Two Spongers

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

In my reading, I have come across two cases of great writers being taken in by freeloaders with pretensions to gentility. Most recently, I have read D. H. Lawrence’s Memoir of Maurice Magnus, which appears in its entirety in the New York Review of Books Collection of Lawrence’s essays entitled The Bad Side of Books, edited by Geoff Dyer. The sponger in question—Maurice Magnus—was getting into serious financial problems when he hooked up with the British writer. He claimed to be Isadora Duncan’s manager (he wasn’t) and to be a writer of some note (he was, but of very little note). Attaching himself to the young Lawrence and his wife like a barnacle, Magnus was forever showing up and asking for “one last favor.” Only when Lawrence left him behind in Malta did he finally shake himself of the infestation. And that was only because Magnus, fearing to be deported to Italy for check kiting and other financial crimes, committed suicide by poisoning.

The experience led Lawrence to conclude:

It is the humble, the wistful, the would-be-loving souls today who bully us with their charity-demanding insolence. They just make up their minds, these needful sympathetic souls, that one is there to do their will.

Henry Miller (1891-1980)

The second sponger fastened himself to Henry Miller, who wrote about the experience in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. The whole episode is summed up by the Wikipedia entry for the Miller Book:

The third part tells the story of when Miller was visited by an old friend from Paris, the French astrologer Conrad Moricand, in 1947. Moricand had written Miller that he was penniless. Miller invited Moricand to live with him in Big Sur for the rest of his life. Moricand arrived at the end of the year. The arrangement quickly turned into a disaster. Although Miller had told Moricand about the isolated and rugged life of Big Sur, Moricand was unprepared and complained often about the weather, food, and his own poor health, among other things. Miller put Moricand in a hotel in Monterey, and arranged for him to return to France. Moricand did not immediately return to Europe, however, instead writing Miller angry letters about his perceived mistreatment. Miller wrote about this episode, which would be published in 1956 as A Devil in Paradise, and a year later as the third part of Big Sur, called “Paradise Lost.”

It is interesting to know that one can always be taken in by sharpers who prey on artists with generous impulses. Sometimes, indeed, no good deed goes unpunished.