Harry Barnard discusses life as a teacher, writer and biographer
BROADCAST: 1967 | DURATION: 00:58:58
Mr Barnard discusses being a writer and biographer. He strongly discusses the theory, What is literature? and states, "If the work(writing) enriches the person reading and causes deep thought it is literature." He is working, at the time of broadcast, on the papers, notes manuscripts of Upton Sinclair preparing to . He was also writer in residence at Roosevelt University at the time of broadcast.
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Studs Terkel I'm seated with the- at this moment, I'm seated with Harry Barnard, who is writer in residence at Roosevelt University, and it's rather unusual in this instance, because Mr. Barnard is known primarily as a biographer. You may recall, he wrote "Eagle Forgotten," biography- the definitive biography of John Peter Altgeld, Illinois' great governor that was the leading candidate at the time. The book was, of Mr. Barnard, for the Pulitzer Prize. The title, "Eagle Forgotten," of course, taken from Vachel Lindsay's poem of tribute to Altgeld. And at this moment, this- during this time Upton Sinclair died at the age of 90, and Mr. Barnard is in charge of all of Mr. Sinclair's papers, and many subjects arise as to what is- who is a good subject for a biography? Harry, you've worked on a number of them now, and that's an interesting question perhaps to start our conversation.
Harry Barnard Yes, well, I think a a ideal subject for a biography is a person who left an impact upon society. I mean, my test of a person is if he dies, does he leave a hole? If he leaves a hole, he's missed. Then that is a person who has left an effective, an effective life. Upton Sinclair certainly did. You know, Studs, I've been interested in the fact that a number of editorials about Upton Sinclair, taking sort of a patronizing view toward him as a writer. I think even the New York Times said that, of course, Upton Sinclair was not a great writer, but he left a great impact upon society. Particularly because of his book "The Jungle," which exposed horrible conditions in the Chicago stockyards. It came out in 1906 and that was responsible for one of the great pieces of legislation in the United States, the establishment of a Pure Food and Drug Administration.
Studs Terkel I think we should- there two, two themes enter immediately. One, the impact of "The Jungle itself." A book, a book written by Upton Sinclair, impact upon our society. And the second theme as to what is literature? But, let's for a moment, in case some may not know. I imagine our listeners know about "The Jungle." This book dealing with the Chicago stockyards, and Sinclair's celebrated comment that he was telling about the horrible conditions in which men worked in the stockyards at the turn of the century.
Studs Terkel Hearts.
Harry Barnard Hearts. That's right. And I hit their stomach. Because he exposed the fact that, sausage, for example, used to go mice. In other words, even the sausage [maker] for in Chicago, who murdered his wife by dropping her in the sausage vat. And she came out in sausage in Chicago.
Studs Terkel So, readers then, were shocked. Not so much at the conditions under which men worked, which is what Sinclair had in mind. Aiming at the heart. But rather what they were eating, and thus he hit their stomach.
Harry Barnard That's right, and he tied that into awful conditions at labor, the exploitation of the workers in the Chicago stockyards. And profiteering on the part of the big operators of the stockyards.
Studs Terkel 1906-
Harry Barnard Teddy Roosevelt was president. Teddy Roosevelt got so many letters about this book calling for reform of the stockyards that he called Upton Sinclair publishers and said please call Upton off. He says I can't do anything else in the government here except worry about the Chicago stockyards. Now, this is a great book and why? Because it left an impact upon society. It struck a blow for social justice. You know Studs, I divide writers, responsible writers, I think maybe in three classes. First a, a good writer, then a great writer, then a truly great writer. A good writer is a man who was able to put words down on paper and perhaps entertain people. A great writer is a writer who does that and who is able to move people's minds and emotions. Now, a truly great writer is a writer who leaves an impact upon the world. I think of, in America, Mark Twain, to me- Mark Twain is the great American writer, because Mark Twain was not only able to write entertainment shall we say, but he was concerned with social questions, social movements. He was a participant in public affairs. Mark Twain, many people do not realize is one of the great friends of immigrants and the Jews in particular. He was greatly incensed over anti-Semitism. Some of the great passages in his book, his trip around the world, dealt with the difference between the way Jews are treated and were treated in Russia and Poland and their freedom in the United States. Mark Twain was constantly involved in politics.
Studs Terkel "King Leopold's Soliloquy," that Mark Twain wrote was perhaps, it's still perhaps the greatest condemnation of colonialism ever written. Dealing with the Belgian Congo and the African people had treatment by the time the Belgian government-
Harry Barnard That's right. We know his story, that the very charming story, of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court. That was really a defense of democracy an attack upon Kings, on autocracy. Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is really social criticism of America, of the social structure of slavery. Tom Sawyer even-
Studs Terkel If I could be the gadfly for the moment, you know. Not devil's advocate, let's say the literal interpretation of literature advocate, we can come to this, this is a key subject as to literature. Huck Finn, nonetheless, "Huckleberry Finn" was a great piece of writing because of Mark Twain's understanding of the human heart, too.
Harry Barnard That's right. That's, that's a great point about this story. Of course it's a good story, primarily. You know, there are some writers, Studs, you know some of them, who take the position that a writer should not be involved in social questions like Upton Sinclair was, for example. And Mark Twain, Zola, Gorky, Dostoevsky, even Robert Browning. Saul Bellow, not long ago, had a piece in The Sun-Times Sunday Book Week in which he was quite critical of writers who participate in public events. I think he had in mind in particular Norman Mailer, or as Mailer, Gore Vidal, and which he seemed to be- deplore the fact that that Mailer and Vidal have attained a great deal of attention not so much because of the writing, he says, but because they step out and participate in marches and so forth.
Studs Terkel In fairness to Saul Bellow in the piece, he was talking really at the of actors. He was talking of- but nonetheless leads to an interesting theme as to what literature. He was talking primarily, theatricality in in life outside the written word. A celebrity in
Studs Terkel Let's put it this way, aren't there several, I mean, aren't there several approaches to literature? Isn't the function of a great writer, if I want to interpret Bellow, he's not here unfortunately to reply to you, you see. He's saying that is to reveal himself is to dig into whatever the human heart or the condition of it may be. And this is a great writer. You're saying that there's several ways to interpret literature and this is the point as to write literature- there is no one way-
Harry Barnard Literature-
Harry Barnard No,
Harry Barnard Of course, I feel that, I mean we're talking, of course, a degree. I feel a great literature reflects life. Life is struggle. Your great writers, I think, not only have to in their works reflect the struggle in life, but they have to participate in it. And my point is that Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, by getting out on the public platform and participate in politics, by marching for the rights of the Black men, that this is part of their, their job as writers-
Studs Terkel Let's put it this way, perhaps there maybe a difference here, too. And two different thought processes are involved here. Writing is writing, but also you are, if I follow you correctly, you're saying you cannot separate the writer from the man.
Harry Barnard Precisely,
Studs Terkel And are different men who happen to be equally great writers I would say. The different approaches to literature. You're taking- you're speaking now of the spirit of literature, rather than the letter of it. in a sense, aren't you?
Harry Barnard But I think you cannot separate it. It seems to me that, that Tolstoy, for example, was a great writer not only because he was able to spin an interesting story, but because Tolstoy was involved himself in social problems and the problem of war and peace, and the power of social justice. And he- you can't separate that. Zola. Zola is remembered today not so much for say his novel "Nana" or "Germinal," but why? Because he stepped out and and involved himself in the Dreyfus case.
Studs Terkel Nonetheless, we have to consider "Nana" because "Nana" is a work, you see? "Nona" is a literary work, but "Nona" itself as a social work. Dealing as it did with the condition of a prostitute and what made her. And so, it is a remarkable social work. You see, the point is, it's what a man writes that makes him a writer. But, at the same time, you're saying you can't separate what a man is and what he writes. So, they're different writers see, in
Studs Terkel Nelson Algren is in his way. Each is a different man and their approach is wholly diff- coming back to this one point, if we just- Dostoevsky did not participate in social movem- but nonetheless "Crime and Punishment," dealing as it does with the heart, the mind, the motivation of a killer, Raskolnikov, may indeed give pause to those who are proponents of capital punishment. So, in that sense, it could be. I say interrupting the spirit rather than the letter of literature. It might be a social novel, do you see.
Harry Barnard What if you read his diaries? Which I did not long ago. You find that Dostoevsky was was very much interested in politics in Russia and that he participated really in sort of an underground way. Well you know, Shelley, one of the great English poets. He was a revolutionist. If you remember, he went to Greece to to help the-
Studs Terkel I'm merely saying there are two different approaches, you see. And neither one has to be the exact- so long as the book itself does something to the person reading it, isn't that the point?
Harry Barnard Now Sinclair, I might tell you, you know, that I look up, the work I I am doing on Upton Sinclair- he left something like a hundred thousand letters and manuscripts. All his his research notes on "The Jungle." His research notes on his great work on American journalism, "The Brass Check." His research notes on the Sacco and Vanzetti case. His research notes on Henry Ford, he did a devastating study of Ford called "The Flivver King." His research work on how William Fox, the movie producer, was taken by brokers, some Chicagoans were involved incidentally. And he was involved in all these cases. He bled for Sacco and Vanzetti, he bled for Tom Mooney, he did a great study of the Colorado massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, in 1914. All of this material he kept and it's on deposit, by the way, not at Roosevelt University which I'm connected, but with the Indiana University at Bloomington. And Upton who was a great admirer of Altgeld. This is how he and I got together. He designated me about two years ago as the editor of his papers and this to me will be a great challenge. And what I expect to produce is not just a biography of Upton Sinclair, but a social and cultural history of the first half of this century. Because in Upton Sinclair's life, not only in his books, because he wrote 90 books. You know, some of his books were pretty bad. One
Harry Barnard And some junk. All writers- I've written junk and- but, in the end, in the last analysis, Upton Sinclair, I think, will emerge as not merely a social propagandist, it's- which is the way he's being pictured now. But, I think he will be rated with with Mark Twain even, although not with his sense of humor, as a, as a man who left an imprint upon American society, and even on world society. This- the work that I will do on him will take at least three years, I think. It will take almost a year to sort out the letters and the manuscripts. I'm very excited about it.
