WALT WHITMAN/PAUL POTTS & ORWELL
At one point I became the publisher of Animal Farm --
which only means that we were going to bring it out ourselves.
Orwell was going to pay the printer,
using the paper quota to which the Whitman Press was entitled
because of the broadsheets and pamphlets
I had published before the war....
We often wondered when looking at reviews of Animal Farm
pouring in from Spanish, Danish and Czech papers
what would have been its fate in the world
if it had first appeared in pamphlet form
under the imprint of the Whitman Press.
~ Paul Potts
To Orwell Today,
Thanks for posting my message to your site -- CRYSTAL SPIRIT ORWELL BBC FILM & COMMUNISTS ENSLAVE BRITISH FREE PRESS -- it seems I may have had a bit of an effect.
I must say I really enjoy the site and was lost for a couple of hours reading things once I was there.
One of the great regrets of my life is that I once met someone who knew Orwell really well personally, the minor poet and writer, Paul Potts, who was part of the post-war London literary 'scene'. When I met him through a mutual friend, David Kozubei, another minor London poet, who moved to the States and died there about two years ago, I hardly knew who Orwell was and knew nothing about him at all. If only....
Anyway, thanks again for your great website and all the enthralling information on it and your unflinching committment to freedom of speech and spirit.
With my very best wishes,
Thanks doubleplusmuch for your kind comments about ORWELL TODAY -- and great to have you as a reader and freedom of speech contributor.
It really is amazing that you met Orwell's friend Paul Potts -- and, as you say, if only you'd known about Orwell at that time -- maybe you would have met the great man yourself -- through Potts.
I've written about Potts in a previous email exchange with a reader, ie ORWELL'S PAL PAUL POTTS.
Potts, aside from being Orwell's friend -- the last one to see him alive -- is famous for almost publishing ANIMAL FARM.
Here's an excerpt from DON QUIXOTE ON A BICYCLE (from ORWELL REMEMBERED) with Potts describing how it came about:
Paul Potts (b 1911), a Canadian poet and author, knew Orwell from about 1944, and was a steady friend and admirer. He sold his poems in broadsheets and was a well-known figure in the old Bloomsbury and Fitzrovian literary world of the pubs and cafes, though not the Bloomsbury of private houses. His affection, indeed his devotion, towards Orwell is obvious, but his account of how he nearly published Animal Farm is accurate. Later Orwell invited him to visit Jura. 'Don Quixote on a Bicycle' is the name of his chapter from his 1960 book "Dante Called You Beatrice". [and a chapter in Orwell Remembered~jj]
...Orwell had an awful job getting ANIMAL FARM, the first book that really made him famous, published at all. It was right at the height of the Anglo-Stalin friendship. Many publishers turned it down on the grounds that it was not an auspicious moment to bring out such a book. In the end it was translated into about fourteen languages, including Russian, and published in perhaps twenty-two countries. He actually paid considerably more in income tax on his royalties from it than he had earned altogether during the previous ten years. He made about forty pounds out of the book before ANIMAL FARM -- a book of three essays entitled INSIDE THE WHALE.
At one point I became the publisher of ANIMAL FARM -- which only means that we were going to bring it out ourselves. Orwell was going to pay the printer, using the paper quota to which the Whitman Press was entitled because of the broadsheets and pamphlets I had published before the war. We had actually started to do so. I had been down to Bedford with the manuscript to see the printer twice. The birthplace of John Bunyan seemed a happy omen. Orwell had never spoken about the contents. I had not liked to ask as any questions might appear to have an editorial accent. He had, however, talked about adding a preface to it on the freedom of the press. I first read ANIMAL FARM in the train on the way down to see the printer in Bedford. As I got half-way through it I found myself looking at my fellow-passengers and feeling myself tempted to have a peep under the seat to see if there was any more dynamite about. The printer was an old-fashioned working-man radical. A real craftsman and a spiritual descendant of the printers who were willing to go to prison rather than refuse to print the 'Rights of Man'. That essay on the freedom of the press was not needed as Secker & Warburg, at the last minute, accepted the book....
We often wondered when looking at reviews of ANIMAL FARM pouring in from Spanish, Danish and Czech papers what would have been its fate in the world if it had first appeared in pamphlet form under the imprint of the Whitman Press. Very often the only words we could understand in some of the reviews in the foreign press were 'Swift' and GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. However, when we came aross them we knew it was a good review!...
