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"Mad as a hatter" - Crowley in China


belmurru
(@belmurru)
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There are no known photographs of Crowley during the “Walk Across China” (December 1905-April 1906), but his passage did not go unnoticed by some of those he met along the way.

The Scottish botanist George Forrest (1873-1932; for Crowley’s account of him, see Confessions, pp. 474-479), the good friend of the British Consul in Tengyueh, George John L’Etablere Litton, who died while Crowley was there, was an avid photographer and it is possible that some of his photographs may feature Crowley or Rose.

Crowley apparently invited Forrest to be the botanist on his planned second attempt on Kanchenjunga, an offer Forrest refused. According to Brenda McLean, Forrest left accounts of some of the foreign visitors to Tengyueh, and “One visitor, Mr. Crowley, was a mountaineer and member of the Alpine Club, who had attempted unsuccessfully to gain the summit of Kanchenjunga, with four of his party killed in the attempt. He failed to persuade Forrest to be a botanist attached to his next expedition there.” (George Forrest: Plant Hunter (Antique Collector’s Club, 2004, p. 79)). McLean does not quote his account of Crowley, but it must be among his papers and photographs kept at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Another account that may survive is the complaint of the doctor in Tengyueh, Ram Lal Sircar to the Consul General of Yunnan, Sir William Henry Wilkinson (1858-1930), about Crowley’s assaulting him (Confessions, pp. 479 and 494). Note that, in Crowley’s defence, Forrest also remarks concerning his behaviour during the discovery of Litton’s body that “The Dr., a Bengali and most incompetent could give the disease no name.” (McLean op. cit. p. 80).

Finally, on his arrival in Mengtsz (Mengtze, Mengtzu) on March 10 (Confessions, p. 496), Crowley was welcomed into the home of the customs inspector, Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor (1857-1938), who wrote his memorable impression of him “Altogether he is a queer man, such an one as is usually styled mad as a hatter.”
(Quoted in Isidore Cyril Cannon, Public Success, Private Sorrow: The Life and Times of Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor (1857-1938), China Customs Commissioner and Pioneer Translator (Hong Kong UP, 2009, p. 108); the full paragraph shows that Brewitt-Taylor was a little misinformed about Crowley: “Visitors to Mengtze were rare, and B-T (Brewitt-Taylor) gives accounts of a couple of odd travelers. One he describes as an Irishman, Crawley [sic], who having climed in Mexico and the Alps, tried to climb Kanchinjunga in Nepal with his wife and baby. They failed. The Brewitt-Taylors gave him and his family hospitality, though B-T had doubts about this self-proclaimed mountaineer and writer: ‘Altogether he is a queer man, such an one as is usually styled mad as a hatter. (26)”. I have not been able to see the note Cannon refers to in the text for the source of this account.)


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William Thirteen
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Great Stuff, belmurru - thanks!


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belmurru
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Thanks, glad you like it WilliamThirteen. Maybe someone in or near Edinburgh can go to the Forrest collection and have a look. I wonder also if there might not be a photograph from Mengtze, where Crowley says he played lawn-tennis (no doubt what we call doubles today). There must have been photographers about, I think the expats would have taken pictures of that sort of thing.

The last photo I know of before his going to Burma and Yunnan is a group photo on Kanchenjunga, taken by Jacot-Guillarmod; the next is the series of pictures taken in New York in May 1906, including the well-known "With Pipe, Poshtin and Purity" photo, used for instance as the frontispiece for the Collected Works, volume III. This is probably the same coat he wore in China, since he mentions it on page 495 of the Confessions, as being useless against the bitter wind they experienced on the walk between Yunnanfu and Mengtze, 2nd to 10th of March, 1906. 


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