MODERN POETS: ELIOT, AUDEN, HUGHES, SPENDER and MACNEICE
PORTRAITS OF T.S. ELIOT, W.H. AUDEN, TED HUGHES, STEPHEN SPENDER AND LOUIS MCNEICE TOGETHER BY MARK GERSON (b. 1921), vintage photograph, silver print, showing the 'Faber Poets' on the stairs at Faber and Faber, 24 Russell Square, signed in pencil on the mount by Gerson and with his stamp on the verso, framed and glazed, size of image 7 ½ x 9 ½ inches (19 x 24 cm), overall size 16 x 17 inches (41 x 43.5 cm), Faber's, 23 June 1960
THIS PHOTOGRAPH IS AMONG THE MOST FAMOUS LITERARY PORTRAITS OF THE SECOND HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Mark Gerson was the only photographer present at the party.
As was said of the other image of the Faber Poets in this Collection Part II, the party for Auden at Faber's on 23 June 1960 at 24 Russell Square, was something of a modern 'Immortal Dinner'. The original 'Immortal Dinner' took place at the painter Robert Haydon's house at 22 Lisson Grove on 28 December 1817. Apart from both of them appearing in Haydon's famous painting Christ's Entry into Jerusalem which was on display, it was the evening when Keats and Wordsworth met for the first time and Charles Lamb got tipsy and misbehaved.
At the Faber party, Ted Hughes met W.H. Auden for the first time (though 'I scarcely spoke to him, since he was overpowered by the Blue-haired hostesses that seem to run those meetings') and almost certainly Louis MacNeice for the first time as well. It was only the second time he had met T.S. Eliot and Stephen Spender (having gone to the Eliots' home on 4 May the same year, when the Spenders were also present). Moreover, it was one of the very few times (perhaps only the second) that Eliot and Auden met. Auden states that he and Eliot first met at the time he left Oxford (c. 1928).
Ted Hughes told his sister about the Faber party in a letter in the summer if 1969: 'Sylvia talked quite a lot to McNeice & Spender, and I talked to Eliot. Auden has a strangely wrinkled face, like a Viking seaman - that sort of tan & wrinkles. Like a reptile - though not squamous, not unpleasant. Lively brown eyes. The impression was pleasant...Spender was drunk...McNeice was drunk & talked like a quick-fire car salesman...I felt to get on so well with him [Eliot] - though he's charitable & tactful & no doubt gives most people the feeling...' Sylvia Plath told her mother about it too: '...I drank champagne with the appreciation of a housewife on an evening off from the smell of sour milk and diapers. During the course of the party, Charles Montieth, one of the Faber board, beckoned me out into the hall. There Ted stood, flanked by T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Louis McNeice on the one hand and Stephen Spender on the other, having his photograph taken. "Three generations of Faber poets there," Charles observed. "Wonderful!" Of course, I was tremendously proud. Ted looked very at home among the great.'
PROVENANCE: Mark Gerson.
REFERENCES: Michael Newman, 'The Art of Poetry No. 17', Paris Review, 1974; Letters Home, 1975, p. 386.