Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Harry Crosby--The Sun is the Only Thing in Life that Does Not Disillusion
Harry Crosby is not a man whose name falls from the lips of many. He survived WWI; the experience threw him on a new life course. He spent much of his time (and quite a bit of money) in Paris and North Africa and his exploits are of the sort that just don't happen anymore, such as paying four cabbies, driving horse-drawn fiacres, to race, Ben-Hur style, down the Champs Elysees.
His life as banker back in New York bored him. He missed his loved wife-to-be, who remained in Europe. His marriage proposal to her was by telegram: "Enough of this hell. Sailing steerage Aquitania. Have engaged bridal suite for return trip. Say yes." A woman in first class befriended him, lowering a basket over the railing with "figs, bananas, and a bottle of Benedictine. Madonna of the Promenade Deck."
His diaries are quite interesting. May 22, 1923,back in New York: Bank banquet. A dismal affair. Poor people trying to enjoy themselves are more pathetic than rich people trying to have a good time [...], for the poor are utterly defenceless whereas the rich are sheltered by their cynicism. Utterly defenceless. Why. Because they come with illusions.
Paris held more for him. June 20, 1923: innumerable glasses of brandy, and home stark naked in a taxicab. On July 12, on seeing a woman at a cafe perhaps: ...and wouldn't it be fun to make love to a girl as corpulent? At any rate not in this weather.
He and his wife tramped about, dubbing themselves the "Vicomte and Vicomtesse Myopia," hiring someone to haul them to the Ritz in a vegetable cart while they sat high above, in evening dress, reclining on cabbages and carrots. They visited Italy, "in Pisa, the tower like a soul that has been hurt by love."
They read each other Wilde aloud: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them."
He founded, with some of his money, the Black Sun Press, the early publishers of writers such as Hart Crane (the beautiful edition of The Bridge is sitting on the general literature shelves in the Purdue library, though it is a rather rare book). His experiences in the War still haunted him, and things didn't end quite so well with Crosby, though they ended on his terms. The diaries are well worth reading as a document of expatriates of the Lost Generation and Paris of the Twenties.