The year before he died Ford Madox Ford used to walk around the campus at Olivet College like a pensioned veteran of forgotten wars. We took him for a kind of vast, benevolent and harmless Uncle Toby, leaning on his stick in class or sitting in his dark little basement office and wheezing out his stories of Henry James as Toby might have spoken of Marlborough. His books seemed like medals achieved, perhaps, in the Crimea; and we read Auden, Kafka, Evelyn Waugh.
We were no different from the rest of the world. We knew vaguely that his Tietjens books were about the first World War and we suspected that they might be a good enough account of a soldier's disillusioning experiences--but we had read all that before. If any of us went far enough to look at the introductory letter to A Man Could Stand Up--, the third in the series, he would find Ford confirming it:
"This is what the late war was like: this is how modern fighting of the organized, scientific type affects the mind. If, for reasons of gain, or, as is still more likely out of dislike for collective types other than your own, you choose to permit your rulers to embark on another war, this-or something very accentuated along similar lines-is what you will have to put up with! I hope, in fact, that this series of books, for what it is worth, may make war seem undesirable."
A little afterward some of us went to war ourselves and later, coming back, took Ford's novels down from the shelf to see if his easy prediction had come true. It seemed impossible that we could have been so wrong.
For some peculiar reason of his own he had hoaxed us; he was . . .