Article Index

The Archives of A. Walton Litz

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Joshua Kotin

Princeton University

A. Walton Litz (1929–2014) was a major force in modernist studies. He wrote well-regarded monographs on Joyce (1961, 1966) and Stevens (1972); edited, or co-edited an astonishing list of books, including The Joyce Archive (1977–1980); Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters, 1909–1914(1984); The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (1986); Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound(1990); and Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose (1991–1997). At Princeton, where he taught for thirty-eight years, he supervised dissertations by Ronald Bush, Michael Groden, James Longenbach, Vicki Mahaffey, Robert Spoo, John Whittier-Ferguson, and many others. Outside the University, he mentored generations of scholars. John Serio, in a moving tribute in The Wallace Stevens Journal, estimates that Litz wrote over 300 letters of recommendation a year (270).

Litz was a brilliant networker. Lawrence Danson and John Fleming, Litz’s colleagues at Princeton, describe his talent for connecting scholars with archives, publishers, and jobs—

In his office in McCosh Hall he kept what generations of beneficiaries thought of as a magical telephone, with which, it seemed, he could reach editors and department chairs throughout the world. His abundance overflowed, his encouragement was effectual, and his influence on scholarship and teaching in the humanities extended well beyond even his own copious production.

Longenbach notes that “Walt was an expert at putting people in touch with other people, at making connections, at making scholarly work happen, but his suavity felt at every moment deeply human, never merely professional” (268–69). Evoking Apollinaire, Princeton librarian J. L. Logan characterizes Litz as an impresario of modernist studies.

Central to Litz’s work as a networker was his editorial imagination. Danson, a Shakespeare scholar, remembers Litz telling him, “You’re in the wrong field, kid: everything’s been discovered. For modernists it’s all lying around, waiting for someone to find it.” The remark reveals Litz’s conception of modernist studies: literary history driven by the discovery and annotation of key archival documents. 

Litz’s archive at Princeton illuminates his own place in literary history. It consists of 4.4 linear feet of files: lecture notes, syllabi, talks, essays, fellowship applications, and miscellaneous letters, from 1969 to 1993. The files confirm Litz’s generosity and testify to his devotion to graduate and undergraduate teaching, and to a core set of modernists—all male: Joyce, Stevens, Eliot, Frost, Yeats, Hemingway, Pound, Lawrence, Faulkner. Virginia Woolf, the most prominent woman in the archive, makes an occasional appearance in courses on modern literature.

Highlights from the archive include a plan for an edition of Eliot’s collected criticism; letters from Hugh Kenner about typewriters and The Waste Land, and from Charles Tomlinson about visiting Princeton; correspondence with a young Louis Menand and other young scholars; a perceptive (and unpublished) essay about literary theory from 1988; and syllabi, lectures, exams, and handouts from courses on modern British and American poetry, modern literature, modern criticism, and the history of criticism. The teaching materials are especially eye-opening. A course on modern criticism from 1969 divides the semester between Pound, Eliot, Richards, psychological criticism (Freud and Jung), “New Humanism,” New Criticism, Chicago critics, Marxist criticism, Historicism, Leavis and Scrutiny, and criticism of fiction. A handout for a seminar on modern poetry presents an annotated letter from John Bishop Peale to Edmund Wilson from 1922, describing a dinner party conversation with Pound about the meaning of The Waste Land. “Dear Seminar,” Litz writes on the handout, “This is for your private delectation. Please do not copy or show to the uninitiated” (Box 2).1

Pound is everywhere in the archive. Litz’s files include talks on The Pisan Cantos and “Pound and Eliot as American Poets” (the former published in the Yale Review); a Pound obituary (filed next to an obituary for R.P. Blackmur); teaching notes on individual poems; and miscellaneous articles and correspondence related to Pound. Litz’s teaching, however, prioritized Joyce, Stevens, Eliot, Frost, and Yeats. When Litz taught Pound in his modern poetry classes, he focused on poems included in various iterations of the Norton anthology—especially “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” which has multiple files of notes and offprints. 

The archive does not include documents related to Litz’s work on the Ezra-Dorothy letters, Personae, or Poetry and Prose, or his service as a trustee for the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust. The archive also does not include materials related to his long friendship with Omar Pound, who lived in Princeton for many years. (The archive is by no means comprehensive—but I have not been able to locate Litz’s other papers.) Litz collaborated with Omar on a number of projects and helped him secure teaching jobs at Princeton in the late 1980s. Litz also seems to have acted as a liaison between Omar and Firestone Library at Princeton, encouraging the purchase of the typescripts of Pound’s translations of Sophocles in 1987 and the typescripts of Pound’s Nōh plays in 1989. (In 1993, Omar donated miscellaneous Pound material to the Library, including two poem drafts with Gaudier-Brzeska sketches on the back.) These purchases and gifts have a back story: in 1978, Omar offered to sell the Library his collection of more than four hundred books from Pound’s library (and two hundred books from Dorothy’s), including Pound’s The Waste Land and A Lume Spento, and a heavily annotated Italian translation of Marx’s Capital. The price: $124,000. The books ultimately ended up at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin—except A Lume Spento, which Princeton purchased.