Studs Terkel No, "Eagle Forgotten," being a remarkable work. A study of a man. Come back to this theme again, don't we? You see, we can't separate this theme. It's an overwhelmingly important one as to what is literature? And there is really no one approach. Here you're saying that the man's life and the work are interrelated. And for someone to put down someone, as you're implying so, that'll put for participating maybe equally as wrong as, you are saying, say, just because a guy wrote something that had an impact, made it good literature, you see? There's also- had an impact, say, as "The Jungle" did. The point is, if the work itself enriches the person reading it, and makes him somewhat think more deeply about conditions, not just the social, but of the human condition, that is literature. And you're saying Sinclair did this.
Harry Barnard Yes. Now we might ask, what his biography? You know, my students at Roosevelt University, where I teach a seminar on the writing of biography, I try to point out to 'em that the important thing about a man's life, from the standpoint of biography as an art, is not what he was. The fact that he was a president, or a governor, or senator. But really why this particular man became a president. Why he became a governor? Or why he became a great industrialist. And I I tell them, if you just set down, this public record, then you have something that would appear in who's who, or an obituary. But, you've got to get at the man. And when you get at the man, or a woman, then you have literature. You know, Studs, I've been quite astonished to be with some of my colleagues in the academic world, and I find some of them say that biography, they say, is not literature. Now you-
Studs Terkel Let's come back to Upton Sinclair and your approach to a biographical- to the hero of a biography. This applies to Altgeld, too. Each Sinclair and Altgeld both came from wealthy, that is Altgeld was poor, but he became a very wealthy man from Illinois.
Harry Barnard Become flaming defenders of social justice. And this is the problem. This is what I'm going to find out about Upton Sinclair. You know, Upton Sinclair started out as rather a sort of prissy aesthetic young boy who had no contact with the realities of life. The reason he- his book "The Jungle," I think was- became a great book that for the first time in his life, this young man, Upton Sinclair, saw blood. You know, on the, on the floors of the stockyards, and he saw how workers in the Chicago stockyards lost an arm and lost fingers because they, because the knife slipped. And he discovered when he came here, that these men were working for as low as as two dollars a day and expected to raise a family. And it was because he had no contact with this sort of thing. That he was a sheltered lad. That this made a great impact on him and he and his book projected that impact upon everyone else, which is great writing. But why did Upton Sinclair-
Harry Barnard Why did he devote- you know- this man devoted 60 years of his life to defending the underdog in America. He was a socialist, although a a Christian, so he was not a Marxist, by the way. He was very bitter toward the Soviet Union. But, every case in America, during his lifetime, certainly from 1906, it involves social injustice. The Tom Mooney case, the Ludlow massacre in Colorado-
Harry Barnard Sacco
Studs Terkel Epic-
Harry Barnard Epic- End Poverty in California. He he he won, practically they really stole that election from him. And if it hadn't been that Franklin Roosevelt turned against him, although Sinclair ran as a Democrat, I think Sinclair would of won. And so, instead of being in the statehouse there for four years, he turned out some more good books. He turned out the Lanny Budd series. But, you know, novels. But there were really tracks of our times. But, you know many of the people in the world of literature sneer at that type of thing. But, let them remember, that when you think of great pieces of writing, people normally do not think of a of a novel. Tom Paine comes to my mind. These are times that try men's souls.
Harry Barnard That's right. He didn't know he was writing literature. Most of the great poetry is really- represents tracks for our times. It, the poetry is great not merely because the words are musical, because they say something. Carl Sandburg comes to my mind. In Carl Sandburg's prime, he was an agitator. A colleague really of of
Studs Terkel Sandburg, you see, is put down, say by John Ciardi. I say Sand- contrasting Sandberg in a in a negative way to Robert Frost, whom whom Charlie admires. He puts down Sandburg. You're saying that literature came from both two different approaches. Two different approaches to life are involved, but literature came from both. Is what you are saying.
