Antony Borrow was born 1923 in Hampshire, England, in the south of that country. As with most English Forteans, I have very little information about his early life. He was of age to serve during World War II, but I have no evidence of him being in the services or doing other, related work. He worked as a biochemist, and in a letter to Eric Frank Russell noted he had achieved a B.Sc., but I do not know from where. He also had an interest in modern literature, particularly that of the fantastic and occult. In the late 1940s, he had a relationship with Eva Tucker, the novelist, and they went to poetry readings, seeing Muriel Sparks and Derek Stanford, among others. By this time, Borrow was living in London, according to official records.
In 1948, he started publishing his own little magazine, “The Glass,” a “literary magazine devoted to such forms as Fable, Fantasy, Poetry, Prose-poetry, Journals, and other genres of imaginative or introspective writing,” according to the inner front cover of the fourth issue. Tucker helped him put it together and print it on his 100-year old press, she remembered. (Among the contributors at that date were Harold Pinta, the playwright, who had not yet changed his name.) Later he was assisted by R. P Dodd and Nelson Pollard. At other times, his co-editor was Madge Hales, the poet. The publisher John Calder recollected, The Glass was “set by hand and printed on a hand-press by its eccentric editor, Antony Borrow, who was by profession a chemist, but had a real enthusiasm for new literature, a penchant for the arcane, the occult and the mythical, and who also wrote verse plays. He liked my poems and published at least two.” The Glass was published out of Suffolk, to London’s northeast.
A fortnight later, he further explained, “Apropos s-f, the article John Atkins has done for me is not a deep and searching piece of analysis; it is intended not so much for fan consumption as a brief introduction to it for those who, like myself a year ago, had no idea of its existence or range, and to draw attention to it among the literati. Later I may either try to write or to commission elsewhere a more penetrating study, but to begin with it is enough to describe the set-up. The point is that it is an attempt to draw attention to the genre among an entirely new audience and to try and arouse interest. So when you see it, try to view it as if from outside, as to whether, with such a description, you might not have looked into it further for yourself. Atkins I go to [sic] write it not so much because of his Fortean membership, but because he, like myself, is a writer who is new to, but sympathetic towards, s-f..”
For his part, Borrow published not only in The Glass but also in other magazines. Something of his came out in Outposts Poetry Quarterly (1945) and there may have been something by him in New Quarterly of Poetry 1.4 (1947). Other work showed up in “The Window” and “Springtime” (1953). His “The Great Refusal” appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area magazine of experimental writing “Circle” (1948)—it was put out by Forteans; “The Four Great Beasts” appeared in Forum Stories and Poems 1.2 (1949); “The Wind Blows, Mother” in the fantasy ‘zine Nekromantikon 5 (1951); an introduction to Jean Paris’s “Open City” (1953). He was also said to contribute to French literary magazines. (An autobiographical note he included in a letter to Eric Frank Russell, dated 1948, had it that he was the “author of one and a half enacted plays, one and a half unpublished novels, about twenty published poems, half a dozen published stories, and no end of other sort.”) In 1952, he published “The Affirmation of Images,” in “Nine: A Magazine of Poetry and Criticism. It examined occultism in the novels of Charles Williams concluding that Williams’ “great achievement . . . seems to lie in his recharging of myth.”
(Probably there is a lot more of is work out there, but mislabeled because of his unusual name: Antony is often mis-spelled Anthony, and Borrow takes on all sorts of permutations: Borrows, Burrows, Barrows.)
That same year, he also wrote a letter to the so-called “Rosenberg Committee.” Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for spying on the U.S.A. for the Soviet Union. That was in March 1951. The husband and wife were sentenced to death. Subsequently, a journalistic investigation and the formation of the committee cast doubt on the judgment, or at least the harshness of the sentence. The Rosenberg’s status as Jews carried some weight as some claimed they were the victims of anti-Semitism. Borrow’s letter was dated 20 November 1952. I have not seen it, but a summary, which says that Borrow emphasized “that he believes Communism tone evil because it denies individual liberties, but says that he likewise condemns the Rosenberg executions because the US is itself denying individual liberties in this case.”
“The Glass” ran for 11 issues, according to one bibliography, and seems to have ended in the mid 1950s, probably 1954. At least in that year Borrow started putting out “The London Broadsheet” then. It ran for a year, and continued to explore occult issues, such as witchcraft. If this was the last of his little magazines—and that cannot be said for certain—it may be that was because Borrow had turned his hand to writing plays. In the mid-1950s, he wrote a “Trilogy on the Art and Craft of Dying,” comprising “John Faust,” “Don Juan,” and “Bluebeard.” These were first performed in 1955 and published in 1958.
