Biography of Arthur Wilson: Written by his son – H. Peter Wilson in 2004

Arthur … July 20, 1892-November 18, 1974

Arthur was my biological father, though I never met him until Ernest’s funeral, 44 years after I was born.[1]  I had encountered him once before, at an art exhibit in New York, around 1951.  At the time, I was a student at Columbia College in New York City, and my Uncle Francis had quietly let me know that such an exhibit was to take place. (I take this to be a bit of a subversive activity on the part of Francis, since I believe there had been a pact, at least between Ernest and Arthur, that I was never to know that Ernest was not my biological father, and I am certain that all the brothers knew that this was Ernest’s fervent wish.) I introduced myself to Arthur as Horace Wilson, from Abilene, Texas.  He certainly knew who I was, but he chose not to acknowledge a relationship, and I accordingly followed suit.

My first awareness of Arthur came as a child.  Despite the unyielding conviction of Ernest that I should be raised as a natural son in his household, unaware of the fact that I was actually adopted, Pauline let me know that I was in fact adopted and that I had other parents.  It was all very vague, but, to the extent that anything at all was concrete, it was that I had a “Winnie mama” who loved me and sometimes wrote to me and sent me gifts.  (I have a handful of these letters to me and to Pauline dated in the late 1920s.  Somehow, Pauline saved them and took steps to see that I would get them after her death. She knew that they would mean something to me.)  In the case of Arthur, there was a portrait in my closet of a man in a WW I uniform that I somehow thought may be my father.  After these very early impressions, no further discussions ever occurred about my parentage.  Knowing Ernest, he would have emphatically outlawed any such conversation.  Foremost among other things, he would have wanted to prevent me from ever learning that my parents had never married.  Nonetheless, it was these seeds, along with some gentle assistance from Robert and Baten and Francis in the late 1940’s that led me to seek out my parents out later.

In all the many early pictures of the brothers, Arthur seems to project the sharpest personality, as if he has everything all figured out behind a non-committal, self-assured gaze.

Of all the documentation I have recently accumulated, the first written record I have of Arthur is a letter dated April, 1908, from Junction, Texas, to Stella when she has just recently undergone serious surgery in a hospital, probably in San Antonio.  He would have been age 17 at the time.  It is the letter in which he attempts to comfort her and persuade her to give up her “grievous habit” of looking “at the black side of every cloud that hangs over head.”

Arthur attended college briefly at Texas A & M.  I have letters dated February 3 and October 10 of 1911 from College Station describing his courses and life there.

Then, there unfolds something of a mystery that I shall relate more or less as it became known to me.  The next correspondence from Arthur takes the form of a long descriptive letter dated August 30, 1911, from the colorful city of New Orleans.  Arthur, now age 19, is enjoying the great variety and excitement of the city.  He says he is going to move as quickly as possible to obtain a boat and implores his mother to answer every letter he sends and gives a most surprising destination address:  Bromley Court 44, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He wants to know about things “…that take place in Junction, about things of interest as material for stories, etc.”  Arthur has decided to become a writer.

Now comes another long letter, just the kind one might expect from an aspiring author.  It was written on a river boat between New Orleans and St. Louis, and is full of interesting and colorful events that occurred on the Mississippi. The letter is dated September 9, 1911.[2]  In it he says:

At first I feared to believe what I yet hoped to realize, namely, the trip to Harvard.  I feel utterly selfish in accepting all that you and Papa have offered me…

It is germane to note that you have just now become privy to information that for many years seemed to me to be a family secret, subject to concealment and evasion.  I suppose it was not a “secret” to those in Arthur’s immediate family at the time.  Kathleen knew of his attending Harvard from her father.  I realize now that it may only have been a “secret” in my household, where any mention of Arthur, of any sort, was prohibited.

As time went on, I believe Arthur’s attendance at Harvard became an embarrassment that was kept from the outside world.  The fact that Arthur went to Harvard was never mentioned in all the approximately 500 pages of family documentation I have acquired, although there are one or two oblique references that only the already-initiated would comprehend.  Nor have I discovered any mention of his attendance there in any public documents or statements.  What would have been a proud fact in most families was a skeleton in the closet of this family.  The reason is that mention of attendance at Harvard would have led to disclosure that he did not graduate, raising the question of why not, which is the mystery to which I presently have no answer.

For the time being, you and I, reader and writer, will have to leave this mystery unexplained.  I simply have no definitive answer as I write this, though I do expect to find out before this narrative is completed and will inform you when I do.  For now, I will relate the story as it unfolded to me.  A little whisper of family gossip from the past.  A few small clues.  Some cryptic remarks.  Intimations of difficulties.  Just enough references to tantalize.  All raising more questions.

My first inkling of this “secret,”  mentioned to me 50+ years ago,  by my uncle Robert, was to the effect that Arthur had attended Harvard and had been expelled for some reason, something I vaguely recall, such as participating in labor riots in Boston and commandeering a street car and someone was killed and he had to leave.  I can surely acknowledge that it is my recollection that is vague, not what outspoken Uncle Robert would have said.  And this vague idea in my head was all I ever knew up until beginning the present task of rummaging through family files and acquiring additional material from all relevant sources.  It was an intriguing notion, likely enough untrue, I thought.

