Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby (June 4, 1898 – December 10, 1929) was an American heir, bon vivant, poet, and for some, an exemplar of the Lost Generation in American literature.

Born Henry Sturgis Crosby (his parents later changed his middle name to "Grew") in Boston's exclusive Back Bay neighborhood, he was the son of one of the richest banking families in New England and the nephew of the son of J.P. Morgan, the financier. As such, he was heir to a substantial family fortune. Profoundly affected by his experiences as a volunteer ambulance driver in World war I, Crosby abandoned all pretence of living the expected life of a privileged Bostonian. Instead, he moved to Paris with his wife and together they devoted themselves to art and poetry.

During World War I, Harry Crosby said he wanted to escape "the horrors of Boston and particularly of Boston virgins" and volunteered with the American Field Service in France, serving at the Front as a driver in the dangerous ambulance service. On November 22, 1917, a German shell seriously wounded a man standing next to Crosby. As Crosby drove several wounded soldiers to a medical aid station, his ambulance was destroyed by artillery fire. Miraculously, Crosby was unhurt. He declared later that that was the night he changed from a boy to a man.

In 1921 Crosby married Mary Phelps Jacob, who later changed her name to Caresse. Two days after their wedding, they moved to Paris, France, where he worked in his uncle's bank. Uninterested in a banker's life and desiring to pursue life as a poet, Crosby quit his job at the Morton Harjes Bank and in April 1927 he and wife Caresse founded a book publishing company. Originally named "Éditions Narcisse", it was later changed to the Black Sun Press. By 1928, Harry Crosby had gained some recognition as a poet after the publishing of his "Red Skeletons" collection said to be heavily indebted to Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Black Sun Press produced finely crafted books in small editions, including works by, among others, D. H. Lawrence, Archibald MacLeish, James Joyce, Kay Boyle, and Hart Crane. It also issued two more volumes of Crosby's poetry, "Chariot of the Sun" and "Transit of Venus". In 1929, Crosby published "Mad Queen", a collection of verse influenced by Surrealism that includes withering attacks on Bostonian tradition. "Torchbearer", a collection of his poetry with an afterward by Ezra Pound, and "Aphrodite in Flight", a meditation on love and the principles of aeronautics, were both published posthumously. A boxed set containing "Chariot of the Sun" with D. H. Lawrence's intro, "Transit of Venus" with T. S. Eliot's intro, "Sleeping Together" with Stuart Gilbert's intro and "Torchbearer" was brought out in 1931.

On December 10, 1929, Crosby and Josephine Bigelow, "née" Rotch, a newly married woman with whom Crosby had been carrying on an affair, committed suicide. Some Crosby scholars maintain that Harry shot Josephine and several hours later shot himself. Others suggest that Josephine shot herself first, leaving Crosby little choice but to follow suit. Regardless of the exact details, Crosby's death, particularly the macabre circumstances under which it occurred, scandalised Boston's Back Bay society.

Following her husband's death, Caresse Crosby edited his papers and continued the work of the Black Sun Press. She published and translated some of the works of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker and others, as well as volumes of poetry ("Crosses of Gold" (Léon Pichon, 1935), "Painted Shores" (Black Sun Press, 1927), "Poems for Harry Crosby" (Black Sun Press, 1931)). Alvin Redman published her autobiography, "Passionate Years", in 1955.


* Wolff, Geoffrey: "Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby" (Random House, 1976) ISBN 0-394-47450-3; (repr. New York Review of Books, 2003) ISBN 1-59017-066-0


Minkoff, George Robert. "A Bibliography of the Black Sun Press ... With an introduction by Caresse Crosby". (Great Neck, N.Y.: G. R. Minkoff, 1970)

External links

* Harry Crosby tribute site from [http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/crosby/crosby.htm Modern American Poetry]
* [http://oldpoetry.com/oprintall/Harry%20Crosby Poems by Harry Crosby] from the Oldpoetry.com Archives
* [http://www.banger.com/banger/crosby/ Selected Poems by Harry Crosby]

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