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Beyond Holy Russia

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Michael Hughes

2. Searching for the Soul of Russia

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  • 1 See, for example, The Bookman, December 1910, which described Vagabond as “a most charming and att (...)

1Although Graham was disappointed by the sales of his first two books, he must have been cheered by the reviews, even if there was something faintly patronising about the descriptions of Vagabond and Undiscovered Russia as “charming” and “attractive”.1 Not only was there a growing public fascination with Russia in Britain during the years before the Great War. There was also a great interest in walking and tramping in all their guises. The success of books ranging from Belloc’s Path to Rome to Locke’s Beloved Vagabond reflected the fascination of an Edwardian readership for pastoral descriptions of unfamiliar landscapes and carefree lifestyles. Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was an immediate hit when it first appeared in 1908 precisely because its characters were able to lead lives of leisure in bucolic surroundings, untouched by the world of the city centre office and the suburban commute.

  • 2 See, for example, Dr E.A. Baker, ‘Easter at the Lakes’, The Tramp, March 1910, pp. 3-7; Harry Robe (...)
  • 3 Mike Ashley, Starlight Man (London: Constable, 2000), p. 157 ff.

2In 1910 a monthly journal called The Tramp was established in London, which published articles ranging from no-nonsense accounts of camping expeditions in the Lake District, through to mystical reveries about the hidden meanings encoded in particular landscapes.2 The journal carried one of the warmest reviews of Vagabond in the Caucasus, written by the mystery-writer Algernon Blackwood, who had himself travelled through the Caucasus and was so entranced by the region that he used it as a setting for his supernatural novel The Centaur.3 Blackwood praised Vagabond in The Tramp for conveying:

The spirit of the open air, the passion of the tramp, the poet’s delight in the simple yet significant little things of forest, mountain, plain, that combine to charm […] The beauty of this marvellous land of mountains between the Caspian and the Black Sea is utterly arresting. I myself spent some weeks there last summer, and it calls to me like strong music. To read this vital account of it all is to live over again my own adventures.

  • 4 The Academy, 21 January 1911.

3Nor was such praise limited to the columns of The Tramp. The Manchester Courier praised Graham as “one of the true literary tramps”, whilst the Academy compared Vagabond to Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes and (predictably) Belloc’s Path to Rome.4

  • 5 On Anglo-Russian relations during this period see Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar: Britis (...)
  • 6 See, for example, Bernard Pares, Russia and Reform (London: Constable, 1907). See, too, The Times (...)
  • 7 On Diaghilev see Sjeng Scheijen, Diaghilev: A Life (New York: Profile Books, 2009). For a typical (...)
  • 8 Maurice Baring, The Mainsprings of Russia (London: Nelson, 1914), p. 301. On Baring’s time in Russ (...)

4The publication of Vagabond and Undiscovered Russia established Graham as a leading writer on Russia at a time when the country was attracting greater attention in Britain than ever before. The Anglo-Russian entente of 1907 had increased interest in Russia as a diplomatic and commercial partner,5 leading to a slew of publications suggesting that it was gradually becoming a more normal place, which would in time come to resemble the countries of Western Europe.6 Such a prospect was not universally welcomed. Countless books and articles also appeared arguing that the real appeal of Russia was still to be found precisely in its alien quality. The huge appeal of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which first came to Britain in 1911, rested in large part on the way in which its elaborate oriental scenery and fantastic costumes confirmed many existing stereotypes about Russia.7 The growing demand for Russian art and peasant handicrafts in the galleries of Bond Street similarly testified to the demand for something that was different and exotic. The writer and former diplomat Maurice Baring wrote in his book The Mainsprings of Russia about an elusive Russian soul that, once encountered, inspired a lifelong passion from which “you will never be free [...] The aching melancholy song, which Gogol says wanders from sea to sea throughout the length and breadth of the land, will forever echo in your heart, and haunt the recesses of your memory”.8 Graham’s early books expressed ideas and motifs that were already embedded in British views of Russia. Both Vagabond and Undiscovered Russia, in turn, shaped images of the country as a place of exotic landscapes inhabited by people who lived their lives with a spiritual intensity missing in the countries of the west.

  • 9 Margaret Lane, Edgar Wallace: Biography of a Phenomenon (London: Book Club, 1938), p. 188 ff.
  • 10 Bernard Falk, He Laughed in Fleet Street (London: Hutchinson, 1937), p. 122.

5Given how soon Graham’s name was to become indelibly associated with Russia, it is perhaps ironic that he was back in London working for the Evening Times when Vagabond was first published at the start of 1911. The setting up of the Evening Times in 1910 represented an ambitious attempt to take on the established London press, and the paper attracted a number of Fleet Street heavyweights besides its editor, Charles Watney, including Bernard Falk and Edgar Wallace (best known today as the creator of King Kong). The paper never had strong financial backing – its main sponsor was a rather reclusive Conservative M.P. from Nottingham – and the lack of money meant it could never live up to the grand hopes of its founders. Its week-end edition only managed to survive thanks to Wallace’s skill as a racing-tipster. The reputation of the paper was severely damaged just a few weeks after its launch by the events surrounding the sensational trial of Dr Crippen for the murder of his wife at their home in North London. Watney purchased a supposed admission of guilt, which he published on the day of Crippen’s execution, even though the confession in reality consisted of little more than a selection of notes of doubtful provenance cobbled together at the office of his lawyer.9 The incident damaged the Evening Times’s reputation for serious journalism. Although one of its leading lights later described it as “a good paper which ought not to have perished”,10 there was always something uncertain about the quality of its journalism.

  • 11 Graham Papers (HRC), Works File, Wonderful Scene (typescript), p. 24.
  • 12 Falk, He Laughed in Fleet Street, p. 126.
  • 13 Stephen Graham, Part of the Wonderful Scene (London: Collins, 1964), p. 36. The original manuscrip (...)
  • 14 Stephen Graham, ‘Russian Beggar’, New Age, 8, 3 (1910), pp. 62-63.

6Watney invited Graham to join the Evening Times as a journalist rather than a Russian specialist, promising to make him a household name, a prospect that Graham was later honest enough to admit “was very flattering and I fell for it”.11 He quickly won the respect of his new colleagues, despite the fact that he was little known, for final publication of Vagabond still lay some months ahead when he joined the paper.12 Graham did not abandon his Russian interests altogether, though, since he was working on the manuscript of Undiscovered Russia throughout his time at the paper. He also wrote a novel for serialisation in the Evening Times, “written in Russian style about a man who hated the human race and decided to destroy it”, but decided against publishing it in book form since Watney insisted that it contained a love story that “ruined the original”.13 It was a good decision, since The Second Coming is, even when judged by the most sympathetic reader, little more than a loosely connected story peopled by characters lacking in any discernible personality. So bad was it, indeed, that Graham had almost forgotten about it when he came across the manuscript in an American archive more than fifty years later. Nor was a short story he contributed to Orage’s New Age, a sentimental account of an elderly female beggar in Moscow, much better in quality.14

  • 15 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 34.
  • 16 Evening Times, 30 March 1911 (‘The Courts Day-by-Day’).

7Graham’s colleagues at the Evening Times believed that his real literary gift was for “lurid realism”,15 a striking paradox given the lyrical prose that characterised his writing about Russia, and a stark reminder that he was always a professional writer capable of adapting to the demands of a particular market. Although the articles in the paper were unsigned, making it difficult to identify exactly which pieces he wrote, Graham seems to have been responsible for many of the court reports, including one that appeared at the end of March 1911 on the travails of a “hen-pecked husband” who had been attacked by his wife with a broom-handle.16 He provided accounts of numerous football matches, taking delight in describing the behaviour of the crowds, delirious in victory and devastated by defeat. He also reported on the seamier side of life, touring the docks of the East End looking for stories, on one occasion even interviewing a burlesque artist in her dressing room.

8Graham was also one of the Evening Times journalists responsible for covering the Siege of Sidney Street, which took place in January 1911, when two Latvian revolutionaries responsible for murdering a number of London policemen were cornered and forced into a dramatic fire-fight which ended in their deaths. Graham’s nine months on the Evening Times helped to develop his skill at painting characters and situations in a few colourful words. He was in any case fascinated throughout his long life by the human drama of major cities, subsequently writing numerous sketches about life on the streets of London and New York, even whilst there was another part of him that deplored the noise and chaos of urban life. The dichotomy between the rural traveller, immersed in the beauty and mystery of the countryside, and the urban resident enthralled with the buzz of city life, was deeply-rooted in Graham’s psyche from a young age.

  • 17 The description of 60 Frith Street is taken from F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), Survey of London, Vols 33- (...)
  • 18 Stephen Graham, Twice Round the London Clock and More London Nights (London: Ernest Benn, 1933), p (...)

