Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason
—Justice Robert H. Jackson, delivering the majority opinion of the US Supreme Court in Cramer vs. United States, 6 Nov. 1944
9: AMERICAN JUSTICE
My instinct all along has been to leave the whole matter to the U. S.Dept. of Justice.
—EP, 5 October 1945
I dont want a fake defense against a phoney charge. If a man isn’t ready to go to jail for his opinions, neither I nor Thoreau wd/ think that either the man or the opinions were worth much. BUT the vermin who jail him for holding them are worth a DAMN sight less.
—EP, TS note, n.d.
Giving Cornell his head
A headline on the front page of the Washington Post on the morning of 19 November 1945 read, ‘Poet Ezra Pound Flown Here to Answer Treason Charges’. The Post’s reporter had been among the press at Bolling Field for Pound’s arrival there, and had noted that though looking ‘somewhat decrepit’ he was nevertheless ‘still debonair’ and ‘in gay spirits’. Pound had said to the reporters, ‘There is an idea afloat here that I have betrayed this country. If that damned fool idea is still in anybody’s head, I want to wipe it out.’ He was still ready to stand trial and to defend himself vigorously. But there was to be no trial, and no defence would be mounted. There would be a fresh indictment and an arraignment, but after that no trial jury would be empanelled, no prosecution evidence or witnesses would be produced; his defence attorney would not defend him, not one word would be said in court in his defence, and the indictment would stand unchallenged. Instead he would be shut away in a prison for the criminally insane for over twelve years, with the charge of treason suspended over him, and without ever being able to give his answer to the charge.
He would be in that prison in November 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as he accepted the America’s Democratic Legacy Award, at a B’nai B’rith Dinner in Honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League, asked himself, ‘Why are we Americans proud?’, and gave this answer:
We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend—or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.
That is indeed part of the American Constitution, where it is reinforced by the Fifth Amendment provision that ‘No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.’ Eisenhower spoke of other rights conferred by their Constitution which Americans could be proud of, including the ‘right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one’, a provision of the Sixth Amendment—
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favour, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
And yet the due process of law, and these other democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution in which he trusted, would be denied to Pound. He would ‘rot in jail’ for a full dozen years, not counting the six months in the DTC, under indictment, but with no recourse to justice.
On Monday 19 November Pound was taken from the District of Columbia jail, where he had been held overnight, for his preliminary arraignment before Chief Justice Bolitha J. Laws. The Washington Post reported next morning that he had made ‘a scholarly 10 minute debate why he should be allowed to act as his own attorney’. He had spoken of his efforts ‘to keep hell from breaking loose in the world’, and had probably argued, as he had in October to Arthur Moore of Shakespear and Parkyn, that no lawyer could know his work well enough to represent him. But Judge Laws, according to the Associated Press report, replied that the charge was too serious for him to be allowed to act as his own counsel, and ‘Pound then agreed to have the court appoint an attorney for him’. The date 27 November was set down for the formal arraignment, and Pound was returned to the District of Columbia jail.
He still did not know that in September, while he was confined in the DTC near Pisa, James Laughlin had asked Julien Cornell, a New York attorney and special counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, ‘to undertake [his] defense’. Charles Norman, a journalist who took a particular interest in Pound’s case, held Cornell in high regard:
Mr. Cornell, a Quaker, had been active in the field of civil liberties…He was endowed with great determination as well as idealism—his figure, which was stocky, his chin which was broad and firm, showed it. He accepted the brief in a difficult time, when the feelings aroused by his client’s broadcasts were still strong; in doing so, he acted in the highest tradition of the American bar—that of safeguarding every accused man’s right to his day in court. He had, in addition to conviction and courage, the professional skill needed and, like Dr. Johnson on toleration,‘untwisted this difficult subject with great dexterity’.
It is good to speak well of the dead; yet the fact remains that one result of Cornell’s exercise of his professional dexterity was that Pound never did have his day in court, and another was that he was left stripped for life of his civil liberties.
Cornell had notified the Attorney General in early November that ‘he had been retained to confer with Pound about his defense’, and had asked ‘to be informed when he arrived’. Upon receipt of a telegram from the Attorney General’s office telling him that Pound was in the District of Columbia jail he at once travelled down to Washington. There, on the day of Pound’s preliminary arraignment, he ‘had a talk with the Chief of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, Mr. McInerny, and with his assistant who would have charge of the prosecution, Isaiah Matlack’. He also talked ‘with the superintendent of the jail’ where Pound was being held, and ‘with the Chief Judge of the District of Columbia District Court, Bolitha J. Laws’. He did not talk with Pound himself.
In his ‘Documented Account of the Treason Case by the Defendant’s Lawyer’, Cornell wrote that Judge Laws told him ‘that he was very happy to know that [he] was going to appear for Pound’; but Cornell does not say whether he mentioned that he had never met Pound and did not yet have his authorization or consent, let alone his instructions, though, given that the judge had just heard Pound’s request to defend himself, it should have been apparent that he did not have either authorization or instructions. Cornell was well aware, as was Laughlin, of Pound’s reluctance to have anyone appear for him whom he would regard as unqualified. Laughlin had shown him A. V. Moore’s letter of 9 October in which he wrote that Pound ‘will much prefer to conduct his defense in his own manner, and by such means as may seem expedient to him’; and that while he was himself in full agreement with Laughlin about retaining Cornell, he did not have Pound’s agreement and so could not give definite instructions to that effect. Laughlin had also shown him Pound’s letter to Moore of 5 October, in which he had resisted Moore’s urging that he should ‘allow a lawyer experienced in Court procedure to represent his interests’, and had made it very clear that in any event he would accept only a lawyer prepared to acquire ‘some concept of what I have been driving at’. Yet from his own account it would seem that Cornell never seriously considered defending Pound on Pound’s own terms. Eliot had recognized that he needed a lawyer ‘prepared to read all your works and try to understand them’, but Cornell didn’t bother to read any of them. Moreover, he would ignore even the fundamental contention of Pound’s letter to Moore, that in his radio speeches he had been exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech, a constitutional issue which he believed should concern the ACLU and be the basis of his defence.
Cornell had not only been retained by Laughlin without Pound’s knowledge or consent, he had also been briefed by Laughlin. They had listened together to ‘recordings of several of Pound’s broadcasts as monitored in London’, and had concluded, in Cornell’s words, that they ‘did not sound treasonable’, and in Laughlin’s, that ‘there is nothing in there which is indefensible on political grounds—very little that was not said openly here and accepted as free speech’. However, the ‘outbursts of [anti-Semitic] intolerance’, Laughlin feared, would, if they were publicized in the course of a trial, outrage public opinion and ‘force a conviction on the court’. One might think that his fear showed a grave lack of faith in the American justice system, given that Pound was not under indictment for anti-Semitism, that anti-Semitism was not an indictable offence, and that indeed expressions even of anti-Semitism had to be allowed under the First Amendment. Yet Laughlin had his reasons, as he revealed in his letter of 4 November to Dorothy Pound:
I think you are mistaken to count on much help from MacLeish. He still has political ambitions and he would not dare antagonize such an important segment of power by supporting in anyway someone who had challenged their position. Nor would I myself dare to make any open statement, though I hope to do as much as I can privately. Inside a fortnight my books would be barred from the several hundred important stores that are controlled in that way and I would be out of business.
Laughlin signed off his letter ‘hoping that my gloomy forebodings will not materialize in fact. Cornell feels that there are many legal loopholes that may be utilized.’ Evidently they had decided that a direct answer to the charge of treason, though it was warranted, would risk Pound’s being condemned, not for treason in the court of justice, but for anti-Semitism in the court of ‘public opinion’. To save him from that, and to save his friends from being caught up in the scandal, it would be necessary to exploit some legal loophole to make sure the case did not come to full trial.
On the Tuesday morning Cornell ‘spent two hours with Pound’. Before that Pound had pencilled a V-mail letter to Dorothy:
marvellous trip.—deadly tired on arrival as djeep’d all night to Roma before 4 engine flight. Venice visible. Prague, cloud ceiling made skip Frankfurt. Brussles, London, Azores. & marvel of Bermuda just in time 10 minutes of daylight on splendour, water as blue grotto, & greens & yellow etc. = Beebe’s hole etc. french ambassador & nine on board . but not of the party . so to speak.
This cell modernist with fine high mess hall below & four story windows, enormous high sala under the cliff dwellings.
have seen various journalists. best photo ever had done by A.P. I think…
et quant aux types!! more of that anon. hope to write again tomorrow.
Love to mother.
‘Cell warmed & good ventilation’, he added on the address panel.
The premise of Cornell’s account of the case is that ‘When he arrived in Washington jail Pound was an old man, tired and sick, unable to understand his predicament sufficiently well to defend himself’. However that is not how he had appeared to the press who heard and photographed him at Bolling Field on the Sunday night. And though, not altogether surprisingly, he had looked ‘tired and dishevelled in court’ on the Monday, he evidently understood the charge, if not ‘his predicament’, well enough to want to defend himself. In the photograph taken that day he looks exactly as he had the night before, alert and self-possessed. On the Tuesday morning, before Cornell’s visit, he had written that clear-minded, sharply observant, and humorous letter to Dorothy. Yet Cornell would maintain that it was immediately apparent to him on first seeing Pound ‘that he was in no state to stand trial or even plead to the indictment but was in need of medical care and hospital treatment’.
He began his report to Laughlin, written the day after the interview, upon that note:
I found the poor devil in a rather desperate condition. He is very wobbly in his mind and while his talk is entirely rational, he flits from one idea to another and is unable to concentrate even to the extent of answering a single question without immediately wandering off the subject. We spent most of the time talking about Confucius, Jefferson and the economic and political implications of their ideas. I let him ramble on, even though I did not get much of the information which I wanted, as it seemed a shame to deprive him of the pleasure of talking, which has been almost entirely denied to him for a long while.
The condescension to ‘the poor devil’ is as remarkable as his making not the slightest effort to understand Pound’s ideas or even to treat his work with respect. ‘Pound wants you to publish his translations of Confucius, which are ready’, he added in a postscript, with the dismissive comment, ‘He seems to think the Confucius is world shaking in its import and should be published immediately.’ All Cornell wanted from Pound was information to make the case that his ‘health has been seriously impaired by the brutal nature of his confinement [in the DTC] and that his continued imprisonment may end both his life and his sanity’; and indeed, in spite of Pound’s ‘wandering off the subject’, he was able to put together a quite coherent account of his experience in the DTC, and to report that, as a result of his initial treatment there, he had gone ‘out of his mind and suffered complete loss of memory, a state from which he said he did not fully recover until September’. Pound had told Cornell, amidst his ramblings, that he wanted Laughlin to publish his ‘new volume of Cantos, some of which I believe he sent out from prison in Italy’. He had also mentioned that while there he had ‘had no reading material except two volumes of Confucius’. Yet Cornell failed to see that this meant that those cantos, composed, according to the story he was making up, while Pound was ‘out of his mind’ and suffering from ‘a complete loss of memory’, must have been drawn almost entirely from memory. In any event, Cornell would have said that Pound ‘is still under a considerable mental cloud’ because, for instance, ‘He said that whether or not he is convicted he could be of tremendous help to President Truman, because of his knowledge of conditions in Italy and Japan.’
There are telling traces in Cornell’s letter of his prior discussions with the prosecution. He had gathered that they would ‘probably oppose, but not strenuously’, the application for bail which he planned to make, and that was because ‘they regard Pound’s case as rather a mild one of its kind’. He had also learnt something to support the application, presumably from someone in the Justice Department, and that was that ‘three army psychiatrists who examined [Pound] found that he was suffering from claustrophobia’. He does not say whether he was also told that the reason the Justice Department had had him examined was that there was real concern about his mental condition, and that the question of whether he would be competent to stand trial had been on their mind. One other thing: he had told Chief Justice Laws, with whom he had ‘discussed the case briefly’ and found ‘most courteous and helpful’, that he would be appearing on Pound’s behalf only ‘for the purpose of arraignment’, and could not say whether he would appear in his defence. The judge seems to have been content to leave open the question of who would defend him, in spite of its being a Constitutional requirement which he had insisted upon the day before that the accused in so serious a case should have a defender equal to the charge.
So far as one can tell from his letter, Cornell refrained altogether from discussing with Pound the substantive issue of the indictment, and therefore the main issue for his defence: whether his radio broadcasts constituted acts of treason as defined in law. Instead he ‘discussed with him the possibility of pleading insanity as a defense’, and Pound, he told Laughlin, ‘has no objection. In fact he told me that the idea had already occurred to him.’ That was a tricky question to raise with someone in a supposedly wobbly state of mind. Yet such an exchange, if it had gone like that, might well be considered evidence of the accused’s sanity, or at least of his ability ‘to advise properly with counsel [and] to participate intelligently and reasonably in his own defense’. Leaving that aside, Cornell’s proposal was both deeply improper and profoundly damaging to the client it was his professional duty to defend.
In the first place, especially if he believed his client to be probably not guilty as charged, his first duty was to develop a defence against the specific charge. Secondly, by inviting, in effect advising, his client to plead insanity he was leading him into grave jeopardy, since the plea would carry the implicit admission that he was in fact guilty, though not responsible for his action; and the admission of insanity would inevitably result in his being deprived of his freedom. Worst of all, Cornell was tempting Pound, who had not and would not betray his country, to betray himself, since to plead that he was not responsible for what he had written and spoken, and thus to disown his own utterance, would be to represent himself most falsely. He would be giving aid and comfort to those who wanted him to be seen as a deranged crank; worse, he would be saving himself from judgment by discrediting what he believed in.
Of course ‘the idea had already occurred to him’—how could it not after the three psychiatrists had been sent to probe his sanity following his month in the cage? But to have thought of it does not mean to have consented. And there was no sign that he had had it mind when addressing the judge just the day before. What made him consent, if he did consent, to Cornell’s proposal at this first meeting? Later he would say that Cornell had told him that if the Court accepted that he was unfit to plead then he could expect to be ‘back in Italy in six months a free man’. Certainly that is what Cornell told Dorothy Pound in January. If he was not deliberately misleading them he was, at the very least, raising a dangerously false expectation. And if it was that ill-founded hope that led Pound to succumb to Cornell’s temptation, then Cornell, if not Laughlin also, was responsible for and party to the self-betrayal for which Pound alone would pay the terrible penalty.
At the end of the week, on Saturday 24th, Pound wrote to Dorothy from ‘Cell Block 1 / cell 216’, that ‘Cornell has been in twice & I like him & he will attend to technicalities—I take it.’ Apart from that, ‘the Mapels had called & Mencken written’, and ‘The local comforts are weak chess (not had time for that in years) & a buffet or something that supplies ice cream &, I hear, peanut butter etc. on 3 days notice before hand.’ Ida and Ada Lee Mapel were spinster sisters who lived in Georgetown and who had befriended Pound forty years before when he was on his own in Spain. They had visited him in the jail on the Tuesday, after Cornell’s first visit, and though they had spoken through the jail bars ‘It was wonderful to see you’, Miss Ida wrote the next day, ‘and you were wonderful in the good old way of the great past.’ But that was ‘An epoch completely finished. We must look to the future,’ she went on, and offered to buy him a suit and some shirts. To Dorothy she wrote, ‘Ezra stood the trip over very well—seemed a bit nervous’. If that was all, then the ‘poor devil’ must have staged a considerable recovery since the morning. On the Thursday, Thanksgiving, he was still his old self when he wrote to his mother:
Wonderful plane trip . includin Bermuda—escort most considerate . only blot was bein’ Tired by night djeep ride before start.
Note from Mencken, Mapels have called—informal chess club amiable & play badly enough to stand my poor playing. fried chicken or rather poulade a la Virginia & chocolate ice cream today (Thanksgiving wish you cd/ have shared it. but the society is exclusive—Mr Peabody’s anecdotes of Panama canal zone etc. in fact conversation level rather above that of the politer tea circles.
the papers seem to be expressin the views I held some years ago with rather more acrimony than I ever did. == Antheil publishin his autobiography & Dali havin a picture show. Poor ole F. Bacon is dead (2 or 3 years ago]
Idea (i.e. main idea in your last letter perfectly sound) just have patience.
Love to you & D.
Yr. obstreperous offspring.
His letters were being stamped ‘D. C. JAIL / CENSORED’, with date and censor’s initials.
Another jail formality is recorded on the ‘Receipt of Property’ dated ‘11/20/45’. ‘Chief items in despatch-case of Ezra Pound’ were listed as:
#1 Confucius / Ta Seu in chinese & Italian– #2 Typescript of English version #3 L’Asse ‘che Vacilla [sic], italian– #4 typescript in English, “The Unwobbling Pivot / Unwavering Axis. #5 Ms of new cantos (5 note books) #6 Typescript of new cantos. #7 Legge, Four Classics, Chinese and English. #8 1 Check book. #9 one pr sun glasses #10 1 comb. ALL ITEMS LISTED IN SAFE ON FIRST FLOOR.
