Vanoc II the Strange Watchmaker by Trevor Blake

1845-1945, 1946-Today, Book, Dora Marsden, Historical Work, Journals, Max Stirner, Trevor Blake / Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

I first heard of Vanoc II from a newspaper clipping laid into a second-hand copy of The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner (New York: Modern Library 1919). To read that newspaper clipping, click here. In tracking down the source of that newspaper clipping I learned about an interesting character who spent a lifetime in the company of heretics.

The man who became Vanoc II was born in 1891. I found him referred to by many names: W. E. Hayter-Preson, William Hayter, Ted and Preston among them. I will refer to him here as Hayter.

As a young man Hayter had an interest in both freethought and the occult. The later was an interest he shared with author Victor Neuburg, whom he met in 1906. That was the year that Neuburg met magician Aleister Crowley, and it was Neuburg who introduced the two. Crowley made an early unfavorable impression on Hayter when Crowley grabbed the menu out of his mother’s hands at a restaurant, telling her “Mother, you may have boiled toads. Or fried Jesu.” Hayter joined Crowley’s group Mysteria Mystica Maxima when the group was founded in 1912. Through Crowley, Hayter met the Theosophist Vittoria Cremers in 1913. Cremers told Hayter she knew the identity of Jack the Ripper, by way of what she said was the occult nature of the Ripper’s crimes. Hayter left the Mysteria Mystica Maxima in 1914 following an argument with Crowley about Crowley’s influence over Neuburg. It was Hayter who suggested to Neuburg he disassociate with Crowley. Later Hayter said when “[Neuburg] gave up magic [he] spent the whole of the rest of his life feeling he was not doing what he was meant to be doing.”

In December 1913 Hayter was the editor of a magazine with a single issue, The Cerebrist. Ezra Pound and Frances Gregg contributed to The Cerebrist. These two authors were at the same time contributors to The Egoist and The New Freewoman, magazines published by egoist Dora Marsden. Pound distributed these magazines and mentions them in his letters to D. H. Lawrence (who replied: “I don’t know who Preston is, or what is ‘The Egoist.'”). The Cerebrist advocated cerebrism, as described in The Mysticism of Sex and Happiness by E. C. Grey (Paris: L’Unité Intégrale, 1914). Hayter wrote the introduction for this book. Cerebrism celebrates “harmony, balance, perfection […] both man and womb-man are of uni-sex undetermined, until sexual attraction brings about the oppositeness of Masculine and Feminine.” It is unclear if there is a connection between this periodical and the Cerebrists of Italy.

Vanoc II and The Sunday Referee
In the early 1900s the newspaper The Sunday Referee began publishing a column by Vanoc, the pseudonym of Arnold White. The columns of Vanoc later appeared as The Views of ‘Vanoc’ / An Englishman’s Outlook (London: Kegan Paul 1910). White lived a conventional life but wrote against the grain. His book is critical of the occult and socialism, both of which were popular in his time. He was skeptical of the equality of all humanity, instead serving as a council member of the Eugenics Education Society. White died in 1925, and The Sunday Referee was left without a heretic on staff. Hayter was hired and wrote his columns under the name Vanoc II.

He may have been offered the job on the strength of his 1924 book (co-written with Frank Brangwyn) titled Windmills. By 1933 Hayter was working for The Sunday Referee under his own name as well, as their literary editor. Hayter hired Neuburg to edit a column titled “The Poet’s Corner.” This was the column where Dylan Thomas was first published, which led to Thomas’ first book 18 Poems. Hayter wrote pastiches of Shakespeare, reviewed books by Henry Williamson and James Hanley, and gave work to author Richard Aldington. He was a peer and friend of author Robert J. Flaherty.

Hayter also worked with journalist Bernard O’Donnell. In passing, Hayter mentioned to O’Donnell that he knew a woman who knew the identity of Jack the Ripper. Hayter facilitated a meeting between O’Donnell and Cremers. O’Donnell was convinced by Cremers that Dr. Robert Donston Stephenson was Jack the Ripper, and began to write a book to that effect. He finished Black Magic and Jack the Ripper or This Man Was Jack the Ripper in 1958 but died in 1969, never having seen the manuscript to print.

