John Langdon-Davies: poet, Conscientous Objector, pro-Anarchist (1897 – 19 71)

The Complete Self-Educator (nd. but c1939), a copy of which we found in the archives at Jot HQ the other day,  was one of those doorstep self-help books that Odhams brought out in the late thirties. We have already discussed various aspects of a companion volume in previous Jots. The Complete Self-Educator, however, is a different kind of multi-author book altogether and a much more challenging one. It sought to give the average intelligent reader a grounding in the principles of a number of important academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, philosophy and logic.

Some of the writers were prominent experts in their field—people like Professor Erich Roll( psychology) and Max Black ( philosophy). Others, like Stephen Swingler, who later become a Labour minister, were relative newcomers who had published work in areas not altogether related to the subjects on which they were invited to write. One of these tyros was John Langdon- Davies, who had published books on Spain and women in society, but whose topic for the Complete Self- Educator was ‘The English Common People’.

Among the rather conventional fellow contributors Langdon-Davies stood out as a bit of a maverick. Born in Zululand, when it was part of South Africa, he came to England as a young boy and went on to attend Tonbridge School, which he hated. He was not, it must be said, officer cadet material. When he was called up in 1917 he declared himself a Conscientious Objector and as such served a short prison sentence. Declared unfit for military service, he lost two of the three scholarships for St John’s College Cambridge that he had gained at school. At Cambridge he tried to live off the remaining scholarship, but was obliged to abandon his studies. As a result, he switched his attention to the fields of archaeology and anthropology and ended up with diplomas in these disciplines. While an undergraduate Langdon-Davies did, however, manage to publish a volume of poems, The Dream Splendid, which received some favourable reviews. 

After the War Langdon-Davies embraced leftish politics, promoting the cause of women with his book A Short History of Women and embracing the anarchist cause in the Spanish Civil War with Behind the Spanish Barricades. His opposition to Nazism, fascism and ‘scientific racism’ can be gleaned from the opening paragraph of ‘The Story of the Common People’.

‘…English history is what it is because geography and geology made England what it is. We can go further than this, and say that geography and geology have made the Englishman himself what he is…’

Continue reading

Colin Wilson: two early reviews of The Outsider

Jot 101 The Outsider picFound among the papers of the academic Patrick O’Donoghue, two clippings of reviews—by Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly—of The Outsider (1956), the astonishing debut of the twenty-four year old, largely self-taught, Colin Wilson that branded him a fully paid up member of the Angry Young Men brigade and ‘ Britain’s first, and so far last, home-grown existentialist star’.

An ‘Angry Young Man’ because, rather fortunately for Wilson, The Outsider appeared from the leftish publisher Gollancz in the same month ( May) that John Osborne’s  ‘Look Back in Anger ‘ opened at the Royal Court in London. We don’t know whether the two very different reviewers—Toynbee, a Bohemian critic in his forties and a communist, who had been expelled from Rugby School,  and Connolly, very much of the Auden Generation, had seen the play before they wrote their reviews, but had they done so, judging from the enthusiasm with which they wrote about the book , it is possible that they identified both book and play as evidence of a ne Continue reading

A prophecy of War in Europe: Cyril Joad on writing, speaking and the fatal perils of muddled thinking

Jot 101 Joad thinking and writing cover 001Found in the Jot 101 archive, is a pocket-sized book of 320 closely printed pages, bound in Rexene with a dust jacket and published by Odhams, which is entitled How to Write, Think and Speak Correctly. Undated, it appears to date from the late nineteen thirties, possibly 1939, and is edited by C. E. M. Joad, otherwise known as Cyril Joad.


Joad, who was professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College at the time, was arguably at the height of his fame, though he had yet to become that ‘ controversial ‘ member of the BBC ‘Brains Trust’ programme whose most famous riposte to any philosophical point was ‘ It depends what you mean by…’ Joad’s first book appeared in 1907, but by 1939 he was averaging two books a year on subjects ranging from ethics, rationalism, socialism, pacifism and psychology, with departures into more exotic areas such as ESP and the Paranormal.


