They were christened the “Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein – the extraordinary creative generation in the 1920s and 1930s, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Igor Stravinsky, Isadora Duncan, George Gershwin, Aldous Huxley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, and many others. Most of them lived around Paris and southern France, most were expatriates, and many became the core of what is known as “Modernism.” Particularly among the writers, many were American. One major port of call for the Lost Generation was the Parisian English language bookstore Shakespeare & Co. run by an American woman named Sylvia Beach. Beach is best known as the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House provides a fascinating survey of significant works to emerge from the creative energies of Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.
A young and wealthy American couple, Harry and Caresse Crosby, joined the expat crowd in Paris by the early 1920s. He was a nephew of J. P. Morgan, and both were aspiring, but marginally talented, poets. The Crosbys were regulars at Shakespeare & Co. Most of their early work consisted of love poems written to each other. This photo of a bust of Harry by his wife was the frontispiece of the Black Sun Press edition of Poems for Harry Crosby written by Caresse after Harry’s death.
Realizing that they had little chance of getting their poems published elsewhere, the Crosbys decided to use their own money to publish them themselves in finely-made and hand-bound editions. This was the start, in 1925, of the Editions Narcisse, which soon became The Black Sun Press. This title page is typical of many subsequent books, with the combination of red and black ink.
The Crosby’s had found an eccentric, but perfectionist printer named Roger Lescaret who printed almost all of their books (their office was upstairs from his shop.) His work was matched by the perfectionism of Harry and Caresse – their books have the effect of “elaborate care rather than wasteful expense, of delicacy rather than elaboration.”
The second player in the Black Sun Press story at Salisbury House was, naturally, Carl Weeks: the builder of Salisbury House and the collector of its magnificent library.
The third major player in the story of the Black Sun Press was their United States distributor – Harry F. Marks. Marks was a New York book dealer (with, by 1925, a shop on West 47th St.) who was known for fine bindings and high-end “sporting books”, i.e. erotica. He openly listed such books in his catalogs, yet he was never arrested – probably because of his affluent and respectable clientele. He also dealt in the avant-garde literature of the time, as did his close neighbor, the Gotham Book Mart.
Marks was one of the two favorite book dealers of Carl Weeks, (the other being the New York dealer Philip Duschnes) and Carl was a favored customer who was offered many rare items, many of which still reside in the Salisbury House library.
Harry Marks had attempted to get a signed agreement with the Crosby’s making him the sole US distributor of the Black Sun Press books, but they would not sign such an agreement. They did, however, provide him with nearly complete print runs of many of their books and even printed Marks as the source for many books as shown in this page from the 1931 Poems for Harry Crosby. Note that this copy has a signed presentation from Marks to Carl.
One of the Black Sun books from 1929 that is discussed in more detail in another blog entry is James Joyce’s Tales Told of Shem and Shaun. That book includes a colophon (an inscription at the end of a book usually with facts about its production) showing its availability at Marks’ bookshop
What follows is a survey of the other Black Sun Press books in the Salisbury House library in rough order of publication date.
One of the early Black Sun books from 1928 was Letters of Henry James to Walter Berry. James was, of course, the well-known novelist and Walter Berry was an American lawyer living in Paris who was a good friend of Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Edith Wharton. He willed his library to his cousin – Harry Crosby. The Salisbury House copy of the Letters is unique in preserving the original holographs of two of the letters from the book – number three and number ten; the first page of number ten in Henry James hand is shown here.
Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy was published in 1929 and again the colophon shows Marks as the US dealer.
Harry Crosby died on 10 December, 1929 in New York in a probable murder-suicide with a woman with whom he was having an affair. He had combined his sun-worship with a fascination with death for many years. Now, Crosby would probably be diagnosed with PTSD from his traumatic experiences as an ambulance driver at Verdun in World War I. Caresse, Harry’s wife, continued the publishing activities of the Black Sun Press for many years after her husband’s death.
In the Salisbury House collection, Sun, Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, Secession in Astropolis, New Found Land, Einstein , Imaginary Letters, and A Sentimental Journey show the Harry Marks addition to the colophon in nearly identical style.
One of the interesting questions about the Harry Crosby, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks connections is when Carl started collecting the Black Sun Press. One answer, albeit a little confusing, comes from a dedication from Harry Marks to Carl in Sleeping Together, one of the parts of the 1931 first volume of Harry Crosby’s posthumous Collected Poems.
As Carl’s adjacent note (left of the bookplate) points out, this is from 1931 (and “introduce” is clearly present tense) and yet it seems likely that Marks was selling Black Sun books to Carl long before then, but who knows?
Secession in Astropolis by Eugene Jolas is an experiment in mythic and abstract language somewhat in the style of Finnegans Wake, but without the genius. It is interesting in that it establishes another important connection in the close-knit modernist group in Paris; Jolas was the founder and editor of the literary journal transition. This was probably the most influential little magazine in Paris, publishing nearly every major name in early 20th century English literature, including the first major serialization of James Joyce’s Work in Progress (later published as the book Finnegans Wake.) It is hardly surprising that Harry Crosby was involved there too – as an associate editor and financial backer. Sleeping Together was reprinted in transition #19/20 in a memorial section after Harry Crosby’s death. The Gotham Book Mart was the sole US distributor of transition.
One of the other major publications in 1929 was The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence. This book involves a very complicated story, discussed in more detail below. 1929 also saw the publication of another book by Harry Crosby, The Transit of Venus.
1930 saw the publication of a number of important books as well, including a finely printed edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with color illustrations by Marie Laurencin.
Ezra Pound’s Imaginary Letters was also published in 1930 and Salisbury House has one of the fifty limited copies signed by Pound.
Other Black Sun books from 1930 in the Salisbury House library include New Found Land by Archibald MacLeish, Harry Crosby’s Shadows of the Sun, and Crosby’s Aphrodite in Flight. The last is his memoir of learning to fly an airplane. The last in this general survey (but much less than half of all the Black Sun titles) is the 1936 edition of the Collected Poems of James Joyce. This is notable for the very fine 1930 Augustus John portrait of Joyce used as a frontispiece; the Salisbury House copy was also signed by Joyce.
At this point, it’s time to return to the 1929 first edition of The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence, with this frontispiece by Lawrence.
This novella is a different interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus; it was later re-published as The Man Who Died. Salisbury House has three copies of the first edition and is fortunate to have the complete hand-written manuscript of the novel. The travels of this manuscript – from the hand of Lawrence to the library of Carl Weeks – are the first mystery of the book. The first page is shown here.
The idea and title for the book derive from a toy rooster escaping from an egg displayed in a shop window in Grosseto, Italy. Lawrence saw it in 1927 and remarked to a friend that it inspired the title. The book was written in two parts and both parts were eventually sent by Lawrence on September 2, 1928 to his long-time family friend Enid Hilton. On May 20, 1929 he instructed Enid to send it to Caresse Crosby, but NOT as a gift. After the book was published, Lawrence complained to Caresse about the low price she had asked for the print run for – who else – Harry Marks, and about the large profit margin Marks was making.
After Harry Crosby’s death in December, 1929 (and probably after Lawrence’s death in March of 1930), Frieda Lawrence (David’s widow) wrote in 1930 to Caresse Crosby asking for the return of the manuscript, saying, in part, “I won’t give you another word of Lawrence’s to print if I don’t get the ms. of The Escaped Cock. Yours in disgust, Frieda.” I can find no mention of any further Black Sun books by Lawrence and it is clear that Frieda did not receive it from Caresse, because she expressed surprise in a letter of Dec 1, 1934 to Carl Weeks on finding that Carl had it! Carl had likely purchased the manuscript from Harry Marks.
Therein lies the mystery – how did Harry Marks get the manuscript? One possibility is that Caresse sold it to Marks, possibly out of anger at Frieda, but the biography of Caresse does not show her as vindictive and, despite the death of her husband, she didn’t really need the money. Another story is part of the Salisbury House oral tradition, but seems a bit far-fetched. IF Harry Crosby had taken the manuscript with him to New York, and IF the dinner party that had been expecting Harry Crosby (including Harry Marks, of course) when they were informed at the theater of Harry’s suicide had rushed to the suicide scene, and IF Marks had “liberated” the manuscript as part of cleaning up the crime scene – then Harry Marks had it. If I were a gambler, I’d bet on the first possibility.
The second oddity with this book is the fact that Harry Marks, somehow, eventually obtained the copyright for The Escaped Cock and published it with that copyright.
Salisbury House has an unique archive relating to this edition, consisting of a marked-up copy of the Black Sun edition showing the changes that Marks made to the colophon in preparation for his edition.
We have seen that there is an intimate connection between the Lost Generation in 1920s and 1930s Paris, The Black Sun Press, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks. Some of the connections are a bit murky, but that only adds to the extraordinary Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House.
Note: The Salisbury House Library Collection is now at Grinnell College, where it is being digitized and studied. If you are interested in learning more about the collection, check out the Special Collections website.