Midnight Notes #3

Preaching Eugenics etc… followed by a little bit regarding Morton, Tolkien and Priestley. 


After hastily skimming through many an eye-bulging, blood vessel bustingly terrible book about human race betterment and the like, it becomes rather easy to instantly know good writing when one sees it. I have at last found the treasure that I was seeking. The book is called ‘Preaching Eugenics: Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement’ by Christine Rosen.

It was first published in 2004, and it doesn’t appear to me so far to have been reviewed in any of the popular or semi-popular publications in North America, Europe or the other Continents of the world. I will look into where and how it was reviewed, but not now. So far I have only half-heartedly searched for reviews via a google search. Google searches are increasingly unreliable these days, so there may be many reviews in existence that the mischievous google fairies do not want me to discover.

There is what seems to be a good summary of the book in ‘Holocaust literature. Volume 2: Life with a Star – A World at Arms.’, Edited by John K. Roth. https://archive.org/details/holocaustliterat0002unse

My late-night lunch break is nearly over so I haven’t got the time to quote what is written about ‘Preaching Eugenics’ in ‘Holocaust literature.’

Here are the first few paragraphs of the introduction of ‘Preaching Eugenics’ by Christine Rosen.

‘Sermonizing is a science of sorts, at least to its more avid practitioners. On 8 May 1926, the Reverend Phillips Endecott Osgood, rector
of St. Mark’s Church in Minneapolis, ascended the pulpit to deliver his 11:00 a.m. Sunday sermon. It was a balmy spring day in the city,
and Osgood’s congregation of Protestant Episcopal believers was large; over the years St. Mark’s had grown from a small, frontier
parish to a major force in the community, with more than a thousand members. The airy limestone expanse of the neo-Gothic sanctuary, perched above Loring Park near downtown Minneapolis, attested to the success of the church, whose first home had been a small mission, trundled to parish property on sled runners by thirty-
three yoke of oxen, in 1863.

That Sunday was Mother’s Day, and from his pulpit, designed in the form of a chalice and encircled by intricately carved wooden
figures of famous predicants, Rev. Osgood eschewed the usual praise of womanly virtues in favor of the exotica of an Oriental bazaar. Amid the haggling shopkeepers and motley crowds of such a bustling marketplace, Rev. Osgood told his congregation, you will come across a man quietly toiling over a charcoal brazier. He is a refiner, bent on his task of purging dross and alloy from his bubbling concoction of metals to reveal pure silver or gold. So, too, are we refiners, Osgood said, but with a very different task: improving the human race. “We see that the less fit members of society seem to breed fastest and the right types are less prolific,” Osgood preached, but he emphasized that a practical solution to this alarming problem was at hand. “Taking human nature as it is and not ignoring any legitimate emotion or tendency, eugenics aspires to the refiner’s work.” Decrying the “insane and criminal specimens of humanity”
whose “slatternly daughters” and “idle, ignorant” sons strained social institutions, Osgood warned his flock, “Until the impurities of dross and alloy are
purified out of our silver it cannot be taken into the hands of the craftsman for whom the refining was done.” The Kingdom of God required eugenically fit believers, Osgood said: “Grapes cannot be gathered from thorns nor figs from thistles.”

Science can also contain hints of the sermon. That same year, as Osgood invoked the power of the refiner’s fire for ushering in a eugenic Kingdom of God, Sinclair Lewis, that wayward son of nearby Sauk Centre, Minnesota, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Arrowsmith, his satire of the evangelical fervor of devotees of science. “Boil the milk bottles or, by gum, you better buy your ticket to Kingdom Come,” warned Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh, the perennially selfpromoting public health officer under whose wing the bumbling physician
Martin Arrowsmith uncomfortably rested. Lewis’s satiric eye had not yet reached the clergy (Elmer Gantry would appear the following year), but his description of the twin passions of science and faith retains its withering accuracy. Like so many pulpit Arrowsmiths, preachers had become enamored of the possibilities science presented; in eugenics they found a science whose message moved effortlessly from laboratory to church.

