A letter from Ezra Pound to James Joyce, March 1918. Pound, then an editor for the New York magazine The Little Review, had arranged to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses; he feared its more scatological parts would result in confiscation from the government. The Egoist, a British magazine also running the novel in installments, had failed to find a printer willing to accept it.
The Little Review had already been suppressed once, in November 1917, for a piece by Wyndham Lewis; Judge Augustus Hand had banned it, citing a subsection of the U. S. Penal Code that likened prurient literature to information about contraceptives. “I confess to having been a bad citizen,” Pound had rebutted in print, “to just the extent of having been ignorant that at any moment my works might be classed in the law’s eye with the inventions of the late Dr. Condom.”
When Pound excised roughly twenty inflammatory lines from the “Calypso” section, Joyce balked, insisting that future portions remain unaltered. Postal authorities seized at least three issues of The Little Review containing extracts from Ulysses. When the magazine published part of “Nausicaa” in its July–August 1920 issue, John S. Sumner, the secretary for the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice, lodged an official complaint, calling the publication “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent and disgusting,” and inveighing especially against “pages 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 60”—nearly every one of which contained Joyce’s work. John Quinn, a lawyer and patron of the arts, succeeded in keeping The Little Review’s publishers out of jail, but the charges scared off American publishers for Ulysses, which ceased to be serialized and was dogged by censorship and piracy for decades afterward.
Pound’s original spelling and punctuation have been retained. “Geo. Robey” refers to George Robey, a British music-hall comedian known for his toilet humor.
Good Friday [29 March] 1918, 12:07 a.m.
Dear Joyce: As I wrote this a.m. or yesterday, we have got your first installment into print. 30 copies have reached me here. I suppose we’ll be suppressed. The Egoist printers wont set up the stuff at all. I dont mind suppression for the first chapter. Its worth it.
Section 4. has excellent things in it; but you overdo the matter. Leave the stool to Geo. Robey. He has been doing “down where the asparagus grows, for some time.
I think certain things simply bad writing, in this section. Bad because you waste the violence. You use a stronger word than you need, and this is bad art, just as any needless superlative is bad art.
The contrast between Blooms interior poetry and his outward surroundings is excellent, but it will come up without such detailed treatment of the dropping feces.
Quinn is already in a rage over my reference to the late Doctor C. in the March number. Quinn, by the way, has been in hospital for a major operation, and we cant have him worried unnecessarily.
Perhaps an unexpurgated text of you can be printed in a greek or bulgarian translation later.
I’m not even sure “urine” is necessary in the opening page. The idea could be conveyed just as definitely.
In the thing as it stands you will lose effectiveness. The excrements will prevent people from noticing the quality of things contrasted.
At any rate the thing is risk enough without the full details of the morning deposition.
If we are suppressed too often we’ll be suppressed finally and for all, to the damn’d stoppage of all our stipends. AND I cant have our august editress jailed, NOT at any rate for a passage which I do not think written with utter maestria.
Hence these tears.