The Orson Welles Library now available on Blackstone audio CD
THE ORSON WELLES LIBRARY
1. Wakefield by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. The Red Room by H. G. Wells (with intro by OW)
3. The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
4. The Secret Sharer (part two)
Sredni Vashtar by Saki (with intro by OW)
5. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling
Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling
6. Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Requiem (Under the Wide and Starry Sky) by Rudyard Kipling
7. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
8. The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde (with intro by OW)
Orson Welles uses his sonorous, mellifluous, matchlessly expressive voice and his legendary gift for characterization to delineate these oft-told tales in a way that will make you hear them as if for the first time. And if you are indeed hearing any of them for the first time, it will make you want to run to the library to read them and to savor them as they were meant to be experienced.
—Leslie Weisman, Wellesnet contributor
In May of 1985, shortly after his 70th birthday, Orson Welles went into a recording studio to read about two dozen classic stories which he presumably chose himself, as they include selections by many of Welles's own favorite authors, such as Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Robert Graves. At the time, Welles most recent film scripts, The Cradle Will Rock and King Lear, were floundering and ultimately would never find the financial backing to be realized. However, Welles's artistic talent could not be repressed, so even if he was denied the use of his filmmaking tool kit, he could easily tell stories using only the magnificence and skill of his peerless voice, as he had done so often during the heyday of radio.
Recently, the audio engineer who recorded these sessions with Welles provided me with a list of all the stories Welles had chosen to read.
They include these classic titles:
A. V. Laider by Max Beerbohm
Grapes for Monsieur Cape by Ludwig Bemelmans
Miriam by Truman Capote
The National Pastime by John Cheever
The Chaser by John Collier
The Outcasts of Poker Flats by Hart Crane
The Old Chevalier by Isak Dinesen
The Heroine by Isak Dinesen
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ten Indians by Ernest Hemingway
In Another Country by Ernest Hemingway
Malibu from the Sky by John O'Hara
The Summer of the Beautiful White Horses by William Saroyan
The Girls in their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The Fairies by William Allingham
(So) We’ll Go No More a Rovin’ by Lord Byron
How Pleasant It Is To Have Money, Heigh-Ho! by Arthur Hugh Clough
A Slice of Wedding Cake by Robert Graves (with intro by OW)
Rondel by John Lee Hunt
Jenny Kissed Me by James Henry Leigh Hunt
God of Our Fathers, Known of Old by Rudyard Kipling
Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover by Sir John Suckling
Why only 8 of these stories have ever been commercially released remains something of a mystery, although it would appear that since the 8 selections that comprise The Orson Welles Library are all in the public domain, that probably has a great deal to do with it. Yet, why it should have taken ten years before even those 8 stories were released (in 1995 by Dove Audio on 4 cassettes), is yet another mystery! In any case, in 2007 the 8 stories were re-issued on CD, and are now available from Blackstone Audio.
Strangely enough, although I've had the cassettes for several years, I only recently sat down to listen to them and found they were quite a delightful experience. One of the most remarkable selections was Welles's choice of Robert Louis Stevenson's Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde. This was especially interesting, since I had never heard of it before, and assumed it was somehow related to Stevenson's famous literary character, Mr. Hyde. To my surprise, it is a very real and angry letter Stevenson wrote in defense of Father Damien, a Catholic priest who had come under attack by the Presbyterian Reverend C. M. Hyde of Honolulu. Today, Father Damien is considered the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hawaii, and is regarded as the spiritual patron for Lepers, as well as those with HIV and AIDS.
That Welles would chose this letter to read in 1985, at the height of the AIDS crisis, clearly indicates where he stood during the long Reagan years, when the President never seemed to know (or care) there was an AIDS epidemic occurring in the world.
Likewise, nearly a 100 years earlier, in 1889, the Rev. Hyde had written a letter to his colleague, the Rev. H. B. Gage, about the work Father Damien was doing with the Lepers who were under medical quarantine on the island of Molokai.
Rev. Hyde wrote:
In answer to your inquiries about Father Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, head-strong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Others have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.
The Rev. Gage submitted Rev. Hyde's letter to a religious publication, where it was published and when R. L. Stevenson saw it, wrote his damning reply to the Rev. Hyde.
Here is the text of the Stevenson Letter, as edited and brilliantly read by Welles:
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE REVEREND DR. HYDE OF HONOLULU
FEBRUARY 25, 1890.
You belong, to a sect—I believe my sect, and that in which my ancestors laboured-which has enjoyed, and partly failed to utilize, an exceptional advantage in the islands of Hawaii. The first missionaries came; they found the land already self-purged of its old and bloody faith; they were embraced, almost on their arrival, with enthusiasm; what troubles they supported came far more from whites than from Hawaiians; and to these last they stood (in a rough figure) in the shoes of God. This is not the place to enter into the degree or causes of their failure, such as it is.
But in the course of their evangelical calling, they—or too many of them—grew rich. It may be news to you that the houses of missionaries, such as yours sir, on Beretania Street, are a cause of mocking on the streets of Honolulu. It will at least be news to you, that when I returned your civil visit, the driver of my cab commented on the size, the taste, and the comfort of your home. It would have been news certainly to myself, had any one told me that afternoon that I should live to drag such matter into print.
Your sect (and remember, as far as any sect avows me, it is mine) has not done ill in a worldly sense in the Hawaiian Kingdom. When leprosy descended and took root in the Eight Islands. To that prosperous mission, and to you, as one of its adornments, God had sent at last an opportunity. I know I am touching here upon a nerve acutely sensitive. I know that others of your colleagues look back on the inertia of your Church, and the decisive heroism of Damien, with something almost to be called remorse.
But, sir, when we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succors the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honor—the battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost forever.
Your Church and Damien’s were in Hawaii upon a rivalry to do well: to help, to edify, to set divine examples. You having (in one huge instance) failed, and Damien succeeded, I marvel it should not have occurred to you that you were doomed to silence; that when you sat inglorious in the midst of your well being, and Damien, crowned with glories and horrors, toiled and rotted in that pigsty of his under the cliffs of Kalawao—you, the elect who would not, were the last man on earth to collect and propagate gossip on the volunteer who would and did.
He had no hand in the reforms. He was a ‘coarse’ and ‘dirty’ man. These were your own words. In a sense, it is even so. Damien has been too much depicted with a conventional halo and conventional features; so drawn by men who perhaps were only blinded by generous admiration, such as you, if your soul were enlightened, would envy on your bended knees.
When I visited the lazaretto, Damien was already in his resting grave. But such information as I have, I gathered with those who knew him well and long: some indeed who revered his memory; and others who had sparred and wrangled with him, who beheld him with no halo, who perhaps regarded him with small respect, and through whose unprepared and scarcely partial communications the plain, human features of the man shone on me convincingly. These gave me what knowledge I possess; and I learnt it in that scene where it could be most completely understood—Kalawao, which you have never visited, about which you have never so much as endeavoured to inform yourself.
I imagine you to be one of those persons who talk with cheerfulness of that place which oxen and wain-ropes could not drag you to behold. You, who do not even know its situation on the map, probably denounce sensational descriptions, stretching your limbs the while in your pleasant parlour on Beretania Street.
When I was pulled ashore there sat with me in the boat two sisters, bidding farewell (in humble imitation of Damien) to the lights and joys of human life. One of these wept silently; I could not withhold myself from joining her. Had you been there, it is my belief that nature would have triumphed even in you; and as the boat drew but a little nearer, and you beheld the stairs crowded with abominable deformations of our common manhood, and saw yourself landing in the midst of such a population as only now and then surrounds us in the horror of a nightmare - what a haggard eye you would have rolled over your reluctant shoulder towards the house on Beretania Street! Had you gone on; had you found every fourth face a blot upon the landscape; had you visited the hospital and seen the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost unrecognizable, but still breathing, still thinking, still remembering; you would felt (even to-day) it was a pitiful place to visit and a hell to dwell in.
It is not the fear of possible infection. That seems a little thing when compared with the pain, the pity, and the disgust of the visitor’s surroundings, and the atmosphere of affliction, disease, and physical disgrace in which he breathes. I do not think I am a man more than usually timid; but I never recall the days and nights I spent upon that island without heartfelt thankfulness that I am somewhere else.
Remember that which I saw and suffered from was a settlement purged, bettered, beautified; a different place when Damien came there and made his great renunciation, and slept that first night under a tree amidst his rotting brethren: alone with pestilence; and looking forward (with what courage, with what pitiful sinkings of dread, God only knows) to a lifetime of dressing sores and stumps.
