Friday, 22 January 2016

German Historian, Adrian Jitschin

German Historian, Adrian Jitschin, from Fern Universitat in Hagen, came to me seeking information about Maurice's relationship with Norbert Elias, the renowned sociologist whose Civilising Process remains one of benchmarks of Twentieth Century sociology. Adrian brought with him a thick pack of letters which he copied from originals of Maurice's correspondence to Norbert which are housed in the German Archive (Deutsches Literaturachiv Marback).

There we sat at my kitchen table in the little terraced London cottage Maurice and I shared, sipping tea and turning over hand-written pages filled with thoughts and recordings of seventeen year old Maurice to Norbert, some twenty years his senior. I sat in happy marvel to meet Maurice thusly, as a very young man, thrilled to have as his friend an elder who excited his already vast curiosity about the world in which he lived. Here was Maurice, already at such a young age, in angst, pondering existential questions that never crossed my mind when I was his age and older.

Adrian and I sat going through the letters trying to decipher just how they had met and we knew that it was most likely the work of Maurice's older brothers John and Leslie and most likely Aubrey Menen, the writer and broadcaster who worked with John, also a writer and broadcaster, in India during the war (and later a documentary film maker). But we couldn't exactly pinpoint when and how they met. Before Adrian's arrival I had gone through several boxes of Maurice's correspondence and had found a small collection of Norbert's letters to Maurice and had copied those for Adrian and the German Archive. Together we were trying to piece together the story of the friendship between these two men.

It was a moving visit for me and once Adrian had gone, I poured over the letters in private. Here was a young Maurice penning to Norbert that he had his mother's permission to join Norbert in London for a theatre production or an opera, or thanking him for a book or writing about his evacuation from London with thousands of other school children during the London bombardments. He wrote of his impressions of Petersfield, of the fascinating people he was meeting there, among them Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian economic historian who wrote The Great Transformation which was published in 1944 to great acclaim, of Polanyi's wife whom he admired greatly and daughter Kari with whom he fell in love. He wrote of going home to London during the bombardments, of the intense study program he had put himself under to win a place at Oxford. The letters progressed on in time, when Norbert was interned during the war. In all they span a period of about thirty-five years until the two men went their separate ways and lost touch.

Adrian and I have been in touch over the last few years. He visited again and together we tackled Maurice's handwritten letters. I understand the correspondence between these two men with figure prominently in a book he is writing in collaboration with Norbert Elias Foundation.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Daniel Kirmatzis

Daniel Kirmatzis is one of the historians who was going to blog for me or help me blog and do a bit of work in the archives when he really got involved in doing the war book for the Emanuel boys who went to war in both the Great Wars and he had his nose down hard on this project for a couple of years. It came out---a splendid six hundred page book in which Maurice featured quite highly---during the war commemoration at Emanuel, one of the biggest in the country. Daniel and the archivist at Emanuel did giant boards for various 'boys' and Maurice had a large board with pictures of him and excerpts from 'Of Sins and Winter', his cri du coeur against war that he wrote in the early fifties and which was published in 1955 by Chatto and Windus. Some of the profs going around reading the boards said Maurice's war writings were some of the most poignant they had ever read....

Monday, 13 January 2014

Annie Pennington, the smart cookie website builder who helped me put Maurice's site together over four years back, gave me my yearly prod in a recent mail with her 'another year has passed and I see you've only made one entry'.

At least there was that entry. I didn't do it. I figure that whatever you are wishing to do and haven't done yet it's because the right moment hasn't presented itself. It takes the time it takes and that's that. So this year the prod had me go to text edit and here I am, albeit I don't know what to do with this after it's written. That will have to sort itself. But at last I'm blogging for Maurice who has been gone from the earth now almost five years.

