Ruthven Todd’s Account Events Leading up to Dylan’s Death.
An original letter – Ruthven Todd’s harrowing eleven-page account of the events leading up to and surrounding Dylan’s death.
Todd sent the letter to the poet and broadcaster Louis MacNeice and instructed him to circulate it amongst Dylan’s friends. The letter was sent from 132 Bank Street, New York 14, New York and was dated 23rd November, 1953.
The letter reads:
November 23rd, 1953
My dear Louis,
This is not at all the kind of letter I would like to be writing you. However, many people here think that someone should let you know as much as possible about the awful times we have been through, and it seems that I am best fitted to do the job. I have been working on this letter since Dylan died, and it was originally much shorter. After Wynford Vaughan-Thomas dropped in on Wednesday I decided that I would make it fuller, as he said he would drop you a note that my report was following. I arranged for Wynford to meet some of the others concerned here, and I held a meeting with Rose Slivka and Elizabeth Reitell on a draft which I finished yesterday. This letter now contains nearly all that I can write at the moment.
As you will realize, a good deal of what is said here should be treated as confidential, or at least not bandied about too widely. I have attempted to keep all my personal opinions out of the main report, digressing at the end to give a few of them.
I saw Dylan on Tuesday, November 3rd, in his room in the Chelsea Hotel. He was not feeling too well, but I had a few beers with him. Herb Hannum, an architect friend since Dylan’s first visit to this country, and David Waggoner, a young poet, dropped in, and Dylan was vastly amusing, busily inventing a schizoid bar in which one was one’s only customer. Early in the afternoon, I took Liz out to vote, leaving the others with Dylan. At about three p.m. I returned and took them with me to my basement, to drink beer, as it was election day and the bars were closed until the evening.
Dylan spent the rest of the day and evening with Liz, seeing the Frank Dobsons for a short time in the early evening.
On Wednesday morning I phoned the Chelsea, as I had a tentative date with Dylan to take him to Hoboken to eat steamed clams in a very fine old saloon there. He did not feel very well and we decided to postpone the outing.
I had to go out to dinner that night and got home very late indeed. It seemed that I had hardly fallen asleep before I was woken by the phone by my bed. The time was around five a.m. On the phone was Liz. She said that Dylan was unconscious in St. Vincent’s Hospital, with only a 50/50 chance. I dressed hurriedly and ran over to the hospital, which is only a few blocks from my home.
Dylan was in the emergency room with an oxygen mask over his face. I had a few words with Dr. Boyce, the emergency doctor, who did not appear to be at all sanguine. Through tears, Liz gave me an account of the period leading up to Dylan’s becoming unconscious.
He had been feeling very sick all day Wednesday and was twice visited by his doctor. This doctor, Milton Feltenstein, is an admirer and was a friend of Dylan’s. He is a G.P., a specialist in internal diseases and chief internist at Beth-Israel Hospital; in addition, he is the doctor of many painters and poets, including Liz and Howard Moss. He had been looking after Dylan both on this visit and last spring.
Dylan made only one short outing that day, in the afternoon with Liz, who was with him every minute of the day, to the White Horse, where he saw Len Lye for a moment and had a couple of beers. These were the only drinks he had all Wednesday. Len was to give him a dinner-jacket and Dylan arranged to drop over later to collect it. Liz, however, realised that he was pretty sick and managed to persuade him to return with her to the Chelsea.
Shortly afterward she saw that he was having an attack of D.T.s and gave him ¼ grain of phenobarbitol, given her by the doctor for the purpose. Dylan, however, could not keep the pill down.
Liz thereupon again phoned the doctor who went to the hotel and gave Dylan a shot of morphine. Dr. James Smith, probably the greatest authority on alcoholism in the world, told me later that this is a usual treatment in such cases and has nothing whatever to do with what came later.
Milton then told Liz that it was no job for a woman by herself and said he would not leave the hotel until she had a man to help her. (She was terribly tired, as, as we both know, looking after Dylan was no part time job). Liz tried to phone me and then David Slivka, but we were both out. She then called a friend who also knew Dylan, Jack Heliker, a painter.
