‘In his “Oscar Wilde: a Critical Study “…Mr Ransome remarks that he cannot understand why the Oscar Wilde period (with Mr Yeats, I may add, as its tail-piece) was ever called decadent. Surely, it is either disingenuous or incompetent to fail in such an easy matter. The school was called decadent because it was decadent; and the decadence consisted in the usual feature of decadence, namely the elevation of the part above the whole in value. Pater, I verily believe, never had an idea in his life. In consequence he spent the whole of his energy in concealing the fact in his style. On his style he spent enormous pains as if he knew that he would live by that or nothing. That, I say– the over-attention to style—is decadence. Wilde again was never even a man of letters. Mr Ransome in my opinion utterly fails to present Wilde as he was –an Irish causeur and wit, a born blarney, a talker. In his conversation Wilde was as nearly natural as a self-conscious Irishman in England can possibly be ; that is, he talked to the English as if they were an exotic Frenchman, never by any chance, aiming at the truth, but aiming always at producing in us a pleasant gaping admiration of his cleverness. There are plenty of such Irishmen in England today, only their vogue is past and they no longer surprise us. Too clever for his intellect I called one of them a few weeks ago. Mr Ransome, however, takes Wilde seriously, if critically, as a writer, as a literary man. But as a writer, if you like, Wilde was a poseur. With a pen in his hand he was no longer Wilde but a sort of figure which I can only describe as Turveydrop on paper. He finicked among the words and phrases of the language as if he was playing court to them and was expecting a rebuff from the English genius at any moment. I never saw a page of Wilde that had not “ amateur “ in the vulgar sense written all over it , in vocabulary, in phraseology , and in construction. That also, when the writer is unaware of it, is decadence. It is not mastery of the language, but service under it, as under a mistress. And our language, thank goodness, hates the man who treats it as if it were the Lady of Shallot or Isolda. It is a queen, and its best courtiers are Prime Ministers. Continue reading
On June 12th 1913, sixty years before the UK joined the EEC, and 103 years before it voted to leave it, The New Age, a well-known Socialist weekly, published a prescient article by one of its frequent contributors, Joseph Finn (1865 – 1945), a former tailor who, according to one source, became ‘one of the first Jewish labour leaders in Britain.’ In it Finn put forward a radical economic alternative to the political vision of a ‘United States of Europe’ that Sir Max Waechter had outlined in a recent issue of The Fortnightly Review.
On the eve of a possible war between Britain and Germany Waechter had argued that there were no political, racial or dynastic reasons why the two nations should not join as the prime movers of a larger European Union. Finn, however suggested that the basis for any such federation should not be political, but economic. Germany and Britain were in direct economic competition with one another and therefore were unlikely to cooperate within a proposed political union, but might even go to war in furtherance of their own economic ambitions. Finn continued:
‘If nations were not afraid of competition they would not surround themselves with tariff walls. England is no exception, though she is a Free Trade country. English free trade originated in a period when England was the workshop of the world. On the one hand, she had no rivals; on the other hand, she stood in need of cheap food for her factory hands. Such economic conditions were the natural mother of the political institution of Free Trade. Now, having lost her monopoly in manufacture, and she being compelled to face formidable rivals, we see growing up a political tendency towards Protection. Thus we see clearly the truth of the sociological law, that the political structure of society is the outcome of the economic structure.’ Continue reading
This was sent by Edmund Wilson (or his secretary) to people who wrote to him. It is a measure of his fame at the time (1950s?) He is now remembered more for his association with other writers, especially Vladimir Nabokov and Scott Fitzgerald. G.B. Shaw used to send out something similar and also Evelyn Waugh. Apparently people would write to Wilson just to get a copy of the slip. The note on it reads: “I don’t [do] live readings either unless I’m offered a very large fee. EW”. These type of generic rejection/ fob-off lists have now graduated to email…any examples welcome.
Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to:
Write articles or books to order,
Write forwards or introductions,
Make statements for publicity purposes,
Do any kind of editorial work,
Judge literary contests, give interviews,
Take part in writers’ conferences,
Contribute to or take part in symposiums, or “panels” of any kind,
Contribute manuscripts for sales,
Donate copies of his books to libraries,
Autograph works for strangers,
Allow his name to be used on letterheads,
Supply personal information about himself,
Or supply opinions on literary or other subjects.
