Patrick Gregory

Editor's note: At the Shakespeare and Company Project, we try to match the names in Sylvia Beach's lending library records to the biographies of actual people. Over the last month, for example, we've discovered that "Miss Lida Bauerberg" is Leda Bauer, "Mrs. Rose Lane" is Rose Wilder Lane, and "Miss Myron Grant" is Myran Grant. The work is rewarding, yet slow-going. Recently, we tried to identify "Patrick Gregory," who has a lending library card from 1958. On mere conjecture, we contacted Justina Gregory, Sophia Smith Professor Emerita of Classical Languages and Literatures at Smith College, to ask if her husband, Patrick Gregory, might be the same person who visited Beach in 1958 and borrowed three books. She confirmed that it was! We then asked if Mr. Gregory might tell us about his connection with Beach and Shakespeare and Company, and why he borrowed two books about psychedelics along with Wyndham Lewis's Tarr (1918). Below is his generous response.

Patrick Gregory's Lending Library Card

Patrick Gregory's Lending Library Card

I met Sylvia Beach through an introduction by Bryher, a close personal friend of my parents and a long-time patron of Shakespeare and Company. Having served two years of military service, I had descended on Paris with the unoriginal intention of somehow writing the Great-American-Novel.

After our first meeting, Sylvia conceived a scheme for my undertaking a translation of Henri Michaux's Miserable Miracle, a poetic and highly idiosyncratic study of his experiments with the hallucinatory drugs mescaline and LSD. The books listed on my lending library card are readings relevant to that project—except for Wyndham Lewis's Tarr. (I was reading Lewis with great interest at the time.)

A meeting was arranged with Michaux (who was a notoriously reclusive figure after the tragic death of his wife). We got along well, and though his English was strangely fragmentary and instinctive rather that substantive, he and I managed during a couple of visits at his apartment to produce a brief sample translation from the book that subsequently appeared in New World Writing. Meanwhile I spent a couple of months in a small cottage in rural Burgundy struggling with a satisfactory rendition of the entire opus. To my profound humiliation I discovered that my limited literary and linguistic capabilities were insufficient for the task, and when I confessed my failure to Michaux he characteristically responded with  sympathy rather than disappointment.

After our initial meeting, Sylvia, who knew that I was living on fragile financial means, got it into her head—quite incorrectly—that I was undernourished, and arranged that we would meet for tea at her place once a week. I welcomed the opportunity: I enjoyed her conversation, but was disconcerted by the food. She invariably set before me a large plate of fine pastries that exceeded in quantity my most gluttonous aspirations, and which she herself never ate—I think she may have been diabetic. In spite of my protestations she insisted that I clean my plate before leaving. I did so, but only out of a sense of duty.  

Sylvia Beach was a woman of great generosity, genuine personal warmth, and tightly gripped convictions. Her professional activity was spent in promoting the work of those authors in which she saw values of urgent concern. In short, her life was devoted to the reputation of others, not herself.

Book covers

Patrick Gregory's copy of Henri Michaux's L'Espace du dedans (1945) with inscriptions from Beach and Michaux

Patrick Gregorywas born in New York City and worked as a book editor in New York and Boston. Among his publications are a translation of René Girard's Violence and the Sacred (1977) and a novel The Daguerrotype (2004).

Cite this document

Gregory, Patrick. “Meeting Sylvia Beach for Tea.” Shakespeare and Company Project, version 1.5.7. Center for Digital Humanities, Princeton University. November 28, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024.