even attempted…

After all few poets–and no man of letters of my standing–[have] been twice out to France, actually on service & in trenches, without wangling any sort of job on the staff, but just sticking it in the Infantry for love of the job.

This is hyperbole, self-serving conceit, over-the-top self-marketing, etc., etc. It’s true that Ford’s service in an actual line battalion was rare for a writer of his age and achievement. But several prominent poets have a seen a great deal more action than he; and if one may become a “poet johnny” simply by wishing oneself one–and writing verse–than hundreds such have attempted and achieved what he is now doing…

If we try to put him in the best possible light, than perhaps Ford is simply suffering from a sort of hopeful, wilful ignorance. He probably feels that he is above reading through Georgian Poetry or the new anthologies, filled with poems by second-rate talents, etc. But to lump them all together, while simultaneously making a virtue of each quirk and failure of his own war service smacks less of making a confident pitch than of blithely ignoring both the sharper suffering and the literary efforts of a mass of “poor old infantry.” If he really wants to rest his pitch on the fact of his high literary “standing,” then all he does is call attention to the fact that so many very good writers who have seen much worse do not have a national literary standing yet, eitherĀ  because they are too young, dead, or unable to produce work steadily while “sticking in it” far longer than he did…

Well, a poet–especially one with several households to support–must eat, and a footslogger must slog.

But, for those of you looking ahead to bigger and better projects, well: so too, is he:

P.P.S. Could you get me a commission for a novel–either about fighting or not about fighting. I have two ideas… I wrote about half a novel in the Salient, but got tired of it when I cracked up. That one was not about fighting–but I could do a very good one about trench warfare, too.[2]

Option A sounds very promising…

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Old Men Forget, 72.
  2. The Letters of Ford Madox Ford, 85-6.