To put things in their truest light, I did not even know for a fact that Arthur attended Harvard.

About 5 weeks ago, I decided the only way to resolve the issue was to call Harvard Archives, and they confirmed on the telephone that Arthur had indeed been a student there in 1911, 1912, 1913, but had left for the school year 1913-1914, and then had returned for the academic year 1914-1915.  There was no record that he graduated.  They promised to send me his records, which would contain all documents they have related to his stay there.  As yet I have not heard from them, so no real facts are available at this moment to illuminate the story.  But I had confirmed his attendance and non-graduation.

In the meantime, there is vague mention of tragic difficulties in this very time frame, in a letter from a close friend of Arthur, Clarence Britten.  The letter is to Mrs. Anna Blackshaw, a lady whose connection to this story is unclear except she is one of a surprising number of English people living in this area of Texas at the time:[3]

I saw Arthur several times in Boston … The trouble with his nerves is the terrible memory of last year.  It demands always good company and plenty of distraction… Personally, I should say that the loneliness of a ranch would be bad for Arthur and might drive him to less desirable distractions.

His college work is peculiar. What he does do he always does to perfection.  His grades are usually A or nothing… I know that he has worked hard all the year on his writing with perseverance unusual in him and most encouraging.  So I hope he will not be recalled to Texas definitely until he has found his feet and is a man of self control.  He needs every chance for that, after all that has happened.

In a letter merely dated January 8th,[4] from Robert to his brother Francis, a broad reference is made to Arthur in the past which includes just this hint and no more:

…. [the] death of a Britton in the street car business in Boston.

Except for my vague recollection of a streetcar incident mentioned to me 50+ years earlier, this typically cryptic reference might easily have gone unnoticed.  That the name of the person who died is Britton, and the name of Arthur’s friend writing to Mrs. Blackshaw above is Britten, invites speculation that must await further information about what actually occurred.

I have read all known material on the Wilson family for weeks and still have not encountered anything more explicit than this. The only other reference to Harvard or streetcar incidents amongst well over 150 letters exchanged in the family is this reference from Ernest, in a letter to Francis, dated March 24, 1926:

I also have a copy of the Harvard Monthly dated in 1912, published at a time when Arthur was associated with it…

So, with that, I leave behind for the time being the mystery:  does a death of a “Britton” in Boston explain why Arthur left Harvard without graduating?

At this point, Arthur’s story intersects with Horace’s story.  This is the period of Horace’s unknown financial difficulties alluded to when Arthur volunteers, “For a year at least, I shall live from my own hand, by the toil of my brain.”[5]

To add finality to this portion of the Harvard episode, in a letter to Horace on June 20, 1913, Arthur writes, without actually telling us anything:

I am now writing my last from Cambridge.  Things are about fixed for always and always and always – as the story books say.

From two undated letters that Arthur writes to Horace from 2 Mt. Vernon Place in Beacon Hill, Boston, it appears that he is now seriously plying his trade as a writer.  However, he ends by saying:

It has become a question of late whether I ought to abandon my work, that is, most of it, so that I can earn some money.  I do need money just now, most despicably, and I was thinking that if you can easily spare me $20 a month, I would be glad of it indeed, and I would not have to hunt for a job.

It is unclear what Horace’s response might have been to the plea for money.

This was the state of my knowledge when I did at last receive a rather thick package of documents from the Archives of Harvard University.  Reading them forced me to revise my view of what actually occurred.

First, it does appear that some kind of accident occurred in Boston on July 4, 1912, in which Arthur was involved and in which someone was killed.  But this accident was not described in the Archives, nor was it directly implicated in Arthur’s departure.  I shall have to await a trip to Boston later this month to search the newspapers for the story of the incident.  But I did find a reference on the Internet to a man named Merle DeWitt Britten who died in Boston on July 4, 1912.  He was a brother to Clarence Britten, who had written a letter to Mrs. Blackshaw in 1913 about Arthur’s studies at Harvard.

Second, the Harvard Archives confirm that Arthur did drop out of school for the school year 1913-1914, and he did return for the 1914-1915 school year.

Finally, what I discovered from the Harvard archives is that the cause of Arthur’s departure from Harvard is far less dramatic than a mysterious death on the ramparts with Arthur making a dramatic speech about liberating downtrodden workers.  Arthur simply had an unacceptable attendance record.

As I read the record, he was not actually admitted to Harvard until October 2, 1911, even though he made the trip to Cambridge from Texas in September.  Perhaps an earlier acceptance in writing had been made contingent upon a suitable appearance and impression in a personal interview.  In any event, barely 3 months later, on January 9, 1912, he was put on probation for having 22 cuts through December 14.  He was told his record in November exams was poor, and chided for having 10 cuts in December.  He later had some illness and petitioned to drop German classes, which he was allowed to do.

In October of 1912, he was told by the dean that he could return to Harvard but that it “would not be worthwhile unless your attendance improves.”  He did return, and was “relieved from probation” on October 10, 1912.  It became clear from the file that Arthur was in a danger zone with reference to meeting French and German language requirements needed to be admitted for his junior year, yet he was not taking either of the languages.  He was summoned for hearings about more cuts in May of 1913.  A later record refers to “A.W. Wilson, originally ’15, who dropped out of College before the end of the academic year 1912-1913, and was not here in 1913-1914…”  So it appears Arthur did not complete his second year at Harvard before dropping out for the year 1913-1914.

Then, on October 5, 1914, Arthur received this letter from the Dean:

I am sending you now this formal note to tell you that the Administrative Board at this last meeting voted to readmit you to Harvard College as a Sophomore, on the understanding that you have given your word that you will attend faithfully, work at your courses until you have mastered them – by which is meant that you shall labor to attain something better than mediocrity, C  –, and in every way conduct yourself honorably.  You agree further that, if at any time your record is in any way unsatisfactory, you will withdraw upon request:  in other words, the Board will not again, unless it sees fit, consent to your remaining in College on probation.

(I will point out that Arthur at this stage has 4 years of college under his belt – 2 years at Texas A&M plus 2 years at Harvard — and is being admitted as a sophomore.)

Arthur does return.  A handwritten note appears in the Dean’s file on October 9, 1914, “What can I do to help him – his father is hard pressed – can a loan be granted.”  I can find no clear explanation of the broader context of this ominous note referring to Horace.  It is the time when Horace and Stella and remaining family leave Junction and move from to San Antonio.

In December of 1914 Arthur wrote some sort of article for the Boston Evening American, a Hearst newspaper, which had something to do with Radcliffe students.  It was embarrassing enough for the Dean of Harvard to speak to the President of Radcliffe. This note appears in the file:  “… it would be well to explain to Wilson our view of his conduct… I understand that Dean Harlbut and Mr. Briggs, himself, have already conferred with Wilson and that the boy is thoroughly ashamed of himself.”  I made a rather limited search of the archives of the Boston Evening American, but did not find the article.

Arthur was further warned on December 9, 1914.  He was warned again on January 25 for 7 cuts.  14 cuts were noted for April and May.

On May 12, 1915, the Dean notes for his file about Arthur, “Is about to be elected President of [Harvard] Monthly.  Wanted to redeem himself for Radcliffe story.”

However, just one day later, on May 13, 1915, Dean Harlbut writes this letter:

Dear Wilson:  At a meeting of the administrative Board, May 11th, we considered your case at length, and voted to request you, since you have broken your agreement, to withdraw … You need the discipline of hard, routine work.  I hope you will be able to get a job and stick to it.

(Ironically, in two instances, Horace later offered comments that bear on this aspect of Arthur’s character.  On March 11, 1930, Horace wrote to Francis:  “I think his [Arthur’s] mind is equally as good as yours, but he lacks the element of pertinacity.”  Then, in 1938, Francis had written of Horace, “…to my father the first thing to learn in life was to hold an honest job…”[6]  Perhaps Francis had Arthur in mind when he decided to repeat this comment.)

It is purely speculation, but it might be reasonably assumed that the wise men at Harvard decided to act swiftly to remove Arthur from the school, rather than have to face the more embarrassing difficulty of dismissing the President of the Harvard Monthly.

On the same day that Arthur is notified, the Dean writes to Horace:[7]

I am sorry to inform you that since Arthur has broken the agreement … it has been necessary to vote to ask him to withdraw… Despite warnings he has persisted in cutting his engagements, and he has also been neglectful of his studies. … I believe that the best thing for him is to be set to work in the world to pay his own way.

Saddest of all, Horace replies with candor and dignity:[8]

You can understand with what disappointment it [your letter] was received by me.  I know you realize that it has cost me, a lawyer practicing in a small town, some sacrifices to send Arthur to college; but if he has ever realized it the fact does not seem to have made much impression on him.  Though I had not told him so, I had about come to the same conclusion that you have reached, and had intended at the end of this school year to insist that he take upon himself the burden of his own support.  Your letter confirms me in the opinion that my view was correct.  It is some consolation to me to know that I have tried to do for him all that I could.

The Dean courteously replies:[9]

He is one of those who find it hard to adjust themselves to rules.  The boy has excellent ability … although I am strongly of the opinion that Harvard College is not, at present, the place for him.

This almost concludes the sad chapter of Arthur at Harvard, except for something about Mr. Roy Follett and the two Britten brothers.

When Arthur was at Texas A&M he had an English instructor named Roy Follett, who was himself a Harvard graduate. Mr. Follett became captivated with Arthur, whom he saw as a brilliant writer.  In a letter to the Dean at Harvard, Follett says:  “.. through me, he [Arthur] became interested in Harvard, and in the possibility of living in a cultivated community.  He urged me to write to his father, making an appeal…” to send Arthur to Harvard where the young man’s exceptional abilities could be nurtured and developed.  As things turned out, Follett must have become a mentor and eventually a sponsor at Harvard, for in January of 1913 he writes two long, frantic letters to the Dean on behalf of Arthur, amongst other things calling Texas A&M “the tawdry military school in Texas.”  He implored the Dean not to throw Arthur out of school.  Details of exactly what occurred are not clear at this time, but it was only a few months later that Arthur dropped out near the end of the 1912-1913 academic year.  Personally it does not seem likely that his dropping out could have been at Horace’s behest.  That he did not attend in the 1913-1914 academic year does appear to be because of Horace.  I conclude that failing to complete the year in 1913 was of his own doing.  Perhaps dropping out obviated a year-end report he believed would contain disastrous grades.

