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A. Walton Litz (1929-2014)



A. Walton Litz (1929-2014): Eminent Poundian

Ronald Bush

St. John’s College, Oxford


A. Walton Litz died on June 4, 2014 in Princeton New Jersey, where he had taught for almost forty years. Poundians will remember him as chief editor of a 1990 edition of Pound’s Personae and of Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose: Contributions to Periodicals, of which more below. Substantial as these two achievements were, however, Litz’s contributions to our understanding of Pound and more generally of modern literature in England and America extended far beyond them, and put him at the center of modernist scholarship for a generation.

A younger contemporary and friend of both Richard Ellmann and Hugh Kenner, Litz belonged to what from 2014 seems (as much as he would dislike the magniloquence of the phrase) a heroic age of modernist studies. An undergraduate at Princeton in 1947-1951, Walt (as he was universally known) sat at the feet of modernist writers (John Berryman and -- his great mentor -- R. P. Blackmur) and then entered an academy that only after World War II recognized modernist writing as a legitimate subject of historical study. A few years after Ellmann finished the Yale dissertation (1947) that would become Yeats: The Man and the Masksand Kenner, also at Yale, submitted (1950) a thesis that would become Dublin's Joyce, Walt spent three years as a Rhodes Scholar and D.Phil. student at Merton College, Oxford working on Joyce’s manuscript drafts, many still in private hands. At Oxford he looked up Harriet Shaw Weaver, the onetime editor of the Egoist and longtime patron of Joyce. She invited him to tea, and to his astonishment he found himself bicycling back into town with the notesheets of Finnegans Wake. These became the basis for his 1954 graduate D.Phil., published in 1961 by Oxford University Press as the groundbreaking genetic study, The Art of James Joyce: Method and Design in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

Walt’s book, like his subsequent work on Pound, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams, belongs to a moment when the modernist archives were just entering the public domain and the modernists’ reputations remained in flux. And like Kenner and Ellmann he was by temper and training superbly equipped to answer that moment’s challenge. Not only was he blessed with an exquisite critical sensibility honed on Blackmur’s conversation, he had also inherited an old-fashioned scholarly ambition that allowed him to absorb and assess the vast archives of a great age of writing with skill and expedition. And as had transpired in his encounter with Weaver, his admirably disinterested intellectual curiosity and easy social skills led again and again to his being invited by the descendants and executors of his heroes to help facilitate the transfer of priceless papers into the great libraries of England and America, thereby opening new windows onto modernist literature. Doing research for Introspective Voyager: The Poetic Development of Wallace Stevens (1972) (one of the most sensible books ever written about that enigmatic poet), Walt became the confidant and advisor to Stevens’ daughter Holly in matters regarding her father’s papers.

The same qualities that characterized Walt’s scholarly midwifery also marked his celebrated career as a teacher. As one of Walt’s graduate students, I account myself the beneficiary, along with dozens of other academics spread across the U.S., Canada, and the UK, of Walt’s lifelong eagerness to put people who had something to say to each other in the same room, partly to advance one or another of his modernist projects and partly out of the sheer pleasure of the ensuing talk. Walt taught at Princeton from 1956 until his retirement in 1994, and as early as 1972 he won a national teaching prize (the E. Harris Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching, awarded by the Danforth Foundation). In 1977 he was promoted to Princeton’s oldest chair (the Holmes Professorship), and he served as the chair of the English department from 1974-1981. At other times in his tenure he also headed the University’s nationally recognized Council of the Humanities and the program in Creative Writing. As a graduate supervisor, he knew what work still needed to be done and what unpublished materials were waiting to be addressed, who had published recent interesting work and what Ph.D. candidate (it seemed anywhere in the world) was nearing the end of a relevant dissertation. (Walt regularly also taught at Columbia University and at the Bread Loaf School of English, and in 1989 spent the year as the Eastman Professor at Balliol College, Oxford.) The attribute that invariably impressed itself on those who worked with him was “generous.” In their Princeton “Memorial Resolution,” two of his contemporaries summed up his ongoing pedagogical delight by describing him as: “A colleague of almost extravagant intellectual generosity, he appeared tireless in making nominations, writing recommendations, reading manuscripts, pointing out opportunities, suggesting helpful revisions, making useful introductions, giving away editorial projects and bright scholarly ideas.” “Litz was a past master of the art of university politics, which he practiced with such effortless aplomb as to render it nearly admirable.”

There is no space here to list all of Walt’s scholarly publications, which ranged from a monograph on Jane Austen to a major edition of the poetry of William Carlos Williams. But perhaps a representative episode might suggest the expansive and cooperative flavor of his achievement and his deep involvement with Pound studies. During the early 1970s Walt at first advised and then joined forces with the wealthy, freewheeling director of Garland Publishing, Gavin Borden, together conceiving what at first seemed an impossibly ambitious plan for facsimile editions of entire modernist archives. Their first focus was James Joyce. During 1974-75 and guided by Walt’s advice, Borden secured crucial permissions for the series from the Joyce Estate, then managed by the Society of Authors, and enlisted Michael Groden, a student of Walt’s who had just finished a Ph.D. thesis that would soon become Ulysses in Progress (1977), to compile a detailed list of extant Joyce MSS later published by Garland as James Joyce’s Manuscripts: An Index (1980). Walt then encouraged Groden to take the reins of the project while he stayed on as one of its associate editors, and in 1977-79 Garland produced in 63 volumes the James Joyce Archive, marking a watershed in Joyce studies and establishing itself as one of the anchors of contemporary modernist scholarship.  Meanwhile, Litz and Borden went on to envision a similar project to reproduce the papers of Ezra Pound, which not too long before had been installed with Mary de Rachewiltz’s assistance at the Beinecke Library at Yale. The project ultimately foundered because of editorial differences with Yale, but might have radically transformed the study of Pound in the 1990’s. Out of it, however, Garland produced the 11-volume series of Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose in 1991, this time with Litz on the masthead along with two other former students, James Longenbach and Lea Baechler, all aided by a gang of younger scholars including Tim Redman and Lawrence Rainey. Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose made available to scholars and students everywhere reproductions of every entry in the Gallup bibliography -- resources previously available only to a handful of scholars within commuting distance of university libraries wealthy enough to have purchased runs of the obscure magazines in which Pound published. Above all it made available the texts of forgotten Italian publications Pound produced during the thirties and forties, on which much of the most interesting recent commentary on Pound has been based. 

In 1991 Gavin Borden tragically died in his early fifties from salivary-gland cancer, ending what had seemed the almost limitless possibilities of a budding cooperation and playing a significant part in the downward spiral that soon afterwards ended Walt’s working life.



The Archives of A. Walton Litz


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.



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. 



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.