It may also be that his paying job took up more of his time, as well. Also in the mid-1950s, Antony Borrow and colleagues with Imperial Chemical Industries, in London, were awarded three U.S. patents (presumably there were UK ones as well) for biochemical procedures. These had to do with the production of Gibberellic acid—a plant growth stimulator—from the mold Gibberella fujikuroi. Borrow and his team had determined by staging the production and using specific temperatures they could increase the production of Gibberellin acid, and patented these methods.
It possible—even probable—that family life intervened, as well. At some point, Borrow married a woman named Irene. (I think.) According to an obituary for someone named Antony Borrow who was born around 1923, the couple had three children, Persephone, Raymond and Julian. Borrow would have been forty by 1963, and so it seems likely that, if he hadn’t married earlier—in which case he would have had a growing family—he did so no later than the early 1960s, and that may account for his drifting from the literary scene. (If he did: it is of course possible that he continued and i just haven’t found anything.) The Fortean Borrow lived at a couple of different London addresses between 1948 and 1954; some time after that—but before 1957—he moved out of the city to Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire, some twenty miles north of London, a change of address that is consistent with starting a family or accommodating one’s growth.
If this is the same Antony Borrow, then later in life he and Irene (at least) moved to Macclesfield, England, near Manchester, perhaps upon retirement. And if it is the same Borrow, then he seems mohave returned to writing. In 2004, he published “Valley of the Wild Stream: A History of Wildboarclough.”
Again, if I’ve made the correct connections, then Antony Borrow, poet, playwright, biochemist, Fortean, local historian, died 21 February 2014, aged 90, in Wildboarclough, Macclesfield, England.
Antony Borrow joined the Fortean Society in 1948. He was never very active, by choice it seems, contributing from one to four items over the course of a career that extended almost to the end of the Society, if not all the way until Thayer’s death and the Society’s demise in 1959. Thanks to his correspondence with Russell, though, we have some insights into how he approached Fort and Forteanism—as well as the difficulties of being a member of the Society in post-War Britain: from the post office to paying dues.
The reason I cannot be sure of how many times he contributed to the Society is because of his unusual name. There is one definite contribution by him, headlined “Antony Borrow Writes.” The other three are credited to someone named Barrows. Likely it was another Fortean altogether, but the possibility of it being the same man cannot be fully excluded, and so I have included clippings related to both names here. After all, I could not find any other information on a Fortean surnamed Barrows, and, anyway, that person—if he or she was different—only contributed three reports and was never mentioned in any correspondence. Besides, nothing about the reports submitted by Barrows is particularly unique, or even really traceable.
The three bits credited to Barrows comes from Doubt 30 (October 1950); Doubt 49 (August 1955); and 57 (July 1958). The first dealt with a Cal Tech scientists who said there would, henceforth, be only about one earthquake per year; of course, there had been many more since then. The second was a generic credit, uncoupled with any clipping; the third only referred to something that was sent in about flying saucers, but it’s not clear that Thayer ever used it in the magazine.
The one verified contribution is interesting for showing how quickly Borrow got up to speed on Fortean literature; he clearly read the magazine closely and seems to have (eventually) gotten his hands on Fort’s omnibus. He knew of Fortean takes on poltergeist, on Wonet—or the young girls associated with poltergeist activity—and the reason Thayer suggested the title for Fort’s third book: that scientists were forever declaring “Lo!,” before they made some pronouncement. The contribution also shows that, otherwise, Borrow did not seem to have altered his reading habits. The material he sent in probably came out of his research on occult ideas. It was—this is complicated—from a 1929 translation of the 1608 “Compendium Maleficarum,” which itself was quoting from a 1570 book.
The anecdote had to do with a house haunted by stone throwing poltergeists. There were conflicting rumors about the town—one was the the servants were spreading the stories to cover up for the two beautiful daughters who lived in the house, and who were presumably slipping out to meet their lovers; others were sure the devil was at work. The mayor investigated, with a retinue of some twenty others, declaring, “Lo!,” there was no substance to the tales—until the committee inspected the cellar and were bombarded by rocks of no obvious origin. This experience removed all doubt that the devil, or witches in his employ, were at work. Borrow commented, “It seems to have everything; the falling stones; the two young girls associated; the orthodox ‘and Lo!’ together with the assumption by the prevailing orthodoxy that there was ‘no more room for Doubt.’”
