Bertrand Russell & Albert Barnes

By the beginning of World War I, Russell’s political convictions & social behavior were attracting at least as much attention as his work in mathematics & philosophy.  His pacifist beliefs during the war cost him his position at Trinity College, Cambridge.  He had two failed marriages, with accompanying affairs that hurt his social standing.  And his ideas regarding the institution of marriage – he was an advocate of free love – made it difficult to find work as a teacher or lecturer.

In 1938, with war threatening in Europe, Russell left England for the United States with his third wife, Patricia, who was about 30 years his junior, & their infant son, Conrad,  He eventually found a position teaching at the City University of NY, but was dismissed in 1940 because of his controversial views.  Knowing that Russell desperately needed a job, Harvard pragmatist, John Dewey asked his good friend Albert C. Barnes if he might be able to employ him.  It was while teaching at The Barnes Foundation that Dewey wrote most of his Art as Experience (1934), which he dedicated “To Albert C. Barnes, in gratitude.”  Barnes offered Russell a 5-year contract ($8,000 yearly) with “no restrictions” to give lectures on the history of Western philosophy to his factory workers & other students.

Patriarchal Barnes chose a house for Russell & his wife, arranged its furnishings & offered free advice on the care of their five-year-old son.  Mrs. Russell wrote Barnes a polite note inviting him to mind his own business.  Instead, Russell & his family rented Little Datchet Farm in West Pikeland Township in Chester County. From this location, Russell was able to take the train or be driven by his wife (he did not drive) the 25 miles to Marion Station & the Barnes Foundation.

Barnes & his wife Laura then purchased an 18th century estate in the same township & named it “Ker-Feal,” Breton for “House of Fidèle,” after their favorite dog which Barnes brought home from Brittany during an art-buying trip to France. [Barnes was driving back to the Foundation in Merion from Ker-Feal when he ran a stop sign & was killed almost instantly by a tractor-trailer on July 24, 1951].

Though Russell, a British earl, disliked his title, his wife insisted on being called “Lady Russell,” which infuriated the working-class-born [Kensington, Phila.] Barnes.  It was only a matter of time when Bertrand & Albert, both irascible, dominating, eccentric & curmudgeonly personalities, would have their falling out.

When Russell didn’t show up for his regular lecture one day in 1943, it was the chance for which  Barnes had been waiting.  The trustees of the Barnes Foundation immediately announced that “Mr. Bertrand Russell has discontinued his lectures” & that the contract was broken. After being fired, Russell sued Barnes for the remainder of the money the philosopher was to receive through 1945, and won.  Ironically, the lectures he did deliver were eventually published [as The History of Western Philosophy], once the Russells were reestablished back in Cambridge, & the proceeds essentially supported him financially for the rest of his long life.

caricature by Andrew David

Dan Ellis-Killian


Grant “American Gothic” Wood, an Impressionist?

Grant DeVolson Wood (1891–1942) — long before his “American Gothic” became iconic,  Wood’s forays into “formal” art education included occasional night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.  However like other Americans of the era, he studied at the Academie Julien (Reginald Leslie Grooms was a fellow student).  While in Paris he became captivated with Impressionism & Post Impressionism [Les Nabis] as reflected in some of his works below.
In spite of this lack of formal training, in 1934 he became an associate professor of fine arts at what is now the University of Iowa.  During his tenure this led to continual confrontations with the guild of “academic” professors.  One of Wood’s detractors was H. W. Janson, who was teaching at Iowa while finishing his Harvard dissertation.  Friction between them prompted Janson’s criticism of Wood & Regionalism in the 1940’s & 1950’s.  Subsequent editions of  Janson’s textbook History of Art (the default standard in classrooms for years) excludes any mention of Wood, Regionalism, or “American Gothic”.  Nevertheless, Wood received a number of prestigious honorary degrees.  In his lithograph, Honorary Degree (1937), Wood, somewhat “short” on formal training, is honored with a “gothic” hood by his taller & more pretentious academic colleagues. Wood is basking in the glory of the Gothic arch, his symbol for Regionalism & American Gothic, his claims to fame.  This is one of the few self-portraits he completed.