Jack went up to the hotel and Dylan greeted him, “Hello Jack, awful for you to have to do this.” Jack, who had had D.T.s himself, shrugged this off. Milton then left. The time was then eleven p.m.
Dylan was lying on the bed and almost the last words he said were, “What an undistinguished way to reach one’s thirty-ninth (sic) year.” Liz sat down on the edge of the bed and held his hand. She spoke to Dylan who was murmuring drowsily and assured him that his horrors would pass. He became more peaceful. Her hand was still in Dylan’s when, shortly before midnight, she noticed a sudden change in him. He was blue in the face and she and Jack could find only the faintest tremor of a pulse.
They called the police who got an ambulance. The ambulance doctor immediately administered oxygen in the hotel room. Dylan was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital, the local city hospital for emergency cases.
To all extents Dylan died when he entered deep coma shortly before midnight. His life from then on was only a half-life, without pain or sensibility. The hundred and nine hours which were to pass between his actual and his certifiable death were a nightmare through which I would not wish to live again.
At about eight in the morning John Brinnin arrived, having flown down from Boston through the night. The three of us held a conference on what had to be done. I spent most of the morning trying to get hold of James Laughlin who, as Dylan’s publisher, was the most obvious source of money for telephone calls and hospital expenses. Laughlin was out of time but finally I got hold of his manager, Bob McGregor. He undertook to try to track down Caitlin through David Higham. (It emerged later that Oscar Williams had a phone number for Caitlin, but he did not call to offer it, preferring to ring her personally in order to tell her that her dying husband was receiving bad treatment – this without his having been near the hospital).
Dylan was removed to a ward. At this time we were still hopeful that he would recover and thought he would be happier, on regaining consciousness, to find himself among other people. Dr. McVey, the resident doctor, put Dr. Chussett, chief of neurology at St. Vincent’s Hospital, and Dr. Keating, a neurological specialist, on the case and they worked without break all day. At midday Milton came in again and went upstairs to the ward. When he came down he told us that he saw no possible cause for optimism. I should mention here that Milton was in and out of the hospital day and night during the whole period, and that if I do not mention him all the time it is only because he became nearly as much of a fixture as the hospital staff.
It was a very long day and the next day was just as long. During Friday Milton got hold of Dr. Leo Davidoff, the outstanding brain-specialist in this country. Davidoff could not come himself but recommended another famous specialist, Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney, who, although called in as a consultant, came along and took charge of the case.
Friday was interrupted by the appearance in the late afternoon of Oscar Williams and the Reaveys. John Berryman appeared in the evening and nearly had a breakdown.
Oscar Williams, I discovered later, had taken to phoning Dr. McVey with complaints that we – that is Liz, John Brinnin and myself – were withholding information from Dylan’s “friends”. The hospital was not pleased about this as the doctor was busy and the only official statement they were issuing was that his condition was “critical”. This is apparently common hospital procedure, and I noted the other day, when I dropped in to thank the administrator, Sister Anthony, for her kindness to us, that she felt pleased about the way the hospital had managed to avoid all mention of alcoholism in the reports they gave out. The only statement not issued by the hospital was a brief one I myself gave to Harvey Breit of the New York Times, which merely stated that Dylan was gravely ill of a brain ailment. Any information we had which was not issued by the hospital was given us personally by Milton or Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney when they passed by the waiting room. They would have given the same information to any “friends” who happened to be present on these occasions.
On the Friday night, a wet snowy night, we thought that Dylan might die at any moment, but the doctors (whom I cannot praise too highly) performed a tracheotomy and he breathed through that, rallying a little during the night.
I should add here that Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney called in a number of specialist colleagues to see Dylan, in the hope that they might be able to suggest something.