Today, a hundred years on, most historians find it difficult to justify the carnage that was the Great War. Back in 1919, many were morally divided on the issue. One man who saw the fight against German brutality as a wholly justified, glorious crusade, was the poet and playwright Henry Newman Howard (1861 – 1929). On reading The Paths of Glory, an anthology of anti-war poetry, he sent a scathing letter to its pacifist editor, Bertram Lloyd. A typewritten copy of this letter was recently found, tucked in with a batch of press cuttings relating to the offending book, in a copy of it , which may have been Lloyd’s own, that ended up the library of Maria Assumpta College, Kensington and was subsequently de-accessioned into the secondhand book trade.
Here in full is Howard’s letter to Lloyd:
29 Jan 1919
25, Charlbury Road,
Your’ anthology ‘of War Poems is a crime. I grieve that the publishing house fathered by noble John Ruskin should be Sponsors to this execrable publication. Never again will I purchase a book bearing the stamp fouled by the guilt of this sinister booklet. Other books there are one recalls as foul things. Il Principe, possibly John Davidson’s Testament; Nietzsche—these last, like the German Empire, died mad of their guilty thoughts. Your book, garbage from end to end—if not in the individual poems, assuredly in their bringing together—carries the sickly unction of a spurious humanitarianism.Continue reading
Found in Transition 16-17 (a double issue that appeared in June 1929 in Paris) this modernist manifesto/ proclamation…some of the signers like Harry Crosby, Eugene Jolas (Transition's editor) Kay Boyle, Hart Crane are well known and some like Leigh Hoffman and Douglas Rigby are almost unknown.
Tired of the spectacle of short stories, novels, poems and plays still under the hegemony of the banal word, monotonous syntax, static psychology, descriptive naturalism, and desirous of crystallizing a viewpoint….
We hereby declare that:
1. The revolution in the English Language is an accomplished fact.
2. The imagination in search of a fabulous world is autonomous and unconfined.
(Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity…. Blake)
Another manifesto from Jot-- this one still relevant given the atrocities of early this year at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. We found it in La Caricature: Art et Manifeste Du XVI siecle a nos Jours (Skira, Geneva 1974) which was produced by Ronald Searle, Claude Roy and Bernd Bornemann. At the beginning Searle contributes a piece ('Quelques Reflexions Authentiques..') that is a cross beneath a credo and a manifesto. It has not been translated before (to our knowledge) and our friend Tom A has done a sterling job. There is a pun about a hound's tooth which Tom says works better in French than English. Searle was much admired in France and lived there for the last 50 years of his life. Rave on...
La caricature est un art mineur qui comporte des responsibilites majeures.
Caricature is a minor art which carries major responsibilities.
L'humour c'est quelque chose qui met les gens en colere quand on leur dit qu'ils n'en ont pas.
Humour is something which makes people angry when you tell them they don’t have a sense of it.
La satire est la plus haute forme de la basse intention.
Satire is the highest form of a low instinct.
The recent Jot reproducing manifestos from The Idler that celebrate freedom from the corporatist world remind me of a wonderfully invocatory collection of poems from Kenneth Muir called The Nettle and the Flower, which came out in 1933. Muir, then just 26, had, just a few years before, graduated from St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where Geoffrey Grigson was his senior by two years. I seem to recall that Muir, being a rather serious-minded student, took against Grigson ostensibly because he performed a prank in which he dressed up as a ghost. But it is more likely that the freshman of solid Labour convictions felt contempt for anyone of a privileged background (though Grigson, who attended a very minor public school, was hardly in this category) who had broken the General Strike of 1926. Grigson was one of many at the University who helped unload ships at Hull docks.
