Ephemera from Max Eastman

Strangest Book of the Week #2 - Max Eastman

What peculiarness do we have in store today? Today it is more about the ephemera found within the book than any peculiarity of the book itself. Like the last one, the content actually sounds fascinating rather than at all strange, and this one I would particularly like to read.

The Literary Mind in an Age of Science, by Max Eastman from 1932.

Eastman is an intriguing individual, "a brilliant activist, dedicated socialist, journalist, key figure, and leading radical during the Harlem Renaissance in Greenwich Village, NY." (source) One way in which he turned out to be on the "wrong" side of history is his estimation of the Modernist movement in literature. "During the 1930s, Eastman continued writing critiques of contemporary literature. He published several works in which he criticized James Joyce and other modernist writers who, he claimed, fostered "The Cult of Unintelligibility". These were controversial at a time when the modernists were highly admired. When Eastman had asked Joyce why his book was written in a very difficult style, Joyce famously replied: "To keep the critics busy for three hundred years"." (wiki) Only two hundred years to go, Joyce, but your chances are looking pretty good from where I'm standing...

But to the point of this post: this book arrived with a typed letter signed by Eastman, a Western Union telegram from Eastman, and a postcard with a short handwritten note and also signed by Eastman. All addressed to the same woman, Florence Burgess, who has her bookplate in the book. I couldn't find any information about her, but it appears she was a friend of his and his wife Elena who lived in Colorado.

I honestly don't think I've ever handled a telegram, Western Union or not. How intriguing! How quaint! The texting of its day. Sometimes I wish I romanticized these defunct technologies much less than I do. Let's face it: I could still totally write somebody a letter by hand and send it off in the mail, but do I? I think I'm more likely to have been a near-hermit in those days, seeing very little of the world past what I read in books...

Seriously though how lovely is it to see this personal connection here. More context is, I think, unlikely to be found or, if it would be, unlikely that anyone would bother piecing it all together. Max Eastman is interesting, but is a relatively minor figure of the 20th century, and Florence? Franky I'm more curious about Florence but maybe that's because she is likely lost to history and open more to speculation. We'll never read about her travels in Europe.

Books in and of themselves are time capsules. Quadruply so given the ephemera in this case.


Postcard: The front is a colored illustration of a man in traditional Mexican dress in front of a horse, and on the back Eastman has written on the back: "A word of remembrance and thanks for your kindness to me in Denver -- Max Eastman. (Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.)"

Max Eastman postcard
Max Eastman Postcard, front

Western Union telegram: Stamped several times on the front and back Oct 31, 1938, with some pencil notes on the front and a bunch of pencil notes on the back, and a ~two inch tear along a crease on the right side. "Florence Burgess = [...] Florence I just returned to my house and found your letter telephoned hotel but you were gone. I am terribly sorry to have missed you and so is Eliena. Please send us word without fail when you come again and meanwhile believe in my affectionate regrets = Max Eastman".

Max Eastman Western Union telegram

Typed letter: On Croton-on-Hudson, New York letterhead. "Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. / September 16, 1938. / Dear Florence, It was good to hear from your and know that are sometimes listening in. I wish you could answer! / So fas as I go, Littleton is the capital of Colorado. I thought I explained all that to you when we were driving together that day. / Also, I think you should call me up at Croton when you go through New York, even though on your way to Europe. / My best wishes, As ever, Max Eastman"

Max Eastman typed letter
I would be much remiss if I neglected to include a photo of Florence's bookplate:
Florence Burgess bookplate
Interestingly this is the second Max Eastman book we've had in recently, the other being The Enjoyment of Poetry (1951) which was signed and inscribed to Thomas Hornsby Ferril who was later the Poet Laureate of Colorado during the 1980s. I wonder if Florence knew Thomas?
The Enjoyment of Poetry by Max Eastman
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