I saw Dylan early on Saturday morning, just before they put him in an oxygen tent, from which he was not to emerge again. On that morning Liz and I went up to the Chelsea, leaving John Brinnin in charge. He spoke to the hotel management. They had been keeping Dylan’s room, with the lock blocked. As there was very little money it seemed sensible to give it up, as even if he did recover, he would not be using it for a long time. The management agreed that this was a wise suggestion and, for the protection of both sides, sent an employee of the hotel with us to help pack his bags and papers. The latest draft of a poem, a lament for his father, on yellowish paper, was pinned to the top of Under Milk Wood; the earlier drafts are on blue paper and are all there with the exception of one which Dylan gave me on Tuesday morning. When we had finished Liz and I both signed a paper, which we gave to the hotel, stating that we had taken the necessary action. The hotel then locked the bags in their storeroom. Incidentally, I packed a bundle of lithographs and a questionnaire belonging to Tambimuttu: Shaw, Assistant Consul-General, said he would take them out and return them to their owner – I don’t know if that was done.
When we got back to the hospital we found that Dylan’s condition was very grave indeed, and it seemed as though he might die at any moment. We got hold of Bob McGregor to try to phone Caitlin to tell her the situation, and to find whether she wanted to come after all. We found, however, that she had managed to get a seat on the plane which had been reported fully booked-up.
The whole of Saturday we wondered whether Dylan could possibly last until she arrived. Liz stayed in the hospital all night and when I returned at six in the morning I found that he was still hanging on (the hospital would have phoned me had there been any change).
Dr. Boyce, of the hospital emergency staff, had volunteered (although it was his day off) to go out to Idlewild Airport with David and Rose Slivka to meet Caitlin. Rosalie Thorne McKenna had lent David her station-wagon. Oscar Williams and George Reavey also turned up at Idlewild. The Foreign Office, prodded by Alec Sutherland, had cleared the way to hurry Caitlin through the customs. While Bob McGregor, who had gone out with David, was talking to the officials, waiting for the plane to land, Oscar Williams sidled up to him, remarking “We must hurry out a book of his papers.” This was a bit too much for even the phlegmatic Bob, who did not know Dylan well, and he turned his back.
David and Dr. Boise arranged for a police escort to get Caitlin to the hospital as fast as possible, and somehow Williams and Reavey, in a taxi, managed to tag on to this, at one time even managing to get ahead of the station-wagon, to the disgust of the police.
Rose disagrees with me, but I now think it was an error of judgement on my part. I had not gone out to Idlewild, thinking that on an occasion such as this, Caitlin might be better off with friends she had made herself (she and Rose Slivka correspond all the time) rather than with friends she had made through Dylan.
I met Caitlin in the hall of the hospital and she gave me a kiss, whispering, “Is the fucking man dead yet?” All I could think of in reply was, “No, he’s waiting for you. Get on upstairs.” She went towards the lift, pursued by Gene Dorwood, Williams’ wife, trying to take off her coat.
I remained downstairs and so have to rely on what I heard from the hospital and from David and Rose. (Rose is writing to you her own personal account of what happened but this will serve till you get it).
Caitlin looked at Dylan, in the oxygen tent and breathing through a hole in his throat, and said, “This is not my Dylan. I don’t want to be here.”
David and Rose took her over to their house, and I made arrangements that all phone calls (except in emergency) were to be rerouted through my house, with Jody delivering messages.
The Williamses and the Reaveys wanted to know where she was, so I told them and also told them that, on order from Dr. Boyce, she was not, under any circumstances, to be disturbed, except by the hospital.
George, with a monumental show of self-importance and an equally gross lack of sensibility, rushed round to the Slivkas. He forced his way into the house and, pawing Caitlin’s hand with a great display of solemnity, started telling her that her place was by her dying husband. Caitlin had had a little to drink, but was perfectly under control again until this happened. (Curious note: during the short time he was there George drank more whisky than all the others put together. Len Lye thinks I should say here that it is doubtful if George would have behaved the way he did but for his neurotic wife, Irene Rice Perriers. Len thinks he is hag-ridden).