A second sheet listed the clothes and personal items he had with him:
1 pr. blue pajamas, 5 pr socks, 4 towels, 4 pc. underware, 2 sweaters,—Brief case containing the following: 1 book, 2 shirts, 1 2-pc. underware, 6 hankercheifs, 1 newspapers clipping, 1 soap, 1 brush, 1 tooth paste, (used) 1 prayer book, nail clippers, tooth brush holder, 1 soap box, 2 packages medicine, 1 roll toolet paper. 1 knap sack, no contents | all the above articles placed in large bag and placed in vault
Both sheets were ‘Verified as correct’ by the signature ‘Ezra Pound’. Notably absent from these lists are the Chinese dictionary and the book of Odes—Pound must have hung on to them.
On Friday 23rd Pound was taken from the jail to the Court and there held all day in the ‘bull pen’ along with the other prisoners who might be required to appear. The Justice Department, in the name of the United States Attorney in and for the District of Columbia, together with his special assistant Isaiah Matlack and three other assistants, was presenting its revised indictment to the Grand Jury, and this was certified a True Bill without Pound’s being brought into court.
On the Saturday, as the Washington Times-Herald reported in its Sunday edition,
Five prisoners, all described as dangerous and possibly armed, hacksawed their way to freedom from the District Jail yesterday afternoon in one of the smoothest and most mysterious jail breaks in the city’s history. All escaped from a window aperture 15 feet above the floor of the recreation room while a stool-pigeon futilely tried to attract the attention of the two guards assigned to watch the 29 inmates of Cell Block No. 1 during a recreation period…The 24 other prisoners in the room at the time refused the chance for escape but helped their fellows by talking and singing loudly and otherwise trying to cover the sounds of the sawing.
All the prisoners still in Cell Block No. 1 were then confined to their cells for the rest of the weekend. On the Sunday Pound wrote to Ronald Duncan, ‘All this is a marvelous xperience if it dont break me & if the lesion of May cured (I thinks) in Sept. dont bust open under the renewed fatigues.’ That evening he complained of ‘claustrophobia’ to the guards and was transferred to the prison infirmary where he was accommodated for the rest of his time in the DC jail.
‘Police reporters sought him out there’, according to a piece in Time magazine, and Pound seems to have played up to them in his usual fashion. In its own inimitable style Time had
The ragbaggy old darling of the U.S. expatriate intelligentsia…lolling in the infirmary of the D.C. Jail [as] he denied that he ever talked treason: ‘I was only trying to tell the people of Europe and America how they could avoid war by learning the facts about money.’ He spoke ruefully: ‘It’s all very well to die for an idea, but to die for an idea you can’t remember…’
If Pound did say that then he was denting the idea in the previous sentence for the sake of a Time-speak phrase. To another more sympathetic reporter he spoke of the books he had there in his cell that had kept him ‘from going completely crazy’ during his months in the Pisan prison. Cornell had ‘succeeded in obtaining release from the authorities of [his] manuscripts, including the additional Cantos and the translations from Confucius’.
On Monday 26 November the Grand Jury indictment was filed with the Court in Washington. On the same day, in New York, Cornell swore an ‘Affidavit in support of application for bail’—this he would present to the Court the following day after Pound had been formally charged with the indictment. Apparently neither Cornell nor Pound would know the exact terms of the latter until it was read out in the Court; and presumably the prosecution, while expecting that an application for bail was likely to be made, would not have advance knowledge of its terms. Between the indictment and the application would come the accused’s plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. On the Tuesday morning Cornell spent an hour with Pound in the jail. By his own account he found him ‘in a state of almost complete mental and physical exhaustion’, and ‘suggested that because of his condition it might be wise for him to remain mute rather than enter a plea of not guilty’. The Court would then ‘be obliged by law to enter a plea of not guilty’. And of course a mute Pound would not get in the way of Cornell’s argument that he was in no condition to be tried.
The indictment, dressed up in impressive coverall legalese, was carefully crafted. The main contention, as summed up in the closing paragraph, was that
The defendant, Ezra Pound, committed each and every one of the overt acts herein described for the purpose of, and with the intent to adhere to and give aid and comfort to the Kingdom of Italy, and its military allies, enemies of the United States, and the said defendant, Ezra Pound, committed each and every one of the said overt acts contrary to his duty of allegiance to the United States and to the form of the statute and constitution in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the United States. (Section 1, United States Criminal Code).
Just seven specific ‘overt acts’ were alleged, each of them a broadcast ‘on or about’ a certain date, and each of them said to be ‘for the purpose of giving aid and comfort to the Kingdom of Italy and its then allies in the war against the United States’. The particular purpose of the first and fourth overt acts was said to be, ‘among other things, to create dissension and distrust between the United States and its military allies’, and further, in the first act, ‘the said defendant asserted, in substance, that the war is an economic war in which the United States and its allies are the aggressors’. In the second and sixth instances, ‘the purport (sic)…was to create racial prejudice in the United States’, and further, in the sixth act, ‘to create…distrust of the Government of the United States’. Nothing in particular was said of the third overt act. In the fifth, ‘the said defendant asserted, among other things and in substance, that Italy is the natural ally of the United States; that the true nature of the Axis regime has been misrepresented to the people in the United States and that England, Russia and the United States are the aggressor nations’. In the seventh offensive act, ‘the said defendant praised Italy, urged the people in the United States to read European publications rather than the American press and to listen to European radio transmissions, and stated further that he spoke “from Rome, in a regime where liberty is considered a duty”.’ Then followed seven paragraphs, numbered 8 to 14, each alleging that Pound, ‘between July 29, 1942 and July 25, 1943’, or ‘between December 11, 1941 and July 25, 1943’, recorded broadcasts ‘for the purpose of giving aid and comfort to the Kingdom of Italy’ etc., in the presence of two named witnesses. There were five names, variously paired in the seven paragraphs. Paragraph 15 dealt with Pound’s securing approval of the manuscripts of his broadcasts from two named officials of the Ministry of Popular Culture. A further four paragraphs dealt with his receiving payments for his broadcasts. And that was all—for all its ponderous generalities it was in its specific charges a flimsy indictment. In sum, Pound was being called upon to answer for opinions expressed in just seven broadcasts, opinions which could not seriously be held to have presented any grave threat to the United States of America.
A defense attorney should not have been impressed by the familiar legal bluster—‘knowingly, intentionally, wilfully, unlawfully, feloniously, traitorously and treasonably did adhere’ etc.—nor by the portentous repetition of the general charge in each and every paragraph. Stripped of its shock and awe rhetoric the indictment was startlingly limited, mild, and vulnerable. Most remarkably it was virtually signalling, by the failure to give specific dates in paragraphs 8 to 14, that the witnesses could not securely testify that they had been present at the times when the specified seven overt acts were committed. Given that Laughlin had noted in September the Justice Department’s public admission that it was having difficulty finding its witnesses, Cornell should have been alert to that signal, and should have seen at once that the prosecution case was probably unsustainable. He may or may not have known it, but in any case he should have considered the further possibility, that the witnesses did not speak English and would not have been able to identify a specified broadcast even if they had been present when it was recorded. A defence attorney would have had merely to question them to expose their testimony as worthless, and to have the case instantly dismissed. One wonders if the Justice Department had expected that to be the outcome, and had been simply going through the motions in presenting such a flimsy indictment.
Even if the witnesses had been able to testify convincingly to the seven overt acts, those acts, it could well have been argued, hardly constituted treason. Pound was alleged to have asserted—and would certainly have admittedsaying and believing to be true—‘that the war is an economic war in which the United States and its allies are the aggressors’, ‘that Italy is the natural ally of the United States’, that ‘he spoke “from Rome, in a regime where liberty is considered a duty”’. These might well be regarded as wrong-headed opinions, or as simply false; and it is conceivable that they might have given some comfort in Italy, but not any serious aid. And there would remain the difficulty of proving conscious and wilful intention to do harm to the United States by broadcasting these opinions. The allegations that Pound intended ‘to create racial prejudice in the United States’ had more substance, though ‘exploit’ would have been a more accurate word than ‘create’. But then, however regrettably, expressions and acts of racial prejudice in America did not constitute treason, so those allegations would have had to be set aside. Again, seeking ‘to create…distrust of the Government’ could be, given the appropriate circumstances, an act of patriotism rather than of treason, as the founders who drew up the Constitution of the United States were well aware. Dissent is not necessarily treason even in time of war. That would leave the charge of intending ‘to create dissension and distrust between the United States and its military allies’, a serious enough allegation, yet not strictly treasonous, and one surely excessively flattering to the defendant’s capacity to influence ‘the United States and its military allies’.
A confidential Justice Department internal assessment in May 1950 would conclude that, ‘with the exception of Overt Act 3, either the evidence available to prove the remaining eighteen (sic) overt acts was insufficient to meet the constitutional requirements of two witnesses to the same overt act or…the acts alleged could not properly be construed as giving aid and comfort to the enemy’. There was no indication in the memorandum, as there was none in the original indictment, of what was thought to distinguish ‘Overt Act 3’ from the others. Following on from that assessment Mr McInerney would be advised ‘that extreme difficulty would be encountered in meeting our burden of proof if Pound were declared sane and the Government forced to trial’.
After the question of whether the acts were in fact treasonous, and, the further question whether, if any were treasonous, they had been duly witnessed, there would remain a third and crucial question: had the defendant intended harm to the United States? The prosecution would have been required to prove that at least one of the broadcasts, if indeed it was treasonous, had been made with the deliberate intention of doing harm to the United States; but Pound’s defence attorney, if he had had one, could have argued and effectively demonstrated that, on the contrary, each and every one of the specified broadcasts was animated by a deliberate will, however misguided, to save the United States from error. The Justice Department, which was in possession of Pound’s letter to the Attorney General upon being first indicted in 1943, and of his two statements to Amprim in Genoa, must have been well aware not only of the need to prove intent but of how difficult it would be to do that—and a competent defence attorney should have been no less aware.
There had been an important Supreme Court ruling in April 1945, in the case of Cramer v. United States , 325 US 1. In June 1942 Anthony Cramer (or Kramer) had given material assistance to armed saboteurs put ashore from a German submarine to disrupt America’s war industry. He had been found guilty of treason and sentenced to forty years imprisonment. Upon appeal the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the conviction and established a clear precedent for any future treason trial. ‘The crime of treason’, the decision stated,
consists of two elements, both of which must be present in order to sustain a conviction: (1) adherence to the enemy, and (2) rendering him aid and comfort.
The term ‘aid and comfort’ as used in the provision of the Federal Constitution defining treason…contemplates some kind of affirmative action, deed, or physical activity tending to strengthen the enemy or weaken the power to resist him, and is not satisfied by a mere mental operation.
…the acts done must be intentional. The intent sufficient to sustain a conviction of treason must be an intent…to betray the country by means of such acts.
Speaking for the Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, shortly to become a US prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Criminals trials, emphasized how narrowly the treason statute should be construed:
A citizen intellectually and emotionally may favor the enemy and harbor sympathies or convictions disloyal to the country’s policy or interest, but as long as he commits no act of aid and comfort to the enemy, there is no treason. On the other hand a citizen may take actions which do aid and comfort the enemy—making a speech critical of the government or opposing its measures, profiteering, striking in defense plants or essential work, and the hundred other things which impair our cohesion and diminish our strength—but if there is no adherence to the enemy in this, if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason.
An attorney with his mind on defending Pound would have taken heart from that ruling as making the prosecution’s case almost certainly unsustainable.
Cornell was aware of Cramer v. US as ‘the only treason case which has reached the Supreme Court in modern times’, and as ‘containing the only authoritative discussion of the crime, as well as a learned review of its history in English and American law’. However, since ‘the opinions do not shed any light on the matter of bail’, he had no use for it. That was because he had no intention of defending Pound against the charge of treason, having made up his mind before even hearing the indictment that he had ‘found a way to get around [its] difficulties’. In his later account of the trial he would merely summarize the indictment in a brief paragraph, and print, as an appendix, a partial text omitting the substantive paragraphs 5 to 15. Otherwise he would completely ignore it, as, quite extraordinarily, he did at the time of the trial.
Charles Olson had got himself into the courtroom on 27 November to observe Pound at his formal arraignment. He had made Pound his father in poetry and was Oedipally trying to cast him off; yet, being still in thrall to his poetry, he was projecting his murderous impulses upon the politics, wildly accusing him, for example, of having for twenty years ‘damned democracy and all its works’. His stance towards Pound, like that of many of Pound’s friends, would remain awkwardly conflicted, with indebtedness and rejection, admiration and enmity, always unresolved. He had never seen Pound before, and ‘took him to look older and weaker than I had imagined’—‘so alone that day, and worn down’. The courtroom, as Olson described it, ‘was the chief justice’s chambers, made like some Episcopal chapel, with Negroes filling the pews for witnesses, and on the other side of the bench…opposite the jurors’ box, lawyers and the press and attendants’. Pound’s eyes, he thought, ‘were full of pain, and hostile, cornered as he was in a court, with no one he knew around him except his lawyer whom he had only known a week before’. It was a moment of drama ‘when he, a man of such words, stood up mute before the court’. The next day’s New York Herald Tribune described that moment:
Unkempt and clad in G.I. hand-me-downs, Ezra Pound, sixty-year-old American poet accused of treason, stood mute today during arraignment before a Federal district court here, shuffling from one foot to the other while a defense attorney requested he be released from District of Columbia jail because he suffers from claustrophobia and may lose his sanity if he remains imprisoned.
In Cornell’s account, Pound ‘said not a word but sat with hands folded and downcast eyes while I told the court he was not in condition to make a plea and asked Judge Laws to enter a plea of not guilty for him’.
Cornell ‘then handed up to Judge Laws my motion papers, at the same time giving copies to Isaiah Matlack, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the prosecution’. The ‘motion papers’ were his ‘Affidavit in Support of Application for Bail’, and a ‘Memorandum’ concerning the law bearing upon the Application. He did not read out the Affidavit, which ran to twelve typed pages, ‘but explained orally the general tenor’, which was ‘that Pound was suffering from mental illness…was in urgent need of medical care…should never have been sent over here for trial…asked the Judge to order Pound’s immediate release from jail to a hospital’. Matlack, having reason to expect an application for an early trial at which he would have to drop the charges, was taken completely by surprise, and asked for a brief recess ‘to read the motion papers and consult with his superiors’. It did not take him long to make out that Cornell was going for a plea of insanity, with its implicit acceptance that Pound was actually guilty of treason, and he quickly let the judge know that ‘the government had no objection to a medical examination’. The next day’s Stars and Stripes would carry the report that the Attorney General had announced that Pound ‘admitted each and every one of these acts for the purpose of and with intent’ etc. It was not true, but the Justice Department might well have thought it was as near as made no difference.
Matlack would have seen at once that Cornell was not defending Pound, but effectively handing him over to the Justice Department’s mercy. Pound would not have been aware of what was happening, since the Affidavit was not read out and only the judge and prosecution knew what was in it. Cornell had not only silenced Pound, but was now keeping from him what he was saying for him. Worse, while appearing to appear ‘for the defendant’, he was covertly betraying him. Standing in the place that should by law have been filled by a defence attorney, and letting himself be referred to as ‘counsel for the defense’, he was nevertheless silently declaring in the introduction to his written Affidavit—
I do not defend his actions, nor do I approve his sentiments. I do not feel that I can properly try his case. But in accordance with my duty as a lawyer, I have felt obliged to comply with a request that I confer with this man accused of crime. 1
His ‘duty as a lawyer’ was of course not to ‘try his case’—that was for the judge and jury—but to present the best case possible in his defence. He was out of order from the start, and the judge, as soon as he read ‘I do not defend his actions’, and found that Cornell felt obliged only ‘to confer with this man accused of crime’, should have ruled him out of order and, according to the law, appointed a defence counsel willing to act as one.
In his second paragraph Cornell stated his belief that Pound, having suffered ‘a complete mental collapse and loss of memory’ while being ‘continuously held incommunicado in solitary confinement’, was ‘still insane’. He then gave an account of Pound’s early life and literary achievements, leading up to his being acclaimed ‘by many as the greatest poet of his age’; ‘and there are few, even today’, he went on, ‘who would deny homage to the fallen idol’—
But among all the literary titans who have expressed deep appreciation for Pound’s genius and leadership, it is doubtful whether there are any so brave that they would today rise to the defense of their erstwhile friend and captain.
