Bruce Calvert—the man who cancelled Christmas

Bruce Calvert advert pic 001Found in the classified column of The New Masses for May 1927 is this advert for The Open Road, a monthly magazine described by its founding editor, Bruce Calvert, as ‘A Zinelet of High Voltage for People Not Afraid to Think’ and a cure for ‘ Mental Obstipation and Brain Fag ‘.

Calvert, who ran the operation from his home in Pequannock , New Jersey, delightfully dubbed by him ‘Pigeon-Roost-in-the Woods’, had been a hard-bitten magazine editor in Chicago and Pennsylvania before moving to the backwoods of Griffiths, near Gary, in his home state of Indiana, to take up the life of an anarchist-freethinker inspired by, among others, Walt Whitman and Thoreau. In 1908 he had brought out the first issue of The Open Road, which appeared regularly until 1915. Espousing a philosophy of ‘right thinking and right living ‘, Calvert made his magazine a fount of various heterodoxies which delighted in offending straight-laced home-loving and family-orientated Americans. In April 1911 one of the most controversial issues challenged the hijacking of Christmas by commerce—a point of view which earned him the soubriquet of ‘Indiana’s Prize Crank ‘.

By November 1911 ‘The World League for a Sane Christmas’ had established its HQ in Room 431 of the State Life Building in downtown Indianapolis. Members who paid their $10 subscription could expect their money to go towards various planned publications as well as a booklet entitled The Christmas Insanity. Moreover, each new member was obliged to sign the following agreement:

‘I will from this time forward neither give nor accept Christmas presents outside my own immediate household, and I will do all I can by distributing literature and other propaganda work to discourage the senseless practice of indiscriminate Christmas giving, to the end that true human love and brotherhood may reign in the hearts of men instead of the maudlin insanity which now disgraces the day ‘ Continue reading

I once met A.E. Coppard

icoppar001p1Found – a  handwritten  letter signed by E.V. Knox (‘Evoe’) to someone called Magniont asking for recollections of A.E. Coppard. This was almost certainly Dr Jean-Louis Magniont who translated Coppard into French. The letter is undated but mention of a recent BBC adaptation of Coppard’s stories dates it as 1969. ‘Evoe’ writes:

I will tell you all I can recollect about A.E. Coppard. But I fear that it is very little and perhaps not very helpful to you.

As you mentioned, I wrote a small episode, and he considerably longer one, for the Kidlington Pageant of 1931. Those were the days when pageants kept popping up everywhere. This one was arranged by Frank Evay, who lived at Shepton Manor where the pageant was held. He was a friend of mine and an eccentric. For instance, he collected tramps, gave them a meal and a the nights lodging in a barn and sent them on their way. He introduced me to A.E. Coppard whom he had first met, as he told me, when Coppard was collecting tickets at Oxford railway station.

I remember him as small, prosaic, and self-contained and perhaps determined not to be eccentric. Possibly that is an illusion of my own. I became at once a “fan.” Coppard, I think, was very little known at that time, for at a dinner of a literary club I told Desmond McCarthy, then perhaps our leading critic, that I thought that Coppard was our best English short story writer, and Desmond had not heard of him. He said however- ”Well we must try to read this Coppard of yours.”  Clearly he did. Continue reading

R.M. Dawkins – The most eccentric professor (ever)

Osbert Lancaster

Found in Osbert Lancaster’s With an Eye to the Future (John Murray, 1967)– this account of Oxford professor R.M. Dawkins (1871-1955):

No eccentric professor of fiction could possibly hold a candle to the reality of Professor Dawkins whose behaviour and appearance placed him, even in an Oxford far richer in striking personalities than it is today, in a class by himself. Ginger-moustached, myopic, stooping, clad in one of a succession of suits which he ordered by postcard from the general store of a village in Northern Ireland, he always betrayed his whereabouts by a cackling laugh of great carrying power. (Once when passing alongside the high wall of Exeter, startled by this extreme sound, I looked up and saw the professor happily perched in the higher branches of a large chestnut tree hooting like a demented macaw.)

Richard MacGillivray Dawkins was an archaeologist and a scholar of classical and modern Greek. After studying  engineering, a windfall enabled him at the age of twenty-six to enter Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read classics.  After graduating he became associated with the British School at Athens, eventually becoming its director. He studied Greek dialects and was involved in excavations in Crete, at Sparta and elsewhere. From 1916 to 1919 he served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in eastern Crete. In 1920 he was appointed to a chair of Byzantine and modern Greek at Oxford, and in 1922 he became a fellow of Exeter College (from which he retired in 1939, continuing to hold rooms there until his death) and an honorary fellow of his old college, Emmanuel. He had known Evelyn Waugh, Ronald Firbank and was very generous to his friend the difficult and impecunious genius Baron Corvo. He was also an early collector of watercolours by Edward Lear. Most of this info and a portrait by the British Vorticist William Roberts can be found at English Cubist. Lancaster illustrated his piece with a drawing of the professor perched in the tree.

300px-Rubaiyat_Morris_Burne-Jones_Manuscript

The Literary Cranks of London – Omar Khayyam Club

We could find no further copies of the 1894 London journal The Sketch which in that year was running a series 'The literary cranks of London.' However the 1899 publication The Book of Omar and Rubaiyat has an essay on the Omar Khayyam Club entitled 'The literary cranks of London' by 'A Member' which is almost certainly reprinted from the series. The book shows a menu card for the society designed by the PRB artist Simeon Solomon. The other club in the series was 'The Johnson Club' - there were possibly more.
Mention is made here of 'The Ghouls' which may pay further investigation... Of the many societies that flourished then the Omar Khayyam is one of the few to have survived and still meets. There is also an American chapter.

THE OMAR KHAYYAM CLUB

By A MEMBER

The literary cranks of London are as the sand of the sea-shore for number, and yet they have rather diminished than increased during the last few years. The Wordsworth Society no longer collects archbishops and bishops and learned professors in the Jerusalem Chamber to solve the mystery of existence under the guidance of the great poet of Rydal, and one is rather dubious as to whether the Goethe Society has much to say for itself to-day, although in its time it has crammed the Westminster Town Hall with enthu- siastic lovers of German literature. The Shelley Society one only hears of from time to time by its ghastly bur- den of debt,a state which perhaps reflects the right kind of glory upon its great hero, whose aptitude for making paper boats out of Bank of England notes, if apocryphal, is, at any rate, a fair exemplification of his capacity for getting rid of money.And as to the Browning Society, with its blue-spectacled ladies, deep in the mysteries of Sordello, if the cash balance, which is said at Girton to have been expended in sweetmeats, had any existence, at the London centre, one knows not what confectioner at the West End has reaped the benefit. There are, however, some fairly flourishing organizations at this moment. One of them is the "Sette of Odd Volumes," another the Johnson Club, to say nothing of the "Vaga- bonds," the " Ghouls," and the latest comer, the Omar Khayyam Club.

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