Merry Christmas from the Limited Editions Club, 1934

Last year’s Christmas post explored our remarkable collection of holiday cards, from those sent by the Weeks family to a Christmas postcard mailed by a twentieth-century literary legend. This year, we focus on a single classic: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. First published on December 19, 1843 – exactly 171 years ago today – Dickens’ aim in writing the book extended well beyond a simple celebration of the season.

Rather, the inspiration for the piece stemmed from his outrage over the squalid and exploitative working conditions faced by women and children in Industrial Revolution England. Dickens marshaled the considerable strength of his pen in the hopes that his efforts would yield “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power…something that would come down with sledgehammer force.” Scrooge, whose name was an amalgam of “screw” and “gouge,” represented the relentless pursuit of profit that Dickens perceived as a central problem in his industrializing country. Bob Cratchit and his family, including Tiny Tim, personified the costs exacted upon working-class families by men of Scrooge’s ilk. Today, though, Dickens’ original message remains largely muted. Scrooge, the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, and the Cratchit family, evoke more holiday nostalgia than social commentary. Indeed, A Christmas Carol‘s contributions to the nature of contemporary holiday culture has made Dickens, in the words of one writer, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”

Perhaps Dickens’ social critique of business running roughshod over the working man and his family found more purchase in the winter of 1934. That December, the Limited Editions Club published A Christmas Carol for its members. The book was printed a week before Christmas and found a place on the shelves in Carl Weeks’ library at Salisbury House soon thereafter. The cover featured stylized Christmas trees, and Gordon Ross’s illustrations accompanied Dickens’ text.

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Whatever message you take from Dickens’ classic this holiday season, we at Salisbury House wish you the best! May you echo an awakened Scrooge:

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” 

“The Michelangelo of Caricature”: Honoré Daumier at Salisbury House

Honoré Daumier, the nineteenth-century French artist, became most widely known during his lifetime as a skilled caricaturist. Indeed, he continues to be roundly considered the “Michelangelo of Caricature.”  Daumier’s work for Le Charivari, a French daily newspaper, and for the journal La Caricature, both founded in the 1830s, remain at the apex of caricature as social satire. To draw a modern parallel, perhaps, Daumier might be considered the Jon Stewart of French satirical commentary.

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Honoré Daumier

Still, there was more to the man than caricature. His other talents, particularly in terms of painting and sculpture, remained largely unrecognized until after his death in 1879 at the age of 71. A panegyric collection of essays celebrating Daumier and his work, published in 1922, suggests that “In his day [he] was celebrated as a caricaturist and only a few of the more discerning artists and critics realized that he was one of the giants of Arts, one of the salient individualities [sic]  of the nineteenth century.” A catalogue printed for a 1993 Daumier exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York describes the him as “an artist of exceptional genius and power.” Posthumous reevaluations of Daumier’s work laud, in addition to lithography, his paintings, sculpture, and drawings; he also worked in oil, watercolor, prints, and wood.

Today, Daumier remains widely collected. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Hammer Museum at UCLA are only a few among the many world-class institutions that exhibit and/or hold Daumier works.

Our collections here at Salisbury House include Daumier images as well. While we are still in the process of researching our Daumier holdings, they’re just too cool not to share.

As you will see below, we have found translations and descriptions of the headings and captions paired with the works. Still, even for those of us who are not conversant in French, Daumier’s work transcends language. His renderings of human expressions and situations speak for themselves.

This first set of  Daumier images below are both amusing and puzzling. We do not yet know who created these cutouts of his caricatures, or who added paper tabs to the reverse of the cutouts that allowed figures’ arms and other appendages to be moved back and forth. The cutouts seem to be Daumier’s images, anonymously translated into folk art. Put simply: they’re awesome.

Messieurs en dames

Translation:  Ladies and gentlemen! Silver mines, gold mines, diamond mines are only thin gruel and stale rolls in comparison with coal . . . But even so, (you’re going to say), you’re selling your shares for a million? . . . I’m not selling my shares, gentlemen, I’m giving them away for 200 miserable francs, I’m giving two for every one, I’m giving away a needle, an ear-pick, a bodkin, and what’s more, I give you my blessing into the bargain. Bring out the big drum!

Description: Here, Daumier is aiming at [French politician] Girardin who had been offering mining shares to the public. The entire project was a scam and all participants, with the exception of Girardin, were sent to prison.

The reverse: the paper tab at the bottom, when pulled up and down, maneuvered the main figure’s right arm.

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Les enfants charmants

Translation: Crrrrr !…… woman….!…to leave a man alone for four hours with three crrrrrrrying children……. !

Description: A man is in a state of frustration over three crying babies.

The reverse:

Les enfants back (1)

Robert Macaire Magnetiseur

Translation: Robert Macaire hypnotist. Here is an excellent subject……… for hypnosis……. Certainly ! there is no connection between us, I do not have the honor of knowing Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand and you will see gentlemen, the effect of sleepwalking… (in her sleep Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand gives diagnoses on everyone’s diseases, advocates hidden underground treasures and gives investment advice to Mozart paper company, in gold mines and a host of other very fine operations).

Description: Robert Macaire is hypnotizing a woman. Robert Macaire may seem to be a realistic figure, however one should remember that in reality he is an artificial personality, created in 1823 by Benjamin Antier for his play “L’Auberge des Adrets.”

The reverse:

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The figure of Robert Macaire became a proxy for Daumier and his publisher at Le CharivariCharles Philipon, for their criticism of French social and political life under Louis-Philippe (r. 1830-1848). Philipon often provided the captions for Daumier’s work, and they both had good cause to create a buffer between their work and their satirical commentary about the monarch. Daumier had been imprisoned for six months in 1832 for his caricature of the king as “Gargantua” while he was on staff at Philipon’s La Caricature. After Daumier’s release from prison, Philipon founded Le Charivari and continued to publish his work. Macaire remained particularly useful after 1835, when political satire was banned in France and Le Charivari ostensibly focused  on French daily life instead.

Our collections include a bound set of Daumier prints from Le Charvari. The collection is undated, but the originals would have been produced during Daumier’s tenure at the French daily from the 1830s to the 1860s.

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TranslationHow silly!. . . . just look at how they run away! . . . . that is what you get when you are in the wrong place!!! . . . . My little love, when you prevent to pass, you will burn the pellets from Sérail. . . . .

Description:  A terrified couple is walking very fast because they are afraid of two men who are looking at them and commenting on their behavior. Daumier succeeds to show the bourgeoisie with humor but also with that certain touch of bitterness and at the same time endeavors to help us understand how much we are all fighting to climb up the social ladder, while often forgetting our roots and damaging our own self-esteem as well as that of our surrounding.

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Translation: Robbed! . . . . Empty pocket street . . . . . .

Description: A man realizes that he has just been robbed. Reportedly, this street was the former “rue Vieille-Doucet”. Before the reconstruction of the Parisian roads was done by Haussmann, most street in Paris were narrow and dark, an ideal situation for pickpockets.

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 Translation: Oh here you are, darn it, how handsome you are! Come and give your father a kiss.

Description: Daumier portrays generational (and class) differences between father and son.

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Translation: This proves that when you patrol, you should never pass by your own house.

Description: A soldier is patrolling the streets and happens to look up at his window and see his wife with another man.

Another bound set of Daumier’s work in the Salisbury House collections is entitled “Les Cosaques Pour Rire,” or, “The Cossacks in Jest.” Daumier created these images during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and used his considerable skills to skewer Russian military command, soldiers, and the czar, though not all the images included in this set necessarily pertain to either the Crimean War or to the Cossacks.

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Translation: The best-disciplined soldiers in the world.

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Translation: IN BUCHAREST. – It’s here.. come in… we’ll pay you!…

Description: Some soldiers sitting in a tent in Bucharest are inviting an old man to join their forces.

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Translation: Having to also consult his little table in order to be sure that he is definitely the winner.

Description: Nicolas I, Nicolas Pavlovitch (1796-1855), became Emperor of Russia in 1825. Daumier pokes fun at the czar.

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Translation: Russian blind men’s bluff – New game, but more dangerous.

Description: A blindfolded soldier is playing blind man’s bluff.