Anyway, The Nettle and the Flower, though rather unfocussed politically, certainly reflected Muir’s equal hatred of the Stalinist view of conveyor-belt drudgery as something noble that contributed to the power of the worker-state, and exploitative Big Business. This is from a Poem to William MacCance:
A pamphlet found in a Fanfrolico Press book The Antichrist of Nietzsche illustrated by Australian artist Norman Lindsay. Printed about 1927 it is by his great champion P.R. Stephensen who was a friend of Lindsay's son Jack. Stephensen (1901-1965) was known as 'Inky' and was a curious figure, starter of many presses including Mandrake and something of a left wing firebrand who moved to the far right in his middle years. Here he is in his late twenties ranting in full épater le bourgeois mode:Norman Lindsay Does Not Care
P. R. Stephensen
Fanfrolico Pamphlets No. I
Price One Farthing
Why should Norman Lindsay care if suburbia shudders with a horror which is really terror of his stark and ruthless presentation of the image of beauty? Nothing else could be expected, for at this level criticism remains atavistically moral, tribal; and any artist making a vital expression is likely to be regarded as a spawn of Satan, Antichrist, lewd and wicked, abhorrent to all Right-Thinking People. Norman Lindsay does not care how loudly the Good People howl for his suppression. But the Ofﬁcial Art Mob (or Mobs) also dislike him, with the intensity of a fascination which repels as it attracts. And as these quite sophisticated persons officially disown Suburbia, it is difficult for them to damn the man in Suburbia’s phrasing. Yet they must do something about it, because his work is by contrast a continual exposure of their own artistic ineptitude and moral vacuity. So they seek to explain him away, ostrich principle.
At Jot we try to print as many manifestoes as possible. Here are two manifestoes from The Idler. One of them is (or was) available on a tea towel from the Idler's website. The Idler book from 2014 has a friendly and combative interview with Jeremy Paxman and a good article about the history of attempts to shorten the working week, reminding us how working men once had to struggle to get a 10 hour day…Now we have the amazing Timothy Ferriss and his 4-Hour Workweek but so far no manifesto. The style of the 'Death to Supermarkets' rant is reminiscent of Blast, the brainchild of that well known boulevardier Wyndham Lewis…
More rants and manifestoes to follow.
This rant on Harold Wilson's Labour Government came from the Wells (Somerset) Conservative Association. It was a one page flyer printed in blue ink and had first appeared in The Daily Telegraph. Anthony Lejeune, a highly competent journalist and author is not gifted with a Wikipedia page but there are traces of his career from a search on the site. He wrote a history of London clubs and has written about Arthur Machen and Fr. Brocard Sewell. He has written about Ernest Bramah in The Tablet which may mean he is a Catholic and almost certainly a book collector…the piece (very slightly truncated) is very much of its time (circa 1966). Politicians are no longer condemned for wearing the wrong clothes at parties.
The Worst Government for 100 years? by Anthony Lejeune.
Do you remember George Brown on television, flanked by leaders of industry and the trade unions, flourishing his fatuous Declaration of Intent? Do you remember the commentators solemnly telling us that this marked a watershed in the history of British industrial relations? And do you remember any of those commentators apologising to us since for having been taken in by so naive a piece of nonsense? I don't.
Do you remember the National Plan?
I got into trouble with the BBC for treating it, the week it was published, with the disrespect which it soon proved to deserve. I'm still waiting for an apology or even an admission that I was right.
Found in Hartman's International Directory of Psychic Science and Spiritualism for 1931 this proclamation from Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia - then a refugee from the Russian revolution and staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York. He appears to have been giving lectures on spirituality and spiritualism in America.
The book itself comes from a time when 'psychic science' was at its height and many famous names were involved. Among others the directory lists Oliver Lodge, C.K. Ogden, Count Louis Hamon ("Cheiro), Swami Yogananda, G.R.S Mead, Hannan Swaffer, Anna Wickham, Henri Bergson, Lady Jean Conan Doyle (with an address in Queen's Gardens W2 - her husband Arthur, very much a believer had died in 1930) Eric Dingwall, Earl Balfour etc.,Continue reading
Tambimuttu was a Ceylonese poet best known in England and America as a poetry editor. His full name was Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu. He was a great champion of poetry and poets, especially Dylan Thomas. Wikipedia says of him: 'Most of Tambimuttu's own works are difficult to access, and his earliest works published before he came to London are lost. His greatest influence was as an editor and publisher, especially during the 1940s.' Here he is writing on poetry in his editorial/manifesto in the debut issue of Poetry early in 1939. The cover is by Hector Whistler.