Caitlin returned to the hospital and there had a complete breakdown, accompanied with violence. (Rose will write about this). She was put under restraint and examined by the only vile doctor I encountered there. As this was a Catholic hospital, they did not have a staff psychiatrist, but this doctor happened to be on duty that afternoon. He was shocked by Caitlin’s use of bad language and succeeded in aggravating her to the condition in which she would have attacked him. He ordered her put in a straight-jacket and consigned to the psychiatric ward in Bellevue Hospital.
Milton, who had never met Caitlin before, came to the rescue, and gave service far beyond that called for by the Hypocratic [sic] oath. He persuaded the hospital to give us an hour’s delay to find a private home. I should make it clear here that we had no choice in the matter – it was either the psychiatric ward at Bellevue (having visited friends there I could not contemplate that) or a private home. Milton got hold of a psychiatrist and arranged for a home out in Astoria, and also for an ambulance to take Caitlin there. The matter of money then came up. It was Sunday evening and none of us – particularly those who had been there all along – had any money. Milton then said that he had been paid in cash by a patient that afternoon and lent us $200 out of his own pocket.
After Caitlin had her breakdown and while she was being examined by the pig-headed doctor, the Williamses and the Reaveys disappeared. Someone vaguely wondered where they had gone to, and Herb Hannum supplied the answer, “They have brewed their thimbleful of spider-juice and gone home to drown in it.”
All this time Dylan’s life was still hanging by a thread. While we were waiting for the ambulance to take Caitlin to Astoria, Loughlin finally turned up and started to work on the matter of the fund, which it was now obvious would be required. He got hold of Philip Wittenberg, the well-known lawyer, who agreed to act as treasurer and to do all that he could.
It was decided that Rose Slivka and I should escort Caitlin to the hospital. While I was waiting for them to transfer her to the ambulance an English doctor, Hamilton, phoned and asked whether he could do anything. All I could suggest at that moment was that he should phone the administration of the hospital.
David Lougee, a young friend of Dylan’s, managed to persuade the ambulance man to let him ride with them in front. Much as I would have liked to have done so, I did not dare remove the straight-jacket. Rose gave her water and we tried to lessen the appalling heat in the ambulance.
At the home, Caitlin agreed to sign herself in. This was important as it meant that she could get out at any time. I signed all the other necessary papers as I knew by this time that there was a good deal of unpleasantness around and felt that if the ghouls wanted to centralize it they may as well have me to shoot at.
We got back to the hospital about midnight and found that Dylan, who had been very low all afternoon, had again rallied. One of the few bright remarks of the day, apart from Herb’s, was that of the nurse who remarked to a young friend of Dylan’s, Kevin Rooney, “it’s a good thing that Mr. Thomas took such good care of himself!”
I went home to bed, leaving instructions for the hospital to phone me, and Liz finally pulled herself away, with the understanding that the hospital would call her the instant there was any change. I should say here that Liz suffered more than anyone: she had resigned herself on that Sunday morning to getting out of everything once Caitlin arrived, and now she had to take over again.
By six on Monday morning I was back in the hospital. Dylan was still surviving and no one knew how long he could last. Liz arrived soon after me and I took her out to breakfast in a diner across the street. There we were joined by Milton who confirmed that it was now just a matter of time.
Dr. Hamilton phoned me again to say that Professor James Smith of Bellevue would like to take a look at the case. I phoned Caitlin and found that she had already been in communication with the authorities at St. Vincent’s. Liz then spoke to Sister Anthony who was only too pleased that he should come over. As I said before he is probably the world authority on alcoholism. John Brinnin, as Dylan’s manager, formally asked him for his help.
During the morning Dylan continued to sink, and Smith came over. In conversation with him since he has told no one that he would have liked to have been in on the case from the beginning, but that he doubts whether the outcome could have been any different. He stressed that Dylan received all possible attention from the doctors, and it is only because it is his speciality that he would have liked to have helped. Besides, he is an admirer of Dylan’s poems.
