Giving “The Eagle and The Serpent” and John Basil Barnhill their due. 1913

1845-1945, John Basil Barnhill, The Eagle and The Serpent / Friday, July 14th, 2017

What follows is a dialogue between readers of an English journal titled T.P.’s Weekly. Those readers just happen to include some of the earliest translators of Nietzsche into the English language, and making sure John Basil Barnhill (who may or may not have been ill, I’ve yet to substantiate that) got credit for his publishing Thomas Common in his journal The Eagle and The Serpent (1898).

The titular “T.P.” of the journal was Thomas Power O’Connor. Wikipedia’s first paragraph on him:

Thomas Power O’Connor (5 October 1848 – 18 November 1929), known as T. P. O’Connor and occasionally as Tay Pay (mimicking his own pronunciation of the initials T. P.), was a journalist, an Irish nationalist political figure, and a member of parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for nearly fifty years.

The website Conrad First gives a little background on the journal:

Launched on 14 November 1902, T.P.’s Weekly was the latest publishing venture of Radical M.P. T. P. O’Connor, founder of London’s halfpenny The Star and the penny weekly M.A.P. (Mainly About People) (1898) and Weekly Sun (1891). Priced one penny, T.P.’s Weekly promised “to bring to many thousands a love of letters”, securing to this end contributions from a distinguished array of writers: George Bernard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and G. K. Chesterton. In practice, O’Connor delegated most of the running of the magazine to Wilfred Whitten (whose byline “John O’London” supplied the title of another contemporary literary magazine, John O’London’s Weekly). Whitten was succeeded in 1914 by Holbrook Jackson, under whose editorship the journal changed name in 1916 to To-Day. Shortly after the journal folded in January 1917, it was succeeded by another, unrelated magazine bearing the same name, which continued until 1924.

NOTE: We have done a rough job transcribing some of the text from old scans, though there may still be errors. Others, due to time constraints, we have left in image form. We may go back and transcribe these later, or if a volunteer would like to do it, please contact us.

The following was printed in the May 2, 1913 issue of T.P.’s Weekly. It was been written by a Bernard Lintot.

In the preface to the final volume of the edition, Dr. Oscar Levy pays a fine tribute to those who have worked with him on the production of the eighteen volumes. And he gives in the following passage a brief history of the efforts to introduce Nietzsche into England:

It was in the year 1893 that Nietzsche’s name is first mentioned in one of the books of the unfortunate English poet John Davidson. In the following year a group of German, English, and Scottish admirers of Nietzsche arranged to bring out an authorised version of the German thinker’s works, three volumes of which were actually published in 1896 and 1 897. The reception of these books was so discouraging that no further arrangements could be made by the publishing firm, which shortly afterwards, owing chiefly to the extensive liabilities incurred by the Nietzsche edition, had to give up business. In the next six years — from 1897 to 1903 — in spite of various endeavours by some indefatigable defenders of the faith, it was found absolutely impossible to get ahearing for Nietzsche either with the public, the Press, or the publishers. Their hopes went down to freezing- point when, in 1903, The Dawn of Day was given to the public, only to meet again with a cold reception. But in 1907 the party had somewhat recovered its spirit, and as a last experiment brought out a translation of Beyond Good and Evil — this time at private risk, for no publisher could be induced to take up an author twice repudiated. This translation was one which had been made nearly ten years ago, but until then had never seen, and was never expected to see, the light of publicity. It turned out to bea success — a half-hearted success perhaps, but one that at last told the few inmates of the Nietzschean ark that the waters of democracy had diminished, and that at least some higher peaks of humanity were free from the appalling deluge. The success encouraged them once more to take up their old project of the publication of the come first four volumes of this, the present translation, left the press and were favourably received, though yet by a small and none too enthusiastic public. Towards the end of the same year three more volumes were published. In 1910 and 1911 the remaining ten volumes of the translation appeared, while most of the previously published volumes went into a second and even a third edition. No volume was published in 191 2, but with the index the last and, as is to be hoped, a very useful volume is added to this, the most complete and voluminous translation of any foreign philosopher into the English language.

In the above passage Dr. Oscar Levy does not, of course, set out to write a complete history of the development of interest in Nietzsche in this country. But I think he might have mentioned the pioneer work done by the first and only journal devoted to the Nietzschean philosophy ever published in this country. “The Eagle and The Serpent.”  And I think he is wrong also in imagining John Davidson to be the first English writer to mention Nietzsche. I do not know who whom the honour will be finally due, but I do know that “George Egerton” (Mrs. Golding Bright) mentions the philosopher in “Keynotes,” which was first published in the year 1892.

The following letter from A.G. Field was printed in the May 23, 1913 issue of T.P.’s Weekly.

Friedrich Nietzsche in England.

To the Editor of T.P.’s WEEKLY.
Sir, – The generous reference by Bernard Lintot, in T. P.’s WEEKLY of May 2nd, to the early promulgation of Nietzschean principles by the magazine “The Eagle and the Serpent,” will bring happiness to at least one heart. Stretched on his sick-bed in a Washington hospital, threatened with desquamative nephritis, lies at this moment John Basil Barnhill, one of literature’s pioneers; one of those who penetrate axe in hand into the thickets of popular ignorance. Such men gain nothing for themselves, except the jungle fevers and the warrior’s wounds and hunger. Among a crowd of original and valuable ideas moving him to a perpetual action, two were most persistent—a desire to place Bizet on his proper plane among thinkers as well as among musicians, and an unconquerable resolution to bring Nietzsche into the ken of the English-speaking peoples.