You say Damien was COARSE.
It is very possible. You make us sorry for the lepers, who had only a coarse old peasant for their friend and father. But you, who were so refined, why were you not there, to cheer them with the lights of culture? Or may I remind you that we have some reason to doubt if John the Baptist were genteel; and in the case of Peter, on whose career you doubtless dwell approvingly in the pulpit, no doubt at all he was a ‘coarse, headstrong’ fisherman! Yet even in our Protestant Bibles Peter is called Saint.
You say Damien was DIRTY.
He was. Think of the poor lepers annoyed with this dirty comrade! But the clean Dr. Hyde was at his food in a fine house.
You say Damien was HEADSTRONG.
I believe you are right again; and I thank God for his strong head and heart.
You say Damien was BIGOTED.
I am not fond of bigots myself, because they are not fond of me. But what is meant by bigotry, that we should regard it as a blemish in a priest? Damien believed his own religion with the simplicity of a peasant or a child; as I would I could suppose that you do. His bigotry, his intense and narrow faith, wrought potently for good.
You say Damien HAD NO HAND IN THE REFORMS
The reforms of the lazaretto, and even those which he most vigorously opposed, are properly the work of Damien. They are the evidence of his success; they are what his heroism provoked from the reluctant and the careless. Many were before him in the field; there have been many since; and some had more worldly wisdom, though none had more devotion, than our saint. Before his day, even you will confess, they had affected little. It was his part, by one striking act of martyrdom, to direct all men’s eyes on that distressful country. At a blow, and with the price of his life, he made the place illustrious and public. If ever any man brought reforms, and died to bring them, it was he. There is not a clean cup or towel in the Bishop-Home, but dirty Damien washed it.
Damien, you said, WAS NOT A PURE MAN IN HIS RELATIONS WITH WOMEN, etc.
How do you know that? When I was there I heard many shocking tales, for my informants were men speaking with the plainness of the laity; and I heard plenty of complaints of Damien. Why was this never mentioned? And how came it to you in the retirement of your clerical parlour? But I must not even seem to deceive you. This scandal, when I read it in your letter, was not new to me. I had heard it once before; and I must tell you how. There came to Samoa a man from Honolulu; he, in a public-house on the beach, volunteered the statement that Damien had ‘contracted the disease from having connection with the female lepers’; and I find a joy in telling you how the report was welcomed in a public-house. A man sprang to his feet; I am not at liberty to give his name, but from what I heard I doubt if you would care to have him to dinner in Beretania Street. ‘You miserable little—(here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears) —‘You miserable little Mother Fucker,’ he cried, ‘if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times lower—for daring to repeat it?’
I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after your family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like Uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness. But you have deliberately chosen the part of the man from Honolulu, and you have played it with improvements of your own. The man from Honolulu - miserable, leering creature—communicated the tale to a rude knot of beach-combing drinkers in a public-house, where (I will so far agree with your temperance opinions) man is not always at his noblest; and the man from Honolulu had himself been drinking—drinking, we may charitably fancy, to excess. It was to your ‘Dear Brother, the Reverend H. B. Gage,’ that you chose to communicate the sickening story, and your ‘dear brother’—a brother indeed—made haste to deliver up your letter (as a means of grace, perhaps) to the religious papers. I will suppose—and God forgive me for supposing it—that Damien faltered and stumbled in his narrow path of duty. I will suppose that, in the horror of his isolation, perhaps in the fever of incipient disease, he, who was doing so much more than he had sworn, failed in the letter of his priestly oath—he, who was so much a better man than either you or me, who did what we have never dreamed of daring—he too tasted of our common frailty. ‘O, Iago, the pity of it!’ The least tender should be moved to tears; the most incredulous to prayer. And all that you could do was to pen your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage!
Is it growing at all clear to you what a picture you have drawn of your own heart? You had a father: suppose this tale were about him, and some informant brought it to you, proof in hand: I am not making too high an estimate of your emotional nature when I suppose that the last thing you would do would be to publish it in the religious press?
Well, the man who tried to do what Damien did, is my father, and the father of the man in the Apia bar, and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Postscript: Father Damien will become a Saint. His beatification by Pope John Paul II occurred in Rome, on June 4, 1995.