Laughlin had said as much to Ezra and to Dorothy, and it was true—but why say it here, and so floridly? But Cornell was inspired: ‘The mighty star has burned itself quite out, and leaves no flame to warm the hearts it once had set ablaze.’ He had indeed come to damn Pound, not defend him:
It is not necessary to recount the story of Pound’s downfall. I need only say that his extraordinary conduct, his vilification of the nation’s leaders during wartime, his vainglory and vituperations, his anti-Semitic and vulgar utterances, as broadcast over the Rome radio, cannot be explained on any basis of mere venality but only on the ground that Pound is an old man no longer in the full possession of his mental powers. I am led to this belief not only because the mentality of the man in his prime and the ridiculous broadcasts of his old age are utterly incompatible, but also because his intimates tell me that the evidence of mental deterioration in his private correspondence is unmistakable, and in the opinion of his close friends and associates his mind has been deteriorating for a number of years, far beyond mere senility or eccentricity.
That was as good as saying, of course he’s guilty, but all his friends think him out of his mind. Moreover, Cornell was there damning Pound for things he should have insisted be excluded as irrelevant and prejudicial, ‘his extraordinary conduct…his vainglory and vituperations, his anti-Semitic and vulgar utterances’, these could make him look bad in the newspapers but they were not what he was under indictment for.
I assume Cornell had been briefed by Laughlin about Pound’s close friends and associates, such as Williams and Hemingway. In particular he might have called in evidence here Archibald MacLeish, whom Pound imagined to be someone whose support he could rely on. MacLeish, then Librarian of Congress, had written to Harvey Bundy, a Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, on 10 September 1943, shortly after Pound had been indicted for treason, to the effect that ‘there is no question whatever that Pound is engaged in propaganda for the Fascist government’, and that his ‘blabbering correspondence with people at home…has now turned into blabbering broadcasting which, in form at least, comes awfully close to treason’. He and Hemingway were entirely agreed, MacLeish had written, that those broadcasts had to be ‘the product of a completely distracted mind’, and that ‘Pound seems to have gone completely to pieces’. There were other old friends ready now to say the same—indeed some had said it, just a day or two before the arraignment, in a New York newspaper called PM, copies of which Cornell handed to Judge Laws and Matlack with his Affidavit.
Cornell’s next move was to assert that
It was this streak of mental weakness in Pound, which had long been evident to his friends, that led him, I believe, into mental collapse when he was subjected to the rigors of imprisonment…[an] imprisonment which destroyed the poet’s mind and all but killed his aging body. For this unfortunate result, the administrators of the prison should not be criticized. No doubt they treated Pound exactly as they would any other man charged with a like offense. No doubt Pound when he entered the prison appeared to be merely an eccentric, with no evidence of insanity on the surface, and no reason to suspect insanity. The fact that Pound’s mind cracked after a week or so of imprisonment was nobody’s fault.
The fault then was not the cruel and inhumane treatment of the man he was supposed to be defending; it was simply Pound’s own fault, no doubt for lacking resilience, and for not advertising his insanity. In spite of that Cornell proceeded to give a tear-jerking account of the mental and physical tortures to which Pound had been subjected in the DTC, sparing no lurid detail and adding several of his own, building up to this climax:
After about three weeks of struggle to maintain his sanity, the wretched man fell ill. The heat and glare, added to the hopelessness of being held incommunicado and the torture of solitary confinement, were more than his aging mind could bear. Pound was stricken with violent and hysterical terror. He lost his memory. He became desperately thin and weak until finally the prison doctor feared for him.
Pound was then taken out of his unhappy cage and placed in a tent. He was given a cot to lie upon, and medical treatment. The doctor even prescribed a walk each day, but most often the guards neglected to take him out for exercise.
While the doctors took measures to keep Pound’s body alive, his mind was not rescued. He was still kept in solitary confinement, still held incommunicado, still deprived of all reading matter but religious tracts. As physical strength gradually flowed back into his body, the terror and hysteria subsided somewhat, memory returned, but the great mind remained impaired, and fits of shuddering terror balked his struggle to retain his senses.
The period of violent insanity apparently began about mid-June, to endure for three months or more.
Cornell, quite unashamed, printed this deliberately false fiction in his book, all but the last devastating and lying sentence. Those, after all, were the three months in which The Pisan Cantos were composed. There had been no ‘period of violent insanity’, as the Justice Department was well aware, but Judge Laws may not have been. As the final touch Cornell offered his personal testimony:
I have twice seen Pound, talking with him for two hours or more on each occasion. While having no medical knowledge, one does not need to be a doctor to know at once that this man is not sane. The marvelous mind with its tremendous learning has been wrecked so horribly that all may see the sad results.
So there it was, Judge Laws had the defendant’s counsel’s own word for it, ‘this man is not sane’; and the prosecution, who knew better, had his assurance that even his friends could testify that he had been insane when making the traitorous broadcasts. Cornell’s sworn Affidavit went far beyond being an application for bail and made Pound’s sanity the pressing issue.
Cornell respectfully prayed for bail ‘in order that he may secure proper medical treatment’, or that at least ‘he be placed in the custody of one or more physicians in a civilian hospital or sanatorium operated by the United States or by the District of Columbia’—
Only in a normal environment, free from the drastic restraints which are necessary in penal hospitals, can he possibly recover, in my opinion; only by such medical treatment does he stand a chance of regaining his sanity even to the point where he could stand trial on this indictment.
‘I am confident’, he concluded, ‘that a disinterested psychiatric investigation of his condition would show that such measures are imperative.’
Having considered the application, Judge Laws declined to grant bail at that time, but did remand the defendant to the Washington Asylum and Jail, ‘with the recommendation that he be transferred to Gallinger Hospital [a public hospital administered by the District of Columbia]…for examination and observation and for treatment, if found necessary’. He ordered that the prosecution should enter any response they might wish to make to Cornell’s Affidavit by the 10th, that the psychiatrists’ report on their findings by the 14th, and that there would be a further hearing on 21 December.
‘Am giving Cornell his head. I like him’, Pound wrote to Dorothy on 29 November, still in ‘Infirmary / District Jail’, and enjoying the ‘better ventilation’ there. ‘Patience’, he urged. On the same day Cornell wrote to A. V. Moore that the treatment Pound needed was ‘relaxation, recreation and a certain amount of physical freedom’; and yet he knew that ‘because there happens to be no government hospital in the District of Columbia which affords adequate facilities for an ambulatory patient’, Pound ‘would be confined to his room’ in Gallinger. Moreover, Gallinger did not have the staff to provide treatment of any kind. To Pound he wrote that he had nothing to worry about, and that he, Cornell, would get him into a better hospital once the mental examination had been completed.
Pound was transferred from the jail to the psychiatric ward of Gallinger Hospital on Tuesday 4 December, and placed in a private, locked, room. ‘Having a rest cure’, he wrote to Dorothy on the Saturday, ‘Cornell has brought me Hen. Adams Life of Gallatin…Have patience. & Xmas wishes & Love to mother.’ On Monday 10th he wrote to his mother:
You might like this hospital better than Rapallo, @ least the steam heat & morning coffee.
One of my guardian angels is readin’ Ron Duncan’s ‘Journal of Husbandman’ with deep interest.
Best wishes for as good a Xmas as possible.
By mistake some coffee was sent to me instead of to you . but hope you’ll get some.
Love to D.
& a bright NewYear
He had some incoming mail, including a friendly note from Theodore Spencer, the Harvard scholar, asking, ‘Is there anything you’d like in the way of books, reading matter etc. that I could send you’, and telling him, ‘I have been re-reading your poetry with admiration.’
Cornell was looking for a psychiatrist to examine Pound ‘for the defense’, and was recommended to appoint Dr Wendell Muncie, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins and a respected psychiatrist in private practice. When Muncie agreed to examine Pound on the 12th or 13th of the month, Cornell sent him a condensed version of his Affidavit, adding to his previous exaggerations the false statement that ‘the government accepts that he became definitely insane during his imprisonment in Italy last summer’. Cornell knew that ‘Army doctors at the military detention center in Pisa had found him sane enough’, and that the Justice Department had their reports. Was he expecting the prosecution to bury those reports and go along with his falsehood? In any case, it would emerge that the government’s position was not exactly as he described it. Cornell made it very clear to Muncie that he was expected to find Pound insane, and to be prepared to testify ‘in behalf of the defendant’ if a jury trial were to be ordered on the issue. He should bear in mind also the further question, ‘whether even if he is sane, he is sufficiently well to stand the ordeal of a lengthy trial’. That was Cornell’s fallback strategy, that poor Pound would never be able to stand the strain of a trial.
In the interval before the psychiatrists delivered their report Cornell was inviting Pound’s friends to look out private letters they had from him which he could use as evidence of his aberrations and mental deterioration. Hemingway told him that in his opinion, and in Joyce’s, ‘Pound’s mental condition had not been normal’ for some years. Cornell was also seeking funds to cover his expenses and fees. Pound’s account with the Jenkintown bank had been seized by the Custodian of Alien Property, though Pound was not an alien; and Dorothy Pound’s funds in England were still frozen as enemy property. Cornell called on Cummings, who immediately handed him a cheque for $1,000 that he had just received for a painting—Dorothy later repaid him. Boni and Liveright paid over $300 dollars due to Pound for royalties, and Laughlin, who had told Dorothy that Pound’s ‘accrued royalties [from New Directions] are not very large’, contributed $500. Cornell told A. V. Moore that the $1,800 would go to pay Dr Muncie’s fee and ‘hospital treatment’, and that he would not submit his account until Dorothy’s money was released.
Three psychiatrists were appointed to examine Pound for the government. Dr Marion King, Medical Director of the Bureau of Prisons, had spent his professional life in general medical and administrative positions in prisons and was not a practising psychiatrist. He had a copy of Cornell’s Affidavit the day after it had been given to the Court. Dr Joseph L. Gilbert was in charge of the psychiatric ward at Gallinger Hospital, and was said to be ‘a competent and decent man’, though the quality of services in his ward had been so poor that an official investigation, led by Dr Winfred Overholser, had been called for the year before. Dr Overholser, the third psychiatrist for the government, was superintendent of St Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane, a government institution, also secretary-treasurer of the American Psychiatric Association, and an authority on the legal aspects of psychiatry. His hospital too fell short of the standards of his Association in respect of its duty of care and treatment—in some of its wards ‘there were two psychiatrists for one thousand patients’—and he, it was said, ‘was one of the most sued men in the District of Columbia’ on account of the conditions under which patients were held in St Elizabeths.
Overholser naturally carried most weight, and was able to persuade the others of his view that when psychiatrists disagreed in court it looked bad and tended to undermine the authority of the profession. According to Cornell, ‘When the four doctors first met, therefore, Dr Overholser told them that he hoped they would reach common agreement on the condition of the prisoner, objectively, without partisan bias in favour of the government or the defense’. And all four did in the end agree in their diagnosis. Their brief report to Chief Justice Laws, under the letter-heading ‘FEDERAL SECURITY AGENCY | Saint Elizabeths Hospital | Washington 20, D.C.’, was ‘respectfully submitted’ over their joint signatures. It stated that the three government appointees had ‘examined the defendant each on several occasions, separately and together, in the period from his admission to Gallinger Hospital on December 4, 1945 to December13, 1945’; and that ‘Dr Muncie spent several hours with the defendant, both alone and with us, on December 13’. They had available to them, beside ‘the reports of laboratory, psychological and special physical examinations’, ‘considerable material in the line of his writings and biographical data’—that would have been material supplied by Cornell.
It must have been on the basis of that material that they stated that ‘of recent years his preoccupation with monetary theories and economics has apparently obstructed his literary productivity. He has long been recognized as eccentric, querulous, and egocentric.’ Far from being expert opinion, that was simply prejudicial hearsay. The third paragraph read:
At the present time he exhibits extremely poor judgment as to his situation, its seriousness and the manner in which the charges are to be met. He insists that his broadcasts were not treasonable, but that all of his radio activities have stemmed from his self-appointed mission to ‘save the Constitution.’ He is abnormally grandiose, is expansive and exuberant in manner, exhibiting pressure of speech, discursiveness and distractibility.
Setting aside whether those characteristics, not unknown among salesmen, politicians, evangelists, and pundits, should be interpreted as indicators of treasonous intent, or, indeed, of insanity, one might question whether it was within the competence of the psychiatrists to pass judgment on Pound’s judgment of his situation; whereas Pound’s insistence that he was on a mission to save the Constitution showed a very sound grasp of how the charges should be met. Their professional opinion, when they came to it, was manifestly not wholly based on their own examination of Pound:
In our opinion, with advancing years his personality, for many years abnormal, has undergone further distortion to the extent that he is now suffering from a paranoid state which renders him mentally unfit to advise properly with counsel or to participate intelligently and reasonably in his own defense. He is, in other words, insane and mentally unfit for trial, and is in need of care in a mental hospital.
That was no more and no less than the answer Cornell had first thought of, and very nearly in the words of his Affidavit, except that the psychiatrists had lent him their authority by the addition of that one mighty phrase of professional jargon, ‘a paranoid state’. Apart from that mystification the four psychiatrists together had added nothing of relevance or substance to Cornell’s submission to the Court. 2
Had they nothing more to say on their own account after all the hours they had spent examining Pound? Stanley I. Kutler discovered that Dr King, in the first draft of his own report, had (in Kutler’s paraphrase) ‘found Pound astute, intelligent, cooperative, apparently sincere, rather tense, with no regrets for his acts, and steadfast in support of his convictions’. Moreover, King had noted that ‘the reports of the Army psychiatrists do not suggest that he experienced a complete mental or physical collapse’, and he had written, for his own part, that Pound ‘cannot be considered mentally ill and thus absolved from responsibility’. King drafted his report on 11 December, but then, after discussion with Dr Overholser, radically altered it. Then there was Dr Muncie. Torrey discovered that he had concluded, after examining Pound on his own, that he was ‘a damned psychopath’, meaning, as the term was used at that time, a person who disregarded social rules and laws, was immature, unable to accept responsibility, put his own needs before everything else, and rationalized his behaviour to make it seem reasonable. Psychopaths were ‘almost invariably held responsible for their actions’, so Muncie’s first opinion was that Pound was fit to be tried. But then he talked with Dr Overholser and the other psychiatrists, and went back to re-examine Pound and found that within the hour he had become ‘completely incoherent’. Later in the day, after the four of them had interviewed Pound together, the joint report, under the heading of Dr Overholser’s federal institution, was already prepared for their signature. It did not reflect Muncie’s initial view, any more than it reflected King’s independent judgment, but both signed along with Gilbert and Overholser. Possibly only Overholser clearly understood that they were consigning Pound to his care.
‘If a person is acquitted by reason of insanity’—and the same would hold for a person who could not be tried by reason of insanity—‘he will be, not may be, will be sent to St Elizabeths Hospital, and that may mean quite a long period of confinement. Actually, once patients get to us—and I hope this is not taken wrongly—they are rather inclined to find that possibly they would rather be considered a criminal than a mental case.’ That was what Dr Overholser would tell a Senate Subcommittee on the Judiciary in June 1955, when Pound would be still confined to his care. He continued:
I think that this matter of mandatory commitment by reason of insanity is highly desirable. It is going to reduce substantially the number of false pleadings if [the defendant] knows that he will be confined for a wholly indefinite period in a mental hospital, and sometimes that might well turn out to be a good deal longer than the sort of sentence he would get if he were found not insane at the time of the act.
It would be charitable to hope that Cornell did not know that his wilful strategy was delivering Pound into indefinite confinement in a hospital where his situation would be far worse than in an ordinary criminal prison. Pound couldhave had no idea of what he was letting himself in for by ‘giving Cornell his head’.
A couple of days after the psychiatrists had done with examining him Pound wrote to Dorothy, ‘on a thin sheet of white paper with U.S. Great Seal watermark’, ‘Very wearing. Have patience.’ He mentioned a visit from Katherine Proctor Saint, whom he had tutored as a girl in Philadelphia, now ‘strong in the Lord’ and there ‘to save soul, complete with bible’—
but thanks to my irish guardian angel Mr. McGrath (his presence of mind) she did send excellent box of chocolate covered biscuit later—labled ‘Weston’s george Inn’—hotel keepin’ evidently inveterate in the family even to unknown branches.
He had seen ‘Bill Bird over at marshal’s office other day’—Bird had come to see him and spent about 15 minutes with him. ‘Doc. Shelling’, whom he had displeased as a student, was ‘just dead @ age 87…Last saw him by door Brit Museum reading room’. And he had ‘just read minor odes VII.4. marvelous’—that Confucian ode (no. 218) being the song of a lover travelling eagerly towards his beloved. Worn as he well might be, he was evidently quite clear in mind and memory. On 20 December he began a note probably intended for Olga Rudge and Mary, ‘Deare[s]ts, | Snow meltin’ beyond steam heat & birds chirrpin. Thank god you two are together—at least I suppose you are—no mail yet from Italy since I got here.’ The note broke off with a half-remembered fragment from Browning’s Sordello, an image of once turbulent Ezzelino da Romano sunk to enforced idleness in a monastic cell.
