I Lived On My Bohemian Boat

Today I will make a Youtube video that will archive my life upon a houseboat, then, a sailboat, that was docked next to where the new A’s Stadium will hopefully be built. I am for it, because is fulfills my dreams of Atlantis that I began to draw while living on my boat. You see a drawing board on my bed – and a typewriter that I bought at Saint Vinnies!

In 1968 I am considering becoming a writer like my grandfather, Royal Rosamond. I am twenty-two years of age. In 1984 I met my wife, Mary Ann Thararldsen who lived with Thomas Pynchon, and was a good friend of Mimmi and Richard Farina. She studied architecture at Cornell, and said my fifty drawings of Atlantis were worthy of a thesis. They are lost. I hope they are found.

My Bohemian history – is worthy of being preserved. I will be submitting this post and another to the people who are making a twelve billion dollar baseball dream – come true! I paid $200 dollars for my boat that was full of rainwater, and was about to sink. I never named it. I do so now……..VICTOR HUGO……..after my father’s father, the professional gambler who lived on a houseboat docked near the Carquinez Bridge.

Then there is our history in Belmont. Mayor Libby would contact Meg Whitman who bought the land the California Barrel Company sat upon. My grandfather was an officer. He allegedly found a way for bootleggers to get all the barrels they wanted. I talked to the Mayor’s office and suggested there be a Cooper’s museum – that can be put in Oakland. I suggest a Black Panther museum that will dovetail nicely with the city we see in the Black Panther movie.

My parents were criminals. Most movies made in America are about criminals, and the overcoming of criminal activity in order to make something of your life. Here is one of my oral stories about fishing with my father at the Port of Oakland. I want to be on the Waterfront Committee. Perhaps the Marin Shipmates should be stationed on the A’s Waterfront? I’ll run it by our Vice President, who needs back-up, an A-TEAM on her team! There is a waterfront project planned for Eugene. My Republican party needs to be reformed. I will work across party lines to get all our sane dreams fulfilled.

John Presco ‘Candidate For Governor’

President: Royal Rosamond Press ‘A Newspaper For The Arts’


OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) — There may be trouble ahead for the Oakland Athletic’s and the team’s hopes of building a new ballpark at Howard Terminal.

The Maritime Industry is now pushing back with public opposition to a plan that was officially launched by the team late last year.

Black Panther Party Gallery and Museum | Rosamond Press

Going Home – Again! | Rosamond Press

I Cover the Waterfront – Wikipedia

My Grandfather’s Boat

Posted on September 3, 2011 by Royal Rosamond Press

Artist Anonymous

The child plays
The toy boat sails across the pond
The work now has just begun
Oh child
Look what you have done.

I could not believe Rosemary had given me her father’s ship lanterns that once hung in the cabin of his sail boat. It was the last tour we would take together of the secret treasures that lie at the bottom of her cedar chest. My mother let me thumb through several issues of Out West magazine while telling me her father was a writer and a poet, but, she never let me read the work of a man I never met, never saw face to face.

Rosemary had read my amazing poems written when I was twelve and thirteen. It was like I was channeling her father, my grandfather, I desperate for an identity, any identity other then the one her husband had given Mark and I when he woke us up at four in the morning to go work in his produce market in Jack London Square – while it was still dark! I was eight, and my brother, nine. We were on Vic-time. The dreams of our peers were set to the clock at school. There, real children were allowed to dream about becoming an airline pilot, an astronaut, even the President of the United States. In our house, come summer time, the hands of the clock were stolen, along with our childhood, replaced by the whims of a tyrant.

“There’s no free lunch in my family. You boys are going to help support your family. You’re going to work.”

These lanterns were beautiful, made of solid brass, and no sooner did I own them, then I lost them, because I was a homeless vagabond, not caring where my next meal would come from, or, if I had a place to rest my head. Perhaps Rosemary gave me Royal’s lanterns as a peace offering, she feeling guilty for driving me from my home when I was seventeen, I ending up in New York working the graveyard shift at Yale Trucking, and living in the West Village. The stevedores called me the California Kid, and were amazed at what a hard worker I was, how strong I was for being so skinny. I had real endurance. I walked to work through Hell’s Kitchen where I bought my first beer in a bar. I was not a man. I did not have to register for the draft, as yet.

“There’s no free lunch in my country. You boys are going to have to fight and kill for your freedom.”

When I told my father I lived aboard a small boat docked in the Oakland estuary, he had to come see it, for I had stepped on his secret dream, even intercepted it, because Vic was inspired by Jack London. What fatherless young man growing up in Oakland did not entertain the idea they could go down to the waters edge and become a Pirate, make a living stealing other people’s oysters?

Captain Victim stole other people’s houses for a living, along with his best friend, Ernie Quinonis. Vic would brag how her would get drunk with Ernies’s brothers, especially Art, who was the head of the Mexican Mafia, and was in and out of San Quinten. Art made Vic an honary member of his family, and he and Ernie started to go to Puerto Varte to purchase Time Shares. I wondered if they were laundering money, because it was in Puerto Varte that Vic met Consuela his wife to be, that he smuggled over the border in a marijuana shipment.

When Dee-Dee knocked Captain Victime’s eye out with a four pound ashtray, he wore a black patch over one eye. Everyone pointed out how much he looked like the pirate on the Oakland Raider’s helmets. I have titled my father, Darth Vader. But when I saw this name on a letter sent to him by one of Vic’s loyal Bill Collector’s, the fog I was marooned in most of my life, began to lift.


When I drank with my father, who was in the Merchant Marines. he would tell me about his tough as nails Captain, who was a Communist. He had shown Vic the ropes, and made a man out of him. He taught my father how to box, and he would win his matches on the deck o his ship as he sailed the Elusians. Vic told me he was made an honorary member of a Eskimo tribe when he gave the chief a knife.

As we stood on the dock looking down on my sailboat, Vic said something vicious and demeaning to Ernie, and I saw Wolf Larsen, with one hand on his hip, and the other holding his pecker as he took another piss on my dream. My boat was not big enough, he hard pressed to believe I was happy living in such cramped quarters. I told him I was very happy, because I lived in a secret boatyard hidden in the Southern Pacific rail yard, and when I felt cramped I would walk to the end of the old wooden pier where one could see the city of San Francisco floating on the horizon. At night, it was an island of gems, whose sparkling lights were temporarily blocked out by a freighter making its way up the estuary, from a foreign land. I had the best view in the whole bay area, and falling asleep, my boat was gently rocked in the wake.

Studying the photos of the interior of my boat, I notice there is a typewriter and a drawing pad. I own the tools to forge my own dream, the compass to chart my own course. There is a image of Jesus, and an antique tea cup I purchased at Goodwill to replicate the fine antiques we grew up with, thanks to the Stuttmiesters. I was a devotee of Meher Baba, and his photo would have been there in place of Jesus, if I had found one. No one knew I was here. I should have never brought my father here, for this inspired him to own two boats, two classic Chris Crafts that he docked in Martinez, that I was not welcome to board, because I had not proven my loyalty to him, not like his namesake, my younger sister Vicki whom he gave keys to, keys to his kingdom, the Kingdom of the Sea.

Above is the cover of Out West magazine, of August 191. That is a drawing of Californian seaweed, called Plocamium Coccineum. It would amuse me to author poems under this alias so I would be even more anonymous, and insignificant, if only to please my father – beyond the grave.

“Just call me Sea………………..Sea Weed!”

Inside we find a poem by R.R.R. in the Index.

The fisherman’s Home

The twilight sad, the sea – a certain waste;
The mainsail taut, to part the jib inclines:
Faster then the breeze our hearts make haste
With fishes from the trolling lines.
Ahead the boat the gloomy island looms
In direful silence, and-to-me-
In vagueness as of aged tombs,
In awesome outline giant mystery.
Behold! Within the lea a light’s bright flash;
Then hidden in the swells-below, above:
The real, infinite and mysteries crash:
Behold a domicile of love

In searching for another dream, other then the dark ship my father would have me stow my gentle heart within, I came to to plumb the phantom heart of a poet I never met. And after three seers told me I had died carrying much guilt that did not belong to me, I recall, the poem I wrote, the first in two years. I had a vision of my father in a row boat, he a young man setting out to sea in search of his dream; and for a little while we were one, and the same.

The Dark Horse is in the ocean
grey-silver manes around the sun
The horn of the eye plays chords out to sea
which sets adrift my father’s boat
of wood and colored scales
to catch the blue fish of the mind.

The setting sun
like a golden ring
He place upon one hand.
And bring home his days catch
Crystal colors upon the sand.