9Graham’s surprising penchant for urban life was symbolised by his choice of living arrangements in London. The census returns show that he was living with Rosa in Kentish Town in 1911, during the time he was working on the Evening Times, whilst the following year he moved to a flat in a four-storey house in Soho. 60 Frith Street was to remain his home for more than six decades, until his death in 1975, although it was frequently sub-let when he was away from London on one of his overseas visits. The house itself was originally built in the seventeenth century.17 In the 1840s a number of artists had exhibited from this address, including Thomas Musgrove Joy, who, amongst other commissions, painted a series of portraits of the Royal Family. 60 Frith Street had also been home at various times to members of the minor nobility, and was suitably grand inside, complete with a dog-leg staircase and ornate wooden panelling. By the time the Grahams moved in, though, the house’s glory days were long gone. Each floor was divided into a number of flats, the top two storeys populated by families of German and Russian Jewish immigrants, who conducted various tailoring and laundry businesses. They, in turn, sublet rooms with the result that people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night (“Who lived in the house and who did not it was difficult to say”). On the floor below the Grahams lived a bookmaker, who, within a few weeks of their arrival, disappeared without paying his overdue rent to the irate landlord. The streets around the house were “very disreputable” and full of “unsophisticated poverty”, and the pavement in front of 60 Frith Street itself was often strewn with rubbish, dumped from the windows by residents of the upper floors.18

  • 19 For a useful discussion of Bohemian society in London during this period see Peter Brooker, Bohemi (...)
  • 20 Graham, Twice Round the London Clock, pp. 202-3.

10Stephen and Rosa were not daunted by their surroundings. The living room of their first-floor flat boasted an Adam ceiling and painted wooden doors. Rosa was largely responsible for the internal decoration, covering the walls with copies of paintings by Russian artists including Repin and Perepletchikov, along with reproductions of works by English pre-Raphaelites including Watts and Burne-Jones. Graham added a wooden bookcase and an antique editorial chair that he still used half a century later. Their choice of Soho as a place to live was striking. The area bounded by Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road had already acquired its reputation as a slightly raffish and bohemian place, attractive to writers and painters, and the Grahams wanted to live in an area where they could mix easily with others who shared their interest in literature and art (Graham read the main literary journals of the period, contributing to the English Review and The New Age, and was well-aware of controversies that raged around the phenomenon of English modernism in all its forms).19 The Grahams’ flat at 60 Frith Street even became celebrated enough as a meeting place to figure in the columns of some of the literary magazines of the 1920s. Graham believed throughout his life that “if a man who travels a good deal desires to have a permanent home in London, he may as well have it as the centre of things”, but Frith Street itself quickly became much more to him than just a place to rest his head when returning from his trips around the world. In a sketch written in the early 1930s, he wrote how “I have remembered Frith Street under Central Asian and Rocky Mountain stars, in the trenches and on the sea. I have looked to it as toward Mecca”.20 He loved the house enough to acquire in time the lease for the whole building.

  • 21 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 579, 43 (1911 notebook).
  • 22 Graham Papers (in private hands), Graham to Lulu Smith, 22 March1965 (looking back on his time in (...)
  • 23 Gawsworth Papers (HRC), Misc. file (‘The Rector of Rusper’). For the memories of the Rector himsel (...)

11Graham, like so many travellers, seemed to have a need for a place that he could return to and call home. The pastoral Romantic in him was, however, never entirely silent even during the times he lived in Britain. Whilst he was working at the Evening Times, he and Rosa regularly went out at weekends to the Essex countryside, where they spent time “lying and lazing in the fields”.21 A few years after moving into Frith Street, when his financial situation had become more secure, Graham also acquired a small cottage in rural Sussex, near Horsham, where he could write in the intervals between tending his garden and going for long walks through the local woods.22 Even here, though, he never abandoned himself entirely to solitude and peace, becoming involved in a controversy between the local vicar and some of his critics who disliked their rector’s particular brand of muscular Christianity.23

  • 24 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 37.
  • 25 Stephen Graham, A Tramp’s Sketches (London: Thomas Nelson, 1913), p. 18, version available at http (...)
  • 26 John Lane Letters (HRC), Box 17, Folder 4, Graham to Lane, 18 June 1911.

12Graham’s work at the Evening Times came to an end in the summer of 1911. The paper’s finances were at a particularly low ebb by this stage, and Graham later recalled that although he was Charles Watney’s “pet writer […] he had to discard me”.24 It seems equally likely that he had come to realise how much he still longed “for the silence of [the] vast empty spaces” of Russia.25 Graham’s correspondence shows that he was close to completing a third book, which he provisionally called The Tramp’s Philosophy,26 but was unable to find a publisher for it (John Lane rejected it on the grounds that it would not be a commercial success). He therefore decided to return to Russia to continue his tramping career in the south of the country, which he preferred to the bleaker regions of the north, through which he had passed the previous summer on his tramp from Archangel to Moscow.

  • 27 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 32.
  • 28 For a detailed account of the Society see Kristiane Burchardi, Die Moskauer Religiös-Philosophisch (...)
  • 29 On Solov’ev see Jonathan Sutton, The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: Towards a Reassess (...)

13It was not, though, only the “vast empty spaces” that appealed to Graham. He was also becoming more interested in the ferment of what has often been called Russia’s ‘Silver Age’ of culture. Graham had been interested in developments in Russian theatre and literature from the time he first arrived in Moscow – he had after all first fallen in love with the country through reading Dostoevsky – but it was the artist Vasily Perepletchikov who persuaded him that “to understand Russia fully one must appreciate the art of the day and listen to the philosophers. Russia had a base of peasantry but also an apex of thought and culture”.27 Perepletchikov was responsible for introducing Graham to the Moscow Religious-Philosophical Society, which was first established in the early years of the twentieth century, and quickly became an important meeting place for artists and writers committed to developing Russia’s religious and cultural traditions in new creative forms.28 The members of the Society were particularly influenced by the ideas of the writer Vladimir Solov’ev who, before his death in 1900, had been a pivotal figure in the country’s cultural life, not least in trying to articulate a new philosophical system capable of reconciling the best of the western and Russian intellectual traditions (Graham himself wrote a paper on Solov’ev some years later for the British Theosophist journal Quest).29 Many of the luminaries of Russia’s Silver Age were involved in the Society, including Nikolai Berdiaev and Evgeny Trubetskoi, and Graham met a number of its most prominent figures during his periodic visits to its meetings.

  • 30 Graham Papers (HRC), Works File, Wonderful Scene (autograph).
  • 31 Graham himself translated Ivanov’s ‘Theatre of the Future’ in English Review, March 1912, pp. 634- (...)
  • 32 Ivanov was in fairness by 1910 going through a Slavophile phase articulating views that were perha (...)
  • 33 Stephen Graham, ‘One of the Higher Intelligentsia’, Russian Review, 1, 4 (1912), pp. 120-30.

14Graham was never particularly adept at understanding the subtleties of the creative explosion that took place in Russia during the Silver Age (he freely admitted that he struggled to understand many of the abstruse talks he heard at the Religious-Philosophical Society).30 Nor did he have much grasp of the immense complexities and contradictions that characterised the work of individuals like the writer Dmitri Merezhkovsky and the philosopher-poet Viacheslav Ivanov,31 instead interpreting them rather simplistically as representatives of an authentic Russian cultural tradition, shaped by the influence of Orthodoxy on all aspects of national life.32 Graham did however possess a powerful intuitive sense of the forces that were helping to shape their intellectual and artistic development, even if there was something too simplistic in his claim that the “higher intelligentsia” in Russia was seeking “religion […] on the other side of doubt and scepticism and eclecticism”.33

  • 34 On this topic see, for example, Demetres P. Tryphonopolous, ‘The History of the Occult Movement’, (...)
  • 35 Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (New York: Appleton, 1926), p. 231.

15The cultural ferment of Russia’s Silver Age was part of a European-wide reaction against the sense of anomie created by industrialisation and the fading appeal of institutionalised Christianity. Graham himself was, at this stage of his life, still an avid fan of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose insistence on acknowledging the Dionysian aspect of human nature captivated a generation of European intellectuals, disenchanted with the narrow cultural confines of bourgeois society. Across Europe – including Britain and Russia – there was a widespread fascination with the occult. The huge interest in Theosophy reflected a pervasive sense that there were certain truths and levels of experience that could not be grasped by reason and science alone.34 Although many of the leading lights in the Moscow Religious-Philosophical Society were, in some sense, committed to Christianity – or at least to the search for God – most of them expressed ideas and attitudes that set them far apart from the mainstream Church. The whole Russian Symbolist movement, in poetry and art, was dedicated to finding ways of expressing insights into the nature of reality that could not be obtained from a naturalism that contented itself with depicting a world of surface appearances. Some leading journals of the period, like Mir iskusstva, regularly appeared with ornate front covers decorated with symbols inspired by astrology or freemasonry. The Moscow Religious-Philosophical Society itself devoted a whole session in 1909 to a discussion of Theosophy, and the idea that there was a single truth expressed in all the world’s main religions, which could only be known by those with access to hidden forms of knowledge. Such ideas had long had an appeal for Graham. He was also instinctively sympathetic to the notion that the artist and writer had a responsibility to provide insights into a reality that might otherwise remain hidden (“pictorial pointers” he later called them).35 Graham’s distinctive understanding of the nature of ‘religion’ helps to explain why he was able to combine a panegyric for Russian Orthodoxy with an assertion that different religions each had their own way of leading their adherents to God.