Mourning is a tricky animal, it's a live and strange, hurtful thing you can't get your head and heart around. It gives you constant unwelcome surprises, depending, I suppose, on where you are in the healing process of being the one who survived. The absence of the person you loved and still love and who is not here to touch or to touch you and whose voice you will never hear again, weaves in and out of your being as you go along, as the years pass. You don't get used to it. But you do come to tolerate it better and its ever-changing presence. And you do all manner of jockeying about, trying to get easier with it.

Perhaps that's what I'm doing because I miss Maurice terribly this season. People don't like to talk about mourning but the fact of the matter is that when you have loved deeply they don't pass out of your life when they go, they are still there for you and somehow you have to cope with missing them and missing them changes from day to day, from season to season, from year to year. Perhaps blogging is my way now. We'll see. This year I'm starting it in the new year of 2014. It seems timely.

Daniel Kirmatzis, the young historian who contacted me about a year after Annie got Maurice's site up, did Maurice's first real blog. And the only one. Daniel's specialty is war and, some four years back, he had become involved in putting together the 2014 Emanuel War Exhibition for the school and this project was in its infancy. He had found Maurice through his project and the fact that Maurice was an old boy and had fought in the Italian campaign as a Forward Observation Officer. And so began what is becoming a long and happy friendship between Daniel and me.

Over steaming cups of tea in the dead of winter Daniel perused Maurice's war photos and a few documents I first gave him to acquaint him a bit with Maurice and his thought. He returned and we sat again over tea as the winter darkness descended and I read him some of Maurice's war poems and the silence between us at the end of each one was poignant. When he next came again I read him some of Maurice's unpublished war novel and parts of a searing document called 'Steel Canticles', all about war. I loaned him 'Of Sins In Winter', Maurice's cri du coeur about his frontline experiences in World War II.

Daniel is an enquiring and intelligent man with a passion to honor the Emanuel old boys who fought. So he returned to Maurice's and my little terraced cottage here in London again and again. Finally I gave him the entire war book to read, he had access to the war poems and 'Steel Canticles'. Daniel was so taken by the brilliance of the work that I invited him to visit Maurice's office that I had been organizing for over two years. Trying to archive Maurice's work into categories and subjects had in itself been a huge, fascinating and exhausting task---and one that is nowhere finished.

I had only known Maurice the last twenty-five years of his life, from 1984 to 2009 and these archives dated from the late 1940s. There were huge amounts of manuscripts and documents of all kinds I had never read---plays, novels, essays, letters, biographies, poetry, notes and on so many subjects. I never knew Maurice without his clipboard at hand and writing for him was equivalent to breathing, he had written since he was a child and he was at it night and day. He was a giant of a man in his own right, brilliant, scintillating and challenging to be with and any woman could be easily overshadowed by him although he always encouraged women to stand in their own light and genius. He was a humble man, he never meant to overwhelm. But to stand in my own light meant I couldn't be bothered with his past work, I had enough to do to keep up with living with him and pursuing my own work. I had been a visual artist but had to give art up as I had became allergic to my materials. And it was Maurice who encouraged me to go back to what had been a second childhood passion, books and writing. Under his tutelage I wrote three books albeit painfully. I am slower than molasses when it comes to writing.

But when Maurice left me, when he died, I simply could not do other than immerse myself, first in the putting out of his last book, The Ape of Sorrows (much more on that later) and then in his archives. It was my way of keeping him. Because this is what some people do. Sometimes one cannot let them go. One clings to them. Not only that, but one looks for them everywhere--down streets where one has strolled together, at old familiar haunts, in the parks where you've walked together. You know it's impossible but you find yourself gasping at the sight of a man's gait that vaguely resembles his, so badly do you want it to be him! You have to comfort yourself in some way. Or at least I did. So it was that I gathered together thousands and thousands, I would say hundreds of thousands, of handwritten and typed pages, from battered trunks in France where we also lived, from stacks of files and dusty bookcases all through this house. Suddenly every shred of paper with Maurice's stamp on it was sacred. I had to know Maurice before me, what he was, how he had lived, what he wrote, what he thought. His contemporaries were almost all gone as Maurice was a generation ahead of me. And so mostly it was going to be through paper that I would come to know Maurice all the more intimately, that I would have him talk to me again. In the wee hours of the night when I couldn't sleep, I sat lost in his papers, completely fascinated. I dedicated the largest room of the house to him and gradually Maurice's archives began to take shape.

