William Slater Brown in 1917
|William Slater Brown
and The Enormous Room
[Norman Friedman and David V. Forrest]
[Spring 1 (1992): 87-91]
David Forrest has been diligent in tracking down Slater Brown, the
man who was with Cummings in France in 1917 and was incarcerated along with
him at La Ferté-Macé. In SPRING of November 1987 (Old
Series 7, 3) Forrest relates that Brown was a former neighbor of Cummings
in Cambridge whose family had rented the house next door. Brown was the son
of a country doctor from Webster, MA, a cotton mill town founded by his (Brown's)
maternal great grandfather, Samuel Slater. On July 17, 1987, Forrest managed
to meet Christopher (Kit) Collier, whose mother is Brown's sister. Collier
is Connecticut's State Historian and a Professor of History at the University
of Connecticut in Storrs. He subsequently wrote (August 1, 1987) that he
would try to put Forrest in touch with Brown, who lives in Rockport, MA.
Collier wrote again on February 5, 1990, saying he had a letter from Uncle
Bill but was holding it in the hope that Brown himself would write Forrest
(SPRING, November 1990 [Old Series 10, 3]). Then, on January 2, 1992,
Collier sent Forrest the following letter:
| I guess it is time to give up on getting Uncle
Bill to write something about eec for you. He is still in pretty good general
health, but his memory is beginning to fail him--at least in the short run.
[Brown would be around 95 years old at this time.]
He sent me the enclosed at the time I initially attempted to get him to do something for SPRING. I held off sending it to you because he had not said I could and also because I always hoped he would get to it. I might have known he wouldn't because he is opposed in general to biography—certainly didn't want to be the subject of one. On the other [end page 87] hand, my brother has some notes or tapes of conversations with him--I think. [We've been unable to contact James L. Collier, Kit's brother.]
If you print this letter, please don't send him [Brown] a copy of the issue; send me one, though.
I note that you once asked me about Esther Brown. Bill was married about 1925 to Sue Jenkins, a radical labor supporter, daughter of a Welsh coal miner from around Pittsburgh. I think she was in high school with Malcolm Cowley there. My brother knows more of that detail. They had one son, Gwilliam, born in Feb., 1928. He graduated from Harvard in 1951 and worked nearly his whole life for Sports Illustrated--was on the original staff. He died of brain cancer at the age of about 45, I think. He was very close to me and my brother and lived with us off and on when his parents were unable to take care of him.
Bill became an alcoholic and his writing career ended and he left Sue (whom he kept up with till her death about five years ago). He then took, as a common law wife, Esther. I think she taught at Columbia Teachers College. They lived in a town along the Hudson for a while in the mid and late forties. They have one child, Rachel, who lives on the Cape with her husband, who is a PhD oceanographer. Again, my brother knows all the details.
Then after Bill became a successful A.A. in the early fifties, he moved to Boston and there married Mary James, a niece of THE Jameses. She died a couple of years ago.
Anyway, here's the letter.
William Slater Brown in 1979
Before transcribing Brown's typed letter, we should explain the reference to Friedman's "brief biography" mentioned therein. This was written as the entry on Cummings for Alfred Bendixen s Encyclopedia of American Literature, to be issued by the Ungar Publishing Company, in which it is said, "It was three months before they were released, thanks to his Cummings' father's frantic wire-pulling, and sent back home, [end page 88] much the worse for wear" (SPRING, May 1988 [Old Series 8, 2]). We should also note that, contrary to received opinion, it was not their letters that caused the problem; it was, rather, their knowing about the mutinies in the first place.
Here is Brown's letter to Kit, July 6, 1988:
William Slater Brown in 1979
Photo © Bernard F. Stehle
As it happens, after we compiled these materials and readied them for The Journal, we heard from Bernard F. Stehle, a former student of Richard Kennedy's who teaches at The Community College of Philadelphia. It seems that he actually visited Brown in Rockport in 1979 and took a series of photographs. With his permission, we are pleased to present his portraits of Brown herein. Stehle has also agreed to write up something about that visit, which we will publish in a future issue of this Journal, along with additional photographs.
—The Editors[end page 91]
Additional reading on William Slater Brown: