“I suppose it was the worst book any man has ever written. It was a colossal tome and faulty from start to finish. But it was my first book and I was in love with it.”
--- Henry Miller, Tropic Of Capricorn
(Grove Weidenfeld), p. 34.
Henry Miller was 30 years old in 1922, and had not yet tackled writing a novel. A random comment by one of his bosses at Western Union inspired him to base a novel on the eccentric characters he’d encountered as a Personnel Manager. The book was completed in three weeks. While intensely flawed (and consequently never published), the novel, Clipped Wings
, served its purpose by allowing Miller the opportunity to cut his teeth on the craft. Miller wrote about this writing experience on pages 30-37 of Tropic Of Capricorn
’]. Although revised segments survive from Clipped Wings
, the manuscript has been lost.
INSPIRATION FOR CLIPPED WINGS
In 1922, J.C. Willever
was the First Vice President at Western Union, and the “longest service record of any major executive” (Time, Nov 2, 1936
). One day, Henry was called into Willever’s office and, on the topic of writers, Willever said that “he would like to see some one write a sort of Horatio Alger book about the messengers; he hinted that perhaps I might be the one to do such a job”
30). The notion set Henry’s head in a “whirl”
as he left the office, and “stuck in [his] crop”
in the following weeks (CAP
30). He’d been keeping notes in preparation for finally becoming a writer. Somehow, this became the idea that sparked him to let it all out.Horatio Alger
(1832-1899) was an author of stories of bravery for American boys: “With uncommon courage and moral fortitude, Alger's youths struggle against adversity to achieve great wealth and acclaim. These rags to riches stories were enormously popular with the public and flourished in the decades from 1870 to 1890” 
. Henry had certainly met his share of prospective messenger employees who were “down and out, begging for work, for cigarettes, for carfare, for a chance, Christ Almighty, just another chance!”
32). Not interested in writing wholesome inspirational stories, Miller planned to write the book with a sharpened ugly stick, poking it bitterly into the eye of his employer (Western Union, referred to here as the ‘Cosmococcic Telegraph Company’). “I will give you Horatio Alger,”
thought Henry to himself, “as he looks the day after the Apocalypse, when all the stink has cleared away”
The Western Union stock certificates featured a powerful winged goddess; Miller turned the symbol around (with wings clipped) to represent the disempowerment of its lowliest employees. Henry wrote down a list of 86 intriguing (mostly tragic) employees he’d known 
and settled on 12 individuals; apparently a concept borrowed directly
from Theodore Dreiser
’s Twelve Men
This image from a Western Union stock certificate is being sold via Ebay. The seller mentions that this is from 1969. I admit, I don't know how long this image was used by WU, but all of the big Miller bios make reference to a WU winged icon.
WRITING CLIPPED WINGS
Henry waited for an upcoming March vacation block to begin his writing. On March 22, 1922, he launched into an exhausting first writing session at home . With three weeks ahead of him, he’d calculated that we had to meet a target of 5,000 words a day in order to finish the book by April 10th: “I thought that a man, to be a writer, must do at least five thousand words a day. I thought he must say everything all at once—in one book—and collapse afterwards” (CAP 34): “I nearly killed myself doing it” 
Henry wrote to his friend Emil Schnellock on the evening of his first day of writing: “Ye Gods! The first day of being a writer has nearly broken my back. But I have done my quota for the day, a good eight-hour day such as no union man keeps. I have finished my 5,000 words and made some slight revisions. Tomorrow, if I am like the Lord God, I shall wake and look upon my work and pronounce it good. Tonight I am in grave doubt, in extreme torment” .
The continuous clacking of Miller’s typewriter drew “woeful glances” from his wife Beatrice . It wasn’t long before Henry relocated his writing space to Emil’s personal art studio. According to Robert Ferguson, Henry also frequented the taxi dancers at Wilson’s almost every night (he would meet June Mansfield there the following summer) .
By Monday, April 10th, 1922, Miller had generated a 75,000-word manuscript . He’d been “scared shitless” at the prospect of tackling this project, lacking confidence that he knew what he was doing, (CAP 34) but he would come to appreciate two things: that he’d followed it to completion and that he had “made such a miserable failure of it” (CAP 35).
Henry and his friend Stanley Borowski were mutually interested in becoming writers, but “I never dreamed of showing it to him,” confessed Miller, “for he would have picked it to death” . Henry’s confidence was indeed fragile. After a single rejection from Macmillan, he stopped sending out the manuscript . The feedback of friends did little to help him believe he’d written something of any value: “Everybody I showed it to said it was terrible” (CAP 34).
In 1924, Miller took another crack at the novel, removing much of the negative content . It took two years, but Miller finally felt satisfied enough to submit Clipped Wings to JC Willever. Even in its softened state, Willever hated it and, not surprisingly, found it insulting to the company, and considered its delivery to him “a subtle form of blackmail” [10; p.94]. Clipped Wings was a “crushing defeat” for Henry, but “It put iron in my backbone and sulphur in my blood. I knew at least what it was to fail” (CAP 34).