In his court on 21 December Judge Laws read out the psychiatrists’ report, then ruled on Cornell’s application for bail:
It appearing that the physicians appointed by the Court as well as the physician appointed by the defendant to advise the Court as to the mental condition of the defendant have reported that in their opinion the defendant is mentally unfit to advise properly with counsel or to participate intelligently and reasonably in his own defense and is insane and mentally unfit for trial and is in need of care in a mental hospital. It is on this 21st day of December 1945, ordered that…in accordance with the recommendation of the examining physicians, the defendant, Ezra Pound, be sent to St Elizabeths Hospital for treatment and examination.
Cornell in his book wrote that the Court ‘ordered Pound transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital, under the Federal statute which requires the confinement in that institution of all Federal prisoners under indictment who are found to be unable to stand trial because of lack of competence or understanding’. Although the judge had not invoked it, there was such a statute, and presumably Cornell had been aware of it all along. 3
At the press conference after the hearing, as the New York Herald Tribune reported next day, ‘The government’s prosecuting attorneys’, who had made no submission to Judge Laws, ‘pointed out that immediately before Pound left an Army Prison camp in Italy a month ago Army psychiatrists examined him and found him sane…and able to stand trial for treason’. That gave the Justice Department reason to think that Pound ‘might easily be feigning insanity to escape a trial that might cost his life’, and they would have to demand therefore ‘a public insanity hearing’.
Laughlin wrote to T. S. Eliot on 23 December about Pound’s ‘illness’, and about publishing his ‘Testament of Confucius’ and the new cantos. It would appear that he had been with Cornell at the hearing on the 21st and had spoken with Pound there. Laughlin had found him not at all ‘“a broken man”’—though that was precisely how Cornell, acting on his instructions, had been depicting him. ‘On the contrary,’ he went on, ‘I thought he looked very well and our conversation was animated and cheerful. In many ways he is just the same old Ezra and it made me terribly happy to find him so.’ Of course Pound was neither guilty of treason nor insane, Laughlin intimated. At the same time, ‘Julien and I are very pleased about this result’, he told Eliot—that is, they were ‘very pleased’ that Pound had been declared insane and committed to St Elizabeths—since ‘this solution seems the most practical’. Indeed they hoped the doctors would go even further, and ‘state more clearly than they already have that he was not in control of his senses at the time the broadcasts were made’. He reflected that ‘they down there [in Rapallo] are going to feel terribly badly about the appearance of the unattractive word “insane”, but hell, it is just a word, and if it will save a life…’ That was his justification, to save Pound’s life. ‘And we are confident’, Laughlin assured Eliot, ‘that with time the indictment will be dropped. Later it will doubtless be possible for Ezra to be released from the hospital since he is not in the least dangerous.’ In the meantime, ‘Dr Overholser…is very much interested in the case and I think he will do everything he can to make Ezra comfortable and happy.’ As for Ezra himself, ‘EP was delighted to be sent to his care because he liked him the best of the doctors who examined him’, and ‘All he wants now is to get his health back and get back to work.’ And ‘we must go to work here with a campaign’, Laughlin declared, meaning not a campaign for his release, but a ‘campaign to re-establish his standing’ as a poet, and ‘to get the good critics to write about him again’. He meant to make a success of publishing Pound’s poetry and his literary work, and to make that possible he was well pleased to have him declared not responsible for his efforts to save his country from error, and to have the man with his live mind shut away as insane. He could comfortably write, ‘Julien told Ezra when we left that he had nothing more to worry about and I think he is right.’
Lunacy at St Elizabeths
‘Criminal No. 76028’, as Pound was now officially known although he had been neither tried nor convicted, was removed in the late afternoon of 21 December to St Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane, ‘for treatment and examination’. There he was assigned to Howard Hall, the maximum security ward for the most dangerous and violent of the criminally insane. In the following weeks he would be subjected to a great deal of examination by the psychiatrists of St Elizabeths, but there would be no remedial treatment. He would be kept in that ward for more than a year, until 4 February 1947, with Overholser maintaining, so Cornell would report to Laughlin, that it was ‘an inflexible rule of the hospital to keep patients under indictment in Howard Hall which is the only completely guarded building’. It was Overholser’s hospital and he made the rules.
St Elizabeths had many buildings spread over its mile-wide site. It held ‘just under seven thousand’ patients, and ‘approximately fifty’ doctors serving directly under Overholser. Ida Mapel, writing to Dorothy Pound, made it seem a pleasant ‘place with extensive grounds…They have cows, gardens, etc. etc.’ It was the first federal hospital for the insane, built in the 1850s on a tract of land above the Anacostia River known as Saint Elizabeth, and with views across to the distant Capitol building. But Howard Hall was an isolated building of grim aspect, built in 1891 and designed as a prison for the criminally insane. It had ‘a high penitentiary wall’, rows of barred windows, one to each small locked cell, and a dry moat between the prison building and its wall. When Charles Olson visited he was ‘let in through a black iron door with nine peep holes cut in it in 3 horizontal rows’. Pound was shut up in a solitary cell with a similar door with peepholes through which he could be observed. His view through the barred window was of the high outer wall. His things had not been sent on from Gallinger, and for several weeks he would be without the books and manuscripts which had become his sole resource. At first he was not even let out for exercise in the crowded exercise yard, but he must have been with the violently insane at times since he said to Olson in early January, ‘There’s an Indian in my ward who talks all the time about killing people. Last night he got the number up to 10,000 he wanted to bump off.’ Visitors could be overwhelmed by the stench of stale sweat and urine, and there were the madhouse noises of uncontrollable outcries and shouted words. Pound would call it ‘the hell hole’, and compare it unfavourably with the DTC.
He was delivered to St Elizabeths about 5.30 p.m. on 21 December, registered as Case no. 58,102, and given a pre-admission examination by Dr Parker who happened to be on evening duty. Physical examination revealed ‘a well developed, well built, moderately well nourished, middle-aged white male whose general physical fitness appears excellent’. There was much more to the effect that ‘The lungs are clear to auscultation and percussion’, etc., etc. Neurological examination revealed normal reflexes, etc. etc. ‘The blood pressure is 134/82. The pulse is 80 per minute. The respirations are 18 per minute.’ So far the examination was thoroughly professional in its application of established tests and measurements. Then there were some simple questions to test the patient’s ‘orientation’. Did he know the date? ‘Patient replies, after a slight pause, “I believe it is some time after the 20th of December”, knows that Christmas has not yet occurred.’ Patient also ‘knows the name of the hospital, the place from which he has just been transferred, as well as the reason for the transfer’.
In fact, as the long and detailed report on the non-medical part of the examination reveals, the patient’s understanding of how and why he came to be there went well beyond the doctor’s comprehension, and beyond his competence. Invited to give a brief account of himself, Pound evidently let loose with everything that had happened to him since his arrest, together with the defence of his broadcasts that he was supposedly incapable of giving, and with an outline of his social, economic, and political philosophy complete with, or so it seemed to Dr Parker, ‘a voluminous bibliography of authors and their writings’. ‘At no time does he falter for lack of memory on any subject’, the doctor noted, ‘and tells his own story in a chronologically systematic fashion.’ However, he also exhibited ‘traits of egotism, intellectual haughtiness, dogmatism, and a tendency toward the belief that he is infallible and practically omniscient along certain lines of philosophy, economics and political science’. Dr Parker was not testing and measuring there, but merely dressing up his subjective reactions to make them appear scientific. Then, as Pound insisted that he had broadcast ‘with a sense of performing a patriotic duty’, and ‘with a sense of duty to humanity’, in attempting to acquaint the United States with the terrible destruction and waste in wealth and lives which it was causing by ‘wrecking Europe’, the doctor’s professional objectivity lapsed completely, and he wrote breathlessly into his report that ‘Apparently the patient is unaware or refuses to ignore [sic] the very bald fact that in carrying on his activities he was acting as a puppet who, because of the nature of his opinions, performed appropriately for the purposes of the Italian Fascist Government and with only a modicum of manipulation being necessary’. That was neither a professional nor an informed opinion, but it wore a white coat and would enter into the official record. Moreover, with a fine unconscious irony, the doctor remarked that ‘He speaks about the undemocratic processes in the American system but does not mention that he owes his present situation in a mental hospital to a democratic judicial system.’ Being observed and judged by doctors with conventional ideas and regular expectations would be a refinement of Pound’s hell.
It was probably the next day, the 22nd, that he wrote to Mary, dating the note ‘vers le noel’:
Tell your mother I bless the day I first saw her. & thank her for all the happiness she has brought me.
a gleam of hope now the sun is reborn.
Then turning the page sideways he wrote two lines from canto 47, (but with ‘Circe’s’ for ‘Ceres’ daughter’): ‘First must thou go the road to hell | & to the bower of Circe’s daughter Proserpine’. He was trying to give meaning and purpose to his descent into hell, and thinking of how Odysseus was sent by Circe to consult Tiresias who even in hell ‘yet hath his mind entire’. But the photograph taken for the hospital’s records on 26 December is the mugshot of a man unable to comprehend the hell he has got himself into, his eyes pleading without hope for help.
Yet when Charles Olson was allowed a fifteen-minute visit on 4 January he was struck by his surprising ‘eagerness and vigor as he came forward into the waiting room’, and the firmness and strength of his handshake. ‘Gallinger was better than this’, he said, but also that he ‘wanted something to do’. Olson kept blanking out anything at all political that Pound said, but could not resist ‘the charm and attraction of his person’,
For he is as handsome and quick and at work as ever. His jumps in conversation are no more than I or any active mind would make. Once in a while he seems to speak with an obsession, but even this I do, and at his age, after the fullness of his life, I imagine I might be a hell of a lot worse.
As he was leaving Howard Hall Olson was stopped and ‘formally interviewed’ by Dr Jerome Kavka, a very young trainee psychiatrist who had just been given charge of Pound. Olson expressed surprise ‘that the patient’s attorney had not yet visited the patient here’, and enquired after ‘the patient’s personal belongings not yet received from Gallinger Hospital’. Kavka noted that, but did nothing about it; and noted also that he felt Olson was making ‘a disguised plea for sympathy toward the patient’. The next day he began his ‘psychiatric examination’ of Pound—this would continue through the following three weeks with almost daily interviews probing into the patient’s family background and personal history.
For Pound these interviews meant a brief escape from the boredom of his cell and the hubbub of the ward, but at the cost of subjecting himself to the intrusive questioning of a careful young clinician who would take down everything he said and probably understand nothing. Writing up his notes on 24 January, Kavka wrote that, ‘Occasionally becoming angry and irritated over his status, he would refuse to follow orthodox methods of questioning, and would ramble on in a devious fashion, skipping rapidly from one topic to another, with his own “trials and tribulations” always the centre of discussion’—
The patient spoke rapidly, with a faint suggestion of an ‘English’ accent, and modulated his voice frequently from a barely audible whisper to shouting ‘at the top of his lungs’. He was exceptionally literate, but uninhibited in the choice of words, often using the most profane language and vilification. Gesticulation was frequently used to press home points, and his facial expressions were animated, expressive and emotionally appropriate.
In a retrospect written many years later Kavka would give a rather different impression of Pound on these occasions, calling him a ‘dramatic conversationalist’, and saying that
It was pleasurable listening to this man as if he were making poetry in his normal verbal discourse. There was drama in every moment of it, quick changes of mood, intonations that rose and fell, pauses that amplified and raised expectations, and constant exciting changes that kept one alert. From time to time he synthesised all of this in a cogent psychological statement.
One of the more dramatic moments must have occurred on Monday 21 January. Kavka wanted Pound to go on about his schooling, and Pound wouldn’t. ‘This is all very dull. Talk to me about other things outside,’ he said, and then,
The birds are chirping. Are they coming or going? What did they stop for? I don’t often get so excited about minor matters. It’s not being able to count on anything; I obviously am not violent and do not shit on the floor. When will they get me out of this ward?
Kavka said, ‘Recalling those years from college seems to bother you’, and ended the session. In the next session he probed, ‘What made you suddenly angry?’, and Pound burst out,
I am angry…irate! You know God-damned well I’m suffering from claustrophobia and you put me in a locked room with bars and locks and lock me up at night. The attendants kid me about the article in the magazine. You are in Soviet Russia here; one is completely at the whim of these attendants. 4
The psychiatrist registered this episode as showing that the patient ‘was easily distractible’. In his retrospective analysis, however, he wrote that ‘At this point he showed grandiose feelings and almost delusional behaviour when he noticed the cessation of the bird’s song…Almost uncontrollable anal-sadistic violence erupted’; and again, ‘he referred to the birds and his wish to get out of the confined ward to a freer area. This, to some extent, was a reflection of a regressed state of grandiosity.’ That the prisoner might just naturally wish to be free, freed from a place where the inmates did shit on the floor, and freed from this dull interrogation, was apparently too simple an explanation. Kavka did note at the time, but with an air of reproof, that the patient ‘does not appreciate his status as a patient in Howard Hall, and continually makes extraordinary requests, even so far as to ask permission to roam beyond the “wall” surrounding Howard Hall. He is adamant to this request and cannot see the “logic” in his incarceration.’
No doubt Pound’s way of adjusting to his status as a prisoner was not all that it should have been. ‘During his stay in the hospital’, Kavka reported, probably on the evidence of the guards’ observations,
the patient has co-operated with hospital procedures and has in no way obstructed normal routines except by his persistent demands for extra attention. He spends most of his time lying upon his bed in his room, reading a Chinese text and a few slim volumes of poetry, making a few notes on random slips of paper. He complains about the doors being locked and states that the security precautions used in Howard Hall do, in no way, help his claustrophobia. Often he is very sensitive to the noise created by other patients, and refused to accept an offered radio—‘just plain noise’. He is moderately tidy, makes no exceptional attempt to wear a consistent outfit of clothes, but tends to his personal needs. He does no ward work, eats regularly without complaint, and manages to sleep well. He has arranged to receive a newspaper daily, a pint of milk every other day, and ice cream at intervals. Provided with shower privileges, at his request, he insisted upon tub baths, which were provided. He has made the acquaintance of several patients, but engages only in brief conversation with them.
Kavka did not report what those random slips of paper revealed, though he must have seen them. On one Pound scribbled to Cornell, ‘young doctors absolutely useless’.
Pound’s ‘status’ as a prisoner in Howard Hall, and ‘the “logic” of his incarceration’, were more deeply disturbing than the young psychiatrist could recognize. He was imprisoned because his ‘defense counsel’ had entered a plea of insanity, and because Dr Overholser and the other psychiatrists had confirmed that he was indeed in a state of paranoid insanity. Yet Dr Kavka, after three weeks of interviews with him, had elicited ‘No well-devined [sic] or systematized delusions, hallucinations or ideas of reference’, thus in near textbook terms contradicting the experts’ finding. The worst he could say about his patient was that he exhibited ‘considerable egocentricity’; that his views on economic and monetary problems ‘cannot be considered logical or reasonable’; that his judgment was impaired ‘with regard to the seriousness of his situation’, as evidenced by his having intended to defend himself. Leaving aside his incompetence to pass judgment on Pound’s views, Kavka clearly felt himself to be dealing with someone who for all his eccentricity, egocentricity, and singularity, was not insane. And yet he was treating Pound as a ‘patient’, and holding it against him that he did not accept his ‘status’ as an imprisoned patient in a ward for the criminally insane. Pound’s reaction to finding himself in that predicament was even more problematical. By agreeing to plead insanity, in the expectation that he would be well treated and soon released, he had betrayed himself into an impossible situation where, while being sane, he had to submit to being treated as if he were not.
When Kavka asked him directly, ‘Do you believe you are insane?’, Pound chose his terms very carefully, giving a direct answer but also attempting to deal with the complexities and contradictions of his situation:
No, I don’t think I am insane, but I am so shot to pieces that it will take me years to write a sensible piece of prose. I think I am of unsound mind, and I don’t think I’ve been shown good therapy here. I was absolutely unfit to transact any business.
That was as much as to say, I am here only because of what happened to my mind in the gorilla cage—that rendered me unfit to plead—but it does not mean that I am insane, and you are not helping to put my mind together again.
One of the things that did not help was being subjected to the Rorschach inkblot test, now quite discredited but then taken very seriously by the profession as a key to the hidden depths of the personality. Dr Kendig, who administered the test and wrote up the results on 10 January, found that it revealed ‘a brilliant but pedantic individual with a marked personality disorder of long standing’—
The brilliance of his mind is attested by the relatively large number of whole responses (33%), the very accurate form perception (100%), and the very excellent capacity for kinaesthesis (6 M) denoting abstract and theoretical intelligence of a high order and unusual creative gifts. His whole responses, however, are cheap and popular and he gives no original interpretations at all, suggesting in part indifference and contempt for the test procedure (very apparent throughout) but probably also certain retrogressive changes accompanying his advancing years since he must certainly have had the capacity for more original syntheses. Such extremely meticulous form perception together with two oligophrenic responses (Ddo) and a neglect of the obvious and practical (low D) indicate marked pedantry…His interpretations and his comments as the test progressed were critical, hostile and sarcastic, occasionally vitriolic, revealing great hostility. Marked aggression in interpersonal relations is also disclosed in his kinaesthetic interpretations—people moving in opposite directions, ‘making snouts at each other, looking over their shoulders, I don’t know whether kicking each other or not.’ The last he impulsively illustrated by pushing out his own foot toward the examiner.
