The Young Apollo and Other Storiesby Louis Auchincloss
Bringing together twelve previously unpublished pieces, The Young Apollo and Other Stories sparkles with Auchincloss's singular style, and, like East Side Story, his most recent book, reveals in precise, aphoristic prose "not only the textures of this world but also its elemental and
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An evocative and elegant collection of new stories from an American master.
Bringing together twelve previously unpublished pieces, The Young Apollo and Other Stories sparkles with Auchincloss's singular style, and, like East Side Story, his most recent book, reveals in precise, aphoristic prose "not only the textures of this world but also its elemental and evolving truths" (New York Times). From Edwardian garden parties to the Manhattan demimonde of the 1970s, Auchincloss travels with economical grace and agility in this collection, which illuminates the moral ambiguities, both personal and professional, of New York’s moneyed class.
A loving chronicle of a waning world, this new collection is nonetheless an acute and gimlet-eyed portrait that refuses to shy away from its characters' less than savory ambitions and desires. In the title story, an older man eulogizes his young friend, the golden Lionel Manning--muse to the artists he gathered round himself and preserved forever in memory as the beautiful thirty-one-year-old man he was at death--only to reveal that despite Lionel’s burgeoning reputation as a poet, he could inspire genius but not produce it. The Young Apollo and Other Stories crystallizes a world now gone but forever fixed in our romantic imaginations, uncovering its flaws and all too human foibles, as well as its considerable charms.
Kirkus Reviews, Starred
This elegant new collection continues [Auchincloss's] unflinching examination of New York's wealthy socialite class.
Auchincloss has a talent for pulling the curtain back on perfection, for peering behind the sublime facade.
The Seattle Times
There is enormous pleasure and insight to be derived from [Auchincloss'] work Philadelphia Inquirer
[Auchincloss's] old-fashioned sensibility remains charming, even refreshing in an era of literati hipsters.
Los Angeles Times
These stories entertain and sometimes truly reward the reader.
New York Sun
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The Young Apollo
I have decided to put my thoughts about Lionel Manning together in this memorandum. I have to make up my mind, and soon, whether or not I shall accede to Senator Manning’s request that I compose a short life of his son, Lionel, or “Lion” as we elders used to call him. It is now five years since Lion died of heart failure, aged thirty-one, in 1913, just before the outbreak of the long and terrible war that has cast the stain of doubt over the ideals we thought our boys were fighting for, as seemingly exemplified in the golden image of my young friend. I use the word “young” more in contrast to my own seventy summers than to emphasize a life so cut short, for it was characteristic of Lion in the matter of friendship to take no account of age, which endeared him to many of my contemporaries. Perhaps he offered us the illusion of some kind of life after death.
There is a cynical side of my old crusty bachelor self that whispers that it may have been just as well that Lion died when he did. After all, there is something fine and noble in an early demise. We can always now see him in a halo of glory, with his gleaming blond hair, his laughing gray- blue eyes, his gracefully molded features, his splendid muscular torso; we can hear his excited tones voicing his high principles; we can feel that he has taken his proper place in the gallant and in- spiring company of the slain English friends whom he met as a Rhodes scholar. Don’t we glimpse through the darkness of today the broad green lawn of an Edwardian garden party and wonderful young men in blazers and white flannels talking of the great things they would do in a future they would never have?
The wrong people have survived this war. My own “sacred circle,” as some envious folk have described it, came through without a scratch. How shall I describe the circle? It consists of a small group of individuals, more or less prominent in the arts — writing, sculpture, painting — all of whom live in Washington without being native to the city, and none of whom, with the notable exception of George Manning, has the least connection with government. All are old, of course, and none hail from the kind of background that might be expected to produce great art. Ella Robinson, the novelist, for example, was born of Boston Brahmins; Elihu Tweed, the sculptor, was the son of a New York governor; and my own father, siring a historian, was a United States Supreme Court justice.
We used to fancy that we represented a kind of American renaissance. In the two decades preceding the war, our country was emerging from its long dependence on European culture. The notorious low value that Henry James accorded the subject material which America offered to the writer of fiction had been totally revised; we now claimed equal rights, so to speak, on Parnassus. And the young man whom we all held as our joint heir apparent, who was going to be the great poet of the future, to whom we were all more or less John the Baptists, was Lion Manning.
