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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