And so it went on, discovering ‘perverse sexual trends’, ‘a latent homosexual component’, ‘hatred of women and of other races…in line with Fascistic ideology’, and that ‘His hostility, emphasis on order and symmetry, and his meticulous regard for detail (Ddo) suggest an anal-erotic personality make-up, and it is perhaps significant that apparently the only serious illness he ever had was an anal fistula.’ Pound’s impatience with this nonsense was of course used against him: ‘in his refusal to make the syntheses of which he is capable…there is an element of self-destruction and contempt for his own production…and the core of his self-destruction is epitomized in his statement to the examiner, “You see it doesn’t give me anything whatever”.’ As later critics of the Rorschach test would observe, it put the patient completely at the mercy of the examiner’s own personality and preconceptions.
Pound was increasingly desperate for what St Elizabeths was not giving him in the way of sane conversation and contact with a familiar world outside. ‘Olson gt. comfort’, he told Dorothy after his first visit, ‘Hope they let him come back . only solid.’ During his second visit, on Tuesday January 15, Olson asked ‘if Cornell or Laughlin had been to see him’, and Pound told him, ‘no, he had had a couple of postcards, they were off skiing somewhere’, and that Olson ‘was his only anchor to windward’. The next day he scribbled to Cornell, ‘relapse after the comfort of Tuesday…Olson saved my life’—evidently by affording ‘15 minutes of sane conversation’. But he needed that every day, and without it, ‘Problem now is not to go stark screaming hysteric cent per cent 24 hours per day’. Cornell responded, ‘I am sorry…but for the present you will have to remain where you are’. He also needed people to write to him. ‘Please everybody write a LOT to me & not expect answers’, he asked in a note to A. V. Moore and Dorothy; and to Cummings he wrote simply, ‘I like getting | letters’. When letters from Dorothy dated December 19 and 22 turned up six weeks later he told her ‘great comfort that your letters have started to arrive’ and hoped there would now be a steady stream. But he had heard nothing from Olga and Mary since the end of November, and anxiously asked Olga’s brother if there were any means of getting news to or from her. He signed that note ‘Ezra (Candide)’, as if he were Voltaire’s witness to the world’s disasters. He wanted news of old friends, ‘of Bunting or Nancy [Cunard] or anyone’; and he was glad when old friends turned up to see him, the Mapel sisters who came regularly—on one occasion ‘Miss Ida fix’d coat lining’, on another she brought chocolate—and Katherine Proctor Saint came again. Caresse Crosby, an old friend from the Paris of the 1920s and early 1930s, came just once, ‘at the request of the hospital staff who wanted to get the impressions of someone who had known him years ago’. She thought him unchanged, and found his memory for dates and persons and events better than her own; and though she made it plain that ‘her coming to see him was no indication of her attitude toward the charges’, she did send him a new suit which Olson found him wearing, ‘blue, looked summer stuff’.
All through January and into February his books and papers had still not been forwarded from Gallinger, though his other things did turn up eventually. But there were occasional ideograms and translations from the Confucianodes in his letters, so he must have been carrying with him the copy that had been fetched out of Supply for him in the DTC. He told Olson he was not up to reading much, apart from newspapers and magazines, and that it had been hard going to get through Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. In a note to Olga on 17 January he said he was at p. 155 of Ernest Poole’s One of Us, a nostalgic novel of New England life—‘sob stuff, eternal Alcott’, he told her. But then at the end of January he was reading Ford’s Parade’s End, ‘much better than I thought’, and eagerly ‘Bearding Possum’s “4tets”’—Eliot’s Four Quartets—which Laughlin had sent down to him.
Laughlin had written to Dr Overholser in early January on his New Directions letterhead, introducing himself as Pound’s publisher, asking to be advised about visiting hours, and saying that if Overholser felt ‘it would be helpful to his cure I should like to come to Washington now and again to see him’. He went on,
For nearly a year I lived in Rapallo and studied with Pound and I feel I can never repay him for all he taught me about literature. I knew him then to be one of the best men I have ever met—generous in every way and idealistic to the point, sometimes, of the ridiculous. To see him now emeshed in this terrible predicament is really heart-breaking. I cannot endorse his anti-semitism—which I attribute to his disease, for certainly it is a fairly recent thing with him—but in spite of that I want to do anything I can to help him or make him comfortable.
He offered to send Overholser ‘a set’ of the four books by Pound which he had published ‘before the war’, and Overholser acknowledged these with his thanks on 28 January. But, in spite of Pound’s asking ‘aren’t you ever coming’, he did not get down to see him until the dust of the court case was being settled.
Interest in the case was being kept alive in the press, with suggestions that Pound was faking insanity and that the psychiatrists were protecting a traitor from punishment. That may have had some influence on the Justice Department’s decision to apply for a formal statutory inquisition into his mental state, and on 18 January Judge Laws ordered that the issue be tried before a jury. At St Elizabeths Dr Griffin noted, ‘This patient appeared today in the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, and as a result of a brief hearing before Chief Justice Bolitha J. Laws an order was given that he appear in court, January 30, 1946, for lunacy trial.’ In the event the hearing was deferred to Wednesday 13 February.
On 25 January Cornell wrote to Dorothy Pound to inform her of the hearing, the result of which, he told her, was ‘a foregone conclusion since all the doctors are in agreement that he is in no condition to be tried and requires hospital treatment’. ‘I have learned from questioning the doctors’, he went on,
that they do not anticipate any substantial change in your husband’s condition and also that they do not think he needs to remain very long in a hospital. I expect, therefore, that after a few months the case will be dropped and he will be set free.
You need not be alarmed about the report on your husband’s mental condition. While, no doubt, his difficulties were aggravated by the ordeal of his imprisonment, he has been resting comfortably in hospital for some time now…
Pound was perfectly normal, he assured her, quite his old self, as Laughlin had told him, so she need have no worry; but what was normal in Pound, and would appear normal to her, ‘is defined by the doctors as paranoid’ and ‘mentally abnormal’. He went so far as to ‘think it may be fairly said that any man of his genius would be regarded by a psychiatrist as abnormal’.
Meanwhile Kavka was writing up the notes of his interviews and preparing his fifteen-page report to be considered at a formal internal review of Pound’s case on Monday 28 January. He incorporated with explicit acknowledgement the reports of the Army psychiatrists who had examined Pound in the DTC and found him competent; he incorporated also the joint report of the four psychiatrists to Chief Justice Laws which found him incompetent; and then, as well as drawing silently upon Cornell’s Affidavit in the body of his report, he attached the entire Affidavit as an appendix, as if its defence attorney’s story of Pound’s abnormalities and incompetence toplead was also to be taken as objective evidence of his mental states.
On Sunday 27th, possibly anticipating the review scheduled for the next day, Pound scribbled a desperate note to Cornell from his ‘Dungeon’:
constitution a religion
a world lost
grey mist barrier impassible
ignorance absolute / anonyme
futility of might have been
coherent areas / constantly / invaded
However, on the same day he also wrote a relatively composed note to Cornell, not about his own troubles but about how the Jews should attain their Zion. ‘As no one ever listens to end of sentence or paragraph’, he began, ‘you might note that am Zionist @ least to xtent of having Zionist plan’. The ground of this plan had been laid out in some of the Pisan cantos, and he had outlined it to Kavka who had put it into his report as Pound’s ‘“Zionist program” paraphrasing the Old Testament’:
1– Zion shall be redeemed with justice.
2– Lord, who shall sojourn in Thy tabernacle? He that putteth not out his money on interest.
3– Thou shalt do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight or in measure.
4– Thou shalt purchase the field with money.
He had told Kavka, ‘If I could get seven Jews to stand on that, I could rebuild the temple of Herod.’ And to Cornell he explained, ‘3 + 1 points, and also the finance & land basis’. ‘Memory of André Spire and others’, he added, Spire being a Jewish activist, poet, and Zionist, whom he had been close to in Paris. It might well be said that it was not for him to be telling the Jews their business; but it should also be said that here he was not being anti-Semitic but positively recommending a just and peaceful foundation for the nascent state of Israel.
At the case conference on the 28th there were six St Elizabeths doctors—‘Doctors Silk, Hall, Duval [presiding], Griffin, Kavka and Dalmau’—and present also were a further two dozen or so ‘mental health professionals’. A first hour was spent considering ‘the history and other pertinent facts in this case’, and then ‘the patient was called for interview’. In Dr Duval’s official report, ‘He entered the room pleasantly, quietly, and in a cooperative manner’; later it is remarked that ‘While he complains of constant fatigue he is quite active physically during the examination and on several occasions arose very quickly from a semi-reclining position to make some graphic illustration with paper and pencil of some point under discussion.’ Thirty-five years later Duval recalled Pound’s behaviour very differently: ‘When he came into the room he begged our pardon but said he didn’t feel strong enough to sit up and could he please lie on the floor’, which is what he did ‘during this whole conference while I interviewed him’. Dr Dalmau also recalled ‘Pound’s bizarre display of fatigue’, and interpreted it as a hostile act. The psychiatrists asked him to ‘outline his views with regard to his broadcasts over the Rome radio as well as the factual events which occurred following his arrest for treason’, and later ‘His ideas and concepts about his economic plan were discussed in some detail.’ Apart from a rather dramatic and possibly consciously exaggerated mannerism—‘suddenly puts his hand over his forehead or on the frontal area of his scalp, bows his head and looks at the floor, ceasing his talk for a moment’—apart from those interruptions, ‘his stream of talk is clear, coherent and relevant although he shows some hesitation in searching for the explicit phrases which he wishes to use’. As for his economic ideas, ‘he readily admits that his may not be the only successful economic plan’, and ‘Nothing in the way of grandiosity or expansiveness beyond this was uncovered and he denied any idea that he was a world saviour’.
The report noted Pound’s ‘present complaint’: ‘(1) He feels constantly fatigued and has a sensation in the vertex of his skull as if there were a vacuum there, (2) he objects to his hospitalization in the Howard Hall Building as the building has an entrance like a medieval tunnel and the other patients in the building are disturbed criminals…He believes that his fatigue will not diminish until he is “tethered” outside the Howard Hall Building in a “regular hospital ward”.’ Also noted was his belief that ‘“his mind was upset in the gorilla cage”’, and by solitary confinement in the DC jail, and that ‘he is still upset and…not in condition to prepare a proper defense’—‘“They ought to give me more time – enough time so that I can prepare a 600-page defense.”’ The psychiatrists recorded a surprisingly sympathetic recognition that it ‘would seem quite natural in the circumstances’ for him to feel ‘some worry and frustration about his immediate future’.
Their overall conclusion fell far short of the clear diagnosis the case conference was meant to reach: ‘From information available it appears that this patient has probably been egocentric and eccentric for many years, is an odd character and by some his case might be catalogued as a psychopathic personality by reason of certain asocial and antisocial behaviour with some disturbance of interpersonal relationships.’ In short, this gathering of psychiatrists did not think Pound insane. Dr Duval would recall that he had tried but failed ‘to elicit some symptoms of insanity’. Before the conference he had assumed insanity because Dr Overholser was on record with that diagnosis, but his examination found ‘no delusions, no thought disorder, and no disturbances of orientation. He definitely did not seem to be insane.’ The almost unanimous view of the psychiatrists present at the conference was that Pound was neither insane nor incompetent.
However, as Duval recalled, they were anxious not to contradict and embarrass their boss, and therefore ‘decided not to make any formal diagnosis at all’. Duval had gone ‘over to Win’s office to tell him what we had found’, and Overholser ‘was very cordial’ about it, and ‘said we didn’t need to disturb the practicalities of the situation by making it public, and that we should just keep it to ourselves’. Duval then added a note to his record of the conference: ‘After this case was discussed with the Superintendent and the above findings reported to him, he suggested a longer period of observation before a final decision is reached.’ Kavka, though, informed Olson that ‘the questioning was now finished’.
Olson was visiting the next day, and sensed that ‘Pound was wound so tight…he might snap’, apparently on account of the previous day’s examination. He was also excited because Dr King had been to see him, and Pound had formed the impression that King was sympathetic, ‘“would like to see me out of here”’ and put to use—‘“I understand they think to send me to Japan”’. ‘“The pure products of America | go crazy”’, he wrote to Williams a day or two later, jokily giving the latter back his own lines; and Williams retorted, ‘That you’re crazy I don’t for one moment believe, you’re not that good an American…If there is anything I can do for you let me know.’
A week later, on Thursday 7 February, Dr Overholser made his first and (and apart from a brief further note a week later) his only entry in the case notes of #58,102. ‘Patient was interviewed at length today’, he wrote, ‘by Dr. Marion F. King, of the Bureau of Prisons, Dr. Joseph L. Gilbert of Gallinger Hospital, Dr. Wendell Muncie of Baltimore and the Superintendent.’ This will have been their meeting to prepare for the hearing on the 13th where they would be cross-examined on their testimony. They noted that ‘Patient was somewhat restless, agitated, stating that he is in a fog’, and that ‘He gave vent to numerous delusions of grandeur and persecution’. They were ‘unanimous in their opinion that fundamentally the patient is suffering from a paranoid condition with a considerable psychoneurotic coloring’.
‘“4 medicos at me this morning”,’ Pound told Olson that afternoon. He was ‘in bad condition’, Olson noted, ‘his eyes worried and muddy, his flesh puffy and old. It appears again to have been too much “hammering” at him.’ Pound also complained that the previous week, on the day originally set down for the hearing, ‘they had had him dressed and waiting to go all day, even after the hearing had been cancelled, but no one apparently had thought to let him or Howard Hall know’. ‘“I don’t know what goes on. Who to believe,”’ he said. And Laughlin had not come, had not sent him the proofs of the Confucius, ‘“which is the base of my defense”’.
On 12 February, the day before the hearing, Cornell went to St Elizabeths, as he put it, ‘to see Pound and prepare him for the ordeal of appearing in court’. Pound ‘was very nervous about the trial’, and Cornell told him that he ‘would not put him on the witness stand’. He does not say whether he made it clear that the treason charge would not be considered, and that the time for Pound’s defence had passed. The only issue would be his sanity.
After seeing Pound Cornell ‘stopped in Dr Overholser’s office to pay my respects’, and was ushered into his private office. Overholser wanted him to know that ‘many of the young doctors on his staff’ disagreed with his diagnosis, ‘They thought Pound was merely eccentric, and wanted to see him tried and convicted.’ He assured Cornell that he remained unshaken in his own opinion ‘that Pound was mentally unfit to stand trial’. He would take the junior doctors’ reports to court in his briefcase, and if the prosecution asked about their views he would read them out and explain why he disagreed. Otherwise he would not mention them. In fact, he told Cornell, he was not going to tell the prosecution what he was telling Cornell. What was Overholser’s game? An expert witness, he had maintained to his fellow psychiatrists, should give his professional opinion ‘objectively, without partisan bias in favour of the government or the defense’; and even as just the government’s main witness, he should not have been sharing with the defence critical information which he would not disclose to the prosecution. But here he was warning Cornell not to ask a question which might bring out evidence that would throw doubt on the finding of insanity, the finding Cornell clearly wanted. He was offering himself as Cornell’s accomplice; and he was also making Cornell his accomplice. They would work together to suppress the dissenting opinion of the junior doctors and to have Pound declared insane. Of course, for all Cornell knew, the devious Dr Overholser might have tipped off the prosecution too. They might all have been playing their parts in the same charade, each for their own covert reason.
The insanity hearing turned out to be theatre of the absurd performed as straight courtroom drama. The transcript states that it was a case of ‘United States of America against Criminal No. 76,028 Ezra Pound, Defendant’. Yet in an inversion of the normal procedure in criminal trials the prosecution did not make a case which the defence must answer, but instead Cornell, ‘appearing on behalf of the defendant’, led the proceedings and called the witnesses. And the witnesses, the four psychiatrists, of whom three had been appointed initially to testify for the government, were now all of them ‘appearing on behalf of the defendant’. The prosecution, that is, ‘Isaiah Matlack Esq. and Donald Anderson Esq. appearing on behalf of the Department of Justice of the United States’, would neither call new witnesses for their side nor produce any evidence. They would do no more than cross-examine the witnesses appearing for the defendant. The defendant himself would not be called by his attorney to take the stand. And when the prosecution said, in that case they would call him, the Chief Justice intervened and said he didn’t think so, ‘If we call him he will take two or three hours,’ and it wasn’t necessary, because ‘The Court of Appeals says very plainly you cannot disregard an opinion of the psychiatrists.’ So the defendant’s fate would be decided entirely by the opinions of the four psychiatrists.
