Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Princeton literati in the World War

F. Scott Fitzgerald in his
Brooks Brothers uniform
(new information added 9 May)

At Princeton University, immediately prior to America's entry in the war in April, 1917, the leading literary coterie on campus included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, Martin Townsend, Stanley Dell, Raymond Holden, Alex McKaig, Henry Chapin, "Teek" Whipple, Bill Mackie and John Peale Bishop.

Fellow classman John Allan Wyeth was on friendly terms with the group, socialized with them at the Charter Club where he played piano, but remained peripheral to them. Wyeth would appear several times in Wilson's diary, and at least once in Fitzgerald's letters. As late as the 1950s, Wyeth and Wilson were still in contact with one another, which makes Wilson's silence on Wyeth's poetry puzzling. A possible explanation is that Wilson never chanced to hear of This Man's Army, while Wyeth, for whatever reason, chose not to bring the book to Wilson's attention.

Wilson, Fitzgerald and Bishop, of course, require no introduction.

Henry Chapin published epic verse in the 1930s recounting the Viking discovery of America, and in the 1970s on the settlement of the American West. He also published books on the ecology of man and the sea.

In his introduction to A Book of Princeton Verse 1916, editor Alfred Noyes wrote: This book of Princeton verse is selected from poems written during the last six years on the Princeton campus, with the exception of one poem by a Princeton man in France. (1) That unnamed poet already in the war was Stanley Dell.  After the war, he and Edmund Wilson made plans to bring out a volume of realistic short stories about the war, but this project was evidently abandoned. He was a journalist for a time after the war, wrote criticism of French literature, and translated Carl Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul, a translation which is still in print.

Raymond Holden published books of poetry, natural history, regional history and biography. He was the husband of poet Louise Bogan.

Bill Mackie wrote a brilliant spoof as an undergraduate in the style of Samuel Pepys which was so plausible it was catalogued at the Yale library  as the authentic letter of a seventeenth-century English Lord, one "William, Lord Mackie".  But Mackie never fulfilled his early promise, becoming the campus drunk and flunking out of Princeton. Edmund Wilson, with whom he had discovered Latin poetry, wrote of him in later years, "I have never known anyone droller, or more sensitive to literature."  (2)

Alex McKaig was a playwright, but is perhaps best remembered now for the detailed diary he kept during the late teens and early twenties when he was closely associated with Fitzgerald, Wilson and Bishop.

Martin Townsend was a playwright and screenwriter.

Thomas King "Teek" Whipple was a literary historian of some note whose books explored the interelations of literature and social and economic conditions. He taught at Princeton and the University of California at Berkeley.

All eleven men served in the military during the World War. The essential details of each writer's service are set out below. I have listed them in order of their dates of enlistment. Holden was the first to enlist, and served under General "Black Jack" Pershing" along the Mexican Border during the Pancho Villa troubles. Dell enlisted a month after Holden, and was the first to serve in France.  Both Dell and Townsend served as volunteer ambulance drivers in the American Field Service before America's entry into the war, and both were awarded the Croix de Guerre for valor.  Wyeth served the longest period of time at the front line.  Fitzgerald cut the most dashing figure in uniform, but never set foot in France.

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RAYMOND PECKHAM HOLDEN served in the Mexican Border Service, Machine Gun Troop, Squadron A.N.Y. National Guard, from June 1916 to January 1917.  He was discharged due to physical disability.  He then served in the Red Cross service from November 1917 to March 1919 as follows: supervisor of After Care (care of discharged soldiers), Boston Metropolitan Chapter; associate director, Bureau of After Care, New England Division, American Red Cross, and assistant to director of Civilian Relief, Atlantic Division.

WILLIAM STANLEY DELL served in the American Field Service, S.S.U. 4, French Army, Ordre Service Sante, 31 Corps d’Armee, from July to December 1916.  He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in November 1916, with following the citation:  Volunteer driver of devoted loyalty, showed great coolness and energy by making a very dangerous trip in broad daylight to bring back to an ambulance from a first-aid station a non-commissioned officer, who had been severely wounded and whose condition necessitated immediate attention.

EDMUND WILSON, JR began his service at the Plattsburg Training Camp, NewYork where he trained from August to September 1916.  He entered the US Army in May 1917, in Detroit, Michigan as a private, stationed at the Medical Corps, Base Hospital Unit 36 in Detroit from August. to November 1917.  He sailed for France in November 1917, was stationed at Vittel in the Vosges until October 1918,  transferred to the Intelligence Corps in October, was stationed at Chaumont from October 1918 to May 1919, was promoted to sergeant in the Interpreters’ Corps, October 1918, returned to the U.S. in May 1919 and was discharged in July 1919.

TOWNSEND MARTIN served in the American Ambulance Field Service, Section 29, in France from March to October 1917.  He entered the French Army in October 1917 in Paris, as an élève aspirant in the Artillery.  He attended the French Artillery School at Fontainebleau from October 1917 to February 1918, was promoted to aspirant in the Heavy Artillery in February 1918.  He served in the Army of Occupation in Germany from November 1918 until his discharge in March 1919.  Martin was awarded the Croix de Guerre in October 1917 with the following citation:  "A fait preuve comme conducteur d'une auto sanitaire de beaucoup de courage et de sang froid, particulierement pendat les operations de la cote 304 en avril 1917 ou les evacuations ont ete faites sur une route vue de l'ennemi et violemment bombardee."  Subsequently he was awarded a second Croix de Guerre.

