A rediscovered 1925 letter up for auction shows the young writer already wielded a poison pen
Sunday March 7, 2004
A fierce and foul-mouthed tirade by Ernest Hemingway against his literary rivals has surfaced after nearly 80 years and is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at auction.
In a venomous letter the young writer uses one of his favourite animals, the bull, to gore literary society and mounts a particular attack on one of his mentors, the novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford.
The letter, sent to the poet Ezra Pound, was written while Hemingway made his way to watch bullfighting at Pamplona, Spain, in 1925. He launches into a comparison of the virtues of bulls and the vices of Ford and his contemporaries.
He writes: 'Bulls at least are not the greatest stylists in English - no bull has ever been a political exile. Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect to be invited to dinner. Bulls do not get you cited as co-respondent in Society divorce trials. Bulls do not borrow money. Bulls do not expect you to marry them and make an honest woman of them.
'Bulls are edible after they have been killed. Fewer bulls are homosexual. Bulls may bugger but they are not cocksuckers. No bull has ever been at the Café du Dôme. To me bulls ain't exotic. They are normal. And such a goddam relief from all this horseshit about Art. To hell with delicate studies of the American scene.
'Fuck the American scene. Fuck moers [sic], manners, customs and all that horseshit. Let us have more and better fucking, fighting bulls.'
Elsewhere in the letter Hemingway describes a talk by Ford on new writers as largely 'imaginary conversations between himself and Americans speaking in imaginary Yankee dialect'. He adds: 'It gave his megalomania a gala night.'
Hemingway, an adventurer who was one of the great verbal brawlers of the twentieth century, went on to pillory Ford in his collection of memoirs, A Moveable Feast. It recalls his time in Paris in the 1920s with other literary heavyweights including Pound, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was to remain a friend and rival.
Ford had moved to Paris in 1923 and was closely involved with the same circle. It seems likely that the reference to 'Society divorce trials' relates to Pound's appearance as co-respondent in the divorce of Bride Adams in 1923.
Hemingway's spoof signature: 'Yours in Christian Science, Mother Eddy,' is a reference to Mary Baker Eddy, US founder of the Christian Science Church. The letter predates his visit to the festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, when he is thought to have conceived the idea for The Sun Also Rises, the novel which was to make his international reputation.
The manuscript, part of the literary collection of Quentin Keynes, a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at Christie's in London on 8 April. Thomas Venning, manuscripts specialist at Christie's, said: 'This is a brilliant and rare early letter by Hemingway and is an attack on the delicate aestheticism of literary types hanging around in Paris at that time.
'It is a direct confrontation with the type of old-style artistic approach he does not like - obscure and stylistic. He has a great time taking the mickey out of the likes of Ford Madox Ford, and the letter is a bold statement of his artistic creed. He believes in directness with no social frills.'
Hemingway, whose books included Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms, the bullfighting classic Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa and For Whom the Bell Tolls, led a rumbustious life of drinking, brawling and womanising. The Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner was also a fisherman, big-game hunter, skier, boxer, war reporter, soldier and bullring and saloon aficionado. He cheated death more than once before shooting himself in 1961, aged 61, physically and mentally broken.