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Porteus was short and blue-eyed, impish and good-humoured, shabbily dressed in a dark shirt and hairy tie, and unusually animated for a man in his seventies. He was interested in my background, education, writing and teaching year in Japan, and measured his co-operation while he subtly probed to see if I would be hostile or sympathetic to Lewis. As I gained his confidence, he was willing to portray himself in a negative light. He told me about Lewis’s keen interest in Porteus’s sexual affairs, and how jealous Lewis was of his own attractive and closely guarded young wife. When the young Porteus proudly showed Lewis his art work, he crumpled up the drawings, threw them straight into the dustbin and exclaimed, “I don’t want to look at that rubbish!” The first of their many quarrels occurred when Porteus refused to let Lewis interfere with his early study of the Master and Lewis complained, “When you began to piss against my leg I should have chased you away.” During his affair with a Jewish girl whom Lewis knew, Porteus suggestively quoted an ejaculatory passage in Tarr and said, “I only go to her occasionally to get milked.” Lewis, missing the allusion to his own novel, thought it referred to a more exotic perversion.

In Self Condemned (1954) Lewis satirised Porteus as “Rotter” Parkinson, who arouses the wrath of the autobiographical hero René Harding by reading out loud his article in fulsome praise of Harding. As the furious Harding takes his leave, Lewis turns the sexual into an intellectual metaphor: “His critical frenzy had one of its regular spasms. He tore his best friend to pieces and himself as well; so much devotion was embarrassing; how could one really feel at ease with a parasite, and with what ridiculous assiduity he had encouraged this man to feed upon his brain. He went there perhaps once a month, to be milked, as it were.” With bitter irony Porteus noted that he, the model for the fictional Parkinson, later contracted Parkinson’s disease.

The disease interfered with his self-taught but elegant Chinese calligraphy, of which he was justly proud. After reading Ezra Pound’s Cathay, Porteus taught himself Chinese and drew Chinese characters for the reprint cover of Fenollosa’s The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, edited by Pound. Before publishing his Chinese Cantos, Pound asked Porteus to check the ideograms for accuracy. His essay on “Ezra Pound and His Chinese Character: A Radical Examination” in Peter Russell’s 1950 volume, criticised the radical defects of Pound’s Chinese but praised the beauty of his imprecise translations. He also accurately predicted, “The significance of China for the future of the world cannot be over-estimated.”

As our conversations and correspondence progressed, Porteus gradually revealed his background, multifarious vocations and, to quote D. H. Lawrence, his “absolute necessity to move”. He was born in Leeds, the oldest of three sons of a Factories Inspector who moved about frequently. “My parents were poor but well educated: and musicians, eldest each of families of seven . . . My Father began under Socialist and Methodist influences, and joined H.M. Factory Inspectorate initially to ameliorate the lot of the underpaid proletariat . . . My Papa was a kindly man. As a Civil Servant of a type rare today, he refused bribes, and kept his mouth shut about anything but his work among police and doctors about industrial diseases such as asbestosis (a pioneer there) and other poisons.”

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