Something of young Arthur’s personality at the time may be seen in these words that Follett (teaching at Dartmouth at the time of this letter, it seems) wrote to the Dean at Harvard:

I am confident of that boy, Dean Harlbut … and beg you … to exercise the last possible extension of official clemency.  I know well, though it sounds to him an officious pose, that he is going through one of my own undergraduate stages;  I know he will grope his way to the end of it as I did, and find his way to sanity, balance, and good hard work … for I know that he burns with a purifying white heat that will cleanse him of much that would have soiled me had I dared touch it.  I think he is right about himself; he isn’t a Sentimentalist, he’s a Superman.  He can plunge into the lowest stoke-hole and come up clean.  We sentimentalists can never afford to see the underside of the deck … I believe he has a capacity for observing life – all of it – and proportioning the values of it; and I believe that capacity will save him from everything – soon.

Both of Mr. Follett’s letters contain extravagant and deeply emotional praise of Arthur, with much reference to his superiority and fragile emotional state.  In one instance he says,

The fact is, I had come to believe that he was in most ways bigger than I, and that I had nothing more to give him.  Certainly, his presence made me feel atomic.

As to the Britten brothers, Clarence and Merle, Follett says of them, in a wonderful phrase, “They are not milk for babes.”  Arthur and Follett and the Britten brothers had been very chummy at Texas A&M, although it is unclear what brought them all together there.  Follett later broke away from this group, and lamented that Arthur had become even more involved with them.  The Britten boys were the sons of Fred Britten, who headed a powerful real estate development company in Boston.  Clarence became editor of (and perhaps founded) a fortnightly literary magazine in Cambridge called “The Dial” that published many promising writers of the time, including John dos Pasos and E. E. Cummings.  In February of 1913, Arthur wrote to Horace, “For example, it was certainly not a great effort of my own that brought me here [to Harvard].  Britten did it.  He says that he ‘discovered’ me!”  This assertion seems in conflict with Follett’s earlier statement that Arthur urged Follett to write to Horace promoting the idea of sending him to Harvard.

The likely scenario that emerges from all this seems to me:  Arthur was a very bright and talented young man who was “discovered” by some affluent, sophisticated Eastern people who believed they had uncovered a budding genius in the wilds of Texas.  They worked in concert to persuade Horace and Stella to send Arthur up to Harvard where his genius could be nurtured and would flower.  Arthur found the drudgery of attending classes to be stifling, and rebelled against that dull routine.  He was active on the school newspaper, where he was about to be elected president of the Harvard Monthly.  He wrote at least one article for the Boston Evening American, a Hearst newspaper.  He did well in what interested him, and was indifferent to the rest.  He failed to take courses necessary to fulfill requirements, and seemed very unlikely ever to be able to graduate on that basis alone. He was building up a backlog of requirements and make-up courses that was formidable.  On average, his transcripts show he did only moderately well in the courses he did take, with a few exceptions.  After having made virtually no academic progress in 3 school years at Harvard, he was asked to leave Harvard, leaving a poorer and sadder Horace to reflect on how little there was to show for the sacrifices he had made in order to send Arthur for 3 years to Harvard.

Sitting here, right now as I write this, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Chatham on Cape Cod, I will interject what I discovered just yesterday in the Boston Public Library.  The headline of a front-page story in the Boston Globe of July 5, 1912, reads:  “HEAD CRUSHED BETWEEN CARS.”  The Boston Evening American of the same date carries a first-page story with the brutal headline:  “BLUNDER KILLED EL EMPLOYEE.”

From the Globe:

Merle DeWitt Britten, a Harvard freshman employed as a strike-breaking conductor by the Boston Elevated Rail Company, was killed last night by having his head crushed between two cars in the City Point carbarns.  Arthur H. [sic] Wilson, another Harvard student was the motorman of the car that crushed out his life… [Britten] prepared for College at Cambridge Latin School from which he was graduated in 1911.

From the Evening American:

The facts connected with the killing of Merle DeWitt Britten, the Harvard freshman who was crushed in the car barns in South Boston while acting as a conductor for the Boston Elevated Railway, came out this afternoon.  The young man’s death was caused through the mistake of Arthur Wilson, a fellow student and chum, who was working as a motorman on the same car and who ran the car backward instead of forward as he had been signaled.  The students were strike-breakers.

There is every indication from all the documentation I have read that the trauma of this event that occurred about 9:10 pm in Boston on the evening of July 4, 1912, had a shattering effect on Arthur’s already uneven emotional make-up.  As to the substance of the matter, somehow, in my mind, I had idealistically assumed – to the extent that I had any information at all – that Arthur’s involvement in the strike had been a noble effort on behalf of exploited workers and that the death had somehow been sad, but a casualty of the “warfare” of the poor and weak against the rich and powerful. The facts are otherwise.  As the Boston Evening American bluntly explained, workers for the Boston Elevated Railway were on strike, and “The students were strike-breakers.”