This summarization of Thayer’s view of Forteanism—stripped of the politics—came only two years after Borrow happened into the Society, with only rumors beckoning him. Probably the suggestion to join came from either John Atkins or an advertisement he saw in a little magazine—Circle ran some come-ons for the Fortean Society—or perhaps both. His first two letters to Eric Frank Russell, approaching him about joining the Society, shows a naiveté about the Society’s exclusivity and an ignorance about Fort. He didn’t even know how to spell his name. On 1 October 1948, Borrow wrote, “I have heard a little, but not much, of Charles Forte, and would be interested to receive further details.” He wondered if there was a booklist, and what the Society actually did. Russell must have responded quickly, because Borrow was replying back only eight days later. He thanked Russell for the copy of Doubt—and sent a copy of “The Glass” as a resume. It had his poem “Apology” in it, and was meant as an introduction. Borrow was worried he might not make the cut—given Thayer’s wide-open membership rules, it is to laugh—asking if he was “eligible for membership” and wondering if he could just send money (so many Fortean members didn’t even do that!) “or do I first have to prove suitability?”
Russell seemed to have explained, and nicely. (“For a ‘coarse, down to earth mind’ you were very kind,” Borrow said.) And Borrow joined, not so much because he really wanted to be a member, but because he liked the magazines. By his own account he was open-minded, except in the case of psychiatry: “I am tolerant of everything except psychologists.” He’d gotten some ideas about Fort, and even had a run in with another Fortean—“I have received criticism from Mrs. Gee.” He told Russell on 22 October, “I think I would like to join the Forteans, more to keep in touch; I regard the 10/- enclosed as much as a sub. to Doubt as anything. If I contribute anything to the archives it will be the misdeed of the psychiatrists, a creed whose encroaching Dogma is the most inflated of any just now. Do not think I am coming in with only a vague idea of Fort. I confess I have not seen the ‘Books’ (through no fault of mine) but I have had him fairly ably exposited by John Atkins, & Doubt has filled a few crannies.”
(I do not know the cause of Borrow’s dislike of mental health professionals, nor was it ever expressed in Doubt, though Thayer also took a dim view of psychiatry and allied professions, and supported the work of Robert Lindner, and his book “Prescription for Rebellion,” which was skeptical of psychology.)
Once confusion about the Fortean Society’s exclusivity was clarified, there was another round of mis-communication between Borrow and Russell. Apparently seeing in Borrow a poetical sort, Russell sent him a copy of (Fortean) Lilith Lorraine’s poetry magazine, “Different” (which was staking a claim against the modern avant-garde, and particularly Ezra Pound.” Borrow wasn’t sure to be grateful or offended: he opted for grudgingly grateful. “I was interested by the existence of such a magazine, though not by the actual contents. I think you must have misunderstood my “Glass” completely if you saw any affinity with “Different”. And yet I am glad it exists. It is harmless and honest, though it literary attainment [sic] is by no means high.”
Proving his own tolerance-of both high forms and low, Borrow noted that he could not keep up with the most difficult poetry, though he was happy it existed—just as he was happy Lorraine’s magazine existed—but his heart was on the side of those who were innovating: “I do not read tough stuff myself because there is not time to read everything and in a hierarchy one goes to the top first if one can. But that does not make me agin it. There are lots of things about one cannot do not [sic] because one dislikes them, but because one likes others more. Literary intolerance springs largely from those who limit themselves to thuggery rather than the reverse. This, by the way, is not leveled at you.”
Russell again seemed to have cleared up the confusion, apparently telling Borrow about his own youthful attempts at poetry. It made Borrow wonder about Russell’s relationship to the tough stuff—Russell was a defender of Ezra Pound, like other Forteans including Thayer and James Blish, though I am not sure he was particularly familiar with his post-War writing—and feel sympathetic to his plight. Borrow offered Russell some advice, which he knew to be inadequate even as he wrote it: “The only thing to do (and this is pure metaphysics buckshee) is to accept the fact that people hold different opinions and there is really not very much one can do about it.” (There was that tolerance again.) Otherwise, the question of poetry never again recurred, though it was something touched on in Doubt now and again. Perhaps Borrow was content just to see what was being said by the Forteans, without feeling the need to intervene. After all, he had his own magazine to put out.
