November 18, 2008

Some people think being a man is unmanly
Some people think that the whole concept's a joke
But some people think being a man is the whole point
And then some people wish they'd never awoke

Vik Muniz, What Is Painting, after John Baldessari, 2007

* From Harper's December 2008:

-- Percentage of Americans who say they live "paycheck to paycheck": 47

-- Percentage of those making over $100,000 per year who say this: 21

-- Percentage of Fortune 500 companies that own a Web address in which their name is followed by "": 26

-- Number of appearances that a Thai prime minister made this year as a TV chef: 4

-- Amount he was paid, leading to his ouster in September for receiving outside income: $2,300

-- Number of credit-card solicitations sent to Americans last year: 5,200,000,000

-- Percentage that were responded to: 0.5

* Are there unknown Auden poems out there? excerpt:

"The search is on for missing verse from one of the greatest 20th-century poets – with Helensburgh the focal point of the hunt.

"A small Scottish prep school, a pile of fading magazines, records mysteriously destroyed: it's a literary Cluedo that might lead to the discovery of vanished verses by one of the 20th century's greatest poets. The world's leading authority on WH Auden has launched a hunt for missing early poems by the writer, centred on Helensburgh, where he worked as a young schoolmaster.

"In the early 1930s Auden taught at Larchfield Academy prep, also known as Larchfield School. In 1931, it appears, he published a school magazine, The Larchfieldier. No copies of it have ever surfaced. But the US scholar Edward Mendelson, Auden's literary executor and editor, is convinced Auden would have included poems of his own among the schoolboys' writings, as he later did at two other schools.

"Professor Mendelson is appealing to readers of The Scotsman to help him solve a mystery that has frustrated him for two decades, by tracking down the missing editions, a few hundred copies of which he thinks might have been printed for pupils and parents. 'My guess is someone has one on a shelf somewhere, in a stack of their grandfather's old school papers. At some point it will turn up, or maybe it won't, but I keep hoping,' he says.

"The records of Larchfield were mysteriously destroyed in 1977, when it merged with a girl's school, St Bride's, to form the current Lomond School, including pupil lists from Auden's time there.
"Auden, born in York in 1907, died aged 66. From Oxford University he travelled to Berlin and then returned to Britain, to teach for two and a half years at Larchfield. At Helensburgh he produced a book of poems, The Orators, which made his reputation. It paved the way for his place alongside WB Yeats and TS Eliot as one of the greatest modern poets.

"For Mendelson, the trail begins with a report in the local Helensburgh and Gareloch Times about a new school magazine published by Larchfield pupils.

"'It was obviously Auden, he was always founding school magazines,' he says. 'He always wrote a couple of his own comic poems in it, mixed with the students work.'

"Auden moved on to The Downs School in Herefordshire in 1932, and later to an American school, St Mark's, in 1939. Both schools' magazines featured comic poems by Auden, later tracked down by Mendelson and other scholars in the 1970s. But in Helensburgh the trail goes cold. Mendelson has even advertised locally for copies, with no result.

"One piece of verse Auden wrote at Larchfield has turned up – a few lines of doggerel written for schoolboy Norman Wright on his jotter: it was auctioned at Christie's in 1988, but a play Auden was known to have written for his pupils in 1933, Sherlock Holmes Chez Duhamel, has disappeared.

"According to the 'Helensburgh – Home of Heroes' website, the gay poet described Helensburgh as 'a snob town' and had an affair with the son of an ironfounder. In 1967, Auden was approached by Larchfield in a funding drive. He sent a check for $50 from his then home in Austria, with a note that said: 'I trust your staff are better fed than they were in my day.'

"Larchfield was a boys' prep school with about 180 pupils, mostly from the surrounding area, with illustrious alumni including John Logie Baird. There are rumours that staff angry about its amalgamation with the girls' school might have been responsible for destroying the records.

"Lomond's headmaster, Angus Macdonald, says: 'There have been people getting in touch now and then with an interest in Auden, but I'm afraid I have had to disappoint them. It is frustrating. The Larchfield main building where Auden taught was converted into flats.'

"Mendelson adds: 'I can't prove this magazine had something in it, but it's very, very likely. It would be unknown work by a major writer.'

"He asks anyone with a clue or a copy to contact The Scotsman. 'It would be worth hundreds of pounds, but I hope the owner might say: 'The National Library of Scotland should have this'. Or I would buy it myself and present it to the National Library of Scotland.'"

* "The things we know best are the things we haven't been taught." -- Marquis de Vauvenargues


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