Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Dedicatory Letter

To Isabel Paterson

Madame et cher Confrere,

I have for some years now had to consider you as being my fairy godmother in the United States — though how one can have a godmother junior to oneself I have yet to figure out. Perhaps godmothers of the kind that can turn pumpkins into glass coaches can achieve miracles in seniority. Or, when I come to think of it, I seem to remember that, for a whole tribe of Incas converted who knows how and simultaneously, in the days of the Conquistadores, an Infanta of Spain went to the font, she being, whatever her age, of necessity junior to the elders at least of the tribe. That, however, is all a trifle-except for my gratitude! — compared with your present responsibility.

For, but for you, this book would only nebularly have existed — in space, in my brain, where you will, so it be not on paper and between boards. Save, that is to say, for your stem, contemptuous and almost virulent insistence on knowing “what became of Tietjens” I never should have conducted this chronicle to the stage it has now reached. The soldier, tired of war’s alarms, it has always seemed to me, might be allowed to rest beneath bowery vines. But you would not have it so.

You — and for once you align yourself with the Great Public — demand an ending: if possible a happy ending.

Alas, I cannot provide you with the end of Tietjens for a reason upon which I will later dwell — but I here provide you with a slice of one of Christopher’s later days so that you may know how more or less he at present stands. For in this world of ours though lives may end Affairs do not. Even though Valentine and Tietjens were dead the Affair that they set going would go rolling on down the generations — Mark junior and Mrs. Lowther, the unborn child and the rest will go on beneath the nut-boughs or over the seas — or in the best Clubs. It is not your day nor mine that shall see the end of them.

And think: How many people have we not known intimately and seen daily for years! Then they move into another township, and, bad correspondents as we all are and sit-at-homes as Fate makes most of us, they drop out of our sights. They may — those friends of yours — go and settle in Paris. You may see them for fortnights at decennial intervals, or you may not.

So I would have preferred to let it be with Tietjens, but you would not have it. I have always jeered at authors who sentimentalised over their characters, and after finishing a book exclaim like, say, Thackeray: “Roll up the curtains; put the puppets in their boxes; quench the tallow footlights” . . . something like that. But I am bound to say that in certain moods in Avignon this year it would less have surprised me to go up to the upper chamber of the mill where I wrote and there to find that friend of mine than to find you. For you are to remember that for me Tietjens is the recreation of a friend I had — a friend so vivid to me that though he died many years ago I cannot feel that he is yet dead. In the dedicatory letter of an earlier instalment of this series of books I said that in these volumes I was trying to project how this world would have appeared to that friend today and how, in it, he would have acted — or you, I believe, would say reacted. And that is the exact truth of the matter.

Do you not find — you yourself, too — that, however it may be with the mass of humanity, in the case of certain dead people you cannot feel that they are indeed gone from this world? You can only know it, you can only believe it. That is, at any rate, the case with me — and in my case the world daily becomes more and more peopled with such revenants and less and less with those who still walk this earth. It is only yesterday that I read of the death of another human being who will for the rest of time have for me that effect. That person died thousands of miles away, and yesterday it would have astonished me if she had walked into my room here in New York. To-day it would no longer. It would have the aspect of the simplest thing in the world.

So then, for me, it is with Tietjens. With his prototype I set out on several enterprises — one of them being a considerable periodical publication of a Tory kind — and for many years I was accustomed as it were to “set” my mind by his comments on public or other affairs. He was, as I have elsewhere said, the English Tory — the last English Tory, omniscient, slightly contemptuous — and sentimental in his human contacts. And for many years before I contemplated the writing of these books — before the War even — I was accustomed to ask myself not merely what he would have said of certain public or private affairs, but how he would have acted in certain positions. And I do so still. I have only to say to my mind, as the child on the knees of an adult says to its senior: “Tell us a fairy tale!”— I have only to say: “Tell us what he would here have done!” and at once he is there.

So, you see, I cannot tell you the end of Tietjens, for he will end only when I am beyond pens and paper. For me at this moment he is, oddly enough, in Avignon, rather disappointed in the quality of the Louis Seize furniture that he has found there, and seated in front of the Taverne Riche under the planes he is finding his Harris tweeds oppressive. Perhaps he is even mopping the whitish brow under his silver-streaked hair. And I have a strong itch to write to him that if he wants to find Louis Treize stuff of the most admirable — perfectly fabulous armoires and chests — for almost nothing, he should go westward into the Limousin to . . . But nothing shall make me here write that name. . . .

And so he will go jogging along with ups and downs and plenty of worries and some satisfaction, the Tory Englishman, running his head perhaps against fewer walls, perhaps against more, until I myself cease from those pursuits. . . . Perhaps he will go on even longer, if you, as Marraine, succeed in conferring upon these works that longevity. . . .

But out and alas, now you can never write about me again: for it would, wouldn’t it? look too much like: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!

So don’t write about Tietjens: write your own projections of the lives around you in terms of your delicate and fierce art. Then you will find me still more

Your grateful and obedient

F. M. F.

New York, October 11th, 1927.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54