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April 20, 1920.
I am of course delighted to do anything of any kind in protest against the censorship of Jurgen. In answer to your question, the lines from me that appeared on the jacket of Jurgen were, I think, part of a letter written to Guy Holt about Cabell's work. Ask him for the letter and say that I will be delighted to have you publish it.
As to adding some words, I can only say in the first place that I regard any censorship of art, organized and directed by men who are moved by political and moral feelings apart from æsthetic ones, as an impossible anachronism in any modern civilized country, and that in any case I cannot see that Jurgen can possibly be held to offend against morality for the simple reason that there is no incident, detail or description from one end of the book to the other that is not there entirely for reasons of truth and beauty. The author's implied intention behind his work is surely the thing that matters and I cannot conceive that anyone over the age of ten or with a mentality more mature than that could dream for a moment that Cabell is anything but an artist, first, second and last. Finally, it seems to me quite ludicrous that a time and country that permit the present revues and musical comedies that are running in New York and Chicago, that publishes in every daily paper those ludicrous and mushy columns about love and matrimony, can see nothing ironical in the prohibition of one of the few first-class works of art that America has produced in recent times. Do use this entirely honest opinion in any way that you please.
THE NATIONAL ARTS CLUB
Not only have I not read Jurgen, but this is the first time I have heard of the Emergency Committee. I have been away from New York for two years, and would like to be better informed.
I know there is much stupidity enacted in the name of morality, but I cannot commit myself in the dark.
(The following note was received a few days later:)
Count me as opposed to the methods of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, in general. But do not commit me to any particular book which I may not have read.
New Hartford, Conn.
February 21, 1920.
Many thanks for your letter of the 13th instant.
Without having read or even heard of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, it is impossible for me to sign your manifesto without some modification, as a matter of simple honesty and public responsibility. Nor do I know anything about the N. Y. Society for the Suppression of Vice, as I no longer live in that city, and do not find time to keep in close touch with its various activities. But I hate the name of the Society; not that I have any particular interest in the promulgation of Vice; but because I know very well the kind of a society parading under that name that is likely to emerge from the moral enthusiasms of a place like New York. If I am doing the Society an injustice, I regret it, and shall be glad to be put right in the matter, and if necessary make public apology for the same; but I have an inspiration that the Society is only one more of the many diabolically instigated movements now afoot to cripple free speech and to torture Art and the divinely inspired liberties thereof into the "safe," smug, comfortable bourgeois pattern of our lords and masters, the propertied and financial classes. Therefore, until further illumination comes my way, and with the modifications intimated above, I do most solemnly affix my signature also to your manifesto. I too belong to a Society for the Suppression of Vice, one inaugurated by the Lord Jesus Christ; and the Vice of Plutocracy, Oligarchy, Bourgeois Blasphemy and Intolerance is one of them.
Yours very sincerely,
Charles Rann Kennedy.
I should like to hear the names of the people who are running this Society. I dare swear I shall find them all "saved" and very rich.
The University of Chicago
I haven't read Jurgen and probably shan't read it, as Cabell bores me to tears. As for the law, I haven't read that either, and am not therefore qualified to protest against it. I object on principle to the suppression of free speech, but I prefer to center my energies on the protection of people who can't help themselves, rather than crusade for prosperous and affected pseudo-litterateurs like Mr. Cabell.
J. W. Linn. February 28, 1920.
The University of Chicago
Office of the Deans of the Colleges.
Having discussed the matter with Boynton, after the receipt of your extremely good-tempered letter of March 2nd, I am prepared to say I was wrong, not about Cabell, but about signing the general protest. I cannot imagine my name will be of any service; but by way of crying peccavi, I shall authorize you not only to use it, but to call on me for any service I can render.
J. W. Linn. March 23, 1920.
H. L. Mencken
The raid on Jurgen is the crowning absurdity. The book is not only a sound and honest piece of work; it is also an unquestionable work of art; and perhaps the finest thing of its sort ever done in America. In any civilized country such a book would be received with enthusiasm by every educated man; here it is exposed forthwith to the stupid attack of persons without either intelligence or taste.
The laws under which such outrageous assaults upon decent books and decent authors are made were drawn up by the late Comstock to suit his private convenience, and are so worded that
it is practically impossible for an accused publisher to make an effective defense. They are unjust, oblique and dishonest. I believe that no movement against Comstockery can have any force until these laws are materially amended. It will take a hard fight to amend them, but it can be done. Certainly no Legislature, once it is made aware of the disgusting facts, will ever ratify the proceedings that now go on under
them. If you undertake this agitation you must expect to be attacked viciously. Comstockery is a profitable business, and those who live by it are without decency. But you will be doing a valuable work for American letters. Call on me for any help that I can give.
H. L. Mencken.
9 Arcade House Temple Fortune, Hendon,
London, N. W. 4
Yes, indeed, you may add my name to the list of protesters against the banning of Jurgen. I consider myself to be a very ordinary sort of person, with a mind as shockable as that of either of the Rockefellers, Senior or Junior (particularly Junior), but I could not find anything in Jurgen that seemed to me likely to destroy or even to disturb the morals of a Strict and Particular Baptist. The kind of person who might be harmed by it—if there be such a person-would not get beyond the first chapter of the book, which is written for cultured people and not for the rag-tag and bobtail; and in any event, the kind of person who can be harmed by such a book ought to be harmed and, if possible, destroyed. There are two kinds of war: the war waged by evil men on the body, and the war waged by more evil men on the mind. The evil men have had five years in which to destroy the body of Youth: the more evil men, made envious no doubt by the spectacle of their colleagues success, are beginning a five years' war on the mind. And wherever one looks in the world to-day, one sees attempts being made to control opinion and to suppress thought. We must fight with our backs against the wall in defense of Free Minds. If individuality is to be crushed out of civilization, then we had much better die. In these matters, there must be no nationality—a cursed thing anyhow—but a kindly comradeship. In the fight against the Mind-Murderers, Cabell is not an American, I am not an Irishman-we are simply soldiers of freedom fighting in a renewal of a fight that must be continually fought if men are to remain men and not degenerate into servile things.
St. John Ervine.
121 Ebury Street
London, S. W.1
22nd April, 1920
I am very much obliged to you for writing about your struggle in America against societies who disguise themselves as Puritans so that they may blackmail with impunity. . . I have not read it [Jurgen), and reading it would not enable me to say anything that I have not already said in my article on the subject printed in the Century and reprinted in my last volume entitled Avowals. pose you will have read my article in the Century, and if you have you will have seen that the leading members of these societies are generally libertines of the worst kind, and you will also have seen how a case can always be won against these societies if it is fought wisely, and how these cases should be fought. I have signed the paper which you sent me, and shall always be glad to hear from you on this or any other subject in which you are interested. You say you are sending me under separate cover a pamphlet published by the society entitled: Morals, not Art or Literature, but the pamphlet has not arrived; I am sorry, for no doubt I should have found something interesting in it.
121 Ebury Street
27th May, 1920. I received your letter dated the seventh of May a few days ago (the postal service appears to get worse). The state of things that you describe seems to me to call for radical measures. Literature cannot be allowed to provide a quarry for the indecent-minded and the blackmailer, one following money and the other perverted sexual excitement. Something will have to be done, and the sooner public attention is called to the scandal the better. The way to do this would be to summon the publisher of Shakespeare and the Bible, and to ask publicly in court why these books should be exempt; if they contain matter injurious to the public health they must be stopped, and it's no excuse to plead that they are well written, life being more important than literature. I think of no other way except this that will bring about a change in the law.