Monday, September 08, 2008

Miller's Sacred Rosicrucian Book of 1939

There are a lot of arcane literary treasures at the Internet Archive (archive.org). A search for “Henry Miller” turns up a few curiosities: scans of a few books directly from Miller’s personal library. One such book is The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity : an elementary treatise upon man's past evolution, present constitution and future development by Max Heindel (1911). Meant as study guide for the Rosicrucian Fellowship which Heindel founded in 1909, one particular used copy made its way from Cambridge, U.K. and into the hands of Henry Miller in Paris, who was entering a phase of mystic enlightenment. On March 5, 1939, Henry wrote an inscription inside the covers: “Sacred property of Henry Miller ... who has just discovered that he has been a Rosicrucian all his life ... Paris 3/5/39."

THE ROSICRUCIAN COSMO-CONCEPTION
Defining Rosicrucianism is no easy task for me. Beyond conventional social philosophy, it seems to draw from a wide range of esoteric knowledge and theory, including mysticism, the occult and spirituality (with a particularly Christian bias, it seems; check out this Q+A directly from the Rosicrucians). It stems from a secret order of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross (founded by Christian Rosenkreuz), which Christopher McIntosh calls a “deliberately created mythology” (p.137). McIntosh, in his book The Rosicrucians (1998) attempts to summarize the movement’s teachings as Gnostic in nature: “By ‘Gnostic’ I mean, in essence, the view that the human spirit is trapped, as it were, under water, living a kind of half-life, ignorant of the fact that the sunlight and air of the true spirit is overhead. If knowledge (or gnosis) can make people aware of this, they will make the effort to swim upward and be reunited with their real element” (p.xviii). After this, Rosicurian ideals and the Rosicurian movements appear to diverge onto many open paths of interpretation.

It seems fairly apparent (although I have no quote to back this up) that the term Rosicrucian and itssymbol of the Rosy (or Rose) Cross is, to some degree, an inspiration for the title of Miller’s autobiographical trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion (no doubt there is also meaning to be found in his use of the concept of crucifixion). But his book titles and his relationship with Rosicrucianism aren't my focus here (see Chapter Three of Thomas Nesbit’s Henry Miller And Religion for that). Instead, I’m focusing on this Max Heindel book as an object, and finding context for Miller’s enthusiastic written approval of it in 1939.

METAPHYSICAL IMPLICATIONS
On a Sunday in Paris, January 1939, Henry wrote to Lawrence Durrell [1]: “In reading the proofs of Capricorn I am more and more struck by the metaphysical implications with which the book is sewn.” He goes on to explain that “every time I pick up a mystical book I am struck again, shuttled back, as it were, to some fundamental truthful realm of my self which has been so much denied in life.” From this newly-excited revelation came his idea for a book called Draco and the Ecliptic, which was only a title with a vague but lofty feeling attached to it, one that felt it would be a “significant” document “for the world to come.” Henry seems to have felt The Answer sitting on the tip of his tongue.

And then this, near the end of the letter: “To-night I pick up a book and take it with me to a café to read. A thin book, in French, on the Rosicrucians. The cardinal idea is so stark and simple, so thoroughly in accord with my own belief as to the way of life, that I am amazed how men can miss it. It is the doctrine of the heart, to be brief” This last phrase is interesting because Miller had just finished an article that would soon be published in The Modern Mystic magazine as The Wisdom of the Heart (April1939) [2]. Read it and you will understand Henry’s state of mind in 1939: the wisdom of life is to accept of all elements of it, both good and bad (as inspired in part by the subject of this article, E. Graham Howe).
The Zen nature of this wisdom makes sense. Just a couple weeks after declaring himself a Rosicurian on March 5,1939, Henry made the following written declaration to Durrell: “I am a Zen addict through and through” (Durrell-Miller Letters, p. 122). It seems that Miller was willing to declare himself in allegiance with any philosophy that offered an alternative spiritual vision to the American ethic he left behind and the crass vacuum the world was about to enter for the next five years.

The thin, French book described by Miller in the letter above is not the same as the subject of this post. Max Heindel’s The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity is a hefty, 602-page English-language tome, published in 1911. I'm assuming that his French introduction to the subject led directly to the Heindel book.

OWNERSHIP
Behind the front cover of the book are two “ex-libris” label plates of former owners of this book: John Parry and CK Ogden. To me, it seems that Parry’s centred label and signature on the page opposite implies that he was the first owner. This is a guess, but it may have belonged to R. St. John Parry (1858-1935), who was a Fellow and eventual Vice-Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University. If this is the same man (maybe it's not), he was the editor of a couple of books of Christian study, which gives him reason to own this Rosicurian book by Max Heindel and his “International Association of Christian Mystics.”

The Cambridge connection of this particular Parry places him in logical proximity to the other former book owner, CK Ogden. Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) [I assume this is the correct CK Ogden!--please note all of my assumptions] was the founder of Cambridge Magazine in 1912. He also owned a few bookshops in Cambridge, from which I assume the Heindel book made its way into Miller’s hands. Lawrence Durrell and Alfred Perles were both in England in 1939, as was Graham Howe, the subject of Wisdom of the Heart; who knows who sent this book to Henry? It may have just been purchased in Cambridge by an unknown person and sold off to a bookstore across the pond in Paris. I have found no direct connection between Miller and Ogden (or Parry).
One of the many diagrams to be found in The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception.

THE BOOK
Miller’s copy of Heindel’s The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity currently rests in the Henry Miller Papers (Collection Number 110), Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. The book scan, as mentioned above, is made available via Internet Archive. Henry’s “sacred property” note is apparently located on a “free endleaf,” but I haven’t been able to find it using their Flip Book feature or through downloading a PDF copy. The Archive also mentions that there are “notes and marginalia by Henry Miller,” but I haven’t found those either--although I haven’t skimmed through all 602 pages.

Other scanned books from Henry’s collection include These are Amiel's journal: the Journal intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel by Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1890s); George Alfred Henty: the story of an active life by George Manville Fenn (1907); The world's illusion, Vol. 1& 2 by Jakob Wassermann (1920); and Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence (1922), signed by Lawrence’s widow, Frieda.
Finally, here's an advertisement in Mechanix Illustrated in 1939, in which the Californian Rosicrucians claim to teach "latent inner powers" to combat "mental poisoning."
_______________________________________
[1] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 112-113.
[2] Item C73 in the Bibliography of Primary Sources by Shifreen & Jackson.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Allen Edwall said...

The last paragraph says:

"Finally, here's an advertisement in Mechanix Illustrated in 1939, in which the Californian Rosicrucians claim to teach "latent inner powers" to combat "mental poisoning.""

Please understand that the Rosicrucian organization called The Rosicrucian Fellowship in Oceanside, CA, founded by Max Heindel, (www.rosicrucian.com) has no affiliation whatsoever with the Rosicrucian organization called AMORC in San Jose, CA (www.rosicrucian.org). The two organizations are vastly different.

The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception was written by Max Heindel, founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship. He was the designated messenger of the Elder Brothers of the Rosicrucian Order (Christian Rozenkreutz is the head) charged with bringing the Rosicrucian Teachings to humanity.

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