Daumier’s prolific career reflected his uncanny ability to skewer both the machinations of kings and empires and the foibles of the everyday. Our collections include a selection from his Croquis de Chasse (Hunting Sketches) from the 1850s in which Daumier takes aim at the appearance of hunting mania among the French middle class, brought on by the loosening of laws which had traditionally maintained the hunt as the preserve of aristocrats.

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Translation:  What a hideous Thing this wild Boar is… without this tree I would be lost… it has the air of considering… wouldn’t it be nice if it just went

Description: A hunter is frightened by a wild pig.

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Translation: A misplaced shot.

Description: A hunter shooting at a hare has missed and accidentally shot another hunter in the buttocks.

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Translation: – Blast, what bad luck… he passes just when I am unable to fire!….

Description: A hare hops past a hunter just as he has put his gun down [and is pulling his pants back up].

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Translation: Two hunters were living in peace. A partridge passed and behold, the war began.  

We are still learning more about our Daumier collection here at Salisbury House, but the selection of images included here exemplify the artist’s remarkable skills and legacy.

We are indebted to the Brandeis Institutional Repository’s translations within their Honoré Daumier Digitized Lithographs collection.

Dirty Words

“There are no dirty words. There are only dirty minds and dirty tongues, and these have imported a foul odor to what originally were mere descriptive terms for quite common experiences.”

These memorable lines were written in response to the furor over the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Critics particularly took issue with Lawrence’s use of colloquial terms for coitus and the female anatomy, and generally denounced the book as filth. Lawrence, for his part, answered his critics. One essay, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is frequently included in later editions of the book.

At some point after the book’s publication, another response to Chatterly critics appeared. We don’t know who wrote this work, but it makes for a very interesting read. While Lawrence’s name appears on the cover, there seems to be a consensus that someone else wrote the essay. This six-page pamphlet, appropriately – and provocatively – titled “Dirty Words,” is tucked away on a shelf in the Salisbury House Library. It makes a nice addendum to our many other Lawrence works  (including a rare first edition of Lady Chatterley, signed by Lawrence), though it is not of Lawrence’s hand.

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“Dirty Words” offers a fascinating glimpse into the ways in which the writer, first of all, perceived Lawrence’s own use of language in Lady Chatterly and, secondly, observations on those who labeled Lawrence’s use of language obscene and sought to have his work expurgated, censored, or repressed. One hundred and fifty copies of this pamphlet were printed “For A.H.”

Ultimately, the writer indicts Chatterley critics for raising an uproar over “mere combinations of letters and harmless enough, which have been buried so deep in men’s consciousness, and so over-laden with poisonous accretions, that to be hated they need but to be uttered.” The author continues, “If sex has become a foreign [impure] element in modern life, then modern life, not sex, is the thing to be cleansed.”

It makes for a fascinating read. The full text of “Dirty Words” appears below.

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Gorgeous Drunkards

August is a time for drinking. It just is. In honor of the month wherein life is immeasurably enhanced by a cold cocktail or an icy stein of ale, we’re showcasing a remarkable book from the shelves of the Salisbury House Library. Merry-Go-Down: A Gallery of Gorgeous Drunkards in Literature from Genesis to Joyce, published in 1929, is a riot. It’d be perfect, in fact, to share with friends along with Das Boot, say, at the Hessian House.

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Why compile this exceptional tome?  The publisher, Mandrake Press, thoughtfully answered this question for us: “Collected for the use, interest, illumination, and delectation of serious topers.”

Toper [toh-per]: noun. A hard drinker or chronic drunkard.

You’re welcome.

 

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As you might have noticed, the author, “Rab Noolas,” is a semordnilap of “Bar Saloon,” which was the pseudonym for British scholar and all-around-fun-guy Peter Warlock.  Oh, those squirrely English!

The book, as promised, takes us on a delightful tour of drunkenness through the ages. We begin at the beginning: Noah. Did you know that Noah was a drunkard? Well, he was.

 

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In addition to this delightful illustration, Rab Saloon helpfully included the salient Old Testament passage:

 

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From there, the booze-soaked pages are populated with the likes of Seneca, Plato, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Raleigh, Boswell, Poe, Dickens, James, and Joyce.

