Charles Russell Keep, Jr. (Feb. 9, 1929- March 21, 2018)
The Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund has set up a Fund in Memory of Russ Keep. You can support this fund by making a gift at C. Russell Keep, Jr. Memorial Fund.
Personal (Sometimes Hazy) Recollections of Russ Keep, by Norman Fiering
I knew Russ Keep for some sixty years, but most intensely from one angle only––our shared admiration of Prof. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (d. 1973). It is a narrow angle as compared to those who were in proximity to Russ for many years as co-workers, and certainly far more limited an acquaintance than those who were privileged to know him as a father or husband, or even as a close social friend or classmate. Nevertheless, the orientation we both had towards Rosenstock-Huessy as lodestar was enough to make for a close relationship, if not a satisfyingly deep one.
The writings and lectures of Rosenstock-Huessy were for us an inexhaustible resource, endlessly enriching, that we, and not many others, knew about and from whose works we could draw guiding principles, wisdom, and sustenance, even a kind of unconventional counter-cultural, skeptical attitude, while waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
I met Russ in ca. 1954, in my sophomore year at Dartmouth College, where Rosenstock-Huessy was a professor. Russ had graduated from Dartmouth three years earlier, in 1951, yet only a few years later he was back on campus with a purpose. He had tried law school in the interim, the rigidity of which was not a good fit for him, and now his immediate goal was to preserve for posterity as many as possible of Rosenstock-Huessy’s classroom lectures, none of which had ever been written out. I would attend the professor’s classes–– he lectured extemporaneously a few times a week for about eighty minutes, fifty to one hundred students present–– and there would be Russ, mysteriously, with golden hair, in the front row, responsible for a bulky 1940s reel-to-reel tape recorder and a primitive microphone resting flat on a wooden table.
There was nothing official or authorized about the tape recording arrangement, if it can even be called an arrangement. As an undergraduate attending Rosenstock-Huessy classes, Russ felt he was in the presence of a unique, towering spirit, and at some point in 1949 asked the professor if he would allow the recording. Consent was given and the first taping began, with Rosenstock-Huessy entirely ignoring the microphone and the spinning reels, indifferently turning his back on the mike sometimes to write on the blackboard behind him.
Some years later, however, the professor did actively cooperate, when Russ persuaded him to re-deliver two chosen lectures in a proper recording booth, which Russ then published as 33-1/3 vinyl LPs: “History Must Be Told” (1955), Produced by C. R. Keep, Huntington, L. I.; and “Make Bold To Be Ashamed, On Freedom, Growth and Self-Knowledge,” (1958), 3 LP records, Produced by C. R. Keep, Huntington, L. I. The production of those commercially respectable records, when Russ was in his twenties, was in many ways emblematic of him throughout his life. He had an entrepreneurial streak, but he was oblique to the mainstream; highly individual; undemonstrative; quietly idiosyncratic in what he chose to turn his talents to. Russ once told me that before he began the tape recording he endeavored to learn shorthand, aspiring to become an amanuensis to Rosenstock-Huessy, his goal being to preserve the lectures by hand, as a stenographer. That proved to be far more difficult than the modern technology.
In the course of those few post-graduate years after 1951 when Russ was intermittently back on campus, he spent a year as a lodger at Four Wells, in Norwich, Vermont, the home of Eugen and Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, giving him an opportunity to draw much closer to the professor. Such a sojourn was not unusual. The Rosenstock-Huessys almost always had a student lodger. What was unique, however, was the opportunity Russ was given, even earlier, in January and February 1950, when he was still an undergraduate, to join the small entourage traveling to Egypt with Rosenstock-Huessy to view the ancient monuments. Cynthia Harris, another acolyte, was also in that group.
By the time the Russ Keep LP–records enterprise was underway, Russ and I had become friends, a relationship that began when one day after class, curious, I approached Russ, already myself enamoured of Rosenstock-Huessy’s teaching, to find out what he was up to with the recording apparatus. Our meeting was fortuitous for him because he was by that time eager to leave Hanover and move on in life, but he wanted the recording to continue. His classmates from the class of 1951 had already left the scene, but we recruited a classmate of mine to continue the work, Paul Margulies (Dartmouth ‘56), and Russ had himself found “B” Bergesen (’56) and Leon Martel (’55) to help. Ultimately, as a result of Russ’s initiative, more than 300 hours of Rosenstock-Huessy’s inimitable, immensely valuable lectures were preserved.
