Monday, July 22, 2019

Richard ("Dick") Mount

Dick Mount, who was mentioned in this blog's previous entry about Leonard Cline's son, was a friend and fellow newspaperman in Detroit.  He was more properly Charles Richard Mount (1883-1971), though he didn't use his first name, and signed his work as by "Richard Mount."  Around the time Cline knew him, he was married to the former Gretchen Crockett Mosshart (1882-1931), whose first husband had died in the influenza epidemic in 1918. Gretchen Mount also worked in newspapers, and many of her book reviews appeared in The Detroit Free Press.  Like Cline, Richard Mount published poetry in The Detroit News and fiction in The Smart Set.

At the publication of After-Walker: The Poems of Leonard Cline, a year and a half after Cline's death, Mount published the following review/memoir.

Posthumous Work of Leonard Cline Inspires Host of Tender Memories

Outside the moon is shining serenely in the sky and remote constellations creep slowly into the east. Inside there is a thin book of poems—rather surprisingly bound in lavender—and the ghost of a friend talking to me as he used to talk. And as I turn the leaves of the lavender book I hear, on some pages, only a waif of his voice, and on others, full-bodied, the old tones come back for me and for a moment my friend is alive again in the room.

For After-Walker is that posthumous books of his poems Leonard Cline’s friends never expected to see. It was rumored, yes: but what are rumors of the dead in this skeptical world? Books of poems aren’t published for profit—they are published for love, and it is generally assumed that poets who have not made a great reputation carry the verses they made and loved with them into their graves. So, now that he is dead, one may ask: for what love are these verses published? The answer to that is, of course, that they are published for love of Leonard. The poems are not, if the truth must be told, universal enough to be tremendously important. But the man was an original, a playboy with whom (as he laments in his “Bacchanale Solo”) nobody would play; a minor poet, a lover of faded musics, a master of truly important prose style, a gentle, lovable stray from the age of the trouveres, who lived feverishly as if with some tragic foreknowledge that his life was to be brief.

And with what authentic accents you come back to haunt me, charming hellion!
“I held my bottle firmly between my knees
And deplored the passing of Dionysus.
And I lamented that all the night
Was empty of flute music . . .”
Wine, women, song, Arcturus and Bach and street cars, hillsides and automobiles honking on the roads!

But I must take up the heavy business of reporting on your poems. How does one begin to do that for friends whose ears are clogged with dust, stopped alike to praise or blame?

It is hard, of course, for me to judge these poems objectively—to me, at least, they are not the echoant verses of a dead minor poet, embalmed in lavender. They are too personal to their author for that, which is both their strength and their weakness. They were his escape from a reality frequently too distressing to him and his interpretations of the events that had overwhelmed him. The title poem, “After-Walker,” comes straight from that Connecticut prison where he spent a year (though it seems a sort of atrocious myth now to think that gentle soul in prison) and he was his own “Mad Jacob.”

Indeed, rereading these verses tonight recalls Plato’s splendid figure of the man in chains who, unable to turn his head, faces the conjuror’s curtain, while behind him, on a raised roadway between the sun and the curtain, the activities of the world pass, throwing their shadows on the screen. Like that man in chains, I see the reflection of Leonard’s life, fantastic and distorted, thrown on the screen of his words. I see the reflection of events that were preposterous and sad, rational and embarrassing and gay—the varied chances of a life lived insecurely but, somehow, lived completely.

But will these be as significant to one not his familiar? It is not for me to say. They have the slightness of poetry that arises solely from the emotional moments of the poet’s own life; but beauty is its own importance and they are beautiful. The realities behind them are merely hinted in a paradox of evasion; but if they are not “strong” they have the strength of expressing entirely how one man reacted to his prison, the universe. They are neither philosophical nor metaphysical, but Leonard Cline was a fine poet for all that. He had a fancy that contracted space: Vega was his sun and Abydos was just around the corner. He had an imagination that negated time: Babylon was a teeming city to him still and Louhi, “that old crone,” whined in his chimney. Words were things to him and intuitions more actual than facts: nature was his reality and our civilization was his only myth.