THE CHARACTERS OF CLIPPED WINGS
As Miller describes it in Tropic Of Capricorn, it seemed he was bent on exposing the humility that the multi-ethnic messengers had to suffer at the hands of “the white conquerors of the world”: “Wait, you cosmococcic telegraphic shits, you demons on high waiting for the plumbing to be repaired, wait, you dirty white conquerors who have sullied the earth with your cloven hooves, your instruments, your weapons, your disease germs … Nobody is getting away with anything, least of all the cosmococcic shits of North America” (CAP 33-34).
However, according to Miller biographer Mary Dearborn, Clipped Wings was an “extended essay in pure venom, anti-Semitism, racism, and generalized misanthropy” [9; p.71]. I have not read Miller’s manuscript personally, and so cannot comment further on its content.
Above: A photo of young Western Union bicycle messengers (from a Greek-run WU website).
About a dozen years later, Miller would write about Clipped Wings in Tropic of Capricorn, and would offer us a few profiles of the twelve messengers:
Carnahan: a hard-working “model messenger” who also had a drinking problem; tragically, he attempted a murder-suicide of his entire family—thankfully they survived, but so did he. Miller visited him in prison, where he was convinced that Carnahan was going to use this incarceration to learn how to be the best salesman ever.
Guptal: See this post.
Dave Olinski: a “glutton for work” who had been around the world and talked too much for his own good; after chastising a hoodlum who was rude about asking for a messenger blank, he was beaten up; he complained about it to the cops and was beaten to death in retribution.
Clausen: a violent man on parole, who asked Henry to come to his home to help mediate with his wife who was perpetually pregnant and refused to have sex with him anymore; eerily, Clausen showed Henry the gun and blackjacks he kept. The next day, Clausen took his children to the roof and “beat their brains out” with his blackjack before jumping to his death.
Schuldig: an apparently wrongfully-convicted man who was so emotionally damaged and paranoid after 20 years in prison that he forgot who he was, begged to be arrested, confessed to a litany of fabricated crimes--then ran his head into a stone wall before the police could respond to his ‘confessions.’
Jay Martin notes  that Miller’s 1924 revision added a profile of Jacobus Hendrik Dun, whom Henry let live with him and his wife; this chapter apparently included excerpts from letters Dun had written him. Even as late as Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch, Miller included a line that Dun has written to him in a letter back in 1922/23: “Now works the peace and quiet of Scheveningen like a anaesteatic” .
May 1924. "Black and White," The Crisis (NAACP), 28: no. 1, 16, 17.
> A re-worked portrait of Tawde, an India-born Columbia University grad who struggled with his career due to racism: “Of all the foreign students who register at our big universities the plight of the Hindus is by far the worst.” Published under the pseudonym Valentine Nieting. Read an excerpt from this essay at Narrative Detours.
According to Jay Martin and Mary Dearborn, Clipped Wings started off with a profile called “Charles Candles, The Moral Moron” /[10; p.71]. The Archive of California appears to have this manuscript in their Henry Miller Collection [Box 89, Folder 10], but dates it “circa 1933.”
In the 1930s, Miller made reference to looking at all of the messenger names in a notebook (CAP 34); Jay Martin also makes mention of a notebook as one of his biographical sources: “Messenger Sketch Book 1-18” [10; p.517]. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine where this sketch book is currently held.
Many of the messenger subjects from Clipped Wings likely became recycled in the messenger characters in Miller’s second novel attempt, Moloch, and in his later works as well.
In 1939, while in Paris, Miller wrote about Clipped Wings to Huntington Cairns: “My second wife probably has the manuscript, but I don’t know where she is and she probably wouldn’t surrender it, or has destroyed it, along with a lot of other manuscripts I wrote while with her” . By 1970, Henry told Georges Belmont that “the manuscript got lost. I left it with my wife June - Mona - and it got lost” . Lost—and never found.
“I had to learn, as Balzac did, that one must write volumes before signing one’s own name. I had to learn, as I soon did, that one must give up everything and not do anything else but write, that one must write and write and write, even if everyone in the world advises you against it, even if nobody believes in you. Perhaps one does it just because nobody believes; perhaps the real secret lies in making people believe.” (CAP 34)
 Stanford University Libraries:
http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/dp/pennies/1860_alger.html; Ferguson, Robert. 1991. Henry Miller: A Life; p.70.  Ibarguen, Raoul. 1989. “Narrative Detours: Henry Miller and the Rise of New Critical Modernism.” Henry-Miller.com.  Miller, Henry.1959. Henry Miller Reader; p. 384.  Miller, Henry. 1939. Previously unpublished letter to Huntington Cairns, from Erica Jong, The Devil At Large, p.74.  Miller, Henry. 1922. From George Wickes (ed.) Letters To Emil; p.4.  Miller, Henry. [date?] Tropic Of Cancer, manuscript II, 75; source quoted in Jay Martin, Always Merry And Bright, p. 72.  Miller, Henry. Book Of Friends (I); p. 32.  Dearborn, Mary. 1991. Happiest Man Alive: Biography of Henry Miller; p. 71.
 Martin, Jay. 1978. Always Merry And Bright; p. 91.  Miller, Henry. 1957. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch; p. 102.  Miller, Henry, and Georges Belmont. 1973. Henry Miller in Conversation; p. 12.