Biography and History

In 1926, Esar Levine 1 was convicted and imprisoned for trafficking in obscene books as a result of his attempts to assist Frank Harris in the American publication of Harris's autobiography, My Life and Loves, in New York. As an expression of his gratitude to Levine, Harris dedicated the third volume of My Life and Loves as follows: “To Esar Levine, who has suffered imprisonment for his affection to me and devotion to my welfare, I dedicate this third volume of My Life. It is the best I have to give to the best and bravest of friends, and whatever value it has is due in great part to his help and counsel. Frank Harris. Nice, 1926.”

According to a footnote in the definitive 1963 edition of My Life and Loves edited by John F. Gallagher, Esar Levine was a “writer and anthologist resident in New York” (p. 842). Levine was born in 1899 and worked at the Frank Harris Publishing Company 2, and, later, at the Panurge Press in New York, where two of Frank Harris's books were published in 1930 — Confessional (a book of essays) and Pantopia (a novel) — the manuscripts of which are included in the collection.

The Levine collection also contains over 100 autograph and typed letters from Frank Harris to Esar Levine which chart their personal and business/editorial relationship between 1920 and 1930. At the time of Levine's earliest letter, Harris was the editor of Pearson's magazine in New York. The final letter in the correspondence series is addressed to Levine's wife, Patsy, and reports on the death of Harris's third wife, Nellie, in 1955, and her subsequent burial in the English Cemetery in Nice, France, alongside her husband, Frank (who had died in 1931). Levine's year of death is unknown [to me]; however, the final news clipping in his scrapbook on Harris is dated 1976.

1Esar Levine's admiration of Frank Harris as a writer can be summed up in the following statement by him: “Whatever one may think of the extreme boldness of James Joyce's huge experiment, Ulysses, or Frank Harris's daring autobiography, My Life, or D.H. Lawrence's extraordinary novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, no one who knows these men and their earlier work can question their desperate sincerity.” (From Esar Levine's Foreword to the first American edition and English translation of Edouard Charles de Beaumont's 1882 work, The Sword and Womankind (Panurge Press, 1929)).

2The Frank Harris Publishing Company was founded in New York in mid-to-late 1920s in order to promote and distribute the works of Frank Harris in America. The names of the young men who worked there are cited together by Frank Harris in his autobiography as follows:

“Fortunately for me, I have found several such disciples: Esar Levine, Ben Rebkhuhn, Raymond Thomson and [Einar] Lyngklip. These young Americans came to my lectures in New York and offered me their services. For years they have helped me in all ways of affection, suffered even fines and imprisonment for me-and no man hath greater love than this! Esar Levine has helped me a great deal with this volume, for he knows my writing better than I do. I think the world will soon recognize-for they are all still in the twenties-that the friendship of these men is to me a title of honor” (page 842 of the 1963 edition of My Life and Loves, edited by John F. Gallagher).

By contrast, in a letter from Nice dated August 22, 1927, Harris disparagingly addressed these same men “To the Trinity, Esar Levine, Ben Rebhuhn & [Raymond] Thomson” and accused them of embezzling money from him: “Remember that all this time the Trinity was dividing up my earnings knowing that I was lame and half-blind and without the money necessary to go to Paris to consult a good oculist — three young men able to work willing to live off — some people would call it by a worse name — the earnings of a half blind old man over seventy, whom they profess to admire and love!”

Another passage in the same letter reads: “Ross [Harris's attorney] has just written to me to say that the Office [Harris Publishing Co.] is abandoned and he can't find the Holy Trinity - Alas! Alas: The ‘devoted, tearful, loving’ Trinity will soon have to find work in order to live - they've starved the goose that laid the golden eggs!!” The personal and business relationship between Harris and Levine, however, appears to have been patched up by 1929, according to the letters between them that are in the collection.

1The Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) lists 1855 as the birth year of Frank Harris, which is why the majority of the Harris catalog records in the Princeton University Library system cite 1855 as his birth year. The Concise Dictionary of National Biography and The Oxford Companion to English Literature list 1856 as Harri's birth year, which is the one being used in this collection's finding aid and online manuscript records (MASC).

Source: From the finding aid for C0873

  • Esar Levine Collection of Frank Harris. 1908-1976 (inclusive), 1920-1930 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0873

    The Esar Levine Collection of Frank Harris consists of the writings, correspondence, and printed matter of, and relating to, Frank Harris (1855-1931) as collected by Esar Levine (1899-?), Harris's disciple, agent and friend. Harris, an Irish-born, naturalized American citizen, was a prolific writer and journalist/editor who is perhaps best known for his scandalous autobiography, My Life and Loves, which was censored in America and parts of Europe.