Insofar as After-Walker represents the poet’s own selection, it is at his best. Of those added by other hands only “Snake” (a superb narrative bit) and “Tenebrae” justify inclusion. The occasional verse they have included is just occasional verse and the sonnet on St. Francis is more than indifferent. After all, Leonard pious was Pan in gaiters, Dionysus at a masquerade with the ends of his collar buttoned back. One misses, moreover, in this collection, two of his very finest pieces—one in its lightness and the other in its masterly narrative—to perish uncaptured fugitives, fled into faded ink and forgotten. But, alas, we shall probably never see them again. For both his here and now are timeless today and he himself is one with “yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.” So if none of these rescued verses quite equals the poetry of his prose Godhead (and which of his contemporaries has written a more beautiful novel?) what does it matter? We can only bid him adieu. But if he cried no “Vale!” back to us, we cannot let him go in silence. Let us repeat for him words his lips formed in happier days:
“I have strung stars upon my nubbin horns,
My little hooves are washed in moonlight,
My face is rinsed in roses;
And I call to them
And they do not answer. . . .”

From The Detroit Free Press, 29 June 1930.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Cline's Son: Leonard Lanson Cline III

Louise with her two children 1922

Cline's son was Leonard Lanson Cline III, born in Detroit, Michigan, on 21 November 1916.  As Cline had done for his daughter, so did he also write a poem for his son, probably in 1921, just before the family moved to Baltimore.  The poem reads in part:
Gemini: Castor

That night Dick* came, and first you heard him play,
Did Beauty speak that night, and did you hear?
We saw you falter in your mimic fray,
Let fall your toys, and turn your eyes away,
Enchanted, yet abashed, and venture near;

We saw you stand, and saw your spirit rise
As winged to strange new heights, a little boy
With towsled yellow hair and wondering eyes,
And in them what a trouble of surprise,
What rapture of inexplicable joy! 

After his parent's divorce in 1924, young Leonard occasionally sent his father some poems he had written.  His father responded to one of these with a poem of his own, later printed in After-Walker (1930) as "Variation on a Theme of My Son's."

In January 1929, young Leonard's father died. In March, his maternal grandfather Thomas Smurthwaite died in Manistee, Michigan. Louise and the children went to Manistee to grieve and to recuperate. But young Leonard contracted spinal meningitis and died in Manistee on 25 July 1929, aged twelve. Louise and Mary Louise felt that their entire world had been shattered. 


* Dick was Dick Mount, a family friend and fellow newspaperman in Detroit. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Cline's Daughter: Mary Louise Cline

Self-portrait, 1941*
Cline and his wife had two children.  The first-born, a daughter, was named Mary Louise Cline, after her mother (who was known familiarly by her second name Louise).  Their daughter was always known by both names, "Mary Louise." She was born in Manistee, Michigan, on 6 September 1914.  She grew up in Detroit until around 1922, when the family moved to Baltimore.  She studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and became an artist.  Over the years she exhibited her paintings and drawings at area shows. In 1940 she married J. Henry Jarrett (1906-1978); they had one son and one daughter. She died at her home in Alexandria, Virginia, on 11 August 1995 at the age of 80. 

Mary Louise was very close with her father, who wrote a poem dedicated to her in February 1920 entitled "Gemini: Pollux." The second part of this poem appeared in a newspaper as "For My Daughter" (see it at right; click on the image to make it larger). It prophetically pictures Mary Louise remembering her father after his death.

The inspiration for Cline's short story about a young girl called "Mekku" (in The Midland, February 1927) is easily discerned by anyone who knew his daughter.  In December 1927 Cline asked Mary Louise, then age thirteen, to be one of his literary executors. She and her mother arranged for the posthumous publication of a volume Cline's poems, After-Walker (1930), which also includes the poem "For My Daughter."