But Daniel didn't see this office for almost two years.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Rediscovering a great thinker

In 2011 I started research on Emanuel School alumni’s experiences in the First and Second World Wars. Emanuel had been founded as a hospital for the poor in the late 16th Century by Lady Anne Dacre. By the late 19th Century, after the Education Reform Act of 1870, the hospital was wound down and a school bearing the name Emanuel was established in South London, between two railway lines on Wandsworth Common. This is the school I attended in the late 20th Century.

Over 1600 former pupils from Emanuel fought in the two World Wars but their stories, apart from the occasional mention in the School Magazine, had been largely forgotten. So in early 2011 I set myself the challenge of retelling as many of these stories as possible. In 2014 I will holding an exhibition at Emanuel School detailing their stories.

One afternoon, exploring a number of names on the School’s Pro Patria I typed “Emanuel School” and “Rowdon” into a search engine. Little could I have known then that I would discover the mind of a man whom I now consider to be a 20th Century genius. The search results came back with a website, dedicated to Maurice Rowdon. It stated that among many other talents he was a philosopher, historian and perhaps most importantly, an author. I left a message on the website explaining what my project was about. That’s when my journey of discovery began.

A few days later I received an email from Maurice¹s wife, Dachiell, who expressed an interest in my project. Emails flew back between us and shortly I found myself in the cozy sitting room of the small terraced cottage in Wandsworth that she had shared with Maurice. Over steaming pots of tea served in old-fashioned porcelain tea cups, Dachiell began to introduce me to Maurice through his manuscripts and writings on war. I had gone over with the same excited curiosity about this man as I had when visiting the last remaining Emanuel veterans of World War Two, their immediate families and descendents. From each encounter I had learned so much about war, how each man had lived it, had died in it or had survived it. I say man really, but these were boys made soldiers and their stories came vividly alive to me, so much so I was keen to reveal as much of their earthly pageantry I could find in recognition of their giant sacrifice. Here was yet another boy turned soldier who went to the front and I was ready to know his story. I had come to find a Forward Observation Officer in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War and I am doing that, and in doing this, in sifting through his papers, I am rediscovering a man whose work was that of a great thinker.

I can see that Maurice spent his life trying to understand who exactly Homo Sapien is or more precisely, who Homo thinks he is. His works which we are now establishing as an archive are full of unpublished books, plays and notes on the nature of humankind, from every view point and every experience including sex, love, war, power, death and loss. Themes Maurice tackled include class, race and religion. He also did extensive work on animal intelligence. He produced a bevy of books on Italian civilisation, the rise of money, Spanish Terror, Talking Dogs, his war experiences and much more.

In the last few weeks I have spent more and more time amongst his papers, sifting through old notes, organising papers into various folders, with cups of tea and two adorable cats pottering in and out of what was Maurice’s study. The room is packed from floor to ceiling and you can hear the whispers of a genius from every piece of paper that you touch. To explore Maurice’s mind is to be taken on a journey into the depths of human existence. One truly feels close to an extraordinary individual who left this world with so much unpublished.

One of the quotes that I just discovered in Maurice¹s notes is this:

“The universe is bounded by our thought: If our thought is small and poor so
is the universe”.

Our aim is to allow the world to discover Maurice, or more aptly, rediscover him, for his thoughts on what humans have done and are doing to our precious planet are most critical at a moment when 7 billions of our species now walk this earth.

So with our first post we would like to welcome you to the mind of a genius. If you have an interest in any area of Maurice¹s works and thoughts then we would love to hear from you. The Maurice Rowdon Archive can be contacted by email on or join us on Facebook at Maurice Rowdon Archive and also on Google+

Daniel Kirmatzis (South London, March 2013)
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