Grant Wood’s sister Nan & his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby — standing next to their iconic likenessAs an aside: Although it’s common knowledge that the models for  the oft-parodied “American Gothic” were Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham (1900-90), & his local dentist from Cedar Rapids, Dr. Byron H. McKeeby (1867-1950), interestingly, both sat separately & never in situ in front of the Carpenter Gothic style house (Sears, Roebuck & Co. used to sell them as kits) which still is standing in Eldon, Wapello County, Iowa

Dan Ellis-Killian

[rockyou id=123326777&w=600&h=450]

Question: Did George Stout (former director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston) study under Grant Wood or Horst Woldemar Janson at the Univ. of Iowa? No, by the time Wood was appointed to the faculty in 1934 & Janson was teaching (1938-41), Stout was head of the conservation department at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum

Montaigne’s Blog

“Where I have least knowledge, there do I use my judgment most readily.” Thus Montaigne himself adds credence to the facile observance that the only difference between today’s blogger & his Essays is the medium. Well, let’s not overlook the fact that Montaigne was brilliant & most of us are not. But, that’s okay because, to borrow another commonplace observance: if we were all brilliant, Montaigne wouldn’t have been. Brilliance is brilliance only because of its rare appearances upon the human stage. As Emerson noted of Montaigne’s writing: “Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive”. (Emerson’s“Montaigne or, the Skeptic”)

Contrary to the assumption that Montaigne ‘invented’ the essay form, according to Terence Cave of St. John’s, Oxford, the essay for Montaigne is not just a literary genre – that came later with the likes of Charles Lamb, Les Essais, however, represents a mode thinking, of indeterminate thoughts, trials, soundings; which enables one to review thought processes over time – much like the hypomnemata of Stoicism repopularized as the commonplace book by Erasmus. Montaigne thus describes himself as “an unpremeditated & accidental philosopher.”

Another observance of conventional wisdom is that Montaigne was the sceptic’s sceptic, especially given the influence of Pyrrhonist skepticism behind Les Essais, not to mention popping up on the Vatican’s best sellers list of prohibited books. Now, according to a new book by Ann Hartle [Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher CUP, 2007], The Essay transforms skeptical doubt into dialectical reflection, in which “the world is presented as radically contingent but where the divine is present in an incarnational & sacramental way.”

Bunhill Fields: Last call for those who don’t conform

Bunhill Fields (technically a burial grounds, not a ‘consecrated’ Church of England cemetery) – its name perhaps derives from a corruption of ‘bonehill,’ in reference to the bones carted away from St. Paul’s Cathedral to make room for new interments.  Located in the London Borough of Islington, the list of those there buried reads like a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of 17th century Nonconformity. Robert Southey called it the “Campo Santo of the Dissenters,” literally the “holy field,” referring to the Pisan Camposanto Monumentale. It’s the last resting place for an estimated 120,000 bodies marked by 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones with the exception of a Victorian addition to Bunyan’s tomb. The cemetery was damaged during WW2 & reconstructed in 1960 to a design by Sir Peter Shepheard (late dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts & emeritus professor of landscape architecture at the Univ of Pa).  cf. London Non-Conformist registers 1694–1921


  • Thomas Wilcox [c.1549 – 1608] – Admonition to the Parliament (1572)
  • John Owen (1616-83), Congregationalist minister, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Univ.
  • George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) – in the Quaker Gardens, next to the Bunhill Fields Meeting House
  • Richard Cromwell (1626–1712) & Henry Cromwell (1628–74) sons of Oliver Cromwell
  • John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), author of Robinson Crusoe
  • Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John & Charles Wesley; John Wesley’s (founder of Methodism) City Road Chapel, home, & burial place are located directly across the street
  • Isaac Watts (1674-1748), “Father of English hymnody”
  • Thomas Bayes (1702–1761)  Presbyterian minister & mathematician, remembered for his theories regarding statistics & probability.
  • William Blake (1757-1827), painter & poet, & wife Catherine (1762-1831) whom he married in 1782.blakes-tomb

My wife wrote her Master’s thesis on Blake.  Imagine our surprise, as we sat nearby, wondering who would leave freshly cut flowers at his tomb, when the cemetery grounds keeper identified himself as the donor! [Although he had no formal advanced education, he enjoyed reading Blake, & was especially proud of his homeland’s (Ireland) literary tradition]