Several years pass.  The next thing I can determine factually about Arthur is in 1917, when he is identified in a biography of ee cummings as an apartment-mate of the famous poet in New York City.  The address is 21 East 15th Street.  He is identified as Arthur W. “Tex” Wilson.  Parenthetically, knowing Arthur as I did in his later years, I will comment that it is amusing to think of him being called “Tex,” although I was called that at times during my army service.

On April 28, 1917, Arthur writes to Horace, excited to be joining the artillery and going to France to fight in WWI.  He has borrowed money from Horace to buy a fine officer’s uniform.  He says that his roommate (Cummings) just left that very day for France, to drive an ambulance at the front.

Arthur did go fight in the war.  He became an observation pilot (actually in the artillery branch, to report where the enemy was and to help direct fire).  The photo gallery contains a picture (6.10) of the handsome young officer, splendid in his uniform.  The story told in the family is that his plane “fell,” and he suffered what was referred to in WW I as “shell shock,” which is probably akin to what in other times might have been called battle fatigue or nervous breakdown.  It became a common understanding among the brothers that Arthur’s extremes of temperament and unpredictability were due to a combination of the Boston streetcar episode and the difficulties he had endured during the war, no doubt further explained by Arthur’s artistic and intellectual propensities as they manifested themselves throughout his life.  All were cautious about topics that might distress him; all had experienced his emotional responses and withdrawals.

Relying further on my best recollections of family lore, it is said that he underwent rehabilitation for “shell shock” following the war, and took up painting as therapy during his treatment.  He discovered a talent for painting, and decided to give up the demands that writing as a principal career made on his nervous system.  He began to study painting seriously.  For the remainder of his life he was dedicated to the art of painting, although he did undertake to write several texts on art subjects and possibly other topics, but with nothing published that I am aware of.  His letters demonstrate an assertive and expressive style of prose, and a complex, thoughtful content.

In the period of the early 1920’s Arthur married a girl from Ohio.  The couple had a daughter, but the marriage ended before the child was born.[10]  Horace says that Arthur never saw this daughter.  A few pictures of the young couple frolicking in the snow with two handsome Dalmatian dogs are all that remain to memorialize that family.  The names of his wife and daughter are unknown.

That unexpectedly and dramatically changed in August of 2003.[11]

My efforts to collect information for this family history included trying to find out something about Arthur’s early marriage.  Whom did he marry?  Was his daughter, my half sister, still alive?  If not, did she have children I could get in touch with?  A lengthy chain of events led me to Anna Selfridge of Lima, Ohio, who was able to identify Arthur’s wife as Elizabeth Brice, but had little information about their daughter, Carolyn.  Anna put me in touch with another relative, Beatrice Farwell of Santa Barbara, California, who had shared a long and cordial relationship with Carolyn, who was her first cousin.  From these two wonderful sources, I was able to piece together a reasonable sense of the lives of Arthur’s former wife and child.

Arthur’s bride had been Elizabeth Brice of Lima, Ohio.  Elizabeth was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of University of Wisconsin and was employed at the Rockefeller Foundation when she met Arthur in New York.  They were married May 17, 1919, in the Little Church Around the Corner.  The notice of their wedding in the Lima, Ohio, newspaper contained the following account of the groom, given to the paper by the father of the bride.  He did not attend the wedding, and must have received the information about Arthur from his daughter.

Mr. Arthur W. Wilson is a New York City man, and an author of some prominence, although but a young man.  He is a graduate of Harvard University in the class of 1915, where he did very remarkable work.

I am deeply saddened at the deception evident in this account, since it is indisputably correct that Arthur was asked to leave Harvard for poor attendance at least 2 years prior to his earliest possible graduation date.  Perhaps Elizabeth was aware of these facts and wanted her father to think better of Arthur than the truth might allow, but I fear that this might have been the background as Arthur presented it to Elizabeth.

In any event, things did not go well with the marriage.  The divorce papers Elizabeth filed in 1925 claim domestic violence and state that she left the marriage in October of 1920 to return to Lima.  She said there had been an understanding that Arthur would follow to make a home there for wife and expected child, but that never occurred.  Carolyn was born April 9, 1921.  From the time of the separation right up to the time of the divorce in 1925, Arthur had seen neither wife nor child.  In fact, Arthur spent at least part of his time after the separation in Europe, returning in early1926. The divorce was granted December 26, 1925.

Elizabeth never remarried.  She eventually became a professor of Humanities at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.  Elizabeth died on the night of June 21-22, 1978, at a retirement home in Richmond, Indiana, about 3 ½ years after Arthur’s death in 1974.

Their daughter Carolyn graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., where she majored in modern dance and graduated in 1943. According to Beatrice, who knew her well, she had a pronounced artistic personality, with abilities in music, poetry and painting, though dance was her passion. She studied for a time with the greatest of modern dancers, Martha Graham, and with associates of hers who were well known.

Subsequently, probably in the late 40’s, Carolyn studied art somewhere in Massachusetts, possibly in Gloucester, where Arthur was active, though whether at this time I do not know.
In the late 40’s or early 50’s Carolyn was involved in a short-lived marriage.