  • 36 Graham Papers (HRC), Wonderful Scene (typescript), p. 36.

16For all his interest in the cultural life of Moscow, Graham still yearned to revive his tramping career, and in the late summer of 1911 he left the city by rail heading southwards for a new hike along the northern coast of the Black Sea. Although his movements over the next few months are hard to follow, he seems to have travelled from east to west along the shoreline, spending most of his time walking on the sands, before arriving at Constantinople in February 1912, where he boarded a boat carrying hundreds of Russian pilgrims bound for Jerusalem. Graham revelled in the solitude he encountered in the countryside through which he passed. He lived for much of the time on fruit “and realized how wild I was when I stood in thickets and bit mouthfuls of grapes from the hanging vines”.36

  • 37 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 8.
  • 38 Stephen Graham, Changing Russia (London: John Lane, 1913), p. 11, version available at http://arch (...)

17Graham’s tramps along the Black Sea in the winter of 1911-12 produced two very different books – A Tramp’s Sketches (1913) and Changing Russia (1913) – which together neatly reflected the two main aspects of his burgeoning philosophy of life. A Tramp’s Sketches was concerned less with the state of Russia and more with the search for meaning in the world (“it is with life that this volume is concerned”). The whole process of tramping was portrayed as a kind of pilgrimage, which allowed the individual to develop new insights into their soul, as well as giving them an opportunity to unravel the meaning of the landscapes through which they passed. Its esoteric tone makes the book at times very hard to understand (Graham himself noted that the book was “written spontaneously and without study, and as such goes forth all that a seeker could put down of his visions, or could tell of what he sought”).37 Changing Russia was by contrast a lament for the decline of the old peasant world, which Graham had eulogised at length in Undiscovered Russia, and which he feared was facing destruction by the huge social and economic changes taking place in the country. Graham noted sadly in his Introduction to Changing Russia that his book was “like a timely painting made of someone we love, not long before death. When next the painter offers to paint her, the time will be past, and the loved one be departed”.38 The missionary element in his writing was now stronger than ever, as he sought to persuade readers of the wisdom both of his particular life-philosophy, and of his conviction that Russia possessed a unique spiritual identity from which the rest of the world could learn.

  • 39 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 7.
  • 40 Ibid, p. 20.

18A Tramp’s Sketches is one of the hardest of Graham’s books to read. It does contain a number of vivid descriptive passages, including a detailed description of ‘A Turkish Coffee House’ in the Transcaucasus, full of impoverished clients dressed in “drab turbans” and “dingy red fez hats”. The book was above all, though, “not so much a book about Russia as [...] the life of the wanderer and seeker, the walking hermit, the rebel against modern conditions and commercialism who has gone out into the wilderness”.39 It begins with a diatribe against life in the “evil city” – in practice London but intended as shorthand for every major urban centre – which in time “drove me into the wilderness to my mountains and valleys, by the side of the great sea and by the haunted forests [...] There I refound my God, and my being reexpressed itself to itself in terms of eternal Mysteries. I vowed I should never again belong to the town”.40

  • 41 Ibid, p. 23

19Graham tried as far as possible to avoid the major Black Sea towns during his tramp, although he did visit places like Sochi, in order to write sketches for dispatch back to the London papers. Whilst his previous books had been full of stories about the people he had met, he was now engaged in a kind of solitary pilgrimage, choosing to sleep rough rather than seek lodgings in the cottages he passed. He worked hard to convey a sense of wonder in the places he passed through, describing them not simply in terms of their beauty, but emphasising how the individual who slept in the wild “has entered into new relationship with the world in which he lives, and has allowed the gentle creative hands of Nature to re-shape his soul”.41 Graham had been asked by a friend whether a solitary existence in the countryside could really provide a fully satisfying and human life – an interesting point given that he himself chose to live in the heart of the city when resident in London – and he replied rather elusively that:

The tramp does not want a world of tramps – that would never do. The tramps – better call them the rebels against modern life – are perhaps only the first searchers for new life. They know themselves as necessarily only a few, the pioneers. Let the townsman give the simple life its place. Everyone will benefit by a little more simplicity, and a little more living in communion with Nature, a little more of the country. I say, ‘Come to Nature altogether,’ but I am necessarily misunderstood by those who feel quickly bored. Good advice for all people is this – live the simple life as much as you can till you’re bored. Some people are soon bored: others never are. Whoever has known Nature once and loved her will return again to her. Love to her becomes more and more.

  • 42 Ibid, p. 57.

20He also insisted that the tramp, or perhaps better the pilgrim-tramp, was best-placed to understand how the joys of rural life were linked to more fundamental questions about the nature of existence. “Whoever has resolved the common illusions of the meaning of life, and has seen even in glimpses the naked mystery of our being, finds that he absolutely must live in the world which is outside city walls”.42

  • 43 Ibid, p. 201.
  • 44 Ibid, p. 63.

21The theme of Holy Russia, in the sense of Orthodox Russia, did not loom large in A Tramp’s Sketches, although the book does contain a lengthy description of daily life at the New Athos Monastery, along with a number of other monasteries where Graham was given shelter. The informing philosophy was instead that of Ygdrasil: that the everyday world was a series of signs that showed the way out of the “Little World” and into a place of deeper meaning. Graham was once again sharply critical of all forms of established Christianity, suggesting that the medieval Church showed “much more hospitality than to-day. The crusader and the palmer needed no introduction to obtain entertainment at a strange man’s house”.43 He also spent a good deal of time discussing the aesthetics of beauty, whether in the form of lovely scenery or great art, which he believed could provide an intimation of the divine almost as surely as participation in formal worship (“The knowledge of the beautiful is an affirmation”).44

  • 45 Ibid, pp. 239-53.

22The final chapters of A Tramp’s Sketches are at times almost incomprehensible, as Graham struggled to convey his sense of a universe that was profoundly mysterious and irreducible to neat formulae or description. He told the story – or perhaps the fable – of a young woman called Zenobia, with whom he once collected flowers on a “breathless” and “mysterious” summer night. Her beauty and her naturalness were eventually corrupted, though, when she moved to the city and began to enter into local society. Her looks faded to grey as a result of an indoor life lived with a “lack of sun” and a “lack of life”, leaving Graham to lament how “in one place flowers rot and die; in another, bloom and live. The truth is that in this city they rot and die”. The figure of Zenobia, whether real, mythical, or somewhere in between, served for Graham as a symbol of the way in which true beauty and liveliness were crushed in the man-made world of cities. In a passage replete with the kind of existential language that echoed Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, he passionately declared that “Life is not thoughts, is not calm, is not sights, is not reading or music, is not the refinement of the senses, Life is life. This is the great secret. This is the original truth, and if we had never begun to think, we should never have lost our instinctive knowledge”.45

23It is worth quoting at some length the passage that ended the main part of A Tramp’s Sketches, since it conveys more clearly than anywhere else in Graham’s early writings his understanding of the universe, couched in terms that owe more to a diffuse early twentieth-century esotericism than to any formal Christian doctrine:

But beyond the universe, no scientist, not any of us, knows anything. On all shores of the universe washes the ocean of ignorance, the ocean of the inexplicable. We stand upon the confines of an explored world and gaze at many blank horizons. We yearn towards our natural home, the kingdom in which our spirits were begotten. We have rifled the world, and tumbled it upside down, and run our fingers through all its treasures, yet have not come upon the charter of our birth. We explored Beauty till we came to the shore of a great sea; we explored music, and came upon the outward shore of harmony and earthly truth, and found its limits.

24He went on to note that:

  • 46 Ibid, pp. 326-27.

Some day for us shall come into that blank sky-horizon which is called the zenith, a stranger, a man or a god, perhaps not like ourselves, yet having affinities with ourselves, and correlating ourselves to some family of minor gods of which we are all lost children. We shall then know our universal function and find our universal orbit. As yet the True Sun stands in the antipodes, the great light is not vouchsafed. In the night of ignorance our little sun is shining and stars gleam upon our sky-horizons. But when the True Sun shines their brightness will be obscured, and we shall know a new day and a new night, a new heaven and a new earth.46

25Such words represented a distinct, if melodramatic, response to the intellectual and emotional dilemmas that shaped the response of a whole generation of intellectuals, in Russia and elsewhere, to the challenge of modernity. Graham’s response took the form of a search for an affirmation of meaning and life beyond the confines of the everyday. He believed that language could help to capture and convey a sense of the numinous that could not be defined or valued by the scientist or the businessman. The only hint in this passage of a specifically Christian understanding of these perplexities and dilemmas comes at the very end with the words: “It is written, ‘When He appears we shall be like Him’”.

  • 47 Graham, Changing Russia, p. 24.
  • 48 Ibid, p. 28.

26Changing Russia was so different in tone from A Tramp’s Sketches that it is hard to believe it was inspired by the same journey along the Black Sea shore. The contrasting character of the two books captured something of a division in Graham himself. During the five years before the 1917 Revolution, Graham continued to write both about the mystery of Holy Russia and, more prosaically, about a range of Russian social and economic questions. Changing Russia contained more in the way of anecdotes and pen portraits than A Tramp’s Sketches, including a lively chapter headed ‘At the Seaside in Russia’, that first appeared in the Evening Standard, and described the “rather tedious” rituals of daily bathing and nightly gossiping among visitors to towns like Sochi and Gelendzhik. Most of the book, however, represented a sustained lament about the way the country was changing. Graham stayed at Rostov-on-Don early in his trip, a place he believed “shows what Russia is going to be if it follows along the commercial lines of the rest of Europe”, adding that “in such towns lies the foundation of what is called ‘democracy’, but which is really [...] quarrelling over the hours and the wage”.47 He wrote with disdain about streets full of shops and warehouses selling foreign goods – there was extensive investment by British and Belgian firms in the area – and bemoaned the impact of commerce on the morality and taste of the city’s residents. Although many of them went to Church, still more flocked to the new “electric theatre”, where they watched shows that “are bloodthirsty, gruesome murder stories, stories of crime, of unfaithful husbands and wives, and of course the usual insane harlequinades”.48 The situation was not much better at other towns like Novorossisk, with its “cement factories and soap-works”, although Graham was consoled by the fact that the surrounding countryside was still largely unspoiled. The Black Sea was an important commercial hub in Russia, and by the early twentieth century the main ports were closely integrated into the wider European economy. Graham himself was particularly concerned that the construction of a new railway line along the Black Sea shore would soon spread modern commerce into less populated and underdeveloped regions and damage still more the character of the whole area.

  • 49 Ibid, p. 117.
  • 50 Ibid, p. 121.

27Some of the most vitriolic passages in Changing Russia were reserved for the Russian bourgeoisie, which Graham believed was the defining class of the new social and economic order, and he vigorously condemned its members’ materialist outlook on life which meant that they “want to know the price of everything”. He also criticised their lack of interest in spiritual matters, noting that any talk of “the mystery of Christ” created unease, as did any hint that “though you are poor you have no regard for money”.49 Graham was particularly concerned at the bourgeoisie’s growing social and political influence, which he feared was “beginning to clamour in the press, to write, to define, to censure. It calls itself the democracy, and points out that it will pay for its likes, and that its sort of art and life will ‘pay’. That a thing ‘pays’ is to the bourgeois the test of democratic approval”.50

  • 51 Ibid, p. 210.
  • 52 Ibid, p. 11.

28The vision of Russia’s future supposedly held by members of this new class could hardly have been more different from that of Graham, who continued to believe that “Russia has an extraordinary greatness to be attained through her Church, through her national institutions, and by virtue of her national landscape […] The cultivated and educated Russians must not lose their peasant souls […] the peasant is the root, and the root draws up mysteriously from those depths that which is its own, that which God has provided”.51 The best hope for preserving this traditional Russia against the depredations of change rested, in Graham’s view, on “the Tsar and his advisers, who are all Conservatives, that they truly conserve and keep the peasantry living simply and sweetly on the land”.52 Graham never really hid his doubts about the Constitutional Experiment that was set in motion after the 1905 Revolution, believing that any institution like the Duma (Assembly) would be manipulated by the new commercial class that was becoming ever more powerful in Russian life. He also expressed doubt about whether greater education and the bestowal of civic rights would make Russia a happier place:

In ten or twenty years illiterate Russia will be half-educated Russia, and the difficulty will be to find conservative people at all. As soon as a peasant learns to read he begins to want new things from life; he sees that he is poor, as Adam saw that he was naked; he begins to compare himself with his kind in other countries; he finds the ready-made creed of the Socialist, and swallows it whole.

29The high hopes placed by British and Russian liberals alike on the prospects for the further constitutional development of the Tsarist Empire were not, to put it mildly, shared by Graham.

  • 53 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 206.
  • 54 Graham, Changing Russia, p. 3.

30There was one further theme in Changing Russia that was to become even more pronounced in Graham’s books and articles during the years that followed: the question of Anglo-Russian relations. Graham was well-aware that British finance was playing a pivotal role in the rapid industrial development taking place across Russia. He was concerned that the materialism he so disliked at home was being exported to the very country to which he had “escaped”, the place that served for him as the “Somewhere-Out-Beyond” as he expressed it in A Tramp’s Sketches.53 Graham was a strong advocate of the Anglo-Russian entente established in 1907, but his support had little to do with diplomatic or commercial matters. It instead flowed from his conviction that the British public was turning to Russia for “art, thought and action” of a kind missing in their own culture.54 Although he recognised that recent tensions in Persia had created some suspicion in Britain about the imperial ambitions of Russia, Graham was confident that the warm reception accorded to a recent visit by a delegation of British dignitaries to Russia showed that there was the potential to build and maintain good official relations. He concluded Changing Russia with a call to the Liberal Party to make clear that its members supported the policy of the entente set in motion by the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. Whilst Graham remained convinced that Russia’s real importance to Britain flowed from its role as a living reminder of an alternative vision of life, he had begun to consider the kinds of practical questions that were to command his attention more closely following the outbreak of war in 1914, when his opinions were increasingly sought by some of the most senior figures in the British Government.

31Graham’s tramp along the shores of the Black Sea during the autumn and winter of 1911-12 eventually led him to Constantinople, where he set sail for Jerusalem with hundreds of Russian pilgrims, in order to spend Easter in the Holy Land. The book that he subsequently wrote about his experiences, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem, was instrumental in bringing Graham to far greater public attention than any of his previous works (it was serialised in the English Review and the American Harper’s Magazine). Graham told his readers in the Prologue to the book that he had, for many years, wished to undertake a pilgrimage:

  • 55 Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (London: Macmillan, 1913), p. 3, version av (...)

Whoever has wished to go has already started on the pilgrimage. And once you have started, every step upon the road is a step toward Jerusalem. Even steps which seem to have no meaning are taking you by byways and lanes to the high-road. For the heart guides the steps, and has intentions too deep for the mind to grasp at once. The true Christian is necessarily he who has the wishing heart. Therein is the Christian discerned, that he seeks a city. Once we have consciously known ourselves as pilgrims on the way, then all the people and the scenes about us have a new significance. They are seen in their right perspective. Upon the pilgrim’s road our imperfect eyes come into focus for all earthly phenomena.55

32He went on to recall how even as a child he had looked “wistfully” at religious processions, seeing in them an echo of a longer journey, adding that for years his heart had responded more readily to “march music” than to “all the other melodies in the world”. Although Graham did not spell it out explicitly, he had begun to acknowledge that his years of tramping in the wilderness had themselves been a kind of pilgrimage, a restless search for some form of epiphany capable of resolving the sense of dissonance and longing that had first led him to Russia. The journey to Jerusalem seemed to him to bring together the two main elements in his life: his love of Russia and his sense of the incompleteness of human life when lived purely in the material world:

  • 56 Ibid, pp. 11-12.

That it should be with the Russian peasants that I came to Jerusalem is also symbolically true. In the larger pilgrimage of life it is with these simple people that I have been journeying. It was the wish of the heart, the genius of seeking, that taught me to seek Jerusalem through Russia, that brought me to her simple people living in the great open spaces, lighting their candles in the little cottages and temples. At Jerusalem were hundreds of Englishmen and Americans, and the English language was as frequent in my ears as Turkish. I stood next to rich tourists from my own land; they hadn’t the remotest idea that I was other than a Russian peasant, and I thought, “What luck that I didn’t come with these!” But really it was not luck, but destiny.56

  • 57 Graham, Gentle Art of Tramping, p. 231.

33Although the Prologue echoed many of the themes that ran through Graham’s earlier work, the main text of With the Russian Pilgrims was very different in character from much of his previous work. Whilst he was still anxious to persuade his readers of the virtues of Holy Russia, the book’s tone was comparatively restrained, at least once the intensely personal confession de coeur of the Prologue was out of the way. He was instead content to use simple pen-portraits to illuminate the religious passion and individual idiosyncrasies of his companions on the journey to Jerusalem. It is for this reason that With the Russian Pilgrims is more satisfying as an example of travel literature than any of his previous books. Graham was anxious that his earlier books were marred by a certain immaturity of theme and over-blown style. Many years later he noted that “all description is art” and that even the most mundane “thumb-nail sketch” could be used to hint at something broader and more significant.57 He made a deliberate effort when writing With the Russian Pilgrims to treat his material in a more under-stated manner.

34The Russian-crewed boat that Graham boarded at Constantinople already had 500 pilgrims on board, who had joined the vessel at Odessa or Batumi, hundreds of miles to the east. The vessel was headed to Jaffa, a journey that should normally have taken a few days, but in fact lasted more than two weeks. The delays were partly due to the itinerary of the boat, which made a number of stops along the way, including one at the Holy Mountain of Athos. It also stopped at Smyrna (modern-day Izmir), as well as at Alexandrettia (today Iskenderun), where it took on twenty-nine cows for transport to Port Said! The slow journey was also due to bad weather, including one storm so violent that the captain felt impelled to call on his passengers to pray for the ship’s safe arrival at port. The living conditions were dreadful and the smell in the hold appalling. Graham slept each night on a carpenter’s bench, whilst others lay down on provision chests or the sooty roof of the engine room.

35There was despite these privations a strong feeling of camaraderie amongst the pilgrims, most of whom were comparatively elderly, like the seventy-six year old who had walked thousands of miles across Russia in order to join the boat headed for Jerusalem. The younger pilgrims usually made the journey in thanksgiving for some particular deliverance, such as the twenty year old boy from the Urals, who had pledged to go to Jerusalem when he was dangerously ill, and now, having recovered, was determined to redeem his promise. There were many women amongst the pilgrims too, but Graham seldom spoke to them, a result perhaps of some half-defined convention that frowned upon overly-friendly relations between travellers of different sexes. Many of the company joined in nightly services led by a Russian priest, himself making the pilgrimage, whilst the rest of the time was passed in desultory conversation or in reading and discussing the Bible. A strange reminder of developments in the outside world intruded from time-to-time into this insular ship-borne world. Many crew members were sympathetic to one or other of the various revolutionary groups back in Russia, and they tried to convert the pilgrims by telling them that the monks and priests they would meet in Jerusalem were simply robbers and bandits, interested only in lining their own pockets. Although they met with little success, the dialogue of the deaf between the earnestly pious peasants and the radically-minded crew was a stark reminder of the tensions bubbling up in a country that was, within five years, to descend into revolution.

  • 58 Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims, p. 152.
  • 59 Ibid, p. 6.

36Graham provided readers of With the Russian Pilgrims with a number of detailed descriptions of his companions which, although usually affectionate and respectful, made no attempt to idealise his fellow travellers. There was for example Philip, a peasant from a Ukrainian village close to the Austro-Hungarian border, who was making his fourteenth trip to Jerusalem. The extent of his piety was called into question by the fact that he made a good deal of money by acting as “a tout for ecclesiastical shop-keepers” on arrival in the Holy Land.58 Typical of his victims was another pilgrim, to whom Graham gave the name Liubomudrof (a play on the Russian for “lover of wisdom”), a man whose simple piety could not be doubted, even though he cheerfully acknowledged that he was earlier in his life an alcoholic and an adulterer. Graham also wrote at length of a priest travelling with the pilgrims, Father Evgeny, who, although honest and pious, could also be imperious and dismissive of those around him. Graham made no effort to hide the human frailty of those he travelled with. Nor did he try to sentimentalise his description of the Holy Land itself. He admitted that on arrival in Jerusalem he found the city to be little more than “a pleasure-ground for wealthy sight-seers”, and “a place where every stone has been commercialised either by tourist agencies or by greedy monks”. He nevertheless continued to believe in Jerusalem as an idea, an “existence independent of material appearance”,59 and was convinced that the idea could not be tainted by the omnipresent corruption and dilapidation. This same principle ran through his description of many of his fellow-pilgrims. Whilst Graham openly acknowledged their faults, he also believed that the instinct to pilgrimage was driven by a deep spiritual hunger, powerful enough to bring the pilgrims to Jerusalem, even if not always strong enough to transform their behaviour.

37Graham played a full part in the celebrations and rituals of the Russian pilgrims (a kind of participant-observer to use modern sociological jargon). He went to the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “not to look but to pray”, and was profoundly moved by the experience of entering the burial chamber. He travelled to Nazareth with dozens of other pilgrims, passing through the Moslem town of Nablus, before arriving at the “shabby” birth place of Christ. Graham also joined thousands of other pilgrims for a journey to the River Jordan, staying en route at a hostelry managed by the Imperial Russian Palestine Society, before taking part in a mass celebration of ritual re-baptism:

  • 60 Ibid, p. 190.

In a great miscellaneous crowd the peasants began to undress and to step into their white shrouds, the women into long robes like nightdresses, the men into full white shirts and pantaloons. Those who came unprovided stood quite naked on the banks. Then the priest, when he had given the pilgrims time to prepare, began taking the service for the sanctification of the water. The ikons and the cross were ranged around a wooden platform over the water.60

38The priest supervising the ceremony then dipped the cross into the water and the pilgrims plunged in “crossing themselves and shivering”. Graham subsequently took part in the Holy Week celebrations in Jerusalem, including a Palm Sunday service at the Church of the Sepulchre, and a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday, which followed the path taken by Jesus as he was taken to the house of the High Priest Annas. On Good Friday he joined the procession to Golgotha, re-enacting the last journey of Christ, whilst on Easter Day itself he went to the Russian Cathedral with the thousands of other pilgrims visiting the city. Although he had been present at Orthodox Easter celebrations before, he was still thrilled by the intensity of the experience, which far exceeded anything he had known growing up in the more sedate atmosphere of the Church of England:

  • 61 Ibid, p. 296.

Then at one in the morning we passed […] into the Russian cathedral, now joyously illuminated with coloured lights, and we heard the service in familiar church Slavonic. And we all kissed one another again. What embracing and kissing there were this night; smacking of hearty lips and tangling of beards and whiskers! The Russian men kiss one another with far more heartiness than they kiss their women. In the hostelry I watched a couple of ecstatical old greybeards who grasped one another tightly by the shoulders, and kissed at least a score of times, and wouldn’t leave off.61

39When Russian Pilgrims was finally published in 1913, part of its appeal rested on the thirty eight black-and-white photographs (more than in any of Graham’s previous books). Graham seldom wrote much about his photography, but he kept prints of some of his best photos for many decades, blown up and mounted to ensure their preservation. Although only equipped with a basic Kodak camera, he proved adept at identifying possible subjects, and took numerous shots of individuals and street scenes. Formal photographs of men like Liubomudrov and Father Evgeny were interspersed with others that were snapped spontaneously, like one of an elderly grandmother caught in confusion on the banks of the River Jordan, as she searched for the clothes she had taken off during the service of ritual rebaptism.

Figure 4: Photograph taken by Stephen Graham of elderly Russian peasant woman on the banks of the Jordan, published by Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (London: Macmillan, 1913), p. 194.

40Other photos in the book ranged from a shot of the funeral of a pilgrim who died on his way back from the Jordan, to ones showing crowds of pilgrims in the various cathedrals and shrines. Graham also captured more mundane scenes like the washing of shirts in the courtyard of the hostel where many pilgrims stayed in Jerusalem. These photographs gave readers of Russian Searching for the Soul of Russia Pilgrims a visual sense of the rituals of pilgrimage that they could never have obtained from words alone. The shots of Orthodox priests dressed in ornate robes, blessing hordes of pilgrims clothed in the traditional costume of European Russia, conveyed brilliantly a world unknown to almost all of Graham’s British and American readers.

  • 62 Graham, Changing Russia p. 255.
  • 63 Ibid, pp. 265, 276.
  • 64 Ibid, p. 270.

41Graham returned directly to Russia from Jerusalem in the spring of 1912, before heading eastwards to pass the summer in the borderlands of Siberia, where he hoped to “spend some months idling pleasantly amongst the Ural lakes and writing my book”. After a long and tortuous train journey he finally arrived at Lake Turgoiak, situated on the eastern slope of the Ural Mountains, close to the town of Miass. He was enthralled by the natural beauty of the region, describing how the forest was “fresh with an unspotted loveliness”, whilst the air was “clear and brilliant”.62 A few weeks after he moved there, the woods filled with local children harvesting the strawberries and other wild fruit that grew in abundance. Graham nevertheless began to encounter a dark side to an area that at first struck him as a place where “the scenery of the fairy tale has become actual”. He visited some of the gold-mining towns that littered the Urals, finding amidst the grim surroundings “a more drunken, murderous, brother-hating population” than any he had ever seen in Russia. He also went to some of the industrial towns, where “the air was filled with choking sulphurous fumes, and the whole forest side was withered”.63 Graham later recalled how within a world of “untrodden forests, pure lakes […] and silence” lurked “misery, dirt and despair”, sensing once again that his Russian Eden faced desecration at the hands of the modern world.64

  • 65 Athenaeum, 20 September 1913.
  • 66 New York Times, 9 November 1913.
  • 67 See, for example, Athenaeum, 26 October 1912; Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1913.
  • 68 Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims, p. 215.
  • 69 Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (London: Phoenix, 2011), pp. 367, 387-88; Marc D. (...)

42Graham returned to Britain in the autumn of 1912 to finish the manuscript of Russian Pilgrims. When the book finally appeared the following year it quickly garnered positive reviews and good sales. The Athenaeum praised Graham for “throwing off the bonds of society” so that he could report “with a clear-eyed simplicity the story of a pilgrimage”.65 The New York Times praised him as “the best modern writer of the saga of vagabondage”.66 Such fulsome praise was particularly welcome to Graham. Although he had received some positive reviews for Tramp’s Sketches and Changing Russia, both books also faced considerable criticism for their over-blown style and whimsy.67 Reviewers applauded With the Russian Pilgrims precisely because it offered a series of acute sketches rather than more general ruminations on the nature of Holy Russia and the meaning of landscape. Graham’s understanding of the role played by pilgrimage in Russia’s religious life was, in reality, less acute than some of his reviewers realised. His suggestion that “Russian culture has rather despised the peasant and the pilgrim” was straightforwardly fantastic.68 Both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky – amongst many others – devoted enormous attention to the subject. His account of his time with the Russian pilgrims was nevertheless genuinely original, and his book helped to establish Graham’s profile in a way that his previous work never managed to achieve. It is still read today by scholars interested in learning more about the nature of popular piety in Tsarist Russia during the years before 1917.69

43The serialisation rights of With the Russian Pilgrims in Harper’s Magazine earned Graham more money than he had earned from his first two books. For all his idealism he was very hard-headed when considering the potential financial benefits of his work (the book also appeared in an unauthorised translation in Russian from which he earned nothing). The growing audience for Graham’s work across the Atlantic certainly helps to explain his decision in the spring of 1913 to head westwards to the USA, in the company of a boat-load of emigrants who, like so many millions of others, hoped to establish new lives for themselves in the New World. The whole question of immigration was the subject of huge controversy in the United States at this time, as the policy of the “open door” came under increasing pressure in the face of anxiety that the sheer number of arrivals would change the character of American society. Graham was confident that a book on the subject would find a wide readership, whilst Harper’s Magazine was once again keen to serialise his work, as was a Russian literary journal whose interest was prompted by the fact that so many of those leaving for the New World were subjects of the Tsar. In March, Graham found himself standing at a wharf on Tooley Street, near London Bridge, watching a long procession of Russian peasants disembark from the steamship Perm in transit to a new life in America. There were also many Jews from Poland and the western provinces of the Russian Empire. The arrivals were dressed in a motley array of sheepskins and shawls, carrying their meagre possessions in wooden boxes and sacks, all looking anxious as they faced scrutiny from the customs officers on the shore. Once they had completed these formalities they were shepherded by representatives of the shipping agent to St Pancras railway station, in order to catch a train to Liverpool, where they were to join one of the Cunard liners that crossed back and forth across the Atlantic.

  • 70 Stephen Graham, With Poor Immigrants to America (New York, 1914), p. 14, version available at http (...)

44When the ship finally departed from Liverpool, it was carrying some 1,500 emigrants in steerage – “a strange gathering of seekers, despairers, wanderers, pioneers, criminals, scapegoats” – drawn from more than a dozen nationalities.70 Before they boarded they were scrutinised for scabies and other diseases, after which they were shown to their quarters, which, although not luxurious, were infinitely better than the ones Graham had endured on the tramp steamer that had taken him to Jaffa the previous year. Most of the emigrants were housed in cabins which had no more than six beds, and were given soap and a towel, as well as a life-preserver (it was just a year since the loss of the Titanic). They took their meals in a huge mess-room filled with four enormous tables. Whilst the food was hardly first-class, it was plentiful and of reasonable quality. Most of the emigrants kept to their own ethnic groups, although some of the younger ones flirted and fraternised with other nationalities, as their elders played cards or walked aimlessly around the deck. Graham spent most of his time with the emigrants from Russia, who assumed that because he knew English he would be able to answer their questions about what they should do when they got to America. For a week the boat became a microcosm of pre-First World War Europe, bringing together thousands of people from across the continent, all of them nervous and excited about the lives that lay ahead of them.

45The docking of the ship in New York was followed by the rituals of immigration at Ellis Island that had become so familiar to millions of new arrivals over the previous few decades. The huge crowd waited in the vast hall, with varying degrees of patience, for processing by customs officials and medical staff. Graham’s description of himself as “a tramp” did little to please the immigration officials, but they were mollified by his assurances that he was not an anarchist, and had no particular desire to subvert the laws of the United States. After hours of treatment as “a hurrying, bumping, wandering piece of coal being mechanically guided to the sacks of its type and size”, he found himself in the streets of New York, heading to a restaurant with a number of other immigrants who were ravenous after the delays and minor torments of Ellis Island. He was in the afternoon offered work at two dollars a day, which he declined, before heading on to a lodging house on Third Avenue which sold rooms by the night.

  • 71 Ibid, p. 57.
  • 72 Ibid, p. 57.
  • 73 New York Times, 6 April 1913.
  • 74 Graham, With Poor Immigrants, pp. 76-77.

46Graham did not find it easy to adjust to the rhythms of New York. He took an instant dislike to the skyscrapers that so awed his fellow-immigrants when they first saw them from the deck of the ship, although for some reason he was favourably struck by the gothic-inspired fifty-seven storey Woolworth Building, which had opened for business just a few weeks earlier. Nor was he impressed by the views expressed to him by “an American literary man” he met at one of the city’s clubs, who insisted that the United States represented the country of the future, boasting of how “there’s nothing in modern America more than fifty years old. Think of what we’ve done in the time – clearing, building, engineering; think of the bridges we’ve built, the harbours, the canals, the great factories, the schools”.71 Graham found little to appeal to him in a city where “a hustling, mannerless crowd” passed along streets full of “trolley-cars dashing along at life-careless speed”.72 He was, however, more reserved when expressing his opinions in a lengthy interview for the New York Times, praising the city for its “free, fresh atmosphere that makes for a real creativeness”, although he was brutal in his judgement of the slums on the East Side, which were “worse than any city I have ever been in”.73 In the book he subsequently published on his experiences, he recalled how “The houses are so high […] that you get into ten streets of New York what we get into a hundred streets in London. The New York slums are slums at the intensest”.74 The United States became, in Graham’s mind, the apogee of the kind of industrial society he had come to deplore so strongly over the previous few years.

  • 75 Ibid, p. 116.
  • 76 Ibid, p. 122.

47Graham was appalled by the way in which the collective psyche of modern American society was being shaped by the process of economic development. He noted in his book With Poor Immigrants to America how “the influence of a great machinery gets to the heart of a people […] Each man is drilled to act like a machine, and the drilling enters into the fibre of his being to such an extent that when work is over his muscles move habitually in certain directions, and the rhythm of his day’s labour controls his language and thoughts”.75 He was also depressed by the speed with which immigrants from around the world abandoned their identities once they passed through Ellis Island. When Graham attended the Russian Cathedral on East Ninety-Fifth Street on Easter Eve, he went in traditional Russian peasant attire, admittedly because he had been invited to a fancy-dress party, and was stunned to find that the rest of the congregation wore waistcoats and ties. Although many Russian immigrants maintained their Orthodox faith, they quickly became immersed in the rituals of the host society, adopting both the habits and dress of the New World. Graham was not entirely dismissive of the idea of the melting pot (he was impressed by the way in which members of the different Slavic nations got on much better in America than they did back home in Europe). He was nevertheless perturbed that becoming an American meant shedding an older identity, sanctified by generations of history, in favour of one that was forged by the needs of the modern industrial economy. The result of this process meant that young Americans felt in their very souls “every throb of the engines” and allowed even their leisure hours to become mechanised by “shop-soiled […] commercialism”.76

  • 77 Ibid, p. 277.
  • 78 Ibid, pp. 139-40.

48After a few weeks in New York, Graham began a series of tramps across the north-eastern quarter of the United States, bound for Chicago, which he reached after two months on a day so hot it cost fifty three people their lives. Although he did not think that life in the city was as bleak as portrayed by Upton Sinclair in his novel The Jungle, Graham was still appalled by the slums, as well as “the clamour of the Chicago crowd […] ignorant, cocksure, mocking”.77 He was also upset by the environmental degradation he witnessed en route in mining towns like Scranton, Pennsylvania. There he met a young newspaper reporter who took him up a ridge in order to get a better view of the city’s “numberless chimneys” and “black chutes and shafts and mountains of slag”. The sight disgusted Graham, but thrilled his guide, who noted proudly that Americans had the confidence “to smash up Nature in the hope of getting something better”. “A revolt against Eden”, Graham noted with anger, “the children’s infatuation for playing with the dirt”.78

  • 79 Ibid, p. 85.
  • 80 Ibid, p. xi.

49The situation was not entirely grim. In large parts of the Northeast he found a rural world of great beauty, where “the maples were all red [and] … in the woods the American dogwood tree was covered with white blossoms like thousands of little dolls’ nightcaps”.79 Whilst most of the photographs that appeared in Poor Immigrants depicted urban street scenes, Graham also included some that showed views of windmills in Indiana and apple orchards in the Catskills, for he was astute enough to realise that many readers would still be interested in his descriptions of life in the remote countryside. He was nevertheless most fascinated by the rhythm of life in the large cities. Graham was convinced that Russia and America together symbolised the future of humanity, representing as they did “the Eastern and Western poles of thought”, noting in Poor Immigrants that “Russia is evolving as the greatest artistic philosophical and mystical nation of the world” whilst “America is showing itself as the site of the New Jerusalem, the place where a nation is really in earnest in its attempt to realise the great dream of human progress”.80 For all his reservations, the United States made a powerful impact on Graham. Six years later, after the trauma of war and revolution had separated him from his beloved Russia, it was to America that he turned in his search for a new land of lost content.

  • 81 On Novikov see W.T. Stead, The M.P. for Russia, 2 vols. (London: Melrose, 1909). Graham himself la (...)

50Graham’s long trips abroad meant that he was away from Britain for much of the period leading up to the First World War. He nevertheless worked hard during his forays back home to establish the contacts he needed to develop his career. His publisher, John Lane, was instrumental in introducing Graham to numerous figures in the literary beau monde, including the writer and anti-vivisectionist Stephen Coleridge, the novelist Joseph Pennell and the humorist William Caine. Lane also introduced his young author to the formidable Olga Novikov, the Russian grande dame and sometime confidante of William Gladstone, who had since the 1870s devoted her life to promoting cordial Anglo-Russian relations.81 Graham was a regular visitor to her house in London, particularly during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when it became a meeting-place for representatives from the countries of southeast Europe. He also occasionally found himself on the fringes of the celebrated Belloc-Chesterton circle, to which he was introduced by his fellow Russophile Maurice Baring, although he does not seem to have been an habitué of the restaurants and clubs where they met (he regarded Baring with awe, describing him as “ambassadorial” in his memoirs, a term that applied as much to Baring’s patrician quality as to his past service in the British Diplomatic Service).

  • 82 See, for example, Algernon Blackwood, Pan’s Garden: A Volume of Nature Stories (London: Macmillan, (...)
  • 83 Ashley, Starlight Man, p. 161.

51Graham’s closest friend in Britain was the writer Algernon Blackwood, who had reviewed Vagabond so favourably in the pages of The Tramp. Blackwood had already made a name for himself as an author of popular ghost stories with collections such as The Listener (1907), which was written following a period in which he tried, unsuccessfully, to establish himself as a farmer in Canada, giving up when it became clear that he lacked the skill to make a living from the land. Blackwood had since his youth been fascinated by eastern philosophy, and was greatly influenced by Theosophy in all its various guises, as well as being involved in a number of esoteric cults, including the secretive Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which included the poet W.B. Yeats amongst its devotees. A good deal of his work exhibited a kind of nature-mysticism which at times came close to ascribing a living personality to the natural world.82 Graham and Blackwood first met in 1910, when the former was working on the Evening Times in London, and the two men quickly established a close friendship. Blackwood became a regular visitor to 60 Frith Street, and was staying there when a long period of writer’s-block was brought to a close by the sound of a beggar playing a penny-whistle in the London fog, a moment that for some reason stirred his imagination and led to one of the most fertile phases of his literary career (he even published a short story based on the episode in the Westminster Gazette).83 The two men continued to correspond regularly even when Blackwood returned to Switzerland where he chose to spend much of his time.

  • 84 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 40.

52Blackwood was a keen admirer of Graham’s early work, which he tellingly praised for its tales of “strange gospels” and “ancient superstitions”, seeing in his friend’s books an echo of his own mysticism and sense of estrangement from the familiar world. Graham, for his part, was drawn to Blackwood by his “strange and elusive” personality and his belief in “a sixth sense which some of us were on the verge of using”.84 When Blackwood visited Frith Street, he often arrived in the company of the mercurial Maya, the beautiful wife of a “jealous and morose” Russian baron, who almost certainly had a good deal to be jealous about. Maya boasted a life that was as exotic as anything that appeared in Blackwood’s fiction, having been born plain Mabel Stuart-King, before running away from home as a young woman to earn her living as a member of a string quartet in Vienna. She seems to have met Blackwood on a Nile cruiser owned by her husband, and the two rapidly became inseparable, appearing at parties and literary dinners across London. The friendship between Graham and Blackwood was rooted in a common love of the outdoors – Blackwood had walked extensively both in North America and Europe – as well as in a shared sense of the porosity of the material world. It only ended as a result of a quarrel between Blackwood and Rosa Graham, in the early 1920s, when the latter, for some reason, refused to allow her husband’s friend to stay at their cottage in Sussex. Graham himself continued on good terms with Maya, even after she remarried in 1922, visiting her on numerous occasions at her large country house near Sandwich in Kent.

  • 85 Michael Hughes, ‘Searching for the Soul of Russia: British Perceptions of Russia during the First (...)
  • 86 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 39

53Graham’s list of contacts during these years was not limited to members of the literary world. One “unlikely reader” of his work was Sir George Riddell, managing director of the News of the World, and a close political ally and confidante of David Lloyd George (Riddell also published Country Life which was of course edited by Graham’s father). It was through Riddell that Graham first met David Lloyd George at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, where the future Prime Minister quizzed his lunch companion about Russia, and suggested that he should turn his attention to writing about conditions in his own country. Also present at this meeting was Charles Masterman, the future director of Britain’s propaganda operations during the First World War, in which Graham played some part.85 Both politicians “smelt a Tory”, recognising that Graham did not share their political views, but the meeting seems to have been a cordial one.86 Lloyd George subsequently consulted Graham about Russia on a number of occasions when he served in the War Cabinet as Minister of Munitions and, later, as Prime Minister. Another influential acquaintance made by Graham during this time was John St Loe Strachey, owner and editor of the Spectator, who had for some years been involved in efforts to improve Anglo-Russian relations. It was through Strachey that Graham came to the attention of Lord Northcliffe, the autocratic proprietor of The Times and the Daily Mail, who in November 1913 sent a typically imperious telegram to 60 Frith Street asking to meet later the same day.

54Graham had by this time returned from America, and although he had not yet completed the final manuscript of With Poor Immigrants, he was already planning a new excursion to the wilds of Central Asia. At their first meeting Northcliffe announced in characteristically abrupt style that he wanted Graham to write for his newspapers, telling him to “go where you like and write what you like”, a commission that would have been hard for any writer or journalist to resist. The two men met again the following day at Printing House Square, when Northcliffe handed Graham a contract for twenty-six articles for The Times, all of them to be published over his name (the first time the paper had departed from its usual convention of anonymity). Over the next few weeks, Graham was invited to dinner at Northcliffe’s home in St James’s Place, whilst a luncheon was also held in his honour, at which he was introduced to many of the leading journalists and editors who worked for Northcliffe, including Geoffrey Dawson and Evelyn Wrench. Northcliffe was one of the principal architects of the “new” journalism that developed in Britain during the early years of the twentieth century, characterised by an emphasis on lively articles written in an accessible style with short sentences and paragraphs. He had read Graham’s With the Russian Pilgrims, along with some of his journalism, and was convinced that his new protégé had the talent to produce the sort of material calculated to appeal to readers of his papers. Graham, for his part, had succeeded in attracting a sponsor who could give him access to the heart of Britain’s most important journalistic empire. He seized the opportunity with enthusiasm.

55Graham was not yet thirty when Northcliffe asked him to contribute to The Times and the Daily Mail. It is perhaps tempting to imagine that their meeting marked a turning-point in Graham’s life, as the youthful wanderer began his transition into hard-headed journalist. The previous pages have shown that such a view would be too simplistic. There were always two aspects to Graham’s outlook on life during the years before the First World War. His long meditations on the meaning of nature and the loss of spirituality in the modern world were heart-felt and genuine, but, even as a young journalist on the Evening Times, Graham proved adept at producing a very different kind of work, one that used his gift for “lurid realism” to describe the seamier side of London life. Graham often felt perfectly at home in the modern world that he attacked so vehemently in his writings. This is not to suggest he was a hypocrite. Nor is it to argue that his early work was inspired simply by a desire to transform the worlds of Nature and Spirit into a marketable commodity designed to appeal to a large readership. It is instead to recognise that there were two different facets to his character which, together, shaped the kind of writer he had become. Both aspects of Graham’s personality continued to shine through his work over the next four years, a time when war and revolution ripped apart Russia, providing him with new challenges in advancing his career and articulating his personal philosophy to a wider audience.