Well do I remember his translations of and writings on Nietzsche, for I myself made some of the former and circulated many of the latter. Bernard Lintot gives due and adequate praise to the monumental work of Dr. Levy, but he rightly adds some corrections to Dr. Levy’s curious notes on the early work in connection with Nietzsche. Why is Thomas Common so absolutely ignored ? But there were prophets even before Common. Among the hardy few none more full of the radiancy of hope and courage than John Basil Barnhill, who finally, in the pages of “The Eagle and the Serpent,” attempted to popularise , the Neitzschean philosophy. When he saw that the pioneer work was over, and that the “morning red ” had indeed dawned over England, he stopped his journal and commenced his pioneer work on Vauvenargues, Rivarol, and Chamfort. The first English translation of any quantity of Chamfort’s caustic epigrams was made by me and issued by Barnhill in the pages of one of his ephemeral magazines. This quixotic spirit was all the while ‘ on Bizet, reading the deepest philosophical meaning into the junction of his striking musical ideas with a plot taken from Merimée’s novel. Readers of “T.P.’s ‘already know that when Nietzsche broke with Wagner on the ground of that composer’s apostasy from a pagan dramatic movement to a Christian, or “slave,” principle, he attempted to aggrandise Bizet and particularly Bizet’s great work, “Carmen,” at the expense of Wagner. Those wrangles seem singularly old and dead to us to-day; yet the conviction that something unappreciated in Bizet rests yet to be brought home to the people inspires Barnhill on his sick-bed. He writes me from the hospital : —

“If this ward were provided with an orchestra playing.’ Carmen,” or even a gramophone reading Maupassant’s On’ Merimée’s inimitable stories to me, I could tolerate it and get well. As it is J am still thinking out—not working as it very much, that is at present impossible-my great work on Bizet, I have now reached the section ‘Carmen Nights’—a series of tragic tales told me by the world’s wastrels whom I have taken on various occasions to hear the opera. A veritable Magnificat of Bizet. No really sympathetic life of him exists in English. Of course, he got a stupendous puff from Nietzsche, and others from Runciman: ‘The second act is so brilliant that it positively sheds light.” Can you help me to assemble the critiques of the French and Germans who have appreciated Bizet’s greatness? Perhaps this is a lifelong task I am suggesting?”

And so the untiring brain works on, on-always engaged in some unbusinesslike and non-paying proposition; always offering its service to humanity and sacrificing to the manes of the neglected and unappreciated.

Barnhill is assailed by a fear that his present illness may develop into something fatal, but he faces it as boldly as he has faced other contingencies almost as terrible. Finding his principles Nietzschean and other, discordant with a professional position from which he was drawing a comfortable salary, he abandoned not his principles but his salary. To-day he writes: —

“Doctors say this is probably Bright’s disease. I have accepted the challenge of Mr. Bright and I intend to fight him to a finish. Personally, I think I may come out victor, if not, well—as Brutus says:
Therefore, our everlasting farewell take—
For ever, and for ever, farewell, Cassius!
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.

It is not remarkable that Barnhill’s pioneer work for Nietzsche, which I, a Socialist and anti-Nietzschean, declare to have been of the first importance to the thinking world, should have been neglected. He belongs to the class who are always, partly through their own defects of advertising ability, neglected and ignored. His father fought and died in the American Civil War, and yet he draws no pension, in a land where the distinction consists in not having a pension. He has lectured and fought for the Democratic party for twenty years, and now the party is in power it does not even offer him a vice-consulship, say, at Leeds, Cardiff, or Bristol, where his old friends and fellow pioneers could see him and hear the old accents.

A few of those who have read this man’s writings, or even who now hear of his work for the first time, might like to send him a line of affection and encouragement. In that case I would be glad to forward it, or give any necessary information.

28, Ilminster Gardens, S.W.

The following letter from Oscar Levy was printed in the May 30, 1913 issue of T.P.’s Weekly.

Dr. Oscar Levy and Nietzsche Pioneers.

Sir,—I am very much obliged to Mr. A. G. Field for drawing, my attention to Mr. John Basil Barnhill, the former editor of “The Eagle and the Serpent,” the earliest Nietzschean periodical in England. I knew of this periodical, but not of its editor.

At the same time—as Mr. Bernard Lintot in his generous appreciation of my Nietzsche translation already suggested—I was only giving a. short retrospective sketch of “The Nietzschean Movement in England ” in my introductory essay to the index volume of the Nietzsche translation. I did not intend to write a historical survey of the whole movement, for the simple reason that I could not have done it, even if I had tried. I have no knowledge f.i. of Mr. J. B. Barnhill and his work. The only competent person to do justice to this task would he my friend Mr. Thomas Common, of Edinburgh, who from the beginning has taken an active and leading part in the movement. which I myself only joined at a much later state.

It would, therefore, have been more than ungrateful on my part if, as Mr. A. G. Field suggests, I had tried to ignore in my preface Mr. Thomas Common, of whom I knew. If I may be allowed to refer Mr. A. G. Field to page 21 of this preface, he will see that I paid my tribute not only to Mr. Thomas Common, but likewise to Mr. William Haussmann for their steadfast and courageous work in our cause. Both Mr. Common and Mr. Haussmann ( who is a German-American living in Philadelphia) stood sponsor for the first edition of Nietzsche, with which I myself had nothing to do. This edition, published by Henry and Co. and later on by Fisher Unwin, had unfortunately to be discontinued. But both Mr. Common and Mr. Haussmann have likewise given active and generous help to my edition, and to omit their names would have been on my part decidely unjust, or what is called in English “unsportsmenlike.”


The following was printed in the June 6, 1913 issue of T.P.’s Weekly. It was written by Bernard Lintot.

The following letter from Thomas Common was also printed in the June 6, 1913 issue of T.P.’s Weekly.

Nietzsche Pioneers.



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