My father never met his father-in-law, who was banished from his home, never his four beautiful daughters – to see. Victor told me he made a loan for Jack London’s daughter, who offered him one of her father’s first edition books – there on a shelf.

“Which book did you chose?” asked I.
“Martin Eden.” was my father’s reply, who chose to believe I never loved him, til the day he die!

Jack London published in Out West, and the Overland Monthly.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2011

Overland Monthly
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, search

Overland Monthly cover, January 1919Overland Monthly was a monthly magazine based in California, United States, and published in the 19th and 20th century.

The magazine’s first issue was in July 1868, and continued until the late 1875. The original publishers, in 1880, started The Californian, which became The Californian and Overland Monthly in October 1882. In January 1883, the effort reverted to The Overland Monthly (starting again with Volume I, number 1). In 1923 the magazine merged with Out West to become Overland Monthly and the Out West magazine, and ended publication in July 1935.

Famous writers, editors, and artists included:

Ambrose Bierce
Alice Cary
Willa Cather
Bret Harte
Ina Coolbrith
Edgar Fawcett
Henry George
John Brayshaw Kaye
Clarence King
Jack London
Josephine Clifford McCracken
Joaquin Miller
John Muir
Hugo Wilhelm Arthur Nahl
Stephen Powers – on California Native Americans.
William Saroyan
Clark Ashton Smith
Charles Warren Stoddard
Mark Twain
Joseph Pomeroy Widney – contributed 8 articles.

Victor Hugo – Last Bohemian

Posted on July 21, 2020 by Royal Rosamond Press

Raymond Chandler wrote about the people my grandfather hung around with, and did business with. The fact my mother made porno movies and was a prostitute for Big Bones Remmer, put’s me in the Black Mask revival, and put’s my fictional character, Smoky, on the Bohemian Gangster map.

John Presco


The Petticoat Navy of Contra Costa County

By William Mero

During the early 20th century, Martinez gained a colorful reputation for its unique fleet of floating brothels anchored in the middle of the river. Some of the most famous “boats of ill repute” were Wanda’s Scow, Margaret’s Scow and “Old Lady” Miller’s Scow. Police raids were regularly made but timely warnings always allowed their clients to be absent. Fines for running houses of prostitution provided significant revenue to the county for many years and became a practical method of taxing the profits of these illegal enterprises. Rumors suggest that some of the best customers of these watery “entertainment” boats were the local politicians, lawyers and judges. Their patronage may have provided protection for the illegal operations. Drinks were also sold allowing clients to socialize with the soiled Martinez mermaids before and after services rendered. According to court records, Margaret Bantz and Millie Landt were some of the most notorious water loving madams on the river.

During the 1920’s the floating pleasure palaces found that local objections and difficulty with access forced their closing. Among the ordinary citizens of Martinez the biggest complaint to the local police was the frequent ringing of various ship bells on the shore announcing that a client wished to be ferried out to a particular barge for an evening’s entertainment. It was one of the first recorded instance of a county noise pollution problem.

Open prostitution had been an accepted fact of life during the settling of Contra Costa County. Many county brothels masqueraded as “boarding houses” whose guests were exclusively young women. Many had interesting names. One famous house in western Contra Costa was called The Artists’ Tea Room. Of course, a request for tea would have been greeted with astonishment.

Women were always in short supply in this thinly settled, largely rural county. The early vaqueros, sheep headers and field hands led lonely lives without much opportunity to meet available women or, even more importantly, the financial ability to marry. Consequently brothels were widely tolerated or viewed as a necessary evil. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s in California that the ratio of women to men became nearly equal. Women were initially so scarce that during the 1850’s in San Francisco several madams were accepted as valued members of normal society. They often made large contributions to local charities out of their profits of sin. Mammy Pleasant, a famous Black madam, was a major donor to early African-American civil rights groups.

Romanticizing the brothels of the pioneer west can easily be carried too far. While providing a service valued by at least the male portion of the population, they also had a serious downside. Disease and violent crime were not uncommon where prostitution flourished. In the Chinese community many young Asian girls were sold by their families into prostitution and shipped off to the cribs of San Francisco. Many prostitutes used alcohol and drugs to excess. That combined with disease, often made for short, tragic lives. Some women did marry and leave the sporting life but this was comparatively rare.

Eventually Contra Costa outgrew its pioneer past and traditions. By 1952 the public tolerance of openly functioning brothels in Contra Costa County had worn thin. Under the urging of Attorney General Earl Warren, the remaining historic brothels were finally closed. One of the most famous houses shuttered at that time was located near Crockett under the Carquinez Bridge close to the old railroad tracks. The site was notorious for a establishment called the Golden Horseshoe, famous for its spicy selection of a dozen accommodating women who for many years entertained the local factory workers and longshoremen.

Court records and Sheriff Veale’s personal papers preserved in the Contra Costa County History Center offer unique insights into this colorful facet of Contra Costa’s social history.

Rosamond Press


My Historic Grandfather

Victor Hugo Presco


John Presco

Copyright 2020

After writing and posting about the Dashiell Hammett archive, and reading how this great writer’s grandchildren looked foreword to the paltry check Lillian Hellman sent them on Christmas, I went in search of more information on my grandfather, Victor Hugo Presco, the Bohemian Gambler. I wanted to find what was Authentic. There is too much Fool’s Gold in the Nation. We are on the verge of another Civil War over who has the right stuff, and who does not. I wanted to own something that was free and clear of the grabby hands of the Claim Jumpers. I struck pay dirt! I found this essay by Bill Mero that records the floating Houses of Ill Repute that bobbed in the water near Martinez and Crocket, where I saw my father’s father, just once.

Victor Hugo Presco

Posted on September 2, 2011 by Royal Rosamond Press

For awhile, my grandfather lived in San Francisco and was a business partner of his brother, Oscar. They remodeled houses and built cabinets. Hugo is listed as a house painter on Vic’s birth certificate. Rosemary told me after the brothers went their own way, Victor Hugo ended up living in a tar paper shack under the Bay Bridge. She got it wrong, it was the Carquinez bridge in Crockett, where Hugo made a living gambling. I had a talk with the old curator of the Crockett Museum who knew my grandfather. He told me he was one hell of a nice guy. Rosemary told me 5,000 people came to his funeral, including the Mayor of San Francisco. The curator told me there were scores of gambling joints in this small company town that preyed upon workers for C&H Sugar.

When Vic was delivering produce to Crockett one day, he took his two sons down to the wharf to meet his father who lived in a houseboat. When Victor Hugo answered the door, in a gruff voice my father introduced his sons to the man who had abandoned him, and walked away, we never to see this man again.

Rosemary told me Vic took the money Hugo’s friends had given him to buy a headstone and got drunk. What he did with the body, is a mystery. I would not put it past my father to have weighted his father down with rusty chains and dumped him in the bay. Captain Victime never paid a Vet bill if he could help it.

After my fake wedding to Thomas Pynchon’s Mexican mistress in 1980, we tried to buy the old Crockett Bakery that had four apartments attached to it. My artistic faux wife and I were thinking about starting an Artist Colony. I told her Crockett may be the next Sausalito due to the bedroom communities springing up between Sacramento and Berkeley. Folks will be wanting to go to a coffee house and hear music in a Bohemia Hot Spot. We can make bread and donuts. The seller backed out.

Alas I have decided on the name of my autobiography ‘Artist Anonymous’. In almost every major city one can read an article in the local paper about a “thriving artist community”. No artists are every mentioned by name. However, we anonymous artists are employed to attract non-artists to these old historic areas of town where investors are looking to make millions in what has been titled Bohemianism.

“Crockett has a thriving artist community, is rich in early California history.”

I am rich in early California history, but, everyone but me is making tons of dough off Artist Anonymous. I have been cast under the shadow of my famous sister, who told me she owes her success to me. She offered to teach me her style so I could make a million dollars too. I turned her down, because I loved being a poor artist, who forever is finding that magical cheap place to live in the slow lane; such as on my boat in the Sunrise boat yard in the Oakland Estuary. I will post on this place next.

Victor William owned two boats that he docked in Martinez a half mile from where his father lived. Why did Wenzel Anton Prescowitz, who came from Bohemia, name one of his sons after the author Victor Hugo? There were rare books in our house. But, let’s get back to Victor, a chip off the old block.

Above we see my captain having a Dark Fishing Moment. They were all dark because he feared he might snag his father and haul up his bones from Davey Jone’s Locker. Being abandoned by his father ‘The Gambler’ was the Hallmark moment of his life. It made my father forever, moody. He was always plumbing the depths of his soul, and if it was Shameful, Guilty, and about him – it was a Keeper! He never understood he had abandoned his two sons in his psycho drama. He died belieiving Rosemary had turned my brother and I against him – so he would feel that much more abandoned! You see how this works?

I never caught fish when I went fishing with my father, not like he and Shannon. We always got some evil, bloody stingray on our line, a devil fish of some kind. The sins of the father.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2011

Life in the slow lane / In I-80’s shadow, Crockett has stayed small as the county grew upMarch 05, 2004|By John Geluardi, Special to The Chronicle

The new Zampa Bridge and the old bridge over the Carquinez Strait can be seen from a hill overlooking Crockett. Chronicle photo by Michael MacorSmall and seemingly timeless, Crockett has a thriving artist community, is rich in early California history, and is surrounded by thousands of acres of scenic parkland. Yet, it has managed to remain a secret in the bustling Bay Area.

Even though a million or so people speed over the riverside hamlet on the Carquinez Bridge each week, most people are unaware of the town’s good restaurants, live jazz performances and panoramic hiking paths. In fact, all most people know is that Crockett is home to the redbrick C & H Sugar refinery, which has loomed over Carquinez Strait for nearly 100 years.

One reason for the town’s anonymity might be that it’s hard to get to. In 1998, Caltrans began a $300 million bridge construction and retrofit project. As a result, the Crockett interchange — which provided easy access to the center of town — was intermittently closed and then shut down altogether in 2000.

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the 19th century[1] to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and voluntary poverty.

The term Bohemianism emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighborhoods. Bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia.[2]

Contents [hide]
1 Origin of Bohemianism
1.1 American bohemianism
2 People
3 Bohemian communities in the past
4 See also
5 References
5.1 Notes
5.2 Bibliography
5.3 Further reading
6 External links

[edit] Origin of Bohemianism
“The Bohemian” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1890, oil on canvasLiterary “Bohemians” were associated in the French imagination with roving Romani people (called “bohemians” because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia[3][4]), outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of Philistines), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital fidelity. The Spanish Gypsy in the French opera “Carmen” set in Seville, is referred to as a “bohémienne” in Meilhac and Halévy’s libretto (1875).

The term Bohemian has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits …. A Bohemian is simply an artist or “littérateur” who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art. (Westminster Review, 1862[2])
Henri Murger’s collection of short stories “Scènes de la Vie de Bohème” (“Scenes of Bohemian Life”), published in 1845, was written to glorify and legitimize Bohemia.[5] Murger’s collection formed the basis of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème (1896). Puccini’s work, in turn, became source material for Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent and the feature film of the same name. Like Puccini, Larson explores a Bohemian enclave in a dense urban area, in this case, New York City at the end of the 20th century. The show features a song, “La Vie Boheme”, which celebrates postmodern Bohemian culture.)

In English, Bohemian in this sense was initially popularized in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, published in 1848. Public perceptions of the alternative lifestyles supposedly led by artists were further molded by George du Maurier’s highly romanticized best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel outlines the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colorful Eastern European musicians, in the artists’ quarter of Paris.

In Spanish literature, the Bohemian impulse can be seen in Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s play Luces de Bohemia (Bohemian Lights), published in 1920.

[edit] American bohemianismIn 1845, Bohemian nationals began to immigrate to the United States, and from 1848 the wave included some of the radicals and ex-priests who had wanted a constitutional government. In New York City in 1857, a group of some 15–20 young, cultured journalists flourished as self-described “Bohemians” until the American Civil War began in 1860.[6] Similar groups in other cities were broken up as well; reporters spread out to report on the conflict. During the war, correspondents began to assume the title “Bohemian”, and newspapermen in general took up the moniker. Bohemian became synonymous with newspaper writer.[6] In 1866, war correspondent Junius Henri Browne, who wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper’s Magazine, described “Bohemian” journalists such as himself as well as the few carefree women and lighthearted men he encountered during the war years.[7]

Bohemian Grove during the summer Hi-Jinks, circa 1911–1916San Francisco journalist Bret Harte first wrote as “The Bohemian” in The Golden Era in 1861, with this persona taking part in many satirical doings, the lot published in his book Bohemian Papers in 1867. Harte wrote, “Bohemia has never been located geographically, but any clear day when the sun is going down, if you mount Telegraph Hill, you shall see its pleasant valleys and cloud-capped hills glittering in the West…”[8] Mark Twain included himself and Charles Warren Stoddard in the Bohemian category in 1867.[6] By 1872, when a group of journalists and artists who gathered regularly for cultural pursuits in San Francisco were casting about for a name, the term Bohemian became the main choice, and the Bohemian Club was born.[9] Club members who were established and successful, pillars of their community, respectable family men, redefined their own form of bohemianism to include people like themselves who were bons vivants, sportsmen, and appreciators of the fine arts.[8] Club member and poet George Sterling responded to this redefinition:

Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life; as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities.[10]
Despite his views, Sterling associated very closely with the Bohemian Club, and caroused with artist and industrialist alike at the Bohemian Grove.[10]

Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann and George Frederick Cameron wrote the song “The Bohemian” in the 1889 opera Leo, the Royal Cadet[11]

I’ve written some Psalms and some songs, I’ve dabbled in most of the arts:

Quixote-like, righted some wrongs in fact, I have played many parts.
I have seen both the bright and the dark of the world and the things that are its,
like the dove that flew forth from the ark: In a word, I am given to flits.
For the life of a rover is mine, A rover by land and by sea:
With a lady to love and a flagon of wine, oh, the world is the village for me!
To-day, as you see, I am here, Enjoying my pipe and my bowl:
To-morrow, and I may appear inscribing my name on the Pole.
The next day may see me once more, content as a hog upon ice,
Far down on the Florida shore, existing on bacon and rice.
I have hobnobbed with peasant and king, with a hundred to run at my call;
I have seen the sweet flowers of spring lose their odor and grace before Fall.
I have loved with the warmth of the boy and adored with the passion of man,
But the altar’s it’s drop of alloy, so I came buck to where I began!
Chorus. For the life of a rover is mine etc.

Gelett Burgess drew this fanciful “Map of Bohemia” for The Lark, March 1, 1896.The impish American writer and Bohemian Club member Gelett Burgess, who coined the word blurb among other things, supplied this description of the amorphous place called Bohemia:

To take the world as one finds it, the bad with the good, making the best of the present moment—to laugh at Fortune alike whether she be generous or unkind—to spend freely when one has money, and to hope gaily when one has none—to fleet the time carelessly, living for love and art—this is the temper and spirit of the modern Bohemian in his outward and visible aspect. It is a light and graceful philosophy, but it is the Gospel of the Moment, this exoteric phase of the Bohemian religion; and if, in some noble natures, it rises to a bold simplicity and naturalness, it may also lend its butterfly precepts to some very pretty vices and lovable faults, for in Bohemia one may find almost every sin save that of Hypocrisy. …
His faults are more commonly those of self-indulgence, thoughtlessness, vanity and procrastination, and these usually go hand-in-hand with generosity, love and charity; for it is not enough to be one’s self in Bohemia, one must allow others to be themselves, as well. …

What, then, is it that makes this mystical empire of Bohemia unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland? It is this: there are no roads in all Bohemia! One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life.[12]

In New York City, an organization of musicians was formed in 1907 by pianist Rafael Joseffy with friends such as Rubin Goldmark, called “The Bohemians (New York Musicians’ Club)”.[13] Near Times Square Joel Renaldo presided over “Joel’s Bohemian Refreshery” where the Bohemian crowd gathered from before the turn of the 20th Century until Prohibition began to bite.[14][15][16][17]

[edit] PeopleThe term has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations: bohemian (boho—informal) is defined in The American College Dictionary as “a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior.”

Many prominent European and American figures of the last 150 years belonged to the bohemian subculture, and any comprehensive “list of bohemians” would be tediously long. Bohemianism has been approved of by some bourgeois writers such as Honoré de Balzac, but most conservative cultural critics do not condone bohemian lifestyles.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks contends that much of the cultural ethos of what he semi-humorously terms “upper-class” Americans (meaning well-to-do middle-class people) is Bohemian-derived, coining the paradoxical term Bourgeois Bohemians or Bobos.[18]

The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/styles in Bohemian Manifesto: a Field Guide to Living on the Edge. The Bohemian is “not easily classified like species of birds,” writes Stover, noting that there are crossovers and hybrids. The five types devised by Stover are:

Nouveau: bohemians with money who attempt to join traditional bohemianism with contemporary culture
Gypsy: drifters, neo-hippies, and others with nostalgia for previous, romanticized eras
Beat: also drifters, but non-materialist and art-focused
Zen: “post-beat,” focus on spirituality rather than art
Dandy: no money, but try to appear as if they have it by buying and displaying expensive or rare items – such as brands of alcohol[19]
In the United States, the bohemian impulse can be seen in the 1960s hippie counterculture (which was in turn informed by the Beat generation via writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac).

Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.[20] An American example is Burning Man, an annual participatory arts festival held in the Nevada desert.

[edit] Bohemian communities in the pastBy extension, Bohemia meant any place where one could live and work cheaply, and behave unconventionally; a community of free souls beyond the pale of respectable society. Several cities and neighborhoods came to be associated with bohemianism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: In Europe: Montmartre and Montparnasse in Paris; Chelsea, Fitzrovia, and Soho in London; Schwabing in Munich; Skadarlija in Belgrade; Tabán in Budapest. In the United States: Greenwich Village in New York City;[21] Venice Beach, California;[22] Topanga, California;[23] and Tiburon, California.[24]

In Australia: Newtown[25] and Potts Point, Sydney [26] and Fitzroy in Melbourne.

[edit] See alsoRelated terms
Art colony
Bohemian style
History of Western subcultures in the 20th Century
Simple living

Will Bohemia Arise In Oakland?

Posted on September 1, 2011 by Royal Rosamond Press

Lake Temescal in Oakland became a Mecca for Poets and Plein Air Artists. The poet, George Sterling met Ambrose Bierce at a campsite on the lake where the Presco children used to go swimming. These two men would found the Bohemian Club where some of the richest men in the world would come to camp out. There is something to be said for living a frugal existence, a Bohemian life around a campfire, in the good company of creative men and women. These early Bohemian campers would prepare the way for the Hippies that were born in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. The ideal was to live in a little shack, pay next to no rent so one could concentrate on what truly matters.

One could say my grandfather was a Plein Air Poet. He must have taken the photo above of his wife camping on Santa Cruz Island that was also made into a post card. Did Royal try to become a photographer in order to earn monies to support his craft and family?

I did three Plein Air paintings in the course of my life, and have plans to make it a big part of my life. This is why I purchased my classic Ford truck.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2011

In 1892, Sterling met the dominant literary figure on the west coast, Ambrose Bierce, at Lake Temescal and immediately fell under his spell. Bierce — to whom Sterling referred as “the Master” — guided the young poet in his writing as well as in his reading, pointing to the classics as model and inspiration. Bierce also published Sterling’s first poems in his “Prattle” column in the San Francisco Examiner.
Sterling also met adventure and science fiction writer Jack London, and his first wife Bess at their rented villa on Lake Merritt, and in time they became best of friends. In 1902 Sterling helped the Londons find a home closer to his own in Piedmont, near Oakland. In his letters London addressed Sterling as “Greek” owing to his aquiline nose and classical profile, and signed them as “Wolf.” London was later to depict Sterling as Russ Brissenden in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1908) and as Mark Hall in The Valley of the Moon (1913).

The Society of Six was intensely devoted to a self-imposed set of rough-and-tumble attitudes that they found necessary for the maintenance of the visual purity in their works. They sensed that they were not making new art merely for the sake of newness, but with an exhilaration that was born from an overthrowing of subservient visual posturing over various sanctified art modes. Although they were a part of the San Francisco Bay Area modernist art scene in the 1920s, they had an allegiance primarily to themselves, and they were forced to be their own best audience. Influences upon them ranged from nineteenth century Impressionism to European Abstractionism. Although it is fairly easy to trace the more obvious influences, “The Six nonetheless, managed individually to fashion their own painting styles into fresh and ingenuous outdoor paintings which appear generally American and specifically Californian. They were regional painters in the best sense of the word.
“Will Bohemia arise in Oakland,” was the question asked in an article in the Oakland Tribune on April 22, 1917. The reporter told of the formation of an artist’s club of the East Bay with a membership of more than 30 painters, sculptors and art students including Selden Gile, William H. Clapp and William A. Gaw (1891-1973). Many of the things that made the area seem so desirable to “The Six” were mentioned in that review, such as the picturesque waterfront and the sunny rolling hills above the Bay. Oakland was depicted as “…a Bohemia where kindred spirits meet with art and the great adventures that stimulate art to color its atmosphere.”
For almost 10 years, 1917 to 1927, until Selden Gile moved to Belvedere,[2] his cabin on Chabot Road in Oakland was the weekly meeting place for “The Six.” The “Chow House,” as it was called, had electricity but no toilet or bath.[3] What the accommodations lacked in convenience was more than made up for by the heated art discussions and garlic-laced meals that Gile, the generous host, provided. He frequently offered a formidable home-brewed beer to wash down his famous meals and, occasionally, the proceedings were enlivened by the bottles exploding. In addition to the beer, they fortified their meetings with at least two gallons of “dago red” wine which were delivered to Gile every week by an Italian bootlegger friend.[4] Occasionally, von Eichman showed up with his “San Jose Cheer,” a prune whiskey that helped to lubricate their discussions.[5] Clapp, the sedate curator, was dubbed “Ho-Ho-Ho” by Gile because that was Clapp’s usual exclamation when he arrived at their meetings. He was considered to be the gentleman of the crowd.[6] As Siegriest recalls, “Clapp was a very quiet sort of fellow, polite and quiet.” He also remembers with discomfort, “the way these guys would talk in front of him…he looked embarrassed but he would join in.”[7] “The Six” friends rarely missed a Saturday or Sunday evening get-together at Selden Gile’s place..[8]
William Clapp was the only member of the group who had received formal instruction in France.[9] Born in Canada, in 1879, but reared in Oakland, Clapp returned to Canada, in 1900. He studied there and at the Académie Julian in Paris under Jean-Paul Laurens, as well as the Académie Colarossi and at the Ecole de la Grande Chaumière. Before returning permanently to live in Oakland, about 1917, Clapp had been considered a radical painter in Montreal. In fact his studies in Europe and Paris, and his later familiarity with the modernist Canadian “Group of Seven” who showed for the first time together in Toronto in 1920, contributed immensely to “The Six’s” cohesiveness. Not coincidentally, “The Six” had initially been called “The Group of Six,” undoubtedly prompted by Clapp’s knowledge of the Canadian painters.[10] His previous studies in Paris and Montreal had acquainted him with an attitude that considered manifestos and closely-knit groups to be essentially supportive of art. An Oakland Tribune critic finally named the Oakland-based group of artists “The Society of Six,” perhaps cribbing the title from a contemporary group of vanguard French musicians led by Eric Satie, “Les Six,” who had been in the news as musical innovators.[11] In 1923, Clapp initiated a policy of annual shows for “The Society of Six” as part of a progressive exhibition program in the Oakland Art Gallery.


Norbert And Mary Magdalene

Posted on August 27, 2021 by Royal Rosamond Press

Yesterday I owned a very clear picture of Garth and Drew Benton in Christine Benton’s home, while my family was at the funeral. I just woke up from my old man nap, and I was at 13th. Street where I lived with The Loading Zone. The young Rena was asleep in the attic room. I couldn’t wait to see her face again. I awoke, and, I was just dreaming.

I have conducted the most magnificent piece of Detective Work – in history! I own the view of my destiny from my grandparents eyes. I have overcome one of the greatest obstacles a human being can encounter. Total Illusionists had invaded the World of Art and Literature, and I exposed them. I uncovered them. Now, I will bury them in a great work of literature. True History and True love of art, will be cleansed.

John Presco

President: Royal Rosamond Press

Hard-boiled Wit: 
Ludwig Wittgenstein and Norbert Davis

Josef Hoffmann 

  1.  Introduction: Wittgenstein read Davis

Rosro Cottage
Renvyle P.O.
Co Galway


Dear Norman,

Thanks a lot for the detective mags.  I had, before they arrived, been reading a detective story by Dorothy Sayers, and it was so bl… foul that it depressed me.  Then when I opened one of your mags it was like getting out of a stuffy room into the fresh air.  And, talking of detective fiction, I’d like you to make an enquiry for me when once you’ve got nothing better to do.  A couple of years ago I read with great pleasure a detective story called Rendezvous With Fear by a man Norbert Davis.  I enjoyed it so much that I gave it not only to Smythies but also to Moore to read and both shared my high opinion of it.  For, though, as you know, I’ve read hundreds of stories that amused me and that I liked reading, I think I’ve only read two perhaps that I’d call good stuff, and Davis’s is one of them.  Some weeks ago I found it again by a queer coincidence in a village in Ireland, it has appeared in an edition called ‘Cherry Tree books’, something like ‘Penguin’.  Now I’d like you to ask at a bookshop if Norbert Davis has written other books, and what kind.  (He’s an American.)  It may sound crazy, but when I recently re-read the story I liked it again so much that I thought I’d really like to write to the author and thank him.  If this is nuts don’t be surprised, for so am I.  I shouldn’t be surprised if he had written quite a lot and only this one story were really good.



    This letter is quoted in Norman Malcolm’s book Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir.  Malcolm added the following footnote after Norbert Davis’s name: “As I recall, I was unable to obtain any information about this author.”

    The American philosopher Norman Malcolm was a student of Wittgenstein’s at Cambridge and later became a much esteemed correspondence partner and supplier of the latest detective pulps from the United States.  It would appear, however, that Malcolm did not take his friend Ludwig’s desire to read more by Davis all that seriously.  In 1948 he could have got hold of some short stories and books by Norbert Davis without much difficulty.  After years of writing for the pulp magazines, Davis had managed in the 1940s to have his detective stories published in book form.  Between 1943 and 1947 four such books appeared: The Mouse in the Mountain (1943; the paperback issues were called Rendezvous with Fear and Dead Little Rich Girl); Sally’s in the Alley (1943); Oh Murderer Mine (1946); Murder Picks the Jury (1947).

    No more books followed.  In 1949, at the age of 40, Norbert Davis took his life.

    The fact that Wittgenstein’s attempt to get in touch with Davis failed is tragic somehow.  If anyone could have helped Norbert Davis then, in my view, it was Ludwig Wittgenstein.  He was an influential philosopher who managed throughout his entire life to rope his wealthy friends and relatives into supporting hapless individuals, in particular writers and artists.

    Wittgenstein’s enthusiasm for Norbert Davis’s first novel is understandable.  This particular novel betrays, as do other texts by Davis, a similar mode of thinking and writing, a kind of elective affinity to Wittgenstein’s own work.  What is more, in his earlier years Wittgenstein had been repeatedly haunted by thoughts of suicide.  Three of his brothers had ended their lives by suicide.  In fact, suicide was part and parcel of the whole milieu in which he spent his earlier life in Austria . In his biography, Ray Monk refers to that milieu as a “Laboratory for Self-destruction.”

    Today, a half a century later, it is impossible to make up for Malcolm’s neglect to inquire about Davis and so historically cancel out that non-encounter between him and Wittgenstein.  It is possible, however, to address the question of why Wittgenstein estimated Norbert Davis’s novel so highly that he felt a need to thank him personally for it.

2.  Wittgenstein as a culture lover and crime fiction reader

    In 1948, three years before his death, Wittgenstein was a famous philosopher who was supported by people like Bertrand Russell, George Moore, John Maynard Keynes, and not least, by his siblings in Austria.  He came from one of the richest and culturally most influential families in Vienna at the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brahms, Mahler, Klimt, and Grillparzer were just some of the guests to visit the Wittgenstein home.  Ludwig’s older brother Paul became a famous pianist.  It was for him that Ravel composed his “Piano Concerto in D Major for Left Hand”; Paul Wittgenstein had lost his right arm in the First World War.

    As a child already, Ludwig Wittgenstein had got to know and love the literature and music of the German speaking region, maintaining throughout his whole life a particular leaning towards classical music.  As for literature, he was especially taken by the works of Goethe, Mörike, Keller, Hebel, Lenau, and Nestroy, though he also liked Tolstoy, Dostoievski, Sterne, Lewis Carrol, Dickens, and the young Joyce.  In 1914, through the editor of the Austrian magazine Der Brenner, Wittgenstein had a donation of 100,000 Kronen (about €100,000 today) distributed among “penniless Austrian artists,” including, among others, Rilke, Trakl, Lasker-Schüler, Kokoschka, Haecker, and Däubler.

    Between 1926 and 1928, Wittgenstein, together with Paul Engelmann, a disciple of the modernist architect Adolf Loos, supervised the construction of the so-called Wittgenstein Palais on Kundmanngasse in Vienna for his sister Gretl.  Both the exterior and the interior of the house were designed in a style similar to that of Loos and the Bauhaus.  Once his tasks were completed, Wittgenstein liked to go and see westerns, above all Tom Mix films, together with Engelmann.  Later, in Cambridge, he developed an enthusiasm for American review films which he preferred to watch from the front row of the cinema.

    It cannot be established conclusively when exactly Wittgenstein began reading crime fiction, though it had definitely become a fixed component of his reading material after his return to Cambridge in 1929.  His preference was for Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, a monthly pulp magazine which he read, more or less regularly, up until his death.  Wittgenstein liked this magazine so much that he quoted it in the last lecture he gave as a fellow of Trinity College.  That is not all. In his letters to Norman Malcolm he mentions several times how important the magazine was for him, much more important than the leading philosophy magazine of the time, Mind.  In the context of paper rationing in England he wrote to Malcolm on 8.9.1945: “Thanks a lot for the mags. … The one way in which the ending of Lend-Lease really hits me is by producing a shortage of detective mags in this country.  I can only hope Lord Keynes will make this quite clear in Washington.  For I say: if the U.S.A. won’t give us detective mags we can’t give them philosophy …”

    A letter dated 15.3.1948 contains the following lines: “Your mags are wonderful.  How people can read Mind if they could read Street & Smith beats me.  If philosophy has anything to do with wisdom there’s certainly not a grain of that in Mind, and quite often a grain in the detective stories.”

Mind came off even more negatively in another comparison made in his letter of 30.10.1945: “If I read your mags I often wonder how anyone can read Mind with all its impotence and bankruptcy when they could read Street & Smith mags.  Well, everyone to his taste.”

    Wittgenstein’s preference in crime fiction was not exclusively for “hard-boiled detective stories,” as Ray Monk’s biography would have us believe.  M. O’C. Drury, a close friend of Wittgenstein’s, recalled a conversation he once had about crime fiction with Wittgenstein in 1936 during which Wittgenstein praised Agatha Christie, claiming that it required a specifically English talent to be able to write such books.  For Wittgenstein, Christie’s crime stories were a pure delight.  Not only were the plots cleverly worked out, the characters too, were so well portrayed that they seemed like real people.  On once being recommended to read Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, Wittgenstein turned up his nose: “Oh no, I couldn’t stand the idea of a Roman Catholic priest playing the part of a detective.  I don’t want that.”

    In light of that conversation with Drury in the mid-1930s, it can be safely assumed that Wittgenstein’s taste complied with that of his time, and that he therefore partook of all the developments in crime fiction.  His liking for the more modern literary style of the hard-boiled detective stories probably developed when they had made their way into almost all the crime story magazines, including Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine – on the model of the Black Mask.  As Ray Monk points out, in the 1930s and 40s, Detective Story Magazine carried works by Black Mask authors such as Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, Cornell Woolrich and Norbert Davis.  Wittgenstein, however, always speaks of detective stories, which would lead one to presume that the other sub-genres in crime fiction, such as gangster or action stories and psycho-thrillers, did not appeal to him as much.  Most of the detective stories of the hard-boiled school had basic elements in common with the classical whodunits, so that the change in the reading public’s habits could take place gradually.

3.  The characteristic features of Norbert Davis’ detective stories

    Norbert Davis was no realist.  He was not interested in depicting reality in the raw, nor in presenting characters, scenes and dialogues that seemed as if they were borrowed from harsh everyday life.  What characterises Davis as a hard-boiled writer is the cutting and curt linguistic and narrative style he chose in order to portray a thoroughly corrupt and violent world.  Often the vocabulary is bold and simple, the short, precise sentences stylistically well honed.

    Occasionally he even uses internal rhyme and alliteration: “A Lady gets a Lift,” “Target for Teresa,” “A Break for a Bum,” “Give the Devil his Due,” and “Latin in Art” (from The Adventures of Max Latin).  Davis’s dialogues ooze sarcasm.  Pathos, sentimentality or naivety‚ of any kind are averse to his hardened protagonists.  The best example of this is his private detective Doan.  In one scene in The Mouse in the Mountain the bandit Garcia lies dead on the ground after an exchange of shots. A Mexican officer examines him:

“Dead,” said the tall man. “That is unfortunate.”
    “For him,” Doan agreed.

    Davis’s plots, characters, and basic character constellations betray a marked proximity to the classical whodunits.  Figures such as Max Latin or Doan represent a blend of the invariably unequalled master detective and the hard drinking rough-shod private eye.  Also borrowed from the tried and tested range of traditional forms are plot elements and scenes such as the configuration of potential perpetrators and victims in a ‘closed society’ (for example, in “Holocaust House”), or the concluding summary by the detective who solves the case before an astonished audience.

    Davis’s combination of elements from different narrative styles succeeds because he ironically stretches the forms of both kinds of detective story to breaking point and seasons both plot and dialogue with a touch of humour.  The humour of his verbal and situation comedy is often achieved by leaving out elements in customary forms of communication, and especially by taking what people say (but do not necessarily mean) obstinately literally – like a reductio ad absurdum. As a result, Davis’s humour takes on anarchic and bizarre features, similar to those of Marx Brothers films. Here is a sample from “Give the Devil his Due”:

 “… You are Max Latin, and you call yourself a private inquiry agent, and you are the undercover owner of this restaurant.”
    “Well, how do I do,” said Latin. “I’m glad to know me.”

And another from The Mouse in the Mountain:

“Friend,” said Henshaw, “… I’m in the plumbing business — ‘Better Bathrooms for a Better America.’ What’s your line?”
    “Crime,” Doan told him.
    “You mean you’re a public enemy?” Henshaw asked, interested.
    “There have been rumors to that effect,” Doan said. “But I claim I’m a private detective.”

    This clever, laconic, and sarcastic narrative style is surely the main reason why Davis’s novel appealed to Wittgenstein so much.  Incidentally, a Davis comment such as “… ‘Latin,’ said Latin” is quite in keeping with Wittgenstein’s “Mr. Scot is no Scot” (in his Philosophical Investigations, part ii).

4.  The proximity of Wittgenstein’s mode of thinking, writing, and life to that of the ‘hard-boiled school’

    As in both the traditional and the more modern detective stories, the main concern in Wittgenstein’s work is with transparency, with arriving at certainty about facts, at a correct view and elucidation of the real connections by means of eliminating deceptions and apparent constructs.  Wittgenstein’s wish was to expose pretence, hypocrisy, puffiness, slovenliness and obscuration, which are as widespread in the realms of philosophy and science as they are in the avaricious world of commerce.  He compared many contemporary philosophers to cheats and businessmen who capitalised on poor districts, and saw it as his task to put a stop to such activities by his colleagues.

    Given that Wittgenstein’s philosophical work, like the typical detective story, dealt with the exposure of deception, he naturally approached facts in a way that was reminiscent of a detective’s approach to solving problems. §129 of his Philosophical Investigations reads like a summary of Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” a story in which a stolen letter remains concealed from the eyes of the investigators simply by being placed openly on a card-rack, visible to all at any time.  Wittgenstein writes: “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.  (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.)”

    Individual sentences in §99 of his Philosophical Investigations may even contain an allusion to a typical element of crime fiction, namely, ‘the locked room mystery’: “… if I say  >I have locked the man up fast in the room – there is only one door left open<  – then I simply haven’t locked him in at all; his being locked in is a sham. … An enclosure with a hole in it is as good as none.”

    Are the following lines from §293 of Philosophical Investigations not almost a parodistic portrayal of the typical scene in which the master detective recapitulates the events of the crime before a confounded audience, eliminating a ‘red herring’ that had misled the investigations.  “Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a ‘beetle.’  No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.  – Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.  – But suppose the word ‘beetle’ had a use in these people’s language?  – If so it would not be used as the name of a thing.  The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.  – No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.”

    §115 points in a similar direction: “A picture held us captive.”  Wittgenstein devoted his repeated attention to the influence of our cultural surroundings on the way we view things.  Davis too, refers to such influences again and again, in a particularly sarcastic manner at the beginning of chapter 3 of Sally’s in the Alley:

   The Mojave Desert at sunset looks remarkably like a painting of a sunset on the Mojave Desert which, when you come to think of it, is really quite surprising. Except that the real article doesn’t show such good color sense as the average painting does. Yellows and purples and reds and various other violent sub-units of the spectrum are splashed all over the sky, in a monumental exhibition of bad taste. They keep moving and blurring and changing around, like the color movies they show in insane asylums to keep the idiots quiet.

    In some of Wittgenstein’s writings on the task of philosophy, all that is necessary is to substitute a few words – those marked in bold type in the following – in order to illustrate their affinity to crime fiction:

 “A detective’s problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about’ ”  (§123 PI).

“The work of the detective consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.”  (§127 PI)

“What is your aim working as a detective? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.”  (§309 PI)

    In his remarks on this statement, Wittgenstein expert Joachim Schulte further underlines its similarity, in form and content, to the attitude of a private detective à la Philip Marlowe to a female client, as it were, the threatened ‘fly.’  In Schulte’s eyes, the fact that the fly has fallen into the trap means it is in considerable danger, not just because of a total lack of orientation, but because it has become so completely entangled that it cannot free itself.  The man who comes to the aid of such an ‘imprisoned’ client is indeed a veritable saviour in her hour of need.

    Not only did Wittgenstein distrust abstruse, mysterious sounding waffle in philosophy, he also regarded the equation of mathematical logic and science as a misconception.  In this sense Ray Monk may be correct in assuming that Wittgenstein was better able to identify with the approach of the hardened American private detective than with the methods of a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.  And just as the new style down-to-earth private eye was opposed to the old style detective and his apparently logical deductions, Wittgenstein too was keen to distance himself from the representatives of a mathematization of philosophy and science.  For him, the fundamentals of mathematical logic were based on mere agreements, that is to say, human inventions, and were thus totally different from the laws of nature.

    When writing his Tractatus, Wittgenstein had already come to the conclusion that science and philosophy were far removed from those things in life which are of greatest importance to the individual: “6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.”  Norbert Davis seems to have shared this viewpoint, as illustrated above all in the last chapter of Oh Murderer Mine.  At one stage in the narrative, Doan’s dog Carstairs, a Great Dane, chases the dim-witted arrest-happy campus policeman Humphrey into the swimming pool, completely ignoring Doan’s admonitions.  In turn, Doan is also ignored by the two university lecturers Eric and Melissa, who are locked in passionate embrace.

    Carstairs ignored him.  Carstairs was contemplating the frothy, turgid water in the pool with the remotely sadistic indifference of a scientist studying a pinned-down bug.
    And Eric and Melissa ignored him too.  For the moment they were too occupied with each other to have any interest in external affairs.  Melissa’s arms were about Eric’s neck and he was holding her so closely that no bio-chemist or meteorologist or physicist or psychologist or any other scientist could have presented a logical explanation of how it was that she could breathe.”

    The Tractatus puts it more succinctly, under 6.43: “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.”

    Like the above mentioned fly bottle metaphor, Wittgenstein’s remarks on the work of the philosopher betray a disillusioned and bitter, if tenacious and dogged attitude to his profession and one that is sometimes redolent of, among other things, the particular professional attitude and street wisdom of the private detective of the hard-boiled school.  As the founder of so-called “ordinary language philosophy,” Wittgenstein was more likely to be sympathetic towards detectives who spoke the language of ordinary people and grappled, despite the hard knocks with, everyday problems and real opponents, than towards the classical detectives who caught criminals on the basis of their ingenious gift of association, or even their clairvoyant capacities.

    Wittgenstein’s preference for the working methods of hard-boiled detectives can also be easily demonstrated by the use of slightly modified quotations from his Philosophical Investigations:

In the detective’s work we do not draw conclusions.  (§599)

Here it is difficult as it were to keep our heads up, –  to see that we must stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to reconstruct extreme subtleties, which in turn we are after all quite unable to reconstruct with the means at our disposal.  We feel as we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers.  (§106)

We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and … we are unable to walk.  We want to walk: so we need friction.  Back to the rough ground! (§107)

I can look for him when he is not there, but not hang him when he is not there.  (§462)

The results of a detective’s work are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that he has got by running its head up against the limits prescribed.  These bumps make us see the value of the discovery. (§119)

    Could such terms not also be used to describe the ‘philosophy’ of the ‘tough private eye’?  In “You Can Die Anyday,” Max Latin puts it somewhat more bluntly and briefly: “ … so I went right ahead anyway.  I couldn’t wait to investigate.  I had to poke my neck out.”

    It is quite  possible that some of Wittgenstein’s remarks on the theme of the rules of the game, on ‘being guided,’ and on reading might well have been inspired by the narrative technique of crime fiction, by that subtle tactic of keeping the reader on tenterhooks until the finale.  For example, in §652 of Philosophical Investigations we read:

>He measured him with a hostile glance and said ….<  The reader of the narrative understands this; he has no doubt in his mind. …  But it is possible that the hostile glance and the words later prove to have been pretence, or that the reader is kept in doubt whether they are so or not, and so that he really does guess at a possible interpretation. – But then the main thing he guesses at is a context.  He says to himself for example: The two men who are here so hostile to one another are in reality friends, etc. etc.

    A central theme in Wittgenstein’s late writings is the question of what rules are, how they can be recognised, drawn up, and obeyed.  This brings us to another reason why he favoured American detective stories such as those by Davis.  It is a well known fact that private detectives like Max Latin or Doan neither adhere to the rules of logical deduction nor to those of law or social conventions.  Instead, they think and act as the situation demands, breaking rules, changing them, or merely pretending to comply with them.

    Wittgenstein’s deliberations on the theme of rules had their roots in internal developments within philosophy.  Yet they also have to be seen against the backdrop of the fundamental change that took place in people’s consciousness in the face of the social turmoil of the first half of the twentieth century, which had invalidated rules regarded as self-evident until then.  One feature of the experience of the generations who lived through the First and Second World Wars and the critical inter-war period was insecurity, lost certainty, as regards which values and rules could still aspire to validity.  Such an experience gives rise to a need for orientation, certainty, and security, for reliable rules for individual and social life which were worth keeping and defending unyieldingly against attack.  Yet in view of the myriad opinions, proposals, declarations and world views circulating and competing in the public arena in free societies, it was difficult even for intelligent people to establish binding rules and certainties.  This intellectual state is reflected not only in the philosophy of the time, but also in literature and films, and in particular in that narrative domain encompassed by the term ‘noir.’

    It was common to consider the writers of those ‘black’ stories as having an intellectual affinity with the French existentialists, though this is not always the case.  Some ‘noir’ writers have closer ties with other philosophies, for example that of Karl Marx, Charles Peirce, or Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Wittgenstein’s view of his time was presumably more gloomy – and elitist – than that of many ‘noir’ writers, as is illustrated, for example, at one point in the foreword to his Philosophical Investigations: “It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another – but, of course, it is not likely.”

    Another possible point of identification for Wittgenstein with hard-boiled crime fiction could well have been the particular role that the new private detective assumed in society.  He was a lone fighter caught between the fronts of the rich upper class and the desolate world of poverty, between city administration and the police force on the one hand, and the underworld on the other.  Wittgenstein too saw himself in the role of the lonesome warrior, pitting his energies against both the bourgeois academic life style and the narrow-mindedness and ‘meanness’ of normal people – against whom he had railed frequently, especially in his younger years.  Like the modern private detective, Wittgenstein seemed to move in various social ‘camps’ or milieus without feeling at home in any of them.

    Wittgenstein’s attitude to life, more precisely, the type of masculinity and the ideals of truthfulness and honour he admired, betray common features with those of Dashiell Hammett and other writers of the hard-boiled school.  Like Hammett, it was not enough for Wittgenstein to merely prove his worth at that ‘battlefield in life’ that seemed to have been allocated to him, namely, his desk.  Both men found it unbearable not to be active like other men at the real front, where what was at stake was life and death, and where they could demonstrate their bravery.  In wartime they could direct their aggressive impulses against real enemies, reaping recognition while at the same time keeping under control, or covering up, their self-destructive potential.  Although neither Wittgenstein nor Hammett enjoyed good health, they both managed to have themselves recruited for wartime service.  During the First World War Wittgenstein refused military positions that would have prevented him from doing gun battle with enemy soldiers.  As a lone observer at the front, he was persistent in battle, intervened in troop action directly where necessary, and was awarded a medal for bravery.  During the Second World War he gave up his teaching post in Cambridge to work at Guy’s Hospital, thus making his contribution to the war against the Nazis.  He justified his decision as follows: “I feel I will die slowly if I stay there.  I would rather take a chance of dying quickly.”

    Hammett had contracted tuberculosis during the First World War and therefore could not fight at the front, however, he only gave up his job as a Pinkerton detective when ill-health finally forced him to.  Yet despite his advanced years and unfit state, he succeeded by all sorts of tricks in being despatched to the front as a soldier during the Second World War.

    Another common element in the attitudes of Hammett and Wittgenstein to life in general was that they both despised the easy life and were not interested in money.  For a time both of them had strong leanings towards communism.  Wittgenstein travelled to Russia in 1935 with the intention of working there but returned to England disappointed. During the McCarthy era, Hammett chose to go to prison with his Marxist friends out of loyalty.  After the First World War, Wittgenstein chose to stay on longer in a prisoner-of-war camp out of attachment to his comrades and refused an early discharge.  Like Chandler or Davis, Wittgenstein and Hammett also had no illusions about the fact that people and things could be easily bought.  Sally’s in the Alley contains some rather vicious statements to this effect.  On one occasion, when Doan gets into a tussle with Susan Sally, a good-looking Hollywood actress, her worried agent calls out:

“Hit her in the stomach!”
    “What?” said Doan, startled. The shadow jiggled both fists in an agony of apprehension. “Not in the face! Don’t hit her face! Thirty-five hundred dollars a week!”

    Towards the end of the story, Doan and Harriet, a patriotic but rather naive companion, engage in the following conversation with the Nazi MacAdoo:

“Goering is going to be hung after we win the war,” Harriet told him.
    MacAdoo looked at her. “Don’t be silly.  The Kaiser didn’t have much more than a hundred million dollars, and nobody hung him.  Goering is worth two or three billion by this time, and besides that he has heavy influence in England and the United States.”
    “How do you know?” Doan asked.
    “Read the papers.  Who do you think is paying for all this bilge about Goering being a harmless, jolly fat man with a love for medals and a heart of gold?  Stuff like that isn’t printed for free.  Particularly not after the guy involved has murdered a half million civilians with his air force.  I shouldn’t wonder but what he’ll wind up as president of the Reich under a, pause for laughter, democratic government.”

    In view of their socially privileged status, Wittgenstein’s and Hammett’s attitudes to life and work may seem ambivalent, which could also be one of the reasons for their unease, the dissatisfaction, and perhaps even their inability to produce one masterpiece after another, as other writers were obviously able to do.  From the publication of his novel The Thin Man in 1934 to his death in 1961, Hammett was never again in a position to complete another work despite desperate attempts.  In the foreword to his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein wrote resignedly that he would have liked to produce a good book but that there was no time left to improve it.  “After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed.  The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks …”  That reminds me of Chandler’s lament in a letter to Sandoe: “I am continually finding myself with scenes that I won’t discard and that don’t want to fit in. … The mere idea of being committed in advance to a certain pattern appalls me.”

    A glance at Davis’s publications reveals that he drafted a considerable number of characters and wrote innumerable ‘novelettes and short stories’ but produced only very few novels, and they are extremely short.  He too, was obviously lacking the ability to produce an extensive, well conceived oeuvre.  However, as very little is known about the conditions under which Davis lived and worked, all I can do is subscribe to John D. MacDonald’s evaluation of him as a typical pulp writer: “I never met Norbert Davis, but I have no reason to suspect that he was any less eccentric, or less anxious, in that penny-a-word environment than any of the rest of us.”

5.  Wittgenstein – a philosopher with a “hard-boiled” style?

    In many ways, Wittgenstein’s style of writing betrays an affinity to the prose of the Black Mask school, especially to that of Norbert Davis.  Wittgenstein had an abhorrence of what he called “waffle”, and was almost obsessed with a brief, precise, logical form of expression.  He tormented people around him by constantly correcting mistakes in their syntax.  Both in his private texts and conversations, and in his dairy entries, letters, and philosophical writings, he tended towards coarse, hard-boiled expressions and sarcastic humour.  He had a preference for laconic turns of phrase intended to illustrate a thought ‘in a flash.’  The term ‘wise crack’ might be used to put his style of writing philosophy in an appropriate nutshell, were it not already reserved for the sharp-witted dialogues of Philip Marlowe and his colleagues.

    Wittgenstein’s translators (from German into English and vice versa) were apparently so painfully embarrassed by his provocative sarcasm that they occasionally went to great trouble to mellow the tone of the original text, transposing it into a more scholarly, bourgeois key, as I shall show later.  One reason for this procedure may have been that they did not wish to expose Wittgenstein’s work to the danger of being considered lacking in seriousness and thus not being received appropriately.  As one of the editors of the works published posthumously, Georg Henrik von Wright, emphasises, Wittgenstein had acquired the reputation of being a cultural ignoramus – not least because of his Spartan way of life and his dislike for the Cambridge milieu.  Furthermore, many contemporaries found him impolite, blunt, barefaced, even cruel.  In view of such reproaches and prejudices, it may have seemed appropriate to the translators to soften or defuse those of Wittgenstein’s expressions that might have confirmed such prejudices against his person and his work.  Thus for a long time, biographical works made no mention of, or at least ignored, the fact that in his later years he was a passionate reader of crime stories and even spoke about them in his lectures.

    Let us now turn to some original texts by Wittgenstein that document his ‘hard-boiled’ style.

    On 9.7.1916, that is to say, while serving in the war, Wittgenstein made the following entry in his diary in secret writing: “Don’t get worked up about people. People are black scoundrels.”

    His diary entry of 19.8.1916 repeats the sentence: “Surrounded by meanness.”

    In a letter to Paul Engelmann dated 16.1.1918 he writes: “I am clear about one thing: I am far too bad to be able to theorize about myself; in fact I shall either remain a swine or else I shall improve, and that’s that!  Only let’s cut out the transcendental twaddle when the whole thing is as plain as a sock on the jaw.”

    In a later letter: “Perhaps I should first have to be shattered completely by a blow from outside, before new life could enter this corpse.”

    On postcards sent to Gilbert Pattison, Wittgenstein resorted to particularly drastic phrases: Of Chamberlain’s diplomacy in Munich he writes on one card: “In case you want an Emetic, there it is.”  He concludes another postcard greeting with the words: “… I am, old God, yours in bloodyness, Ludwig”.

    Both Wittgenstein’s private and philosophical notes contain phrases that could have come from a crime story:

“I see someone pointing a gun and say >I expect a report<.  The shot is fired.” (PI §442)

“I watch a slow match burning, in high excitement follow the progress of the burning and its approach to the explosive.” (PI §576)

    In December 1929 Wittgenstein reported a dream about a man called Vertsag: “He opens fire with a machine-gun at a cyclist behind him who writhes with pain and is mercilessly gunned to the ground with several shots.  Vertsag has driven past, and now comes a young, poor-looking girl on a cycle and she too is shot at by Vertsag as he drives on.  And these shots, when they hit her breast make a bubbling sound like an almost empty kettle over a flame.”

    The hard-boiled crime stories of the 1940s frequently contain accounts of torture scenes and pain endurance rites.  A favourite plot element is the state of complete uncertainty in which the detective or the victim of the crime find themselves.  In his way of examining philosophical problems, Wittgenstein succeeded in blending these two elements:

… several people standing in a ring, and me among them.  One of us, sometimes this one, sometimes that, is connected to the poles of an electrical machine without our being able to see this.  I observe the faces of the others and try to see which of us has just been electrified. – Then I say: “Now I know who it is; for it’s myself.”            (PI § 409)

    The following German sentence “Daß mich das Feuer brennen wird, wenn ich die Hand hineinstecke: das ist Sicherheit.” is rendered as follows in the English version: “I shall get burnt if I put my hand in the fire: that is certainty.” (PI §474)  Were the German to have been translated literally, it would read: “That fire will burn me if I put my hand into it: that is certainty.” Wittgenstein’s German text makes a particularly sharp point due to the fact that the German word “Sicherheit” means both certainty and security.  The second connotation is absent from the English word “certainty.”  The syntactical alteration also diminishes the harshness of the expression.

    Almost nothing is sacred to the hard-boiled private detectives.  Their impertinence and unscrupulousness overwhelms not only their opponents and their competitors, but even their clients.  In Davis’s short stories, the detective figures play a particularly cunning game with the people they encounter.  The following statement by Wittgenstein could also have been made by a trickster such as Detective Max Latin: “Someone says to me: >Shew the children a game.<  I teach them gaming with dice, and the other says >I didn’t mean that sort of game.<”  (PI, note added to §70)

    The same unsentimental, self-mocking humour with regard to his own profession can be found, expressed in equally mordant tones, in Wittgenstein’s statements on the philosopher: “I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again >I know that that’s a tree<, pointing to a tree that is near us.  Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell them: >This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy.<”      (On Certainty §467)

    The relationship between life and death has always been a fundamental preoccupation in philosophy, as in crime fiction. Davis’s novel The Mouse in the Mountain could well have been inspired Wittgenstein to the following statement: “And so, too, a corpse seems to us quite inaccessible to pain.  – Our attitude to what is alive and to what is dead, is not the same.  All our reactions are different.”     (PI §284)

    Davis’s story contains a piece of dialogue that humorously illustrates Wittgenstein’s claim.  After private detective Doan shoots gangster Bautiste Bonofile in a struggle, Doan’s companion Janet asks, worried: “Is he – hurt?”  “Not a bit,” said Doan.  “He’s just dead.”

    A few pages later, Doan puts forward a variation on logical problem contained in the proposition, “A Cretan says, ‘All Cretans are liars’ ”:

“Yes, I lied to him.”
    “Well, aren’t you ashamed ? You involved me, too.”
    “You shouldn’t have believed me,” Doan said…
    “Why not ?” Janet demanded indignantly.
    “Because I’m a detective,” Doan said.  “Detectives never tell the truth if they can help it.  They lie all the time.  It’s just business.”
    “Not all detectives!”

    Doan nodded, seriously now.  “Yes.  Every detective ever born, and every one who ever will be.  Honest.”

This article first appeared in CADS #44, October 2003.   Copyright © 2003, 2006 by Josef Hoffmann.         

    CADS is a British mystery fanzine published irregularly by Geoff Bradley, 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex SS7 1PA, England.  For a sample issue, send £5.50 (UK) or $11 (US/Canada, airmail).  Please make checks payable to G. H. Bradley. 
    It should also be noted that 
Josef has a further article “PI Wittgenstein and Language-games from Detective Stories in CADS 48, October 2005.


    The photos below were obtained several years ago by Bill Pronzini from Ruth Babcock, widow of Norbert Davis’s fellow pulp writer, Dwight V. Babcock.  With the assistance of John Apostolou, who has done extensive research into the lives of both Davis and Babcock, we no longer believe that all five photos came from the same visit by the Davises at the Babcocks’ home.

    Norbert Davis made a trip in 1936 to a farm owned by Ruth Babcock’s family in Modesto, California.  While there, he and Dwight did some target shooting.  Photos were taken and some prints sent to Joseph T. Shaw in April 1936.  Three of the pictures – Norbert shooting, Dwight shooting, the two of them sitting – were taken during that visit.  The house in the picture of the car appears to be the same house in the photo with Babcock and Davis sitting on the front steps.  If this is so, it would suggest that the woman standing on the running board of the car is Frances, Norbert Davis’s first wife.  (If anyone can identify what brand of automobile this sporty convertible might be, we’d like to know that too.)

    The remaining picture of three seated individuals was shot, we now believe, at a different location several years later.  Norbert has aged considerably, and the house is clearly not the same one as in the other two shots.  John suggests that the picture may have been taken in 1948 or early 1949.  The woman seated in the middle is Nancy Davis, Norbert’s second wife.  She would have been about 27 years old.  (Apparently target shooting was a common pastime for the two writers.  Note that Davis is holding a gun in that later photo as well.)

    Nancy Kirkwood Crane Davis was also the daughter of mystery writer Frances Crane, a fact uncovered by Tom and Enid Schantz while researching Davis’s life for their introduction to the Rue Morgue Press editions of his books.  If you’re interested in learning more about Norbert Davis and his life, you’re strongly urged to read it.  It’s excellent and definitely worth your while.


by  Steve Lewis, Bill Pronzini & Victor A. Berch


    The Mouse In The Mountain.  Morrow, hc, 1943.     [Doan and Carstairs.]
         McLelland, Canada, hc, 1943.
         Grosset & Dunlap, hc reprint, 1944.
         Cherry Tree #190, UK pb, 1944, as Rendezvous with Fear.
         Handi-Books #40, pb, 1945, as Dead Little Rich Girl.
         Rue Morgue Press, trade pb, 2001.

    Sally’s In The Alley. Morrow, hc, 1943.    [Doan and Carstairs.]
        McLelland, Canada, hc, 1943.
        T. V. Boardman #46, UK, hc, 1944.
        Grosset & Dunlap, hc reprint, 1946.
        Rue Morgue Press, trade pb, 2002.

    Oh, Murderer Mine. Handi-Books #54, pb original, 1946.    [Doan and Carstairs.]
        Rue Morgue Press, trade pb, 2003.

    Murder Picks The Jury, as by Harrison Hunt (joint pseudonym with W. T. Ballard).  Mystery House, hc, 1947.
        – Revised from an earlier version that appeared as String Him Up, Double Detective, February 1938.  Thanks to John L. Apostolou for pointing out this omission from the first version of the bibliography.  In his article on Norbert Davis appearing on the Black Mask website, John also suggests that Ballard working alone was responsible for the longer version.
        Bestseller Mystery #108, digest pb, abridged, April 1949.

    The Adventures of Max Latin.  Mysterious Press, trade pb, 1988.  Introduction by John D. MacDonald.
        – Contains all five of the Max Latin stories which appeared in Dime Detective in the 1940s.  See the pulp listings below.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to I Lived On My Bohemian Boat

  1. Reblogged this on Rosamond Press and commented:

    A magazine in Eugene was going to serialize Martin Eden and the Story of the Snark. What happened is another book.

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