While he was attacking the bullies on the right Orwell nearly starved to death. Once he turned to the bullies on the left, the right having been temporarily beaten, he made his fortune. This was due to no lack of integrity on his part. For he never fell for Communism for a moment although he was more deeply concerned with social justice than most men, and more unselfishly so than some. It had cost him plenty in the thirties and on the left to be so uncompromisingly anti-Communist....
~ end quoting Paul Potts ~
In noticing the name of Potts' publishing company -- the Whitman Press -- I recently made the connection that he probably chose that name after the American poet, Walt Whitman -- a poet of the people.
In the 1850s Whitman was shunned by the literary establishment for writing poems containing sexual innuendo. The only way he could get his poetry published -- compiled in a volume entitled LEAVES OF GRASS -- was to print it out himself in pamphlet form and distribute it to pubs and cafes throughout New York's literary district.
I came across Whitman's poetry and prose while reading on Lincoln and the American Civil War which followed reading on Washington and the American Revolution.
Passages from Whitman's writings are often cited by Civil War historians because he was alive during that time period -- born in 1819 and died in 1892 -- and wrote extensively about it. Whitman was 42 years old in 1861 when the Civil War began.
Whitman was an eye-witness chronicler of the lives of the soldier-boys -- and Lincoln -- during the entire four years of the war. He volunteered as a nurse's aide and ministered comfort and companionship to thousands of soldiers on the battlegrounds and in the hospitals in Washington. Whitman saw Lincoln personally, many times, on the White House and Capitol grounds and as Lincoln rode through the streets on horseback or in his carriage. It got to the point where Lincoln would nod his head in recognition when he passed by Whitman on the street. Whitman saw Lincoln's face up close and personal -- and he says there has never been a painting or a photograph that does it justice.
Whitman wrote two mournful poems after Lincoln's death -- WHEN LILACS IN THE DOORYARD BLOOMED and O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN! -- transcribed below under covers of Civil War books I own that personify its sentiments:
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up -- for you the flag is flung -- for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths -- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
I now own two of Whitman's books -- DRUM TAPS, his poems about the Civil War and SPECIMEN DAYS & COLLECT, a compilation of his diaries, essays and political journalism before, during and after the Civil War.
Below are the first four poems from DRUM TAPS to give readers a feel for Whitman's passionate patriotism and mastery of painting pictures with words.
The poems are: FIRST O SONGS FOR A PRELUDE; EIGHTEEN SIXTY-ONE; BEAT! BEAT! DRUMS!; FROM PAUMANOK STARTING I FLY LIKE A BIRD...
In SPECIMAN DAYS & COLLECT there are wonderful essays about Lincoln covering the time period from his inauguration to his assassination, ie THE WHITE HOUSE BY MOONLIGHT; ABRAHAM LINCOLN; THE CAPITOL BY GAS-LIGHT; THE INAUGURATION; INAUGURATION BALL; SCENE AT THE CAPITOL; NO GOOD PORTRAIT OF LINCOLN; A SOLDIER ON LINCOLN; DEATH OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN; A LINCOLN REMINISCENCE...
Reading Whitman's essays and political commentary reminds me of Orwell's writing style -- and also Jonathan Swift's who Orwell used as a model -- and no doubt so did Whitman. I've transcribed an excerpt below. Notice, while reading, that Whitman's description of politicians could be applied verbatim to present-day politicians -- the ones before and after Lincoln and Kennedy (the two greatest exceptions):
I consider the war of attempted secession, 1860-65, not as a struggle of two distinct and separate peoples, but a conflict (often happening, and very fierce) between the passions and paradoxes of one and the same identity -- perhaps the only terms on which that identity could really become fused, homogeneous and lasting. The origin and conditions out of which it arose, are full of lessons, full of warnings yet to the Republic -- and always will be... Let me try to give my view.
From the age of 21 to 40, (1840-60) I was interested in the politicial movements of the land, not so much as a participant, but as an observer, and a regular voter at the elections. I think I was conversant with the springs of action, and their workings, not only in New York City and Brooklyn, but understood them in the whole country, as I had made leisurely tours through all the middle States, and partially through the western and southern, and down to New Orleans, in which city I resided for some time. (I was there at the close of the Mexican war -- saw and talk'd with General Taylor, and other generals and officers, who were feted and detain'd several days on their return victorious from that expedition.).
