A NOTE ON THE LETTERS
For years I wondered: What ever happened to B?
We know as much as the story seems to require, of A. And C wrote the book, and the books after it, which eventually brought him considerable popularity and renown. But B, what ever happened to B?
Cummings was ever the minimalist, the compressor, the master of shorthand and ideogram, the reveler in the abstract and graphic qualities of language, and it is perhaps natural that when he came to write The Enormous Room, his account of his three months' confinement in a French prison during World War I, he should have referred to his soul- and cell-mate as, simply, "B." There was a need for propriety and anonymity, to be sure, given the nature of the satire and ridicule he unleashed: A, after all, was the head of the ambulance unit to which Cummings and his friend had been assigned, the man whose suspicions (together with those of the French censors) they had aroused. But with his own initial C ready to hand, the symmetry must have been irresistible.
But who, exactly, was B? For aside from two references to —S—B—inn the Foreword, that is essentially all we know of him until the closing scenes of the book, at which point, thanks to the summons of an apparently asthmatic or tongue-tied guard, we are given some reason to believe his name is "Broom," or "Brun," or "Brown." But if his identity is thus left understated, his place in the narrator's affections is not; beginning with the first sentence of the book, there are continual references—almost a litany of references—to "my friend B," "B and I," "myself and B." B, it is clear, is the not-so-secret sharer of the entire experience, Cummings's boon companion, the person with whom he talks literature and life to while away the hours, the person with whom he makes cocoa, or plays dominoes, or fashions a color chart to assist in an ongoing conversation on art. In fact we learn that it is B's oblivious and youthfully indiscreet letters, intercepted by the French censors, that were the main reason for the two men's having been incarcerated in the first place. But from the beginning of their time in France, and from the beginning of the story as Cummings tells it, they had been inseparable, "les deux americains"; presumed guilty by association, and not repudiating that association when he was given the opportunity, Cummings had been dragged off to prison with his friend . . . and when the friend is shipped off to further and harsher punishment, the high spirits with which he had entered into the adventure become clouded over by depression, disorientation, and despair.
From the eloquent, and rather poignant Foreword that Cummings's father contributed to The Enormous Room, we have the prior assurance of not only Cummings's, but B's, release from French concentration camps. And we know from the text itself that it was to the considerably more grueling Pr飩gn that B was eventually remanded. Indeed, through The Magic-Maker, Charles Norman's biography of E. E. Cummings, George Wickes's treatment of the episode in Americans in Paris, and Richard S. Kennedy's newer and more definitive biography, Dreams in the Mirror, we have a reasonably complete account of the whole affair: how Cummings, in 1917, not relishing the idea of being drafted, signed up with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service, a Red Cross unit serving in France; how he met Brown (for that was indeed his name) on the boat on the way over; how they were assigned to Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un, Croix Rouge Americaine; how they derived considerably more pleasure and companionship from the regular French soldiers around them than from their bullheaded and chauvinistic chief, Mr. Anderson; how their dissolute habits, and the letters they wrote—especially Brown's—got them into trouble with the French authorities; how they were rather summarily dragged off to La Fert魍ac鬠a sort of clearinghouse and holding tank for spies, misfits, and undesirables; how Cummings's father, anxious for some sort of satisfaction, urged him into writing an account of his experiences. We know these things in part - even largely - cause of the interviews Brown later gave to the biographers, the memories and recollections he shared. And we even get glimpses of what happened to Brown after he left the "enormous room" and, alone, spent another two and a half months in the brutal, and brutalizing concentration camp at Pr飩gn鮊
But apparently from natural diffidence, or modesty (or perhaps deference to Cummings's powerhouse account), William Slater Brown chose never to write a memoir, chose not to tell the story, with its touching sequel, from his own point of view. Thus, to find him alive and well at age ninety-two, to find him looking a robust seventy-five, dapper and genial, and willing with sufficient evidence of genuine curiosity to talk about this and other chapters of his life, is an experience more than a little interesting: for anyone who relishes stories about writers and writing, told firsthand, it is a rare treat. . . . Even when he says things that one might have surmised from the available record:
"I was naive enough, God knows."
He lives on Cape Ann, north of Boston, within sight of the Dry Salvages, and one of the first things I asked him was how his and Cummings's brand of innocence abroad could have gotten them into quite such hot water, could have resulted in quite the debacle that it did. He was twenty when he left for Europe, two years younger than Cummings, and though he knows of no surviving letters of his own, he concedes that the letters Cummings was writing from aboard ship, with their jocular pooh-poohing of the submarine threat, their impish hoping "for something to happen," their lamenting of the fact that "nothing favors excitement," are indicative of their state of mind (Letters 18-22). "Hope the war isn't over before I get there," Cummings wrote, ten days before departing (16): and one can almost hear the exclamation point at the end. It is instructive, too, to recall what John Dos Passos, an ambulance driver assigned to a different unit of the Norton-Harjes corps, was feeling as he went over; in his memoir, The Best Times, he wrote: "Being aboard ship, headed for the action at last, after all those frustrating years in what seemed to me the airless hothouse of college life, changed my mood completely. Everything was fun" (47).
Hoping for something to happen.
Everything was fun.
I was naive enough, God knows.
William Slater Brown not only met Cummings on the boat that was taking them to France, as the biographers say, but met him before the Touraine was even out of New York harbor. He had been traveling with a fellow student from Columbia University, and fellow Red Cross volunteer, named Red Lemon; his face softens, slightly, as he recalls that long-ago fortuitous moment. "I was standing at the rail with Red Lemon, up on the top deck, I think it was, and suddenly there was a rather cold wind. I went down to my cabin to get my coat, and when I came back up I found him talking to a young chap who had asked him for a light. It was Cummings. We stood there talking, and after a while an announcement was made that the bar was open, and we went down to have a drink. I remember that Cummings impressed both Red Lemon and me very much because he ordered a fine Napol鯮, while Red and I ordered some sort of regular collegiate drink, like a gin fizz. Cummings was drinking these fines Napol鯮s that were poured out of a magnificent bottle, all covered with dust. I had never even heard of them."
As Slater Brown tells it, the threesome "got quite high" and began to talk about the things that drink prompts sensitive young men in their twenties to talk about, and eventually Cummings and Red Lemon "got into an argument about what is beautiful in art. Red Lemon was by now down in his cups a little.