Boswell‘s piece (late eighteenth century) is especially insightful. As he suggests, “Were we so framed that it were possible by perpetual supplies of wine to keep ourselves for ever gay and happy, there could be no doubt that drinking would be the summum bonum, the chief good, to find out which philosophers have been so variously busied.”

Well said, sir. Well. Said.

 

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Of course, as you will have by now noticed, an array of finely-executed illustrations accompany the august text. Hal Collins, a confidante of Rab Noolas/Peter Warlock, created the images.

 

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All too soon, this twentieth-century masterwork draws to a close.

 

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If you find yourself wishing for more from this singular work, not to worry: unlike many of the rare and/or irreplaceable pieces in our Library collection, you too could possess a copy of Merry-Go-Down! It is available for purchase at a surprisingly affordable rate.

Finally, if anyone yet wondered on which side of the Prohibition fence stood Carl Weeks: now we know. Topers! Salud!

Grant Wood Comes to Book Club

It began at book club.

The Salisbury House Young Professionals routinely hosts this event  every couple of months. Literature collected by Carl and Edith Weeks, still housed in the magnificent library today, provide inspiration for the books chosen for discussion.  Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (1920) was the pick for January 2014.  The selection was particularly apt, as the Weekses purchased several Lewis works over the years, including the 1937 Limited Editions Club publication of Main Street illustrated by Grant Wood.

Following a rousing discussion of both Lewis’ and Wood’s work in Main Street, your correspondent wondered: how else did Wood’s life and work intersect with the story of the Weeks family?

What we found is pretty cool.

First, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) version of Main Street is itself a treasure.  Even if one picked up the book without noticing the Wood references on the cover and frontispiece, his familiar style is immediately apparent in the illustrations.  Wood’s signature appears in the book as well.

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This edition of Main Street, published in 1937, appeared at a time when Wood was increasingly well-known in the national art scene.  His first one-man exhibitions took place two years earlier, in Chicago during February and March of 1935, followed by his Feragil Gallery show in New York.

Prior to the opening of the Chicago exhibit, however, Wood attended a January 1935 lecture in Iowa City by fellow regional artist Thomas Hart Benton (R. Tripp Evans’ Grant Wood: A Life details both the visit and the interaction between the two artists).  The two men then traveled to Des Moines where they jointly addressed the Des Moines Women’s Club.

Wood spoke first, followed by Benton.   A Des Moines Register reporter covering the lecture remarked upon both men’s appearance.  “The soft speech of Wood clashes obviously with the vigorous and rough, though exact, words of Benton,” wrote Register journalist Gordon Gammack.  “The latter, as he did Saturday, is the kind of person who can turn abruptly to a lady who has interrupted him and say ‘damn it…’ without being impolite.”

It must have been an entertaining evening.

The Register also included a photograph of Benton, Wood, and the man whose hospitality they had both enjoyed earlier that afternoon: Carl Weeks.  A photograph (grainy and unfocused, sadly) of the three men accompanied the article.  Benton was seated, with Wood and Weeks flanking his right and left.

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It’s not clear whether or not Woods and Weeks had met before January 1935. Thomas Hart Benton and Carl Weeks, though, knew each other.  One of Carl’s grandsons, Cooper Weeks – who himself lived in the same neighborhood as the Bentons in Kansas City and knew them well – remembered hearing his grandfather talk about Benton, and vice versa.  Cooper recalled that  Benton credited Carl with one of the first big sales of his career, a $500 purchase of an early Benton work that remains in Cooper’s family today.

As for Grant Wood and Carl Weeks, we do know that they kept in touch for a time.  Not long after this Des Moines rendezvous, Wood traveled to Chicago for the opening of his first significant one-man exhibition at Lakeside Press Galleries.  Our records indicate that Carl visited him in the Windy City.   Indeed, their meeting occurred in the midst of a critical moment in Wood’s life: his courtship of and marriage to Sara Sherman Maxon.

An onionskin copy of correspondence from Weeks to Woods, pictured below, was dated March 11, 1935.  Nine days earlier, as Evans’ biography recounts, “Wood’s neighbors read with astonishment that he was to be married that night in a small ceremony in Minneapolis.  The fact that Cedar Rapids’ “bachelor artist” had a secret fiancee was nearly as dumbfounding as the circumstances of the wedding itself – a ceremony conducted with little warning, far from home, and with no friends or family in attendance.”

Weeks’ letter also reflects the surprise commonly elicited by news of the marriage (though he includes none of the misgivings typical among many of Woods’ close friends upon hearing of the nuptials).

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To have been a fly on the wall when Carl Weeks “butt[ed] in on something” between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon!

Wood and Weeks remained friendly in the months following his marriage to Sara.  Another letter from Carl to Grant in May of 1935 suggests that the two planned, at some point, to meet again.

Carl to Grant

“Taliesin” almost certainly referred to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous property in Wisconsin. Did Weeks and Wood ever visit Wright’s estate together?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question continues to elude us.  Still, the confluence in the lives of Carl Weeks and Grant Wood, occurring as it did in the spring and summer of 1935, provides a  window into a deeply consequential time in Wood’s life.

The union between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon was not destined for “great happiness,” as Carl wished for them.  Their fraught marriage ended in 1939.  Indeed, Wood famously enlisted his housekeeper as proxy to deliver his desire for a divorce to Sara.

Salisbury House’s Grant Wood-related objects have stories to tell, like so many of our museum’s treasures.  Our collections provide avenues for explorations of  Picasso, The Book of Mormon, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and many, many more.

Our next book club, which will be held in March, focuses on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Is there a connection, one may well wonder, between Salisbury House’s holdings and this master of twentieth-century letters?

Yes. D.H. Lawrence is coming to book club.

Hemingway & Weeks

Carl Weeks was a man of action.  “If you dream it,” he once declared, “you can build it.”  Weeks achieved a considerable amount of success in his life: a magnate of the cosmetics industry, his business made him a millionaire by his mid-forties.   Salisbury House itself stands as a testament to the man’s financial success and purposeful vision.

A man similarly defined by action and vigor entered Carl Weeks’ life in the 1920s.  First through the written word and then a personal relationship, the lives of Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway intersected.  Although the men were born a generation apart – Weeks in 1876 and Hemingway in 1899 – shared tastes in both literature and recreation eventually created a link between the two men.  Fragments of this fascinating story remain today in the collections of Salisbury House.

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Weeks had made his millions by the 1920s, but Hemingway was just beginning to exert what would become his considerable literary might.   Post-World War I Paris proved a salutary writing environment for Hemingway, and in 1926 he added two books to his growing oeuvre with the publication of The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.

Something about young Hemingway’s prose appealed to Carl Weeks.  A first edition of The Torrents of Spring was added to Weeks’ already-extensive book collection.

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 When Carl Weeks purchased Torrents in 1926, he was at his financial and professional peak.  Hemingway’s star, on the other hand, was still on the rise.  Three years later, A Farewell to Arms (1929) catapulted him even further into the whirlwind of literary celebrity.  By now, Weeks’ grand home in Des Moines included a richly-appointed library which stored a trove of rare, limited and first-edition books by renowned authors, including, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

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Weeks also purchased a first edition of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for his collection in 1932.

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During the first half of the 1930s, the interaction between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway extended beyond that of enthusiastic bibliophile and prolific author.  The two men met.

The location and manner of the meeting between Weeks and Hemingway remains difficult to ascertain.  Still, a shared interest in two legendary Hemingway pastimes – drinking and fishing – emerged in correspondence between the two men.

An inscription from Hemingway to Weeks, penned inside the front cover of a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa (1935), suggests the pair had shared drinks and perhaps planned to do so again.

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To Carl Weeks

Instead of a drink at Penas’

With very best wishes

Sincerely,

Ernest Hemingway

Where did Hemingway and Weeks meet each other and, apparently, drink together?  One possibility seems to be Havana, Cuba.  Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana was a well-known watering hole for American tourists and celebrities, including the Weeks and Hemingway, in the 1930s and 1940s.

A photograph of Edith Weeks (on right, with an unidentified woman) at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana could suggest the location where the paths of Carl and Ernest may have crossed.

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In 1936, Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway exchanged correspondence regarding Week’s planned fishing trip to Florida.  Hemingway’s response to Weeks, sent by postcard from Key West in May 1936 to Weeks’ business address, illustrates the mutual interests of the two men.

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Key West

May 31 

 Dear Mr. Weeks,

Should be good chance for marlin and big sails off ten fathom bar, then I’ll be at Miami after tuna so will probably miss you.  But two years ago we had excellent big sailfishing here in June.

Thanks  for the Punch parody.

Ernest Hemingway

Whether or not the two stayed in contact remains uncertain.  Weeks, at least, continued his interest in Hemingway’s work, and purchased a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls represented the last of the Hemingway first editions in Weeks’ collection.

Hemingway went on to win the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by the late 1950s both men neared the end of their lives.   Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 preceded Weeks’ death of natural causes in 1962.

Ultimately, the full extent of the relationship between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway remains a matter for further research.  The fragmentary story that remains, though, suggests a fascinating confluence in the lives of both men.

The Picasso on the Shelf

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) was a publishing house founded in 1929 by George Macy in the heyday of the private press movement. The LEC was dedicated to producing small runs of exquisitely made and finely illustrated books, some of them literary classics, and some of them important contemporary works. Generally, the LEC would issue a dozen books each year, with only 1,500 copies of each item printed. They were often signed by the artists, designers, authors, bookmakers or others associated with the titles in question.

Carl and Edith Weeks were charter members of the LEC, and they remained subscribers through 1954, leaving us with a rare complete collection of these important and beautiful books. Carl and Edith had subscription number 589, so almost all of their LEC books have a “589” hand-written in them somewhere, typically along with the autograph of the artists or authors.

Matisse's "Polyphemus" from LEC edition of James Joyce's "Ulysses." (click to enlarge)

Henri Matisse’s “Polyphemus” from LEC edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

The two most-widely collectible and coveted LEC books in the Salisbury House library are a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse (250 copies were signed by Joyce, but we don’t have one of them — a rare missing item in our otherwise magnificent Joyce collection) and a 1934 edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso.

Matisse’s illustrations from Ulysses do not depict James Joyce’s Dublin, but rather evoke Leopold Bloom’s one-day odyssey through that city’s streets by making explicit the subtle structural parallels that Joyce wove between Ulysses and Homer’s Odysseus. So while the section paralleling the Cyclops’ tale in Ulysses is set in Barney Kiernan’s pub, where Bloom is berated by an un-named, anti-Semitic “citizen,” Matisse illustrates the scene with a literal depiction of the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus. It’s a powerful piece of art (click the image at left to enlarge it; each of the differently sized blue and yellow sheets are bound into the book), but personally speaking, I find that these images distract the reader from Joyce’s narrative, rather than supporting it. If Joyce had wanted his allusions to Odysseus to be so obvious, I think he would have written the book differently. I wonder sometimes if this is why Joyce did not sign all of the Matisse copies.

Aristophanes died some 23 centuries before Carl and Edith purchased their LEC copy of his Lysistrata, so there’s no telling what he would have though about Pablo Picasso’s illustrations therein — but I love them to pieces, and think this is one of the most gorgeous, well-designed, fully-integrated books produced by the LEC. I share some images below, including Picasso’s signature page. Do you agree that he got it right? (As always, click to enlarge)

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D.H. Lawrence: A Manuscript Mystery

Last fall, I wrote a piece called “Carl and Edith Weeks: Book Smugglers” about many of the extraordinary works of literature that Carl and Edith purchased for their library, at a time when possession or transmission of said works was banned because they were considered indecent. D.H. Lawrence featured strongly in that narrative, and as a result of the Weeks Family’s foresight, the D.H. Lawrence collection is among the most exceptional components of the Salisbury House Library.

Lawrence was an Englishman, but he spent the final seven years of his short life self-exiled in New Mexico with his wife, Frieda. He died in 1930 at the age of 45 from complications associated with tuberculosis, his health likely also eroded by his long legal and moral battles against allegations of obscenity in his works. Carl Weeks corresponded with Frieda Lawrence following her husband’s death, while still collecting his works, and as a result, the Salisbury House Library still contains one of the world’s most complete collections of signed and first edition D.H. Lawrence works, plus some amazing one-of-a-kind letters, manuscripts and other documents.