There followed the third . . . well, confusion isn’t quite the right word anymore, call it difficulty . . . difficulty with Borrow becoming a member of the Fortean Society. This was a problem shared by most, if not all, British Forteans: exchanging money, dealing with the post office, and finding the Books. In November, he wrote to Russell complaining that his original post payment had not made it to its destination—a picayune irritation, yes, but one that even his tolerance could not quite absorb. “This sort of thing irritates me—I am always loosing [sic] my temper in post offices. Considering the nature of the F.S. it is a little ironic.” And then there was the problem of finding copies of Fort’s work, which had to be imported into Britain, and were subject to a quota. Earlier attempts had failed comically. “I had some fun looking for it elsewhere second hand; was directed into Foyles ‘General Theology’ section as the most likely place to find the Book of the Damned. And elsewhere it was vaguely known of as dirty and substitutes offered instead.” In time, though, he saw that Tomorrow Bookshop in London had the books—the information was on the back page of Doubt—and he eventually got a copy, it would seem.
There remained monetary issues, though. Thayer made Borrow an official member in December 1948, some two months after Borrow first approached Russell. I don’t believe he paid again for several years. Borrow wrote Russell in September 1951 confessing he had not paid in a long time. He had been “very broke, and quite unable to pay attention. Now, happily I am in clear water,” and settled up. (It must have been a Fortean coincidence that the very next month Thayer wrote Russell wondering what had become of “Tony Borrow.”) He settled up two weeks later. Three years later, though, he was in arrears again. Apparently Russell had sent him a letter as a reminder—Thayer sent out slips annually, but these could be missed—and then passed on a letter to Thayer from Borrow trying to figure out how much was owed. In June, Thayer told Borrow that he owed three years—at 8 shillings per year—and warned Russell he’d be receiving a payment from Borrow. A month on, Borrow sent not only his back dues, but an extra year togged ahead—apparently he was not quite so broke.
The connection between Borrow and the Society, though, remained tenuous. In 1957, he wrote to Russell—again, apparently after some prompting—embarrassed that his dues had lapsed and he had not kept the Society abreast of his address changes. He brought everything up to date—which means that he had a membership into 1958, if not longer. (Likely, even if he stopped paying his dues again, he would have continued to receive Doubt.) Of course, too much weight can be put on this lapse. The mid-1950s were also when Borrow gave up his publishing, and even his playwriting seemed mohave reached its end. Still, it is pretty clear that Borrow was never particularly attached to the Society, contributing very little and constantly overlooking the bills. He knew his Fort, but didn’t seem to have any need to expand on that.
Nonetheless, he did play a role in spreading the Fortean word. In the fourth issue of The Glass, put out in 1950 or 1951 (perhaps its publication was the hidden reason for Thayer to wonder about him only a month after Borrow realized he was long over-due in paying for his subscription), Borrow ran an article about Charles Fort, written by John Atkins. Like Atkins article on science fiction, this one did not go into depth, but was meant as an introduction, bringing Fort t the literati (as other avant-garde magazines did, such as Circle.) Here is a slightly edited summary of the article that I wrote for my post about Atkins:
Atkins’s article, “The Challenge of Charles Fort,” led off the issue. It started off with an anecdote that explained some enigmatic stones he mentioned in Doubt: “During the war I went into a Welsh pub and my eye was immediately taken by a curious object on a stand in the hall. It was a block of smooth black material, very hard, about the size of today’s joint for a family of six. The interesting thing about it was that it was incised very deeply with regular yet unfamiliar characters. My immediate reaction was: Obviously man-manse and no natural freak, On the wall was a framed cutting saying that this object and others like it had been picked up in the neighborhood after a violent thunder storm during there last century. The implication was that, even if it was not a meteorite, it was some product of meteorological disturbance.”
He went on then to connect his own attitude, and similar reactions to Charles Fort: “Such an explanation just was not acceptable. Or rather, I should say, was too unlikely to be accepted. The difference between the two attitudes is extremely germane to a consideration of Charles Fort’s research and philosophy.
“Some such occurrence as this must have set Fort off on his enquiry. He was obviously, by nature, a sceptic. But there were many fields in which he could have indulged his skepticism without challenging the whole basis of science as practised today.
