Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tolkien and Harry Bauer

So, having discovered that Tolkien corresponded, at least briefly, with H. C. Bauer (see previous post), I set about trying to see if I cd find out anything about Bauer. I quickly discovered he's no longer with us (b. 1902, d. 1978), which means he can't answer our questions directly, but he turns out to have been a well-known local figure in this time: Director of the University of Washington's Library (1947-1959, having been asst. director before that) and then professor of library science until his retirement (1959-1967). Originally from St. Louis, he was a decorated combat intelligence officer during World War II, receiving the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Air Medal; he was also a Mason, a Shriner, a Kiwanis, and member of the American Legion. And, one rather suspects from hints here and there, a character. A number of photographs of him are available online, such as these two::




Another example of Bauer's being well-known* and respected in the community is that during the dust-up back in the 40s and 50s about whether comic books led to juvenile delinquency Seattle's mayor appointed a commission to investigate the problem: Bauer wrote the committee's report, suggesting that banning comics wd do little good and that offering more activities (Boys' Clubs, scouting) was a better solution to prevent delinquency -- a moderate position at the time, when a witch-hunt was on that almost destroyed comic books in this country.**

From my point of view, I'm most interested in Bauer as an author -- specifically, in identifying, if possible, the piece he sent Tolkien. The factors we have to go on are

(1) it existed by November 1966, when Tolkien thanked him for sending it

(2) it was probably by Bauer (though this is not a certainty)

(3) it probably related in some way to Tolkien (or else why wd he send it?)

(4) it may have related in some way to Sinclair Lewis (or else Tolkien's sudden seque into BABBITT and reading all of S.L.'s work is a bit of a non-sequetor)

It turns out Bauer was relatively prolific, though many of his publications were what I suppose we might call technical in nature -- yearly listings of publications by the Tennessee Valley Authority, for example. The most promising item is a book he wrote of literary essays called SEASONED TO TASTE -- but it came out in 1961 (published in Seattle, University of Washington Press), which seems a bit early. I now have the library's (much marked up) copy of this book, which turns out to be a collection of some sixty-four essays, most of them quite brief (two or three pages). All but two*** of these in turn are said to have been taken from Bauer's column of the same name, "Seasoned to Taste", which ran monthly in the WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN for ten years, from September 1951 (Vol. 26, number 1, page 6) through June 1961 (Vol. 35, number 10, page 799). Out of these hundred issues, he selected those he included in his book.****

Having read his book, I can testify that there are no mentions of Tolkien or of S. Lewis anywhere within its pages. Similarly, I have so far gone through half the run of his columns (1951-1954 and 1960-1961) and found nothing that at all fits the parameters; I'll still have the years corresponding to the original release of THE LORD OF THE RINGS to go through, so I'll report back here if I find anything of interest in Volumes 29-33.

So, how is Bauer's book? Let's just say that his jokes haven't aged well. His occasional pieces on current issues involving libraries are for the most part dated but still occasionally relevant. Most pieces are comments on books and authors and themes that have caught his attention, and some of these are interesting in their own right. By far the most interesting was one on Th. Wms Malkin, a child prodigy who died in 1802 at the age of six and a half, having already created his own imaginary world, written stories set therein, and even come up with an invented language spoken therein. Young Malkin is so interesting that I need to devote a separate post to him.

In short, Bauer's column resembles nothing so much as a blog, with him expounding upon whatever topic has seized his attention since the last entry.

For now, I've had no luck in finding just what it was Bauer sent Tolkien. I'll continue the search, but it's quite possible I won't be able to discover it -- instead of one of these columns,  it might just as easily have been a book review (say, of LotR upon its first publication, dug back out at the time of the book's campus popularity in the mid-sixties) for a local newspaper (Seattle used to have two, but the better one folded a few years back) or any of a number of other outlets.

In any case, I'm glad to have learned about Bauer, and through him about Malkin, but the identity of the piece Bauer sent Tolkien remains as elusive as ever.

--John R.
current reading: THE RING GOES SOUTH: "Journey in the Dark"
current audiobook: "Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS -- Literature?" (lecture thirty-five in Jn M. Bowers' THE WESTERN LITERARY CANON IN CONTEXT (2008)

*(when I went into the Suzzallo-Allen special collections to see if they had any Bauer materials, the special collections librarian there looked at the form and said "Oh, Harry Bauer!" -- clearly he'd been a personality whose reputation still lingers)

**"Comic Books Problem", the LIBRARY NEWS BULLETIN 17 (1949), being the report on Mayor Devin's Citizens' Committee on Comic Books. Note that the infamous Fredric Wertham launched his attack on comics in 1948, through an article appearing in the SATURDAY REVIEW and also READER'S DIGEST, six years before his famous book  SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

***the two exceptions, according to his Preface, come from the BULLETIN OF BIBLIOGRAPHY (1956) and the WASHINGTON ALUMNUS (1949)

****note that the WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN only puts out ten monthly issues a year, taking a hiatus for the school vacation months of July and August, and starting each new issue in the fall (September). For reasons unknown, Bauer missed the issue of September 1953, in which his column does not appear.

No comments: