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John Holms

John Simkin

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It is unlikely that you have every heard of John Holms. There is nothing on the web about him. Most of his friends thought that he had the potential to be one of the best writers of the 20th century.

The poet, Edwin Muir, argued: "John Holms was the most remarkable man I ever met. His mind had a majestic clarity and order... Though his sole ambition was to be a writer, the mere act of writing was another enormous obstacle to him: it was as if the technique of action were beyond his grasp, a simple, banal, but incomprehensible mystery. He knew his weakness, and it filled him with the fear that, in spite of the gifts which he knew he had, he would never be able to express them; the knowledge and the fear finally reached a stationary condition and reduced him to impotence."

Peggy Guggenheim, his partner for several years agreed that Holms had the potential to be a great writer: "Since no one else shared his extraordinary mental capacity, he was exceedingly bored when talking to most people. As a result, he was very lonely. He knew what gifts he had and felt wicked for not using them. Not being able to write, he was unhappy, which caused him to drink more and more. All the time that I was with him I was shocked by his paralysis of will power. It seemed to grow steadily, and in the end he could hardly force himself to do the simplest things." Peggy had to admit: "John had written only one poem in all the years he was with me. I had done nothing but complain about his indolent life."

Emma Goldman said in January 1929: "The main trouble is that John (Holms) is weak and ineffectual, a drifter unable to make one single decisive step. He wants to eat the pie and keep it at the same time." Emily Coleman added that his "incapacity to shoulder responsibility through some inexplicable paralysis of the will." William Gerhardie said of Holms: "In every age... there are men who while achieving nothing give an impression of greater genius than the acknowledged masters of the day."

In the summer of 1933 John Holms fractured his wrist, riding on Dartmoor with Peggy. Despite being reset, the bones had never realigned correctly, and he had been advised to have a simple operation. Holms was a heavy drinker and on the morning of the operation on 19th January, 1934, he had a terrible hangover. Holms died under the anaesthetic.


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