'Have you ever seen a beautiful woman smiling through her tears?' he asked. Well, Cummings thought this was quite funny, and he began to tease him about it; he got up and went over to a piano that was nearby, and began playing 'Poor Butterfly,' complete with lots of runs and fancy trills. Red Lemon was quite humiliated." With a look of bemusement, Slater Brown pauses to let the image of that sadly humorous moment rematerialize. "I think it was that night or the following morning that we ran into a storm, and I didn't see Cummings again for two or three days. Finally, he reappeared, looking very green. He had been fearfully seasick. After that, Cummings and I saw a good deal of
one another. . . ."
Edgar Guy Lemon (from Roodhouse, Illinois) had been a graduate student at Columbia who shared Brown's philosophical anarchism and pacifist sympathies; although they became separated in France, and never saw one another after that, he figures prominently in the stories Brown tells about how he came to be aboard La Touraine. He had started in the Columbia School of Journalism in 1915, Brown says, but had become "disgusted"—they were teaching us things like how to write music criticism"—and moved over to the College, where he concentrated in French and American literature. The years leading up to America's entry into World War I were a time of social and political ferment, and Brown was one of those who was "joining all these parties"; he was a member of the IWW, and had attended the lectures of Emma Goldman (with Red Lemon he had met her at an "Anarchists' Ball"), and was a subscriber to her magazine, Mother Earth. For a while he was even a follower of Bouck White and his Church of the Social Revolution, an optimistic blend of Christianity and socialism; he remembers at one point traveling up to Boston to prepare a hall for a speech by its leader. But—plus 硠change—the charismatic, hymn-writing Bouck White "showed up in a limousine, surrounded by wealthy ladies, paid us, his helpers, no attention whatsoever, gave his speech, and got in his limousine and left."
In a last-minute attempt to forestall America's entry into the war, isolationists and pacifists from all over the country journeyed to Washington in 1917, to lobby their congressmen. Slater Brown and Red Lemon were among the contingent who made the trip from Columbia, which traveled on an old "Chinatown bus, a rubberneck wagon," and stopped at various places along the way to make speeches and pass out literature; Dorothy Day, then a reporter for the New York Call, accompanied them. At the Academy of Music in Baltimore, he remembers, they took part in a massive antiwar rally, in which the featured speaker was the prolific writer, naturalist, and educator, David Starr Jordan. (This former president of Indiana and Stanford Universities was by coincidence also on the board of directors of the World Peace Foundation, with E. E. Cummings's father.) But to be against the war in those days—plus 硠change—was, by the great majority of people, to be branded unpatriotic; "when David Starr Jordan began to speak," Brown says, "the doors at the rear of the theater burst open, and in came a great unruly crowd of people, waving American flags. They began marching down the aisles, shouting and swearing and beating people up. They got down front and began pointing their flags at the people on the stage, taunting them." As Jordan himself later wrote, at this point "a quick-witted young woman on the stage mounted a chair and began to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in a fine, clear voice; everybody of course joined in, and the intruders were compelled to take off their hats and keep still. 'America' followed, and 'Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,' the audience filing out by side exits opened for the purpose" (728). But the writer of these words apparently forgot one important detail, one that the good-humored Brown has always remembered: "Jordan got excited and gave the lectern a shove. Down it went, right on top of some of the flag-wavers; it beaned one of them, and knocked him out. A bunch of people then gathered around Jordan, and ushered him off. Red Lemon and I were able to sneak out through a stage entrance."
Threatened by the mob with further violence if they tried to continue their trip, the Columbia group "left Baltimore rather early the next morning." In Washington, where they arrived about noon, Red Lemon and Brown visited with a couple of Senators and quickly realized the situation was hopeless. "I remember the president of the debating team at Columbia, I've forgotten his name, went to see one Senator and made a long speech against the war. The Senator expectorated into his spittoon and said, 'Well, if you young chaps want to fight so much, why don't you join the Army?' " Brown and Red
Lemon withdrew from the field of battle and went out and "had a good meal, and drank a bottle of wine"; then they got back on the bus. That very night—April 2, 1917—President Wilson went before a special joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war. Four days later it was enthusiastically given.
And what induced the twenty-year-old Columbia University junior to join the Norton-Harjes ambulance corps? As Brown explained to George Wickes, the chronicler of Americans in Paris, some years back: "Well, Red Lemon and I decided that if we couldn't stop the war, that we would hurry over there and see what it was all about. So we inquired around, to see what would be the quickest way of getting over to France. We discovered that the quickest way would be to sign up with the Norton-Harjes people."1 He could hardly have done better: before the month was out he was sailing down New York harbor and striking up the friendship that proved so salutary, not only for his own life, but for American writing.
By an uncanny coincidence, Cummings's and Brown's paths had all but crossed once before. In 1912, an aunt had taken Brown from his home in Webster, Massachusetts (near the Rhode Island border), up to Cambridge for a year, where he stayed in a house that was no more than a stone's throw from the Cummings residence; Cummings, though a sophomore at Harvard, was still living at home. Brown took his school year at Cambridge High and Latin, where Cummings had graduated the year previously, and his cousin had been the "playmate" of the poet's sister (Cummings uses the word in an early shipboard letter (). If the two had had any reason to doubt that the friendship were somehow foreordained—or if Cummings had been seeking a magical omen to confirm him in his new choice of friend—it came the morning of the first full day they were in Paris, for when they went out to buy a newspaper, there, "right on the front page," as Brown recalls, was a story headlined "L'Affaire Slater." It seems that a second cousin of Slater Brown's, who was living in France, had been having difficulties with the couple who kept house for him; the husband and wife (as Brown explains with a knowing smile) "had locked Samuel Slater up in his own attic, and forced him to write checks out to them." Eventually "he
had had them arrested," but when a reporter went out to do a follow-up on the story, he was greeted with a new twist: Slater "came to the door dressed in a lavish cowboy outfit, complete with pistols in his belt." "Cowboy du Far West" exclaimed the enthusiastic second headline of the article . . . and the whole episode was deemed sufficiently noteworthy to be picked up by the American newspapers; with barely suppressed mirth Brown proves the point to his interviewer by going to a nearby desk and coming back with seventy-year-old clippings from the New York World, and Boston Globe.