Of course many and very contradictory things, specialties, developments, constitutional views, etc, went to make up the origin of the war -- but the most significant general fact can be best indicated and stated as follows:
For twenty-five years previous to the outbreak, the controlling "Democratic" nominating conventions of our Republic -- starting from their primaries in wards or districts, and so expanding to counties, powerful cities, States, and to the great Presidential nominating conventions -- were getting to represent and be composed of more and more putrid and dangerous materials. Let me give a schedule, or list, of one of these representative conventions for a long time before, and inclusive of, that which nominated Buchanan. (Remember they had come to be the fountains and tissues of the American body politic, forming, as it were, the whole blood, legislation, office-holding, etc). One of these conventions, from 1840 to 1860, exhibited a spectacle such as could never be seen except in our own age and in these States.
The members who composed it were, seven-eighths of them, the meanest kind of bawling and blowing office-holders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors, spaniels well-train'd to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave-catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the President, creatures of would-be Presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruin'd sports, expell'd gamblers, policy-backers, monte-dealers, duellists, carriers of conceal'd weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr'd inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people's money and harlots' money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combings and born freedom-sellers of the earth
And whence came they? From back-yards and bar-rooms; from out of the custom-houses, marshals' offices, post-offices, and gambling-hells; from the President's house, the jail, the station-house; from unnamed by-places where devilish disunion was hatch'd at midnight; from political hearses, and from the coffins inside, and from the shrouds inside of the coffins; from the tumors and abscesses of the land; from the skeletons and skulls in the vaults of the federal almshouses; and from the running sores of the great cities. Such, I say, form'd, or absolutely control'd the forming of, the entire personnel, the atmosphere, nutriment and chyle, of our municipal, State, and National politics -- substantially permeating, handling, deciding, and wielding everything -- legislation, nominations, elections, "public sentiment," etc -- while the great masses of the people, farmers, mechanics, and traders were helpless in their gripe....
~ end quoting Walt Whitman ~
In writing political commentary, Whitman, like Orwell, "used a pen like a sword...his life was a duel fought against lies" (quoting Potts). Notice the similarity of their expressions, ie Orwell's famous "well-trained circus dog" phrase describing journalists echoes Whitman's description of "kept-editors" as "spaniels well-train'd to carry and fetch". Swift, along similar lines, said "the world is misled by prostitute writers".
Whitman, like Orwell, was a writer for the working man -- he believed, as did the founding fathers of the United States that "all men are created equal" and, like Lincoln, he believed in "government of the people, by the people, for the people".
Orwell admired the American 'experiment' in democracy and was a student of Revolution and Civil War. He thought it was about time England had another revolution -- and when the Spanish Revolution broke out Orwell threw his life on the line alongside the people fighting for freedom against tyranny. In 1984 Orwell gives credit to the revolutionairies:
...The idea of an earthly paradise in which men should live together in a state of brotherhood, without laws and without brute labour, had haunted the human imagination for thousands of years. And this vision had had a certain hold even on the groups who actually profited by each historical change. The heirs of the French, English, and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and have even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable...
And on the last page of 1984 Orwell quotes the American Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute a new Government...
And, of course, the most famous line from ANIMAL FARM is ALL ANIMALS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
In DON QUIXOTE ON A BICYCLE, from ORWELL REMEMBERED, Potts describes Orwell's revolutionary spirit and patriotism for England:
...Orwell wasn't a creative writer of the first range. He did, however, write some very fine English prose, as good as Lincoln, Tom Paine and Jefferson.
Speaking for a moment as a British Columbian, there was more in him and in his work to make one feel proud of the English connection than all the Guards officers that ever swaqggered out of Wellington Barracks. Indeed there is something very lovely about England, to have produced a policemen like this.
For myself, I shall always remember a man with a cough, mending a kitchen table with a piece of wood he had cut from a dying tree. I shall never forget the widowed husband looking after the twice orphaned son.
This always sick man made his typewriter take on the suggestion of a white steed. In his hand the Biro he used for corrections could never quite help looking a bit like a drawn sword. His doctors thought him a bad patient. They should have heard, they probably did, what he thought about them. In his company a walk down the street became an adventure into the unknown. Indeed there will always be an England, as long as there is, from time to time, an occasional Englishman like this. In short his life was a duel fought against lies; the weapon he chose, the English language.
