Housman And The Ex
A perceptive Ex once gave me an especially gratifying gift – Housman’s Last Poems, a copy of which was already in my library.
The book she presented me, however, was an early edition, replete with well-thumbed pages, a few tears and folds, and blemishes galore.1
The date of the first printing2 of Last Poems was October 1922. A second printing also took place in October 1922. My copy was “reprinted” (the publisher’s term) in November 1922.
There is no special monetary value attached to this edition, but I’ve always relished reading from this volume, knowing it was published and, it appeared, well read contemporaneously with Housman.
Allan Truax & Me
While I had noticed the inscription on the front page when I received the gift, I had paid it little attention until recently when it struck me as kinda, sorta interesting that the presumptive original owner of this volume was from Crosby, ND. Given that I wasn’t certain that a place called Crosby, North Dakota existed, it seemed worthwhile to check out that geographical point lest I discover a few years hence that Crosby is a village in New Devonshire or something of that ilk.
As it turns out, Crosby, North Dakota, founded in 1904, is located 186 miles northwest of Bismarck in the northwest corner of the state and, as of the 2000 census, was home to just over 1,000 residents.3
After learning the town’s location and size,4 I began wondering what kind of guy living in Crosby, North Dakota in 1922 would buy a copy of Housman’s second book of poems.
And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found a few answers to that question.
This photo and excerpt is from Thura Truax Hires Manuscripts
The life story of Allan Truax is itself most remarkable. Born in Michigan in 1872, he became a North Dakota School teacher. There, he married Evelyn Baldwin, a fellow teacher, and also born in 1872. Allan lived to be 93 and Evelyn lived longer.
Allan spent most of his work life in the employ of the Great Northern Railway. He and his wife became well known for their civic and Church leadership. Allan developed great talent as a speaker and a writer. He was a second cousin of Thura Truax Hires.
Following an accident which severed his arm, he retired from the railroad in 1933. He and his wife began a new life’s adventure. They bought a Model-T. Because of his handicap, he could not drive. She could. Together, they drove over 100 thousand miles, touring the country. They visited the 48 continental states in the process.
Allan traveled to search for his family’s story, and to study America. He was greatly impressed in his visit to the Nation’s Capitol. He later produced a history of the Revolution in several volumes, and a series on the history of the states. This is to be found in the Institute of Regional Studies in Fargo, N.D.
Allan capped off his travels and studies at age 83. Alone, he went to England where he spent five months visiting the literary and historical treasures he had read about.
The brief biography shown below is from American Revolutionary War Postcards & Photographs Collection, a web page dedicated to his collection of illustrations of the Revolutionary War.
Included in his collection of 1007 postcards & photographs, for example, is this photo, displayed on the right, taken in Wilmington, Delaware, of the “Statue of Caesar Rodney riding to Philadelphia to cast Delaware’s vote for the Declaration.”5
Allen L. Truax (1871-1965) came to Crosby, N.D., Divide County in 1908. At that time he was a railway mail clerk on the Great Northern Train. Prior to then (1895) he attended Valley City Normal. Allen L. and Evelyn (Baldwin) Truax were married in 1901 and both taught school in Page, N.D. during 1893-1894. They had four children, two dying in infancy. He retired from the railway mail service in 1932. He and Mrs. Truax traveled over 100,000 miles and visited every state in the Union spending a good share of their time in the Eastern States visiting historic sites. During this part of his travels he wrote a history of the American Revolution, which was never published.
Allan Truax was also invested in his family’s history, as is noted in this excerpt of his own composition, found at The House of Truax:
While the Truax family is one of the oldest in America, it has never had a completed published history. Some time in the 1870′s, or later, David Truax of Chicago began collecting data for a projected history of the family, but after his death his manuscript was, unfortunately, lost. … By a stroke of good fortune in 1925 I came in touch with Mrs. Thura Truax Hires of Philadelphia, who offered to take up the work where Theodore Truax left off, and carry it through to completion at her own time and expense. … Having retired 1933, and feeling a great obligation to Mrs. Hires, I assisted her in every way possible. From 1934 to 1945, I traveled extensively, interviewing hundreds of Truax descendants, copying gravestone inscriptions, unearthing old Bibles and consulting local records. My work is incorporated with that of Mrs. Hires.