Pound was in court, probably dressed for the occasion in the new suit in which Miss Ida had thought ‘he looked “nice”’, ‘blue with a narrow stripe—tan (dark) shoes—a shirt of a pale tan…a two toned necktie of light & dark blue’. The Court was crowded with reporters and others—Laughlin and Olson were both there. And of course there was the jury, eleven men and a woman. The questioning of the witnesses began in the morning and resumed in the afternoon, taking up four and a half hours in all, and through all that time Pound was obediently mute, apart from one brief outburst when he had to be ‘quieted by his lawyer’. ‘Throughout the rest of the hearing’, according to the reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, ‘the bearded defendant moved nervously in his seat, held his head in his hands or leaned back and stared at the ceiling’. Another reporter wrote that ‘He held his head bowed, running nervous fingers through his hair…slumped in his chair with his knees raised against the edge of the lawyers’ table facing the judge’s bench, looking neither to left nor right’. He had to listen to the four psychiatrists giving their garbled and uncomprehending and often simply false versions of his history, his life’s work, his personality, and his mental condition, all of it directed towards the saving and damning conclusion that he, the man sitting there beside his lawyer, was of unsound mind, had long been of unsound mind, and always would be of unsound mind. That was what Cornell wanted them to say, having said it himself at the indictment and having primed them all with his powerful Affidavit. And Pound could not speak for himself, having agreed, at the urging of his wife, her solicitor, and his cautious friend Eliot, to do as Cornell wanted him to do; and because the judge also thought it not necessary that he be heard. He had to submit, without right of reply, to being represented, and grotesquely misrepresented, by the four government psychiatrists led on by his own lawyer.
‘The question’, Chief Justice Laws instructed the jury, as if it were a simple matter, was the ‘sanity of this particular individual’; and in particular, was his ‘mental condition such as that he is not able to participate with counsel in the trial of a criminal case, and is not in position to understand the full nature of the charges against him’. The individual in question would not be asked directly if he understood the full nature of the charges, nor if he could offer any defence—though he had given ample evidence that he did and could, in his letter to Attorney General Biddle when first indicted in 1943, and again when interrogated by the FBI in Genoa the previous May.
Dr Muncie was the first to be called. Asked if he had occasion to examine the sanity of people he replied, ‘That is all I do, and treat them.’ Asked what symptoms of insanity he had observed in Mr. Pound, he referred to his notes and gave this answer:
He has a number of rather fixed ideas which are either clearly delusional or verging on the delusional. One I might speak of, for instance, he believes he has been designated to save the Constitution of the United States for the people of the United States…
Secondly, he has a feeling that he has a key to the peace of the world through the writings of Confucius, which he translated into Italian and into English, and that if this book had been given proper circulation the Axis would not have been formed, we would be at peace now, and a great deal of trouble could have been avoided in the past, and this becomes his blueprint for world order in the future.
Further, these fixed ideas showed ‘a remarkable grandiosity’, and ‘delusions of self-aggrandisement’. At the same time, there was a vagueness in Pound’s exposition of his ideas which made them impossible to follow, so that Dr Muncie had found himself ‘left out on a limb every time’—‘the topics may be clear in his mind but cannot be clear in the examiner’s mind’. In addition to this ‘breakdown in his thinking processes’, and to his poor memory, ‘he definitely shows a very poor grasp of his present situation’—‘He apparently did not realize he was being brought back here for treason, and when he found that out his argument was that he must have been double-crossed…at the hands of the British Intelligence Service or Commandos.’ Asked to go into more detail about Pound’s understanding of his predicament, Dr Muncie at last said something accurately informed and perceptive:
He has two minds about that. At times he believes he could persuade any jury who could understand him of the fact that he has not committed treason. At other times, he states categorically that he is not of sound mind and could not participate effectively in his own defense.
However, ‘by no stretch of the imagination can you make him realize the seriousness of his predicament’. Dr Muncie could not say whether he understood what he was alleged to have done, because ‘He categorically denies that he committed anything like treason, in his mind, against the people of the United States’, and because the discussion always ended up in his bringing in his fixed ideas, ‘the economic situation, Confucius, Japan, and so forth…and you end up with a confusion of thoughts.’ In short, he would diagnose Pound’s illness as ‘a paranoid condition’—‘in ordinary language he has been a peculiar individual for many, many years, and…engrossed with these things I have talked about as neurotic developments’. Cornell put his leading question, ‘Will you tell the jury what is your opinion as to Mr Pound’s ability to understand the meaning of a trial under this indictment for treason, and particularly his ability to consult with counsel and formulate a defense to the indictment?’, and Muncie gave him the expected answer, ‘I think he is not capable of doing any of those things’.
Mr Matlack in his cross-examination gently took apart Dr Muncie’s testimony. He established that when Muncie said that it was his idea ‘that there has been for a number of years a deterioration of the mental processes’ he was in fact relying on the history in Cornell’s Affidavit; that when he had himself questioned Pound, ‘His memory, as far as I could find was all right, except for a substantial period in the concentration camp where there appears to have been a blackout of memory’—this ‘blackout’ sounds like Cornell’s detail; that the fixed ideas he had mentioned would not in themselves indicate insanity, nor would ‘grandiosity’; that the vagueness of the ideas, which Muncie now said made an ‘essential difference’, was a vagueness ‘to the examiner’; that ‘the peculiar personality’ which Muncie said he had did not in itself denote insanity, nor did it prevent Pound from understanding the charge and discussing the matter with his counsel. Then Matlack had Muncie answer that yes, he did think Pound ‘understood what treason was’, and ‘the nature of the charge, and that possibly he would be tried for the crime of treason’. But then the fact that he said his broadcasting was not treason,
shows clearly that he was out of touch with a very large segment of the world, and it shows more clearly than anything else perhaps how his world was built for himself. You and I are living in what one is pleased to call the realities of the situation.
Matlack had had Muncie make his meaning nearly explicit, that in his view Pound’s believing he was not liable for treason ‘indicated that he was not of sound mind’. That was an unbeatable catch resting on the fixed idea that Pound was guilty: if he did not know that he was guilty then he must be insane.
Near the end of his cross-examination Matlack amused himself by briefly changing roles and doing what Cornell might have been expected to do. Muncie was saying again that Pound was incapable of consulting with counsel because ‘It is hard to stay on a subject, and when you end up you don’t finish with any coherent or intelligent thought’, and it was put to him,
Q. Well, he answered your questions?
A. No, no, when I say, ‘Mr. Pound, you are out to defend the Constitution; now, that is a lengthy document, will you tell me what items you are out to defend specifically?’, why, he will say, ‘The President is a magistrate with delegated powers.’ That is all I could get on this question. From then on he goes through all those ramifications about Confucius, and Heaven knows what.
Q. Doesn’t he discuss the money and other clauses in the Constitution?
Q. And that would be reasonable evidence he knew how he is going to save the Constitution?
A. By inference, but there isn’t any clear statement…
Cornell, perhaps feeling needled, objected shortly after this to Matlack’s asking Dr Muncie what he thought about Pound’s intelligence. Muncie began his reply by saying that it had been ‘investigated at length by the psychiatrists at the hospital’, and Cornell broke in, evidently anxious to prevent the opinions of the other doctors being brought out, ‘Your Honor, I object to that. The other doctor is here and to have this doctor testify would be hearsay.’ Matlack’s retort, at the end of his questioning of Muncie, would be to elicit the fact that a good deal of his evidence had been hearsay based upon hospital records and upon Cornell’s own Affidavit.
Perhaps prompted by Muncie’s saying that the hospital records had contributed ‘nothing essential’ to his opinion, ‘because they found the same things we did’, Judge Laws asked him about the joint report which the four psychiatrists had made to him in December. All four had arrived at the same conclusion, he observed, had there been ‘no disagreement at all?’ ‘No’, he was told. And the witnesses at this hearing were all ‘first duly sworn’.
Dr King’s opinion, also based upon the hospital records and ‘rather careful consideration of his life-long history’, was that Mr Pound
has always been a sensitive, eccentric, cynical person, and these characteristics have been accentuated in the last few years to such an extent that he is afflicted with a paranoid state of psychotic proportions which renders him unfit for trial.
He accepted Cornell’s suggestion that a person could be all those things and still be able to stand trial, but what made the difference in Pound’s case was that
He has deviated from his chosen profession in that he has become preoccupied with economic and governmental problems to such an extent that during discussion of those problems he manifests such a sudden and such a marked feeling and tone that he reaches the point of exhaustion, and this unusual propensity, intense feeling, is quite characteristic of paranoid conditions and is sufficient, in my opinion, to permit, at least create, considerable confusion; at least that was the situation when I examined him, so that it is very difficult for him to explain his theories and proposals in a clear and concise logical manner.
Under cross-examination by Mr Anderson, Dr King went further. Asked what Pound had said about his activities in Italy, he went on instead about his interpretation of Pound:
He resided there, and as far as his own ability was concerned he did a lot of work in translating and investigating Oriental classics, and during that period, too, he was very much concerned with political, economic and monetary problems. He became preoccupied with such matters to such an extent that it interfered largely with his own profession, without any profit or gain incidentally. 5 One point I think is significant, that he became so consumed with these other fields because he developed a belief that most government officials were tyrannical and it behoved him to do what he could to overcome that and safeguard the citizens’ rights. Therefore, he wrote two pamphlets on economics and became very greatly concerned and interested in such matters.
As time went on his enthusiasm became greater, and there is no question but that he has a lot of sudden, emotional feeling in connection with these hobbies, or these special interests, so that during the time of the examinations he constantly told me about these ideas and beliefs with all the energy of which he was capable, which indicated that these matters more or less dominated his life, dominated his feelings.
He was inclined to argue and discuss them almost to the point of exhaustion. That is all indicative of a paranoid condition. That is really the evidence, as I interpret the case, the evidence of mental illness.
And all this, King seemed to think, was a reaction to having been ‘mistreated or abused by a minor consular official in Paris in 1940 [sic]’. He very well may have been mistreated, the doctor allowed, ‘but that is not sufficient justification for such a reaction’.
As Anderson’s cross-examination went on Dr King was rather carried away, as he passed severe judgment upon Pound’s ‘abnormalities’, into wildly generalizing about his supposed personal failings of which he had no direct knowledge nor even reliable information:
this paranoid state which now, to my mind, has been present for many, many years, has increased to such an extent that it has influenced his entire life, and through his own folly, and due to this defect, he has got himself into trouble more than once. 6
It is also significant, I think, that he has never hesitated, not only in these matters we are just talking about, but also problems that have been incident to his own person and profit, he has never hesitated to criticize, or vilify, or condemn others in no uncertain terms, even without provocation, and without good cause, or without any cause. Without question he has been his own worst enemy in that respect.
Cornell entered no objection to these unprofessional remarks.
Anderson came to the question, ‘Does the fact that Mr. Pound might think that what he did was not treasonable have an effect in arriving at your opinion here?’, and King answered, ‘To a minor extent’, but then went on, ‘He does not believe he is a mentally sick person. He does not believe that he is guilty of a serious offense against the United States.’ Since King would say that he was a mentally sick person, that was as much as to say that Pound was as guilty of treason as he was mentally ill, and that the two things went together, the sickness and the treason. But then in the same answer he went off on quite another tack:
He believes that he could be useful to this country if he were designated as a diplomat, or agent, and sent to Japan, for instance, or even to Russia, to deal with the people over there, with the idea now of maintaining the peace of the world… I don’t think a sane man in his status would make such a proposal.
Anderson asked if he had given consideration to Pound’s writings in forming his opinion, and King came back to his first idea:
To the extent that his writings on the monetary system, as far as I can ascertain, carried very little weight in this country, or elsewhere, although he had devoted a good deal of time to them. Over a period of many years he persisted in devoting too much time to matters of this type.
‘Are you qualified in the diplomatic field and economic field?’ Anderson asked, and King could only answer ‘No’.
Anderson also asked about Pound’s intelligence, his IQ, and King said he knew it to be ‘Something over 120’, and added, ‘There has been no impairment of the intelligence over the years. That again is characteristic of the disorder we are describing’—thus directly contradicting Dr Muncie. Cornell did not object to the hearsay at this point. But he did ask Dr King, who had twice declared himself unqualified to evaluate Pound’s poetry, to compare his early and his late poetry, and elicited the reply, ‘Well, I saw one of his poems, that he had prepared in the camp at Pisa which, of course, was incoherent and impossible for me to understand as compared with the earlier.’ None of the Pisan cantos having been published, he was presumably referring to the same lines extracted from canto 80 which Cornell had sent to Dr Muncie, lines which would of course not make sense when torn from their context and shown to someone unfamiliar with the cantos. But Cornell would use even Pound’s most intellectually advanced work—the poetry which Laughlin was eager to add to his New Directions list—as evidence of his insanity.
And Pound sat mute as his future was being determined by such testimony.
At the beginning of his examination by Cornell Dr Overholser stated again the opinion reached with his fellow psychiatrists in December, ‘that the defendant was unfit mentally and unable to stand trial’, and went on to say that the four of them had examined Pound again last Thursday, and that ‘I have before me the report made by the other physicians at [St Elizabeths], and I see no reason to change my opinion.’ Cornell put no question about that report, but Matlack asked Overholser about it at once in his cross-examination:
Q. Do you have with you the records of the hospital showing his present condition?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Could you produce them?
A. Surely; it is in my brief case.
Q. Have you, yourself, treated Mr. Pound, or has it been left to your associates out there?
A. Partly to the associates.
Q. Are these the records made by the staff?
A. That is right.
Q. And will you state by referring to them what the records show as to his present state of mental health?
A. It is rather a bulky record, as you see.
Q. Can you summarize it?
A. Essentially it is that there has been very little change in his condition since he came in. A summary of the case from the time he came in is pretty much in line with what I said this morning, and the whole staff has seen him. There has been some discussion about him which has not been formal; in fact there has been no formal diagnosis they have made as yet.
Q. No formal diagnosis?
And there Mr Matlack let that matter rest, content apparently to let Overholser get away with his prevarications. There would be a definite instance of that at the end of his cross-examination.
Throughout his testimony Overholser made much of Pound’s ‘blow-up’, as he termed it, in the DTC. He knew about it, of course, mainly by hearsay, from the Army psychiatrists’ reports which he had from the Justice Department, where it was described as a single episode of disorientation lasting a matter of minutes, and from Cornell’s Affidavit where it featured as ‘The period of violent insanity [which] apparently began about mid-June to endure for three months or more’. Overholser gave as one of his reasons for concluding that Pound would be ‘unable to participate in the trial of this indictment intelligently’, that, ‘due to the episode he had in Pisa when he was under confinement, I think there would be much more violent reaction on top of this paranoid reaction if the trial was to proceed’. During Matlack’s cross-examination Pound obligingly blew up right there in the courtroom. Matlack asked, ‘Did he give you in his general history anything about his belief in Fascism?’, and, according to the transcript, the defendant said, ‘I never did believe in Fascism, God damn it; I am opposed to Fascism’—a claim worthy of the proceedings. Matlack continued this line of questioning until Cornell objected that it was ‘very distressing’ to Mr Pound, and the judge said, ‘try not to disturb him if you can help it’, thus reinforcing the perception of the defendant as dangerously insane. Overholser was able to refer back to the incident as evidence for his opinion that ‘he is unfit to consult with counsel’—‘he might very readily have one of these, can I say “blow-ups,” again, during which he would be quite unable perhaps to concentrate enough to realize the importance to his defense.’ 7
‘Of what duration are those blow-ups?’, Matlack asked, and got the reply, ‘Well the one at Pisa lasted several weeks, as far as one can gather from the reports of the psychiatrists there.’ In fact it was not the Army psychiatrists but Cornell who had said that. Those psychiatrists had recorded Pound’s telling them of just one brief episode. Asked what was the opinion of those psychiatrists, Overholser said it was ‘That he had anxiety neurosis.’ And here there was a moment of genuine courtroom drama.
Q. Could that [opinion of the Army psychiatrists] have anything to do with the present opinion of the doctors around here?
MR. CORNELL. I object to that.
He must have been objecting to the implication that the opinion arrived at by the other St Elizabeths doctors was close to that of the Army psychiatrists, that is, that Pound was not insane and was competent to stand trial—an implication that would expose Overholser’s improbable claim that the doctors’ opinion was essentially the same as his own. Matlack resumed:
Q. You said you based [your opinion] partly on reading those reports?
Q. And then I asked you did those doctors find him insane?
There was a testing ambiguity, since the reports in question were from the Army psychiatrists, but the doctors just referred to were at St Elizabeths. Overholser’s answer covered both—
A. They said he was not psychotic.
Q. That means he was not insane?
A. They were, I think, interested in prison facts.
Q. When they said he was not psychotic that means he was not insane?
A. That he was not suffering from a major mental disease. That was their impression. How long they saw him, I don’t know, or what their experience was.