After I graduated, I moved to New York City where Russ was already employed, and our relationship and collaboration resumed. We both married young, and I remember with my wife visiting Russ and his wife, Nancy, for dinner, in their handsome apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. Two revelations for me occurred at that dinner. One, we learned that Nancy had given birth to their first child at home, naturally, without any anesthesia, a midwife in attendance. In the 1950s in the U. S. that was totally exotic, seen perhaps as a reversion to the primitive in a country where the standard belief, implicitly, was that pregnancy and childbirth were inherently medical problems, deserving of professional attention. Two, for dessert at the meal Nancy served bananas and wheat germ––wheat germ was virtually an unknown food sixty years ago, and I had never heard of it––and she and Russ introduced us to the pioneering cookbook, Let’s Cook It Right (1947) by Adele Davis. Russ talked about organic food, a concept so remote at the time it required definition.
Neither the natural childbirth nor the progressive diet were Rosenstock-Huessy prescriptions, but Russ would be the first to acknowledge that the liberating, challenging spirit of Rosenstock-Huessy’s lectures, stressing always the concrete over the abstract, and exemplary action over theorizing, contributed to these choices. Generally speaking, Rosenstock-Huessy reinforced independence of mind and heart, with the goal always of world betterment, at the same time stressing that it is never easy, never possible without sacrifice.
Russ was earning his living at the advertising agency Benton and Bowles, founded by the young men William Benton and Chester Bowles, both exceptional people in the American grain, dedicated to public service. Benton, among much else, was later a Senator from Connecticut, and Bowles at one point was Ambassador to India, stages in distinguished careers for each of them after they sold the agency. I remember once visiting Russ in his office at Benton and Bowles, and in the corner there were stacks of egg cartons. Perhaps Russ was working on the account of an egg merchant, I thought. No, the eggs, organic, cage free, and all that, were a sideline, brought from a farm in the exurbs. Russ was peddling them to open-minded friends, and around the same time, too, he was involved with a health-food cooperative in Manhattan through which one could have organic meat hand-delivered to your door once a week. However enlightened the Benton and Bowles agency was, Russ did not belong there any more than he belonged in law school, and one way or another, before long, his career as an ad man came to an end.
In a transition wholly unpredictable given his suburban Long Island background, Russ with his family moved to an organic farm in Newtown, Pennsylvania, called Golden Acres, owned by an Anthroposophist named Walter Stuber. Stuber gave Russ a managerial role in this agricultural venture. Somewhere in that evolution from ad-man, Russ had discovered Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophists, who promoted so-called biodynamic farming, to this day the crème-de-la-crème of organic farming. Russ never became a devotee of Steiner, but he led me and others into recognition of the good work of Waldorf Schools and other Anthroposophist-inspired programs.
With Russ we visited the Anthroposophist center in Spring Valley, New York, Three-Fold Farm, and heard the biodynamic farming guru Ehrenfried Pfeiffer lecture in New York City about vitamin sufficiency illnesses, i. e., health problems caused by an excess of certain vitamins, a danger when foods are artificially suffused with supplements and additives, rather than being natural.
Two of my college friends, Paul Margulies, already mentioned, and David Glasser, still in their twenties, also became Russ’s friends and joined him for a while in the farming life in Pennsylvania. Paul may have stayed on at Golden Acres after Russ left. We were all fascinated by the principal biodynamic expert at Golden Acres, Heinz Grotzke, invited from Germany, who emanated a kind of spirituality derived from his attunement to the health of the land. His eyes were the color of a clear sky. Margulies himself later went into advertising, making a considerable success of it as a creative director. He was able to retire early and became a teacher in a Steiner school in the Berkshires. Glasser eventually went to medical school, distinguishing himself as a leader in public health in Baltimore, specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis among the urban poor. Earlier he had volunteered to serve as a physician in Vietnam during the war. He died far too young. His will included a bequest of $20,000 to the Rosenstock-Huessy Fund that no one had expected. Paul and David were both influenced by Russ.
