PERSPECTIVErnLiterature Among the Ruinsrnby Thomas Flemingrn”M^ ‘ on cher, c’est notre metier, le vrai metier de chien . . .rnVousecrivezetvousecrivez.. .etpersonne,personneaurnmonde ne comprendra.” Joseph Conrad’s complaint to hisrnyoung collaborator, Ford Madox Hueffer, might have been putrnon Ford’s tombstone, when he died in 1939. You write, and yournwrite, and no one in the world understands. Although the popularrnreputation of Ford Madox Ford (as he later called himself)rnnow rests primarily on one book, The Good Soldier, his career isrnemblematic of 20th-century literature, its grandiose ambitionsrnand its humiliating failures.rnIn his life Ford seems to have known nearly every writerrnworth knowing. Through his grandfather, the painter MadoxrnBrown, and his uncle William Rossetti, he was connected tornthe Pre-Raphaelites. He knew Meredith and Hardy in his youthrnand came to be an intimate of Henry James and Joseph Conrad,rnwith whom he collaborated on several novels; after thernGreat War, in which he served as a man in his 40’s, he workedrnclosely with Pound, and as founding editor of the TransatlanticrnReview he published the best of his contemporaries. He wasrnthe rarest of critics, who could appreciate the talents of the tworngreat literary antagonists of the eariy 20th century, James andrnWells, and many a younger writer (Lawrence, for example)rnowed his start to Ford’s encouragements. The only writer, inrnhis estimation, who never took revenge upon him for this kindnessrnwas Ezra Pound.rnMost striking today is Ford’s devotion to good writing. AsrnPound wrote shordy after Ford’s death, he had been “a very gallantrncombatant for those things of the mind and of lettersrnwhich have been in our time too little prized.” Pound sharedrnwith Ford a passion for “French clarity and simplicity in thernwriting of English verse and prose,” and together they strove tornpurify our literary language of archaizing and artificiality.rnHemingway is inconceivable without Ford, and the most cursoryrncomparison of The Good Soldier with the novels of HenryrnJames shows that progress is occasionally possible even in thernaffairs of men.rnLike Matthew Arnold, Ford had a faith in literature thatrncame close to idolatry, although unlike Arnold he was a Christian.rnHe had lofty ambitions, few of which he ever realized, andrnvast pretensions, which his friends found both irritating andrnamusing. He was a byword for anecdotes in which he had thernlast word at the expense of the brilliant and powerful, and therernhas hardly ever been a tribute to him that did not dwell uponrnhis unreliability. Pound appalled Wyndham Lewis by takingrnFord at his own valuation, but Ezra, although more severe as arncritic, shared Ford’s generous enthusiasms for the things theyrnliked: “As a critic he was perhaps wrecked by his wholly unpoliticrngenerosity. . . . Despite all his own interests, despite allrnthe hard-boiled and half-baked vanities of all the various lots ofrnus, he kept on discovering merit with monotonous regularity.”rnFord’s unreliability was a reflection of this “impoliticrngenerosity,” which could look through a writer’s personal andrntechnical flaws to find whatever lay buried. The virtues he discoveredrnin Pound and D. H. Lawrence he also discerned inrnhimself, and who is to blame him? I cannot think of a goodrnwriter whose fictions do not begin with his own life and character.rnBut Ford understood himself and his limitations better,rnperhaps, than his critics realized. Fairly early in his career (inrn1908), in a letter to Edward Garnett, who had been gossipingrnabout his shortcomings, he wrote: “I can’t help my Olympianrnmanner; it is due to a consciousness of high aims defended by arndefiance concerning a conviction of miserable achievementsrntempered by resignation to the inevitability of failure and yr.rnRace (is it?), wh. won’t believe in high aims, observes smallnessrnof achievement & hates resignation of any kind.”rnFord’s view of 20th-eentury literature was ambivalent. Strivingrnfor a plainness of language and perfection of form, he fosteredrnthe diverse talents of Lawrence and Hemingway, but hernlooked back with nostalgia to the giants of his youth: Hardy,rnMeredith, W.H. Hudson, and the isolated geniuses of the finrnde siecle, Conrad and James. In his longing for literary society,rnhe spent his time visiting writers and went to the great troublernof founding and editing two reviews—the most thankless taskrnof which a literary man is capable—but he looked back withrnfondness to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood whose intimacyrnhaunted him to the end. The English writers of his youth, herncomplained, had been like so many isolated mountains, each ofrnwhich attracted devotees, but between them there was hardlyrn10/CHRONICLESrnrnrn