“Returning to my Welsh ‘stone’, there are many questions Fort would have asked. (Bear in mind that it is not an isolated instance but that many other equally mysterious objects have suddenly appearance [sic] on this earth.) Why have the meteorologists been so satisfied with an answer that will not hold water? Why are they so wedded to the belief that things falling from the sky must have come originally from another part of our world, Tellus? Or why do they fall back on that convenient little Phenomenon, the meteorite, with such relief? Why are they so reluctant to embark on research into the origins of these unassimilated strangers?”
Atkins then went on to give a quick description of Fort’s work—it derived from these questions, he said, and had him collecting his clippings on the anomalous. (As far as I know, there’s no evidence that Atkin’s reconstruction of Fort’s thought is correct. His biographers have not answered whether he started collecting, then asked the questions, or asked the questions, then started collecting.) The paragraph culminates in a listing of Fort’s four books, which Atkins sees as a mingling of old wive’s tales and metaphysical conclusions.
Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t accept the facts Fort puts forward—he sees the research as important—but is more taken by the ‘tentative conclusions’ and the slap they give to positivism. Fort was playful, offering conclusions just as logical as the ones offered by scientists, but opening rather than closing future thought, Atkins said, neither believing them nor disbelieving them. “We live in the decadence of science. Scientists have established a world picture which they cling to as fiercely as the schoolmen clung to their ninth heaven. If a fact cannot be assimilated it is excluded, usually by ridicule, though increasingly by an appeal to hypnosis. But just as mediaeval metaphysics gave way to modern positivism, so must the later give way to what Fort terms Intermediatism.”
Atkins diverged for a second, bringing in Dante to explain the difference between mediaevalists and modernists—in both cases, the evidence of the senses being denied—before returning to Fort and his suggestion that belief—which Atkins associated with decadent science—be replaced by acceptance. “His argument is that if there are rival hypotheses the sensible thing to do is to accept both until one is disproved. We have a good illustration of this in the interpretation of dreams,” Atkins went on, pointing to the different hermeneutics employed by Freudians and those who followed Dunne.
This reading probably pinned Fort down more than he would have preferred while simultaneously leaving the door open for science to have the final say—in that scientists would determine what counted as disproved. Fort was both offering his ideas as contrary to science and not willing offering them, but in either case was not content to let scientists have the last word. Or, perhaps, any word, anymore. But Atkins read Fort as a kind of pluralist (completely ignoring the material monism that underlay his ideas): “J.C. Powys says that Rabelais, like Walt Whitman, seemed prepared to believe anything except that there is only one truth to be believed—and this Fort would call acceptance . . . But no man stands alone. I believe that, in his psychopathic embrace, Henry Miller has given a Fortean shove to literary expression.”
And that is a very acute thing to say, however much he may have been reading Fort selectively. Powys and Miller were both fans of Fort, Powys one of the founders of the Fortean Society. Rabelais was a favorite of Tiffany Thayer. And Walt Whitman inspired many off the poets who were, admittedly a bit distantly, connected to Fort. These were writers unwilling to be hemmed in by convention, forced to accept the reasonable, writers on the lookout for new ways of seeing the universe by paying attention to what was ignored, what was damned. It would have been a worthy conclusion to the article.
But for whatever reason, Atkins felt the need to append one more bit: perhaps it was all too theoretical, not rooted in anomalous phenomena. And so he made reference to a woman in Washington who, in January 1948, claimed to see a winged man fly over her barn. What could be the explanation, Atkins wondered: Inebriation? Senility? Insanity? Imagination? He knew what scientists would say. But Fort would refuse judgment because “the woman was there and he wasn’t.” Which isn’t exactly true—Fort very well might have accepted it and used it to spin out some theory. More to the point, refusing judgment is different than acceptance. The confusion shows that Atkins did not have a firm grasp on what it meant to be a Fortean, but rather a general approach: science, sure, but what else?
Exactly how much of Atkins’s views on Forts were shared by Borrow I cannot say. I only have a general sense of Borrow’s Forteanism—if, indeed, he can be said to be much of a Fortean at all. He doesn’t seem to have been very committed. Still, he paid his dues, and that seems to have been no easy task, so something must have kept him reading Doubt, something must have had him tracking down Fort’s books. Borrow was a research scientist, so he could not exactly dismiss the results of scientific enterprise. But he could wonder if it was all there was. And he could wonder if the myths—the language—of life were not important, as well, in some other way, necessary to a full human life. Too little is known about Borrow’s ideas to say anything firmly, but on a fist guess, I would have to say this interest in fables and the legends that give charge to life is what Borrow found to appreciate in Fort and Forteanism.
That plus hating on psychiatrists.