Liz and John Brinnin came downstairs with Smith, and the doctors apparently decided to try one or two last minute suggestions made by Smith. Liz was just on the point of going upstairs again to enquire whether they thought Dylan would hold on long enough for us to go out and eat, when we encountered John Berryman in the hall. He was weeping and shaking. Dylan had just died. It was shortly before one p.m.
Liz and John Brinnin went upstairs and saw him within three minutes of his death. Apparently he went so quietly that it was a moment before the nurse beside him realized that he was dead.
I think that nearly everyone there cracked up slightly at that moment. We had been expecting it for so long, but that made little difference. The only reason that I did not crack up myself was that I had to look after John Berryman, whose complete collapse was only making things worse for those around.
I took Berryman over to the White Horse where he started to pull himself together. It seemed important to make him do something – anything – so, after I had phoned the Times and the Herald-Tribune asking them to mention the fund in their obituaries, I set him to phone everyone else he knew to start raising money, and he did pretty well. I then wanted to go back to the hospital to help Liz and John Brinnin and Berryman, who seemed under control, came with me. It was no use. As soon as he got into St. Vincent’s he collapsed again, so I took him to Shumleys. By the end of the afternoon I had him full enough of martinis to leave him, and Howie Schoenfeld phoned his mother, Jill Berryman, who finally carried him off.
I spent most of Monday evening fighting off the Williamses and the Reaveys who had been pursuing me all day to know where Caitlin was, as they seemed determined to bother her. The doctors had told me that no one was to be told and I considered that I should obey their orders. In fact we had arranged that no information from the home was to be given to anyone except Rose Slivka, just in case she was tracked down. Neither the Williamses nor the Reaveys appeared at the hospital after their disappearance on Sunday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning Rose got Caitlin out of the home, but you will hear all about that from her. I did what I could to get money for the fund – Dwight Ripley sent $1000 which was very generous of him.
By this time I had thought I would be clear of everything except worrying about Caitlin, and I had no wish to see Dylan again; in fact I had not been to the bedside since Saturday morning, but had only looked in at the door at the oxygen tent. However, late on Tuesday a lot of troubles arose.
Someone had tried to get hold of Dylan’s bags from the Chelsea Hotel and they, very properly, had handed them over to the police. Here I would like to say that, although I know it was either the Reaveys or the Williamses, I doubt very much whether there was any intention of grabbing hold of his papers; the motive, I suspect, was to ingratiate themselves with Caitlin. Still, everything had been properly packed and Liz and I had told the hotel that they were only to be handed over to Caitlin. The management agreed with this. (We were none of us to know, on that Saturday morning, about her future misadventures).
David Slivka was staying with us as they had given up their bed to Caitlin and felt that, as she had just lost her husband, it would be tactful to leave her alone with Rose. He said there was some difficulty about paying for the funeral. I phoned Washington and left messages with the ambassador and Charles Sampson.
David Slivka and Ibraim Lassaw had, after consultation between Caitlin and the British Council, volunteered to make a death-mask, as a mark of their appreciation of Dylan. Incidentally, and this is important, neither of them want their names mentioned at this juncture as they do not wish it suggested that they are benefitting by Dylan’s name. They want to be left off that band-wagon, and in particular David does not wish Caitlin to know that he had anything to do with it now; he feels it might upset her. Ibraim, who only met Dylan once, had made a death-mask before and his experience was invaluable.
On Wednesday morning I got a worried call from Mr. McLean, the undertaker. No one seemed to be willing to take responsibility for the funeral expenses. I left a large number of fleas in a large number of British diplomatic ears around town and went up to the funeral parlour to reassure Mr. McLean. There I received a phone call from Chaim Raphael, saying that the consulate had no funds for such purposes but was behind us until the fund could deal with such things. This relieved McLean.
But there were other worries. It was Armistice Day which is a holiday in this country and the police would not, or could not, let Shaw, the Consul, have Dylan’s bags containing a suit a shirt and a tie. McLean then said he would get us a suit from his own establishment in the Bronx, as that would cost about ten dollars less than in the parlor on West 60th Street. I chose the best of the cheapest coffins I could, and ordered a simple name-plate, without dates, in order to save money.
