Queer History Month Post #1 : Old Chapters

Heading for an advertising circular for the book Long-Haired Iopas. Text reads: Long-Haired Iopas: Old Chapters from Twenty-Five Years of Music-Criticism. By Edward Prime-Stevenson. Royal 8vo, 424pp, Edition limited to 135 copies, numbered, and signed by the author. Privately printed by the press of "The Italian Mail," Florence, Italy. Copies, from a very small series remaining of the edition, can be obtained by addressing A.H. Mayhew, Bookseller, etc. "The Sign of the Smithy," 56, Charing Cross Road, London, W.C.2.
“Literary Agent’s Press-Circular” for Long-Haired Iopas: Old Chapters from Twenty-Five Years of Music-Criticism (Florence: Privately Printed, 1927)

Long-Haired Iopas: Old Chapters from Twenty-Five Years of Music-Criticism demonstrates many of Prime-Stevenson’s idiosyncrasies, particularly in his later self-published works. It is a book full of contradictions. The title implies deeply personal reflections, with many chapters dedicated to close personal friends and family, yet the introduction makes it clear that this is not a memoir or a collection of reminiscences. Many of the chapters read as fairly conventional, often conservative, early twentieth-century music criticism focused largely on German (with some French, Italian, and US) canonical works and composers and the nuances surrounding concert life in New York City during the 1890s. Yet there are also unexpected allusions to potentially queer readings of particular works. The most overt of these is a lengthy tangent in the essay “Parsifal in New York?” on the topic of homosexuality in Wagner’s Parsifal aimed at female Wagnerians. (While I have read a fair amount of condescending and misogynistic work on women and music, I cannot think of another instance of early twentieth-century music criticism that dismisses women’s musical tastes while simultaneously suggesting they read sexology!)

There are also frequent forays into fiction, fanciful speculation, and poetry (also by Prime-Stevenson) on musical subjects. The most substantial fictional work, “Prince Bedr’s Quest,” contains an indirect but telling allusion to “Xavier Mayne’s” novel Imre: A Memorandum. A brief introduction to the story–supposedly a programmatic analysis of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony–establishes the purported author as neither Prime-Stevenson nor “Mayne,” but instead as a tourist in Vienna traveling with his friend Oswald. This unnamed character is in all likelihood Lieutenant Imre von N–, Oswald’s titular love interest in Imre: A Memorandum, who is established as both having great amateur musical skill and having previously seen an analyst in Vienna. Some time after the events of Imre, it appears that Imre and Oswald have undertaken something of a Beethoven pilgrimage to Vienna and found themselves inspired to jointly author an analysis of the Ninth. This recalls both Oswald’s youthful experience of Beethoven symphonies as “tone-autobiographies” in Imre and Prime-Stevenson’s stated claims of a secret queer subtext to Beethoven’s life and music in The Intersexes.

In addition to updating and expanding articles that first appeared in newspaper columns, each essay in Iopas (with the exception of an obituary for singer Max Alvary) is given a dedication. These include Harry Harkness Flagler (to whom the titular essay is dedicated), Vernon Lee (who is honored with an article on Chopin), and various friends, family members, former colleagues, and celebrities.

While Iopas is in many ways a reflection of Prime-Stevenson’s career under his own name (or under his earlier byline E.I.S.), multiple elements hint at “Mayne’s” sexological interests and seem to wink at those readers who would know of the author’s dual identity. “Parsifal in New York?” utilizes “similisexualism,” Prime-Stevenson’s preferred quasi-scientific term for homosexuality and (in a rare instance of Prime-Stevenson citing his sources) mentions the work of Oskar Panizza, who is also credited in The Intersexes. Another Wagnerian essay, “The Illogical Wagner,” is actually dedicated to Xavier Mayne himself, although the essay itself has little to do with Prime-Stevenson’s interest in queer readings of Wagnerian music drama.

Although Long-Haired Iopas is itself interesting as Prime-Stevenson’s act of self-anthologizing excerpts from his career as a critic, a particular copy of it led to some new directions in this project. As mentioned in the “literary agent’s press-circular” pictured at the top of the page, Iopas was printed in an extremely limited edition of 135. While finishing my dissertation in 2018, I visited Dartmouth College to consult the papers of Prime-Stevenson’s sometime colleague James Gibbons Huneker, hoping to find evidence of their correspondence after Prime-Stevenson left New York. Knowing that a handful of Prime-Stevenson’s self-published books were held by Dartmouth, I made sure to request these from offsite storage ahead of time in case I needed to double-check a reference during my visit. Huneker’s papers–fascinating and provocative in their own right (if mostly beyond the scope of this project)–yielded only hints at his acquaintance with Prime-Stevenson, including a signed photograph and an entry in Huneker’s address book.

While taking a break from the Huneker papers, I decided to compare my notes on Huneker’s writings on Wagner with Prime-Stevenson’s Wagnerian essays in Iopas. Upon opening Dartmouth’s copy of the book (identified in the frontpages as #77), however, I was instantly distracted by something I had never seen before, despite having requested copies of Iopas from every library I could find willing to let the rare book circulate.

Every copy of Prime-Stevenson’s self-published books includes a number identifying the book as part of a (very) limited print run. Every copy is also signed by Prime-Stevenson personally. My personal copy of Iopas (acquired via eBay as something of a graduation present to myself), for example, is listed as Copy #54.

Copy #77 had these expected details and then some. It was filled with annotations–both typed and pasted or bound into the book and written (often in pencil). It also contained a stamp on the title page identifying Prime-Stevenson’s international mailing addresses.

Purple stamp giving the mailing addresses of E. Prime-Stevenson in New York City (Fifth Avenue Bank) and Paris (Morgan & Cie., Place Vendome). This appears above the word "Iopas" on the title page of Long-Haired Iopas.
Prime-Stevenson’s Mailing Addresses (from Long-Haired Iopas, Copy #77 (Dartmouth College))

My own clumsy comparison of some of the handwriting to Prime-Stevenson’s signed photo in the Huneker papers and an email to Prime-Stevenson expert James Gifford confirmed the annotations as original. Some of the typed comments seemed to offer further commentary or apology for the chapters, although I could not determine whether this was meant for the book’s future readers at Dartmouth upon Prime-Stevenson’s donation of Copy #77 in 1938 or in advance of a never-realized future edition of Iopas. Some places in Copy #77 seemed to suggest changes Prime-Stevenson might want to make after the book’s printing, such as changing his views on programmatic music or altering certain dedications. (Curiously, one of the dedications that is crossed out and reattributed in Copy #77 is the one to Xavier Mayne.)

Title and epigram to the essay "The Illogical Wagner," in which the dedication to Xavier Mayne is crossed out and the name "Francis Toye" is written in pencil beneath it.
Dedication for “The Illogical Wagner” in Long-Haired Iopas, Copy #77 (Dartmouth College)

The endpapers of Copy #77 also contain documentation of Prime-Stevenson’s plan for the book that I have not found elsewhere. It was here that I found the full text of the “press-circular” previously mentioned, which contained a detailed summary of the book and several pages of excerpts from published reviews and unpublished testimonials. Although the “literary agent” is unnamed, it certainly sounds like Prime-Stevenson, including his trademark run-on sentences (a trait I have admittedly found creeping into my own writing), idiosyncratic spelling choices, and standard mention of his other works. A footnote at the start of the circular reads tellingly like some of the anonymously written (but also likely autobiographical) entries on Prime-Stevenson found in various Who’s Who-style reference works from the early twentieth century, in which “Mayne’s” sexological writings occasionally receive cryptic reference as “several volumes in a seriously important department of psychiatric research” alongside Prime-Stevenson’s acknowledged fiction and music criticism.

By the same author (the volumes being chiefly in private print only, so far as yet in stock)  A Matter of Temperament, White Cockades, Left to Themselves (Philip And Gerard), You Will, Won't You, The Square of Sevens, Sebastien Au Plus Bel Age, Into the Sun, The Creditors, Her Enemy, Some Friends, And Other Personages, Red William's Wood, You Have Asked Me To Tell You, etc., etc. Also several volumes in a seriously important department of psychiatric research.
List of Prime-Stevenson’s Books in “Literary Agent’s Press-Circular,” Long-Haired Iopas, Copy #77 (Dartmouth College)


For the curious (or the completionist) among you, a complete list of Prime-Stevenson’s annotations to Copy #77 (including the complete text of the press circular and testimonials) is included as an appendix to Imagining Musical Pasts. Thanks must go first and foremost here to the librarians and archivists of Dartmouth College for allowing me to use these materials and attempting to find answers to my very strange questions about not-quite-century-old accession records and issues of copyright for handwritten annotations.

Bri at More Than Silence has done a great deal of cross-referencing Prime-Stevenson’s newspaper columns with his later self-published work (including selected essays in Iopas).

James Gifford’s book Dayneford’s Library: American Homosexual Writing, 1900-1913 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995) includes a very useful chapter on recurring themes and allusions across Prime-Stevenson’s fiction.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.