I knew Mary Louise for the last six years of her life. None of my work on her father would have been possible without her friendship and generous cooperation.

Mary Louise, around 1990

* Used by permission of the Estate of Mary Louise Jarrett.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Cline's Sister: Betty Wierengo

Cline had only one sibling, a sister, Elizabeth Forsyth Cline (known in adulthood as Betty), who was born two years before him, on 22 June 1891.  She attended Wellesley College for a year (1909-1910), and the University of Michigan for a year (1911-1912).

Betty Wierengo in 1927
She married John Leslie Wierengo (1886-1945) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 29 May 1912.  They settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and had three sons. Her husband ran a local advertising firm.

In September 1927 she stood by her brother when he was brought to trial for first degree murder in Connecticut.

She organized the Michigan Unit of the American Cancer Society, and led that group from 1930 to 1941. She held a national post from 1942 to 1952.  Later she became a real estate agent. Betty Wierengo died in Grand Rapids on 1 December 1966.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Cline's Second Wife: Katharine Gridley

Katharine Gridley in 1927
Cline knew Katharine Doolittle Gridley (1895-1947) in the 1910s and early 1920s when he was on the staff of the Detroit News.  Katharine was soon living in New York, with her common-law husband Holger Cahill (1887-1960), but around 1923 they separated and Katherine paired up with Cline. (Cline's first wife divorced him for adultery in 1924.)  Katharine and Leonard were eventually married in Stamford, Connecticut, on 9 November 1926, but their relationship was frequently difficult. After Cline was charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of a friend visiting the Cline house in Willimantic, Connecticut, in the summer of 1927, Katharine deserted Cline and they were divorced in 1928.

Katharine worked as an artist, and as a newspaper illustrator and occasional writer. Cline's first novel, God Head (1925), is dedicated to her, and a sketch of Cline by Katharine (reproduced at right) appears alongside a review by Professor Warren Bower of the University of Michigan of God Head in The Lansing State Journal c. 19 March 1926.

After leaving Cline, Katharine returned to the Detroit area, where many members of her family lived, and in the 1930s she married a man surnamed Brown, but this marriage did not last. Katharine moved back to New York, where on 11 July 1942 she married a man named Daniel McMahon. Katharine was widowed before her death in Detroit at the age of 51 on 17 January 1947.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Cline's First Wife: Louise Smurthwaite

Louise Cline in 1927
Cline's first wife was born Mary Louise Smurthwaite (1893-1980), but she was always known familiarly as Louise. Cline seems to have met her in Ann Arbor, in the early 1910s, when Cline and at least one of Louise's sisters were students at the University of Michigan.  Louise was perhaps a student there as well, but apparently only for a short time (her name does not appear in the contemporary University of Michigan registers). She and Cline were married in her native town of Manistee, Michigan on 28 October 1913.  They had one daughter and one son.

In March 1922 Cline joined the staff of The Baltimore Sun, and the family moved to Maryland. In 1924 Louise divorced Cline on the charge of adultery.  In Baltimore Louise became a radio singer at WBAL, and originated a popular annual Christmas carol program at a local department store. She taught singing at the Peabody Conservatory's Preparatory School for forty-four years.

Hazelton Spencer
She and Cline reconciled in 1928, and they planned to remarry, but Cline died suddenly in January 1929. Around 1932 or 1933, Louise became the second wife of the literary scholar Hazelton Spencer (1893-1944), who had been educated at Boston University (A.B. 1915) and Harvard University (A.M. 1920; Ph.D. 1923). Hazelton began to teach English at Johns Hopkins University in 1927 and became a Professor of English there in 1937. He authored books on Shakespeare, and edited The Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay (1931) and Elizabethan Plays (1933). 

Louise Spencer died at the age of 87 in Alexandria, Virginia, in May 1980.