In this general time frame, according to Beatrice, it appears that Carolyn began to exhibit manifestations of a mental illness that was to worsen over time, leading first to psychiatric attention and then evolving from to intermittent to permanent stays in mental institutions.

At times Elizabeth and Carolyn lived together. At other times Carolyn endeavored to live alone. Sadly, events inevitably led her back to the institutions, until eventually she no longer desired to be a part of the outside world, or was perhaps deemed unable to do so by authorities.

In November of 1991, while living in a care center in Illinois, Carolyn became seriously ill and was admitted to Cottage Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. She died at 11:20am on November 25, 1991, at the age of 70. The medical certificate of death lists hypotension and probable sepsis as the cause of her demise, which came only 24-36 hours after the onset of the ailment. Her body was cremated, and the ashes were sent to Beatrice Farwell in Santa Barbara. Not long thereafter, on a visit to other of Carolyn’s relatives in Ashland, Oregon, Beatrice planted a dwarf flowering dogwood over Carolyn’s ashes. Beatrice says: “The dogwood has since flourished and produces splendid flowers in the spring.”

(Interested readers will find further information on Elizabeth and Carolyn Wilson in an Appendix at the end of this book.)

By 1925, Arthur was studying art in London where he met an 18-year-old art student, Winifred Brown, daughter of a well-known local building contractor.  At some point, they went to France to continue their studies in Paris.  She became pregnant.  He left for New York before the child was born in April of 1926.[12] The affair created a scandal which concerned readers may find reported in newspapers of the time.[13] Horace in Texas and the girl’s father in London eventually worked out a course of action, and Horace arranged for the girl and her son to come to Texas to live with him.  Eventually the mother married a Canadian war veteran and moved to California.  The boy was adopted by Ernest, and became a member of his family in Abilene.

Arthur headquartered mostly in the New York area, with studios at various times in Carnegie Hall, at 3 Washington Square North in Greenwich Village, Woodstock, N.Y., Lime Rock, CT, and Gloucester, MA.  He adopted the name Winslow Wilson for his work, in admiration for the wonderful sea paintings of Winslow Homer.  He focused on 3 genres of painting:  seascapes, portraits, and “surrealist” paintings, the last painted under the name Pico Miran – which he no doubt shortened from the famous humanist of the Italian Renaissance, Pico della Mirandola. Pico preceded Leonardo da Vinci and provided the philosophical thrust that gave rise to the incredible flowering of the renaissance in Italy and eventually throughout the civilized world.  It is said of Pico’s work, “Oration on the Dignity of Man:”  “No other work more forcefully, eloquently, or thoroughly remaps the human landscape to center all attention on human capacity and human perspective.”[14]

I quote this brief statement attesting to the significance of Pico della Mirandola in the history of thought in order to indicate the ideas and personalities with which Arthur consciously wished to associate himself.  He was well read, and moved by the great thinkers of the past.   Of all the 90+ paintings of his I have seen, the largest depicts the painter Raphael handing over to Arthur a laurel symbolizing the crowning spirit of art.  This is another instance in which Arthur overtly identified himself with grand personalities in the forefront of thought and painting.

Arthur’s seascapes are largely depictions of powerful ocean scenes, almost all but one or two without anything but wind, waves, shore and sky.  His portraits are what I would call “depression” paintings, scenes of people whose lives have been heavily impacted by poverty, sickness and hard times — seemingly inflicted by a cruel economic system.  His surrealistic paintings carry on the theme of his depression paintings with a less subtle emphasis on how unfortunate people suffer at the hands of a moneyed plutocracy.  Themes of war and poverty and greed were common in all forms of art during the time of the Great Depression.

I am not a competent critic, but I think that his best seascapes are masterful.  Some of his portraits are remarkably impressive to me.  However, I do not have the training to recognize much beyond technical merit in his “surrealist” paintings.

I cannot say how successful Arthur was as a painter.  At one time, he was represented by one of the foremost galleries in the United States, The Vose Gallery in Boston.  From May 23-June 9, 1951, he had a one-man show entitled “Paintings of the Sea” at the Associated American Artists Galleries, 711 Fifth Avenue, New York.  At that time, Eleanor Roosevelt was an honorary board member of the Gallery.

A preview of the exhibit was held on May 22 for the benefit of Greenwich House, one of the oldest settlement houses in the United States.

In the program for this exhibit, Arthur writes:

What moves me to paint is an unquenchable desire to express certain emotions… I feel that art should be a vehicle for personal emotion rather than for a direct and faithful representation of natural phenomena, and I have endeavored to put into these paintings a personal emotion having at once a purely esthetic and broadly human significance.

This exhibition was reviewed briefly in the publication “Art Digest,” June, 1951, which reads in its entirety:

Traditional seascapes – rocky coastlines, leaping spray and pounding waves – are shown by Winslow Wilson in his first major New York Exhibition.

A representational painter, Wilson depicts these elements meticulously and with great technical skill.  One can feel the water’s wetness and the hardness of the rocks, so detailed the marks left by the water are clearly evident on them.  Ranging from turbulent storms to quiet sunsets, the seascapes exhibit a variety of moods.  M.C.

If I can judge by Arthur’s writing and what I know of his life, he seemed rather indifferent to success measured by how well his paintings sold or how popular they were.  He was dedicated to being an artist in the broadest sense of the word, and his focus was on art for art’s sake. In this regard, he received important, perhaps indispensable, support from his companion for many years, Jane Grey, who was a very successful portrait painter in her own right.  She was convinced Arthur was a genius; she encouraged and assisted him in his life as an unfettered creative artist.  She told me that Arthur would often be away for months, in various parts of the world, capturing remote seascapes in his paintings.

In the mid-1930’s, an event occurred in connection with a competition that reveals something about Arthur as a painter and as a person. First, consider the basic facts, as reported in the New York Times:[15]

…Winslow Wilson, who has been painting abroad for years and who joined the Lime Rock colony this summer, entered a canvas called “The Mora Children,” which the hanging committee considered so good as to merit the place of honor in the show.  It was there hung, but later removed, so the tale runs, that the space might be occupied by a picture of cows by G. Glenn Newell, a regular exhibitor at Lime Rock and a member of this year’s hanging committee.  The demoted canvas was, Mr. Wilson asserts, put in a very inferior position ‘among a lot of academic trash.’  Thereupon he withdrew his painting from the exhibition and opened his own, a one-man show in a house close to the art gallery.

Arthur did not lack a flair for the dramatic.  The article continues:

Feeling that his reputation had been injured by this slight and also an exchange of angry words, before many witnesses in the gallery, Mr. Wilson issued his challenge to a painting duel, the outcome to decide which, in the jury’s opinion, is the better artist.  The challenger offered his opponent:  ‘Your own conditions, your own subject, your own time limit and your own standards of judgment.’

Mr. Newell apparently wanted no part of such a test of his abilities, and refused to accept the challenge.

Arthur then filed a $100,000 suit against Newell for damages allegedly sustained in the clash at the reception.  I am unaware of the outcome of the suit.

Based on comments made by some of the brothers, Arthur often withdrew for long periods from correspondence, always maintaining a somewhat lofty intellectual posture above the more mundane concerns of the family.  In one instance, Arthur sent a manuscript to Francis for review, and now Arthur responds to one of Francis’s comments:[16]

My vocabulary may be too ‘comprehensive,’ as you say softly; but I felt that I must speak my truth naturally, and take my chances with publishers.  I prefer honorable neglect to any form of compromise with commercial demands.

A glimpse of Arthur’s ability to adopt a lofty attitude can be seen in the elaborate language and reasoning he employs in making the following not-insignificant request of Francis, who was by this time a highly successful Professor of Political Science, an author of books and a noted scholar:[17]

Dear Francis:  If you have the time and the inclination, will you read a book-length manuscript of mine (276 typed pages) on the general subject of painting viewed as sociology, or rather ideology?  There is an element of ironic presumption in this inquiry, since I have to confess that, up to date, I have not read either of your two books or any of your articles.  My excuse may be that although my subject is specialized, it has a general, perhaps popular interest, which is expected to reward the layman.  Moreover, my book is begging for a publisher, and I thought it barely possible that you might be able to suggest something.

Francis did read the manuscript, but Arthur was not pleased with the comments.  In a letter some weeks later, he wrote back thanking Francis for his “graciously prompt and sharply critical letter,” then again “thanking you most cordially for your effort to murder me.”  The letter continues for 10 pages of elaborate discussion of his ideas.  He includes this eloquent challenge to Francis:

And what have you to say to the poetry of man’s will?  I insist that a generous examination of history will show that everywhere, at all times and in all places, the struggle for what seems to be the utopian impossible has been one of the most fruitful moral dynamics on earth.

Arthur ends his letter with equal eloquence, somewhat reminiscent of Stella’s powerful prose:

You see, I do not agree with you that ‘myths’ end in the tragedy of death.  In tragedy they end, for you, if, with your mind closed, you cut them off from their splendid fruitage.  Even assuming tragedy, it is the grand tragedy of life, of men dreaming dreams, of minds trying to encompass the new – and a better end, all considered, than we could ever have without them.  Salud!  Arthur

In the 30’s and 40’s Arthur appears to have developed a distinct left-wing tilt to his politics, arguing vehemently with Francis, who was correspondingly tilted to the right.[18]  Arthur prided himself on an understanding of large global issues, and he wrote on several occasions to Winston Churchill to offer observations and suggestions.

Influences of both Stella and Horace may be seen in Arthur.  He, himself, commented to Jane Grey that his admitted difficulties in relationships with women were due to the stern moralism of Stella in his upbringing.[19]  He did not explain further.  It is certainly possible to think that Arthur’s rebellion against rules and discipline at Harvard was an expression of exuberant freedom from Stella’s close management of her children’s behavior.  I think Arthur was either agnostic or atheist, which would have been in part a rebellion against the profound Protestant religion of Stella.  He shared one characteristic that seemed common to all the brothers, which is that he held his views very firmly, had no hesitancy in expressing them, and was little inclined to modify them.  He shared a bright intelligence with Stella and Horace, and from Horace a breadth of interests and an appreciation of the finer qualities of life. But, he was also a rather detached and abstract personality, something of a “lost soul” – a term he had used much earlier in life to describe a tendency shared by all the family.

