A Bountiful Harvest

The Correspondence of Anthony Hecht and William L. MacDonaldEdited and introduced by Philip HoyPublication: March 15th, 2018

£29.95

Anthony Hecht and William L. MacDonald met for the first time in the fall of 1954, shortly after each had arrived in Rome, Hecht on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and MacDonald on a Rome Fellowship at the American Academy. Hecht was 31 years old, and MacDonald 33; both were recently married, and both were on their way to making names for themselves, Hecht as one of his era’s most esteemed poets, and MacDonald as one its most accomplished architectural historians. Though neither man could have realized it at the time, this was to be the start of a friendship that would endure for the best part of four decades, a friendship which would generate a large body of correspondence, the character of which is likely to come as a surprise to anyone who only knew the men by their works. All but a handful of the 440 letters and postcards that have come down to us are now gathered in A Bountiful Harvest, a volume edited and with an introduction by Anthony Hecht’s UK publisher Philip Hoy. The correspondence combines richness of anecdote with variety of topic, lightness of touch with great learning, a passion for high culture with a love of the down-to-earth and downright off-colour, concern for each other with undisguised rivalrousness. Above all, the exchanges are almost unceasingly funny, except towards the end, when things take an unexpected and deeply saddening turn.

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ISBN: 978-1-904130-90-1 Extent: 544pp Category:

A Bountiful Harvest

This is a unique and exhilarating yield indeed, a decades-long epistolary exchange between two of late twentieth-century America’s wittiest and most creative minds, inventing as they go a parlance (mostly English, with much exotic admixture) at once deeply learned and wickedly ribald, parodically arch and touchingly percipient. More often than not the points of departure are the visual arts, architecture, and literature, and other subjects include extravagant ‘lagniappes of culture,’ while in counterpoint we have Philip Hoy’s energetic, resourceful exactitude. His curiosity shines its light into every nook and cranny — crook and nanny, as one under the pertinent influence might say — and indeed there are moments at which the reader suspects the editor is participating in the game he broadcasts. His scrupulous notes about their stationery dovetail with the correspondents’ ingenious allonyms, and his carefully chosen photos and other visual aids provide welcome context. Turn to this book at any point for spiritual stimulation—as inspiration for an essay on the classical, the romantic, or the baroque, as an antidote to academic ennui, as a livre de chevet—and be gratified and thankful. — Stephen Yenser, Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, UCLA

Robert Frost said he entertained ideas only to see if they entertained him. Hecht and MacDonald devote all their energies to entertaining each other. They sign off letters by the likes of Sir Cairo Portcullis, or Eddie Puss, or Timon of Akron, or Engle & Bert Humperdinck. They revel in shared feelings of contempt for a mutually disliked colleague, ‘The great arch-fool and world’s leading nitwit.’ Hecht offers to provide ‘filthy pictures’ for MacDonald’s book on Russian cities and does so under the name Jeremy Bentham. For these two close friends, every letter was a chance to perform in strikingly amusing ways. Now we can share in these entertaining performances. — William Pritchard, Henry Clay Folger Professor of English, Emeritus, Amherst College

Reading the correspondence of poet Anthony Hecht and architectural historian William L. MacDonald is like listening in on an extended, intimate, learned, and always entertaining conversation between two extraordinary men — witty raconteurs, brilliant intellectuals and incisive wordsmiths — as they explore their interior lives, comment on friends and events, and return, again and again, to the tribulations and joys of their creative work. — John Pinto, Howard Crosby Butler Memorial Professor of Art and Archaeology, Emeritus, Princeton University

These letters between two old friends, each a master of his craft, are a delight. They are full of wit and high spirits, and shot through with Rabelaisian humor. Along the way, we learn a good deal about architecture and enjoy a feast of literary gossip, as well as recondite bits of lore. Such gifts for a reader are rare. — Eleanor Cook, Professor of English, Emerita, University of Toronto

It isn’t often in the history of literary correspondence that we get to hear from both sides. Rarer still do we find a pair of writers with such exhilarating flair for the epistolary sport as Hecht and MacDonald. Even rarer do letters find so judicious and resourceful an editor as Philip Hoy. I am reminded of a great Wimbledon final. The players have all the shots, and the umpire never misses a call. Anyone seriously interested in writing will immensely enjoy and benefit from this collection.” — Jonathan Post, Distinguished Professor of English, UCLA

[Letter #181]

[MacDonald to Hecht]

March 3rd, 1978

[25 Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Massachusetts 01060]

[Letter, typed on a Harvard Club of Boston, 374 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, letterhead, with a now missing enclosure]

Dear Colonel,

Did you hear about the Englishman, the German, and the Pole who, upon arriving at the Olympic Games, found there were no seats to be had at any price? You haven’t? Well, they were in despair, milling about and smacking their foreheads (each his own forehead), when the Englishman noted a length of pipe lying on the ground at a construction site. He stripped off his outer clothing in a flash of inspiration and, grabbing the pipe, sprinted through the contestants’ gate in his shorts, shouting “England! Javelin! Smith-Waterford!” The German quickly picked up a big stone, stripped to his shorts, and ran along behind, shouting “Schott-Putt! Germany! Hoffmann!” Both men were ad­mitted without a murmur. The Pole, grasping the point with ad­mirable speed, quickly removed all his clothes except his underwear, speedily wrapped himself in the construction site’s barbed wire, and tottered through the gate, yelling “Poland! Grabowski! Fencing!”