At this moment Ibraim was called away on urgent business, leaving David alone to deal with the mask. I had to help removing the moulds. It was not a pleasant job. I should say here that the mask is not actually a mask, but rather a complete head: David has been working on it, but it was Ibraim’s experience which made it possible to make such a complete and complex mould.
McLean turned up with a plain blue suit and a white shirt, but the tie he had was awful, so I had to go out and find a store which was open to buy one that was more in keeping with Dylan’s taste in these matters.
I should have mentioned above that Caitlin had dinner with us Tuesday night, and had pulled herself together remarkably well.
I did not go back to the funeral parlor after Wednesday, although Dylan was laid out there for the whole of Thursday.
On Friday there was a short and simple memorial service at St. Luke’s Chapel on Hudson Street. (Christine goes to school there. They have the most remarkable collection of anglican priests, at least so far as their names go: Father Weed, Leach and Mole). Noeli Greenberg’s choir, which had offered their help, sang two motets by Morley. There were over four hundred people a the service, including E.E. Cummings, who had visited the hospital to offer his help, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Wittenberg and I managed to get the fund mentioned in all the reports.
It had been intended that Caitlin would sail, with Dylan, on the Media that afternoon, but she felt rightly that it was too much of a rush, so sailing was postponed (through the efforts of David Slivka) until the United States left on Tuesday.
This was good for Caitlin, but is certainly added to the strain on the Slivkas who behaved magnificently throughout. I will let Rose write you the story of her side in her own way. It will be more vivid and more accurate than anything I could do.
I don’t think that I really can add much more to this account of Dylan’s death except that I must state here that Liz Reitell’s behaviour throughout was beyond all possible praise and that she deserves the thanks of all Dylan’s friends everywhere, not only for what she did during the hours of his death, but also for the loving care she took of him in the time he was in this country. No one could have done more in trying to stop him from drinking too much and no one could have looked after him better. If Dylan was to survive this visit to this country, and Wynford only bears out the feeling that Liz, John Brinnin and I have that he knew he would not, he would have done so solely owing to her love and her care. In the hospital she was at his bedside day and night, for there was (or so we hoped) the possibility that he would recover consciousness, in which case he should have a friend beside him.
So far my account has been as factual and free from personal feelings as I could make it, but I will now add a few personal notes.
No doubt you will have heard rumours about lack of attention and other slanders. Wynford told me they were flying around. Do what you can to scotch them, for they are utterly without truth; they are the misbegotten verbal spawn of the Williamses and Reaveys who, being nothing in their own right, try to gain a reflected glory from their interference in the death of a man who was someone. I am grateful for the fact that neither brood will talk to me again. It is, as I told George when he said he wasn’t speaking to me, the fifth freedom – freedom from filth and boredom.
While I myself did everything I could during those difficult days, I must say that as well as Liz, John Brinnin did everything he possibly could and took the major part of the administrative strain. This I have to say as I think that Caitlin does not like him and feels he does not like her. John behaved perfectly throughout and my respect for him was vastly increased. Howard Moss, too, did all he could to help, as did Jack Helliker, Rollie McKenna, Kevin Rooney, Jody, Herb Hannum and various others. It is those who came to gawp and started to make mischief that I cannot now, and never will forgive.
Wynford’s sudden appearance on Wednesday was a flush of clean water through the stinking pool made by these people. He and I held a minor laughing wake for Dylan in the White Horse, the kind of wake that Dylan, Herb and I once held there for Norman Cameron. Wynford said he would write you a note telling you that this rather long report was following, so I hope you got it. I thought it better to take my time over writing and correcting rather than to say anything which could not be supported.
Dr. Hamilton is obtaining a copy of the autopsy report for me, and I will send it to you as soon as I get it.
