What the Papers Say

Interesting project on at the John Rylands that ties in nicely with the Mitrinović collection – Guardian journalist Robert Dell was also active in the New Europe Group.

John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

Project Archivist Jane Speller writes:

A new archive project funded by the John Rylands Research Institute aims to unlock the fascinating information contained in the foreign correspondence of The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) newspaper of the early 1930s. This key period in world history is told through the thousands of letters of the editor, William Percival Crozier (1879-1944), to and from his principal foreign correspondents, Robert Dell (1865-1940) in Geneva, Frederick Augustus Voigt (1892–1957) in Berlin and Alexander Werth (1901-1969) in Paris.

Crozier rose up through the ranks of the paper and was appointed as editor in April 1932, working from the headquarters of the paper on Manchester’s Cross Street.

Guardian office in Cross Street, Manchester. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group Guardian office in Cross Street, Manchester. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group

Foreign news had always been Crozier’s chief interest and in the interwar period he sought to increase foreign news coverage in the newspaper, as…

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Robert Dell, Our Man in Geneva

Here in Special Collections we are always telling students that the power of archives comes from the fact that they were generally not produced with any consideration for how they would be seen in the future. Rather, they were working records produced at a given moment in history for contemporary purposes. I came across a letter recently that reminded me of the truth of that.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, SignatureRobert Dell wrote to Winifred Gordon Fraser in 1935 from Geneva discussing Nazi Germany and the difficulties facing German refugees. The letter is a prime example of how archival sources put us back in the shoes of those living through the historical events we study, and how they can put a human face on world affairs.

Dell was a journalist, then working as a Foreign Correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, but intriguingly his career had already included co-editing The Burlington Magazine and being an art dealer in Paris. He was involved in Dimitrije Mitrinović’s New Europe Group, and even for a time served as its President. Dell had written a book on Nazi Germany, Germany unmasked: on Germany under the National-Socialist regime (Martin Hopkinson, London, 1934).

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, p.1, Excerpt re European Situation

From this letter alone, it is clear that Dell understood the real threat that Hitler posed – unlike many in Britain at the time. He talks of German negotiators effectively stalling for time. Dell also writes about his frustration with the British authorities, particularly when it came to immigration. He complains that it is far easier for members of Nazi Party to come to Britain than German refugees, even when those refugees might be demonstrably capable of supporting themselves once in the UK. Dell himself was doing his best to help one Mrs. Brandt, and part of his reason for writing to Gordon Fraser (and Mitrinović) was to try and obtain some work – even unpaid – with the New Europe Group to bolster her case.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, excerpt re RefugeesI do not know whether or not Mrs. Brandt was successful in her bid to come to England, nor whether or not Winifred Gordon Fraser and the New Europe Group were able to help her. In Robert Dell, however, she at least had an articulate and well-connected advocate. Thanks to his letter, we have an interesting report on what it was like to observe the failure to create a lasting peace in the 1930s at close hand, and a terrible sense of the consequences for people like Mrs. Brandt.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

We’re a day late, but by a lovely coincidence I stumbled across some files relating to feminism yesterday in the Mitrinović Archive and it seems too good an opportunity to miss! In the 1940s some of the women in Mitrinović’s circles set up their own sub-group, Anthropo-Femina of the New Atlantis. They met for discussions and organised public lectures with a variety of invited speakers. They also seem to have joined in the celebrations for International Women’s Day, if the presence of this pamphlet in their files is anything to go by.

NAF 3-2-2-6-3 International Women's Day programme, 1946

I hadn’t realised that International Women’s Day had such a long history, nor that Mitrinović’s associates Winifred Gordon Fraser, Violet MacDermot, Louise Hughes and others not only considered themselves to be feminists in the 1940s, but established a group to study subjects and issues that they thought were of particular interest to women. I’m still cataloguing these records, but so far the records show that the group was interested in Psychology, Sociology, International Affairs, Philosophy and issues relating to the Second World War as these related to women. I have found statements of belief, letters, notes, bulletins, and meeting minutes relating to “Anthropo-Femina”, which seems to have been in existence from 1941 -1950s. I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about this intriguing group!

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Funding the Revolution: Money and the New Britain Movement

In 1932 Dimitrije Mitrinović decided that the moment had arrived to “build a New Britain”, and launched the New Britain Movement. The Movement was centred around support for Guild Socialism, monetary reform, and a political system combining principles of devolution and world federation. It adopted the idea of the Threefold State, developed by Rudolf Steiner, in which parliament would be divided into separate houses for culture, economics and politics. A successful publicity campaign kicked off the Movement, which evidently struck a chord with a swathe of the British public. Over 60 local branches were established across the country, and the Movement’s weekly magazine was at times selling up to 32 000 copies. Contributors included Bertrand Russell, Harold Macmillan, Frederick Soddy, Prof. J. Macmurray, Patrick Geddes and S.G. Hobson.

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, p.1, excerpt

Some in Mitrinović’s network realised that to achieve its aims, the New Britain Movement would need a sound financial footing. Bill Duff was one such friend, although his money making schemes may strike some as walking an interesting line between the inspired and the ridiculous. Duff wrote to Mitrinović with a list of suggestions ranging from the prosaic, such as charging subscription fees and for admission to lectures, to the creation of a New Britain Theatrical Review! Duff also suggested creating New Britain ties – leading to possibly my favourite comment in the Collection, “…even Communists love uniforms at heart”!

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, Excerpt re Uniforms

In the end it seems that the Movement was financed by sales of their magazines, The New Britain Quarterly and New Britain Weekly, perhaps subscriptions and membership fees, and donations from sympathetic friends and acquaintances. The situation was always rather precarious. Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby paints a vivid picture of D.R. Davies and others dashing across the country to solicit donations to keep the presses running and get the magazine produced.

The New Britain Movement collapsed amidst intense disagreement over its direction, and power struggles, in 1934. A remarkable letter from A.R. Hearn records his response to the financial difficulties he suffered when New Britain finally collapsed.  A loan he had given the organisation was left unpaid, causing an “avalanche” in his words that left him in debt. Despite what he termed his “gamble” spectacularly failing to pay off, Hearn remained committed to the cause.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.1, excerpt 'disaster'The New Britain Movement may not have lasted long, but those responsible for its brief existence certainly organised a flurry of activities in that time. The Archive has records relating to lectures, conferences, luncheons, and other events. There are manifestos, constitutions and statements of belief. New Britain produced various journals: New Albion, New Atlantic, The Eleventh Hour Bulletin, New Britain Quarterly  and New Britain Weekly magazines were published between 1933 – 1935. All of this is a testament to the determination, generosity and belief in the cause show by Mitrinović and those he inspired.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.2, excerpt New Britain's future

P.S. If anyone does ever find a New Britain tie (if they ever were produced), we’d love to know! After all, everyone loves a uniform…


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Death and Illness in the Archive

Recently I catalogued an interesting, rather sad, file that reminded me of the privilege we have of living in the age of antibiotics. Amongst Dimitrije Mitrinović’s more personal papers is a file of letters from friends and family, many of which relate to the deaths of his brothers Milivoje and Ljubivoje, as well as his niece Lilija, all within a few years of each other.

NAF 1-8-7 Ljubivoj Mitrinovic, Obit 1931

Announcement of the death of Ljubivoje Mitrinović.

Milivoje Mitrinović had followed his brother to Britain, and was studying Journalism at the University of London when he died, seemingly of tuberculosis. Letters from English correspondents show that he was well-liked in his new home and had clearly made an impression on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friends.

Ljubivoje (known as Ljubo) died in Belgrade in 1931, nursed by his sister, Vera Mitrinović. By this time Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friend, the travel writer and novelist Stephen Graham, was living in Yugoslavia and had fallen in love with Vera. A moving letter written in the difficult time before Ljubo’s death documents their relationship. In the letter, dated January 1930, Graham appeals to Dimitrije Mitrinović to help Vera. Graham feared that her studies were suffering under the burden of caring for Ljubo. He worried about her finding herself in a situation where she would have to deal with Ljubo’s body by herself, as he looked likely to die in the one room flat they shared. Most serious of all, Graham feared for Vera’s health. How could she avoid catching tuberculosis, living so closely with her infected brother? Efforts to give Ljubo money to pay rent on a second room had gone awry and Graham asks Dimitrije Mitrinović to advise his siblings.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, p.3 Excerpt 3    NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930 Excerpt 2

After Ljubivoje Mitrinović’s death, Vera still seems to have borne the brunt of the burden on the family. According to another letter from Graham, she paid for the funeral expenses herself. However, I don’t think Dimitrije Mitrinović should be seen as a cruel or miserly brother in all this. The archive also contains evidence of him sending money to Vera and trying to get back to Yugoslavia to visit. Graham’s pleas didn’t fall on deaf ears!

It is certainly easy to get drawn into the personal tragedies and dramas of these letters, but it also struck me that there might be some interest in letters of condolence as a “genre”. They are a way of exploring how we mark death, and the type of language or ideas we use to try to comfort the living or express grief. Those in the Mitrinović Archive might be particularly interesting, as so many of those writing them had studied psychology, religion and philosophy, which might have shaped their responses to illness and death.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, envelope

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Mens Sana in Corpore Sano: Mind & Body in the Mitrinović Collection

This week I wanted to explore the place that physical activity has in the Mitrinović collection. It is hard, looking at photos of Dimitrije Mitrinović and knowing that he frequently suffered from ill health, to imagine him actually doing any exercise but he does seem to have had an interest in it. His close collaborator Valerie Cooper ran a dance and movement studio, and some members of Mitrinović’s circle seem to have taken instruction in dance and exercise from her.

NAF 1-7-2-2-2 Cooper-Gaffran School of Movement, Director bios

The Mitrinović Archive holds a copy of a booklet advertising the Cooper-Gaffran School of Movement, in which the Directors outline their philosophy. They state their belief that “Owing to the physical and mental strain imposed upon them by the conditions of modern civilisation, most human beings have lost the feeling for rhythmic and harmonious movement […].” The aim of the School was to “prevent and cure postural defects and the many diseases arising from them, and give the ability to carry the body with ease and grace […].” “Correct movement” would stop the waste of “nervous energy”, help preserve “youthful vigour” and flexibility.

Cooper also promoted her philosophy beyond the school, publishing a series of articles in the New Britain magazine in the 1930s in which she coached readers. A series of marvelous photos were taken to illustrate the series, which ran under the title ‘The New Exercise’, in keeping with the spirit of change that was core to the New Britain Movement.


NAF 5-4-9 Woman Exercising, New Britain 1933, Kneeling pose

NAF 5-4-9 Woman Exercising, New Britain 1933, diving pose

However much New Britain promoted and sought change, its founder Dimtrije Mitrinović was also always looking backwards as well as forwards, seeking out the wisdom of the past and of traditional practices from around the world. In keeping with his interest in Eastern philosophies, religions and spiritual practices, Mitrinović studied yoga – at least in an academic sense. This pamphlet, which turned up unexpectedly in the archive, was printed in 1930 to advertise a new journal focusing on the philosophy and practice of yoga.

NAF 1-7-2-9-1 Yoga Journal, pamphlet 1930

We think of yoga as reaching the West only really in the 1960s, but Mitrinović’s Archive and Library show that certainly by the 1920s these Eastern practices and beliefs were being studied in London, Germany and even Belgrade.

The idea of healthy mind, healthy body has ancient roots, as our Latin quote suggests. In principle at least, it appealed to Mitrinović – although other evidence in the archive shows he certainly wasn’t willing to give up whisky and soda or smoking his pipe to get there!

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How is Your Serbo-Croat? Special Collections Needs Volunteers!

Dimitrije Mitrinović was born in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, into a Serbian speaking family. He learned to speak and write in multiple languages as a young man and today his Archive reflects his “multi-lingualism”. This is particularly true of the letters in the collection. So far I have catalogued material in German, French, Russian, Italian and, of course, Serbo-Croat.

Unfortunately I don’t have Mitrinović’s knowledge of languages, which is where you come in! Special Collections is looking for volunteers to help us to catalogue correspondence from his Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian friends, colleagues and family to the same standard as we’ve established for letters in English.

NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, front                 NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, back

Dimitrije Mitrinović created, edited and wrote for influential journals and magazines in Serbia, Croatia and subsequently, Yugoslavia. He knew some of the region’s most learned, famous (and infamous) and artistic citizens including Gavrilo Princip and Ivan Meštrović. If you have a knowledge of the Serbian or Croatian language and an interest in history, this could be just the project for you! And you don’t have to live near Bradford, as we’ll supply you with copies to work from and training.

Please email e.l.burgham@bradford.ac.uk to find out more and register your interest.

NAF 1-8-3-7 Letter, front [pink]

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