Home Arts and Leisure Ernest Hemingway to Archibald McLeish: ‘Count on me for anything an honest man should do’

Ernest Hemingway to Archibald McLeish: ‘Count on me for anything an honest man should do’


Archibald MacLeish belonged to the Paris expatriate crowd that included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Harry Crosby.

Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish

He was born in May 7, 1892, on an estate in Glencoe, Ill., educated in New England – at the Hotchkiss School, at Yale, where he belonged to  Skull and Bones, and at Harvard Law School, where he edited the Harvard Law Review.

His academic career was interrupted by World War I, where he served as an ambulance driver (like his difficult friend Ernest Hemingway) and as an artillery captain. After he graduated from law school he taught at Harvard, edited The New Republic and then practiced law.

That lasted for about three years. Then he chucked it all and in 1923 moved with his wife Ada to join the Lost Generation in Paris. He wanted to be a poet. He succeeded.

In 1928, they returned to the United States and bought a farm in Conway, Mass. He worked for Fortune Magazine during the 1930s.

Archibald MacLeish is perhaps best known as the Librarian of Congress, a post thrust upon him by President Franklin Roosevelt. He was in that job when his friend Ernest Hemingway wrote him a letter from Cuba on Aug. 10, 1943. Hemingway was responding to a letter written by MacLeish with copies of inflammatory pro-Fascist broadcasts in Italy made by Ezra Pound.

He ruminates on Ezra Pound and asks MacLeish if he can get him a job as a war correspondent.

Dear Archie:

Thanks for sending the stats of Ezra’s rantings. He is obviously crazy. I think you might prove he was crazy as far back as the latter Cantos. He deserves punishment and disgrace but what he really deserves is ridicule.

Pound, wrote Hemingway, should not be hanged nor martyred.

“He has a long history of generosity and unselfish aid to other artists and he is one of the greatest of living poets. It is impossible to believe that anyone in his right mind could utter the vile, absolutely idiotic drivel he has broadcast.

His friends who knew him and who watched the warpeing and twisting and decay of his mind and judgement should defend him and explain him on that basis. It will be a completely unpopular but an absolutely necessary thing to do. I have had no correspondence with him for ten years and the last time I saw him was in 1933 when Joyce asked me to come to make it easier having Ezra at his house. Ezra was moderately whacky then. The broadcasts are absolutely balmy. I wish we could talk the whole damned thing over. But you can count on me for anything an honest man should do.

Was plenty worried about Kenny about three weeks ago. Is he okay? Give him my best.

Will be here about ten days more and then gone for two three months. If you come down you can use the house and catch yourself a good rest. Or you might come wherever we were and get a change of scenery and routine.

Ernest Hemingway

Whatever you do if you have time keep on writing to me. Feel as though had an old friend back from the dead where, unfortunately, most of old friends now are.  What the hell has become of John Peale Bishop by the way? He had such a good, disinterested love of letters and such an horrid wife.

I found the wire about Honoria’s marriage when got back here. Where can I write her? Do you know? What is Sara’s address?

Maybe I can get up to N.Y. by late November. Would like to take two months somewhere away from tropics and write something that would like to write. Haven’t written a line now for just over a year.

Is there any chance that we might send guys to the war not to write govt. publications or propaganda but so as to have something good written afterwards? Do you think I have enough category to get any such assignment after finish work here? The British are using both writers and painters that way. If we don’t want such people maybe I could get a job with British. I don’t want to be a Lt. Col like Jimmy Sheean to whom I have always previously had to point out which end of a battlefield was which, and in the past year or so have discovered the greet joy and vice of anonymity which is a fine good snotty vice, but it occurred to me that when finish up working it might be a good sound thing to do something like have outlined above. What do you think? Maybe I could be the accredited correspondent for the Library of Congress.

Write me about it seriously will you?

So long Archie. Love to the children and to Ada.


Ernest Hemingway

Pound was arrested, sent to the United States and declared unfit to stand trial. Archibald MacLeish died April 20, 1982 in Boston. Hemingway’s papers are housed in the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Photos: ‘Archibald Macleish,’ Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. ‘Ernest Hemingway,’ by Lloyd Arnold. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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