The original Weeks Family research we have been conducting via an Historical Research Development Program grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa recently divulged some fascinating correspondence from the mid-1950s between Carl Weeks and Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico regarding the Lawrence collection. The Senator and Carl had met at a social function, and Carl apparently described some of the highlights of his D.H. Lawrence collection. Upon his return to his office, Senator Anderson wrote Carl a fairly impassioned letter stating his belief that Carl had a moral obligation to either bequeath the Lawrence collection or allow it to be sold upon his death, so that it could return to New Mexico, where Senator Anderson believed it belonged, for posterity’s sake.

The men traded correspondence on the matter for almost two years, with Carl occasionally noting that he was still taking the Senator’s offer under advisement, while offering instead to return a backpack that had once belonged to D.H. Lawrence, which Carl had never opened, and whose contents he wanted properly “psychoanalyzed” once it was opened. The final piece of correspondence from Carl came in 1955 — in which he noted that he had sold all of Salisbury House’s collections to the Iowa State Education Association, and that Senator Anderson would have to deal with them henceforth on the matter if he wanted the Lawrence collection to move back to New Mexico. Score one for Carl. We do not know if the Senator pursued the matter further, nor do we know what was in, nor what happened to, the mysterious backpack.

This leads me (tangentially) to another D.H. Lawrence mystery, this one involving his 1923 poetry collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, of which we have an original galley proof hand-edited by Lawrence himself. Here is the final page of the proof, featuring the closing lines of a poem titled “The American Eagle:”

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Final page from galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers,” hand-edited by D.H. Lawrence.

This page is among the most heavily edited ones in the manuscript, and it seems that after he completed the edits, Lawrence must have decided that it was too messy or complicated for his editor and publisher to follow, so he inserted the following page into the galley, immediately after the one shown above:

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem "The American Eagle," inserted into the galley proof of "Birds, Beasts and Flowers."

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem “The American Eagle,” inserted into the galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers.”

It’s a dramatic reworking of the poem, and since this poem is the last one in the book, it creates radically different closing experiences of the collection, one fairly sardonic or bleak (“are you the goose that lays the golden egg? / which is just a stone to anyone asking for meat /  and are you going to go on forever / laying that golden egg / that addled golden egg”) and one almost bordering on the whimsical (“was your mother really a pelican, are you a strange cross? / can you stay forever a strange half-breed cock on a golden perch? / young eagle? / pelican boy? / you are such a huge fowl! / and such a puzzler!”).

If one reads “The American Eagle” as being symbolic of the United States, could this later edit represent a softening of Lawrence’s views on imperial/capitalistic America after spending time in New Mexico, presumably experiencing the United States in a warmer fashion than he might have when his primary experience of our Nation was being branded obscene by its government? I’m not a Lawrence scholar, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to make such an assumption.

Since the hand-written version follows a mark-up of the original printed galley’s version, it seemed obvious to me that it was the final “official” version of the poem, and therefore the only one which I should find online when I searched for the complete printed text of “The American Eagle” and Birds, Beasts and Flowers.

But it’s not . . . because both versions of the poem can be found online, with the original version being more frequent than the hand-written version. Here’s a cite of the darker one and here’s a cite of the lighter one, appearing in two different anthologies.

So somehow both versions entered into the Lawrence canon, at some time or another, and that’s where my research takes me a dead end (so far), since I cannot find information indicating when or where Lawrence edited, authorized or published a second edition. He only lived seven years after the original Birds, Beasts and Flowers was published, so it’s a fairly narrow window, most of it spent in New Mexico.

I’m still poking around to see if I can figure this one out, so if you know any D.H. Lawrence buffs or experts who might be able to shed some light on how this manuscript came to be published in two versions, I’d be happy to have you point them our way!

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Hand-written note on the back of the galley proof set in the Salisbury House Library, circa sometime between 1923 and 1930.