Matlack refrained from making explicit that he had just elicited through Overholser’s evasions and prevarications the fact that the reports of all three Army psychiatrists, and of the St Elizabeths doctors, provided no basis at all for his opinion. Instead he let him off by helping him back on to safer ground:
Q. Would you say that the incident known now as the Pisa incident was the result of one of those blow-ups?
A. Yes. Apparently he was held incommunicado in an uncovered cage of some kind out in the yard, and that apparently developed a neurotic state because of that.
There were no further questions.
In the end it was clear that Dr Overholser stood firmly by his opinion, but his reasons for doing so were less clear. He had said that Pound’s background history
shows that we are dealing now with the end-product of an individual who throughout his lifetime has been highly antagonistic, highly eccentric, the whole world has revolved around him, he has been a querulous person, he has been less and less able to order his life. This has been a gradual evolution throughout his life, so that now we are dealing with the end-product, so to speak.
Then he had been brought by Matlack to concede that none of that necessarily meant that Pound was insane or unable to consult with counsel. He had been asked, ‘Now, what is there about him that you say he cannot consult with his counsel when [you say] he understands the charge and understands what he did do?’, and he had replied,
He understands the charge as far as it implies [sic] to some abstract person. I do not think he comprehends or knows how that applies to this particular charge. That goes to his responsibility, and I am not discussing that, but I do say that his mental condition is such that he is unable to discuss with any degree of coherence the explanation for being in the situation in which he is, or his motive for so doing.
Somewhere in that answer there seems to the implication, already noted in the previous psychiatrists’ testimonies, that Pound’s refusal to admit to treason, to accept responsibility in that sense, is to be taken as evidence of insanity. But it was a murky answer, as was so much of Overholser’s testimony. He was not to be pinned down to any clear definition or diagnosis of Pound’s mental condition—at one point he said, ‘it resembles paranoia, if you wish to put it that way’—but all the time he was insisting on Pound’s abnormalities and eccentricities, and on the impossibility of getting any clear and logical sense out of him.
Dr Gilbert testified to much the same effect as the others as to Pound’s being unable to give a rational and logical, and, to the examiner, intelligible account of himself. He also said of the acts for which he was under indictment, that they were ‘based on abnormal type of thinking away beyond what might be considered as a mistake or error, even mistake in judgment or error in judgment’, and that indicated apparently an unsound mind incapable of understanding how he should answer to the charge of treason. Gilbert did add something of his own in attempting to define the paranoid state from which he said Pound was suffering. To ‘delusions of grandeur’ as a leading symptom, he added ‘hypochondria’, or Pound’s complaining of unusual fatigue or exhaustion. For example, in Gallinger Pound had spent most of the time in bed, undergoing almost no physical activity, yet when he was being examined ‘he spoke of this fatigue and exhaustion very frequently’, and such hypochondria was to be expected in a paranoid state. It apparently did not occur to the psychiatrist that physical and nervous exhaustion would be a natural concomitant of the mental strain Pound had been under for some time.
Cross-examined by Mr Anderson, Dr Gilbert indicated that in his view Pound’s delusions of grandeur would impair his comprehension of the possible outcome of a treason trial. There was his belief that ‘he was worth more to his country alive than dead’, for one instance, on account of ‘his knowledge of economic theories, of which he indicated he knew more than anyone else in the world’. Anderson suggested that ‘That could be a debatable question, could it not?’, and then said, still more mischievously, as if he were mocking Cornell,
Q. He also thought that he had not committed treason because under the Constitution he was granted the right of free speech?
Q. Wouldn’t that be a very good matter to present as a defense, or possible defense?
Gilbert said he didn’t know, and Cornell objected that he ‘isn’t qualified to answer that’. But the prosecution had made a telling point against Cornell’s whole strategy.
Cornell had asked each psychiatrist whether in his opinion the broken down defendant would be able to stand up to the rigours of a trial, and each had been ready to speculate that he would not. Dr Muncie thought a trial ‘would be rather dangerous to his welfare’; Dr King thought it ‘would bring on collapse’; and Dr Overholser was sure that ‘it would not be fair to him or to his attorney’ because of the ‘violent reaction’ it might bring on. This touching concern not to distress the poor defendant was the final nail in their consigning him to indefinite incarceration in St Elizabeths.
At the close of the hearing there was no summing up or clarification for the benefit of the jury of what they had heard, though it is unlikely that they were able to hold it all together in their minds and sort the sense from the nonsense. Judge Laws explained to the jury at some length what the hearing was about, and then charged them that it was their duty
now to advise me whether in your judgment you find that Mr. Pound is in position to cooperate with his counsel, to stand trial without causing him to crack up or breakdown; whether he is able to testify, if he sees fit, at the trial, to stand cross-examination, and in that regard, of course, you have heard the testimony of all these physicians on the subject, and there is no testimony to the contrary and, of course, these are men who have given a large part of their professional careers to the study of matters of this sort, who have been brought here for your guidance.
Under the state of the law you are not necessarily bound by what they say; you can disregard what they say and bring in a different verdict, but in a case of this type where the Government and the defense representatives have united in a clear and unequivocal view with regard to the situation, I presume you will have no difficulty in making up your mind.
The unanimity of the government and the defence had not been as apparent as Judge Laws was making out, but no doubt he knew what he was about, and Matlack did not object. The jury caught his drift, and having retired for just three minutes, emerged all of one mind that Ezra Pound was of ‘unsound mind’. ‘Thereupon the hearing was concluded.’
A reporter, Albert Deutsch, who was covering the hearing for the New York newspaper PM, noted that Pound at once ‘jumped up with alacrity and engaged in affable conversation with his young lawyer’. Deutsch was convinced that the insanity was an act and that the psychiatrists and the Government’s attorneys were letting Pound get away with treason. It seems not to have occurred to anyone, or at least no-one was prepared to say, that in fact it was the Government that was being saved from losing its case.
Laughlin ‘was all excited’, when Olson saw him the next day, that ‘the examination got to the point where they were asking: What the hell is reality anyhow.’ Laughlin had met Dr Muncie and Dr Overholser at the hearing. To Dr Muncie he had said in the lunchtime intermission that ‘it was most interesting to him how the three of us who had testified up to that time, while approaching the problem at slightly different angles, arrived at the same answer’. Olson asked Laughlin ‘how much the unfit plea had been planned’, and ‘JL allowed he had from the beginning [thought] the thing was to get P out of trial, the easiest way’.
From Laughlin’s angle then, the hearing with its dubious realities had been a great success. Indeed, all concerned had reason to be pleased. Even Pound himself was very pleased with the verdict and grateful to Cornell for having saved his life, or so Laughlin told Eliot. The Justice Department was pleased to be able to file the case away without having to go to trial, and to be able to send their shaky witnesses back home to Italy. They had probably decided that if Pound ‘wanted to go to St. Elizabeths, why shouldn’t they let him go’—that way they couldn’t lose. That at least was the opinion arrived at by Conrad L. Rushing, a Superior Court judge in California, when he reviewed the case in 1987. As for the Chief Justice, Rushing supposed that ‘Common sense probably told Laws that with Pound’s friends in high places, the death penalty was never probable. Commitment to St. Elizabeths, therefore, would serve the ends of justice and/or punishment.’
From another angle, however, that of Thomas S. Szasz, an expert in psychiatry and the law, it appeared that Pound’s lawyer, the psychiatrists, ‘and especially the persons instrumental in depriving him of the opportunity to clear his name in court’, had together ‘placed a blot on the pages of contemporary American history’. Cornell, instructed by Laughlin, had orchestrated and directed the entire proceedings, his leading of the psychiatrists, by his Affidavit and the other material he supplied them with, going far beyond what appeared in court. The psychiatrists had been too easily led by him into testifying to things about which they had no direct knowledge or expertise. Their joint diagnosis had no sound basis in psychiatry; and depended, moreover, upon the professionally and legally improper suppression of significant and highly relevant differences of opinion. The government’s lawyers suspected, if they did not actually know, that pertinent evidence was being suppressed; and they suppressed evidence of their own. They knew that at least some of the things the Court had been told by the witnesses were not consistent with documents and evidence held by the Justice Department; and they knew from those documents that Pound did have both a perfectly clear understanding of the charge against him, and a reasonable and solid defence. Yet they chose not to produce this evidence, which would have discredited Cornell’s Affidavit, undermined the psychiatrists’ testimony, and compelled the judge to direct the jury very differently. Finally, there was Judge Laws, who helped the travesty of justice run its course. ‘The moral insults showered on Pound were almost limitless,’ Szasz wrote in his review of Cornell’s book. The pretence of concern for his mental health took away from him not only his right to a proper trial, with the opportunity to defend himself, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, but would in time take away all his civil and moral rights except only the right to life.
On 27 February Laughlin wrote to Dr Overholser, ‘It was a pleasure to meet you the other day in Washington and I want to tell you how impressed I was with what I suppose in a gentleman of your calling is referred to as his “courtroom manner”.’ The letter continued:
I called upon Pound the morning after the hearing and was regaled with an account of his plans for rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Coming from him, I found this sollicitude rather touching!
He asked whether it would be possible for him to take his daily exercise in the yard which has grass in it, rather than in the concrete-floored yard, and I promised him that I would pass on this suggestion to you in a letter.
I dare say you yourself have considered the possibility of moving him to a place on your campus where he might have less feeling of claustrophobia. I realize that as a prisoner he must be guarded, but I can’t really conceive of his making an escape or doing anyone any hurt. Surely his recovery might be speeded by an environment which did not rub his nerves so much.
I gather that a cure is pretty rare in a man of his age, but I would like to be able to send some sort of cheerful news to his wife and daughter in Italy. They are very much upset, as you can imagine. Their devotion to him was so great – and so blind – that I know it never occurred to them that his mental processes were abnormal.
That was as good as turning the key upon Overholser’s prisoner.
Laughlin told Eliot that he was ‘beginning to feel that the diagnosis of the doctors—“a paranoid state in a psychopathic personality”—may be medically correct’. This was because Pound had told him ‘that he could not understand why the Jews wished to conspire to hang him since he had worked out a complete plan for rebuilding their old temple in Jerusalem’. Laughlin also mentioned that Pound was willing to have the world think him insane if it would let him live to go on with his work. And the publisher was most grateful to Eliot for agreeing ‘to write an essay about EP’s poetry for the special number of Poetry Magazine’—that would ‘help so much in the publicity campaign to clear him of the stigma of the treason charge’.
When he called on Pound the morning after the hearing Laughlin left with him freshly typed copies of cantos 74–84. Olson visited that afternoon between 2.30 and 2.45, and when Pound came in he was carrying them and had ‘his bounce back’. ‘The sense, the whole sense of this meeting was Pound in power, anew. Flushed with his return to work. Full of plans to get on with new things, now that his fate was settled for a while.’ Having his fate settled—with the illusory promise that he would soon be out—may well have helped. But surely it was being back in touch with those cantos that was empowering. There was his reality, the sure ground for his mind. When he wrote from Howard Hall to Dorothy a week after the hearing, ‘I long for Pisan paradise’, he must have been thinking of it as the time in which he had composed the Pisan cantos and translated Confucius, a time in which his mind was free to work and create at full power and intensity.
Cornell now began to let out what he must have known all along, that it was not in his power to get Pound out of St Elizabeths. Writing to A. V. Moore to report the outcome of the hearing, he told him that ‘the doctors appear to be agreed that the possibility is very remote that Mr. Pound will ever be able to stand trial’. While to his family and friends he might seem normal, ‘the abnormalities which the doctors found in Mr. Pound’s mental processes…are deep rooted’, and Cornell himself thought that there was unlikely to be ‘any considerable change in the future’. Now the statute under which he had been committed to St Elizabeths provided that if he should ever recover and be found fit to stand trial then he should be returned to the jurisdiction of the Court and be tried; and Cornell was sure that for that reason the government would never agree to dismiss the indictment. However, the statute made no provision for the possibility that a person under indictment might be permanently unable to stand trial and yet not require permanent hospitalization. It did not ‘expressly prohibit the discharge’ of a person so placed, but it would be difficult to persuade any judge to order his discharge since the statute did not authorize it, and there was no precedent for it. Cornell spelt out the consequence: ‘Although he still would be presumed innocent under the law, he would be incarcerated indefinitely, possibly for life, because the government had obtained an indictment against him.’
That stated very precisely the predicament in which Pound now found himself, thanks to Cornell. However, Cornell went on to say, he felt confident that Pound’s ‘constitutional rights would thereby be violated’, and that his release could be secured by a writ of habeas corpus. He advised that ‘after the expiration of several months’ Dr Overholser, and possibly other psychiatrists, be asked if they were ‘then of the opinion that Mr. Pound will never be able to stand trial and also that he does not require hospital treatment’, and, if they were of that opinion, an application should be made for a writ of habeas corpus. The government would resist, and without the consent of the government a trial judge would probably refuse, there being no precedent. The case, just because it was novel, should then be appealed to the higher courts—and Cornell, as a civil liberties lawyer, evidently relished the prospect of attempting to set a precedent. ‘I think the expense of an appeal would be well worth while’, he advised Mrs Pound’s solicitor, ‘since the prospects for gaining complete freedom would be favorable’. There he was letting himself be carried beyond the reality again, since a writ of habeas corpus would neither lift the indictment nor free Pound from the power of the Department of Justice. In the event, Cornell would not obtain his writ, and Dr Overholser wouldreadily certify whenever applied to that Pound had not and never would recover and must remain permanently under his care.
The friends and enemies
There was a moment when Charles Olson, after one of his visits, felt provoked into declaring, ‘I stand for keeping him in custody.’ This was not because of the alleged treason, nor yet the supposed insanity. Pound had approved of something he had just read by Westbrook Pegler, a widely syndicated political columnist of the paranoid variety. Pegler had been a fierce critic of Roosevelt, whom Olson loyally admired, but also came out strongly against both Communism and Fascism. Yet Olson ranted against his ‘fascism’, and, by association, Pound’s. Evidently the word no longer had any meaningful connection with Italian Fascism, having become simply a term of generalized abuse for ‘right wing’ opinion. But that Olson, a ‘left wing’ democrat, could stand up for keeping a man in custody because of his opinions was a striking deviation from a basic principle of American democracy and justice. He was far from alone in that.
Back in the fall, in anticipation of Pound’s expected trial, Charles Norman had invited a number of poets and critics to ‘size up Pound as an artist and as a man’, and then published half a dozen of the responses in PM on Sunday 25 November, two days before the formal indictment, under the heading ‘The case for and against Ezra Pound’. His poets and critics were Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Karl Shapiro, then an emerging poet, F. O. Matthiessen, the distinguished Harvard literary historian, the anthologist Louis Untermeyer, and Conrad Aiken. In reprints of the piece Louis Zukofsky appeared in place of Shapiro. There was a general consensus among these poets and critics that ‘the case for’ Pound was that his importance as a poet and as a creative influence upon modern poetry should not be forgotten; and that ‘the case against’ was that his objectionable opinions should not be forgiven.
Only Matthiessen seemed to have a clear idea of what those opinions were. That is, he did at least notice that Pound believed ‘control of money to be the central issue for any society’, before stating his view that his ‘radio broadcasts before and after our entry into the war, vicious as they were in their anti-Semitism, could [not] have had any ponderable force as propaganda’. Nevertheless, he went on, ‘the poet must be judged for the humanity of his thought as well as for his form. And if you believe in the artist’s responsibility for his views, I don’t see how you can explain Pound’s away.’ Very oddly, Matthiessen then did exactly that, accounting for his ‘eccentric’ political and social theory by his ‘Living for so many years as an isolated expatriate in Rapallo’, and concluding that it was ‘As an eccentric he must now be judged’. It was not clear whether he meant, as his argument could be taken to mean in the context of the then imminent trial, that Pound could be found guilty of treason because he held eccentric views.
Karl Shapiro did mean that. ‘Pound thought fascism superior to democracy,’ he declared in a generalization which grossly falsified what Pound did think, and ‘As a U.S. citizen he committed the crime of not reversing his beliefs after Mussolini came to blows with Jefferson.’ That was to find him guilty of thought crime. And in a note to Norman, Shapiro wrote, ‘I hope very much that nothing serious happens to Pound—just as I hope that somehow he will be made to pay for his idiocy.’ Conrad Aiken also seemed to think that Pound, although ‘more a fool than a traitor’, should nonetheless take the consequences of his beliefs, i.e. ‘finding himself under charge of treason’. Aiken improved the occasion by adding to his statement a protest against the banning of Pound’s poems from an anthology he edited. The publisher, Saxe Commins, was saying, ‘Random House is not going to publish any fascist’, and Aiken was maintaining that ‘a burning of the books was a kind of intellectual and moral suicide we might more wisely leave to our enemies’. That was nobly said, but it is strange that it did not occur to him that to charge Pound with treason because of his beliefs was equivalent to book burning.