The archive’s most sensational document is the finding aid. The acquisition note reads in full:

Litz’s colleague and friend, Thomas Roche Jr. (Princeton professor emeritus of English), was a point of contact for this collection of Litz’s files, which was left unclaimed in his office for many years (as of August 2003, Litz’s whereabouts remain unknown to his family and friends).

The note is the only indication of Litz’s alcoholism, which became a debilitating illness in his later years. (One could speculate about the connection between his alcoholism and the decline of archival approaches to modernist studies.) After his retirement in 1994, Litz lost touch with most of his colleagues at the University. I never had the opportunity to meet him, despite arriving at Princeton in 2011.

Litz’s Introspective Voyager: The Poetic Development of Wallace Stevens ends with a mix of optimism and pessimism. “Each phase of Stevens’ poetic life,” Litz writes, “has its moments of greatness. The job of the reader is to identify them, and to see them for what they are: sustaining fictions which make bearable for a moment the irremediable poverty of our lives” (295). These two sentences help explain Litz’s career-long commitment to modernist studies, and to connecting scholars and archives. Literature makes our lives worth living. But so do the communities we form to understand literature and literary history. It is for these communities that Litz will be remembered.

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NOTES

I would like to thank Lawrence Danson, Daniel Göeske, John Fleming, J. L. Logan, James Longenbach, and Robert Spoo for discussing Litz’s legacy with me. I would also like to thank Gabriel Swift and Stephen Ferguson for help in the Rare Books and Special Collections at Firestone Library at Princeton University. 

1. The letter has been published in full in Spindler 79–82. After summarizing Pound’s gloss of The Waste Land, Bishop writes:

Ezra Pound went big last night and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Margaret [Bishop’s wife] flirted with him and I plyed him with drink and flattery; consequently, he found us both very charming. He is inordinately vain, especially where women are concerned. Gets tight very quickly and proceeds to act out every remark, turning over chairs and tables on the way. He is delighted with his nigger, yiddish and western accents, which he employs to wearing excess. Yet in spite of making a continuous ass of himself there’s something rather noble and certainly very sensitive under his buffoonery. Which appeared chiefly when he recited the Arnaut Daniel passage from the Purgatorio, and in one or two of Daniel’s own poems.

I have incidentally bought a Provençal grammar and started to work on the tongue. Pound has been very generous in his offers of assistance. I suspect that he is not entirely trustworthy on pronunciation however as when he was singing one of Chaucer’s ballades to one of the Provençal airs—he brought with him two books of songs with music from the XII and XIII centuries—I noticed a number of very obvious inaccuracies. However I think he gets the important nasal and sibillant quality and gives it a suggestion of being still a partially quantitative language. He does not I am convinced deal properly with the diphthongs, which should be real diphthongs and not such pseudo diphthongs as the American AU. On this my grammar supports me.

I got Pound to read one of the cantos, which was an extraordinary business, since he treats English, his English at least, as a quantitative language. I don’t mean that he treats words like lockjaw as spondees; the whole business is treated as if accent existed no more than in classic Latin and the combination of long and shorts were all there were to it. At this I was mildly abashed.

The transcription of the letter in Litz’s archive departs slightly from Spindler’s (mainly in punctuation). I copy the archive version here. 

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WORKS CITED

Danson, Lawrence. Personal Interview. 26 September 2014.

Danson, Lawrence N., and John V. Fleming. “Memorial Resolution: A. Walton Litz, Holmes Professor of Belles Emeritus.” University Faculty Meeting, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. 15 September 2014. Email.

Litz, A. Walton. A. Walton Litz Papers. C0955. Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library, Princeton, NJ. 30 September 2014. TS.

———. Introspective Voyager: The Poetic Development of Wallace Stevens. New York: Oxford UP, 1972. Print.

Logan, J. L. Personal Interview. Princeton. 20 September 2014.

Longenbach, James. “In Memoriam A. Walton Litz (1929–2014).” The Wallace Stevens Journal 38.2 (Fall 2014): 268–69. Print.

Serio, John. “The Letter I Never Wrote.” The Wallace Stevens Journal 38.2 (Fall 2014): 269–70. Print.

Spindler, Elizabeth Carroll. John Peale Bishop: A Biography. Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1980. Print.