On the lost works of American medical astrologer Henry J. Gordon
– 23 February 2009
To the average astrologer today, the late Henry J. Gordon is perhaps best known as the author of a technical manual on the rectification of nativities, ‘The Rectification of Unknown Birth Hours’, since this was favoured with a reprint in the 1970s though the initial printing in 1934 was limited to 500 copies. This, however, was not his chief work or topical interest, since he was first and foremost a hearty exponent and prolific teacher of medical astrology, a fact that should be readily verifiable to anyone in possession of the posthumous 2nd edition (1939) of Dr. Howard Leslie Cornell’s monumental ‘Encyclopaedia of Medical Astrology’, to which Gordon provides the foreword, styling himself a Professor of Astro-Pathology – or, for that matter, any much later reprint, by other publishers such as Weiser and the Astrology Center of America, of the same edition.
The ‘Professor’ epithet reflected Gordon’s real-life professional role as teacher of medical astrology, which he took eminently seriously. It appears to have been his personal decision to reissue Cornell’s work following Cornell’s death. The reprint was completely unchanged in all respects including binding other than for the additional foreword bound in several pages after the title page. I have the impression that Gordon sensed an urgent demand for a reprint and did not wish to invest time in editing or otherwise altering the work.
But this was far from being his only brush with publishing works on medical astrology, since by this time he had already self-published two in a projected series of many books on the subject that he had written himself:
‘Astro-Pathology II: Introduction to Anatomy and a Guide into the Realm of Astro-Pathology’ (1936);
‘Astro-Pathology III: Introduction to Anatomy and a Guide into the Realm of Astro-Pathology’ (1937).
These, in common with his previously described work on rectification, were limited to a print run of 500 copies. I presume that, as a self-published author, this was all he could afford.
The numbering system seems eccentric, since there is no ‘Astro-Pathology I’, but reflects a pragmatic decision on the part of the author to link these first two works to his already-published general work on rectification in a coherent series. The volume on rectification thus stood as Volume I of the series, which collectively became known as the ‘hour-glass’ series because of the pictorial design he used on the cloth covers.
What is most striking in turning the pages of either of these two works on medical astrology is the grand, unfulfilled plans he set out for the continuation of the series. I am in Stockholm at present and do not have the books to hand, so I cannot remember quite how many volumes the series was projected to run to, but suffice it to say that it was at least twenty and possibly as many as twenty-four or even thirty, with the outline contents of every future volume already set out in some detail in the advertising blurb announcing the rest of the series. It was very ambitious but he wrote of it as though the work was essentially mostly complete in manuscript form already and he had only to type it all up and get it printed. In view of the fact that no further volumes appeared, clearly something happened to prevent this, and a perceived lack of financial viability following slow sales of the initial volumes would strike me as a prime culprit.
But it remains highly plausible to me that he had penned enough material on medical astrology to fill eighteen or more further volumes following on from ‘Astro-Pathology III’. As a long time teacher of the subject he must have taught structured courses, with modules covering topics to be represented individually in the volumes he had planned.
This all leaves me with one big and obvious question: what happened to Gordon’s manuscripts for his unpublished works? Surely there must be someone out there in possession of them, unless they were lost in a fire or recklessly disposed of by relatives (as happened with deliberate intent to Volumes VI to VIII, tragically also on medical astrology, of the work ‘The Wheel of Life, or Scientific Astrology’, by Scottish astrologer Duncan Macnaughton, aka Maurice Wemyss, following his death a decade or so after that of Gordon).
A major chapter in the technical history of medical astrology has yet to be restored. I would love to believe that this could be achieved by someone who knows where to look, but it may be a forlorn hope.
Hi Mr. Graves! I am so glad to find this information – been reading all of Wemyss’ printed works; noted that he died many years after his vol. 5 published. Tragic that his family burned the remainder. Is it known why, and why they weren’t published in the intervening decades after the 40’s? Thanks so much for any sources.
Hi David Leskowitz! That’s a very good question, and something I’ve quite often wondered myself in the past. It may be partly a result of Modern Astrology Office, which published Vols. I-IV, having ceased to operate during World War II, and the associated distribution arrangement with Fowler having come to an end. Vol. V was eventually produced, together with reprints of some of the earlier volumes, by a publisher based in Edinburgh, Scotland called the International Publishing Co. in the post-war years. If sales of Vol. V were low, this new publisher might not have had the confidence to extend a contract for Vols. VI, VII and VIII to Wemyss. Without historical research into exactly what happened, however, this is speculation, and it could alternatively be that Wemyss himself was sidelined by other work or increasing ill-health as he aged, or became too much of a perfectionist regarding his own degree research to see further volumes through to publication.