Plurality of Benefices: Nice work if you can get it

Rt Rev Richard Watson (1737-1816) Anglican prelate & academic, the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816.
Elected Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge in 1760; received MA in 1762. He would go on to become a professor of chemistry in 1764, even though, he confessed, “At the time this honour was conferred upon me, I knew nothing at all of chemistry, had never read a syllable on the subject, nor seen a single experiment in it!” Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1769. At the age of 34 the ambitious Watson was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity in 1771, & not surprisingly, his qualifications in academic theology were non-existent. The day after his marriage in 1773 he took a sinecure rectory in North Wales, a living which he soon exchanged for a prebend in the church at Ely. All told, while still holding his university chair, as cleric he held 14 other widely scattered, but nevertheless stipended livings. As bishop it was reported that he only visited his diocese once, “preferring the life of a country gentlemen at Windermere.” It was there that the likes of Coleridge & Wordsworth came calling. Among his notable writings were an Apology for Christianity (1776), in reply to Gibbon & an Apology for the Bible (1796), in reply to Paine. During his tenure in the House of Lords, Watson supported many unpopular causes, e.g., Irish & American independence.
In the late medieval period, the abuse of clerical non-residence was relatively common. Obviously, since one can’t be in two or fourteen places at the same time, it would have been immensely helpful to have had direct deposit for pay checks. In spite of reforms & canon law, the practice continued unabated. According to returns made to Parliament in 1831, some 33% of the beneficed clergy in England & Wales held more than one living, & 6% held three or more. Only 44% of the parishes of England & Wales had an incumbent who actually resided within the parish boundaries.

Brain, Timothy J. “Some Aspects of the Life & Work of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, 1782–1816,” PhD dissertation, University of Wales (Aberystwyth), 1982
Brown, Stewart J. “‘Guardians of the Faith’: The Established Churches of the United Kingdom, 1801–1828,” in The National Churches of England, Ireland, & Scotland 1801-46 Oxford: OUP, 2002

addendum: other Welsh compatriots of the diocese –
Charlotte Church, born in Llandaff February 21, 1986
Francis Lewis, signer of the US Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York, was born in Llandaff on March 21, 1713

Lest we forget, of all the bishops who had survived the flu epidemic of 1557-58 (which claimed Mary) but refused Elizabeth’s Oath of Supremacy on her accession, were deprived of office, save one.   Only one of all the English bishops took the oath of royal supremacy: Anthony Kitchin.  He had been a bishop under Henry, Edward, Mary, & upon Elizabeth’s reign he was a bishop still in the see of Llandaff.

Wright, Frank Lloyd

  • In 1893, architect Louis Sullivan personally asked Frank Lloyd Wright to leave his Chicago firm of Adler & Sullivan after he discovered that Wright had been moonlighting.
  • Later, his son, John Lloyd Wright, was fired from his father’s architectural firm over a financial disagreement, only to go on to invent the iconic “Lincoln Logs”
  • There’s a small brass marker outside a nondescript house in Fiesole (above Florence) Italy, where Wright & Mamah Cheney continued their open ‘liaison,’ though both were married to their respective spouses at the time. The scandal that erupted over this affair (not his last) virtually destroyed Wright’s practice in the States. On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago, a servant set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin & murdered seven people as the fire burned; among the dead were Mamah & two of her children.

coffee: pre-Starbucks

Coffee makes us severe, grave, & philosophical.–Jonathan Swift, 1722

Without a single Starbucks on the horizon, the ancient Abyssinians (Ethiopia) had to do something. Legend has it that the beans & leaves of bunn, as coffee was called, at first were simply chewed, but the inventive Ethiopians quickly graduated to more palatable ways of getting their caffeine fix. They brewed the leaves & berries  as a weak tea…. Finally, probably in the 16th century, someone roasted the beans, ground them, & made an infusion. Ah! Coffee as we know it (or a variety thereof) finally came into being….
In the first half of the 17th century, coffee was still an exotic beverage, & like other such rare substances as sugar, cocoa, & tea, initially was used primarily as an expensive medicine by the upper classes. It wasn’t until 1689 when the Café de Procope opened in Paris, that coffeehouses throughout continental Europe evolved into egalitarian meeting places….

