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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/25/17

An Era That Has Gone (Part 10)

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   3 comments, In Series: An Era That Has Gone
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While Nancy was preoccupied with her summer diversions, her uncle Herbert was busy penning his usual editorial submissions to Brooklyn Life. The latest was a book review on works associated with the Swedenborgian Church of the Neighbor. Among these works, one was not much longer than an essay, although it was hard bound and published by the New Church Press. Entitled The Real Fundamentals of Christianity, the screed is an attempt by the church's pastor, the Rev. E. M. Lawrence Gould to contrast the Swedenborgian viewpoint with the standard Christian approach on a number of points of doctrine. He asks if the Christian churches have "expressed what Jesus Christ Himself taught, or have they represented a progressively evolved tradition which not only added to and expanded the real teaching of Jesus, but in certain instances quite definitely contradicted it?" The Swedenborgian perspective, Gould believes, can add something constructive to the discussion, and so the essay tackles some ancient problems and proposes solutions in its modest 25 pages.

(Image by Peter Duveen)   Details   DMCA

"We are constrained to say," Herbert says of the work after reading it, "that Mr.Gould goes a long way toward what seems to us a rational reconciliation of the differences between the fundamentalists and the modernists with respect to the infallibility of the Scriptures, though he may not satisfy the extremists on either side."

Herbert was a logical man, and yet a man of faith. He could not help but appreciate the level-headed approach these Swedenborgians possessed in matters theological. The Swedenborgian movement was sparked in the later half of the Eighteenth Century by Emanuel Swedenborg, a philosopher and scientist, who became a writer on religious themes after finding himself on several occasions transported to the realm of the spirit, and in the process, at least according to his accounts, meeting many of the saints and angelic beings that inhabit that realm. He took to writing down much of what he reports to have heard and seen, as well as his own reflections on how it was all put together. These insights, after they were published, were the nuclei for the formation of a religious movement that promoted Swedenborg's outlook on religious matters. One finds the Church of the New Jerusalem in Brooklyn, also called the New Church and the Church of the Neighbor, a healthy institution with wealthy and socially well-connected patrons some 125 years after Swedenborg's death.

However logical some points in the essay may have struck him, and no matter how much he was willing to admit of the authenticity of the religious sphere, Herbert was not one to swallow whole the Swedenborgian accounts, or those of any religious denomination or sect, for that matter. And so he notes about Gould's essay: "There are, however, some occasional statements which are rather perplexing." It is this skepticism that endears the reader to Herbert's level-headed approach. He rarely reveals whatever dogmatic edifice, if any, he refers to when crafting his carefully worded and rational views, always remaining outside of, but commenting on some of the most intransigent religious controversies of the day.

When the occasion demanded, Herbert would from time to time address the debate regarding evolution vs. creation that had already gripped the country in bickering and controversy, a matter which was as hotly debated then as it is today. These critiques spilled into his nephew's "advice column" featuring the fictitious character Dr. Padapopper. The spoof was still entertaining Brooklyn Life subscribers and was an ideal platform to poke fun at adherents of both sides of the controversy. For example, when challenged by a Prof. Crispus Oletme, Dr. Padapopper attempts to answer the question "as to whether, in its evolutionary course, the bed-bug is losing or gaining wings." He is careful to note that, being from a species superior to homo sapiens, he is not afflicted by infestations of that life form. "This is probably due to the fact that the sebaceous glands of every true Padapopper secrete hydro-cyanic gas," Dr. Padapopper quips with subdued pride. Herbert's nephew George Childs, you may remember, illustrated and wrote the column, with characters often taken from the staff of the Museum of Natural History itself. That they were able to enjoy the imaginary bantering back and forth among the characters of the column is a credit to staff members of the museum, who were not beyond allowing a humorous take on their own professions.

Prof. Crispus Oletme, critic of Dr. Padapopper, with enlarged model of a bed bug..
Prof. Crispus Oletme, critic of Dr. Padapopper, with enlarged model of a bed bug..
(Image by Brooklyn Life)
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The famous "Monkey Trial" of 1925 that highlighted the evolution-creation controversy and would decades later be the subject of a full-length feature film was only a year away, while the rumblings of its emergence were all too evident in pronouncements from the press and the pulpit.

Another issue pitting believers against non-believers bubbling to the surface in1920s social circles was the Christian doctrine of the "virgin birth," a dogma implying that Mary, the mother of Jesus, required no earthly father to conceive a child. Over in Manhattan, the Rev. William Norman Guthrie of Greenwich Village's St. Mark's Church on the Bowrie had come close to being ousted by his parishioners for coming down on the side of the liberals in denouncing the "virgin birth" doctrine as backward and unsupportable in a scientific age. The resulting hullabaloo forced Guthrie to retreat to the New Jersey hills for some days, although in spite of being faced with dismissal from his post, he never compromised his convictions.

The Rev. W.N. Guthrie by S. Rembski.
The Rev. W.N. Guthrie by S. Rembski.
(Image by Poland Magazine)
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While his theological perspectives were being challenged, Guthrie was involved in a project which, for some of his parishioners, was as controversial as his doctrinal positions--the 1923 opening, as mentioned earlier, of an art school for immigrants that would eventually educate some of the major figures of the modern art movement in America. The Leonardo Da Vinci School, as the new institution was called, would train the likes of Isamu Noguchi and Mark Rothko, among other artists of equal renown. Guthrie's emphasis on the cultural role of the church attracted the attention of the Episcopal Church hierarchy, which was divided as to how far it should let a rector go in what could represent a deviation from the church's primary purpose of guiding and educating the congregation in matters religious. These waves of controversy were manifestations of national and international debates on the subject, and gave Herbert much material for his weekly columns.

But newsy and contentious issues were not Herbert's only focus. Since his days at "Sport" magazine, he had followed athletics closely, and had taken part in a great many sports activities himself, from canoeing to bicycling, to golf, to tennis, although he only rarely surfaced a winner in these competitions. In the mid-1880s, he was one of the charter members of the Crescent Athletic Club, an organization by means of which Brooklynites could participate in competitive sports and socialize at the same time. This organization was still going strong in the 1920s, and Herbert, who had all along been quite taken by Stanis's art work, invited him to the waterfront clubhouse in Bay Ridge in late July to sketch some of its activities, and perhaps catch an image of some of its star athletes who had achieved national fame.

Gathering at the Crescent Athletic Club by S. Rembski
Gathering at the Crescent Athletic Club by S. Rembski
(Image by Brooklyn Life)
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The drawing of Stanis's that Herbert used for his sports commentary was of five people at a table, with one empty chair, all in lively conversation after the games had finished. The names of each participant are scribbled near their image, sometimes over their heads, sometimes under their chair, so the entire illustration takes on a very slapdash air. But the sketch also catches the action, and shows that Rembski could have been an illustrator if he had wished. One wonders, however, if he did not express an underlying contempt for illustration in his final product. He was at home with individual portraits, but when it came to newsy material, he appeared shy and would tend to back away. His sketch conveys the flavor of the event, but by no means highlights his best talent.

During his visits to the Crescent Athletic Club, Stanis managed to turn out two rather magnificent sketched portraits of well-known tennis champions of that time--Gerald L. Patterson and Patrick O'Hara Wood of the Australian Davis Cup team. This sort of portraiture was truly Stanis's forte, as it gave him a chance to show his love for the Renaissance icon he so much admired--Leonardo da Vinci. Upon their completion, Stanis donated these portraits to the club, which in turn prominently displayed them. In this way, Stanis not only gained a sort of advertising exposure for his talent, but won over friends. His drawings tended to capture the essence of their subjects, and were viewed not only as likenesses but as awe-inspiring works of art in themselves.

Naturally, as Stanis's talent became evident, in spite of his seemingly uncaring or slapdash technique employed, Herbert hoped to continue to employ it to enhance the pages of Brooklyn Life. Thus it was that the excited Cory took Stanis on assignment to investigate a spankingly new children's theater in upper Manhattan. The Heckscher Foundation for Children, established by August and Anna Heckscher, was only a bit over a year old at the time, and Cory had until then neglected to write about it. Anna Hechscher had only recently died while en route to America from England, making an article on the foundation and its work particularly poignant. Mr. Heckscher himself had worked his way up from a coal mining worker to establish several mining concerns that brought him appreciable wealth. His lavish philanthropic gestures exercised in the later part of his life resulted in the establishment of parks and playgrounds in the New York metropolitan area and environs, thus securing for his name household status among New Yorkers up to the present day.

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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)

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