The Magazine

Among the Lions

Writers don't necessarily make the best stories.

Jun 4, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 36 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
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These are among the exceptional anecdotes, for not even the literary immortals can render a mere humdrum event interesting. Does anyone care, for instance, that Dickens once lost his balance and fell, fully clothed, into a tub of water? Or that Gray of the churchyard elegy was afraid of fire? Moreover, one's distinct impression is that interest fades as one nears the present. Perhaps a dozen or so of the recent figures represented here (it would be rude to name them) would be unremarkable if they walked on water. Perhaps the trouble is that they are not dead--or dead enough.

Finally, an alert reader may find to his pleasant surprise, as this reviewer did, that he can improve upon authorized recollection. "A group went to the Old Cheshire Cheese," writes William Van O'Connor in his biography of Ezra Pound, "where Yeats held forth . . . on the ways of bringing music and poetry together. Pound sought attention by eating two red tulips." I was at a seminar table in the English Department in Chapel Hill fifty years ago when Robert Frost, who seems to have been present at Pound's unusual salad dish, told the same story more vividly: "Ezra ate the tulips leaf by leaf," said Frost in his inimitable Down East growl, adding: "Ezra always was a kind of pretty boy."

Small world!

Edwin M. Yoder Jr., a former editor and columnist in Washington, has invented a number of literary anecdotes in his forthcoming novel about Freud and Henry James.