I wish to take my stand and I start by restating a few fundamentals, well-known enough maybe, but which seem to have been lost in the ramifications of modem thought and to need restatement for the purpose of this magazine.
Every man has poetry within him. Poetry is the awareness of the mind to the universe. It embraces everything in the world.
Of poetry are born religions, philosophies, the sense of good and evil, the desire to fight diseases and ignorance and the desire to better living conditions for humanity.
Poetry is the connection between matter and mind. Poetry is universal.
Found in an exhibition catalogue from the Hanover Gallery, London 1968 of Francis Picabia watercolours this unpublished essay on Dada by Picabia's widow Gabrièle Buffet Picabia (1884 - 1988). It is mostly quotations from important Dadaist manifestoes but the first part is by her (followed by Andre Breton.)
The intellectual world of Europe has been upset for several years by a strange sect which calls itself "Dada", and its followers Dadaists.
It is difficult to define Dada because Dada pretends to escape from everything that is common or ordinary or sensible. Dada does not recognise any traditions, any influences, or indeed and limits. Dada is a spontaneous product of life; a sort of cerebral mushroom which can appear and grow in every soil.
Dada cannot be defined; it reveals itself; and during the five years in which Dada manifestations have taken place all over the world, the public which comes en masse, in turn furious, amused, deceived, and nevertheless subjugated, has not succeeded in solving this problem:
Are the Dadas serious?
Are the Dadas curers?
Are the Dadas artist?
Are the Dadas dangerous?
Are the Dadas harmless idiots?
Found on a late 1960s bookmark from the renowned Holland Park bookseller Peter Eaton adapted from essays of John Cowper Powys in his 1938 work Enjoyment of Literature.
An over the top rant with a lot of incendiary keywords... but a rant would not be a rant if it wasn't slightly unhinged: take it away JC!
What a history of human excesses a second-hand book-shop is! As you 'browse' there– personally I can't abide that word, for to my mind book-lovers are more like hawks and vultures than sheep, but of course if its use encourages poor devils to glance through books that they have no hope of buying, long may the word remain!–you seem to grow aware what a miracle it was when second-hand book-shops were first invented...it too often happens that the books an ordinary man wants are on the 'forbidden shelves'. But there is no censorship in a second-hand book-shop. Every good bookseller is a multiple-personality, containing all the extremes of human feeling. He is an ascetic hermit, he is an erotic immoralist, he is a Papist, he is a Quaker, he is a communist, he is an anarchist, he is a savage iconoclast, he is a passionate worshipper of idols. Though books, as Milton says, may be the embalming of mighty spirits, they are also the resurrection of rebellious, reactionary, fantastical and wicked spirits! In books dwell all the demons and all the angels of the human mind.
An impressivee rant against war by the Nobel Prize winning French scientist Charles Richet published about 1925 in his book Idiot Man or The Follies of Mankind (L’Homme Stupide.) A now rare and undeservedly forgotten book in which Richet seems to see ahead to all the millions of deaths in wars of the next 90 years...
When I evoke the vision of war–bloody, cruel, hideous war– burning, shuddering pictures instantly swarm into my mind, so numerous and vivid that I am dazed by them.
Thanks to war, the proofs of human ineptitude are so blatant that any words could only weaken them. But I shall do my best to dam this overwhelming flood of ideas and to calm my indignation.
It is futile to reiterate that war means death, death, and yet again death. But it is not these countless deaths that are my chief charge against it. After all, we must all die someday. A little sooner, a little later, what does it matter?
There are fifteen hundred million human beings on the face of the globe, and glorious war of 1914–18 was only able to destroy fifteen millions. That's nothing, for these fifteen millions represent a mere fraction of mankind; one per cent, which is next to nothing. Two years of increased fertility will make up for this holocaust. And I am almost tempted to use the words of Napoleon, who murmured with a kindly smile as he gazed on all the corpses which his vain glory had piled up on the field of Eylau: "One night in Paris will make up for all of this."