Josef Škvorecký

1924 (Náchod, Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic) – 2012 (Toronto)

One of the leading Czech writers of the post-war age, innovative in his prose, Škvorecký is as important for sacrificing his own career to make the works of dissident Czech writers available internationally. He was a prodigious letter-writer — Greene and Sontag were among his correspondents. He met Hrabal having joined Kolář’s underground circle, visited Holan, and had an amusing exchange of letters with Waugh (whom he admired) about mistranslated capitalist food. Among friends, he and Forman were banned from making a film, while the grateful Havel gave him the Order of the White Lion. Greene compared him to Chekhov.

Josef Škvorecký knew…

Jacob Tonson, the elder

1655/6 (London) – 1736 (Haffield, England)

Tonson, claimed as the first modern English publisher, made his mark with top-quality contemporary writing and the unprecedented scholarship of his historical editions. Dryden, one of his authors, was equally friend and business-partner. Addison wrote introductions to his works of Virgil, and was paid handsomely for the copyright of his most successful play. Pope, who described him as full of wit and spirit, was first published by Tonson. Vanbrugh was a crony, Congreve lived in his house. All these were members of the Kit-Cat Club he presided over, and all bar Vanbrugh contributed translations to his great edition of Ovid.

Gaston Gallimard

1881 (Paris) – 1975 (Neuilly-sur-Seine)

Gallimard led a publishing house with an unequalled importance in 20th C French culture, described as ‘l’usine à pensée’. Its authors range from Proust to Pennac, by way of the likes of Breton, Camus, de Beauvoir, Duras, Foucault, Gide, Merleau-Ponty, Queneau, Saint-Exupéry, Sartre and Yourcenar. Gide and Claudel were founding partners (Gallimard was approached for his financial backing), and eminent writers were involved as a matter of principle: Paulhan and Queneau were pillars of the business, while Camus and Caillois also sat on its publishing committee. Gallimard found Proust impossible, but Yourcenar said her relations with him were punctuated with roses.

Dave Eggers

1970 (Boston) –

Eggers is a sort of furious one-man-band of contemporary literature, with a lively list of collaborator-friends. Among these, he works regularly with Spiegelman, has interviewed, been interviewed by, or appeared in discussion with Wallace, Zadie Smith and Patti Smith, goes cycling with Byrne, and encouraged Hornby to import his childrens’ writing centres to the UK.  Sendak, whose book had scared him as a kid, phoned him to ask if he’d make a novel out of it. Mendes persuaded him to allow a film to be made from his script. Zadie Smith, asked what they had in common, replied “difficult hair.”

Dave Eggers knew…

Alain Robbe-Grillet

1922 (Brest, France) – 2008 (Caen)

Robbe-Grillet is associated with the ‘Nouveau Roman’ of the 1960’s, and known for his close collaboration with Resnais on the cult film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. Paulhan found him an apartment, while Sartre, de Beauvoir and Sarraute were fellow-members of a delegation to Russia, where he was dismissive of Ehrenburg. He knew Céline, and was best friends and publishing partner with Lindon (he was Lindon’s wife’s lover, while his own wife dressed like Lolita when Nabokov – admiring of Robbe-Grillet – came to call). He bonded with Antonioni, teased Barthes, had stormy relations with Butor, and was advised against psychoanalysis by Lacan.

Dick Higgins

1938 (Cambridge, England) – 1998 (Quebec)

Higgins was deeply involved in Fluxus and in his own ‘Something Else Press’, and coined the term ‘intermedia’ to describe his experimentalist work. He knew Huelsenbeck and Duchamp, and studied with Cage (they also hunted wild mushrooms together) and Cowell. Maciunas, both friend and collaborator, never forgave him for his independent publishing. He also collaborated with Johnson (a good friend), Brainard, Monk and Vostell, and corresponded with the Campos brothers, Spoerri, Vautier, Chopin and Heidsieck. Brecht sold his rubber-stamp collection to him. He called himself a composer — but not necessarily of music.

James McKeen Cattell

1860 (Easton, Pa.) – 1944 (Lancaster, Pa.)

Cattell did much to get psychology taken seriously as a science and a discipline. He did his PhD under Wundt (they collaborated extensively), then while studying medicine at Cambridge met, worked with and was influenced by Galton, describing him as “the greatest man I have known.” The philosopher Dewey was a university classmate, and one of his earliest experimental subjects: he later helped bring Dewey (and Boas) to Columbia as university colleagues, both supporting him when his principles got him into trouble. James, whom Cattell admired, was a correspondent, and Thorndike, Washburn and Watson all students.

James McKeen Cattell knew…

Johann Friedrich Cotta

1764 (Stuttgart, Germany) – 1832 (Stuttgart)

Cotta published a who’s who of German romanticist authors (many of them becoming close friends), as well as some vigorously influential periodicals. Schiller and Goethe were particularly close to him (he effectively brought them together); but he was also good friends with the Humboldts, Herder, Tieck, Jean Paul, and the philosopher Schelling — all published by him. The Schlegels (and many of the above) contributed to his periodical ‘Horen’. Hegel, Fichte, Pestalozzi, Hölderlin, Kleist and Fouqué were also among his stable of influential writers, as were Platen and his nemesis Heine, whose lives in Sicily and Paris he helped subsidise.

Joseph Johnson

1738 (Liverpool, England) – 1809 (London)

The modest Johnson brought exceptional people together, particularly through his weekly dinners. Fuseli was his closest friend, Priestley perhaps his most significant. Wollstonecraft, Godwin and Darwin were all close to him. He employed Blake as an engraver, nurtured Wollstonecraft as a writer, helped bail Paine out of prison, and often published without hope of profit. When his shop burned down, his lodger Fuseli lost all his possessions; when Coleridge went to Germany, he left all his books with him. Among others he knew and published were Franklin, Wordsworth, Beddoes, Forster, Hunter, Young, Smith, Malthus and Nicholson.

Johann Baptist Cramer

John Baptist Cramer

1771 (Mannheim, Germany) – 1858 (London)

Cramer was Clementi’s star pupil in London before, still teenage, studying with Abel (though he remained Clementi’s disciple.) At 20, he performed with the 12-year-old Hummel. He enjoyed a lasting warm friendship with Beethoven, who thought him the best pianist of his day, greatly respected his studies for piano, and went with him to listen to Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni.’ Haydn was also a friend, while Czerny, Moscheles, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Berlioz were met towards the end of his life. Onslow studied piano with him. Cramer and Moscheles organised a banquet for Clementi, and with Field were present at Clementi’s funeral.