ALEXANDER LAUGHLIN McKAIG entered the U.S. Naval Reserve Force on March 26, 1917, at Newport, Rhode Island, where he served with the rank of quartermaster 2nd class from March 26 to October 1, 1917.  He was commissioned as ensign on September 12, 1917 and served at Annapolis from October 1, 1917 to February 1, 1918, at which time was assigned to the destroyer USS Dyer.  He served off Gibraltar from December 14, 1918, to March 22, 1919, and in the Panama Canal from March 22 to July 1919  He was discharged on July 5, 1919.

HENRY CHAPIN  entered 1st ROTC, May  12, 1917 at Plattsburg, New York.  He was commissioned captain in the infantry, Nov. 20, 1917; stationed Camp Leon Sprints, Texas, Nov. to Dec. 1917; attached Company M., 4th Regiment, Signal Corps, Camp Hancock, Ga., Dec. 1917 to May 1918; Depot Brigade, Camp Green, N.C., May to Sept. 1918; supply officer, 64th Pioneer Infantry, Camp Taylor, Ky., Oct. 1918, until discharged Mar. 4, 1919.

WILLIAM HENRY TROTTER MACKIE  entered 1st ROTC May 15, 1917 at Fort Meyer, Virginia.  He was commissioned a captain in the Infantry on August 14, 1917, was  assigned to the 315th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division at Camp Lee, Virginia, and sailed for France in May 1918.  From July 1 to September 30 he attended the School of the Line in Langres.  He participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from October 3 to 27, 1918.  He returned to the US in May 1919 and was discharged on June 12.

JOHN PEALE BISHOP  entered 2nd ROTC at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, on August 27, 1917.  He was commissioned 1st lieutenant in the infantry on November 27, 1917.  He served with Division Headquarters Troop, Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky, from December 15, 1917 to May 30, 1918.  He then served at Camp Sherman, Ohio from May 30 to August 15, 1918, sailed for France on September 11, 1918, and was attached to 309th Headquarters Troop, 84th Division.  On December 20 he was placed in command of Prisioner War Escort Company No. 257.  He returned to the US on October 27, 1919, and was discharged on October 30.

FRANCIS SCOTT FITZGERALD entered the Army on November 26, 1917, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as a provisional 2nd lieutenant, 45th Infantry. He was stationed at Fort Leavenworth from November 1917 to February 1918.  From February to April 1918 he was attached to 45th Infantry, Camp Taylor, Kentucky, and was at Camp Gordon, Georgia from April to June 1918.  He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, Infantry, in June 1918, was with 68th Infantry, Camp Sheridan, Alabama from June to December 1918, and served as aide-de-camp to General Ryan, 17th Infantry Brigade, 9th Division, Camp Sheridan, from December 1918 to February 1919.  He was discharged on February 14.

JOHN ALLAN WYETH, JR  entered the Army on December 28, 1917, at New York, NY, as a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Interpreters.  He was assigned to 33rd Division, Divisional Headquarters, at Camp Logan, Texas, from January 3 to May 1, 1918.  He was at Camp Upton, NY, from May 1 to 16, 1918, sailed for France in May 1918, and participated in operations with the British on the Somme until August 20, 1918, then at Verdun, until being hospitalized for influenza in September.  After the Armistice he served with the Army of Occupation in Germany and Luxembourg.  He was detached from 33rd Division and stationed in Paris in April 1919.  He returned to the US in July 1919 and was discharged on October 23, 1919.

THOMAS KING WHIPPLE entered the Marine Corps on April 29, 1918, and trained at Paris Island, South.Carolina until June 15, 1918.  He sailed for France in June, but was soon hospitalized, and was moved among various hospitals from June to December 1918.  He returned to the US in January 1919, was stationed at Portsmouth, Virginia from January to May 1919, and was discharged on May 31.  (3)

---particular thanks to Roger Allen for uncovering new information regarding Wilson and Wyeth.
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1. (Alfred Noyes, ed).  A Book of Princeton Verse 1916.  (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1917).
2. Dabney, Lewis M.  Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature.  (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p 48.
3.  The service records of  the Princeton 'literati' are all taken from Princeton in the World War  (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1932).


  1. I had a few spare hours at the B.L., so I looked for more Edmund Wilson-Wyeth links.
    I'm not sure these are the only mentions of Wyeth, but Wilson's A Prelude mentions him on pp.107-109, 121 & 123 (W.H.Allen, 1967). Wyeth was alive then, so there may be more in Wilson's diaries and the original ms. and ts. In Dabney's Edmund Wilson, A Literary Life (2005), p.413, 'To his Princeton classmate John Wyeth back in New York he [Wilson] spoke of following in the footsteps of Voltaire and Renan.' shows that Wilson and Wyeth remained in touch which makes Wilson's silence and probable ignorance of This Man's Army even odder. Dabney also interviewed Wyeth (acknowledgments, p. 599-600), so there may be more in his papers.
    In A Prelude Wilson mentions 'Bert Friend', almost certainly the later Professor Albert Friend, as closely connected to Wyeth, so his papers may be worth looking at. Wyeth doesn't appear in the 1916 0r 1919 Book of Princeton Verse, but has anyone looked in the Nassau Literary Review for the relevant years? They aren't in the B.L., so I wasn't able to. Were there any other unofficial literary magazines at Princeton?
    Hope this helps.

  2. Sorry: the reference above from Dabney refers to the early 1950s, after Wilson had written on the Dead Sea Scrolls and shows Wilson and Wyeth were acquainted then..