Cummings alone, upholding the First Amendment in his individual way, saw freedom of thought and expression as a responsibility and a duty. ‘Every artist’s strictly illimitable country is himself’, he wrote, ‘An artist who plays that country false has committed suicide…But a human being who’s true to himself—whoever himself may be—is immortal.’ Pound would tell Cummings that because of this double-edged affirmation he was ‘the one bright star’.
Norman’s other contributors all accepted, on the Sunday before the indictment was made public, some of them implicitly and some explicitly, that Pound should be punished for his ideas. Louis Untermeyer wrote, ‘I do not believe he should be shot. I would favour merely life imprisonment in a cell surrounded by books—all of them copies of the works of Edgar A. Guest.’ Even his old friend William Carlos Williams, while suggesting that ‘It would be the greatest miscarriage of justice, human justice, to shoot him’, could only hope that, ‘When they lock the man up’, he would be allowed access ‘to books, with paper enough for him to go on making translations for us from the classics such as we have never seen except at his hands in our language’.
Williams was in no doubt that Pound had wilfully committed crime, but his idea of the crime had less to do with the immediate indictment than with personal grudges and grievances going back over thirty years, these reinforced by some new disgusts. He confessed that he had ‘never heard a word that Ezra Pound broadcast during the war from Italy’, but, going by ‘a single sentence referring to myself’ which he had been told about, he judged them to have been ‘dull stuff’. What disturbed him more was Pound’s ‘vicious anti-Semitism and much else [that] have lowered him in my mind further than I ever thought it possible to lower a man whom I had once admired’. As instances of the ‘much else’ he cited two out of context sentences from private letters from Pound. ‘But that isn’t the whole story,’ Williams wrote, and proceeded to lay out what he really held against Pound: ‘He always felt himself superior to anyone about him and would never brook a rival’—‘He just lived on a different plane from anyone else in the world, a higher plane!’—‘always insisted on the brilliance and profundity of his mind’. And all that was ‘the thing that finally ruined Ezra’, in Williams’s judgment, ‘He doesn’t have a great mind and never did,’ and ‘His stupidities coupled with his overweening self-esteem have brought him down.’ Along with this will to pull down Pound’s vanity, if not to kill him off, there was the old quarrel between Williams’s Americanism, and Pound’s expatriate internationalism which made him ‘one of a well recognized group of Americans who can’t take the democratic virus’. And for that too Williams would have Pound locked up ‘with Jim and John and Henry and Mary and Dolores’. Altogether, the right to freedom of mind, and the right to freedom of person until duly charged and found guilty of an indictable offence, had become recessive genes in Williams’s democratic virus.
Norman had invited T. S. Eliot to contribute to his ‘for and against’ symposium, and Eliot had objected that his way of framing the question seemed ‘to assume that Pound is guilty of whatever charges are laid against him’. He went on to deliver a much needed call to order:
You make this assumption not only before the trial has taken place, and judgment given; you make it before the precise charge has been formulated, before we have heard the evidence for the prosecution, and before we have heard the evidence for the defence. I do not know what Pound was doing in Italy, from 1941 to 1945; I do not know what he said in his broadcasts; and before I form any judgment I wish to hear what his counsel will say in explanation.
‘It seems to me’, he remarked pertinently, ‘that many people in America have been far too ready to presume his “guilt”.’ Norman did not print Eliot’s letter.
Wallace Stevens was another who preferred not to take part in Norman’s symposium. ‘It seems to me’, he wrote, ‘that since Pound’s liberty, not to say even his life, may be at stake, he ought to be consulted about this sort of thing.’ Stevens seems to have been exceptional in showing that kind of respect for Pound. He also asked, very pertinently though in vain, ‘Don’t you think it worthwhile waiting until you know why he did what he did before rallying to his defense?’ In any case, while ‘There are a number of things that could well be said in his defense…each one of these things is so very debatable, that one would not care to say them, without having thought them out most carefully’—
One such possibility is that the acts of propagandists should not entail the same consequences as the acts of a spy or informer because noone attaches really serious importance to propaganda.
Stevens was thoughtful and clear again where Norman’s leading question had involved some of his contributors in trying to weigh Pound’s importance as a poet against his indictment. ‘I must say that I don’t consider the fact that he is a man of genius as an excuse,’ he wrote. ‘Surely such men are subject to the common disciplines.’ Altogether, Stevens had the uncommon distinction in the case of thinking about doing justice to the person, something that most other poets and critics were lamentably failing to do.
Louis Zukofsky’s contribution, which reached Norman too late to appear in PM, was another exception. He recorded his having said to Pound in 1939 that he ‘did not doubt his integrity had decided his political action’, but that ‘something had gone wrong’ in his head. At the same time, he now said, Pound’s ‘profound and intimate knowledge and practice’ of literature and music ‘still leave that part of his mind entire’. Zukofsky did not attempt to set that part off against whatever had gone wrong. But he did address the issue which coloured all discussion of Pound’s situation, declaring, ‘I never felt the least trace of anti-Semitism in his presence’. Nevertheless he concluded with this cryptic statement, ‘He may be condemned or forgiven…It will matter very little against his finest work overshadowed in his lifetime by the hell of Belsen which he overlooked.’ Pound could not have seen the newsreels showing the horrors of Belsen after it was liberated on 15 April 1945, but Zukofsky was probably not speaking literally. More likely he had in mind Pound’s blindness to the calculated evil of Nazism, and specifically its murdering anti-Semitism. But he drew no conclusion from that as to what should be done with Pound then and there. He was making ‘a dissociation of values’, not passing sentence.
Zukofsky was probably aware that the more active hostility towards Pound was concerned, as Laughlin had always expected, with his anti-Semitism, or his ‘fascism’—the two often deliberately confused—rather than with the alleged treason. These attackers did not hesitate to find him guilty, without need of trial or examination of evidence, and to demand his death. The Communist paper New Masses responded to Norman’s symposium with one of its own in the issue for 25 December 1945, with the heading featured on the front cover, ‘SHOULD EZRA POUND BE SHOT?’—a rhetorical question, as a line underneath made clear, ‘Five writers indict him as traitor. A reply to his apologists in PM’. Norman Rosten, a poet, wrote:
Mr. Pound joined the war. He became a fascist hireling. He contributed to the murder of the innocent…He was the poets’ representative and he cheapened us, degraded us. Because he was a poet his crime is millionfold. Because he is a traitor he should be shot.
Albert Maltz, a Hollywood screenwriter later blacklisted by the studios for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, wrote with even more passionate disregard for truth and justice as he called for Pound to be executed ‘by the will of the people of the United States’:
When a man becomes the enemy of Man—when a poet stoops to the vile wolfishness of racial hatred—when a poet who inherits the humanitarian culture of the ages, betrays his heritage and his talent to fascist thieves, sadists and murderers—then what is he? He is unspeakable—he is carrion…
Do I sound savage? Yes—I remember the corpses of Buchenwald, Dachau, Maidanek. Who dares forget them?
Arthur Miller, who would complain in his autobiography about the lack of ‘delicate nuances’ in his interrogation by the House Un-American Activities Committee, wrote,
I used to listen, now and then, to Ezra Pound sending from Europe, and…in his wildest moments of human vilification Hitler never approached our Ezra…His stuff was straight fascism with all the anti-Semitism, anti-foreignism, included.
‘Hitler never approached our Ezra’? That wildest of exaggerations, one gathers from Miller’s autobiography, was based on his having in fact heard just one broadcast, but that one had been enough to convince him that ‘Pound had been calling for racial murder and…would have happily killed me as a Jew if he could have.’ There is no record of a broadcast in which Pound was ‘calling for racial murder’; nor is there any warrant in the broadcasts, even at their worst, for Miller’s ‘would have happily killed me as a Jew if he could have’. But this was a self-dramatizing inversion of the actual situation. It was not Miller who was being threatened with death in December 1945, it was Ezra Pound; and it was Miller who would have happily had him killed. He was certain that Pound was a traitor, since he had broadcast, Miller asserted without regard for the truth, ‘month after month to demoralize American troops fighting in Germany and Italy’; but it was the anti-Semitism, he made clear, that was the deeper reason for his unqualified condemnation. With Rosten and Maltz, Miller would have had Pound shot, ostensibly for his alleged treason, but really for his anti-Semitism.
‘The mob is blood-hungry for victims,’ Laughlin wrote to Olga Rudge, ‘Had he been brought to trial now, there is not a chance in the world…but they would have hung him…there is nothing the little band of powerless intellectuals can do about it.’ Certainly, the general assumption, in the media and among both his little band of intellectuals and the general public, appears to have been that Pound was guilty of treason, or that he would at least be found guilty. The only question was, should he be executed, or not? A Washington Post editorial suggested that Pound was never ‘important or dangerous enough to make it really necessary to exact the price of his treason in blood’. But there was the other view, and not only in New Masses. A group of New York citizens, in a letter to President Truman, claimed that Pound had ‘assisted the perpetrators of the slaughter chambers’ and should ‘suffer the same sentence meted out by the English people to traitors Amery and Lord Haw-Haw’. The Lord Haw-Haw case was frequently invoked, both by those who wanted Pound executed and by those who on the whole did not, as if it were the relevant precedent. But the United States had its own tradition of treason law and its own precedent in the Cramer case, and its government tended to take pride in doing things its own way and maintaining its independence from Great Britain. As for Laughlin’s implicit claim to have saved Pound from a lynch-mob, that, even given some casualness about the law in the Chief Justice’s court, was surely over-dramatizing the situation. 8
Much of the discussion of the Pound case, not least among those who should have cared more for going by the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, was, like that claim of Laughlin’s, hypothetical, speculative, and prejudicial; and it was, moreover, either ignorant of the law and of the facts of the case, or it deliberately disregarded the law and the facts. The Justice Department was almost alone in making an effort to discover what Pound had actually said and done, and in recognizing that the case against him had to be proved in court before he could be declared guilty of treason. And it was almost alone in recognizing that he must be found guilty or innocent as charged in the indictment, and not upon any other ground. It seems to have been alone also in not presuming that he would be found guilty, in allowing that he might have a valid defence, or at least that the case against him might fail. But if the Department of Justice upheld the law so far, it nonetheless allowed Cornell’s, and Laughlin’s, perverse defence to prevail, thus denying Pound justice.
By the time of Pound’s death Archibald MacLeish had come round to the view that Pound should never have been charged with treason in the first place, ‘given the guarantee of freedom of speech in the First Amendment’—
his indictment by the Department of Justice was an error of law and his attorney’s plea of insanity an error in tactics and his incarceration in St Elizabeths a miscarriage of justice…
Pound was no more a traitor, MacLeish wrote, than the former Attorney General of the United States who, towards the end of the Vietnam War, ‘did in Hanoi precisely what Ezra Pound had done in Rome’, that is, ‘He attacked the policy and conduct of his own country in the capital of a country with which the United States was at war.’ Yet he was not indicted nor arrested,
for the good and sufficient reason that the right to dissent, the right to criticize, had by then been exercised in time of war by so large a majority of the American people that if wartime criticism was treason, the Republic itself would have had to be indicted.
The US Supreme Court had firmly restated the principle of the First Amendment in 1949:
The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion…Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute…is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.…There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view.
So MacLeish could tell Torrey, ‘Some of us thought Ezra’s lawyer should have tried the case on the freedom of speech issue.’ But that is what Pound had wanted all along. He had written to the Attorney General when first indicted, ‘Free speech under modern conditions becomes a mockery if it does not include the right of free speech over the radio’; he had repeated that to the FBI in Genoa, and had said it again at the beginning of his Pisan Cantos, ‘free speech without radio free speech is as zero’. But in 1945 and 1946 few were in the mood to privilege freedom of speech, and in consequence Pound was made to suffer the error of law, the error in tactics, and the lasting miscarriage of justice.
Note: on not understanding the charge
It is still being repeated as a simple truth that Pound could not be tried because he did not understand and never would be able to understand the nature of the charges against him. It is true that this was the opinion delivered to the Court by the four psychiatrists appearing as expert witnesses, that it was accepted by the Court, and that it was never effectively challenged. It is clear, however, from the transcript of the hearing that what Pound did not and would not understand was that he was guilty as charged, which is absolutely not the same as being not able to understand the charge. The demand being put upon him by those psychiatrists was that he agree with their simple view that he had committed treason—that was what they meant by ‘understanding the nature of the charges’. In effect they declared him insane because he would not admit that he was guilty, an opinion worthy of Stalinist justice.
1 All but two of the passages which will be cited here, including this one, are silently omitted from ‘the text of my affidavit’ in Cornell’s book. I take them from the official copy in the US National Archives—they are also to be found in the transcription in Charles Norman’s The Case of Ezra Pound (1968), pp. 93–8.
2 E. Fuller Torrey noticed (Torrey 196–7) that the description of Pound’s symptoms in the psychiatrists’ letter did not correspond to the definition of a paranoid state in the Handbook of Psychiatry (Lippincott, 1947) which Overholser was then writing (with W. V. Richmond). According to that textbook the symptoms of paranoid insanity in 1945 were bizarre delusions, auditory hallucinations, hearing voices, etc. Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist writing in the American Journal of Psychotherapy in 1949, commented, ‘Surely the psychiatrists know the difference between a political conviction and a delusion…Ezra Pound has no delusions in any strictly pathological sense’ (cited by Sieber, p. 34). As to the term ‘paranoia’, it had ben observed in 1940 that ‘Perhaps no term in psychiatry has undergone wider variations of meaning’ (Hinslie and Shatzke, Psychiatric Dictionary395); and in 1954 it was recognised that ‘The effort to maintain paranoia as a distinct condition has…failed’ (W. Mayer-Gross et al., Clinical Psychiatry IV (1954) 158). Richard Hofstadter’s essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ (first delivered as a lecture in 1963) would have provided an invaluable elucidation and distinction. The ‘paranoid style’ in politics, he observed, was characteristic of more or less normal angry minds suspicious of government and prone to violent exaggeration and to conspiracy theories. It was the common style of populist politicians and agitators—as it is now a common style among radio and television commentators—and it should not be confused, he argued, with clinical paranoia.
3 The relevant statute, Section 211 of Title 24, USC, is less absolute than Cornell implied: ‘If any person, charged with crime, be found, in the court before which he is so charged, to be an insane person, such court shall certify the same to the Federal Security Administrator, who may[emphasis added] order such person to be confined in Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, and, if he be not indigent, he and his estate shall be charged with expenses of his support in the hospital.’ Dr Overholser would say not ‘may’ but ‘will be’ confined.
4 The magazine was probably Newsweek which ran an article in which Pound was described as America’s ‘Haw Haw’.
5 Compare Dr Kavka’s report of 24 January 1946, p. 6: ‘Italy, where he moved in 1924…After 1924, he became deeply engrossed in economic studies, especially monetary problems, and continued his researches in the classics, editing anthologies and making translations of Oriental writers, especially Confucius. It was here that he began work on his monumental cantos. He was always a critic of distinction and recognition in the field of poetry, but departed from this field to the extent of dealing with economic, monetary and political problems in an uninhibited manner, and continued to do so despite skepticism and difficulty in getting some of his work published.’
6 Behind this incomprehensible assertion might be the section of Kavka’s report headed ‘Anti-social Trends, Arrests’: ‘The patient was arrested once in France because of “the noise in my studio and Antheil was practising for a concert. He was a hammering pianist and used a piano as a percussion instrument.” Another arrest occurred in Italy, when the patient over-drafted $15,00 on his bank, by error.’
7 In his second and last entry in the Notes for Case #58,102, 13 Feb. 1946—just eight lines recording the patient’s appearance in the District Court, the jury’s verdict, and the patient’s having been ‘accordingly remanded to the Hospital’—Dr Overholser singled out this one moment for the record, with prejudice: ‘Patient was restless during the trial and on one occasion leaped up and cursed at the attorney for the Department of Justice.’
8 The fates of the seven others indicted on treason charges with Pound, all for broadcasting for Nazi Germany during the war, were various—none were executed, and three had their charges dismissed for lack of evidence in light of the Cramer case: Douglas Chandler was sentenced in Boston in 1947 to life imprisonment with a fine of $10,000—sentence commuted in 1963 on condition he leave the United States; Robert H. Best sentenced in Boston in 1948 to life imprisonment with a fine of $10,000—died in federal custody in 1952; Jane Anderson, never arrested, charges dismissed in 1947 for lack of evidence in light of the Cramer case; Edward L. Delaney captured in Czechoslovakia in 1945, released, rearrested in 1947, but charges dropped for lack of evidence in light of the Cramer case; Constance Drexel, never arrested, charges dismissed in 1948 for lack of evidence in light of the Cramer case, died in Waterbury, Conn., 1956; Max Koischwitz died in Berlin in 1944, case dropped; Frederick W. Kaltenbach, called the American Lord Haw-Haw, reportedly died in a Russian prison, case dropped.