JOYCE, James. Tales Told of Shem and Shaun--Harry and Caresse CROSBY. A series of three autograph letters signed ('Caresse Crosby' and 'Harry Crosby') to C.K. Ogden, 2 & 4 Rue Cardinale, Paris, and Paris, 3 April and 3 May 1929, and 'Thursday' [May 1929], 7 pages, 4to and 8vo (some very light browning and spotting, 2 short clean tears on one letter).
THREE LETTERS FROM THE CROSBYS TO OGDEN: JOYCE'S REQUEST THAT OGDEN WRITES A PREFACE TO TALES TOLD OF SHEM AND SHAUN; JOYCE'S REACTION TO OGDEN'S PREFACE; JOYCE'S DESIRE THAT OGDEN MENTIONS BRANCUSI. In 1929 Harry and Caresse Crosby proposed a Black Sun Press edition of a section of Work in Progress; Joyce agreed, and when Harry Crosby suggested that Joyce choose someone to write an introduction, the author put forward the names of Julian Huxley and J.W.N. Sullivan. Neither, however, could provide a preface, so Joyce then thought of Ogden, 'rightly surmising that the co-author of The Meaning of Meaning and the inventor of Basic English would not resist an invitation to discuss this linguistic experiment. He wished also for Ogden to comment, as a mathematician, upon the structure of Finnegans Wake, which he insisted was mathematical' (R. Ellmann Joyce, p.614). Caresse's letter of 3 April 1929 inviting Ogden to write the preface describes the forthcoming book, and continues, 'This work being of an advanced nature we feel (and Mr Joyce feels) that it has need of a foreword by way of introduction and explanation--we would like to know if you will be willing to write this introduction'. Caresse then lists the three fragments that comprise the volume--describing the second by its original title of 'The Triangle' rather than its final title of 'The Muddest Thick That Was Ever Heard Dump'--telling Ogden that Sylvia Beach will be sending the text under separate cover, and asks to know his terms and how long it would take to write the foreword. The letter ends 'The work is already in hand and the book announced for this spring so the matter is very urgent'.
Harry Crosby's letter of 3 May 1929 commences by telling Ogden that Joyce is 'very glad' to have the preface, which 'we all three think is very fine. I certainly congratulate you. Yours was no easy task', before requesting a change: 'Do you remember when you say [...] referring to Stefansson "He tells me that it was only after six years of constant study and practice that he attained proficiency in its use" (i.e. the Eskimo language) So far so good. Then you write "So at least six days may be necessary before Mr Joyce's "word-ballet" yields its secrets even to an adjusted mind" Entre nous I think Joyce felt a little sensitive about this last sentence because although you probably didn't mean it it sounds as if the word-ballet was of very little consequence (only 1/365 as compared to the Eskimo language)'. Crosby then suggests that the sentence could be recast as a question, before apologising for asking for the alteration--Ogden obviously appreciated Crosby's concern, and the published text reads 'So at least a decade may be necessary before Mr. Joyce's "word-ballet" yields its secrets to the adjusted mind' (Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, p.IX). Crosby ends with the hope that his letter is not too incoherent--'I spent all this morning going over proofs with Joyce My head is whirling with words and symbols'.
The Crosbys wanted to commission a portrait of Joyce as a frontispiece to the volume; Picasso was the first suggestion, but he refused on the grounds that he never made portraits 'sur commande' (R. Ellmann Joyce, p.614), so Brancusi was commissioned. The first image he produced 'looked like Joyce but not like a Brancusi', according to Caresse Crosby (loc. cit.), so Brancusi then proposed his 'Symbol of James Joyce' which was used. Caresse's letter of Thursday accompanies the proofs of Ogden's introduction, and apologises for the delay in sending it to him, explaining that 'Joyce amplified his text to such an extent that our type ran out'. On the verso, Harry Crosby has added a note relaying a request from Joyce: 'Joyce is most anxious that you mention Brancusi in the preface si célà est possible as Brancusi has done the picture of Joyce which we are using in the book Just include his name not at all necessary to go into details', and has further noted in pencil 'the portrait by Brancusi is "advanced" that is it is abstract'. (Joyce's father's dry-witted reaction when he saw Brancusi's 'portrait' of his son was to remark solemnly 'The boy seems to have changed a good deal' (loc. cit.)) As Crosby desired, Ogden included a mention of the artist in the preface: 'the academicians are not altering their language to accommodate Kandinsky or Brancusi' (Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, p.II). (3)