Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Blackbird by Kenneth Morris

Here is a recently discovered poem, "The Blackbird" signed as by Cenydd Morus. It appeared in The Nationalist: A Non-Political Magazine for Wales, October 1912:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The New York Times Book Review on Fates

A recently discovery is a short review of Kenneth Morris's first novel, The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (as by Cenydd Morus), on its original publication in 1914. This appeared in The New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1914, in unsigned column “Books for Christmas Gifts”. 

Before she felt the charm of those legends of Ireland which she has so gracefully retold, Lady Gregory was an eager student of Welsh folklore. Now, through the enlightened scholarship of Cenydd Morus, some specimens of this most interesting mythology are made accessible to readers ignorant of Cymric. “The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed” (Point Loma, California. Aryan Theosophical Press.) is an elaborate reconstruction of ancient Welsh mythology. The framework of the plot is taken from “The Four Branches of the Mabinogi.”  But the author has been more interested in recreating the spirit and the atmosphere of the bygone days than in keeping close to the letter of the text that has come down to us. His thought is Theosopphical, but the book is not a piece of propaganda, it is a work of art. And R. Machell’s sympathetic illustrations in black and white greatly increase this singular book’s value.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Red-Peach-Blossom Inlet

Illustration by K. Romney Towndrow

I have previously written about Morris's reworking of a short Welsh folk tale into the story "Sion ap Siencyn", in not one but two blog posts at one of my other blogs, A Shiver in the Archives, in a time before I started this Kenneth Morris blog.  The two posts are accessible here and here

Now I'd like to post the original inspiration for Morris's excellent tale "Red-Peach-Blossom Inlet", which first appeared in  The Theosophical Path for October 1916, and was collected in The Secret Mountain and Other Tales (1926), where it was accompanied by a wonderful illustration by K. Romney Towndrow (reproduced at right).

The first survey of Chinese literature to be published in English was A History of Chinese Literature (1901), by Herbert A. Giles. Morris may have had another source, but I copy here a few paragraphs from Giles's book giving the germ of the story which Morris elaborated upon in his tale.

We now reach a name which is still familiar to all students of poetry in the Middle Kingdom. T’ao Ch’ien (A.D. 365-427), or T’ao Y√ľan-ming as he was called in early life, after a youth of poverty obtained an appointment as magistrate. But he was unfitted by nature for official life; all he wanted, to quote his own prayer, was “length of years and depth of wine.” He only held the post for eighty-three days, objecting to receive a superior officer with the usual ceremonial on the ground that “he could not crook the hinges of his back for five pecks of rice a day,” such being the regulation pay of a magistrate. He then retired into private life and occupied himself with poetry, music, and the culture of flowers, especially chrysanthemums, which are inseparably associated with his name. In the latter pursuit he was seconded by his wife, who worked in the back garden while he worked in the front. . . .

The “Peach-blossom Fountain” of Tao Ch’ien is a well-known and charming allegory, a form of literature much cultivated by Chinese writers. It tells how a fisherman lost his way among the creeks of a river, and came upon a dense and lovely grove of peach-trees in full bloom, through which he pushed his boat, anxious to see how far the grove extended.

“He found that the peach-trees ended where the water began, at the foot of a hill; and there he espied what seemed to be a cave with light issuing from it. So he made fast his boat, and crept in through a narrow entrance, which shortly ushered him into a new world of level country, of fine houses, of rich fields, of fine pools, and of luxuriance of mulberry and bamboo. Highways of traffic ran north and south; sounds of crowing cocks and barking dogs were heard around; the dress of the people who passed along or were at work in the fields was of a strange cut; while young and old alike appeared to be contented and happy.”

He is told that the ancestors of these people had taken refuge there some five centuries before to escape the troublous days of the “First Emperor,” and that there they had remained, cut off completely from the rest of the human race. On his returning home the story is noised abroad, and the Governor sends out men to find this strange region, but the fisherman is never able to find it again. The gods had permitted the poet to go back for a brief span to the peach-blossom days of his youth. (From pages 128-131)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

My Visit to Lomaland

In early August 2002, I attended Comic-Con in San Diego, which gave me the opportunity to take an afternoon to visit the Point Loma area where Kenneth Morris had lived for twenty-two years between 1908 and 1930. It was a gorgeously sunny day, with bright blue skies with some clouds, yet as hot as temperature was, the steady breeze coming in off the Pacific mitigated the heat and gave the whole place a magical quality.

The area where the Theosophical community lived and worked is now a part of the Point Loma Nazarene University (known as PLNU). Not many of the Theosophical buildings survive, but the few that do are distinctive.

Here is Cabrillo Hall, which has been moved from its original location. Initially it held the offices of the Theosophical Society, but it became the home of Katherine Tingley, leader of the Theosophical Society, from 1909 until her death in 1929.
Rumors and stories that the building is haunted have inspired a book, Holy Ghosts: True Tales from a Haunted Christian College (2015) by David J. Schmidt, a 2002 graduate of PLNU. A local television news-story about the book and the hauntings (typical in its over-the-top treatment) is available here. The videos are quite interesting because they show various parts of the building and area, past and present.

This is Mieras Hall, an administration building on the PLNU campus.  Formerly it had been the residence of Arthur Spalding, who founded the Spalding sporting goods firm which continues to this day. The amethyst dome at the top is not the original--it was restored in 1983.

 The Greek amphitheater is probably the most distinctive landmark remaining from the Theosophical Society days.The audience faces the theater with the Pacific ocean as its backdrop.
Finally, here are some photos of the western slope of the campus, and down towards the ocean.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Articles on Lomaland, from 1907, 1913, and 1978

Kenneth Morris lived at the Theosophical community at Point Loma, California from January 1908 to January 1930.  The community, which became known as Lomaland, had been founded in 1897 by Katherine Tingley; it lasted until 1942 when the property was sold and the Theosophical Society moved to near Los Angeles.

Over the years there have been a number of articles, and more recently of books, that cover the history of Lomaland.  Here I'd like to recommend three of the articles. These give good insight into what Kenneth Morris's daily life was like during his Lomaland years.

The first one dates from January 1907, one year before Kenneth Morris's arrival.  Called "An Extraordinary Experiment in Brotherhood" it was written by Ray Stanard Baker and appeared in The American Magazine.  The illustrated pdf is downloadable here.

The second dates from October 1913, after Morris had been resident for over five years.  It is "With the Theosophists at Point Loma" by Felix J. Koch, and it appeared in The Overland Monthly. This pdf is also downloadable, at this link.

The third is a more historical perspective, dating from April 1978, "Katherine Tingley's Utopian Vision in Pt. Loma," by Merton Gaudette.  It appeared in The San Diego Reader and is currently available online at this link.

Finally, here is a select list (alphabetically) of books, or books with chapters, on  Point Loma:

Ashcraft, W, Michael. The Dawn of the New Cycle: Point Loma Theosophists and American Culture (2002). Quite interesting, though it is written from a more sociological perspective than an insider's one.

Greenwalt, Emmett A. The Point Loma Community in California, 1897-1942, A Theosophical Experiment (1955). Revised edition under the title California Utopia: Point Loma: 1897-1942 (1978). This is the best and most extensive history of the Point Loma theosophical community.

Hine, Robert V. California's Utopian Colonies (1953; with new material 1983). Includes a chapter “Theosophical Colonies: Point Loma and Temple House” which cover Point Loma (pp. 33-54).

Kagan, Paul. New World Utopias: A Photographic History of the Search for Community (1975). Contains a chapter on “Theosophist Communes in California” which includes a section, illustrated with photographs, on Point Loma (pp. 50-64).

La Playa Trail Association. Images of America: Point Loma (2016). A book of historical photographs with extensive captions covering the peninsula of Point Loma. The theosophical community is covered in one chapter, “Lomaland” (pp. 47-64).

Friday, April 10, 2020

Making (Geographical) Sense of Lomaland

A typical cover of the Raja-Yoga Messenger.*

Ever since I first started studying Kenneth Morris, and seeing photos of Lomaland, I've wanted to make better sense of what the place was like for Morris, who lived there for twenty -two years. Sadly, I never encountered a map of the Theosophical community and its environs on Point Loma, so the references to many of its parts have always been a bit confusing. But the pictorial record is abundant. The community produced a number of magazines which were well-illustrated with black-and-white photographs of the area, as produced by the "Lomaland Photo and Engraving Dept." Attractive picture postcards were also produced and sold. I've collected many of these such illustrations from disparate sources over the years, and will here give an outline of some of the major features which would have been part of Kenneth Morris's daily life. Future posts will elaborate upon those features described here.

The Theosophical community at Point Loma had its origins in 1897, and some of its major features (including the Homestead, the Temple of Peace, and the open air Greek theater) were built between 1897 and 1901. The grounds were then quite barren, but later pictures show fields, orchards and a wealth of gardens all over the community. Kenneth Morris arrived at Point Loma in January 1908, and remained there until January 1930. The Theosophical Society sold off its remaining properties in 1942 and moved up near Los Angeles. Not many of the original landmarks survive today. My final post in this series will included photos taken during my one visit to Lomaland in 2002. 

 Here are some of the main features I will discuss.  1) The Homestead, also called the Raja-Yoga Academy. 2) The Temple of Peace. 3) The Greek Theater. 4) The Gates. 5) The grounds around the Raja-Yoga Academy. 6) Homes and Bungalows. 7) Beaches and Canyons.

I will give each of these areas a separate blog-post, with (perhaps) some additional posts highlighting other features.  In this post I will use some aerial shots, with some annotations, to show the lie of the land.

First, here is an undated post card showing the lower part of the Point Loma peninsula, taken from the Pacific Ocean side. The grounds of the Theosophical community are not visible--they would be to the left of the photograph. But one sees the northern part of San Diego Bay, and the beginnings of the city of San Diego proper at the right. (Click on any image to view it larger.)
Next is a USGS topographical map from 1943. The Theosophical community is marked on the western side of Point Loma, corresponding to where La Playa is marked on the east side.
Here's a current screenshot of a map of the area. Most of the Theosophical community and its building were between the areas labelled "La Playa" and the "Natural Park" icon just below "Sunset Cliffs."
To turn now to Lomaland itself, here is a view of the southern part of the community taken from the south-east. The Pacific is in the west, and the Greek theater is prominently visible.
Next is a view from the south, looking north. The Greek theater is marked D. The blue dot near the letter E marks the south end of Pepper Street (marked on the view above), which runs north to mark B. (The road running from the right of E goes to east to the secondary Egyptian Gate.) The blue dot near the B marks the main entrance (facing east) of the Raja-Yoga Academy. The blue dot marked C notes the main entrance (facing west) of the Temple of Peace. The Blue dot marked A denotes the residence of the Spalding family (it is one of the few buildings which survives to this day). F marks Lomaland Drive. Somewhere to the right of the blue dot would be where the Main Gate (also known as the Roman Gate) to the Theosophical grounds would be found.
Here is a view of the main buildings taken from the south and looking north. The Athletic Fields are visible at the top left, and some of the orchards at the top right.  At the lower right are some of the Group-Homes and Bungalows where the students and staff lived. (In noting the Spalding House, I misspelled the name as "Spaulding.")
Finally, a view from the east, looking west, which shows the Main Entrance or Roman Gate on Lomaland Drive where it meets up with what is now called Catalina Boulevard (formerly it was Point Loma Boulevard). Other features are marked (including another misspelling of Spalding).

*This cover of the Raja-Yoga Messenger shows, at the left, the Greek Theater from the canyon behind it, and, similarly, at the right, the Temple of Peace.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Some Impressions of Lomaland (1908) by Kenneth Morris

Kenneth Morris arrived at the Theosophical Headquarters near San Diego in January 1908. He remained there twenty-two years, until January 1930 when he headed to Wales.  

The Theosophical Headquarters was situated on Point Loma, a peninsular headland running north and south, with San Diego Bay to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. (The southern part of Point Loma was—and still is—a military base.) In 1897, Katherine Tingley, Leader of The Theosophical Society, purchased a large number of acres on the western side of peninsula, and quickly began building some remarkable buildings like the Temple of Peace and the Homestead (later known as the Raja-Yoga Academy), both surmounted by glass domes which reflected the sunlight during the day and which were illuminated from within by night. The fruitful land, mostly barren at that time, was filled with palm and other trees, and myriads of flowers. The theosophical community became known as Lomaland. Its heyday ran until Tingley's death in 1929, and the fortunes of the Theosophical Society were greatly diminished that same year after the stock market crash. In 1942, the Theosophical Society sold off its remaining Lomaland properties and moved north to Covina, some twenty miles to the east of Los Angeles. closing the Lomaland chapter of its history. 

After Kenneth Morris arrived in January 1908, he he wrote an article "Some Impression of Lomaland," published in the June 1908 issue of the International Theosophical Chronicle, a London journal. Below are extracts of this article by Kenneth Morris.
It is hard to conceive, when one first sees Lomaland, what the photographers were about when they gave us pictures so far falling short of the jewel reality. The sun has made this land his own, and the whole promontory has drunk and drunk in sunshine until it seems to be quivering and alive and intense with music, gladness, hope, reality. Years are taken from one’s age when one sets foot here, and one cannot say whether soil or air or some other factor had most hand in working the magic. . . .
The whole headland is redolent with colour, a glory of scent, and Prospero’s island was not so magical with music. The sea will permit no silence, yet the sound is richer than silence itself—perhaps one might say, more full of the soul of silence than any mere absence of sound.. . . 
What the great hill was like before it was crowned with those beautiful domes one cannot say. Nature must have done her best for it even then, and left no stone unturned to make it lovely. Now it is as if she were thankful to a greater artist than herself for painting into her picture fairer things than even she could have dreamed. She is here still, and when there are thousands or millions of human people on the Point, she will not have gone: she will be still here, and constantly jubilant and grateful. It is not merely that the sky is bluer now in January than the June sky at its bluest in other lands; nor that the Pacific is a jewel—many jewels—sapphires, turquoise, topaz, amethysts (while the Mediterranean’s self is only pigment or blue porcelain); not that the ruddy gold of the soil is teeming and blooming with myriads of myriad-scented flowers and shrubs; nor that the sun is empurpling every shadow, and waking gold and diamonds wherever there is earth to be gilded or water to gleam. It is that all these things are true, and that further, and above all, one senses nature herself, alert, friendly, triumphant; not displeased with human effort, but backing it so lovingly that the sewn seed produces a thousandfold, and the white tents and domed temples are as if they had grown from magical roots, and had been conceived by no less an artist than the builder of the mountains and designer of the seas. One cannot imagine Point Loma without them. They must have been there, one dreams, for a million ages; and fairycraft was concealing them until a few years ago. The place is vibrant with the glory of which legends are made. . . .
A great rock-bound promontory, rising high out of the sea; first the rocks, then the cliffs, then the hillside rising and rising. It is a long way down from the homestead to the sea, and the hillside that divides them has one grand object in life, and that is to produce sweet-scented growths; so that one can hardly tell where gardens end and wild life begins, both being so perfect and closely in harmony. Over all is the crowning miracle of those two gleaming domes. Take the rim of the sea, between the blue and the white of the foam; of that green they made the dome on the home­stead; the other one is of the colour of pomegranate juice, and the sun will not let either of them be anything but shining. . .
Here are men and women of all lands, speaking all languages—efficients of every trade, art, craft or profession amongst them—sharing a common strenuous life; and the whole scheme is so perfectly laid out and controlled that no waste nor turmoil nor ill-feeling can creep in; there is no jar or confusion, no cliques nor any interfering with the duties of another. The more the world sees and hears of this place the nearer will it be to solving the problems that encumber it now. The conviction is forced on one that this is a model for the whole earth to fashion its life after.