In 1926, hundreds of Osgood’s fellow clerics, representing nearly every major Protestant denomination, as well as several Reform rabbis, preached eugenics across the country, in venues demographically diverse: San Francisco, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Austin, and Nashville, and lesser city lights like Topeka, Kansas and Sparks, Nevada. The preachers spoke vividly of the powerful force of heredity and urged their congregations to put the tenets of this new science to the test in their own communities. Their efforts were part of a “eugenics sermon contest” sponsored by the country’s preeminent eugenics organization, the American Eugenics Society, but the impulse to link organized religion with eugenics was much broader than a single contest could capture. During the first few decades of the twentieth century, eugenics flourished in the liberal Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish mainstream; clerics, rabbis, and lay leaders wrote books and articles about eugenics, joined eugenics organizations, and lobbied for eugenics legislation. They grafted elements of the eugenics message onto their own efforts to pursue religious-based charity in their churches and adopted eugenic solutions to the social problems that beset their communities. They explored the eugenic implications of the biblical Ten Commandments and investigated the hereditary lessons embedded in the parables of Jesus.

Why was eugenics so appealing to these religious leaders? The image of the minister in U.S. history has sustained colorful interpretation: sturdy revivalists like Methodist John Wesley; crusading, if slightly scandalized, orators like Congregationalist Henry Ward Beecher; and Sinclair Lewis’s fictional, hustling man of the cloth, Elmer Gantry. But few U.S. ministers have gained a
place in history for their championing of science, despite the fact that many
religious leaders have been its staunch defender. It is the colorful religious
opponents of science whom we remember: Charles Hodge, Billy Sunday, and
other excoriators of Darwinian evolutionary theory, for example.

Certain kinds of religious leader gravitated toward eugenics in the early twentieth century, ministers anxious about the changing culture but also eager to find solutions to its diagnosable ills. Theirs was a practical spirituality better understood in terms of worldviews than theologies. Many of the religious leaders who joined the eugenics movement were well-known, even notorious, for their lack of coherent doctrinal vision; of one Congregationalist advocate for
eugenics it was said, “He is not a theologian in the ordinary sense, for he loves flowers more than botany.” Of another, a well-known Baptist minister, one critic noted the impossibility of constructing even a preliminary image of his beliefs: “No painter who ever lived could make a picture which expressed the religion
of the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick.” These were preachers who embraced
modern ideas first and adjusted their theologies later. Theirs were the churches
that had naves and transepts modeled after gothic European cathedrals—as well as bowling alleys. And it was when these self-identified liberal and modernist religious men abandoned bedrock principles to seek relevance in modern debates that they were most likely to find themselves endorsing eugenics. Those who clung stubbornly to tradition, to doctrine, and to biblical infallibility
opposed eugenics and became, for a time, the objects of derision for their rejection of this most modern science.’

Finally, some notes from yesterday or the day before:


When Re-listening to readings of H.V. Morton’s book ‘I Saw Two Englands’ I been having regular flashes of ‘Lord of the Rings’ springing up in my mind. This has been going on now for a few nights in a row.

Until only a few moments ago I resisted the urge to type “h v Morton j r r Tolkien ” into a google-type search box. One of the first results that came up says this:

‘J.R.R. Tolkien and H.V. Morton

Tolkien and Morton grew up in Birmingham despite being born in different locations. Tolkien in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa, and Morton in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire (He, unfortunately, passed away in Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa).

They were both born in 1892 – Tolkien in January, Morton in July. Tolkien was left an orphan at a young age after his father died when he was 3 and his mother when he was 12. His guardian was Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest. Tolkien was enrolled at the prestigious King Edward VI’s School in Birmingham in 1905. He was living in Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham at the time. At school, Tolkien and three friends set up a semi-secret society, given the acronym TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society).

In the 1911 census, Tolkien and his younger brother, Hilary were boarders with the Irish owner of a whisky distillery living at 4 Highfield Rd, Edgbaston. John was described as a ‘schoolboy’ even though he was 19; he went up to Oxford the following autumn.

Morton also went to King Edward’s, but he decided to leave at 16 to pursue a career in journalism (it was a conscious decision). He was living with his parents on Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham and worked as a student-reporter, specifically on newspapers. Morton’s father, Joseph, was the Editor-in-Chief of the Birmingham Gazette at the time and this was where Morton cut his journalistic teeth. Tolkien and Morton were living just two miles apart in 1911.

In 1923, The Daily Express newspaper sent H.V. Morton to Egypt to witness the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamen. This was a journalistic scoop for Morton, beating the Times newspaper reporter, and such a feat gave him international recognition.

A few years later, Morton wrote a series of articles for the Express newspaper based on his travels around England in his bull-nose Morris car. These were collated into a book called In Search of England, published in 1927. I have a copy of the 14th edition with its foxed pages. It is a wonderful account of life in England during the 1920s. The glories of the English countryside had become more accessible through tours by motor coach and the increasing affordability of motor cars.

“The roads of England, eclipsed for a century by the railway, have come to life again…” says Morton’s introduction. “A healthy countryside is necessary to a nation…” he continues.