On thinking of him, a certain Don Quixote de la Mancha rides into mind on his horse Rosinante. Yet he was so local he made England look English.... On him a tweed jacket wore the air of knightly armour. A cup of tea was wine before a battle. He carried no shield, used for a weapon plain facts loaded into simple English prose. His kind has walked this way before all right... His name, already an adjective to use against a bully, men will remember for kindness and courage. He has left a feeling that he was something more than just another writer justly famous. It was as though each one of all his readers had found the family crest -- a crest to tell of something very simple and that thing beautiful.
~ end quoting Paul Potts ~
Thanks again for sharing your anecdote about meeting Orwell's friend Paul Potts -- which led to the discovery of his, and Orwell's, connection to Walt Whitman.
All the best,
PS - My favourite photo of Lincoln has my sons sitting on his lap at Mount Rushmore (taken about 25 years ago).
PPS - I wish Kennedy was on Mount Rushmore with Washington and Lincoln but at least his son John-John was there. He climbed the mountain not long before he was taken from us on July 16, 1999.
JFK reads the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776-1957, YouTube
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address... Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live....
Guide to Battle of Gettysburg 150th anniversary (300,000 Civil War buffs/tourists at Gettysburg), July 1-4, 1863-2013
listen/watch Drum Taps, Part 1 (impressive reading aloud and awesome video editing), YouTube
listen/watch O Captain! My Captain!, by Walt Whitman, read on YouTube
listen Leaves of Grass, Book 1, poems by Walt Whitman, full audio, YouTube
Walt Whitman Quotes ("...Re-examine all that you have been told, dismiss that which insults your soul... There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance... The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people..."
watch Walt Whitman, Poet for Eternity, documentary (America's first great poet...he felt himself called to do something to save America...the American democratic experiment needed saving, deserved saving...), YouTube
The Walt Whitman Controversy, Virginia Literary Review
...Whitman claimed to have known Clemens [Mark Twain] in 1853 when both writers lived in New York. Clemens, then only seventeen, had journeyed from St. Louis to New York mainly to visit the city’s first World’s Fair, which was held at the Crystal Palace; he ended up working at Gray’s printing house on Cliff Street. Whitman, a former newspaper editor, was then either a house builder or bookseller during those sparsely documented years immediately preceding the publication of the first Leaves of Grass. “I have met Clemens, met him many years ago, before he was rich and famous,” Whitman told Horace Traubel; “like all humorists he was very sober: inclined to talk of the latest things in politics, men, books, a man after old-fashioned models, slow to move, liking to stop and chat -- the sort of fellow one is quietly drawn to.”...
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) (an 1890 Address & 1892 Eulogy by Robert Ingersoll), Liberty in Literature
Paul Potts (1911-1990) has been called both "the people's poet" and "one of the most shamefully neglected" poets of the 20th century. During the 1930s he made his living selling leftist poems on the street of London. His later poems include Instead of a Sonnet (1944), and A Ballad for Britain on May Day (1945), though his best known prose work is the autobiographical Dante Called You Beatrice (1960). Potts' work regularly appeared in leading poetry magazines of the day, but despite this, Potts rapidly became disillusioned with poetry and eventually gave up publishing it at all. Potts was also appreciated for eulogies written for his friends, which included George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, and Patrick Kavanagh. He was a close friend of George Orwell, and stayed with him and his family at Barnhill on the island of Jura, Scotland, in June-July 1946. Potts was also known for his book reviews in the London Sunday Telegraph, starting in 1964. Potts, also known as Paul Hugh Patrick Howard Potts, was born July 17, 1911 in Datchet, Berkshire, England, as a Canadian citizen born abroad, and was brought up in British Columbia, Canada. He died August 26, 1990. The Paul Potts Papers consist of notebooks, letters, manuscripts, typescripts, and some photographs. The two notebooks range from 1946-1947 (approximately 275 pages) and include draft poems and prose, as well as articles and essays in different stages of completion. The notebooks also include sketches and lists of people, as well as a 13-page story about a "colonial" meeting and falling in love on a Hebridean ferry. Other writings contained here include "A Cook's Guide to Modern Poetry", "Basic Socialism", "On Being a Canadian", "All My Worldly Goods", "My Party Card", as well as several on Walt Whitman and one on his friend, George Orwell...
