The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘William Morris’

The Citadel

September 3, 2015 | by

In his ninety-three years, Chimen Abramsky amassed a vast collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. Here, his grandson Sasha explores some of the rarities.

From the cover of The House of Twenty Thousand Books.

Much later in his life, Chimen turned his eye to cataloging his library. It was a task he stubbornly refused to finish, despite having cataloged many of the world’s most important Judaica libraries for Sotheby’s, despite having even compiled a catalog of catalogs that he would occasionally show to fellow bibliographers. “It takes the magic out of it. It becomes a thing to sell, not a real collection. Once you catalogue the book, it becomes a dead object almost,” was how the rare-books dealer Christopher Edwards, who knew Chimen decades later, interpreted this reluctance. Chimen loved being courted by would-be buyers; adored being taken out to restaurants and clubs, such as the Garrick in central London, where dealers could flatter him by talking about the importance of his collection. But when push came to shove, he did not want to admit that, apart from a few missing pieces (he bemoaned the fact that he did not have any original issues of Marx’s newspaper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published in Cologne during the revolutionary year of 1848 and into 1849), his collection—his life’s project—was complete. Even when his insurance agent, Will Burns, repeatedly wrote him letters requesting that he provide a catalog of his library, Chimen managed to find one excuse after another. He was too busy; he was traveling; he was ill; he would do it next month. “I had hoped to do it during the summer vacation,” he informed Burns in late October 1981, “but unfortunately, as Miriam had an accident in Israel, I was unable to do so. I hope to complete it towards the end of January.” He did not, and Burns wrote him several more letters on the matter before eventually giving up. The collection remained insured only as general contents; had disaster struck and the House of Books burned to the ground, Chimen would have found, to his horror, that his inability to provide a catalog was a costly oversight.

What Chimen did do, though, was pen a series of memoranda about how he had acquired some of his rarest prizes. He wrote, for example, about how, in the early 1950s, he had managed to buy William Morris’s complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, along with the wooden box, with a rexine cover dyed blue and lined with a white feltlike material, that Morris himself had constructed to house a 1539 Bible, and in which, ultimately, he kept his copies of the revolutionary newspaper. The pages of the publication—its words printed in double columns originally on a monthly basis, then later weekly, from 1886 until 1895, and filled with the revolutionary musings of Morris, Marx’s daughter Eleanor, and other radical luminaries of the late-Victorian years—had passed from Morris to his close friend, the typographer Emery Walker; from Walker to his daughter; and from her to a poet named Norman Hidden. Chimen eventually bought it from Hidden for £50. And there they stayed, in their Bible box, high on a wooden shelf in the upstairs hallway at 5 Hillway, for more than half a century. Read More »

What We’re Loving: Being Stranded, Being Stoned, Krumping

February 7, 2014 | by


Promotional still from Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No

When you grow up in Los Angeles with divorced parents, you’re always getting stranded somewhere, usually in your own home. This particular conundrum, unique to the geography of LA, is novelized in Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other, a loosely fictionalized account of his sordid childhood in mid-century Hollywood, published in 1978. O’Brien is the only son of two fading film stars, whom he is burdened to babysit. Like all proper LA novels, this one has Malibu, western stars, prostitutes, “screenplay ideas,” Mexican food. But what I was most struck by was O’Brien’s portrait of the LA child as a captive audience. As our protagonist more somberly puts it: “My jailer had forgotten what I was in for but he wanted to keep me there for company.” That is what happens when you are stranded. Parents confide in you, and not just your own parents—anyone’s parents, perhaps because they truly are seeking decent advice, or maybe just because you’re the only other soul they’ve encountered that day. Our hero learns all the right coping mechanisms: make friends with the kid that has a car, play your parents against each other, move in with a nice Jewish producer who has more rooms in his house then he knows what to do with, and then try desperately to convince someone to love you, or at the very least to sleep with you. —Hailey Gates

Ever heard the story of MLB pitcher Dock Ellis’s having thrown a “no-no” in 1970 while he was as high (on LSD) “as a Georgia pine?” Well, now you have. —Stephen Hiltner

Earlier this week, on a flight from the Midwest to the East Coast, I read William Morris’s lecture “The Lesser Arts” to distract myself from the ear-popping, the altitude, and the beginnings of a cold. It’s Morris at his philosophical best: a manifesto on the use and value of the decorative arts, speaking against the notion that they’re somehow “lesser” than other fine arts. “Everything made by man’s hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly,” spoke Morris, “beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her … the hand of the craftsman is guided to work in the way that she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain flint.” As I engaged with the text, the interior of the plane—with its many small miracles of engineering packaged in just as many sins of design—felt more and more like a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. To Morris, even late-nineteenth century London was an abomination of ugliness: “a whole country or more covered over with hideous hovels, big, middle-sized, and little.” One can only wonder what he would think of 2014 London—or, for that matter, New York City. —Clare Fentress

A few weeks ago, when I wrote briefly about Howard Moss, Lorin recommended “Ménage à Trois,” a poem Moss published in The New Yorker in 1969. (Subscribers can read it here.) You might expect, given the title, a bit of titillation—but this is Moss, and his is a household of jaded appetites. Wry, unforgiving, and larded with tart apercus, the poem tells of a trio on a harrowingly dull vacation: “The food is dreadful. The weather worse./ So much for all the touted joys/ Of the Riviera—or wherever we are.” That kind of weariness pervades, and charges, the whole thing. Moss’s exhaustion makes for oddly buoyant verse, and you have to admire the verbal precision behind his contempt: “We provide pornography/ (mental) for the neighbors, who watch our blinds/ As if they were about to disclose an orgy.” That disclose is spot-on. As we approach the treacle-fest that is Valentine’s Day, a ménage as loveless as Moss’s is a fitting aperitif: bitter, but stimulating. “A little citrus kiss,” to borrow a turn from the poem. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »