Vital Signs

Conrad Aiken

I was to meet Cap Pearce at his office at 12:30, for discussion of a book contract and for one of our lunches at a small Italian restaurant in the East Thirties where the veal scallopini was well pounded and the wine muscular. But Cap called and said, "Come early. Conrad Aiken will be here to pick up copies of his new book, and I'd like to see you being tongue-tied in the presence of greatness." The world has forgotten Charles A. Pearce, although his letters to writers he edited turned up in this or that collection. He was the kind of editor who could work with a T.S. Eliot and a John O'Hara, as he did when he was with Harcourt, Brace; mollify and extract the best from young and over-assertive writers on their first books; and get a best-selling author (as I was then) to acknowledge that Cap had the finest and most perceptive copy pencil in the business—and don't Maxwell Perkins me!

I always listened to Cap because he was the only real editor I have ever known, and because of the mutual affection and respect which bound us together. At the time, I knew that his publishing house, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, was being destroyed by a liberal whispering campaign which marked him "fascist" and beyond the pale because he had rejected on grounds of simple incompetence one of Howard Fast's "historical" novels. For this he should have received the plaudits of the literate in the book trade—for...

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