End of a Friendship? Letter from James Young

Originally posted on The Eleventh Hour:

In my last post I started to look at Mitrinović’s character, but there’s much more to learn about such a compelling, complex man. Perhaps the most revealing document I’ve come across so far when it comes to Mitrinović’s personality and personal relationships is a letter from James Young written in April 1925. Young was a psychoanalyst, who had studied under Jung, and written for The New Age alongside Mitrinović.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, 1925, p.1

The letter seems like an insightful and perhaps brutally honest analysis of Mitrinović’s character. It is also quite revealing of group dynamics in his circle, as Young complains that two group members were policing access to Mitrinović. He voices his worry that Mitrinović would burn out, recalling an incident where he had finally persuaded his friend to take a holiday, only for Mitrinović to use it as an opportunity to teach a young woman philosophy. Young felt she was already reeling…

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This Is Not A Dismal Place! J.B. Priestley’s North East Journey

Mr Priestley goes to the Tyne (and Tees)

In Autumn 1933, a famous young(ish) novelist visited the North East of England, full of cold and cold medicine and missing his home.  J.B. Priestley was travelling around England’s regions, making the observations that would become one of his most significant publications: English Journey.

PRI21_5_7LowResThe sections of English Journey on Newcastle, Middlesborough and the North East of England are among the most powerful parts of the book.  Priestley pointed unforgettably to the devastating impacts on landscape and people of “greedy, careless, cynical, barbaric” industry.  He also said bluntly what he thought of the locals (“I had never seen a crowd of men whose looks pleased me less”) and their accent, a “most barbarous, monotonous and irritating twang”.

A scrapbook of press cuttings (now part of the J.B. Priestley Archive)  shows how passionately people felt about Mr Priestley’s take on their region, which whatever its faults was theirs, not his, a prosperous, wellconnected man briefly visiting and criticising what he saw: “This is not a dismal place!” cried one Middlesborough newspaper.

PRI8_1_11 44 close

Eighty Years On

In 2014, academics and journalists and other readers, like ourselves, are revisiting the book, seeing it in context, examining its impact, see for instance J.B. Priestley Society’s recent conference.  In my talk at this conference I used the scrapbook to explore the marketing of English Journey and how it was received by its original readers.

The response to the 80th anniversary by local media in the North East has much in common with the reaction in the 1930s, picking out his strong criticisms of individuals as well as his social commentary.  Witness this article on the local BBC website and a piece on the local Look North (available online till 7pm on Friday 28 November 2014), both featuring the scrapbook and other contributions from Special Collections.

Chris Phipps, a local historian interviewed for these pieces, will go beyond the headlines about Priestley and English Journey in a talk at the Newcastle Lit and Phil on Saturday 29 November 2014.

Reflecting on English Journey and the North East

It’s possible to make too much of Priestley’s cold and bad mood and general prejudice against the Geordie accent etc.  He was a writer who tended to bring himself into his journalism and he often chose to play the grumpy Yorkshireman card.  What matters more is what he saw and the conclusions he drew about it, his call for a fairer society.  Not just in the North East but all over industrial and post-industrial England.   He knew himself that what he saw on his visit transcended his own discomforts and irritations:

“… remembering that I had a job to do, I climbed out of this morass of silliness and set about exploring the Tyneside.  I did explore the Tyneside and have not been genuinely sorry for myself since; though at times I have caught myself at the old drooping tricks and been ashamed.  There is, you see, something bracing about the Tyne.  After you have seen it, you realise it is not for the likes of us to be sorry for ourselves.”

Priestley was not the first or the last to write about poverty and social exclusion in the North East, but his contribution was certainly memorable and influential, his style at its absolute best, fuelled by his righteous anger.   For instance, this on Shotton,  a coal mining village, where he saw the “tip”, a huge “volcano” of coal dust and slag, breathing out ash and dangerous fumes:

“I stared at the monster, my head tilted back, and thought of all the fine things that had been conjured out of it in its time, the country houses and town houses, the drawing-rooms and dining-rooms, the carriages and pairs; the trips to Paris, the silks and the jewels, the peaches and iced puddings, the cigars and old brandies; I thought I saw them all tumbling and streaming out, hurrying away from Shotton – oh, a long way from Shotton – as fast as they could go”.

Meet Mr. Mitrinović

Originally posted on The Eleventh Hour:

When I took on the job of cataloguing the Mitrinović archive, I was looking forward to finding out more about the personality of the eccentric intellectual behind the collection. What was he like? How did his contemporaries see him?