Joad was what we today might call a ‘popular ‘philosopher—a category into which we could place such writers of our own time as A. C. Grayling and Alain de Botton. If pushed he would have described himself as a Rationalist, but his range of interests would seem to suggest that he saw himself as a bit of a political and philosophical maverick. His Wikipedia entry is so crammed with detail regarding his various volte-faces and intellectual re-inventions of himself that it is hard sometimes to pin him down. Here was a Rationalist who wrote on the Paranormal, a one-time pacifist who supported the war effort against Hitler, an agnostic who eventually embraced Christianity, a one-time Socialist and admirer of G. Bernard  Shaw who supported Mosley’s New Party for a short while, a writer on ethics who blithely admitted a desire to defraud the railway companies. Eventually, as we all know, he came a cropper by being discovered holding a third class ticket in a first class carriage. This come-uppance, which was reported gleefully in all the papers, resulted in his expulsion from the BBC and Birkbeck. And though publishers continued to publish Joad’s  books until his death five years later, his public career was effectively over. Continue reading

The Man who tapped the Secrets of the Universe

Jot 101 Faulkner front cover 002We’re not talking here about such major scientists as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Paul Dirac or even Steven Hawking. The man in question is the self-taught American Walter Russell (1871 – 1963 ), who in addition to being a successful  painter and sculptor was also, according to a pamphlet by the religious writer Glenn Clark,  a ‘ super genius ‘ who knew the ‘hidden secrets of the Universe’.

A copy of this pamphlet, which once belonged to the ballerina Sheila Faulkner, was found at Jot HQ. In it  Mr Clark, a former teacher of English at an obscure liberal arts college, was one of many published by ‘ The Malecaster Park Publishing Company ‘ of St Paul, Minnesota. Others Clark titles published by Malecaster Park  include What Would Jesus Do?, I Would Lift Up mine Eyes, The Thought Farthest Out and The Secret to Power in Business.

This particular pamphlet, which sold for 50 cents in the U.S. and bears the UK price tag of 3/9d, seems to have been a particularly big seller. First published in 1946 in an edition of 25,000, it had sold solidly for nine years and by 1955 had reached its sixth printing. This is not entirely surprising. After all, who wouldn’t want to discover the Secrets of the Universe on the way to achieving those very American goals of ‘ Health, Wealth and Happiness’.

However, the main reason why so many people bought the book was that they wanted to know more about the multifarious career of Russell, who began as a $8 a month hotel bell boy, found fame as a popular painter and sculptor who owned  a hotel-sized mansion, became inter aliaa sort of business guru who lectured on the secrets of success to IBM employees and gained a reputation as an all-round visionary thinker. In addition, he promoted some scientific theories that on examination have elements in common with those of the quantum physicists, such as Dirac and Bohr, who had challenged the Relativity of Einstein in the 1920s.     Continue reading

Some lesser known quotations

Dorothy Baker

After over fifty years of varied reading the Liberal party leader Viscount Samuel (1870 -1963) collected around a thousand quotations for his own use. In 1947 the Cresset Press decided to publish about half of these arranged under several heads. We at Jot HQ were sufficiently impressed by the noble lord’s wide reading and discernment to select what we feel were some of the most perceptive of these pieces of wisdom.

It seems to me that we all look at nature too much, and live with her too little.

The question of common-sense is always “ What is it good for?”—-a question which would abolish the rose and be answered triumphantly by the cabbage.

Keats is an example of literature untouched by science

It is just when ideas are lacking that a phrase is most welcome

Of what use is freedom of thought if it will not produce freedom of action?

Absence of occupation is not rest.

Great learning and great shallowness go together very well under one hat.

The depths of the fathomless loyalty that is in the heart of the dog.

Crime is the anti-social form of the struggle for existence

No, Sir; we had talk enough, but no conversation; there was nothing
Dr SAMUEL JOHNSON Continue reading

A Party for Tony and Marcelle Quinton

Quinton and Marcelle party list 001Found among papers at Jot HQ ( heaven knows where it came from ) is this printed list of the good and great ( some not so good) who were invited by a friend or friends to attend a party for the philosopher (Lord) AnthonyQuinton and his American-born wife Marcelle ( nee Weiger), a sculptor.


We don’t know who drew up the list or when the event took place, although it must have been in or before 2003, the year in which one of the invited died. Nor do we know where it happened, although one must assume that since most of the invited were Americans, the venue was in the US, most probably in the home of the host and hostess. This could have been in New York City, where the Quintons had one of their  homes. This philosopher had four homes around the world! Diogenes made do with a barrel, Wittgenstein with a bedsit furnished mainly with deck chairs.


Quinton taught philosophy at Oxford and is credited with having a rigorous intellect, but he was hardly a Wittgenstein or even an A. J. Ayer. The fact that he was a Tory and the intellectual force behind the political movement that propelled Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street, couldn’t have recommended him to the young who were reading PPE or PPP at his University in the 1980s. In the tributes that followed his death in 2010 friends and colleagues praised his bonhomie. Much of his clubbable personality came across when he presented the popular and long-running radio series ‘ Round Britain Quiz ‘, a truly challenging quiz show in which a  panel of high powered intellects ( as opposed to some of the nitwits that perform on ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ ) try to make connections between seemingly unrelated people, concepts and texts. Luckily, despite the general ‘dumbing down’ of broadcasting, the show has survived and, thank goodness, remains as challenging as ever it was. Continue reading

A Los Angeles philosopher

Found – a small and very rare book Happy in Hell (Freedom Hill Pressery, Burbank, 1924) by  ‘Freedom Hill Henry’ (Dr. Henry Leroy.) He founded a commune in the Shadow Hills district above Burbank which flourished between 1913 and 1930. It was known as Freedom Hill. This small book was limited to 957 copies and printed and bound by the author. He wrote another book called Miserable in Heaven and also a study of Jacob Beilhart  of the Spirit Fruit Society, an influence on him. A bit of a joker he has a note at the front: “Dear Comrade: If you like this booklet, lend it to your poor friends and tell your rich friends to buy a copy. If you don’t like it, keep quiet, and consult a specialist on mental diseases. I am an insane specialist and I can readily tell whether any one is just right in his mind. If you agree with my notions, then you are all right. If you don’t agree with me, then I know you are crazier than I am.”


Leroy’s philosophy, if that is not too lofty a word for his ideas, is hinted at in the titles of his books Miserable in Heaven and Happy Hell. He was influenced by Edward Carpenter, Walt Whitman, the Theosophists, Vivekenanda, Martin Luther and even Luther Burbank. It was essentially a loving philosophy aimed at helping people to think for themselves and realize that they could change the way they had always looked at things and to be ‘happy in hell’ (or purgatory.) He writes:

freedom_hill_henry_smallWe are in slavery as long as we can’t get what we want, all that we want, and nothing but what we do want. Do you think we shall ever become skillful enough to get all that we want and nothing but what we do want? Or, in other words, do you think we shall ever become free? If we can’t become skillful enough to get what we want, maybe WE CAN BECOME SIMPLE ENOUGH TO WANT WHAT WE GET, and that would amount to the same thing. In order to do and to get what we please we may have to change our pleases. If we could change our pleases to what we do do, and to what we do get, then our doing and our getting would correspond with our pleases. Then we could say we do as we please and get what we please. It is wonderful how logic can make impossible things easy. The way to do as we please is to be pleased with what we do. The way to get what we want is to want what we get. The way to be free is to be content with our lot. Now I have given you a secret of happiness— a secret worth a million dollars to you if you will take it and use it.

Continue reading

Edward Thomas on Nietzsche



Edward Thomas Memorial Stone near Steep

Found in the June 1909 issue of Bookman is a generally favourable review of M.A.Mugge’s Nietzsche: his life and work together with translations of the philologer-turned- philosopher’s various works.

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, the reviewer is the poet and miscellaneous writer, Edward Thomas, not known ( at least in his own writing ) as an admirer of the anti-Christian proponent of the ubermensch philosophy, though he was undoubtably, like Nietzsche, an anti-Nihilist.

Nietzsche’s distrust of historicism, and delight in the ‘ moment’ is echoed by Thomas, who sees the philosopher more as an ‘exquisitely sensitive  poet and man of culture ‘ than as a rationalist. When Nietzsche declares that “ one who cannot leave himself behind on the threshold of the moment and forget the past, who cannot stand on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without fear or giddiness, will never know what happiness is ‘, Thomas adds ‘ nor wisdom, nor beauty’.

Thomas goes on to say that when Nietzsche set up the Greeks as a model, he was choosing ‘ an utterly unhistoric people, knowing no tongue but their own ; and not only the Greek, but every man who achieves a great thought or act, he calls ‘unhistorical’, because in the power and the glory of the creative moment he forgets all that he knows, just as a beautiful living thing forgets all that makes it so in a beautiful attitude or gesture ‘. [RR]

The art of being very annoyed, very politely

Found -- this rather unusual author's notice in a copy of the 1885 edition of George Long's translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It is printed where the frontispiece should be.  A little digging reveals the following.

The first edition of Long's translation was published in 1862.  By 1864 a pirated edition appeared by Ticknor & Fields, Boston. Long's notice appeared first in the 1869 British 2nd edition published by Bell & Daldry, London, and was still appearing several printings later in 1885.

Long's consideration of a Confederate dedication to a pirated Union publication is an excellent example of being politely very rude, and his opening paragraph pure stoicism!

[Submitted by P.Hatcher / Many thanks]

Professor C. W. Valentine (Psychology)

From the L.R. Reeve* collection of short sketches of people he had met - this affectionate piece about psychologist C.W. Valentine (1879-1964).  He wrote many books on psychology and was the  editor of  The British Journal of Educational Psychology for its first 25 years. Wikipedia (so far) knows him not.. Reeve saw him lecture several times...

