07 September 2009

Author and Publisher as Forgotten Men

Forgotten Men
Claudius Gregory
Hamilton: Davis-Lisson, 1933

For Labour Day, a Depression-era story of strife, struggle and messianic fantasy. Christopher Ward is a young man of wealth and privilege. The son of a steel mill owner, he lives life adrift until happening upon an impromptu meeting of unemployed men in a public park. Wonderment is reawakened. He devotes his life to some hazy idea called 'the Cause', becomes close friends with the unemployed Peter Bronte, is mentored by holy man Reverend John, and meets a prostitute named Mary. 'Mary. That is my mother's name, too', Christopher says when introduced. Well before he amasses his group of twelve, known as the Society of Forgotten Men, the reader senses that things will end quite badly. It comes as no surprise when he's betrayed by Society member Jude Braithwaite and is arrested while having that one last supper in a modest eatery.

That said, the reader is left wondering at the charge: sedition. Christopher is long on describing the suffering of the working man, short on its causes and silent as to the solution. This is not to say that the messianic figure hasn't been proposing something, but that Gregory, for all his verbiage, chooses not to reveal the goal of the Society of Forgotten Men. Christopher's thoughts only hint at the answer:
Beginning. 'In the beginning.' But, of course, everything must have a beginning. It was plain now, quite plain, the task he must undertake, the part he must play. Millions of forgotten men were depending upon them, men whose very souls had ben exploited because they did not understand what was theirs by right. Yes, there was a thought in that. One should say, by birthright. There it was again. A man's birthright: something which came to him in the beginning. There were millions of men who would be powerful enough, once they understood, to select leaders among themselves to govern, to select men incapable of being influenced by the taint of party politics. He had no socialistic ideas; that was not the thought.
No, but if that is not the thought, what is? The answer is invariably cloaked. In this passage, for example, we see it in the next to last sentence with Christopher's dreams of leaders untainted by party politics. To put it more plainly, the publisher's next book was Is Fascism the Answer?, a work praising Benito Mussolini, penned by Brampton police magistrate and corporal punishment advocate S. Alfred Jones.

Gregory dedicated Forgotten Men to its publisher, Thomas Dyson Lisson, adding a dense three-page Acknowlegement devoted to 'the man whose collaboration gave the story.' Here Gregory tells us something of the novel's failure by revealing that the plot was woven around Lisson's 'outstanding thoughts', as expressed in self-published brochures, such as 'Did You Ever Look at it This Way?' (1931) and the more ominous 'Eventually You Will Look at it This Way' (1933).

Forgotten Men was the first book for both Gregory, a transplanted Brit, and Lisson, co-owner of a successful Hamilton printing business. Despite their friendship, the author's next two novels, Valerie Hathaway (1933) and Solomon Levi (1935), were published by other houses. All were reviewed in the pages of the the New York Times, yet Gregory's life, literary career and death (1944) were ignored by the dailies in his adopted city of Toronto. Lisson, on the other hand, received some notice. During the Great War, it was reported that he may have thwarted a dastardly German plot to poison the good citizens of Hamilton.

The Globe, 13 September 1918

Then, in 1932, Lisson's printing plant was damaged in a fire so spectacular that it was front page news in Toronto – 'Exploding Celluloid Showers Hot Glass Upon Firefighters', reads the headline. Three year later, he returned to the front page as co-founder of the short-lived Reconstruction Party, lead by difficult once and future Tory H. H. Stevens.

The Globe, 12 July 1935
Lisson, seated across from the other leaders of the fledgling Reconstruction Party, Thomas M. Bell, H.H. Stevens and Warren K. Cook.
Lisson's own writing attracted little attention, though the arguments set forth in his 1937 pamphlet, 'Gold', were considered and dismissed by the mining editor of the Globe. Sadly, my search for his self-published titles hasn't borne fruit. Just as well – having read the ideas put forth in Forgotten Men, I can't imagine 'Birth Control and Scrap Labor-Saving Devices' is nearly as interesting as the title suggests.

Object and Access: A heavy, well-bound book, it's found in academic libraries across the country, but only two of our public libraries (predictably, Hamilton and Toronto) have copies. Library and Archives Canada fails us, yet again. Online booksellers describe the book as 'scarce', 'uncommon' and a 'hard find'. Don't you believe it. Very Good copies go for as little as US$15, while signed copies can be found in the US$20 range. I purchased mine with damaged dust jacket a couple of weeks ago from my local used bookstore for C$15.


  1. Given Gregory's apparent politics, I can't help but be alarmed at what a book called 'Solomon Levi' might involve.

  2. I had the same thought myself. Tempting to order a copy and find out, but the only one I can find listed is at US$41 ('retired from public library, expect imperfections'). Not worth it. I'll try my luck with an interlibrary loan request.

  3. Cladius Gregory is my Great Uncle my Grandmother's brother I never met the man, nor have I read his work, but I'm interested in finding something in print.

    1. Four years after writing this piece, I'm surprised to find no copies of any Claudius Gregory book listed through abebooks or addall. In fact, the only thing I can find is from an ebay seller who is offering Valerie Hathaway at US$49.99 (sans dust jacket). Worth the price, I think. It seems the listing will expire today. Good luck.