Why does George Manning not write the life of his own son? I have never much liked George. He is as deeply conservative as a Republican senator from Rhode Island can get; he is shrewd, raspingly sarcastic, and basically mean. But he exercises a hefty political influence, and he purports to be a stout supporter of the arts. He had no patience with Lion’s ambition to be a poet, however. He wanted him to become a lawyer, a statesman, a great man. He adored the boy but never understood him and lectured him constantly on his duty to follow in the paternal footsteps. Lion simply grinned and didn’t listen. He could always wind the old man around his little finger. Yet I know he deeply loved his father. And I think the reason the senator wouldn’t write the book himself may have been that he was a bit scared of the boy and would have fancied him looking over his shoulder as he wrote.
It is perfectly understandable, at any rate, why George should have picked me for the job. As an old bachelor who at least professed high ethical standards and a longtime observer of the passing scene in the nation’s capital, I had appealed to Lion from his boyhood as a counterpoise to his father’s political cynicism. I was the kind of avuncular mentor he had never had. He read my long history of the Supreme Court with a passionate and intelligent interest, and as always, even with his elders, took independent and forceful positions in his criticism. It was he who elicited all my memories of my Washington past and hounded me until I put them in my memoirs, Life of a Voyeur, on which such reputation as I have gained will probably rest, even at the expense of my longer and more exhaustive studies. That, anywaay, is what I was to Lion. What he was to me was simply the son I never had.
We all loved him, of course. I think Ella Robinson mayyyyy even have been in love with him, though she was almost old enough to have been his young mother. But she seems to share some of my doubts as to the advisability of producing this life of him. I do not, however, quite believe in the excuse she has offered me for not participating in it. Here is what she has written me:
There has been no one in my life, dear Ralph, to whom I owe more than to Lion. It is odd that a woman of my age should have been significantly indebted to a man so much her junior. But I was. You may have suspected part of the story. Here, anyway, is it all.
As I was nearing my fiftieth year, I moved to Paris to try a winter there. I had separated from Ted Robinson after a long but tepid marriage, and I had reached a time of life when I assumed that the tide of romantic love, which had never reached far enough up my beach to touch me, would leave me permanently dry. Yet I was quite resigned. I had my work and a slowly expanding audience of readers; I had enough money and many friends. I enjoyed travel, and I loved Paris. I had no complaints.
And then I met Cyril Ames. He was actually brought to my house, to the small literary salon I had sought to establish, by Lion, who, having just finished his Rhodes scholarship, had come over to Paris to work on his epic poem on the murder of Agamemnon, which he hoped would establish his reputation as a serious poet. Cyril, of course, was a good fifteen years older than Lion, but as you know, Lion had friends of all ages. People were drawn to him. Cyril was a handsome dark-eyed and dark-haired bachelor who worked as the foreign correspondent for a small New York journal; he was a smooth talker with a reputation for philandering. But he spoke as if he was a man utterly disillusioned with romance. He professed an ardent admiration of my work, and he came to all my little gatherings with a flattering persistence. Soon he was sending me flowers and inviting me to dinner at delightful restaurants. I guess there’s no fool like an old fool; he certainly made one of me.
I now know that he had a fetish of conquering distinguished women whose success in life, compared to his own lackluster achievements, aroused his spite and envy. And he cultivated the art of keeping them subjugated with desperate hope, even after he had discontinued carnal relations; it gave him some sort of jag to have them still pursuing him when he was defiantly courting others. I actually believed him when he told me that I was the first serious love of his life! We had a fast and furious affair. You’ve probably been spared, Ralph, the exhausting experience of being loved by a middle-aged woman who’s discovered for the first time the joy of sex! It was only a few weeks before my new lover abandoned me.
In the agony of my despair I even appealed to Lion! Can you conceive of such degradation? I actually begged him to intercede for me with my ex-lover! The poor boy was appalled. He had never dreamed that anything would develop between Cyril and me. Cyril had been merely the most casual of Lion’s friends, and he had only brought him to my salon because Cyril had expressed a great desire to meet me.
“It’s sickening to see a first-rate woman in the grip of a third-rate man,” he told me after I had related my sorry tale. “But I got you into this mess, and I’ll get you out.” And he came to see me, for as much as two hours at a time, every single day! Think of the time he lost for his poem, listening to my endless ravings as I poured out my heart. But I don’t know what I should have done without him. Jumped into the Seine, perhaps. I was almost mad.
At length, after he had virtually ordered me to take up my writing pen again, I produced a short story about my affair to express what I had the folly to deem my new insight into the deeper emotions of life. I flattered myself that I had gained a new knowledge of the soul, that there was now a greater comprehension of love in my writing. Lion, reading my little effort, dispelled my illusion.
“It’s not so much the artist’s emotion, Ella, that goes into the making of great art. It’s his imagination and persistent hard work. People who think Shakespeare must have been depressed when he wrote King Lear have it all wrong. He probably kicked up his heels when he saw what he’d done. This story is the one bad piece of prose I’ve seen from the hand of Ella Robinson. Back to your muttons, my friend! That’s the word.” “You mean I should go back to all the petty snobberies of my old Boston tales? After I’ve learned at last about the heart?” “Damn right you should go back. Boston is your field, Ella. Boston is your capital. And you mustn’t waste a penny of it!” Well, that was it. Lion simply took over my life. He sent me back to Boston, where I wrote the best-selling novel that made my real reputation, after which I moved to Washington, which would probably have been a mistake had there not been so many Bostonians there. Of course, I took as the model for my hero Lion himself. And that is my memorial to him. And my only one.
Was that her real excuse? Well, maybe. Elihu Tweed offered me a strangely similar one. He writes me that his posthumous use of Lion’s head as his model for the soldier leading the bayonet charge at Château-Thierry in his war memorial at Rock Creek Park is a sufficient tribute on his part to our young friend. And of course he has a point. The figure of the warrior is indeed a splendid one and well illustrates how Lion would have looked and acted had he survived to take his part in the war. I actually tend to think of him as a casualty in that conflict, as if the heart that went back on him so cruelly early in life had been a battle wound. And I like to think of the anomaly of that heroic figure emerging from marble through the chisel of my stubby, balding, passionate little friend Elihu Tweed!
Here is what he wrote:
I really don’t see the point, dear Ralph, of us old farts getting together to sing paeans in praise of the dear dead boy. Isn’t there something repellent about a bunch of aged writers and artists, who’ve had their lives and successes perhaps beyond their deserts, warming their withered paws against the fire of Lion’s flaming youth? Don’t they seem to be scraping up every scrap of his abbreviated life to add to their own glory? They who had everything and he who had nothing? Ugh!
However, I’ll give you one thing you can use in your book if you care to. It’s about what Lion did for me. As you know, I’ve been subject all my life to periods of black depression. When they hit, it’s impossible for me to do any work; I have to suffer through restless days and even more restless nights until the cursed thing blows away, as inexplicably as it came. But I had one such spell that seemed to be traceable to a cause. My statue group of the Rough Riders in Miami had received a poorish press. I had even been denounced by two major art critics as a totally derivative sculptor, as a slavish follower of Florentine artists of the Renaissance, as a man who had nothing to say to the twentieth century that couldn’t have been said better by Benvenuto Cellini! I had never been much concerned with critics before, but this really struck home. Because it was true! I might as well have been born in Florence at the time Columbus discovered America, in the shadow of the Strozzi Palace.
Lion was only twenty-one at the time, and he was often in Washington visiting his old man. He liked to drop in to my studio and watch me at work. Of course, then I wasn’t working, but he came to cheer me up. Or to try to. That was like him, and eventually he actually succeeded. For after I told him about the critics, he gave me such a fi ght talk as I had never received in my life. This is the gist of it.
“Why is what they said so damning, Elihu? I don’t see it that way at all. It strikes me, on the contrary, as the highest praise. They say you copy Cellini. But the truth is that you are Cellini! You have been given us straight from the sixteenth century, and now we have something just as good as anything even a Medici pope ever had. It is a unique possession, and we should treasure it and not reproach you for not speaking to your time. Why can’t we live in any age we choose? We go on like crazy about old masterpieces; we dig up ancient statues and temples to adorn our museums. Why scorn a man who is producing the very things we spend fortunes on? Stuff and nonsense!” So there you are, Ralph. He cured me!