Russ was the first person I had heard of who was broadcasting the dangers of refined white sugar to general health. He called attention to a remarkable book published by a dentist, Melvin E. Page, Degeneration, Regeneration (1949), that dramatically illustrated the difference between the teeth of “white men”, typically decayed, and the healthy condition of the teeth of peoples from non-Europeanized parts of the world, where refined sugar was never consumed.
Rosenstock-Huessy would often call attention in his lecturing to the importance of timing in life, the needed science, he said, of the too early and the too late. Ripeness is all, he said, quoting Shakespeare. Health foods were an extremely marginal, even suspect, business in the 1950s, along with humane husbandry and sustainable agriculture. The Whole Foods corporate era was still decades away. Had the timing been right, Russ could have been the founder and CEO of a Whole Foods, but he was far too early in his intelligent enthusiasms.
To step back to our New York City years, Russ and I were engaged in 1958 and 1959 in publishing in this country the first bibliography of Rosenstock-Huessy’s work, a little book that came out in 1959 under the concocted imprint “Four Wells” with the title Bibliography/Biography. Including a Mediation by Rosenstock-Huessy entitled: Biblionomics. It was a project that originated in Germany, occasioned by Rosenstock-Huessy’s seventieth birthday on July 6, 1958. The heart of our book was a nine-page chronological bibliography, “Verzeichnis der Schriften Eugen Rosenstock-Huessys” compiled by “Edward F. Little, Claremont, California; B. E. Bergesen, Princeton, New Jersey; C. Russell Keep, Jr., New York; Mathias Rang, Bad Godesberg”. Our book was a kind of spin-off intended for U. S. readers derived from Rosentock-Huessy’s Das Geheimnis der Universität––Wider den Verfall von Zeitsinn und Sprachkraft, edited by Georg Müller (Stuttgart, 1958). Aside from the bibliography borrowed from the German publication, this English-language edition also included a short biography of Rosenstock-Huessy by Kurt Ballerstedt borrowed from the German work and translated by Robert G. Heath (another Dartmouth student from the 1940s). Rosenstock-Huessy agreed to write a brief semi-autobiographical essay for the book, “Biblionomics, or The Nine Lives of a Cat”, and Russ and I were able to engage two distinguished academic friends of Rosenstock-Huessy to write an Introduction, Prof. Carl J. Friedrich at Harvard and Prof. Eduard Heimann, an economist teaching at the New School.
Russ was the guiding spirit behind this publication. My contribution was a happy accident with the right timing. In 1958 and 1959 I was working for the Henry Holt publishing company in New York, in the production department. I had some clout with suppliers, i. e., typesetters, printers, paper and cloth merchants, and binderies, because I was spending thousands of dollars a year buying those services to produce Holt books. I also had some experience with book design. With the help of generous favors from the suppliers, we got several hundred copies of the book typeset, printed, and bound at almost no cost. The nine-page bibliography was obtained from Germany in flat sheets already printed. It had only to be folded and sewn into our edition. Russ left it to me to edit Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Biblionomics” essay, which when I read it now I realize was inexpertly done. Eager to get this bibliography into American academic libraries, Russ and I then undertook at our own expense to mail out copies as a gift to maybe a couple of hundred institutions.
We, Russ and I, were both young and relatively inexperienced. This became evident with our next venture in publishing Rosenstock-Huessy, in 1959, an essay by the great man for a little quarterly magazine, published in Greenwich Village by the Judson Memorial Church. The magazine, entitled Exodus, survived for only three issues and is today known to only a few collectors of such rarities. Russ again was the link. He knew someone at the Church, learned about this start-up quarterly that was looking for worthy material, which led to our asking Rosenstock-Huessy if he would perhaps consider contributing something. Our purpose, as always, was to try to rescue Rosenstock-Huessy from frustrating obscurity in this country.
The professor, surely more aware than we were of the futility of this project, nevertheless gamely sent us a manuscript entitled “Tribalism”, which came to fifteen printed pages in the journal. It was primarily about the creation of the institution of marriage thousands of years ago. As Rosenstock-Huessy wrote, “The problem of the tribes was to enlighten the act of mating with the word.”
