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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

on Edgell Rickword William Empson

There was a time, around 1929, when Edgell Rickword was the Sage of the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street; much jostled by other sages, and very unassertive, indeed he could hardly be got to speak, and then hardly above a whisper, but he was the real one, if you happened to know. John Davenport knew, and advised a few other Cambridge students, including myself; we felt that a visit to London had to include looking for him there. I remember straining my ears, and of course I often succeeded in hearing him, but I cannot remember anything he said. This is the less odd because what he said was remarkable for its studied moderation, and respected for that, even by us; to renounce poetry on becoming a Communist, as we all supposed he had done, seemed such a vehement thing, almost like Rimbaud-after that, a man had the right to speak placidly about current quarrels.

He was with Betty May at the time, and this was recognized as greatly to his credit; if I could meet her again, I believe I would still regard her as an impressive and romantic figure, as well as a beauty. However, we thought of him as very old; actually he was only about ten years older than we were, and nobody mentioned the war, but he had known an earlier literary generation. Meeting him now, it seems to me that his appearance has hardly changed at all; he has even retained ...


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