BB. Richard Aldington

15. ‘Richard Aldington’s Letters, 1952-1962’. Edited by Morikimi Megata. Kôbe gaidai ronsô. October 1969, pp. 23-39; January 1970, pp. 95-111; July 1970, pp. 65-73; July 1971, pp. 107-116.

While he was a student in Kyoto in April 1952 and working on a thesis about D. H. Lawrence, Megata wrote to Aldington in France to inquire about Lawrence’s use of the Isis/Osiris myth, and thereby began a correspondence that would continue and grow in warmth through the last decade of Aldington’s life. The thirty-four letters he wrote to Megata constitute the most complete record of his interest in Japan. Lengthy excerpts appear in 21. In addition to letters noted, others mention Japan in passing or thank Megata for gifts sent through the years. According to Gates (see 16) three signed postcards from Aldington to Megata remain unpublished.

a. 14 June 1952. Aldington writes of his ‘small collection’ of ukiyoe, ‘quite ordinary’ prints—‘Hokusai [Ap], Hiroshige [Ap], Toyokuni [Utagawa, Ap], and so forth’, but ‘their beautiful bright colours seem arranged with such perfect taste and give so much pleasure in our drab commercial world’. The ‘old kingly and aristocratic’ Europe ‘abounded in [such] beautiful colour’, but ‘the triumph of the bourgeoisie [has] imposed black and white on us’. Aldington writes that he is concerned that the same process is under way in Japan, a veiled reference, the first of many in the letters, to his distaste for the United States and the Occupation of Japan.

b. 10 September 1952. Aldington again writes of his collection of ukiyoe, ‘about 150’ prints, ‘mostly Hiroshige, Toyokuni, Kuniyoshi, with odd specimens of Hokusai, Utamaro, Kiyonaga [Torii, Ap] and others less renowned’. He believes that ‘European artists still have lessons to learn’ from Japanese art, but admits that writers and artists in Europe ‘tend to idealise Japan’, because in the ‘carefully selected impression’ given by writers such as Hearn (D9) ‘we . . . find in Japan the dream-country of beauty and distinction and good manners and religious tolerance of which we dreamed in youth and no longer dare hope for’. He seems, however, to believe yet in that vision. ‘It was an evil day when the barbarians of the West in their war-ships shattered the calm isolation of that beautiful world’, he writes. ‘We should have come humbly to learn instead of arrogantly to conquer’.

c. 18 October 1952. Aldington wants Megata to think of him as a young man rather than the old man he has become, and so encloses a snapshot of himself taken in 1916, when he was a twenty-four-year-old infantryman on his way to the war in France. He has read in ‘a European book on Japan’ that ‘in the old days’ when a Japanese reached sixty ‘he put on a red robe and red cap, and said he had reached his second childhood’, and so Aldington has decided, therefore, that he must buy himself a red cap. The letter closes with reference to the change of seasons, and, oddly, thoughts of ‘how melancholy . . . the autumn months [would have been] for ladies living in solitude as recorded in The Lady Murasaki [Ap]’. A later letter indicates that Aldington had read and admired Waley’s translation of Genji monogatari (D26c).

d. 17 November 1953. Europe ‘sadly [needs] . . . an organised set of translations of the great classics of the Orient and translations of new books of interest’, Aldington writes. Muller’s (sic) Wisdom of the East series (see D18) is ‘limited to religious and philosophical works’ and ‘the publications of the Asiatic Society’ are ‘difficult to obtain’. He asks if Megata knows of Waley’s translation of ‘the novels by the Lady Murasaki’ (Genji monogatari), and wonders if they are ‘modernised’ or ‘Westernised’. He knows Waley and doesn’t like him, but ‘greatly admires’ that work.

e. 6 April 1954. What is ‘so attractive’ about ‘ancient Japanese work’, Aldington believes, is ‘the mingling of exquisite aristocratic breeding with artistic sensibility and creativeness’, but the thought spurs another, ill-tempered, reflection on the American Occupation (see also a): Aldington worries that since ‘His Imperial Majesty’s Government’ has stopped using the chrysanthemum as an emblem on postage stamps it will be replaced with ‘a packet of chewing gum or a newspaper’.

f. 5 March 1958. Includes a poem by Fujiwara no Atsutada copied in roman letters to congratulate Megata on his marriage. The poem is number 43 in the Hyakunin isshu (Ap).

g. 10 August 1958. Aldington is always happy to increase his ‘meagre knowledge’ of Japanese literature, but complains that the ‘American translations’ in a book Megata has sent are ‘vulgar’ and ‘illiterate’.

h. 12 December 1958. Aldington finds ‘in good taste’ the recent translations Megata has sent him, of Kawabata Yasunari’s novel Snow Country and the ‘Anthology of Recent Poetry’; no anthology of Japanese poetry by that name exists, but Ichirô Kôno and Rikutarô Fukuda’s Anthology of Modern Japanese Poetry had appeared from Kenkyusha in 1957, and so is probably the work in question; the Snow Country would be the translation by Edward Seidensticker (New York: Knopf, 1956).

i. 16 May 1959. The letter in which Aldington recalls the Japanese flags English schoolboys wore in their buttonholes during the Russo-Japanese War, and his reading of Hearn shortly after the war (see BB introduction). Closes with a cryptic reference to ‘the sacred personage of the [Showa] Emperor’, an idea to which Aldington returns in the letter of 1 October.

j. 1 October 1959. Expresses relief that ‘the Sacred Person of the [Showa] Emperor has been spared’ in a hurricane that has swept over Japan.

k. 12 December 1959. Aldington laments the democratisation of Japan, for ‘democracy leads always to demagogy, and to anarchy, and thence to tyranny—it is all explained by Aristotle and Plato—2000 years ago’; he is ‘grieved’ that democracy should come to ‘a truly aristocratic country like Japan’.

l. 2 February 1962. Aldington thanks Megata for a book of modern Japanese paintings, but hopes that Japan ‘will not become too modernised’, for the ‘ancient culture and traditions, matured through so many centuries of civilisation, are far too precious to be lost’.





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