Guest Blog: Hemingway Association Copy at Auction

Guest Blog by Joe Fay of Heritage Auction Galleries

From the Heritage Bookshelf: Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and an Old
 Spanish Civil War Buddy

Ernest Hemingway was the prototypical man’s man. He hunted big game. He punched other writers in bars. He loved a good bull fight. And he ran to wars when most people were running away from them. It was during one of these wars, specifically the Greek-Turkish War in 1922, where Hemingway met Col. Charles Sweeny, another rock-‘em-sock-‘em alpha male. Charles Sweeny was the perfect type of companion, idol, and perhaps father figure for Hemingway. Legend has it that Sweeny fought in seven wars for five different countries, and knew military history and tactics like no one else Hemingway had ever met before. Hemingway once wrote that Sweeny possessed “one of the most brilliant military brains I have ever known.”

The two became fast, close, and lasting friends, and would often see each other in war zones, at the bicycle races in Paris, on hunting expeditions & fishing trips, and later in life, they would sit and trade old war stories and compare their collections of battle scars. Hemingway even used Sweeny as the model for one of his characters in the novel Across the River and into the Trees. The two old war horses spent a lot of time together in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, where Hemingway drew the inspiration for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which he wrote largely in Cuba in 1939, and was published by Scribner’s in 1940.

Hemingway. Sweeny. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Cuba. 1940. All of these bits of information are important to me as I sit at my desk, staring at a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, affectionately inscribed and signed by Hemingway to Sweeny, with Sweeny’s ownership signature dated “Habana, 1940” on the front pastedown. Additionally, Sweeny has inscribed it to a lady friend of his, mentioning Hemingway in the inscription.

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It is a rare sight to see such an intimately inscribed Hemingway title with such a personal connection from the author to the receiver. Hemingway writes on the front free endpaper, “For Charley with / the same affection and the / same admiration as always / Ernest.” I doubt there were very many men for whom Hemingway would have had both affection and admiration, much less write down for posterity that fact, which makes this book an even more impressive rarity to me.

It’s also fascinating to try and connect the dots on an item like this when cataloging it. Just from the information on the book, we can assume that Hemingway gave the book to Sweeny in Cuba in the year of publication, where Sweeny wrote his name, the place, and date inside. Sweeny was probably in Cuba specifically to see Hemingway, presumably to motor out into the Gulf of Mexico and pull some Marlin out of the deep blue sea. Or perhaps Sweeny was on his way to another battlefield, and simply stopped off at Hemingway’s house for a shot of tequila.

I’ve had an absolute blast researching the connection between Hemingway and Sweeny, and have come to think of the book as mine in a certain way. That always happens with a few books in every auction. You spend so much time and effort discovering new information (at least new to you) about some of the books that you can’t help falling in love with some of them. Alas, every love story ends. The book will soon leave our hands here at Heritage. It is lot 36506 in our Rare Books Auction #6048 in Beverly Hills, October 14-16. It was a pleasure to live with for awhile, and I will miss it. Much like Sweeny missed Hemingway after the latter’s suicide in 1961, when the ole colonel was an honorary pallbearer at the great author’s (and better friend’s) funeral.

This article (and image) appears in Heritage’s September Historic News e-newsletter (vol. 6, no. 9). Reposted with permission of the author. Thank you, Joe!

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