Notes

1 See, for example, The Bookman, December 1910, which described Vagabond as “a most charming and attractive book”; Saturday Review of Literature, Politics, Science and Art [hereafter Saturday Review], 13 January 1912, where Undiscovered Russia was again described as “charming”.

2 See, for example, Dr E.A. Baker, ‘Easter at the Lakes’, The Tramp, March 1910, pp. 3-7; Harry Roberts, ‘The Art of Vagabondage’, The Tramp, March 1910, pp. 22-26.

3 Mike Ashley, Starlight Man (London: Constable, 2000), p. 157 ff.

4 The Academy, 21 January 1911.

5 On Anglo-Russian relations during this period see Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar: British Policy and Russia, 1894-1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Michael Hughes, Diplomacy before the Russian Revolution: Britain, Russia and the Old Diplomacy, 1894-1917 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000); Jennifer Siegel, Endgame: Britain, Russia and the Final Struggle for Central Asia (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002).

6 See, for example, Bernard Pares, Russia and Reform (London: Constable, 1907). See, too, The Times Russian Supplement that was published periodically between 1912 and 1917.

7 On Diaghilev see Sjeng Scheijen, Diaghilev: A Life (New York: Profile Books, 2009). For a typical review of a pre-war Diaghilev production at Covent Garden (in this case ‘The Golden Cock’) see The Times, 16 June 1914. Also see Sally Baner, ‘Firebird and the Idea of Russianness’, in The Ballets Russes and its World, ed. by Lynn Garafola and Nancy Van Norman Baer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 117-34.

8 Maurice Baring, The Mainsprings of Russia (London: Nelson, 1914), p. 301. On Baring’s time in Russia see, too, Maurice Baring, The Puppet Show of Memory (London: Cassel, 1987). For a useful biography of Baring, see Emma Letley, Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe (London: Constable, 1991).

9 Margaret Lane, Edgar Wallace: Biography of a Phenomenon (London: Book Club, 1938), p. 188 ff.

10 Bernard Falk, He Laughed in Fleet Street (London: Hutchinson, 1937), p. 122.

11 Graham Papers (HRC), Works File, Wonderful Scene (typescript), p. 24.

12 Falk, He Laughed in Fleet Street, p. 126.

13 Stephen Graham, Part of the Wonderful Scene (London: Collins, 1964), p. 36. The original manuscript of The Second Coming can be found in the T.I.F. Armstrong (Gawsworth) Papers (HRC), Misc. files. Graham later published a short story based on the novel, ‘Going the Rounds’, in Path and Pavement: Twenty New Tales of Britain, ed. by John Rowland (London: E. Grant, 1937), pp. 185-200.

14 Stephen Graham, ‘Russian Beggar’, New Age, 8, 3 (1910), pp. 62-63.

15 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 34.

16 Evening Times, 30 March 1911 (‘The Courts Day-by-Day’).

17 The description of 60 Frith Street is taken from F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), Survey of London, Vols 33-34: St Anne Soho, pp. 151-66, accessible at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41075.

18 Stephen Graham, Twice Round the London Clock and More London Nights (London: Ernest Benn, 1933), pp. 200-4.

19 For a useful discussion of Bohemian society in London during this period see Peter Brooker, Bohemia in London (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007). Also see Hugh David, The Fitzrovians: A Portait of a Bohemian Society, 1900-1950 (London: Michael Joseph, 1988). For a useful contemporary account by an author whose destiny was, like Graham’s intimately bound up with Russia, see Arthur Ransome, Bohemia in London (London: Chapman and Hall, 1907).

20 Graham, Twice Round the London Clock, pp. 202-3.

21 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 579, 43 (1911 notebook).

22 Graham Papers (in private hands), Graham to Lulu Smith, 22 March1965 (looking back on his time in Rusper).

23 Gawsworth Papers (HRC), Misc. file (‘The Rector of Rusper’). For the memories of the Rector himself see Edward Fitzgerald Synnott, Five Years’ Hell in a Country Parish (London: Stanley Paul and Co, 1920).

24 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 37.

25 Stephen Graham, A Tramp’s Sketches (London: Thomas Nelson, 1913), p. 18, version available at http://archive.org/details/trampsssketches00grahiala.

26 John Lane Letters (HRC), Box 17, Folder 4, Graham to Lane, 18 June 1911.

27 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 32.

28 For a detailed account of the Society see Kristiane Burchardi, Die Moskauer Religiös-Philosophische Vladimir Solov’ev Gesellschaft, 1905-1918 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999).

29 On Solov’ev see Jonathan Sutton, The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: Towards a Reassessment (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988).

30 Graham Papers (HRC), Works File, Wonderful Scene (autograph).

31 Graham himself translated Ivanov’s ‘Theatre of the Future’ in English Review, March 1912, pp. 634-50. On Ivanov see Robert Bird, The Russian Prospero: The Creative Universe of Viacheslav Ivanov (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006). For valuable interpretations of Russian Silver Age culture and thought see Stephen C. Hutchings, Russian Modernism: The Transfiguration of the Everyday (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Avril Pyman, A History of Russian Symbolism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

32 Ivanov was in fairness by 1910 going through a Slavophile phase articulating views that were perhaps not far removed from Graham’s ideas. For details see Bird, Russian Prospero, p. 27.

33 Stephen Graham, ‘One of the Higher Intelligentsia’, Russian Review, 1, 4 (1912), pp. 120-30.

34 On this topic see, for example, Demetres P. Tryphonopolous, ‘The History of the Occult Movement’, in Literary Modernism and the Occult Tradition, ed. by Demetres P. Tryphonopolous and Leon Surette, (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1996), pp. 19-49. For a more detailed account of the situation in Britain see Janet Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). On the situation in Russia see Maria Carlson, ‘Fashionable Occultism’ in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, ed. by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 135-52.

35 Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping (New York: Appleton, 1926), p. 231.

36 Graham Papers (HRC), Wonderful Scene (typescript), p. 36.

37 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 8.

38 Stephen Graham, Changing Russia (London: John Lane, 1913), p. 11, version available at http://archive.org/details/changingrussia00grah.

39 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 7.

40 Ibid, p. 20.

41 Ibid, p. 23

42 Ibid, p. 57.

43 Ibid, p. 201.

44 Ibid, p. 63.

45 Ibid, pp. 239-53.

46 Ibid, pp. 326-27.

47 Graham, Changing Russia, p. 24.

48 Ibid, p. 28.

49 Ibid, p. 117.

50 Ibid, p. 121.

51 Ibid, p. 210.

52 Ibid, p. 11.

53 Graham, Tramp’s Sketches, p. 206.

54 Graham, Changing Russia, p. 3.

55 Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (London: Macmillan, 1913), p. 3, version available at http://archive.org/details/withrussianpilgr00grahuoft.

56 Ibid, pp. 11-12.

57 Graham, Gentle Art of Tramping, p. 231.

58 Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims, p. 152.

59 Ibid, p. 6.

60 Ibid, p. 190.

61 Ibid, p. 296.

62 Graham, Changing Russia p. 255.

63 Ibid, pp. 265, 276.

64 Ibid, p. 270.

65 Athenaeum, 20 September 1913.

66 New York Times, 9 November 1913.

67 See, for example, Athenaeum, 26 October 1912; Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1913.

68 Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims, p. 215.

69 Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (London: Phoenix, 2011), pp. 367, 387-88; Marc D. Steinberg and Heather Coleman, Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), p. 42.

70 Stephen Graham, With Poor Immigrants to America (New York, 1914), p. 14, version available at http://archive.org/details/cihm_991708.

71 Ibid, p. 57.

72 Ibid, p. 57.

73 New York Times, 6 April 1913.

74 Graham, With Poor Immigrants, pp. 76-77.

75 Ibid, p. 116.

76 Ibid, p. 122.

77 Ibid, p. 277.

78 Ibid, pp. 139-40.

79 Ibid, p. 85.

80 Ibid, p. xi.

81 On Novikov see W.T. Stead, The M.P. for Russia, 2 vols. (London: Melrose, 1909). Graham himself later provided a preface to Novikov’s own Russian Memories (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1917).

82 See, for example, Algernon Blackwood, Pan’s Garden: A Volume of Nature Stories (London: Macmillan, 1912).

83 Ashley, Starlight Man, p. 161.

84 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 40.

85 Michael Hughes, ‘Searching for the Soul of Russia: British Perceptions of Russia during the First World War’, Twentieth Century British History, 20, 2 (2009), pp. 198-226.

86 Graham, Wonderful Scene, p. 39

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 4: Photograph taken by Stephen Graham of elderly Russian peasant woman on the banks of the Jordan, published by Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (London: Macmillan, 1913), p. 194.
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