Once again, I served as the copy editor, making small formal changes here and there, and getting Rosensock-Huessy’s approval. In this case, too, as with the “Biblionomics” essay, I am not now proud of my workmanship. A more experienced editor would have served the author better. But that is a minor matter compared to a colossal mistake I made in an identifying note about Rosenstock-Huessy accompanying the essay, which had not been submitted to the professor for approval. The note informed the reader that the author taught at Dartmouth College for more than twenty-five years, and after a few more laudatory words concluded with the sentence: “Professor Huessy has been retired from the Dartmouth faculty since 1957.” The note was printed with that sentence at the end, and when Rosenstock-Huessy saw it, he was infuriated. “Am I not still alive and productive,” he said to Russ and me in so many words. “Is retirement from Dartmouth my obituary?” And so forth. I have tried to capture the spirit of his resentment; his exact words are lost. Already printed, there was no way to make a neat revision, but Rosenstock-Huessy refused to allow the journal to be distributed with the offensive sentence. To rescue the situation, Russ and I with black felt pens laboriously obliterated the offending statement on all the copies, and so the work entered the world with a crude erratum.
It was in these New York City years, too, that Russ happened upon the work of the progressive economist and social thinker, Henry George (d. 1897), the author of the eloquent plea for greater economic justice, Progress and Poverty (1879), a book of some 500 pages. Progress and Poverty sold millions of copies in its day and had a profound influence on many intelligent and right-minded men and women, but lamentably its moment of fame has passed. Russ came upon Henry George only because walking one day on East 69th St. he noticed the offices of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, which is solely devoted to perpetuating George’s work, and stopped in to inquire. The spirit of Henry George, if not his specific remedy, is needed now more than ever in an era when economic inequality is obscene and free markets alone are supposed to bring about justice. Russ and I dreamed of a foundation comparable to Schalkenbach that would perpetually promote the work of Rosenstock-Huessy.
Organic farming and Henry George represent two poles in Russ’s life: choosing what is needed for the future although it is yet to be, and rescuing from the past what deserves to be still alive and serviceable for us.
Beginning in about 1964, a twenty-year hiatus followed in my relationship with Russ. He was on the farm in Pennsylvania and later employed elsewhere in the northeast, for a time with the Federal Job Corps in Maine. I entered graduate school followed by years of teaching and research posts in California and Virginia. I was not back East, so to speak, until 1983, when we moved to Rhode Island. It was not until after our return that I began to see Russ regularly at meetings of the Board of the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund. But those were much too hurried encounters, dominated by the business of the day.
Russ’s service on the Board of the Fund was, of course, exemplary. For an extended period he was president of the Fund. He managed affairs always with great discretion and was as attentive to the details of the budget as he was to matters of policy. In some respects he was at the very center of the Rosenstock-Huessy circle, knowing personally more people who were in the orbit of the great man than anyone else alive.
What I am most regretful of now, following Russ’s death, is how superficially I knew him. I have friends I meet for long lunches five or six times a year, and through that process of mutual self-revealing, with little held back, we get to know each other fairly deeply. How I wish, for my own benefit, I had an opportunity to spend such extended times with Russ. The old adage, “still waters run deep,” always seemed to me to apply to Russ. You had to elicit from him what he really thought, which was usually surprising and original. I felt he had much more to say than he ever said, but because he spoke little, when he did speak he was listened to, almost always to a good end. He was a rare combination of qualities, highly reserved yet highly sociable. He was a man of discriminating style and taste, favoring champagne and seersucker suits, definitely enjoying the finer things, yet profoundly thoughtful.
Russ knew and understood a great deal about Rosenstock-Huessy simply as a person and in conversation he reflected on the relationship between Rosenstock-Huessy’s life and his work. In the 1950s he built the coffin that Rosenstock-Huessy was buried in, stored in the cellar of Four Wells for twenty years. But as much as I pleaded with Russ for years to capture on paper all that he had experienced with Rosenstock-Huessy and knew about the man, to my knowledge Russ left little of this nature. Among the losses suffered in many directions in consequence of Russ’s death, it seems also his rare and valuable perspective on Rosenstock-Huessy dies with him. Whatever the case, the world is a lesser place without Russ Keep in it.