Barnes Correspondence

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Albert Coombs Barnes received his M.D. 1892 from the University of Pennsylvania.  In 1898 he had all the requirements for a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Heidelberg, but refused to pay the final fee and so did not receive the degree. He made his fortune by inventing the antiseptic Argyrol. His vast collection of art, focusing on the Impressionists and Postimpressionists, remains one of the largest and most closely guarded in the world. Barnes wrote five volumes on art. He enrolled in Dewey's Columbia University social philosophy seminar in 1917, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

The staff of the Barnes Foundation has generously provided access to the Barnes archive materials, which have revealed hundreds of unpublished letters between Dewey and Albert C. Barnes.  Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, SIUC, houses a large collection of authorized photocopies of this correspondence in the Joseph Ratner / John Dewey Papers. (Dewey authorized Joseph Ratner to copy the materials. See Middle Works, 11:399 note 2.)

Letter 1: 

Dear Mr. Dewey:

On my way home from the seminar yesterday, I heard of your plan to organize enlightened liberal thought for the intelligent prosecution of the war. Details of information were lacking, but I presume that your plan embodies some of the ideas set forth in your recent writings looking toward a "democratic humanitarianism." I am in sympathy with the movement, and it occurred to me that I might possibly be instrumental in helping by some of the means which college professors do not always have at their disposal-money, business organization and the assistance of practical men of affairs.

If convenient and agreeable, I should like to have you come to my house on Saturday next, give me your general idea, and then on Sunday morning, have you meet one of my friends who has been sympathetic to some ideas along the same general lines contained in books which I put in his hands, and which he expressed in a speech at a public dinner given recently to our new Ambassador to Japan. His speech was met with great favor at the hands of the press, and he tells me he received a large number of commendatory letters from the general public in reference to it. He is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, young, intelligent and apparently desirous of helping the Government in the war.

You could get a train back to New York early Sunday evening. That your proposed visit might not be devoid of other interests, I may mention that there will be in Philadelphia on Saturday night a very good symphony orchestra concert, and also theatres and a boxing match, and on Sunday afternoon, I have music at my house with an audience of four people.

The trains leave Pennsylvania Terminal, New York every hour, and if you find that you can come, and will let me know, get off the train at West Philadelphia Station and I will meet you there, from which we reach my house in about fifteen minutes.

                                                                                                                          Yours very truly,
                                                                                                                          Albert C. Barnes

Letter 2: 

Dear Mr. Dewey:-

I return Klyce's interesting letter. From what he writes he looks good to me, and I would like to talk with him if I ever get in that neighborhood; but from what you tell me, the title of his book, and some things which I possibly read in to his letter, I wonder if he is not another sort of modern Hegel-the kind of a fellow you crack in your book for allowing the imagination to overwhelm the understanding. You miss your point if you think I ever doubted your courage-there is a vast difference between a timid man and a coward. Intellectual courage you have to spare but courage in a pragmatic concrete situation is submerged by your timidity.

You are both right and wrong in your interpretation of my remarks about "nearest to your heart's desire". Russell is an artist because he can communicate to others his thoughts and other more important things, the feelings thereof; in that way he does reach the liberal masses, which you miss doing; but I know you too well to take the implication that you are an aristocrat by reason of being a highly specialized thinker. I am sure, and can prove it by your technique, that you do want to reach the masses even if it has to be done in a round-about way and by means of other people.

I nearly dropped off the chair that day in the seminar when that jewess got your goat by an attenuated Russellism. I tumbled right away that you were jealous of Russell and several times in talking to you, and quite often in your letters, especially your latest letter, you show that you are jealous of him. This I think best proves my point that you do what to do what Russell does as regards reaching the masses. The inconsistent thing in it, to me, is that Russell's thinking, as I told you before, is a transition to your philosophy. I never thought that Russell understood pragmatism and I am convinced of that every time I read his critique of James's essay on Truth, in his "Philosophical Essays". Of course your jealousy is an unconscious one and you do him the finest kind of justice in what you say about his thinking, his open mind, his opposition to himself when new facts develop. I will justify this criticism by calling your attention to a remark made in your previous letter that all human beings have limitations, and that I am disappointed in you in that you show you are human in this respect.

I would like to believe all you say about the poss[page folded] good intentions of the Consortium, but I have been in touch so lo[page folded] with people like T.L.3 that I have come to believe that they are [page folded] marily exploiters, and that if it ever comes to a question of P[page folded] gain, or the good of China, the latter will suffer. I sat nex[t] [page folded] at the New Republic dinner, before Wilson took him under his [page folded] || financial adviser. He was a thorough-going Democrat at that time and told me he was afraid he would be summoned to Washington for some criticisms which he had made of Wilson's policy at that time when we were in the heat of the war. Only a few weeks after that Wilson called on the Morgan interests for help at the Peace Conference, and they sent T.L. as their foxiest and slipperiest representative. Since that time I have watched T.L. and have seen nothing in his statements that would modify my opinion that Janus had anything on him. Even with all the bad features of the Consortium, I agree with you that China will get some good things out of it.

About the Chinese paintings which you say you could get hold of cheap: I am quite sure you could make some money out of them if you wanted to practice principles which would not meet with your approval. What I means is that there is a market for them in this country but they are nearly always sold under misrepresentation. I don't feel very bad about that because people who buy works of art upon any other basis than their own judgment deserve to be stung as badly as a clever person can do it. I could give you the names of two or three dealers whose clientele is made up of just such people and it would be a simple matter for you to merely place the paintings with them and let them exploit the fact that the leading thinker of America had spent more than two years in China in close touch with the best people in the world of Art and Government, and get rid of the paintings upon that basis instead of for what they are. I don't think that would appeal to you but if it did, I don't see how anybody could criticize you, although if they ever got wise to what they owned (which would be very unlikely) they would have a legitimate kick against the dealer.

I have just been reading a corking fine book "A Lover of the Chair" and as soon as I finish I will send it to you. It is somewhat of the character of Lowes Dickinson but much more penetrating and in its geniality somewhat suggestive of Montaigne.

I am mailing you a copy of the catalog of the important Degas sale, which took place the night before last. I bought numbers 7, 8, 13, 14, 26, 30, 42 and 46-in all four oils and four pastels. The prices marked in the catalog are what they brought at the Paris sale just after Degas death, in 1918. I enclose newspaper clipping about the sale, but the statement that the paintings brought high prices is absurd-they did not bring one-third of their value. I got pictures, that would normally cost me about one hundred thousand dollars, ($100,000.00), for just a trifle under thirty thousand dollars, ($30,000.00), and they make an important addition to my collection.

                                                                                                                                  Albert C. Barnes