Harry Barnard That's right. But, take Sandberg for example. Some people think Sandberg is great because he wrote this little poem about the fog, you know. The fog comes in on little cat steps. Sanberg is really great for a poem like this, like Chicago. And you know, know I find myself amused every once while to find that, say the Chicago Association of Commerce has made sort of an idol out of Carl Sandburg because he wrote a poem called Chicago. Which they think is a paean of praise for Chicago. Actually, if people would get beyond, you know, the first line of Carl's poem on Chicago, you know, the city the broad shoulders, they will find that, that poem really is a devastating criticism of corrupt politics in Chicago, of the Chicago which exploited not only labor, but women, and of police corruption, of police brutality. That's all in in Sandburg's poetry in the Chicago poem. And-
Harry Barnard People yes, it's the same thing. But it comes back to our original theme, that to be a truly great writer you have to be a person who is concerned with the social problems of the day. And this is why Upton Sinclair, I think, is a man whose worth, I say I'm going to spend three years on his papers. It could be, you know, that I'll spend 10 years on these papers. And because I know that, that here is a man who is involved personally, as a man as well as a writer, in the, in the great issues of the day.
Studs Terkel Let's keep the record straight as far as writing. Some proponents of Henry James literature say if we follow through, your your your theory that because he was a socialist he was a good poet. I submit that he, at the time, was a socialist and a good poet. 'Cause some would say, well you have to be an aristocrat, an autocrat, to be a great writer and they'd cite Henry James, do you see?
Harry Barnard I mean, I like this. Henry James, to me, is the brother of William James. And why- because William James, to me, was the great writer in the James family. And again, because William James was a man who was a pacifist, he was practically a socialist, he he heled peace marches. William James, the Professor at Harvard, you know against our participation in the Spanish American War. And it was because William James was a man committed to social problems, that his writing, even his works on psychology, to me, are much more important than Henry James is what, ["The Princess Casamassima]?
Studs Terkel I sure like "The Beast in the Jungle." You see, it's a great story. Henry James- I haven't read too much of James, but just a few I've read. Pretty powerful stuff, yet his point of view and mine are wholly different. The fact is, what impact does it have on you reading it, you see? Now "The Beast in the Jungle," to me, is a memorable short story. Dealing as it does with a wall between two people. And until, when the woman dies, then he realized he should have done what he did not do. But coming back again to you. Harry, you have a definite point of view, obviously, and it's good that you do have this. Points of view is unfortunately what what are so lacking today in our society. Coming back to the writer you quoted, a point of view. Someone says I must not take part, that's a point of view, too, Sartre would say. Not taking part-
Harry Barnard But you know, Studs, I have the biblical view toward writing, the word. The writers, I think, have, have a very important responsibility in our society. That thatto, to be concerned with the integrity of the word- The writer's job is not just that of an entertainer. I mean, a writer shouldn't do what say George Jessel does- make people laugh.
Harry Barnard But, too many writers, too many writers spin novels about their navel, you know. They examine their navel and they, and they get delicate stories out of their navel. But, this is not a great writer.
Studs Terkel Well, let's return- I agree with that. Let's return to to what you were saying about Sinclair and your work. Cause biographies your theme, and also the manner of your students and what their projects are. Sinclair, Upton Sinclair, you were pointing out that before we went on the air, also spans this whole half century has very few men have done with the exceptions say of Bertrand Russell, of course.
Harry Barnard That's right. He has letters in his papers from Bertrand Russell and the other British Fabian's. He has letters from Gandhi, from Harold Laski, from Romain Rolland, from Trotsky- people like that. I mean, it's, it's one of the, I'm sorry but one of the the richest veins in cultural history- his papers.
Harry Barnard Not only in America, but also in the world. Because, you know, Upton Sinclair was also much concerned in the world peace movement. Suddenly, Albert Einstein wrote a poem to Upton Sinclair which is in his paper- I've not seen the poem, and I'm not sure it's ever been published. There's another great figure by the way, Albert who I think confirmed my point. Albert Einstein was a great scientist, but he was also a great humanitarian and these things go
Studs Terkel As you're talking our this conversation is casual in nature. You mentioned Einstein, and of course here is a classic case. Buttressing your point, and the point of view that life and art, or that life and science cannot be disassociated. Einstein himself, of course, always spoke of the human values of science, and the scientists must never lend himself, because he himself- when he heard of Hiroshima, after he himself had conceived the idea of atomic fission, you know. After he said it was possible, and he saw Franklin Roosevelt through the offices of Leo Szilard. And then when he heard of Hiroshima, he said I wish I were a shoemaker.
Studs Terkel So, this can't be separate. Now we come to the theme that you're talking about, again, that there cannot be a a literal, literal separation of Literature from life. And when someone says one does not participate, one does not have a point of view. That is a point of view in itself. Saying things okay, things are okay as they
Harry Barnard That's right, and it's my view that a writer who does that, who separates himself from right, then condemns himself in the end to being a mere craftsman. You know, that's different from being an artist.