Only after Ernest’s death did Arthur and I form an acquaintance.  I visited him on several occasions in New York City, where I was employed at the time, and he visited me at my home on at least two occasions in Princeton, New Jersey.

Near the end of his life, Arthur suffered several small strokes, and on one occasion Jane Grey called me for help when Arthur had wandered off from a park bench and disappeared for 2 or 3 days, eventually showing up half naked at Belleview Hospital.  After a partial recovery, he moved to Miami in February of 1973, and died there on November 18, 1974.  He was given a military funeral at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.  I attended, along with Theresa (Horace’s daughter from his second marriage), my Uncle Robert and his wife, Jesse, and Jane Grey (Arthur’s friend/companion/spouse?) of more than 4 decades).  I don’t recall anyone else in attendance.

[1] To complete the picture, I was born in Paris, France.   My mother was Winifred Brown of London.  She and I were brought to Texas by Horace Wilson.  There, she met and married a Canadian war veteran and I went to live with Ernest in 1928, and was adopted by him in 1929.  It was approximately 1973 when I first met Winifred, having managed to locate her eventually in Pompano Beach, Florida.

[2] This was a period in which Arthur entertained serious aspirations to become an author.  His letter is full of vivid accounts of unusual doings on board a river boat in 1911.

[3] The letter is dated July 20, 1913.  Clarence Britten is probably the Clarence Britten who was editor at that time of the fortnightly literary magazine, “The Dial.”  Britten was associated with a group of Harvard people at that time and  published a number of things by E. E. Cummings, who entered Harvard the same year that Arthur did, and who was later associated with Arthur in  New York City.  The letter is to a “Mrs. Blackshaw.”  The only reference to this name is that in Horace’s earliest days in Texas he worked on a ranch owned by people of that name.  Mrs. Blackshaw was born  March 12, 1832, in Ashford-Carbonel, England.  She came to the U.S. on a slow sailing ship (months to make the voyage) and lived first in Illinois, but came to Texas after her husband died in 1881.

[4] The letter can be approximately dated to February of 1954 or 1955, because of a reference that seems to place it about a year or two after the death of Baten’s wife, Kathryn.

[5] Arthur to Horace, September, 1913.

[6] “By Llano Water,”  Francis Wilson.

[7]  May 13, 1915, Dean Harlbut to Horace.

[8] May 20, 1915, Horace to Dean Harlbut.

[9] June 7, 1915, Dean Harlbut to Horace.

[10] Letter August 4, 1927, Horace to Francis.

[11] In August, 2003, my knowledge of this situation greatly expanded.  Through newspaper clippings I learned that the divorce of this couple occurred in 1925 in Lima, Ohio. From that, I was able to locate a copy of the divorce papers. From those I learned that his wife was Elizabeth B. Wilson, maiden name not given.   I sent away to the archives in New York City for a copy of the marriage certificate, to learn the bride’s name and origins.  The wait would be 4 to 6 weeks.  Impatient, I called the Lima Library.  They knew nothing, but referred me to the Allen county Historical Society in Lima.  There I reached a Ms. Anna Selfridge.  When I explained what I was seeking, she was silent for a long moment and then said, “Elizabeth was my cousin!”  Remarkable!

[12] In a large footnote near the end of Chapter V, the reader will find more information about these events.  Jane Grey was a companion/spouse? of many decades to Arthur.  I met her on several occasions before and after Arthur’s death.  With reference to Arthur’s decision not to take responsibility for his child, as it appeared that he intended to do from transatlantic cables and telegrams, she related what I would take to be the crucial information influencing his decision.  While all the turmoil involving newspapers, his family, Winifred’s family, was going on, she told me that she told him (which I paraphrase accurately):  “You are an artist, a genius. If you had a wife and child, how would you support them?  You would have to have a job.  How could you pursue your genius?  You would be destroyed.”  She didn’t tell me, but I fully believe she assured him she would assist him economically to be free to paint without the necessity of earning money.  “And, besides,” she said, with what I still recall as a sense of one playing a trump card,  “I told Arthur, you can’t even be certain the child is yours.”  Please refer to the footnote near the end of Chapter V for the details filling in the remainder of this story.

[13] Stories were reported in the New York Times of April 29, 30, May 2, 3 and 4 of 1926;  The New York Herald-Tribune Paris Edition of April 28, 29, 30, May 1, 3, 4, and 13. Stories appeared in other newspapers, as well.

[14]  From the website, World Civilization.

[15] This version of the story appeared October 1, 1934, in “The Art Digest,” which quotes from the New York Times, which in turns gets its information from Waterbury, Conn., newspapers.

[16] Letter, March 8, 1943, 3 Washington Square, North, New York City..

[17] Letter May 15, 1938, 121 East 23rd St., New York City.

[18] Around this period of time, many intellectuals in England and the United States found themselves sympathetic to the general Marxist views of the plight of working people in a capitalist society.  It was a time of the Great Depression, with staggering unemployment, widespread hunger and poverty, bread lines, despair, bankruptcies, hopelessness.

[19] Jane Grey told me this on one of the several occasions I met with her at Arthur’s funeral and several times thereafter.

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