Professor C. W. Valentine

Forty years ago I used to believe that Professor C. W. Valentine was one of the most reliable psychologists in England. Time has never changed my opinion, for on the many occasions when I have listened to him, or read about him he has always left me with the same impression of steadiness and sense of proportion so that one always felt that any declaration from him was the result of an objective mind which had arrived at a conclusion after exhaustive study.
  I can, however, express a decided opinion on one of his books: an early volume on intelligence tests. Years ago an elderly colleague of mine was pestered by his newly qualified daughter to advise her on the best intelligence tests. He came to me. I took Valentine's book to school. We went into a huddle. He gave the tests according to instructions. Because I didn't know his boys I marked and assessed the results. A few days later he came to me beaming. "I have known every boy for at least six months and your marks are perfect." Salutations to Professor Valentine. And if the book in question is now out of print so much the worse for intelligence tests and education in general. No doubt the usual gibe 'old-fashioned' will be objected by superficial minds. Well, eating, drinking, breathing, speech and many other things are of ancient custom; when, therefore, the phrase ‘old-fashioned, is presented one can usually suspect a feeble argument, something like a lawyer's dictum, "When you have a weak case attack the man."
Continue reading

Talking Beast 3

The final part of Richard Ince's Talking Beast. A candid inquiry into the nature of homo vulgaris. (London: W. Hodge & Co., 1944.) It is a heartfelt and still interesting polemic from the 1940s. Ince acknowledges as his inspiration (and mentor) Archibald Weir, the Buddha of Marley Common:

 " might be supposed that I am a disciple of Archibald Weir.. I am a disciple of no one, preferring to seek truth wherever I discern it. In the East they have a saying: "Where there is no Buddha hurry on, and where there is a Buddha, do not linger." The paradox would certainly have been approved by Weir, who wrote: "I do not seek to formulate tenets or to make disciples. The intent of these books would be frustrated entirely if any such success were obtained among their readers. All that I can wish to offer is assistance to earnest minds in the effort to think for themselves...'

Having found a signed and jacketed copy (at a sadly low price) we can reprint the blurb from the inside flap and also a press-cutting pasted to the rear endpaper. This review from The Field leads one to think this may have been Ince's own copy and the book was reviewed by this horsey magazine because it was about an animal...

Continue reading

Talking Beast 2

Beast of the Earth (Falnama: Book of Omens, circa 1580)

Three more chapters from  the complete text of Richard Ince's 1944 polemic Talking Beast. It was subtitled 'A Candid look into the Nature of Homo Vulgaris.' The title comes from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia 'This Man, this Talking Beast, this Walking Tree.' There is some element in it of Oprah's favourite guru Eckhart Tolle and it is also a sort of prequel to British philosopher John Gray's 2002 classic  Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.

Continue reading

Talking Beast. A Candid Enquiry..Part 1

Found - a fascinating book by a forgotten writer, Richard Ince (1881 to circa 1960). Although the author of 20+ books he has no Wikipedia page and there is not a lot about him on the web. He mainly looks up through his sister Gertrude's fortunate marriage into the engineering/ industrial dynasty De Ferranti. With her he edited her late husband's papers - The Life and Letters of Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (Williams & Norgate London, 1934). He wrote novels,humorous works, biographies etc., One of his books, a collection of stories from 1926 At the Sign of Sagittarius, makes into Bleiler's Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction. The work we have scanned Talking Beast (Hodge & Co, London 1944) is a sort of self-help slightly ranting philosophical/ religious polemic, of its time with some ideas now unpalatable but a bold, fresh  work. The title comes from Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia 'This Man, this Talking Beast, this Walking Tree.' Here are the first 3 chapters...

Continue reading

J.N.W. Sullivan & Colin Wilson — ‘The Desirability of the Ordinary.’

Found in a pamphlet by Colin Wilson: Autobiographical Reflections (Paupers' Press, 1980) this quotation from the writer J.W.N. Sullivan. Sullivan was a friend of Aldous Huxley & John Middleton Murry, later he knew Aleister Crowley and was part of Ottoline Morrell's intellectual country house salon at Garsington in the 1920s. In the first World War he worked in the ambulance services in Serbia. Colin Wilson writes of him:

I have always felt that the very essence of the human problem was grasped by that fine music critic, J. W. N. Sullivan, in his classic autobiography But For the Grace of God (London: Jonathan Cape 1932). He writes about the first world war:

Continue reading