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Lawsonomy

While I was in Ohio recently, I came across a striking orange book, called Short Speeches As Spoken By Alfred Lawson, who was, according to the book’s frontmatter, the inventor of:

THE AIRLINER
OCEANIC AIRCRAFT CARRIER SYSTEM
TWO-TIER PASSANGER COMPARTMENT
AND MANY OTHER MECHANICAL DEVICES

as well as the discoverer of:

THE CAUSE OF SEX
THE CAUSE OF GROWTH
THE CAUSE OF ATTRACTION
ZIG-ZAG-AND-SWIRL MOVEMENT
THE CAUSE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
THE CAUSE OF CAPILLARY ACTION
CONTINUOUS MOVEMENT OF MATTER
THE LAW OF PENETRABILITY
THE EQUAEVERPOISE

Reader, I married him, by which I mean I bought the book and have been wandering around the internet in search of more information. There is a lot.

Lawson was born in 1869, in London. He later moved to America, dropped out of school, and for a time played baseball in Goshen, Indiana. A career in aviation was to follow; Lawson had great faith in the post-war commercial possibilities of aircraft (a term he claimed to have invented). A New York Times article from September 14, 1919 describes the flight of Lawson’s first airliner from Syracuse to Mineola: “The passenger cabin, which is luxuriously equipped with every comfort, is fifty feet long and six feet wide. In seating arrangements it resembles a Pullman car.” Passengers who lined up to climb aboard were first weighed to determine how much their ticket would cost. (Don’t tell that to American Airlines.)

Despite these achievements’ dependence on the laws of physics, Lawson himself held a shaky grasp on certain scientific principles. He viewed himself as a thinker on par with Einstein, and in 1921 he published his teachings in a book called Lawsonomy. The entire text of the book is available here. The first chapter lays out Lawsonomy’s basic tenets, such as:

Lawsonomy is the knowledge of Life and everything pertaining thereto.

Lawsonomy is based upon Life as it is and not upon a theory of what it ought to be.

Theory, as espoused by so-called wise men or self-styled scholars has no place in Lawsonomy. Everything must be provable or reasonable or it is not Lawsonomy.

Lawsonomy treats of things as they are and not as they are pretended to be.

Facts, not fancies; Truth, not falsity; Knowledge not notions; is the foundation of Lawsonomy.

Truth is simple and easily understood but falsity is complicated and misleading. A few words, sentences, paragraphs or pages are sufficient to tell the truth but it requires ponderous books and whole libraries to prop up falsity.

Truth is Constructive and lives, but falsity is destructive and dies.

Truth is real and eternal but falsity is ephemeral and abortive.

Truth breeds strength and intellect but falsity breeds weakness and smart-alick-ism.

Truth constructs instruments of reason but falsity breeds blowoffs of idiosyncrasies.

Truth forms character but falsity causes deformity of expression.

In the early 1930s, Lawson gained quite a following, not only because of his philosophical teachings, but also because of his “Direct Credit Society,” which blamed banks for much of the era’s economic distress. The photographs included in Lawson’s book of speeches show huge crowds of Lawsonites dressed like an army of milkmen (and milkwomen and milkchildren). It’s stunning.

During this period, Lawson traveled a great deal, delivering speeches on such diverse topics as “Opposites,” “Foods,” “Seeing Things,” “Concentration,” “Future,” and “Don’t Whine.” Here is Lawson on gossip:

Gossip is a blaberation that simmers through an empty skull as gas does through a pore.

On its way to the vocal chords, gossip adds a little phlegm which has a tendancy to inflate its volubility.

Clothed in monosyllables and polysllables gossip then evaporates and sputters out of a frothy mouth.

This speech, like all in the book, is preceded by a note: “These are Alfred Lawson’s true words. Say them word for word as he said them. This speech will take 2 to 3 minutes to recite.”

In 1943 Lawson went on to found the “University of Lawsonomy,” which came under scrutiny from Congress in 1952 when the school sold surplus war machinery to private buyers. He testified before a panel, attracting the attention of Time, who wrote:

Alfred Lawson fixed the committee with a steady gaze and nimbly dodged a barrage of questions from Michigan’s Senator Blair Moody. How much had the machines been sold for? ‘I don’t know. I never go in for figures at all.’ Had Lawson made any profit on the deal? ‘Profit? Why no. What profit could I get out of it?’ What courses were taught at the school? ‘Well, they teach Lawsonomy.’ And that deals with mechanics? ‘[It teaches] the knowledge of life and everything pertaining thereto, and that takes in mechanics.’ Finally Lawson got exasperated. ‘God, boy,’ he cried at 50-year-old Senator Moody, ‘if you want me to tell you all these things, you will wreck my mind . . . I’m thinking great philosophical thoughts for the benefit of mankind.’

I like the way Wikipedia describes the senators’ reaction: “baffled and unimpressed.” Two years later the school was shut down and Lawson died. For Lawson, dying so young (he was 84) must have seemed a great tragedy. He had hoped to live to 200.

The Kenyon Review was founded in 1939. The resources for the new literary journal were provided by Gordon Keith Chalmers, President of Kenyon College, while the inspiration to establish the journal and raise the national stature of the institution had come from his wife Roberta Teale Swartz, herself a poet and a friend and protege of Robert Frost. Frost encouraged the idea and visited Kenyon more than once. The poet and critic John Crowe Ransom was recruited to Kenyon by Chalmers with the express purpose in mind of his launching a distinguished magazine. During his 21-year tenure, Ransom published such internationally known writers as Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, William Empson, Mark Van Doren, Kenneth Burke, and Delmore Schwartz, as well as younger writers: Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, and Peter Taylor, to name a few. It was perhaps the best known and most influential literary magazine in the English-speaking world during the 1940s and '50s. In 1969, discouraged by the quarterly's financial burdens and sagging reputation, Kenyon College ceased publication of The Kenyon Review. The journal was revived in 1979, and in June 1990, internationally acclaimed poet and editor Marilyn Hacker was hired as the Review's first full-time (and first female) editor. She quickly broadened the quarterly's scope to include more minority and marginalized viewpoints. In April 1994, the trustees directed that The Kenyon Review be continued, but with significant cost-reducing and revenue-enhancing initiatives. Hacker left and David Lynn (acting editor in 1989-90), Kenyon English professor, was named editor on a two-thirds time basis. The magazine's financial picture has since stabilized and improved dramatically. The creation of a Kenyon Review Board of Trustees and a renewed commitment by Kenyon College combined to guarantee the financial health of the Review and to free its editors to pursue increased excellence. Such is the status of The Kenyon Review today.