Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Houghton Mifflin Company
BOSTON NEW YORK
Copyright Â© 2006 by Louis Auchincloss
All Rights Reserved
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The young Apollo and other stories / Louis Auchincloss.
1. New York (N.Y.)âSocial life and customsâFiction.
2. Upper classâFiction. 3. Rich peopleâFiction.
Book design by Anne Chalmers
Typefaces: Janson Text, Fournier, Rococo Ornaments
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my granddaughter,
The Young Apollo â¢
Other Times, Other Ways â¢
A Case History â¢
Lady Kate â¢
The Attributions â¢
An Hour and a Lifetime â¢
The Artist's Model â¢
Pandora's Box â¢
Her Better Half â¢
The Grandeur That Was Byzantium â¢
Pa's Darling â¢
Due Process â¢
to put my thoughts about Lionel Manning together in this memorandum. I have to make up my mind, and soon, whether or not I shall accede to Senator Manning's request that I compose a short life of his son, Lionel, or "Lion" as we elders used to call him. It is now five years since Lion died of heart failure, aged thirty-one, in 1913, just before the outbreak of the long and terrible war that has cast the stain of doubt over the ideals we thought our boys were fighting for, as seemingly exemplified in the golden image of my young friend. I use the word "young" more in contrast to my own seventy summers than to emphasize a life so cut short, for it was characteristic of Lion in the matter of friendship to take no account of age, which endeared him to many of my contemporaries. Perhaps he offered us the illusion of some kind of life after death.
There is a cynical side of my old crusty bachelor self that whispers that it may have been just as well that Lion died when he did. After all, there is something fine and noble in an early demise. We can always now see him in a halo of glory, with his gleaming blond hair, his laughing gray-blue eyes, his gracefully molded features, his splendid muscular torso; we can hear his excited tones voicing his high principles; we can feel that he has taken his proper place in the gallant and inspiring company of the slain English friends whom he met as a Rhodes scholar. Don't we glimpse through the darkness of today the broad green lawn of an Edwardian garden party and wonderful young men in blazers and white flannels talking of the great things they would do in a future they would never have?
The wrong people have survived this war. My own "sacred circle," as some envious folk have described it, came through without a scratch. How shall I describe the circle? It consists of a small group of individuals, more or less prominent in the artsâwriting, sculpture, paintingâall of whom live in Washington without being native to the city, and none of whom, with the notable exception of George Manning, has the least connection with government. All are old, of course, and none hail from the kind of background that might be expected to produce great art. Ella Robinson, the novelist, for example, was born of Boston Brahmins; Elihu Tweed, the sculptor, was the son of a New York governor; and my own father, siring a historian, was a United States Supreme Court justice.
We used to fancy that we represented a kind of American renaissance. In the two decades preceding the war, our country was emerging from its long dependence on European culture. The notorious low value that Henry James accorded the subject material which America offered to the writer of fiction had been totally revised; we now claimed equal rights, so to speak, on Parnassus. And the young man whom we all held as our joint heir apparent, who was going to be the great poet of the future, to whom we were all more or less John the Baptists, was Lion Manning.
Why does George Manning not write the life of his own son? I have never much liked George. He is as deeply conservative as a Republican senator from Rhode Island can get; he is shrewd, raspingly sarcastic, and basically mean. But he exercises a hefty political influence, and he purports to be a stout supporter of the arts. He had no patience with Lion's ambition to be a poet, however. He wanted him to become a lawyer, a statesman, a great man. He adored the boy but never understood him and lectured him constantly on his duty to follow in the paternal footsteps. Lion simply grinned and didn't listen. He could always wind the old man around his little finger. Yet I know he deeply loved his father. And I think the reason the senator wouldn't write the book himself may have been that he was a bit scared of the boy and would have fancied him looking over his shoulder as he wrote.
It is perfectly understandable, at any rate, why George should have picked me for the job. As an old bachelor who at least professed high ethical standards and a longtime observer of the passing scene in the nation's capital, I had appealed to Lion from his boyhood as a counterpoise to his father's political cynicism. I was the kind of avuncular mentor he had never had. He read my long history of the Supreme Court with a passionate and intelligent interest, and as always, even with his elders, took independent and forceful positions in his criticism. It was he who elicited all my memories of my Washington past and hounded me until I put them in my memoirs,
Life of a Voyeur
, on which such reputation as I have gained will probably rest, even at the expense of my longer and more exhaustive studies. That, anyway, is what I was to Lion. What he was to me was simply the son I never had.
We all loved him, of course. I think Ella Robinson may even have been in love with him, though she was almost old enough to have been his young mother. But she seems to share some of my doubts as to the advisability of producing this life of him. I do not, however, quite believe in the excuse she has offered me for not participating in it. Here is what she has written me:
There has been no one in my life, dear Ralph, to whom I owe more than to Lion. It is odd that a woman of my age should have been significantly indebted to a man so much her junior. But I was. You may have suspected part of the story. Here, anyway, is it all.
As I was nearing my fiftieth year, I moved to Paris to try a winter there. I had separated from Ted Robinson after a long but tepid marriage, and I had reached a time of life when I assumed that the tide of romantic love, which had never reached far enough up my beach to touch me, would leave me permanently dry. Yet I was quite resigned. I had my work and a slowly expanding audience of readers; I had enough money and many friends. I enjoyed travel, and I loved Paris. I had no complaints.
And then I met Cyril Ames. He was actually brought to my house, to the small literary salon I had sought to establish, by Lion, who, having just finished his Rhodes scholarship, had come over to Paris to work on his epic poem on the murder of Agamemnon, which he hoped would establish his reputation as a serious poet. Cyril, of course, was a good fifteen years older than Lion, but as you know, Lion had friends of all ages. People were drawn to him. Cyril was a handsome dark-eyed and dark-haired bachelor who worked as the foreign correspondent for a small New York journal; he was a smooth talker with a reputation for philandering. But he spoke as if he was a man utterly disillusioned with romance. He professed an ardent admiration of my work, and he came to all my little gatherings with a flattering persistence. Soon he was sending me flowers and inviting me to dinner at delightful restaurants. I guess there's no fool like an old fool; he certainly made one of me.
I now know that he had a fetish of conquering distinguished women whose success in life, compared to his own lackluster achievements, aroused his spite and envy. And he cultivated the art of keeping them subjugated with desperate hope, even after he had discontinued carnal relations; it gave him some sort of jag to have them still pursuing him when he was defiantly courting others. I actually believed him when he told me that I was the first serious love of his life! We had a fast and furious affair. You've probably been spared, Ralph, the exhausting experience of being loved by a middle-aged woman who's discovered for the first time the joy of sex! It was only a few weeks before my new lover abandoned me.
In the agony of my despair I even appealed to Lion! Can you conceive of such degradation? I actually begged him to intercede for me with my ex-lover! The poor boy was appalled. He had never dreamed that anything would develop between Cyril and me. Cyril had been merely the most casual of Lion's friends, and he had only brought him to my salon because Cyril had expressed a great desire to meet me.
"It's sickening to see a first-rate woman in the grip of a third-rate man," he told me after I had related my sorry tale. "But I got you into this mess, and I'll get you out."
And he came to see me, for as much as two hours at a time, every single day! Think of the time he lost for his poem, listening to my endless ravings as I poured out my heart. But I don't know what I should have done without him. Jumped into the Seine, perhaps. I was almost mad.
At length, after he had virtually ordered me to take up my writing pen again, I produced a short story about my affair to express what I had the folly to deem my new insight into the deeper emotions of life. I flattered myself that I had gained a new knowledge of the soul, that there was now a greater comprehension of love in my writing. Lion, reading my little effort, dispelled my illusion.
"It's not so much the artist's emotion, Ella, that goes into the making of great art. It's his imagination and persistent hard work. People who think Shakespeare must have been depressed when he wrote
have it all wrong. He probably kicked up his heels when he saw what he'd done. This story is the one bad piece of prose I've seen from the hand of Ella Robinson. Back to your muttons, my friend! That's the word."
"You mean I should go back to all the petty snobberies of my old Boston tales? After I've learned at last about the heart?"
"Damn right you should go back. Boston is your field, Ella. Boston is your capital. And you mustn't waste a penny of it!"
Well, that was it. Lion simply took over my life. He sent me back to Boston, where I wrote the best-selling novel that made my real reputation, after which I moved to Washington, which would probably have been a mistake had there not been so many Bostonians there. Of course, I took as the model for my hero Lion himself. And that is my memorial to him. And my only one.
Was that her real excuse? Well, maybe. Elihu Tweed offered me a strangely similar one. He writes me that his post-humous use of Lion's head as his model for the soldier leading the bayonet charge at Chateau-Thierry in his war memorial at Rock Creek Park is a sufficient tribute on his part to our young friend. And of course he has a point. The figure of the warrior is indeed a splendid one and well illustrates how Lion would have looked and acted had he survived to take his part in the war. I actually tend to think of him as a casualty in that conflict, as if the heart that went back on him so cruelly early in life had been a battle wound. And I like to think of the anomaly of that heroic figure emerging from marble through the chisel of my stubby, balding, passionate little friend Elihu Tweed! Here is what he wrote:
I really don't see the point, dear Ralph, of us old farts getting together to sing paeans in praise of the dear dead boy. Isn't there something repellent about a bunch of aged writers and artists, who've had their lives and successes perhaps beyond their deserts, warming their withered paws against the fire of Lion's flaming youth? Don't they seem to be scraping up every scrap of his abbreviated life to add to their own glory? They who had everything and he who had nothing? Ugh!
However, I'll give you one thing you can use in your book if you care to. It's about what Lion did for
As you know, I've been subject all my life to periods of black depression. When they hit, it's impossible for me to do any work; I have to suffer through restless days and even more restless nights until the cursed thing blows away, as inexplicably as it came. But I had one such spell that seemed to be traceable to a cause. My statue group of the Rough Riders in Miami had received a poorish press. I had even been denounced by two major art critics as a totally derivative sculptor, as a slavish follower of Florentine artists of the Renaissance, as a man who had nothing to say to the twentieth century that couldn't have been said better by Benvenuto Cellini! I had never been much concerned with critics before, but this really struck home. Because it was true! I might as well have been born in Florence at the time Columbus discovered America, in the shadow of the Strozzi Palace.
Lion was only twenty-one at the time, and he was often in Washington visiting his old man. He liked to drop in to my studio and watch me at work. Of course, then I wasn't working, but he came to cheer me up. Or to try to. That was like him, and eventually he actually succeeded. For after I told him about the critics, he gave me such a fight talk as I had never received in my life. This is the gist of it.
"Why is what they said so damning, Elihu? I don't see it that way at all. It strikes me, on the contrary, as the highest praise. They say you copy Cellini. But the truth is that you
Cellini! You have been given us straight from the sixteenth century, and now we have something just as good as anything even a Medici pope ever had. It is a unique possession, and we should treasure it and not reproach you for not speaking to your time. Why can't we live in any age we choose? We go on like crazy about old masterpieces; we dig up ancient statues and temples to adorn our museums. Why scorn a man who is producing the very things we spend fortunes on? Stuff and nonsense!"
So there you are, Ralph. He cured me!