Thursday, September 01, 2011


The Society for the Prevention of Progress

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949, ed. Walter Hooper (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), pp. 613-614, with the editor's introductory note (in italics) and footnotes:
In his unpublished 'biography' of his brother, which later became the 'Memoir' to Letters of C.S. Lewis, Warnie wrote:

In May 1944 Jack received an amusing letter from the Society for the Prevention of Progress, of Walnut Creek, California, inviting him to become a member and requesting him to forward his credentials. The signature on his reply was instigated by one of the Society's rules to which his attention had been called:—Membership and the privileges of the Society are denied to such individuals as Henry A. Wallace30 and this fellow Beveridge.31


[Magdalen College
May 1944]

Dear Sir,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

I humbly submit that in my Riddell Lectures entitled The Abolition of Man you will find another work not at all unworthy of consideration for admission to the canon.

Yours regressively,
C.S. Lewis

Beverages not Beveridges
(my motto)

30Henry Agard Wallace (1888-1965) was Vice President of the United States, 1941-5, under Franklin D. Roosevelt. He ran for President in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket.

31William Henry Beveridge, first Lord Beveridge (1879-1963), a social reformer and economist, whose 'Beveridge plan' became the blueprint for the present welfare state.
As others have noted, Joel W. Hedgpeth (1911-2006) sent the invitation to Lewis. See Joel W. Hedgpeth: Marine Biologist and Environmentalist, interviewed by Ann Lage, 1992 (Berkeley: The Bancroft Library, 1996), pp. 113-114:
Lage: I don't know if this relates to Ricketts, although it seems to relate to some of his beliefs, but tell me about your Society for the Prevention of Progress. When did you found that society?

Hedgpeth: About 1944.

Lage: That seems ahead of its time, somehow.

Hedgpeth: Well, I showed a friend of mine who was in divinity school a statement I had cooked up about how the increase of material progress violates the lease granted to mankind by nature, or something, and he said, "Well, that's a very orthodox statement." [laughter]

Lage: How did it come about, and were there other people involved in the society?

Hedgpeth: Oh, people have asked to be members from time to time. There was a strange meeting in 1953 in Copenhagen. I was seated next to Erwin Stresemann, who was considered one of the world's great ornithologists. He had the general bearing of a Prussian field marshall, complete with monocle. We were discussing the business of nomenclature and how to control the names and prevent duplications and all that kind of stuff. It's really not the field of biology; it's a branch of Philadelphia lawyers or something.

Anyway, toward the end of the meeting, he leaned over, his monocle slipped off as usual, and he had to go around groping for it on the floor. He said, (in English), "What must I do to join the Society for the Prevention of Progress?" I said, "Sitting through this meeting for a week qualifies you for membership." [laughter]

Lage: Well, tell me what you experienced or observed that led you at that tender young age to start the Society for the Prevention of Progress?

Hedgpeth: Well, I wasn't so tender and young. After all, I was born in 1911.

Lage: Well, you weren't an old man. That would make you, what, thirty-three? Didn't you say you started it in '44?

Hedgpeth: Yes. Well, thirty-three. I'm eleven years behind the century; easy way to figure that out. Well, partly out of my experience in Shasta Dam and the debris dams.

Lage: What was that experience, with the debris dams?

Hedgpeth: See, the first assignment we had began in '38 working with the Corps of Engineers. They wanted to build a debris dam on the American River so hydraulic mining could be reopened. They'd selected a site north of the main fork of the American River about two or three miles above where the site of the now-unbuilt Auburn Dam is. One fine winter night, the site of the keyway (the excavation in the sides of the canyon for the dam) collapsed. They hadn't even started digging. The whole thing was unstable ground, where the engineers figured that it was a good dam site. And of course, at Shasta Dam the next year, we realized that that would be the end of the salmon.
Perhaps Hedgpeth sent the letter to Lewis over the pseudonymous signature Jerome Tichenor. See Frederick R. Schram and William A. Newman, "Joel W. Hedgpeth: 29 September 1911-28 July 2006," Journal of Crustacean Biology 27.2 (2007) 383-389 (at 385):
Joel delighted in deflating egos and the pretensions of "the powers that be." It was about this time that he adopted his nom de plume, Jerome Tichenor. He often penned memos to administrative types at Scripps, or letters to the editor of the local newspaper as Jerome Tichenor, President (and sole member) of the Society for the Prevention of Progress. Many a grad student and junior colleague wanted to join this august club, but Joel refused applications—growth in members would represent progress.
Ann Lage's interview with Joel W. Hedgpeth is only available to me in the form of text extracted by optical character recognition software, with all the errors which that normally entails. I've corrected some obvious errors, but only an examination of the book itself can show if the excerpt above is entirely accurate.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related posts:

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?