Samuel Slater's namesake—Brown's maternal great-great-grandfather—had been considerably less eccentric, and considerably more famous. Coming to America from Britain in the late eighteenth century, and bringing with him a secret knowledge whose export the British religiously sought to control, he was able to re-create the machinery of cotton manufacture in New England, and in doing so became the founder of the American textile industry. By the 1830s he was not only one of the richest and most important businessmen in America, but his mills, and the mill towns that grew up around them, were beginning to have a profound effect on the fabric of American society. "He brought child labor to America . . . ," is Brown's rather rueful summary. A bit
of research shows that by the standards of his time, Samuel Slater's philosophy was actually rather humane; although child labor was as necessary to American manufacturing as it had been to British—even encouraged by contemporary social attitudes—Slater worked to bring the entire family within the orbit of his factory system, and thus preserve both the family unit and the traditional values of the community (Tucker 65-86). The earliest of his mills, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1793, is now an historic site (and, incidentally, the inspiration for many of the charming drawings in David Macaulay's Mill). Webster, Massachusetts, was another of the towns which, if not effectively
founded, at least prospered on the basis of Slater's industry, and it was here, in
genteel circumstances (though in an atmosphere of "ugly" mill buildings and a
rather dour working-class Christianity), that Slater Brown grew up. If, despite
his personal reticence and natural modesty, one wanted to retrace Brown's
road to La Touraine's pier with an eye toward explaining his youthful
idealism, his philosophical anarchism and pacifist sympathies, the material is
there for conjecture.
But now the two Massachusetts Yankees were out on the town桮d the town was Paris. Having become separated from the rest of the Norton-Harjes volunteers (as the train that brought them from Bordeaux entered Paris, the group was ordered off at the wrong station before the gregarious Brown and Cummings could get back to their car and retrieve their bags), they were not the least saddened when events conspired to let them remain so. Richard S. Kennedy, in his biography of Cummings, has given a good account of their five-week holiday, during which they sampled the entire range of Parisian delights, from Stravinsky's Petrouchka at Les Ballets Russes to the friendship, and favors, of the women who worked the boulevards. Brown remembers the premiere performance of Erik Satie's Parade, the audience's reaction to which prompted Cummings to stand up and start trying to pick fights with the people around him. And he remembers a moment of personal embarrassment (it seems forever etched in his mind) that occurred at one of the performances of Petrouchka they saw. "Cummings and I went to a matinee performance, at the Th颴re du Chatelet, I think it was, just after receiving our inoculations. They gave us a shot which included typhus and everything else all in one big dose. Well the thing hit me just while they were playing the Marseillaise, and I couldn't manage to get up out of my seat. People all around were staring at me; it was wartime, after all. Well, just to my left was a pillar, and I grabbed hold of it, and somehow finally managed to get myself up out of my chair. I was afraid there was going to be another fight." Periodically the two young adventurers checked in at Norton-Harjes headquarters at 7 rue Fran篩s Premier where, to their considerable satisfaction, there were continued delays in securing uniforms for them, and where their personal existence seems to have dropped into a kind of bureaucratic limbo. But at last the day of reckoning came. "Mr. Harjes himself called us in," Brown remembers, "and had us on the carpet. He asked us, in so many words, whether we had been having a good time in Paris, and kicking up our heels for an entire month, and we replied, in so many words, yes. The next thing we knew, we were driving ambulances together at the front."
From the base camps of Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un, in and around the town of Noyon, they saw far less action than they might have wished for (perhaps that was M. Harjes's real punishment), and beneath the wise and
witty account of their life there that Cummings put into his letters, there is a tone of sour disgruntlement. Along with some slighting references to the French and the French army, he admits that his lack of "sticktuitiveness and enthusiasm" have become an issue, confesses that he hasn't changed his socks in weeks and loves not having to wash, and notes that, having been unjustly denied the leave that was due him, he blew a "mouthful of cigarette-smoke" in his section chief's face. "My only friend here," he says, "but a fine one, is W. Slater Brown . . . ." (28-30). Unfortunately, William Slater Brown was writing letters that were considerably more provocative. "Every one is sick of the war here," he wrote to a former professor at Columbia, "and I look forward to a revolution in France soon. The French soldiers are all despondent and none of
them believe that Germany will ever be defeated. . . . I hope that none of my friends will ever have to come over to this damn place and fight. It makes me feel very ill when I think how many fellows are going to be killed for no reason
whatsoever. How anyone can hate the Germans is more than I can imagine. While I have been here I have not heard a French soldier say anything against the Germans, in fact they admire the Germans very much" (Norman 91-95).
In seventy-year retrospect, it is possible to read such words as mere description, a heartfelt and quite plausible accounting of what was going on, and Brown takes pains to emphasize that he was not pro-German at all, that in fact he and Cummings were the only ones in their ambulance unit who were "really very fond of the French," and preferred their company to that of the Americans around them. But under wartime conditions, while the fighting was actually raging, sentiments even
bordering on these would almost certainly have raised the eyebrows of the censors. After living with it for seventy years, Brown doesn't waste his, or his interviewer's time trying to deny his error in judgment; nevertheless he raises, then harks back to, the issue which he believes really got him and Cummings in trouble, the issue he believes none of the writers on the matter have sufficiently stressed: his and Cummings's "knowledge of the mutinies." "It was the mutinies," he repeats.
"Cummings and I knew all about the mutinies." Indeed, "the mutinies" were no illusion. Just at the very moment America had been provoked into entering the war, there had been (to borrow from Churchill's The World Crisis) mutinies in sixteen separate corps of the French army, and a whole division of French-equipped Russians, declaring open revolt, had had to be suppressed and disbanded with artillery fire (727). William Manchester's summary, in the second volume of his biography of Churchill (The Last Lion: Alone), is even more emphatic. In 1917, "fifty-four French divisions—750,000 men—had mutinied. Officers had been beaten and even murdered; an artillery regiment had attempted to blow up the Schneider-Creusot munitions plant; trains had been derailed; 21,174 men deserted outright. Trenches were abandoned, and had the Germans known there was no one on the other side of no-man's-land, they could have plunged through and won the war" (54). Exactly as Dos Passos was doing at about this time (51), Cummings and Brown got wind of the mutinies from soldiers they met, or drank with, who were just returning from the front. Having no way of knowing that these mutinies were not already public knowledge back home—and that it was of prime importance to the French censors to keep them from becoming so—Brown, as he freely admits, "wrote about them to several people." Their possession of this embarrassing secret, and the mistaken French belief that Brown was writing to a German professor at Columbia, would explain why the French, instead of merely kicking the two young troublemakers out, considered that their "immediate return to America would be dangerous," and placed them under "house arrest" (Vernier 347). (In any case, in the form in which they are extant, Brown's letters cannot be more than approximations of the originals; see the accompanying Note on the Letters.)