The Sunday Referee brought about a brief and unhappy reunion between Hayter and Crowley. In 1935 Crowley invited Hayter to dinner at The Old Ship in Brighton. Hayter accepted, thinking it was an opportunity to heal old wounds, but instead Crowley pitched a newspaper article to Hayter. “My Wanderings in Search of the Absolute” was published on March 10 1935. Soon after Crowley entered the office of The Sunday Referee and gave the lead editor a stack of additional essays, claiming Hayter had promised him a regular column. Hayter and the editor denied this claim, and Crowley sued the newspaper for a breech of contract. Hayter observed Crowley try to ‘put a hex’ on the judge, but Crowley lost the case.

I Am a Heretic
In 1936 Vanoc II published a collection of his columns, I Am a Heretic (London: Peter Davies). Unlike Vanoc the First, Vanoc II lived an unconventional life and wrote with the grain. I Am a Heretic is an appeal to socialism and equality among all humanity. It was criticized in A. K. Chesterton’s book Creed of a Fascist Revolutionary / Why I Left Mosley (circa 1936):

The definition has been attempted of the boundaries beyond which liberty shall hold no sovereign sway in the Fascist state; the line of demarcation being always in always the spiritual and material welfare of our people. In the barren lands which lie on the wrong side of the line is likely to be found a remarkable assortment of of individuals, all of them spiritually incapable of assimilating the ideal of the corporate life. That verray parfit Marxian knight, Vanoc II, with other top-heavy and humourless pedants, will doubtless spend his days exchanging reminiscenes with James Douglas […]

May this author hasten to add that not all anti-socialists are fascists, and not all anti-fascists are socialists. Some of us are in it for… ourselves.

In April 1940 Hayter and others (unaware of their peers in Birmingham) founded the Surrealist Group in England. And here, the trail sadly grows cold. What Hayter went on to do, the great majority of his written work, when he passed on, all of this appears lost.

Vanoc was the name of Merlin’s son in the tales of King Arthur. In 1917 the H. M. S. Vanoc was launched, serving King and Country until 1945. May this biographical sketch inspire further research into an interesting character who spent a lifetime in the company of heretics.

Signed by Vanoc II.
Signed by Vanoc II.

Sources (alphabetical)

  • Arthur Calder-Marhsall: The Innocent Eye of Robert J. Flaherty (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc 1963)
  • A. K. Chesterton: Creed of a Fascist Revolutionary (London: circa 1936)
  • Tobias Churton: Aleister Crowley / The Biography (London: Watkins Publishing 2011)
  • Spiro Dimolianis: Jack the Ripper and Black Magic (Jefferson: McFarland & Company)
  • Charles Doyle: Richard Aldington / A Biography (New York: Macmillan 1989)
  • John Fordham: James Hanley / Modernism and the Working Class (thesis, Middlesex University 1997)
  • Norman T. Gates: Richard Aldington / An Autobiography in Letters (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press 1992)
  • Richard Kaczynski: Perdurabo / The Life of Aleister Crowley (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books 2010)
  • James Longenbach: Stone Cottage / Pound, Yeats, and Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press 1988)
  • Lee Ann Montanaro: Surrealism and Psychoanalysis in the work of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff: 1935-1940 (thesis, University of Edinburg 2010)
  • Omar Pound and Robert Spoo (editors): Ezra Pound and Magaret Cravens (Durham: Duke University Press 1988)
  • Anthony Powell: Under Review / Further Writings on Writers, 1946-1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1991)
  • Forrest Read: Pound / Joyce (New York: New Directions 1970)
  • K. K. Ruthven: Ezra Pound as Literary Critic (London: Routledge 1990)
  • Bernard O’Donnell: Black Magic and Jack the Ripper or This Man Was Jack the Ripper (manuscript)
  • The Sunday Referee, April 24 1932
  • Daniel Tiffany: Radio Corpse / Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound (London: Harvard University Press 1995)
  • Vanoc II: I Am a Heretic (London: Peter Davies 1936)
  • The Vassar Miscellany News, November 12 1924
  • Arnold White: The Views of ‘Vanoc’ / An Englishman’s Outlook (London: Kegan Paul 1910)
  • Wikipedia: HMS Vanoc (H33), Wesley Clair Mitchell, Victor Benjamin Neuburg, Robert Donston Stephenson, Sunday Referee, Arnold White
  • Thanks also to Richard McNeff, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and the Henry Williamson Society.
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