I enclose a picture of the family out shopping; they all send greetings.

With respect, and a few giggles,

Lucian K. Truscott V, Commanding

 

[Letter #313]

[Hecht to MacDonald]

[February 8th, 1983]

110 East Lenox Street, Chevy Chase, MD 20815]

[Letter, typed on a The Helmsley Palace Hotel, New York, letterhead, addressed to Prof. William MacDonald, Fermentarian, 25 Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Mass. 01060]

Here lies a famed physician, whose best skill
Could not at last evade The Bitter Pill.
No one was sure, but someone thought he sighed,
“Enema, fibula, glandular,” as he died.

Please take note that this crested letterpaper is not merely embossed, like the crummy French stuff you once employed, but is two-toned and gilded and altogether regal. I could tell quite easily how unnerved and overcome with anxiety you were about just where you stood in our sadly one-sided competition when in desperation you introduced the highly irrelevant declaration that you only used letterpaper from hotels you had actually stayed in. It shows a pathetic literalness of mind with which one can only commiserate.

Eryximachus

 

[Letter #348]

[MacDonald to Hecht]

August 13th, 1984

[3811 39th Street NW, #F-90, Washington, D.C. 20016]

[Letter, typed, addressed to A E Hecht, Guggenheimable, 19, East Boulevard, Rochester NY 14610]

13th day of Augustus’ very own month, ’84

My dear Senator,

That’s grand news about the Guggenheim prize, and particularly about the first-class flight. I find first class very, very enjoyable. This winter, when I go to Penn. six times or whatever, I intend to ride the Metroliner chair car, my idea of grand luxe; anyway, they said they’d pay.

I’ve been trying to plan your singing programme for La Scala and have hit some snags, but will send it along when I get it all put together. I’m pretty sure, though, that it will include “Hut Sut Rawlson on the Brawla Brawla Sewit,” and probably “Oh Promise Me.”

But seriously, that’s awfully good news. And out of the blue, instead of a sweating session of four months or a year, as so many decisions taken about us seem to use up. I’m greatly pleased for you, and envious of the trip. It does seem to me that your career is in marvelous condition, that you are at the height of your powers, where you will I hope long remain, and that you are increasingly recognized as a great artist. The reaction of the audience to your farewell address at the Library seemed, in its own way, proof of that. Savoring friends’ success is sweet.

Yours in nictitative anamnesis,

Lillian Gash

 

[Letter #381]

[Hecht to MacDonald]

January 11th, 1986

4256 Nebraska Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20016

[Letter, typed on a Croisière de Musique à bord de Mermoz letterhead, addressed to William MacDonald, conicopoly, The Getty Center for One Thing and Another, 401 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 400, Santa Monica, California 90401-1455]

Illustrious One,

It seems to me pathetically clear that even the briefest residence in California corrupts, just as Lord Acton said it would. As if your own letter, with its touching approval of L. A. architecture, were not evidence enough, there is the book, light but pointed, I am currently reading, by Paul Fussell, named Class. He quotes one Roger Price as saying “in Southern California even newscasters say ‘wunnerful’ and ‘anna-bi-od-dicks’ and ‘in-eress-ting.’” This kind of talk he characterizes as “prole,” and goes on to state: “A writer in the London Sunday Times not long ago testified to hearing that attempts were made to pervert a strike, and that somewhere a priest had been called in to circumcise a ghost. ‘Readers notify me of the lady with a painful “Ulster” in her mouth; the shrines you can see in Catholic countries in commemoration of “St. Mary Mandolin”; the police at the scene of a crime, who threw “an accordion” round the street; the touching sight of the deceased George V lying in state on a “catapult”… the student who always was to be found “embossed” in a book; the pilot who left his aircraft by means of an “ejaculation seat”; the drowning swimmer who was revived by means of “artificial insemination”; and the rainbow which was said by an onlooker to contain “all the colors of the rectum.”’ This, though it come from a British paper, sounds very Californian to me, and indicates the depths to which you have sunk. I plan to get the Banham book (I’ve already ordered it) to confirm my sad suspicions.