When they were arrested on September 23, 1917 ("detained" was the official word), Brown was carrying a copy of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth in his knapsack, and a variety of French maps. "Considering all the reasons they had to be suspicious of me," he recalls, with a rare, and therefore pronounced, absence of humor, "I could have been shot." Cummings, who had earlier refused membership in an exclusive ambulance unit made up of Harvard men in order to be with his friend, now refused to renounce him in order to avoid punishment ("Cummings was very loyal to his friends," Brown says), and traveling separately, they were escorted off to a seminary-turned-stone-fortress. La Fert魍ac鬠in Normandy. While Cummings was making the four-day "Pilgrim's Progress" described in The Enormous Room, and considering himself thankful for the excitement, Brown was making his own discoveries: specifically that his recent, enforced stay in a camp hospital had been prompted by something more than medical necessity. "Not long before Cummings and I were taken away," he explains, "I was thrown into a field hospital, forced to have my head shaved, and scrubbed down with a floor brush and lye soap, or some sort of sulphur soap. I had contracted 'cal' or crabs or lice, or something, and they really gave me the royal treatment; it was so painful that another man and I paid an attendant to climb over the wall, and go and buy some wine." One of the not-so-coincidental results of this treatment was that when he arrived at La Fert魍ac鬠his shaved head "caused all the other prisoners to make fun" of him. But could Cummings, who was already quite fluent in French, really have been so naive as to have misheard the name of their destination, as he claims to have done? (The anomaly, for some reason, has always stuck in the interviewer's mind.) "Oh yes, absolutely," Brown replies, explaining that it was only "collegiate French" that they spoke; at the time he, too, "had been under the mistaken impression" that he was being taken to "Marseilles," for deportation.
And that is his verdict on The Enormous Room in general: "Cummings does not make things up; there is no attempt to be fanciful." . . . Carrying his camp cot and bedding, he arrived a1 La Fert魍ac頴wo days ahead of his friend, and was on hand to greet him, and it is clear from the way the book describes the reunion that he considered his new circumstances an improvement upon the previous ones: "'Hello, Cummings,' he said smiling. 'There's a man here who is a friend of Vanderbilt and knew Cezanne.' " His abrupt greeting is followed by some words of explanation and mutual catching up, and then he expresses the sentiment that the new arrival would soon share: "Cummings, I tell you this is the finest place on earth!" (63-64). Indeed, it was a strange lot, an international group of misfits and marginals, along with a few men of indisputable culture. (The Count de Bragard apparently had known Cezanne, had made equestrian paintings for Vanderbilt.) Their crimes ranged from murder to petty theft to, in effect, being in the wrong place at the wrong time—being aliens or lacking the necessary identity papers. As Cummings nicknames them, there were Harree the Hollander and Pompom and The Fighting Sheeney and Rockyfeller, and The Machine-Fixer and Bathhouse John and Monsieur Pet-airs, and the Spanish Whoremaster, and Mexique and Zulu and Surplice . . . and seventy years later, it is the verdict of the man who, more than any other, should know, that Cummings describes them beautifully and accurately. "...Except Jean le N觲e," Brown adds, after a moment's thought; "Cummings overdoes it a bit, there. I could never share Cummings's admiration for Jean le N觲e. He stole things from us." Well, and the character, Judas. "We actually called him 'Jesus Christ,' or 'Jesus H. Christ,' because he looked like one of those calendar portraits, you know, with the peaceful. angelic expressions, and the long hair. I don't know whether Cummings made the change or whether his father did."2
There were women, too, at La Fert魍ac鬠in an adjoining building—prostitutes who had been too close to the front lines, wives who had chosen to accompany their husbands into captivity—and the most personal, and seemingly most pleasurable, story Brown tells of his time there concerns the woman he still calls his "girl friend," Celina Tiek. (She was known to Cummings as "Tek"; the correct spelling may also have been "Tyck.") Pretending to be sick, Brown and Pompom and Harree the Hollander "stayed upstairs in the room, while the rest of the men took their promenade, in the courtyard below." They somehow jimmied the door that led to the adjacent building ("I think Harree and Pompom knew how to pick locks," Brown says, with a bit of irony), and three women with whom they had "made arrangements" met them, and they had what Brown felicitously refers to as a "date." "She was a Belgian girl, a beautiful, tough little girl about eighteen or nineteen, with black, black
hair, and very white teeth." In a memory that he apparently still treasures, Slater Brown recalls that he gave her "a little gold cross" that he had "won for perfect attendance at choir practice" at his Episcopal church, back home. Later, through one of the prisoners who had the misfortune to follow him, she smuggled a letter to him at Pr飩gn鬠from all appearances the one tender memory of those two months.
On December 13, 1917, the commission that passed on the prisoners' release and decided their fates (and, Brown feels, had been detaining Cummings for no other reason than his "knowledge of the mutinies"), ordered him sent to the concentration camp at Pr飩gn鬠in Brittany; the following day, in the emotional leave-taking described in The Enormous Room, he left. It is probably no coincidence that the efforts of Cummings's father and the American authorities now came to fruition, and that six days later Cummings was released. But the eighty-one days that Brown had spent in La Fert魍ac頷ere a pleasant adventure compared to the seventy-five or so that he now spent at Pr飩gn鮠Where before, the security had been competent but perfunctory, there were now "barbed wire and searchlights, and guards everywhere." The "approximately four hundred" men "slept forty to a room," and there were "fights all the time; the guards would never stop them." The Fighting Sheeney, who had been deported at the same time as Brown, "was still fighting"; he threatened to come after Brown personally until a man named Adam Dan, who claimed to be an American, "knocked him down a flight of stairs and almost killed him." And, as Brown says, his customary matter-of-factness momentarily laced with anger, "people kept dying. They'd come down with
pneumonia, or diseases resulting from malnutrition, and suddenly they'd disappear. You'd never see them again." The man whom Cummings had called The Wanderer, and had written about so lovingly ". . . died at Pr飩gn鮠He just went into a decline, and wouldn't talk to anybody. He just sat in a corner of the yard, and would do nothing, nothing at all." Furthermore, Brown had
by now contracted scurvy, which progressed until his "entire body was covered with sores"; when he went to the camp doctor about it, "all they gave me was a cold douche." And there was almost nothing to eat. "We had only beans, navy beans I think, and frozen potatoes, which we had to take turns peeling out in the courtyard, in cold weather." To fill out the weight of the beans, the farmers who supplied them ingeniously larded them with tiny pebbles—"I don't know where they ever found these little pebbles that looked so much like beans," Brown says wistfully—and the prisoners "were required to eat them
one bean at a time." But because the men were always hungry, "they would shovel them in—and crack their teeth on them." When he got back to the States, Brown remembers, he saw a dentist, who asked him: "What have you been eating? Stones?" And he replied: "Indeed, I have." (Whereupon—"without anesthetic"—the dentist began removing his back teeth.) The men at Pr飩gn頷ere also given one slice of bread per day, "which was eventually reduced to half a slice"; having arrived there with a little money, Brown, in the beginning, was able to buy an apple. He remembers another prisoner walking behind him as he peeled it, "picking up the peelings as soon as they fell to the ground," while another scolded him "for wasting good food." In The Enormous Room the name Pr飩gn頨ad often been part of a single, ominous phrase: "Pr飩gn頯r freedom," or "Pr飩gn頼i>pour la dur饠de la guerre." Brown had assumed that he was "in for the duration," and constantly found himself wondering whether it would be "a Thirty Years War, or a Hundred Years War." He had "a friend or two who claimed to be American," but he was "never sure." In the end, he was one of only two people he knew of who got out of Pr飩gn頡live.
