Captain Louis Henry Cohn was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Cleveland, but his mother was from Alsace. He enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and then transferred to the regular French army at the beginning of World War I. He served with distinction, rising to the rank of Captain and was on the Army's General Staff. For the rest of his life he was called Captain Cohn. He earned several honors from the French, including the Legion of Honor (Legion d'Honneur).
Captain Cohn began corresponding with Ernest Hemingway in the spring of 1930. In his first letter to Hemingway, Cohn describes himself as a collector and introduces the idea of doing a bibliography of Hemingway's work. A definitive bibliography had been commissioned by Random House, with the stipulation that Hemingway write an introduction and sign copies of the work. The preface to Cohn's A Bibliography of the Works of Ernest Hemingway notes Hemingway's feelings about the idea: "Mr. Hemingway was opposed to the idea from its inception, but on realizing my determination to do the book, whether or no, he was most gracious in verifying data for me and in correcting certain errors of mine. His point of view is best expressed in the comment appearing on the frontispiece 'Dear Captain Cohn, You may have this [a page of manuscript] for your book if you want it but truly, very truly, I think it all balls to publish bibliographies of living writers. E.H.' and the following from his letter to me accompanying it, 'Please do not take the typewritten notation on the mss. personally. It was my opinion when you first wrote to me that you were doing a bibliography, it was my opinion when you asked if I would see you about it in N.Y., and it remains my considered opinion today. So I would like it recorded since otherwise I might seem to favour such a compilation. A bibliography may be of interest to you because you love books but I do not love them at all'" (pp. 10-11).
During 1930, in addition to compiling the Hemingway bibliography, Cohn married Marguerite Arnold and opened the House of Books bookshop. Marguerite Cohn became a partner in House of Books and her husband gave her his extensive Hemingway collection. She was to continue adding material to the collection after Cohn's death in 1953.
Through the combined efforts of Louis and Marguerite Cohn, the House of Books grew into one of the most important American bookstores specializing in modern first editions. Cohn also published a series of books entitled "The Crown Octavos" under the imprint of the House of Books. Number two of the series was Hemingway's God Rest You Merry Gentlemen published in a limited edition of 300 copies in mid-April of 1933, the first appearance of this short story. It was published, with some revisions, later in the same year in Winner Take Nothing. Cohn noted about its sale: "With all the banks in the United States closed, I sent out a press release to a few newspapers and announcements to a few book-stores and received over a thousand orders for an edition of 300 copies" (Avocations, 1 (January 1938), p. 353).
Cohn was also responsible for the facsimile publication of Hemingway's "Bastard Note" issued as a commemorative greeting in December of 1931. This facsimile of the proof sheet of the legal disclaimer to be included in the second printing of A Farewell to Arms (1929) was signed by Hemingway, with a humorous comment about using "bastard" rather than "illegitimate child" in the disclaimer.
Cohn attempted to publish one other Hemingway item. Twelve copies of Four Poems were to have been privately printed in August of 1930 to prevent them from being pirated. The poems ("The Age Demanded," "The Earnest Liberal's Lament," "The Lay Poets With Footnotes," and "The Soul of Spain with McAlmon and Bird the Publishers") had originally appeared in the journal, Der Querschnitt. Four Poems was never published because it would have been denied copyright due to certain censored words that Hemingway had used in the poems. Only the manuscript and galley proofs survive and are part of the Cohn Collection. (See: Audre Hanneman, Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography for notes about Cohn's publications of Hemingway material).
Cohn, Louis Henry. A Bibliography of the Works of Ernest Hemingway. (New York: Random House, 1931).
Hemingway, Ernest. "Bastard Note." ([New York: House of Books, 1931]).
Hemingway, Ernest. Four Poems. (New York: House of Books,). Never Published.
Hemingway, Ernest. God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. (New York: House of Books, 1933).
Letter from Carol Rothkopf, December 2015.
This collection of books, periodicals, correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera and papers relating to Ernest Hemingway was gathered together by Captain Louis Henry Cohn (d. 1953), a bookseller who was Hemingway's first bibliographer.