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Witter Bynner:
Journey with Genius

Journey with Genius , by Witter Bynner. New York: J. Day & Co., 1951.

Witter Bynner comes late to that distinguished group who knew D. H. Lawrence as opposed to those who have read him. His book is based on a slighter acquaintance than that, say, of Aldington, but the thirty-odd years which have since passed allow him considerable cud. And he was also the 'American' in the beginning of The Plumed Serpent —which probably seemed motive enough.

Perhaps it is time, in any case, to say to hell with all such as Witter Bynner, and to grant him, certainly, his friendship but also to insist it was apparently misused. At least the account of it makes very dull reading now.

As it is, we have another champion of Frieda—and why, always, do these men go so female in their causes? Aldington wailed of ragged undies, and the beast who let his wife go so clothed. Bynner proclaims a conspiracy, to wit, his sage advice that she fight back and the almost nauseous insistence that she then did, all because he said to.

It is in this character that Bynner becomes precisely the hasbeen, the would-be, in short, the fake which a good many good-tempered men must have been putting up with for years. I recently read a review of his on the biographers of Willa Cather (also a 'friend'), and that was more amiable. But nonetheless Bynner is still one who knew others, and it is a dreary, dreary occupation.

Black Mountain Review , Summer 1954.


The loss here is that the bulk of the comment on Lawrence is always this personalism and/or the attempt so much more ragged than any underwear, to hang on to a man who had all this complexity of effect. And who was, it seems, not very simple to forget.

But all such statement is a bore. It gives us at best, as Bynner does, a kind of lover's album of a few faded flowers—because both Aldington and Bynner did aspire, as did Murray, Carswell, 'E. T.' even, who was I think the most justified. But there it is, books about a man as opposed to those books he himself wrote. Or much more important, an actual levy on what Lawrence himself was after—simply things like his pick-up on Frobenius, on American writing, on the political set of Europe, and so forth.

And that is what matters. In England he is still for the most part sunk in the old social fix. By which I mean, people still worry that he was a miner's son. But that is only counterpart to Bynner's remarkable insight, viz., that he spoke like 'all' British men-of-letters, with a 'high' voice, etc. Or that he took his wife swimming at the far end of the beach, because he was embarrassed by his own body. Or that he got angry, unreasonably angry, and had little boys put in jail.

No matter the middle chapters—with their ridiculous headings—this is what Bynner is talking about. And this is the extent of his contribution. He wants, I think, to posit a "while I was doing this, Lawrence was doing that," and that of course is the end of him. There is no equivalence between them, either as men, as poets, or as anything else. And this is clear, very clear, from what each has written—the work . It is much too late now for Bynner to work, to do what another man was doing all the time.


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