Well, I shall certainly use Elihu’s story. If I write the book at all. It is indeed exhilarating to contemplate how much Lion did for his older friends. Would I have ever written Life of a Voyeur without his urging? I doubt it. I had overdisciplined myself in the business of keeping my own quirky personality out of my history books, to the point of deeming it almost obscene to write about myself. Lion fixed all that when he told me, “The man who talks about himself at a dinner table is a bore. The man who fails to talk about himself on the platform is a greater one. The audience has come to hear about him.” And think what he did for Ella, though of course I can’t use her story! Nor can I use the incident when Lion kept his father from agreeing to endorse the appointment to the federal bench of a crooked Rhode Island politician. Which is too bad, as it graphically illustrates the strength of his character.
George Manning had summoned me to his house to intercede with his son. He explained that Lion was threatening to cease contacting his father, and even to cease receiving financial aid from him, unless he agreed not to support the unsavory proposed appointee.
“You’ve got to help me drum some sense into that stubborn head of his, Ralph,” the anguished senator had wailed. “You’ve got to help make him see that the real issue is between me and my state’s political boss. Mike O’Shaugnessy and I have formed a working relationship that, as you know, enables us pretty much to run Rhode Island. I’ve had to make some compromises, to be sure, but so has he. And it’s been on the whole a good thing for the state. And now this business of making Lew Kraft a judge threatens to upset the whole applecart. O’Shaugnessy simply won’t give in on it. Kraft has some hold on him that I don’t know anything about, and he’s adamant on the subject. What’s got into Lion? He’s about to marry his lovely Bella, and they won’t have a nickel without my help, except for what he may get for his poetry, and you know what people pay for that.” I knew that George, a wealthy man, had always given Lion a large allowance but had never settled any capital on him. It was like George to wish to keep control of his family. But I also knew that Lion would not hesitate for even a minute to pauperize himself for a principle.
And indeed, when I faced him that day in his father’s study, I found him impossible to budge. His manner to his father was perfect, even affectionate. He simply regretted that they should have come to this pass, but come to it they certainly had.
He interrupted me when I started to defend the principle of political compromise. “I know about that, Uncle Ralph.I am very much aware of Dad’s alliance with O’Shaugnessy. But there still have to be limits. I have been up to Providence and talked to members of the legislature. Democrats, I grant you, but still men who know what they’re talking about. Kraft has had a hand in too many purchased elections not to be known, among the Republican Party faithful, as the ‘King Fixer.’ I cannot sit by and see Dad stick his fine fingers in such slime.” What could I do? What could anyone do? Of course George surrendered, and the name of Kraft was not even submitted to the Senate. The alliance with O’Shaugnessy tottered, but it survived.
The beautiful Bella, Lion’s brave and stalwart widow, who had been married to him for only a year when he died, was not enthusiastic about the proposed volume, but she muted her objections because her father-in-law cared so strongly. She came to me privately.
“The senator insists,” she told me, “that the book contain a goodly number of Lion’s poems. Indeed, I think he sees your text primarily as an introduction to them. Of course, as he is printing the volume and paying for everything, he can do as he pleases. But, Ralph, I’m sure you feel as Ella and Elihu and I do about the poems. We’re hoping you can limit the number and not include any part of the unfinished epic. Need I say more?” No, she needn’t. Lion’s odes and sonnets and elegies and even the famous epic are dead, dead, dead. You couldn’t exactly call them bad, or even embarrassing; they are fi lled with noble thoughts and grave ideals. But they are lapidary. They are dull. Lion was one who could inspire genius without being one. Maybe his life was genius. But it had to be lived, not printed.
But yes, I will write the little book. Even if it bodes to be a work of contrived hagiography. After all, it will be read only by a few relatives and friends; it will be soon forgotten. I can feel Lion’s eye on me. “Do it for Dad,” he seems to be saying. “It may help him to remember me, as he passionately wants to.”
Copyright © 2006 by Louis Auchincloss. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Meet the Author
Louis Auchincloss was honored in the year 2000 as a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. During his long career he wrote more than sixty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. The former president of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he resided in New York City until his death in January 2010.
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