Paul Potts: Soho, ring-marked and a little soiled, Times Literary Supplement, Mar 4, 2008
He once stole Iris Murdoch's typewriter because his need, he said, was greater than hers. He made most of his money from exploiting his friendship with George Orwell - and he hated the truth of that. When the poet Paul Potts died in 1990 the Times obituarist noted his Dante Called You Beatrice as 'one of the most truly romantic confessions of the century', noting, however, that 'the prose becomes the poetry he feared he could not write'. Potts was a disappointed man of Soho in an age when disappointed artists famously filled the places that money-splashing tourists fill now.... There were pubs where poets hawked their wares and lived off alcohol and each other. Such is the accepted version of what went on. And alongside Tambimuttu, Dylan Thomas and George Barker at the bar there was Paul Potts. He is often described as born in Canada but was instead a man of Datchet. He is most remembered now for poetic failure and being 'irascible and light fingered'. It does not do to steal a lady novelist's typewriter. His name does appear sometimes when some other Soho bohemian dies -- when those typewriter-and-Orwell stories turn up in the life of a film-director who did not make many films but drank alot and was memorably attractive to women.... An unusual catalogue has arrived from the bookseller-writer, James Fergusson, offering 'two working manuscript notebooks' by Potts with a 'further archive of typescripts, manuscripts, letters etc [1939-48] -- ring-marked and a little soiled'. Fergusson describes Dante called you Beatrice as an 'extraordinary hymn to unrequited love' while noting, as is de rigeur for the Soho school of failure, that it 'was intended to be a new Unquiet Grave'....
O captain my captain, don't let my words die, National Post, Jun 25, 2007
Chances are you knew little, if anything, about Paul Potts, even before he died penniless and malodorous in 1990. Potts was born in British Columbia but lived much of his life in London, selling poems on street corners for a penny each but also hobnobbing with the likes of George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot and Elizabeth Smart. He published seven books of poetry and had some very devoted fans and one very peculiar quirk. Potts cared little about the cleanliness of his clothes or body. As a result, he stank. This peccadillo, combined with some other eccentricities, did not, apparently, help his career. "He became a creature of derision, mocked and shunned," according to Nova Scotia publisher Ronald Caplan, who has been busy trying to resurrect Potts' work. When the 1986 British book Portraits of Poets, by photographer Christopher Barker, appeared, Potts was termed "the most shamefully neglected" of the century's poets. The portrait of Potts in the book makes the bald, bearded man look like a derelict who just crawled from a ditch....
An anthology of his work has been prepared by Caplan's Nova Scotia firm, Breton Books. It is called George Orwell's Friend: Selected Writing by Paul Potts. The publisher's Web site describes Potts as "one of Canada's least-known significant writers." And now Potts has turned up as one of 13 "forgotten and neglected" dead poets in the summer edition of the biannual Ottawa-based national poetry publication, Arc Poetry Magazine.... Potts is a strange bit of treasure. He produced both poems and prose. Some works are hard to classify as one or the other. Consider this snippet of poetic prose from one of his most celebrated works, Dante Called You Beatrice: "I didn't want to kiss her I wanted to marry her. She made me want to go to Tuscany to bring her wine. To borrow a Florentine song to make her a crown."...
George Orwell's Friend: Selected Writing by Paul Potts (Born in British Columbia, Paul Potts lived most of his life based in London's Soho district, a friend and confidant of many ultimately famous writers. His circle included Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Smart and Sean O'Casey — and of course George Orwell, a constant friend. "George Orwell's Friend" includes autobiography and poetry, an intimate portrait of George Orwell, and the classic anguished memoir of love and vulnerability — elements that rarely find words, and even more rarely find the words of a man. Along with Potts' intimate essay about George Orwell, "Don Quixote on a Bicycle", editor Ronald Caplan reclaims the thoughtful work of a passionate, unusual Canadian.)
Paul Potts Remembering George Orwell (Potts' DON QUIXOTE ON A BICYCLE essay was first published in 1957 and then later as a chapter in his book DANTE CALLED YOU BEATRICE which was published in 1961...)
ORWELL'S PAL PAUL POTTS
ORWELL'S 27B CANONBURY SQUARE PHOTOS
GULLIVER DESCRIBES PROSTITUTE WRITERS
LINCOLN DREAMS KENNEDY FUNERAL & ALL-AMERICAN LINCOLN MEMORIES
JFK TRUTHS & UNTRUTHS & JFK ASSASSINATION PUZZLE PIECES
8.Classes of People (...Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low...)
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