Studs Terkel Harry, one thing. Again, in fairness, to the writers who say this. The writer, in this case Bellow, says he is not separating himself from life, which is terribly important. You must remember this. I think we should not, we should not put down someone who happens to be a very distinguished and remarkable writer-
Studs Terkel And take a comment as such- I say, I wish he were here so that because, what I am saying, I trust you are, is that there is no one rule for literature. That is, great journalism could be great literature too, you see.
Harry Barnard Heywood Broun was a great journalist, why? Because- there again. Because he got involved in himself, and took a position on social issues. You know, he was fired from the New York World, because he insisted on expressing his point of view on the Sacco Vanzetti case. This- he and Upton Sinclair instantly were colleagues in the Sacco Vanzetti case. You- even humorous James Thurber, you know, and Robert Benchley. These are people - and they're people are humorists. As a matter of fact, most of the great social criticism today, you know, is coming from the the gag man and, you know, at Second City. And then there's the cartoonists, Feiffer. Herblock until he went wrong and [unintelligible] with Senator McCarthy, recently. These people who who seem to be just funny men, are re are really are the Tom Paines of today, and I'm sorry to say that many of the editorial writers today on our great newspapers, are so bland that nobody pays attention to them. A Feiffer cartoon has a great deal more influence than 100 editorials in some of our great newspapers. So, why? Because these men come to grips and they participate personally and they take a stand. And they tell what they think-
Harry Barnard Yeah, that's why I chose Altgeld for a biography. Because you mentioned Vachel Lindsey's, poem, "The Eagle That is Forgotten." The whole the whole theme of that is that here was a man who stuck his neck out for his fellow men, risked his career, that was why he was a great man. Incidentally, you know, Upton Sinclair lived to 90. In his last years, he would himself him say, would say that, they were not productive years. I was interested in the fact too how happy he was to be invited to the White House by President Johnson, even though he was much opposed to the Vietnam war. I would have felt better if he had said Didn't want to go to the White House until Johnson had ended the Vietnam War. You might say, and even though I loved Upton Sinclair, that he lived too long. You know, some people do their biographies good and they do their biographers a favor by dying a little early. You know, some people ruin their lives by living too long. Maybe maybe we're doing this, Studs. You and I- Altgeld, it may be, that one of the great things about Altgeld was the sad fact that he was only 57 when he died.
Studs Terkel Back to this theme. It wouldn't that be fascinating too, the change in a man as it grows older to a point of view with which that may appall you. That too should be fascinating it seems to me.
Studs Terkel You know, on this theme of living a long time, living very, very long and making it tough for a biographer- this is very funny one. I have a friend Peter Lyon, who wrote a book called "Success Story," a story of S.S. McClure. McClure was-
Studs Terkel Well, this is the point Peter Lyon made, is that, had his grandfather, whom he knew as merely a doddering old man. He was a small boy, Peter was when his grandfather S.S. McClure died. And he said, no doubt there have been many biog- written of this remarkable publisher, who really was the father of all muckrakers. He was the patron of all the muckrakers.
Studs Terkel And Ray Stannard Baker, and the others. But he- the last 30 years of his life, well lies in shadow, in a sense. So, Peter himself made the point you're making. Cold blooded though it may sound, you're talking now from biographer's point of view. You are-now have a class. You're a writer in residence at Roosevelt University and you're working on the Upton Sinclair biography. I'll ask you about James Cousins in a moment, too-
Harry Barnard We're on that class, if I may just point out. We're doing something at Roosevelt University that's never been done at any college or university that I know of. Ida Tarbell, you mentioned her. Toward the end of her life, she was a great biographer. Gave- taught a course in biography at the University of Arizona. But she taught-handled that course in terms of theory. I mean, what is a biography? What is a good biography? What does a bad biography? But at at Roosevelt, we are doing, the students are writing actual biographies. I mean, we're a b- remember Coppi at Yale, his class in drama. Where they didn't just study Shakespeare, they wrote plays. Well that's what we're doing now. I have a-one student, for example, is doing a study of Eugene V. Debs. But he's limiting it to Debs at Woodstock. He was put in jail because of the Pullman Strike. Another student of mine is doing a study of Henry Ford. But not the whole Ford, he's doing a study of Henry Ford as presidential candidate in 1924, which is really very funny. Although serious too, because-
Studs Terkel '24?
Harry Barnard That's right. Well, Ford was- and you had all the Ford dealers in America working for him, tried to get the Democratic or the Republican nomination for president. And there was a great possibility he were to get it. Of course, that would have been a quite-
Harry Barnard Disastrous
Harry Barnard Well, Ford you know, ran for United States senator from Michigan. Of course, it would have been appalling if he had, if he had won either the office of Senator or President. Well, it's an interesting study and one of my students is working on this. Now, I have another student of mine is Mrs. Percy Julian. Her husband is a great chemist in Chicago. Well, she, she's doing- working on a biography of her husband, which you know, is a is a tough job to do. And she has problems of how objective to be. Of course, I tell her don't be too objective. And that's another subject we might talk about.