Efforts, meanwhile, were being made to secure his release, and to this day Slater Brown cannot understand why the process took so long. While Cummings evidently put in a good word for him at the American Embassy (where he was summoned on his way out of the country), and belatedly enlisted the help of John Dos Passos, and while Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts got involved, Brown feels that it was his Uncle Paul (Spaulding) Bartlett, superintendent of the Slater Mills back in Webster—who had a friend in the State Department—who got him out. ". . . The other prisoners began shouting
my name, and gathered around and began cheering and slapping me on the back," he says. Remembering the precise moment the announcement of his release was made. "They carried my mattress, and my luggage, and some were trying to get me to smuggle letters out for them. I remember one man who was a cobbler, who had apparently served time as a murderer, who came up and
scolded me because I hadn't taken my shoes to him to be repaired, before I left. But they were all delighted."
At the end of February, 1918, he was taken down to Bordeaux on the train, "locked up again in a little jail," then, "on the trolley," taken for an interview with the American Consul. After five and a half months among filth and dirt and brawling, contentious men, he had a mustache that "consisted of two hairs on one side, and one on the other," and was "dressed in rags." When, under the escort of a plainclothes detective, he was allowed to go to a clothing store to buy a new suit, ". . . I'll be damned if this plainclothesman didn't climb into the dressing room with me, and begin making passes at me. I realized that he could have brought all sorts of charges against me if I resisted too violently, so I was careful. But somehow I managed to get him out of that closet." He was taken back to jail "for about another week," and at last put on the boat,
the Niagara. And now there was a final irony. "There were only ten passengers on the boat, and all soon became seasick," and for a while Slater Brown—a bit like Oliver Twist—found himself "the only person in the dining room." But it was "an awful old boat, and took thirteen days to get across" . . . and eventually it, too, ran out of food.
In New York, after again being questioned for a long time by a military officer, he was met by his father (a doctor then serving in the army), and taken back to the family home in Webster, Massachusetts. Himself the son of a doctor, his father had attended Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, and had once served in the Massachusetts state legislature; it was he who diagnosed and treated Brown's various ailments. But he was also a "staunch Republican" with whom Brown remembers having "violent arguments." Although there was a brother still at home, and two sisters would return from private school in the spring, although there were three unmarried aunts keeping house together nearby (one of whom is fondly remembered for discovering a bit of Nipmuc Indian blood in Brown's ancestry), the young man who had earlier fled Webster was still hungry for city life and intellectual companionship; "after little more than a month," he was back in New York. A brief correspondence led to a reunion with Cummings; they took an apartment together in Greenwich Village, and Brown was quickly drawn into Cummings's circle of friends: Dillwyn Parrish, Sibley Watson, Scofield Thayer, Edward Nagle, Gaston Lachaise. and eventually, John Dos Passos. He re-enrolled at Columbia University, where he met the already combative Matthew Josephson, and while still an undergraduate, became friends with Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley. Because he "refused to take the swimming test" (the old anarchic spirit had not been entirely crushed), he "failed to graduate."
This new and invigorating chapter of Brown's life had no sooner begun, however, when the previous one acquired a seemingly cruel footnote: having turned twenty-one while at Fert魍ac鬠he was now eligible for military service. In the summer of 1918, he was drafted and "sent down to an artillery camp in Georgia" (Camp Columbia, as he remembers). But out of the afflictions of his captivity came at least one happy issue. Unlike Cummings, who was similarly drafted and served six unhappy months, Brown's "loss of opposing molars" made him unfit for service, and he was discharged after "only about ten days."
At the time he applied for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service in 1917, E. E. Cummings had been living with a college friend in New York, in an apartment he described as one "enormous room" (Kennedy 130). Three years later, when his benignly persistent father persuaded him to come up to the family summer home, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire, and complete work on
his account of what had happened to him in France, it was tacitly understood that his roommate of the moment, Slater Brown, would come along. ". . . Cummings's father didn't much care for me," Brown says, summarizing, candidly and matter-of-factly, what must have been a delicate relationship: Cummings's father, who comes down through the years as a generally sensible, marvelously tolerant man, inevitably considered Brown to be the person who had led his son astray (he is known to have criticized his son for choosing his friends "unwisely"), but now he sensed the importance of Brown's presence on the scene if
his son's book were ever going to get itself written. Has Brown ever felt guilty about his part in the events that led to Fert魍ac鿠his interviewer asks (with some temerity). "No," he replies, flatly, without hesitation, and (corroborating the impression left by the book itself) he adds that Cummings "never blamed" him. He reminds his listener of the genuine, if idealistic, attempt he and Cummings had made, while serving with the ambulance unit, to join the French air force, and adds a curiously thought-provoking footnote: "If it hadn't been prison, he would have gotten shot down in the Escadrille.
Many of them were, you know." If there is a fleeting hint of defensiveness in that conjecture, it is quickly subsumed in the premise of the entire conversation, the mutual agreement that Brown was the inadvertent cause of one of the forever young and fresh, one of the most spirited, and perennially vibrant books in American literature. . . .
And judging by the evidence—including the author's—his presence on the scene as the book was being written was indeed salutary. "B & I were together at the writing, which sans his memory of events would have proved impossible," Cummings wrote to Malcolm Cowley, many years later (Norman 126). And to Brown himself, regarding his struggle with the book: " . . . you could & did help me inestimably" (Letters 244). While Brown asserts that he did not read The Enormous Room in draft form—in fact with characteristic diffidence remembers that he spent most of his time "fishing" and "sailing"—he did live in a tent with Cummings, up at Silver Lake, was a witness to the arguments that father and son had over whether the book should be used in a suit against the French government, stayed on with Cummings two months into
the fall, after the family left, and the writing continued; his participation in the birthing process was apparently important enough that when les deux americains were again in Paris, the following year (1921), Cummings's father
cabled that they both should come home to read proof (cf. Letters 83).
When Slater Brown had been placed on board the Niagara, and rather unceremoniously expelled from France, he had been "pointedly told by the French authorities not to come back." Three years later, traveling as private secretary to, and under the wing of Scofield Thayer, the wealthy backer and editor of Dial magazine, he did just that. Cummings, too, had returned to the Continent, and when Scofield Thayer went off on other pursuits (including psychiatric consultations with Sigmund Freud), the two made a bicycle trip from Paris down to Naples. Brown remembers stopping, at one point, and "asking some people in a little French town, how to get to Italy. They glanced at me, and over their shoulders . . . then turned and pointed at the Alps." Les deux americains "pushed their bicycles all day," Brown recalls, smiling bravely, then "coasted for eighteen miles"; his bicycle "had wooden wheels, and began smoking." When they finally reached the coast of the Mediterranean, Brown remembers that he made Cummings "dip his wheels in the water, as a commemorative gesture." They rode from Genoa down to Rome, and on to Naples, and returned to Paris on the train. And now, to avoid having to apply for a French carte d'identit, and "to take advantage of the exchange rate," Brown took a second trip, to the Austrian Tyrol; "if you had American money in those days," he says, "you were a millionaire." Malcolm Cowley, Virgil Thomson, and Matthew Josephson were also on the scene, and when he returned and told them about it, "they too rushed over."
But although he met Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard during this year abroad, the encounter that seems to have had the most Dada-esque quality came one evening when he was walking in the streets of Paris and met a man who had been with him at Pr飩gn鮠"He looked just as unhappy, then, as he did in Pr飩gn鬢 Brown recalls, with a kind of weary amusement. "His
name was Vladimir Michaelov. He was Russian, and a violinist, and, I presumed, a man of some breeding. He told me that he had been arrested because his mistress had stolen some jewelry, and they had found it in his apartment. But he was just as dirty and woebegone, out walking the streets of Paris, as when I knew him in prison. I even bumped into him a second time, and by then
he had come up with a harebrained scheme that he would return to the States with me, and marry one of my sisters."
At the end of his year abroad, Brown got back to the States with "ten cents" in his pocket. He stayed for a while with John Dos Passos, and began "scouring" the employment pages of the newspapers. He remembers the precise wording of the item to which he responded: "Literary gentleman needs substitute secretary during summer months." The "literary gentleman" turned out to be an eccentric millionaire named J. J. Manning, a man who gave rise to such stories—and Brown apparently has always been a good storyteller—that Edmund Wilson transcribed a page and a half of them into his diaries (334-35, 635). J. J. Manning had a seat on the Stock Exchange, which he used solely for personal trading, and was the type who would give bum steers to his friends for the pleasure of making money off their mistakes. He also loved the company of beautiful women; with exquisite taste, he "referred to them by their telephone numbers." The private secretary was soon put to work "escorting these women down to Atlantic City, and Miami, and elsewhere." On his very first day of work, in a hotel in Atlantic City, Brown recalls, "Manning summoned me to his room; he said he wanted to 'declaim Shakespeare.' I thought, 'Oh no, here we go.'" (Brown glances at his visitor suggestively.) "But no. Sitting there propped up in bed, he did recite. He could recite, word for word, the entire Taming of the Shrew. I think he didn't get along with his wife." At one point his employer gave Brown a thousand-dollar bill to keep for him, apparently hoping he would go off with it so he would have the pleasure of pursuing him. On another occasion, Brown was instructed to follow his employer around a golf course, and say, " 'Mr. Manning, keep your eye on the ball; Mr. Manning, keep your eye on the ball.' " ("I did it for a while," Brown says, rather laconically, "but didn't warm to it.") After repeated firings, and repeated reconciliations, Brown accidentally slammed the door of a taxicab on J. J. Manning's fingers, "and that was the effective end of it. . . . His house was on the present site of the Museum of Modern Art," Brown says, as an afterthought. "He made a million dollars while I was with him. I should have written something about him. . . ."
After a year with the infamous J. J. Manning, Brown turned to literary pursuits, and returned to more strictly literary society. He published short pieces in Dial (above whose offices he lived for a while), and in Broom,
where, in the company of Matthew Josephson and Harold Loeb, he served as an editor; there were excerpts from a novel-in-progress in Secession. He was a regular (and by all accounts genial, and witty) member of a group of writers
and artists whose Greenwich Village parties and speakeasy gatherings seem to have been as raucous and freewheeling as the Prohibition laws would have had them sedate and restrained; among this circle, or drifting in and out of it as their travel and literary squabbles permitted, were Allen Tate, Malcolm Cowley, Kenneth Burke, Hart Crane, Robert M. Coates, James Light, Susan Jenkins, Jean Toomer, Gorham Munson, Waldo Frank, E. E. Cummings, Matthew Josephson, and John Dos Passos. James Light was a talented director of the Provincetown Players who, Brown recalls, "would probably have gone on to considerable fame and fortune except that he had a bad habit of getting drunk on opening night, and walking on to the stage and telling his actors what to do." In 1924, "Jimmie" Light and his wife, Susan Jenkins, separated, and two years later she became Susan Jenkins Brown. And now, as an earlier migration had taken a whole generation of American writers to Paris (and as Brown's "discovery" of the Austrian Tyrol had prompted his friends to follow), there were the beginnings of a second migration, out of New York and into the surrounding countryside. When Slater Brown and Susan Jenkins moved to an ancient, rundown farmhouse near Pawling, New York, in 1925, they, in effect, drew a circle of important American writers with them.
"Writers always worked together back then," says Brown. As he and Edward Nagle had earlier provided housing for Hart Crane in Woodstock, New York, so now he and his wife-to-be gave him refuge in Pawling, putting him to work fixing screens, painting clapboard, clearing brush, chopping wood—and helping him search for his own house in the area. Coming along soon after,
first as visitors, then as buyers or renters in Pawling and nearby Sherman, Connecticut, were Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, Malcolm and Peggy Cowley, Robert and Elsa Coates, Peter Blume (the painter) and his wife Ebie, Romolo Bobba (the former Italian anarchist) and his wife Bina, John Brooks Wheelwright, Nathan Asch, and eventually, Matthew and Hannah Josephson.
It was a formidable gathering of talent, whose magnetic attraction led, over the years, to visits from Laura Riding, Paul Robeson, Ford Madox Ford, and others; Susan Jenkins Brown later wrote an illuminating memoir of the period, incorporating letters the Browns had received from Hart Crane (and making use of his nickname for the area), Robber Rocks.3
Prodded today for information about his relationship with Crane, Slater Brown is apt to reply, only, "Yes, I knew him . . . , or "We got along well . . . ," but the fact is (as Crane's letters make clear) that Brown was as good a friend as the poet ever had, and the Browns' home as much a home. If Crane, in one of his many fits of pique, threw his typewriter out the window, it was likely to be the faithful Brown who went and dug it out of a snowbank, or tried to secure a new one; as Brown had been the unwitting midwife to Cummings's Enormous Room, it was Susan Jenkins who led Crane to his apartment in
Brooklyn Heights, with its view of The Bridge. Of all the friends Crane alienated and eventually drove away, it was only, or almost only, the Browns who managed to stay on the good side of him. The biographies are liberally sprinkled with references to Slater Brown's friendship with the poet and, as they had been for Cummings, his stories and recollections later proved critical to the reconstruction of the poet's life. More than half a century ago he was assisting Philip Horton with the first major assessment; he made substantial contributions to Brom Weber's account, written in the Forties; and for the writing of Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane (1969), John Unterecker considered Brown's help of sufficient importance that he included him in the dedication. It is perhaps natural that, to the probings of the latest inquirer, he should reply
only, "Yes, I knew him. We got along well. . . ."
As Nathan Asch, and to a lesser extent, Robert M. Coates had done, Slater Brown used the countryside around "Robber Rocks" (or "Tory Hill" as it was also known) as a setting for fiction. His novel, The Burning Wheel, deals with a theme that has become a staple of modern writing, the arrival of the newcomers, the outsiders, the naive and voracious "city folk," upon a rather sullen, set-in-its-ways rural scene. In this case the name of the newcomers' dog, "Shark," is symptomatic of the entire tale: the rich young architect, accompanied by his already cowed and submissive wife, buys his new toy, his old house, practically out from under the previous owners, auctioning its contents in front of them, then proceeds to ingratiate himself with the community by deflowering his neighbor's beautiful daughter. While the wheels are turning that will lead to a settling of these accounts, the interloper tricks another old-timer out of his property; the city acquaintance who is to receive it sets fire to it accidentally, and while trying to rescue the plumbing fixtures with which he will "improve" it, literally brings it down around him. In the end, an implied curse is fulfilled when the first thick-skinned intruder, and the father of the girl he has despoiled, fight their way out onto an ice-covered lake and, still wrestling for the upper hand, go down together.
In its overall effect, The Burning Wheel is both melodramatic and somewhat static, at once labyrinthine and talky; along with sexual intrigue and lurking violence, the story is propelled along on alcohol in one form or another and, as Brown freely admits, the tale might well have fermented for another season in its cask. After its appearance in America, the book was published in England, and was subsequently translated into German.
Meanwhile, along with his circle of writer friends, Brown had appeared in the lighthearted broadside Aesthete 1925, and participated in a pugnacious colloquy on American letters, published in transition; as he had earlier reviewed Cummings's Tulips & Chimneys in Broom, he defended Cummings's play, Him, in the Saturday Review of Literature. While working on his own writing, he supported himself mainly by doing translations from the French: Abel Hermant, Last and First Love; Andr頓almon, The Black Venus; Henri B鲡ud, My Friend Robespierre; Henri de R駮ier, The Libertines; Maurice Constantin-Weyer, A Man Scans His Past. But he had a son now, and the need
for a reliable source of income forced him and his wife to move back to the city; "without knowing it, we became the first 'East Villagers,' " Susan Jenkins Brown wrote, referring to the location of the apartment in their building, that the Josephsons found for them (107).
In the Thirties, brought there by Malcolm Cowley, Slater Brown served as an editorial assistant at The New Republic, and for a while was an editor at the New Masses; he was "fired" from the latter after he "refused to join the Party."
Throughout the decade, he continued to contribute gracefully, fluently written book reviews, political reportage, and light verse to The New Republic. Once, desperately in need of cash and finding nothing in his mailbox but the Montgomery Ward catalogue, he submitted a review of that weighty volume. His review, a bit of ironic commentary that appeared under the title "Men in Long Underwear," was clearly prompted by memories of the Depression, and perhaps carried a few personal memories as well. In "1,005 pages," he wrote, "no one shows signs of undernourishment, no one is ill clad, no one has a front tooth missing, no one has a mustache." Even the "men in long underwear," caught in their manly poses, seemed "animated by a thousand fleeting emotions," and were "doing things." All except for one. There was one man who was sitting "quite
alone on a heavy leather couch . . . in evident distress," and he was "reading a book" (210).
In a paean to drinking as one of the "joyful arts" that appeared in Broom, in 1923, Slater Brown had extolled alcohol as "the poor man's Freud," and proclaimed that he and his fellow writers would go forward "with a pen in one hand and a mug of beer in the other" (161); reminiscing about the Prohibition era, he recalls how his circle of friends "drank straight alcohol, by the gallon. It was fearful stuff," he says; "I don't know how we all lived through it." ("Though we seemed to be spending an awful lot of time eating and drinking," Dos Passos summarized, in The Best Times, "we managed to get work
done" .) The "joyful art" eventually became a burden and liability for Brown, and while there are dates and distant references for which, at ninety-two, he occasionally has to struggle, he has no difficulty whatsoever with "October 15, 1947," the day, more than forty years ago, that he joined A.A. "It changed my life," he says, with low-key, but unambiguous satisfaction. Although he had one lapse (a "spiritual imprisonment" for which Cummings suggested he write the analogue to The Enormous Room [Letters 244]), that, too, took place nearly forty years ago. Having separated from Susan Jenkins
Brown in the mid-Thirties, and having fathered a daughter with the former Esther Rosenberg, he married officially for a second time, in 1957.
His new wife was the grandniece of William and Henry James, and the sister-in-law of Alexander Calder; for a man with a reputation as a good storyteller, the wedding ceremony itself provided Slater Brown with new material. "Our wedding license was obtained in Roxbury, Connecticut, the home of the Calders, but because Mary James and I had both been divorced,
the minister there decided he couldn't marry us. So we made arrangements to be married in the next town over. But at the crucial part of the ceremony, over in this other church, we all had to get up, pile into our cars, and drive back
across the town line, into Roxbury. There, under the pine trees, in the snow by the side of the road, we were pronounced man and wife. It was actually quite romantic. . . ." They returned to the Calders for a wedding reception, then settled into a narrow-staired house, built by a tugboat captain, on the Cape Ann coast north of Boston. In what was apparently a time of renewed peacefulness, Slater Brown produced, during the Fifties and Sixties, The Talking Skyscraper, Spaceward Bound, Gray Bonnets, and Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys (books for young readers: the latter sold 100,000 copies), and the general studies, World of the Desert and World of the Wind.
