Item of the week: Frank Harris is a despicable character

Published: August 11, 2011

Since our post of one of Mr Clark’s aboard-ship recordings was so popular, we thought we would share another with you this week.  This one was recorded on March 3, 1930 on the Ile de France, and was directed to librarian and assistant Cora Sanders who was overseeing the library at home in Los Angeles.

Mr Clark begins by mentioning that he did not take Gustave Macon, the director of the Musee Chantilly, up on his offer of a visit because Seymour de Ricci (bibliographer and art historian) was not in town.  After a trip to Corsica, it sounds as though Clark and his traveling companion Raymond Lemire stopped in Nice, where they met Frank Harris.  Harris, whose entry in the Dictionary of National Biography summarizes his career with the words “journalist and rogue,” was a loyal friend of Oscar Wilde, and he corresponded with Mr Clark many times about Wilde and his circle.  Mr Clark remarks that Harris was “a despicable character, but his wife seems very charming.”  Clark would later correspond with Nellie Harris after Frank’s death.

In his closing greetings to Miss Sanders, Mr Clark mentions “the old man” and “Christopher,” but we are unsure who he is referring to.  Mr Clark then records a postscript that we find a little puzzling:

We have seen Marie-Louise and there are many of them aboard, as well as a great many sons of — you know — but they are not sons of Moses.

What do you, dear readers, think?  We hope that our Mr Clark was not being derogatory towards gay men, French soldiers or Jews here, but we can’t be sure!  Please help us figure out this 1930s slang!

Oh, and enjoy the moment where Mr Clark chuckles!


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Karl on

“[N]ot sons of Moses” may be Clark’s way of referring to Moslems. A less confused way to say that would have been “sons of Ishmael, not sons of Jacob” since both Jews and Moslems trace their roots to Abraham, but the two major faiths split with Isaac’s sons (Abraham’s grandsons) Ishmael and Jacob. (Moses is less relevant with this kind of ethnic short-hand.) Maybe Clark was trying to get at this, but confused himself. “Marie-Louise” seems to have been common French slang for young soldiers, and not particularly anti-gay (though its conceivable that young soldiers might have been the brunt of anti-gay jokes and hazing). “Marie-Louise” might have been construed as a feminization of the soldiers. But at its root it referred to the woman Napoleon married allegedly in order to conscript the young men from her territory when he had exhausted his own pool of troops. The term “traveling companion” as applied to Lemire’s relationship to Clark seems unnecessarily coy for the 21st Century! Let’s hope (please please please) the Clark is not hobbled by some kind of early 20th Century prohibition on authenticity. These wonderful recordings get us closer to the historical Clark. Closer — not coy, euphemistic, cowed — is the ideal, no?

hannah p. clark on

“Traveling companion” is at the very least shorthand when we would rather be focusing on the content of the recordings, and not just the salacious nature of Clark’s relationships. Perhaps we can write about them in another post, but I’m afraid as librarians we would feel the need to have better evidence than just W.D. Mangam, even if we believe he is essentially telling the truth (though we do think he is very mean-spirited and bitter).

Karl on

I agree re: Mangam coming across as mean spirited. I believe there’s adequate material that librarians and historians can access to “flesh out” Clark’s character, and corroborate but balance Mangam. Mangam, unfortunately, fills a vacuum that is decades old. Here’s to a bright, objective future!

Stephen on

I too agree about Mangam being mean spirited, but I feel there is some sort of truth there. Sadly, everyone is gone who was a part of it. I fear he’s not 100% innocent in the stories.

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