Twenty-five years after they were banned by Charles II in 1675, there were more than two thousand London coffeehouses. They came to be known as ‘penny universities,’ because for that price one could purchase a cup of coffee & sit for hours listening to extraordinary conversations.   Now, for a lot more money, you have to endure someone else’s inane cell phone conversation. Edward Lloyd’s establishment catered primarily to seafarers & merchants, & he regularly prepared “ships’ lists” for underwriters who met there to broker insurance contracts. Thus began Lloyd’s of London, the famous insurance company.

Colonial Philadelphia’s London Coffee House, located at the corner of Front & High Streets near the city’s docks, was established in 1754 by William Bradford, a Philadelphia printer.   Like Lloyd’s of London, insurance contracts were underwritten.  “By 1758 the Insurance Office at the Coffee House had two clerks on duty every day… to take care of writing out policies of insurance & securing underwriting signatures” (Ruwell).  In addition to mercantile transactions, real estate deals were also brokered along with slave auctions from the 1750s until the passage of Pennsylvania’s abolition laws in 1780.  Needing larger quarters, befitting the largest, most cosmopolitan city in British North America, Philadelphia’s merchant cartel built the Merchants’ Coffee House, later known as “City Tavern,” a popular meeting place for members of the Continental Congress.
During the late 1760s, the coffeehouses of colonial North America also became political centers referred to as “seminaries of sedition” by Tory sympathizers.

Coffeehouses, according to Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), were one of the primary vehicles in the 18th century in which an absolutist “representational” culture was replaced with the rational-critical dialogue of the public sphere (Öffentlichkeit).

Daniil Kharms: Back to the Future

Daniil Kharms [aka, Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov] (1905-42)

There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily. He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He had no nose either. He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He didn’t have anything. So we don’t even know who we’re talking about. It’s better that we don’t talk about him any more. “10,” January 7, 1937  from The Blue Notebook, translated by Matvei Yankelevich

“I am interested only in ‘nonsense’; only in that which makes no practical sense. I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestation.”


Born in St. Petersburg, Kharms was part of an avant-garde, modernist group of writers & artists who embraced much of Marinetti’s earlier manifesto of Futurism [“Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo”].
However, literary, artistic & political differences developed between the Italian & Russian Futurists.  The later, although exhibiting an aggressive character in their art, were less enamored with the aggrandizement of war, & more interested with the function of language.  Although both had political leanings, the Italian Futurists aligned themselves to the right with Mussolini & Fascism; the Russians to the left with the Bolsheviks.
Abhorring the symbolist movement & distaste for all  things traditional including the current literary establishment, they advocated throwing Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy et al. from the “Steamship of Modernity”.  They often utilized arbitrary words free of syntax, & logical sequence, & an “expressive” use of typography (ala Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes). Indeed, Bakhtin’s identification of the disruptive function of the novel, in contrast to the “high literature” of epic or tragedy, is reflective of the anarchic, disruptive elements which characterized Russian Futurism.
While little of his work was published in his lifetime, Kharms produced several works for children, which seems ironic for one who would proclaim: “I don’t like children, old men, old women and the reasonable middle-aged. To poison children — that would be harsh. But, hell, something needs to be done with them!”
In 1931, Kharms was charged with anti-Soviet activities & briefly exiled. In 1941, he was arrested & incarcerated in the psychiatric ward of a prison hospital where he died of starvation the following year, during the siege of Leningrad.  It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Kharms’s work began to appear in mainstream publications in Russia & recently translated into English.

