Yes, I liked him, and I’m glad I won’t be seeing him again

James Schuyler at the Chelsea Hotel, NYC, 17 Nov 1988.
(Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images)

In 1979, at the end of a difficult decade clouded by ill-health, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Schuyler took on a new assistant named Helena—a young poet who would soon become a close friend. Her role was varied and vital, from preparing meals and medicine to applying for crucial grants on Schuyler’s behalf, and so her departure in 1986 was keenly felt. Her enormous shows were soon filled by Jonathan, a man in his late-30s whose father Schuyler had once kissed passionately at the home of W. H. Auden. Jonathan lasted three years; his exit was announced in Schuyler’s diary in January of 1989.

The Diary Entry

Tuesday, January 17, 1989

Sunlight, soft as the warming-up winter morning is going to be, brighter and then less so, as the clouds move about. A likeable day, and better than yesterday, when, finally, in a quick-tempered moment, I fired my assistant. It doesn’t make me happy to have done so, but I am relieved: finally, one can not go on and on with a forty-year old man with the pilfering, not to say thievish, instincts of a child. Even his one stout defender, his brother, finally turned him out. No one can help him because he won’t let them: if he says, “It won’t ever happen again!” he believes it. In fact, except when he’s caught, I doubt that he’s much aware it has happened, and, quite soon, not aware at all. But I don’t feel much sympathy: it’s hard to take pity on a pickpocket, when it’s your pocket that’s picked.

Yes, I liked him, and I’m glad I won’t be seeing him again.

Further Reading

Schuyler’s original diary is amongst the James Schuyler Papers at Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego. If, like me, you’re unable to make the trip, the next best thing would be to get your hands on a copy of The Diary of James Schuyler, edited by Nathan Kernan and published in 1996 by Black Sparrow Press. Entries span from 1967 to 1991. Footnotes throughout help enormously, as does the chronology in the back.

Diary entry reprinted from The Diary of James Schuyler. Courtesy the Estate of James Schuyler, Raymond Foye, Executor.

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