Harry Barnard Is there any such thing? I mean in history is there objective history? Of course, the answer is there no, there isn't. There are people who pretend to be objective. People say well, of course, when you write a biography you're very objective. It's nonsense. You can't- nobody can be. How can you be objective about your son, your daughter, your wife-
Studs Terkel Of course, there you and I are in agreement as to what is objectivity. Is there such thing as objective journalism? James Cameron, the British journalist, was perhaps the first of those contemporary journalists-
Studs Terkel But, Cameron, in a sense, destroyed the myth of objective or detached journalism. And of course, since then, the convention week in Chicago helped also shatter the myth, slightly, as far as some journalists are concerned since they could not very well be objective with a billy on their noggin.
Harry Barnard I don't want to get into talking about the Mayor Daley's policeman during the Chicago convention because we'll be here all day and I'll be probably put in jail as soon as I walk out of here.
Harry Barnard Well, the first was something on the surface, you might say. That here Cousins was a multimillionaire. He had been the first general manager of the Ford Motor Company and he was permitted to buy a thousand dollars worth of stock in 1903 when the company was organized. Well that thousand dollars, and then later with some dividends, he was able to buy 10 percent interest in the Ford Motor Company for which he took out, I would say, 75 million dollars at least. And he broke with Henry Ford because Henry Ford attempted to be, not just his partner, but his boss. He couldn't stand that. Independence. So then, he Senator Cousins went into politics. Mo- multimillionaire. Everybody expected him to act like a multimillionaire. Well, he wound [out?] by being called a scab millionaire because he defended labor.
Studs Terkel That
Harry Barnard That's right. But, J. Edgar Hoover, you know, stage-managed those raids, anybody know that or not. And they rounded up all the socialists in America and threw him in jail in Chicago, Detroit, New York. And they were hunting Reds, what they call Reds. Cousins made them stop that in Detroit. He said he says I as mayor of Detroit, I'm not going to permit my police department to go out in the night and grab people out of bed just because somebody found him reading a radical newspaper.
Harry Barnard Oh, and I want to say this. Big Bill Haywood came to Detroit to make a speech and Cousins' police commissioners went to Cousin and said Mr. Mayor we'd better stop this meeting. Cousins said why do you stop, why do you want to stop the meeting? Is it because the American Legion doesn't like Big Bill Haywood, and they threatened to break up the meeting and there'll be a riot. So, Cousins said well your job, as policemen, if the American Legion, stages a riot- don't arrest Haywood, arrest the American Legion Boys. We believe in free, in the fr- law and order here. But, that also means the right of people to speak
Studs Terkel Harry, and now we come to the question of James Cousins, the hero of this biography, "Independent Man." What was it, you discovered, see? Here in Cousins, you would think because of his status economically that he would be a- what was it in his experience or psyche, whatever it was, that made him do this? Just as the question arose with Upton Sinclair, when he first saw conditions
Harry Barnard -I finally concluded that is this because he identified with the underdog, even though he was an upper dog, shall we say. And this really came out of his childhood. I don't like to use, in an overt way Freudian terms, but the probably the basis for Cousins' great streak of independence, which is what made him a great senator of the United States, which is what enabled him to build the Ford Motor Company. You know, it was Cousins' idea that for the Ford Motor Company, to inaugurate the five dollar a day plan, 1914, which revolutionized American, the American economic system. Where the minimum wage would be five dollars a day. That was revolutionary. That sounds funny today. They were- people were working for two dollars and a half a day at the Ford Motor Company. But Cousins had an Oedipal situation with his father in relation to his mother, and there was great rivalry between him and his father. [Course] this is a a psychoanalytical thing, which biographers have to understand and because he resented being secondary to his father, I found that this caused him then to identify with the working stiffs in the Ford Motor Company, even though he was the boss.
Harry Barnard Right.
Harry Barnard That's right. That's how it comes out in social terms. And this, this is, this can be good. Now of course, if people go overboard, well then you have anarchists and and nihilists. But with Cousins it came out of a man with the strongest possible independent streak which caused him to be, to suspect all authority. And authority, authoritative figures had to prove themselves to him. That's right, Cousins who was a Republican, by the way, and you know, he served under Harding, he served under Coolidge, he served under Hoover. These are Republicans, he was a Republican. He hated all of them. And then when Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrat came into office, Cousins, the Republican from Detroit- and you know a Detroit Republican you know, was a real Republican. He fell in love with Roosevelt. And this presented an interesting, an interesting challenge.
