Letters to the Editor

Published in: January-February 2004 issue.


H. Lawrence’s Ashes Were Not Eaten!

To  the Editor:
I would like to comment on the article by Alfred Corn, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” [Nov.-Dec. ’03], specifically on his story about Witter Bynner eating D. H. Lawrence’s ashes. I believe I can say that the story is not true.
It would be appropriate to state that I edited a five-volume edition of Witter Bynner’s works published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux: poems, light verse and satires, Chinese translations, prose pieces, and letters. In the course of more than ten years of research I read every document and letter that was available—by, to, or about Bynner. there were some 8,000-plus letters. I also interviewed everyone I could locate who knew Bynner, and in the 1970’s there were still many such people. I eventually wrote a biography, Who is Witter Bynner?, and edited a one-volume edition of his works, both published by the University of new Mexico Press.
Never once in that entire period was there a single reference to Bynner eating Lawrence’s ashes. Bynner was a man who had a very enthusiastic and public life, but no one reported the story. Mr. Corn states that he heard from one of the present owners of Bynner’s house. That owner says Paul Horgan, the novelist and historian, told him the story. It was Mr. Horgan who asked me to edit Bynner’s work, and he spoke to me at great length about Bynner, and over many years, and never once did he tell me this story, or even allude to anything like the story that mr. Corn reports. If Horgan knew of this incident, there is no question he would have told me.
Bynner wrote a biographical memoir of D. H. Lawrence, Journey with Genius, which was published in 1951. In it Bynner reports he was in Chapata, Mexico, in 1935 when the ashes arrived in Lamy. It can be documented that Bynner was not in this country and had no part in finding the ashes—not in Santa Fe, as Mr. Corn reports, but in Lamy. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad never actually went to Santa Fe, only to Lamy. The ashes were left there on the platform and Freda Lawrence herself, that evening, returned to get them. it is true that many people thought Bynner was there because of his close association with the lawrences, but he was not.
My last point is, I admit, quite subjective. Bynner published over twenty volumes of verse, mostly with Alfred A. Knopf, and two major translations from the Chinese, after twice visiting China in the early 20th century. He translated Iphigenia in Tauris for a production to be given by Isadora duncan and the translation was published in The Complete Greek Tragedies as one of the first modern versions of a Greek play. He found and edited Frederick Goddard Tuckerman’s sonnets and first published A. E. Housman in magazine and Ezra Pound in book in this country when he worked at McClure’s magazine and for a new York publisher. Today, his poetry is not well known, but it is of considerable interest and value. His book, Indian Earth (1929) contains exceptional verse about the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and the native people of Mexico, and his last book, New Poems 1960, is in style and thought still contemporary. He lived a gregarious social life, and for 25 years openly with another man, and while very much an old-style gentleman, he was not at all conventional in his thinking and had a broad and inclusive sense of American society. He loved to tell stories, and especially about himself, and people thoroughly enjoyed telling stories about him. One as outrageous as this about Lawrence’s ashes would certainly have been told—and except for this one telling in Mr. Corn’s article, there is no report like this that I have read or heard.
James Kraft, Old Chatham, New York


Klaus Mann’s Suicide; Thomas’s Tendencies

To the Editor,
I’d like to add some gossip to Laurence Senelick’s fascinating, informative essay on Klaus Mann (Nov.-Dec. 2003), which largely limits itself to Klaus’s early years. Someone in the same intelligence unit during World War II—I think they worked as translators and interrogators with the U.S. invasion forces in Europe—told me that Klaus Mann was the only one in the company who wore silk underwear, decidedly unusual for a GI!
Klaus’s suicide in Monte Carlo in 1949 was said to be the result of being blackmailed. But it was also to protect his father. It was not easy to be the son of such a famous man as Thomas Mann, especially in the late 40’s, with the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating Thomas Mann for his liberal views, when Klaus’s scandalous doings could tarnish his father’s reputation and make things more difficult for him. Yet from the evidence of his published diaries, Thomas Mann was quite aware of his own homosexual tendencies, and even wrote that he fell in love with Klaus when he saw the teenager naked in his bedroom. It must be highly unusual that of the six Mann children, four turned out gay.
I like to think of Klaus not only as a gay man, but as a political being. In the most powerful chapter of his memoir The Turning Point, he reports on his visit to Richard Strauss in Austria after the American Army liberated Europe, and was contemptuous of the great composer’s rationalizations about his collaboration with the Nazis. Paradoxically, Klaus Mann’s writing, as far as I can tell from translated works, was mediocre, while the work of Richard Strauss seems greater with each passing year.
Edward Field, New York City


Timing of Henry VIII’s Sodomy Law Matters

To the Editor:
Congratulations on a superb issue [Nov.-Dec. ’03] commenting on the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas! Alas, the guest opinion piece repeats an error of English law made in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s stirring opinion for the Court. Both Justice Kennedy and Ms. Brooten date the original Anglo-American buggery ban, 25 Hen.8 c.6, a product of Henry VIII’s English Reformation, to the year 1533. The first “secular” sodomy statute actually passed both the Houses of Commons and Lords, and received the royal assent so as to take effect, in 1534, probably in March of that year, before Parliament was prorogued on March 31, 1534. We can deduce timing from the statutory citation. The reference to “25 Hen.8,” following the customary style of British statutes to this day, means the law became effective in Henry VIII’s 25th regnal year. Since Henry ascended to the throne on his father’s death on April 9, 1509, we can deduce the statute dates to the year April 9, 1533 to April 8, 1534. Parliament was not in session after the April time period in 1533; the only laws dated from Henry’s 25th regnal year were enacted in 1534.
Some significance attends the actual timing of the sodomy bill. The session of the Reformation Parliament during calendar year 1533 was devoted to the historic “Act in Restraint of Appeals to Rome,” which terminated papal jurisdiction over the Church of England. This statute was narrowly drawn to legitimize Henry’s marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
By 1534 the government was embarked upon a more sweeping program of change for the English Church. Henry had himself declared “Supreme Head” of the Church, in effect replacing the Pope at the apex of ecclesiastical authority. Moreover, it is likely that the chief minister Thomas Cromwell was then already eyeing the rich monastic properties in England for expropriation. Though official greed drove the dissolution of the monasteries, Cromwell characteristically sought a pretext for the policy. Thus the supposed sexual immorality of those in religious vocation was trumpeted.
25 Hen.8, c.6 gave the common law courts jurisdiction over acts of sodomy, and explicitly denied “benefit of clergy,” the immunity ecclesiastics had traditionally enjoyed from punishment by royal officials. Together with a “visitation” campaign in 1535 that trumped up tales of sexual indiscretion in the religious houses, the sodomy law made the tendentious point that the Catholic Church in England had lapsed in its adherence to divine law. Henry stepped in to police religious morals, and righteously smote the monasteries where sins like buggery had been profligate; or so the pretext ran.
Accordingly, the 1534 sodomy law marked a widening of the government’s anti-Catholic program, adding religious Catholics in England to the Pope (stripped of jurisdiction in 1533) as targets of the campaign. The program went on to encompass the execution of diehard English Catholics, most notably Sir Thomas More in 1535. The expropriation of the monasteries began in earnest in 1536, with Cromwell’s slanderous groundwork well in place. Accusations of sodomy rang out in the Parliamentary debate over the 1536 bill to suppress the monasteries. It is accordingly no accident that the first individuals threatened with prosecution for sodomy, and the first accused to be convicted and executed under the law (a century later), were loyal Catholics.
The historical context of the original buggery ban exposes the evolution of a barely disguised anti-Catholic purpose in the statecraft of the English Reformation. The history also throws into relief the incongruity of the fact that sodomy laws directly descended from 25 Hen.8, c.6 are being defended by some of the most devout Catholics in the present-day American government, such as Justice Antonin Scalia and Senator Rick Santorum. You would think that such men would be warier about perpetuating the anti-Catholic religious policies of Henry VIII.
Don Gorton, Boston


No Closet for Delaney and Baldwin

To the Editor:
Gay poet Harold Norse writes in his autobiography about the black gay painter Beauford Delaney: In 1943, “Another painter I met at the fountain I had read about in [Henry] Miller’s monograph “The Amazing and Invaluable Beauford Delaney.” Short, stocky, bald, a middle-aged black man with the face of a shaman and the air of being in touch with unconscious forces, Beauford stared as if I were a talisman or painting, never removing his large, sad eyes from mine, making slow elaborate gestures as he spoke, showing his palms as if smothing a canvas. Beauford said Harry [Herschkowitz] was wise and kind. Years later, after many attempts, he finally succeeded in committing suicide in Paris.”
Last issue’s lead article [Sept.-Oct. 2003] did not give the impression that is the way Delaney died. What’s the truth?
Second point: the article conjectured tht Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin were not “lovers.” Is there any evidence that their initial connection was not a sexual one or a protracted one at that?
My request for clarification is because, in the histories of gay men and women, too many families, heirs, executors of estates, and even biographers have airbrushed the lives and the work of their famous relatives or subjects, putting them back in the closet where the heirs have decided they always belonged.
In his later years, James Baldwin himself was not above “rewriting” his life as befit the occasion or the interview. His own death remains one of those mysteries. He died in 1987 at the age of 63—officially from a cancer. He wasted away, in seclusion, at his house in the south of France. He was so weak, and had lost so much weight, that he would be carried to the table to eat. A younger brother and sister had taken over all of Baldwin’s public affairs—from legal and monetary matters to public relations.
In the mid-1980’s a prominent or closeted gay man could die of any “disease” they or their heirs were willing to pay for. In the hands of a family spokesperson anything could be kept out of an obituary, and it was.
James Baldwin was buried in grand style—after a grand ceremony in New York City’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He was being buried as an international celebrity, a black author and hero of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. This was a far cry from the teenage runaway waif from Harlem, cruising Greenwich Village for a trick or a bed for the night. Nor was this the penniless expatriate sexing himself silly in Paris’s Left Bank cafés, bursting with outrage and outrageousness, scintillating conversation and brilliant ideas.
“Our” history is different indeed than “their” history—and always has been. And we can never let our version to be so easily glossed over. Because our version of these people’s gay sensibility is what makes the Beauford Delaneys and James Baldwins of the world so remarkable.
Paul F. Lorch, Guerneville, California