I’m not sure what to make of the date in the inscription. Since the volume wasn’t published until October 1922, no one could have written anything on the flyleaf on 3 January 1922, the date recorded in pencil. The most likely explanation, it seems to me, is that whoever wrote the date, on the third day of the year, wrote, from habit, the date of the preceding year; i.e., writing “1922″ instead of “1923.”
I cannot offer as satisfactory an explanation for the difference, at least to my untrained eyes, between the handwriting of the date and that of Mr. Truax’s name. Perhaps Allan L. Truax wrote his name and Evelyn Truax, his wife, entered the date, which seems, again, to me, written in the more feminine hand, either because she was the actual organizational force in the household or because she wished to memorialize the occasion on which she presented him the book as a gift. (As long as I’m speculating without the limitations of evidence, I may as well concoct something interesting.)
The Big Finish
There is no big finish.
There are no amazing coincidences or secrets to be revealed. Allan Truax is not, as far as I know, an American cousin of Housman or an ancestor of mine. Nor did he write the definitive biography of Housman or publish a slim volume of his own poems that were, until now, undiscovered masterpieces.
Nonetheless, I admire Mr. Truax,6 whose job was in the railway mail service but whose heart and mind were given over to his involvement with his community and church, his extensive travels, and his devoted pursuit of his intellectual interests, especially with family, local, and American history.
And, I would like to think I have something in common with his penchant for following ones own fascinations with energy and competence, regardless of the outcome with the effort itself being sufficient recompense.
Of course, I’m also happy about his interest in Housman that eventually connected him and me.
It seems to me likely that Housman would have appreciated Truax’s self-guided intellectual pursuits as well. Housman, after all, worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London for ten years while pursuing classical studies independently and publishing scholarly articles on Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, thus earning a professorship of Latin at University College London,
Finally, I’ve gotta believe Allan [Truax, that is], despite his lack of free time and despite having lost an arm, would have written a heck of blog.
Identification: Allan Truax, Allen Truax, and A.L. Truax
“Allan Truax” and “Allen Truax” appear with approximately equal frequency in the written material I’ve reviewed, with “A.L. Truax” occurring somewhat less often. The name Mr. Truax inscribed in his books was “Allan” so I use it preferentially
- Allan Truax , A.E. Housman, The Ex, Me, and More
- More Allan Truax Data In The Offing
- Allan Truax Returns
- The Life and Times Of Allan Lincoln Truax
- Allan Truax Timeline In Context
- Warning: While this present was exceptionally successful and I treasure the book, it could easily have gone awry, transforming into a social faux pas of catastrophic proportions. As any veteran gift-giver knows, choosing a gift that is associated with the gift-receiver’s special interests is a risky gambit, and one more often than not rewarded with polite, perfunctory thanks because the recipient already owns that item or owns a better version of that item or knows that that item is useless at his or her level of expertise or knows that the item’s apparent link to the field of interest is bogus or … . Such a stunt should be attempted only by professionals – don’t try this at home. [↩]
- The publisher is Grant Richards, LTD , London [↩]
- Wikipedia – Crosby, ND [↩]
- I should point out that Crosby’s population is more than twice that of my own home town in the Ozarks [↩]
- Caesar Rodney, whom I’m chagrined to admit was unknown to me prior to this post, is himself an interesting dude. According to Caesar Rodney biography, the statue commemorates his eighty mile ride from Delaware, where Brigadier General Rodney had led the Delaware militia in putting down a Loyalist riot, through a thunderstorm on the night of July 1, 1776, to Philadelphia, where he arrived just in time to vote, breaking the deadlock of the Delaware delegation, in favor of the Declaration of Independence. He could also be a tad sarcastic: “Once the voting for independence concluded and debate resumed, Rodney is remembered for puncturing the self-importance of the Virginia delegates who believed they were the mighty rock on which independence rested.”Let [Virginia] be of good cheer,” he said, “she has a friend in need; Delaware will take her under its protection and insure her safety.” Good one, Caesar. [↩]
- And, yes, I also admire Evelyn, his wife, who, if she did nothing else, deserves approbation for driving 100,000 miles in that Model-T in their tours of the United States. [↩]