Firstly, Mitrinović really looked the part of the exotic foreigner to those who met him. It sounds like a cliché, but as several commentators said it independently, it seems that Mitrinović really did have mesmerising eyes. He was tall with dark hair and eyebrows. Evidently he also had real presence, although the artist Paul Klee described him as having a “peasant face”!

Dimitrije Mitrinovic Oval

Mitrinović clearly had powers of persuasion that were something to be reckoned with. I think of him borrowing £5 from a total stranger on the ferry to England when he arrived in the country, or persuading the Serbian Legation to employ him as a clerk in 1914, when he…

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Wool, Weaving and Motor-cars: discover Bradford Technical College Archive online

For the first time ever, the wonderfully rich story of Bradford’s Technical College, its staff and students, and their links with local industries, can be discovered online – via a new catalogue of BTC’s archive (available in Word or PDF on its web page).

Half of a 200 H.P. compound engine made in the Engineering Department for its own use, on the back of an open horse-drawn cart (Archive ref: BTC 2/5/8)

Half of a 200 H.P. compound engine made in the Engineering Department for its own use, on the back of an open horse-drawn cart (Archive ref: BTC 2/5/8)

The College was created to meet the training needs of Bradford’s textile industries in the mid-19th century.  The first building of the Technical School was opened in 1882.   Transferred to local Council control in 1899, the College grew and developed to supply high-level technological expertise nationally and internationally.  A long-running campaign for University status paid off when the higher education side became Bradford Institute of Technology (a College of Advanced Technology) in 1957: this later became the University of Bradford.

The surviving records of the College tell its story and introduce us to many interesting people.  Photographs illustrate its buildings, we see the activities and works of its staff and students, who received prizes, and the impact of war and changing society on the institution.  We have enriched the original typescript 1970s finding aid for online publication, for instance by indexing many names.  Revisiting the archive in this way has shown us how much the College was part of the city.  There is so much still to discover.

A Mind at Work: Notes and Notebooks

Originally posted on The Eleventh Hour:

NAF 1-7-2-14-2 Visual example of DM Notes

Dimitrije Mitrinović’s working papers form an important part of his archive, and have been the focus of my cataloguing recently.  The Foundation charged with caring for Mitrinović’s legacy and encouraging the study of his ideas, the New Atlantis Foundation (now the Mitrinović Foundation), kept over 80 notebooks of all sizes and shapes, alongside boxes and boxes of loose sheets of handwritten notes. They contain Mitrinović’s thoughts on a whole range of subjects, names of authors whose books he was reading and people in his extensive and ever-shifting networks. Some have drafts of poems or a few bars of music sitting beside notes of petty cash expenditure!

NAF 1-7-2-14-1 Music

At some stage after Mitrinović’s death, possibly in the late 1960s, the New Atlantis Foundation sorted the many loose sheets of notes into categories according to their completeness and length. They range from drafts of recognisable pieces of work (e.g. articles for New Britain Quarterly), to an…

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Why did Napoleon gamble all for victory?

Dr Munro Price, of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, has published a book which explores the downfall of Napoleon.  Napoleon: the end of glory.  Oxford University Press, 2014.  Using a remarkable range of under-explored European archive sources, Dr Price shows us how and why Napoleon failed to compromise with his enemies in the period immediately before his first exile.   Contrary to popular belief, Waterloo was just a postscript to a career that had already failed.  I won’t summarise all Dr Price’s arguments: you need to read the book for those & it well repays a read.

Napoleon

Beautifully produced and very well priced for an academic work, this book would make a lovely Christmas gift for anyone interested in military history, politics or reconciliation/peace studies …

Fan Mail from Bloomsbury

Originally posted on The Eleventh Hour:

A charming letter for the Eleventh Hour this time. John Herbert Sprott (1897 -1971), known as Sebastian, was a member of the Bloomsbury Set. Sprott studied the moral sciences at Cambridge, and would ultimately become a distinguished professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Nottingham University, writing influential works on sociology. He is now perhaps chiefly remembered as one of John Maynard Keynes’ lovers, maintaining a friendship with Keynes and keeping his links with the Bloomsbury group, particularly E.M. Forster, even after his departure for Nottingham.

NAF 1-8-1-4 Letter to Mestrovic from Sebastian Sprott 1919 [cropped]

In 1919 Sprott was a young man who attended an exhibition in Brighton of the works of the Croatian sculptor and architect Ivan Meštrović, and was almost completely over-awed to meet the artist himself. Sprott gathered his nerve to write this piece of fan mail that survives as part of the Mitrinović Archive. Mitrinović and Meštrović were good friends, and on occasion Mitrinović lectured on…

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