Pio No-No

Excerpts

[Letter #181]

[MacDonald to Hecht]

March 3rd, 1978

[25 Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Massachusetts 01060]

[Letter, typed on a Harvard Club of Boston, 374 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, letterhead, with a now missing enclosure]

Dear Colonel,

Did you hear about the Englishman, the German, and the Pole who, upon arriving at the Olympic Games, found there were no seats to be had at any price? You haven’t? Well, they were in despair, milling about and smacking their foreheads (each his own forehead), when the Englishman noted a length of pipe lying on the ground at a construction site. He stripped off his outer clothing in a flash of inspiration and, grabbing the pipe, sprinted through the contestants’ gate in his shorts, shouting “England! Javelin! Smith-Waterford!” The German quickly picked up a big stone, stripped to his shorts, and ran along behind, shouting “Schott-Putt! Germany! Hoffmann!” Both men were ad­mitted without a murmur. The Pole, grasping the point with ad­mirable speed, quickly removed all his clothes except his underwear, speedily wrapped himself in the construction site’s barbed wire, and tottered through the gate, yelling “Poland! Grabowski! Fencing!”

I enclose a picture of the family out shopping; they all send greetings.

With respect, and a few giggles,

Lucian K. Truscott V, Commanding

 

[Letter #313]

[Hecht to MacDonald]

[February 8th, 1983]

110 East Lenox Street, Chevy Chase, MD 20815]

[Letter, typed on a The Helmsley Palace Hotel, New York, letterhead, addressed to Prof. William MacDonald, Fermentarian, 25 Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Mass. 01060]

Here lies a famed physician, whose best skill
Could not at last evade The Bitter Pill.
No one was sure, but someone thought he sighed,
“Enema, fibula, glandular,” as he died.

Please take note that this crested letterpaper is not merely embossed, like the crummy French stuff you once employed, but is two-toned and gilded and altogether regal. I could tell quite easily how unnerved and overcome with anxiety you were about just where you stood in our sadly one-sided competition when in desperation you introduced the highly irrelevant declaration that you only used letterpaper from hotels you had actually stayed in. It shows a pathetic literalness of mind with which one can only commiserate.

Eryximachus

 

[Letter #348]

[MacDonald to Hecht]

August 13th, 1984

[3811 39th Street NW, #F-90, Washington, D.C. 20016]

[Letter, typed, addressed to A E Hecht, Guggenheimable, 19, East Boulevard, Rochester NY 14610]

13th day of Augustus’ very own month, ’84

My dear Senator,

That’s grand news about the Guggenheim prize, and particularly about the first-class flight. I find first class very, very enjoyable. This winter, when I go to Penn. six times or whatever, I intend to ride the Metroliner chair car, my idea of grand luxe; anyway, they said they’d pay.

I’ve been trying to plan your singing programme for La Scala and have hit some snags, but will send it along when I get it all put together. I’m pretty sure, though, that it will include “Hut Sut Rawlson on the Brawla Brawla Sewit,” and probably “Oh Promise Me.”

But seriously, that’s awfully good news. And out of the blue, instead of a sweating session of four months or a year, as so many decisions taken about us seem to use up. I’m greatly pleased for you, and envious of the trip. It does seem to me that your career is in marvelous condition, that you are at the height of your powers, where you will I hope long remain, and that you are increasingly recognized as a great artist. The reaction of the audience to your farewell address at the Library seemed, in its own way, proof of that. Savoring friends’ success is sweet.

...

Yours in nictitative anamnesis,

Lillian Gash

 

[Letter #381]

[Hecht to MacDonald]

January 11th, 1986

4256 Nebraska Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20016

[Letter, typed on a Croisière de Musique à bord de Mermoz letterhead, addressed to William MacDonald, conicopoly, The Getty Center for One Thing and Another, 401 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 400, Santa Monica, California 90401-1455]

Illustrious One,

It seems to me pathetically clear that even the briefest residence in California corrupts, just as Lord Acton said it would. As if your own letter, with its touching approval of L. A. architecture, were not evidence enough, there is the book, light but pointed, I am currently reading, by Paul Fussell, named Class. He quotes one Roger Price as saying “in Southern California even newscasters say ‘wunnerful’ and ‘anna-bi-od-dicks’ and ‘in-eress-ting.’” This kind of talk he characterizes as “prole,” and goes on to state: “A writer in the London Sunday Times not long ago testified to hearing that attempts were made to pervert a strike, and that somewhere a priest had been called in to circumcise a ghost. ‘Readers notify me of the lady with a painful “Ulster” in her mouth; the shrines you can see in Catholic countries in commemoration of “St. Mary Mandolin”; the police at the scene of a crime, who threw “an accordion” round the street; the touching sight of the deceased George V lying in state on a “catapult”… the student who always was to be found “embossed” in a book; the pilot who left his aircraft by means of an “ejaculation seat”; the drowning swimmer who was revived by means of “artificial insemination”; and the rainbow which was said by an onlooker to contain “all the colors of the rectum.”’ This, though it come from a British paper, sounds very Californian to me, and indicates the depths to which you have sunk. I plan to get the Banham book (I’ve already ordered it) to confirm my sad suspicions.

...

Pio No-No