Dadswell, Sarah  “Re-approaching Russian Futurism: The Inter-Revolutionary Years, 1908-1915,” Studies in Slavic Cultures
Yankelevich, Matvei   Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook, 2007)


City Hall – topped by a 37-foot, 27 ton statue of William Penn, created by Alexander Milne Calder, (largest single piece of sculpture on any building in the world) is the tallest masonry bearing building in the world (548 ft), including the statue – no steel structural support – the weight of the building is borne by granite & brick walls up to 22 feet thick.  It was the tallest habitable building in the world from 1901-08 & the tallest in Philadelphia until the construction of One Liberty Place (1987) broke the informal “gentlemen’s agreement” that limited the height of tall buildings in the city. cf “The Curse of Billy Penn” [“Phillies go to the World Series! Curses?” Oct.16, 2008]

While at City Hall, lest Eagle fans forget the irony of Dallas, Texas being named after George Mifflin Dallas (1792-1864) – mayor of Phila & Vice President of the US, 1845-49

Chestnut Hill – highest point in Phila. is Summit St., 446′ above sea level; originally known as Sommerhausen; site of Henry Houston’s horse show from 1892 until it relocated in 1908 & became the Devon Horse Show. In the 1930s, Philo T. Farnsworth, one of the inventors of television, lived on “the Hill”

Garrison, James   Houses of Philadelphia: Chestnut Hill & the Wissahickon Valley, 1880–1930

Manayunk – Lenape name meaning “our place for drinking” as applied to the Schuylkill [River], not to the various drinking emporia.  The village (originally known as Flat Rock until 1824) was incorporated & eventually merged into the City of Phila, 1854.  At the turn of the 19th century, it had become known as the “Manchester of America” because of its heavy concentration of textile mills & workforce primarily comprised of British immigrants. cf. Shelton, Cynthia J. The Mills of Manayunk, 1787-1837 Balti.: Johns Hopkins, 1986

West Philadelphia – originally part of land purchased by William Warner. He settled there in 1677 & built a mansion called Willow Grove in the vicinity of what is now 46th & Lancaster Ave. To his holdings Warner gave the name of Blockley, after his native parish in Worcestershire, England. After being located in downtown Phila. (9th & Chestnut Streets) for more than a century, the Univ. of Pennsylvania campus moved across the Schuylkill [River] to West Philly in 1871.

Old City – Unfortunately, the building which served as the Executive Mansion from 1790 to 1800, while Philadelphia was the capital of the United States, no longer exists.  Most of the house had been demolished in the 1830s, but not before it was the “White House” of George Washington & John Adams.  The buidling stood on the south side of Market St., less than 600 feet from Independence Hall.  By modern numbering, the address would be 526-30 Market.  cf. Lawler, Jr. Edward   “The President’s House in Philadelphia: The Rediscovery of a Lost Landmark,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography (Jan., 2002)

For those interested in local Philadelphia neighborhood (Kensington, Fishtown) history, Kenneth W. Milano has a delightfully informative web site which includes selections from the column, “The Rest Is History,” he writes for the Firshtown Star.  A collection of those entries has recently been published in book form, Remembering Kensington & Fishtown, by The History Press of Charleston, SC.

Silcox, Harry C.  Workshop of the World: A Selective Guide to the Industrial Archeology of Philadelphia (1990). Workshop of the World Revisited (2007). Wallingford, PA: Oliver Evans Press

Boudinot, Elias

Born in Phila. in 1740, baptized by George Whitefield. President of the Continental Congress, & for a time President of the United States in Congress Assembled (some have claimed him as the first president of the US, a distinction he shares with John Hanson). After the Constitution was ratified, he served as a U.S. Representative & then Director of the U.S. Mint.
Retiring from politics, Boudinot was a trustee of the College of New Jersey (what is now Princeton Univ.). His views on religious tolerance, opposition to slavery, & the perceived demise of religious life in the country led him to found the American Bible Society in 1816. That same year, he published Star in the West, suggesting that Native Americans were the lost tribes of Israel.
Boudinot, a hyper-Federalist, believed that the rise of Jefferson with his heretical religious views & dangerous democratic leanings could only mean the decline of the United States. He reacted against Thomas Paine’s pamphet, The Age of Reason, which among other things sought to discredit the accuracy & infallibility of the Bible & advocated a natural religion, by penning a pamphet of his own, The Age of Revelation.
He married Richard Stockton’s (signer the Declaration of Independence), sister, Hannah, while Stockton married Elias’ sister, Annis. Boudinot died in Burlington, NJ in 1821, & is buried in Saint Mary’s Episcopal Churchyard with his wife.

North, Eric M. Rediscovering Elias Boudinot,” Bible Society Record (May 1954) pp. 72-73