In 1970 he published his most memorable work, The Heyday of Spiritualism, a study of nineteenth-century fascination with magnetism, mesmerism, spirit rappings, levitations, and other forms of pseudoscience and the occult. None of his books is presently in print.
Mary James Brown died in 1987, Susan Jenkins Brown in 1982, Malcolm Cowley in 1989; with Kenneth Burke in failing health, Slater Brown lives on alone, practically the last surviving member of an entire literary generation. Alone but, as he would say, "in the best of spirits": with many friends, and an extended family. Although his conversation on the subject of his illustrious friendships of the past is always modest and unassuming, and makes no attempt to disguise either personal antipathies or personal failings, there is something noteworthy in the choruslike quality of the language by which he was
known to others. "You can't beat his affectionate generosity in any friend on earth," Hart Crane wrote, in a letter to his family (Unterecker 391). Matthew Josephson referred to his "sly wit," his "sweet and disarming manners," his "quite whimsical humor" (33, 92). For Allen Tate, there was "no wittier, more charming, more learned person (Fain 132). And Cummings, writing to him after nearly forty years of friendship, still thought of him as "one of the most generous human beings alive" (Letters 244). Slater Brown lives not only in the books he has written, but in the biographies to which, for more than half a century, he has unselfishly contributed; along with two on Cummings, and three on Hart Crane, he has assisted with three books on John Dos Passos, one on Matthew Josephson, and another on Allen Tate. And to this day he is easy and friendly company, afraid neither of the impish pun nor the genially anarchic, or just plain forthright opinion. What does he think of the biographies to which he has contributed? "The Philip Horton account gave me the creeps," he says flatly. "It was as if I were seeing Hart on a marble slab. They all bother me some. They all seem to be about people I didn't know. . . ."
Perhaps it is always and inevitably that way: those present in the scene, even if not at center stage, have a fundamentally different perspective from that of the audience—and the reviewers—who come afterward. But it is a
curious circle: the man who for more than half a century helped to establish the record still finds it at odds with what he remembers. Without any particular emotion but perhaps sensing the pleasure it will give his visitor, Slater Brown
goes to a desk in the corner of his living room (the visitor sneaks a look out the window, catches a glimpse of waves breaking against the Dry Salvages), and returns with a folder containing letters from Hart Crane and E. E. Cummings.
In the circumstances, these fragile papers, as they are held up, turned over, discussed and explained, these fragile papers that are somewhere between personal communication and a part of history, take on a vaguely magical quality.
Near the bottom of the file, on a page that has been not only neatly typed but graphically arranged so as to be pleasing to the eye, there is a particularly captivating letter. Written nearly thirty years ago, in the year before his death, it
shows Cummings's good will and friendliness to be as fresh and youthful as ever. Set noticeably into the left-hand margin, the salutation reads: "Dear B."
"I have before me the personal and official correspondence dealing with the arrest and detention of Cummings and Brown, including Brown's intercepted letters," Charles Norman announced in his biography of Cummings, The Magic-Maker (84).
Slater Brown has long maintained that these three letters which have long been cited as the chief reason for his and Cummings's incarceration, seem "strange" and "unfamiliar" to him and cannot be, at least not precisely and verbatim, the letters he wrote. For one thing they are full of phrases he is certain he would not have used: "over the hill" (soldiers advancing out of their trenches go "over the top"); "white wine au Grove" ("whatever that is"); "Neady Beer" (the original phrase was probably "near-beer"). For another, the addressee of one of the letters, the professor to whom he wrote at Columbia, was not "Gerhardt Lower," but Gerhard Richard Lomer, and Lomer was not a "German Professor" (Richard Norton of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service, writing to Cummings's father with advice and consolation, was clearly echoing French fears), but an English-speaking Canadian who taught English: he is listed in the faculty records of Columbia University.
It appears that Brown's disavowal of the letters, as reprinted in 1958, is entirely justified. Charles Norman did not make it clear that he did not have the original, holograph letters in front of him, but typescripts identical to the ones in the National Archives in Washington. (Reference numbers for the Archives material are given in Kennedy 489.) Norman had to have known he was not working with the originals, and might well have been more explicit: all three letters announce that they are being written "with a quill pen," and though he twice corrected the skewed syntax of the letters with the aid of
brackets, Norman did not indicate that he had also corrected several implausible misspellings: for example "tought" and "litterature."
The question becomes, then, how did the letters get into Brown's dossier in such a bastardized form? Apparently one or both of the following things happened. The clerk-typist who produced the typewritten versions of Brown's letters made numerous mistakes, and/or the letters were translated into French, for use by the French authorities, and then retranslated into English when the whole file of incriminating material was handed over to the Americans. The latter scenario is by no means implausible: Brown remembers that the examining commission at La Fert魍ac頨ad his letters before them, in French, and Cummings corroborates the fact in two letters he wrote after his mid-November and mid-December interviews with the commission. In the first, he reported: "One of 3 people asked me a lot of questions . . . from collected translations of passages censored in the letters of my friend . . ." (40), and in the second he referred to "a commission, composed of gentlemen who recounted (in French translation) various incriminating letters which my friend had written . . ." (Vernier 348).
And what of the other letters, in which Brown (admittedly) "wrote about the mutinies"? One may surmise that these were not passed along to the Americans for the simple reason that, in 1917, the French did not want specific references to the mutinies circulating anywhere, least of all at the highest levels of the American Embassy in Paris. Nor are these other letters anywhere mentioned in the charges brought against Brown and Cummings.
To fill out the record, it may be noted that Charles Francis Phillips and Lewis F. Levenson, two of the addressees of the letters reprinted by Norman (as well as the other men mentioned in the letters), were friends of Brown at the Columbia School of Journalism, and "Eleanore" and "Estelle Albert" were Barnard girls with whom he had been friendly.
Brown admits that he has always been "very irritated" by the fact that. when he was gathering material for his biography of Cummings, Charles Norman came to visit him and did not tell him that he had obtained copies (that is, typescripts) of his own letters. Brown was in Europe when the book appeared, and when he complained about the matter to Cummings and protested that the letters, as reprinted, could not possibly have been the exact words he wrote, Cummings sent him a letter of apology (it is among the letters referred to at the end of this article). In it Cummings said: "no wonder you're irritated with Charles Norman! All those letters (especially the one purporting to concern a German professor at Columbia) made our nonhero feel uneasy—but, stupidly enough, he never imagined they were included sans your consent."