This sentiment may have been echoed by his fellow Brummie. Tolkien was brought up in the English countryside. Sarehole was then a small Worcestershire village, later subsumed into the Birmingham conurbation. He developed a great love for nature. His mother had taught him botany as a child.

“Sarehole, with its nearby farms, its mill by the riverside, its willow-trees, its pool with swans, its dell with blackberries, was a serene quasi-rural enclave, an obvious model-to-be for … Hobbiton and the Shire” says Brian Rosenbury, in his critique of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.’

Tolkien and Morton are the two main writers that grab my attention. Even though it might not be particularly apparent in these midnight notes thus far , the fictional pictures that keep forming in my mind, that seldom gets written down thus far, are brought to life most vividly while reading or listening to the craft of these two writers.

The article also features J. B. Priestley, which I will copy out at the end of this paragraph. I haven’t read anything by him yet. But the intention to do so has been with me for quite a long time. I received from Abigail the gift of ‘An Inspector Calls’ on my first birthday after release from the NHS nuthouse nearly 5 years ago. An unknown force has been stopping me from reading it. The fact that it is a play put me off a little I suppose. But recently I have been preparing myself to become familiar with the works of William Shakespeare by listening to some unusually good lectures. More on that another time maybe.

The rest of the article:


‘J.B. Priestley

Another writer, born two years after Tolkien and Morton, was J.B. Priestley. He travelled through Birmingham in the autumn of 1933 and was writing down his impressions, recording “what one man saw and heard and felt and thought”. His book English Journey was published in 1934.

Priestley was born in Manningham, Bradford in 1894 and was the son of Jonathan Priestley, a headmaster. His mother passed away when John was only two.

J.B. was a grammar school boy who left at 16 to work as a clerk for a wool company in Bradford. Like Tolkien, Priestley saw active service in the First World War. He was severely wounded when he was buried alive by a trench mortar.

In 1933 Priestley was already a successful writer. The Good Companions, his 4th novel published in 1929, had given him international status. He was also relatively wealthy with a house in Highgate, London and a 17th-century manor house on the Isle of Wight.

But he was a restless soul and wanted to shake the cosiness of his life by investigating what was happening ‘where they made things’ in the Midlands and the North of England. He had arrived in Birmingham on the coach from Coventry. This was the same city that Tolkien had reimagined as Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. He goes on to describe the social conditions he encounters there and elsewhere in his journey around England.

J.B. Priestley already had much success with his plays, his poetry and his novels. In English Journey Priestley meets a young ‘citizen of Birmingham’ who is clearly down on his luck. He offers to carry Priestley’s bags to the hotel. During their walk, the writer extracts a great many details of the man’s life. This was a knack Priestley had in common with H.V. Morton who, no matter where he was, managed to meet the most interesting people and write down their stories.

J.B. Priestley developed a new theory of time, explored in his play Time and the Conways written in 1937. The play introduces the idea of time as being a metaphysical construct whereby past, present and future are linked.

Morton’s only novel, I, James Blunt written in 1942 was commissioned as fictional propaganda for the British Government. It describes England after a Nazi victory and is classed as ‘future history”. Len Deighton was inspired by Morton’s novel when writing “SS-GB”.

Similarities between the three writers

All three writers had a sense of nostalgia in their writings.

Morton and Priestley were travelling around an England which was changing rapidly. They may not have had a premonition of impending war, but they were trying to capture an era before it was dismantled by change. Tolkien saw his boyhood home of Sarehole spoiled by the encroachment of men and machinery.

This is mirrored in The Lord of the Rings as Frodo envisions the destruction of the Shire. He failed to recognise how industrialisation improved the lives of ordinary people. In The Lost Road he writes “..men are ceasing to give love or care for the making of things for use or delight”. Tolkien had served in World War 1 and was at the Battle of the Somme. There he had witnessed the barbarity unleashed through technological prowess.

Whether looking back to a time before cheap travel or describing the present social conditions by experiencing them as they looked forward to their immediate futures, all three writers played with time.

Their contributions to English Literature have definitely stood the test of time.’

Three writers and Birmingham: JRRT, HVM, and JBP


The story in my mind needs to stay there for the foreseeable future. I need to formally learn the basics of good grammar, build my vocabulary considerably and get out of the house a bit more, before I can start articulating (to my satisfaction) the pictures in my mind that don’t seem to want to stop forming.

There is much music to listen to, much more history to become familiar with. All sorts of things that are too numerous to mention here right now. I’ve babbled on enough.

That’ll do.


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