Wednesday, January 22, 2014

my great aunts, william hobart royce, & honoré de balzac

In my family, my maternal grandfather's sister Beatrice Larsen (on the left in the picture above) was referred to as Auntie Beatie. Her long-time best friend and partner in life was referred to as Dr. Abbie (on the right). Dr. Abbie was a general practitioner with an office on the ground floor of the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn brownstone they shared with Dr. Abbie's father, William Hobart Royce.

Beatie and Abbie both passed away when I was in my early teens, but I remember their loving and quirky spirits vividly. Family gatherings were often held at Twin Brooks, their 1950's-style ranch house and wooded property in the wilds of Katonah, NY. The small house was stuffed full of books and odd artifacts that fascinated me.

A week or so ago, while doing research on some philosophical concept or another, I came across the name Royce. Suddenly I remembered that Dr. Abbie's last name was Royce, and had a vague recollection that her father had been a Balzac scholar.

A quick internet search on "Balzac Royce" revealed the following.

From the Syracuse University Library:

William Hobart Royce (1878-1963) was an American author, bibliographer, book collector, and founder of the Balzac Society of America. 

Born on March 20, 1878, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Royce completed his formal education by graduating from the Springfield High School in 1897. Later he would write that his "only university has been the New York Public Library." 

After some bookstore experience in Springfield, Royce entered the booktrade in New York City, spending twelve years with the book department of the American News Company and seven years with the Lexington Book Shop. In 1917 he joined the Gabriel Wells rare book firm, for which he was manager for over 30 years. Wells and Royce shared a deep interest in Balzac (it was Wells who saved Balzac's house at Passy from destruction), and during this time the firm became the center of the sale of Balzaciana. Royce himself assembled a major collection of Balzac material, which was later donated to Syracuse University's Special Collections Research Center. 

Royce's published works ran to over a dozen titles. His books on Balzac include Balzac, Immortal (1926), A Balzac Bibliography (1929), Indexes to A Balzac Bibliography (1930), and Balzac as He Should Be Read (1946). Royce published over a half dozen volumes of his own verse; he wrote verse also under the pen name Willie Penmore. 

In 1940 Royce founded The Balzac Society of America. For over two decades he served as its president and edited its Bulletin. In recognition of his contributions to Balzac bibliography and collecting, Royce was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1935 and was made an honorary citizen of Issoudun, the French provincial town which is the setting of La Rabouilleuse

Royce was married in 1908 to Eda Maria Wallin. They had two daughters, Eva Allen Royce and Abbie Anna Royce, M.D. He died on January 28, 1963. 

Royce was the subject of a "Profile" article in The New Yorker, Apr 1, 1933, pp. 18-21. For further biographical and anecdotal material, see Life, Feb 24, 1947, pp. 19-20, 22; and "Brooklyn Balzac" by Stefan Zweig in Who, vol. 1, no. 3 (June 1941), p. 48.

I searched through a stack of old family photographs, recalling a badly-faded one of a man standing in front of a bookshop. I believe this to be Mr. Royce himself:

According to the article in The New Yorker, Mr. Royce became so engrossed in his research that he sought out the same Syrian Latakia pipe tobacco that Balzac smoked (which, Mr. Royce found, had "an unmistakable effect in clearing and invigorating the intellect"), attempted to reproduce the Frenchman's preferred blend of coffee (and consume it in the same inordinate proportions), and even took to wearing similar robes and experimenting with napping in the evening, then commencing work at midnight as Balzac had.

If Auntie Beatie and Dr. Abbie were still around today, there are so many questions I would love to  ask them! How had they met? What was it like for Dr. Abbie to be a woman doctor in New York City in the 1940's? Though Mr. Royce died years before I was born, I remember visiting the Brooklyn brownstone, and being impressed by the stacks of books covering every available surface, including all but the middle of every step on three flights of stairways...

Whatever became of all the books?

The only poem by William Hobart Royce that we've thus far been able to uncover, included in an anthology called Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn by Julia Spicher Kasdorf:

It Happened on the Fourth Avenue Local, Brooklyn,
On My 77th Birthday, March 20, 1955

“Wake up!” the subway guard exclaimed
In no uncertain voice,
“For this is Seventy-seven’ Street,
And you are Mister Royce.”
“Thanks for your solicitude,”
I said, “but if I’m still alive,
I will remain upon the train
‘Til I reach Ninety-five.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2006 Talk as Visiting Artist at the New School's Lang College

Alyce Santoro on The Art of Science, The Science of Art at The New School's Lang College, August 29, 2005 from alyce santoro on Vimeo.

Many of the themes contained in my new book were touched upon during this talk on "the art of science, the science of art" for incoming interdisciplinary students at Lang College.