I went over yesterday afternoon and looked at the death-mask, which is a full head. David is working on the hair. It is, I think, the best mask I have ever seen. Dylan, curiously, looks much younger than he did these last weeks and appears to be sleeping. It is a better head than the life-mask of Blake in the National Portrait Gallery and looks more alive. We think the original should go to Swansea’s Art Gallery (Wynford’s suggestion) with duplicates going to the National Portrait Gallery and the YUMA here. We are going to have a rubber mould made as soon as we can afford it for the purpose of making duplicates. These would be sold in aid of the fund, to such institutions as want it. I think that the plaster copies should sell for about $200 each and bronzes could be made at a price to be arranged. If we can afford it we will have an extra mould made here for England so that you can use it to help raise money.
When Frank Dobson heard about the mask on the phone, he wanted to know why we had not had it done by a professional moulder – that job would have cost nearly a thousand dollars. Then, when he saw it, Frank said that no professional could have done such a job. It could only have been done by friends. This gesture on the part of David and Ibraim, of appreciation of Dylan and in aid of the fund, should be given the recognition it deserves once the muck has blown away.
Regarding Dylan’s papers, I suggested to Caitlin that she should ask you to edit them. Wynford says that the suggestion has already been made that you, Bob Pocock and he look after any odds and ends in this country. I will be only too willing to do so, as there are quite a number of occasional pieces lying around, a limerick on McCarthy, for instance, and a rather drunken film-poem.
I hope that this letter will help clear up rumours and straighten things out. Dylan received all the best attention we could muster and we cannot blame either the doctors or the hospital for the outcome. The stroke might have hit him at any time – flying the Atlantic, for instance, or in a cross-country train. It was only because it happened in New York, near a hospital, that he survived so long.
In support of what I have said in praise of Liz, I should mention that, on the Friday before his collapse, Dylan came with her to dinner with us. We also had Alistair Reid and his wife, Herb Hannum, the Slivkas, a young negro novelist, Al. Anderson, and Howie Shoenfeld; Len and Ann Lye came in after dinner.
Liz had asked me privately beforehand to try to keep Dylan off whisky as it made him feel so ill. I drank nothing but beer all evening myself and he did the same, although there was whisky for those who wanted it. Dylan was in better from than I had seen him for a long time and made a lot of constructive suggestions to young Anderson. He made no effort to get sodden drunk. This was entirely due to Liz’s efforts.
Yesterday afternoon she came over to see me, to vet this account, and she says that she is going to try and write an account of Dylan’s last days. I have asked her if she will let you have a copy, even if it has to be kept confidential, and she says she will write you shortly. I feel that anything that we, who were his friends, can do to clear away the miasma and smog of the self-important and the publicists should be done.
I may say that my report is as full and accurate as I can make it at the moment. I already see where I have left out details and incidents which would make it more vivid, and I may sometime get around to writing you a fuller piece.
I was glad that we were able to get John Brinnin to meet Wynford, but sorry that Liz was away in the country, where she had gone after the memorial service, and we could not get hold of her.
I would like it clearly understood that the only people who can give a truthful account of these days, apart from myself, are the Slivkas, Liz, John Brinnin and Herb Hannum, who is a wit but not a writer. Any accounts which you receive from other sources are bound to be hearsay. In addition I would suggest that such accounts are founded in bad faith and, as I have said, a wish for personal aggrandisement. Some people seem to think that by rubbing themselves against a great poet they themselves will pass as great poets; the mercury is already wearing thin and what passed as silver is disclosed as nothing but zinc.
I hope this letter, the longest I have ever written, will be of some comfort to you and Dylan’s friends in clearing up matters. I will rely on your judgement as to what should be kept confidential and what to let out. Should you wish to use any part of it in any way, in answer to untruths in the press for instance, you are at liberty to do so. None of us have anything to hide: the only reasons for glossing over certain aspects of the truth are to avoid hurt to Caitlin.
Please write me a letter about what is being done in England, and about what happened there. I wrote this letter on fairly heavy paper, despite the air-mail charges, as I guess you will want to show bits of it around.
Give my love to Hedli, Bimba and Den. And to yourself as always,
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