Studs Terkel Cousins then here is a biographical, a hero biography, who is one of these anachronistic, not anachronistic, not anachronism at all. He is here, very much spirit and number of others. But, he becomes a rather paradoxical and it's the paradox, too that makes for a fascinating-
Studs Terkel So, with your students now, each one has his own challenge. Through your teachings, as to certain people to do biographies upon who may not be fashionable figures ordinarily. They're also uncovering, perhaps maybe uncovering some richness.
Harry Barnard That's right. And you know, in our class, we, we discuss each other's problems, but it's very interesting that the man who's working on Debs discusses Ford. And also, I have a student who is working on the former United States senator from Illinois, Lorimer. Remember the Lorimer case? Anyway, each get the guy in trouble. That's right, they kicked him out of the senate. Each of these students gets something from the other, because there are universals. I mean, there are things in Deb's life which are-which also show up in Senator Lorimer's life. I mean, they're all human beings. And in the discussion of the problems of each, each one gets something. And they're they're working. They're, they're digging material, they're going into the library, they're going into old newspapers, and they're writing letters to relatives of these people. The young man who was doing the Debs thing. he's going down to Terre Haute. There are still people in Terre Haute, Indiana who remember Debs. And I think we're going to produce some
Harry Barnard They did-there was no- I cannot think of any important issue in American life from 1906 to certainly World War II, in which Upton Sinclair wasn't closely related as a writer or as a writer participant and usually both. You know, many times, his work was so, which I would say penetrating and illuminating, about our social system, that he couldn't get a publisher. And this forced Upton Sinclair to publish his own works. It looked like a disaster during the first, but he made money as a result because when he developed his distribution system, he was able to get more from his own books than the publishers paid him in royalties.
Harry Barnard Yes, yeah. So he was really one of the great literary producers in American History. I think Mark Twain, I think, wrote perhaps about 50 books. And it would be interesting to me to find some similarities between Upton Sinclair and Mark Twain. Although, if you put the two men in this- on the platform together, because altogether different type of men. I mean, Mark Twain's great presence, big man,
Harry Barnard And Upton Sinclair, of course, looks like a little Methodist preacher from DeKalb, Illinois. But they were quite alike, certainly in this one thing, in their capacity. And I think this is essential to a great writer. Their capacity to be indignant about social wrongs.
Harry Barnard Zola, for example, became indignant because this, this Jew who was a French army officer was framed by the French Pentagon, so to speak, because he was a Jew. And Zola was not a Jew. This is wrong. And he saw this man Dreyfus, sent to Devil's Island for a- on a charge of being a traitor to France. And it was obvious he was not. And Zola, took up, remember his- he wrote a pamphlet. I accuse. Great writer,Gorki, the same type of man. Your great British writers, you know, Dickens. Dickens was a great writer, not, not merely because he wrote this delightful, you know, Christmas- his Christmas story, but Dickens was concerned with the poor people of of London and even his book "The Tale of Two Cities," he he shows his concern with the, with the poor people of France and this is why Dickens was a great writer. You know, there are many people who can put words together very skillfully. I mean, there are advertising agencies are filled with these people
Studs Terkel I think it be worthwhile reading, this Harry, while you can sound subject. Nelson Algren, in his introduction to the "Chicago: City on the Make," which I think is a remarkable book. And he is indignant. Introduces it by quoting Sartre, and he says if I could just read this, this is something I know that you lean toward very much.
Studs Terkel What is literature? Wrote Nelson Algren quoting Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Paul Sartre once asked. In a small volume bearing that title, what is literature? I submit quoting such that literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by a conscience in touch with humanity. And Algren writes further, now we all know when the city clerk of Terre Haute refused to issue warrants for the arrest of streetwalkers, in spite of a sworn legal duty to issue a warrants for the arrest of streetwalkers. And instead demanded of the Terre Haute police, why don't you make war on people in high life, instead of upon these penniless girls? The little sport performed an act of literature. These men, another quote, these men were put to death because they made you nervous. An American poet summed up the case of Massachusetts versus Sacco and Vanzetti. Better than the judge. We are, writes Algren, a people with too many nervous judges. And another quote, had I so interfered on behalf of any of that class, speaking of the upper class, this man who was now talking says, every man in the court would have deemed an act worthy. And with John Brown, what [he wore rather] than punishment, John Brown's defense. And his own assault upon a legal apparatus gone out of touch with humanity. Writes Algren, old Brown, of Osawatomie didn't know that nobody was going to give him a banquet for pulling the judge off the bench down into the docks. The history of American letters in this strict view, is a record of apparently senseless assault upon standard operating procedure, commonly by a single driven man. Harry, you're talking about men who are single driven men. Thoreau was that in the defense of John Brown.
Studs Terkel And again, we come to this recurring theme, we can't seem to evade it, as to what is literature? And you obviously are saying very definitely that it cannot be separated from the man and, perhaps this phrase also makes it clear as to why you choose certain men to write biographies about. Single, driven, men. Single, drive, men.
Harry Barnard Well, I would say he might be able to write good literature, and he might write delicate literature, like Henry James. But, you'll never sell me on the idea that Henry James wrote great literature. You know, not long ago I read this book of his, "The American Scene." And it's a snide, vicious, dirty attack upon the immigrants of America. To Henry James, the only good American is a Presbyterian White man who can afford one of these, one of these posh Park Avenue apartments, or who lives of course in Boston.
Harry Barnard And his he- in 'The American Scene," is, is the book Henry James wrote after he'd lived in England, you know? And and bowed to the Queen. And then he came back to America, his native land, and he decided he would look over America. He did us a favor. And so, he went to New York, and he was appalled when he got to Orchard Street in New York. You ever been to Orchard Street? You know, it was full of a lot of peculiar people. There were Jews, and Henry James- and you know they smell badly, he felt. And they didn't dress well. They didn't have, they didn't wear spats. These Jewish people, who were peddling pans and, and things like that down Orchard Street. And he went over to the Italian district, and again his nose was offended because he smelled a lot of garlic and so he wrote this book, "The American Scene," saying something horrible has happened to America since he was here last. Of course, he is really saying that something happened to America horrible, because he wasn't in America to see that things were being run properly.
Studs Terkel Obviously now I can see equal time must be allowed to James' scholars, say Leon Idell, someone to reply to what you've been saying, you see. As to what is literature, it's not- I'm not saying, I for one am not saying that James is a good man or a bad man. The the theme we come to- has what a man written in anyway liberated the mind. Not talking about this particular work, we're talking about other works. And we come back to this theme as to, this, this what is literature? Can no one, no one has the, no one could have the the magic key. Says my way is it. It could be almost any way, so long as the person reading it is never quite the same as he was before he picked up that book. As we're talking to Harry Barnard, biographer and writer in residence at Roosevelt University, biography is his, is his work, is his life, as well as observation. Can't separate himself either from the events of the day and and the work you're doing. You mentioned Mack. Judge Julian Mack, what was there? He was a judge in the federal federal district court, was he not? Circuit court of appeals too-
Harry Barnard He was a great member of the federal bench. Very close by the way, to the Hands, Learned Hand, and August Hand. Very close to Justice Brandeis, very close to Felix Frankfurter. Julien Mack in Chicago especially should be remembered as the man who who really established the juvenile court system in Chicago. And a man of of great insight in children's problems. Julian Mack was very much concerned with the immigrants. He was the founding president of the Immigrants' Protective League in the days when one problem was that immigrant trains would come into Chicago filled with lovely girls from Latvia, and Odessa, and Bialystok. You know, this sounds like a potboiler. And they would be met at the, at the Grand Central Station in Chicago by White slavers. Chaps who would, who would meet these immigrant girls and say honey can I help you? And I said yes, I have, I want to, I'm supposed to go to my aunt who lives on Halsted Street in Chicago and they said I would take you there. And you know, hundreds of girls would be- find themselves in taverns drunk and later they were inmates of brothels in Chic- Jane Addams of
Harry Barnard All right, well. This will give you some insight about the real Rutherford B. Hayes. Toward the end of his life on his night table, there was Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward," and Rutherford B. Hayes, you know, who is a founder of the Republican Party, after he had become president, and this was a great educational episode for him.
Harry Barnard That's right. After he became president he said to himself, and he wrote in his diary, he said something has gone wrong in America. This he set down about 1884. He said America, which is supposed to be a land where the government for the people, by the people, and of the people. Then Lincoln's phrase, he said it looks to me like America has become a land of government by the corporations, for the corporations, and of the corporations. What has gone wrong? Rutherford B. Hayes, you know, with his beard. And so, when Edward Bellamy- now there was another great writer, by the way. Bellamy, "Looking Backward." Oh, and I think of Henry George, "Progress and Poverty." But anyway and Rutherford B. Hayes was interested in both them and toward the end of his life, he used to have lunch quite often with William Dean Howells. By the way, another writer who ought to get more recognition then he has obtained, in this period, as a great writer. Again, because of his involvement in social matters. Anyway, they they sat in the Vienna Cafe on Fifth Avenue in New York discussing what? Socialism. The fact that these men were interested in socialism didn't necessarily mean that they meant to overthrow the capitalist system, but they were disturbed that our system was not always operating with justice. And this is what disturbed Upton Sinclair. These are not revolutionists, these were really reformers. And, you know, in the end the reformer is really a a conservator
Studs Terkel And Harry Barnard, my guest. And teacher, writer in residence at Roosevelt University. Biography is the name of his game, Barnard is his name. And if we could- as far as the biographies now available, certainly "Eagle Forgotten," is always contemporary. I think it's available in paperback.