Sheila Rowbotham: Joseph Ishill, Free Vistas
A secret delight of being in a great library is the arrival on one’s desk of a book which is not really what you are looking for, but proves completely fascinating.
I was pursuing J. William Lloyd an American anarchist-socialist who believed in free love and drugless medicine, when I ordered Joseph Ishill’s, Free Vistas: An Anthology of Life and Letters, Oriole Press, 1933.
I had come across Lloyd while writing my biography of Edward Carpenter. He visited Carpenter’s home at Millthorpe near Sheffield in 1913 while on a knapsack tour of Britain, dropping in on the Bolton followers of Walt Whitman en route.
Left politics and the many varieties of love were causes Lloyd embraced with enthusiasm , so he arrived as a pilgrim at the home of the advocate of homosexual freedom. He was, however, shocked to find Edward Carpenter smoking a cigarette!
It was David Sachs, a profoundly knowledgable second hand book dealer in Oakland, who told me that one of the women I am currently researching, Helena Born, was in contact with Lloyd after she migrated from Bristol to Boston in the 1890s. Helena ,along with her friend Helen Tufts, went to meetings of Lloyd’s Comradeship of Free Socialists in Boston.
Initially an anarchist, Lloyd became convinced that both anarchism and socialism were needed in society. Liberty, and individual variation needed to combine with ‘cooperation, sympathy and solidarity’ (Anarchist Socialism).
In his novel, The Dwellers in Vale Sunrise, Lloyd’s dwellers are ‘simplicists’ who dress in brilliant colours and wear strange barbaric jewellery, growing their hair long. They are early twentieth century hippies who live Lloyd’s ideal of free socialism.
Well there was no sign of Lloyd in the 1933 edition of Ishill’s, Free Vistas. There were, however, fascinating traces of Carpenter’s networks: the vegetarian Henry Salt who influenced Gandhi, the radical journalist, Henry Nevinson, the French novelist Romain Rolland as well as his friend who translated Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass into French, Leon Bazalgette.
Ishill gathered together a series of pamphlets, all of differing shapes and sizes and all lovingly crafted. So it was a magical experience to turn the pages decorated with woodcuts by John Buckland Wright as well as drawings by Bernard Sleigh and Lucienne Bloch, not to mention linoleum cuts and drypoint.
I found myself pausing to marvel that I could sit in a library and be able touch such a book. William J.Lloyd may not have been in that particular edition but his Free Socialism was there nonetheless in spirit.
Sheila Rowbotham is an Eccles Centre for American Studies Writer in Residence at the British Library. Selections from most of Ishill's major works published by the Oriole Press can be seen online via the University of Michigan library. Read Sheila's first post here.