Literary Landmarks And Figures
( Originally Published 1918 )
Literary Landmarks and Figures—A Vision of Pall Mall—The Paris of the Forties—Mark Twain's Fifth Avenue Home—In the Time of Poe—Where Henry James was Born—The Old University Building—An Encounter in Washington Square—Clinton Place—Memories of the Past—Irving, Cooper, Halleck, Drake, Dickens, and Trollope as Shades of the Avenue—A Home of Janvier—The " Griffou Push "—The Tenth Street Studio Building—The Tile Club—The Cary Sisters—Stoddard, Whittier, Aldrich, and Ripley —" Peter Parley "—" Fanny Fern "—James Parton—Some Figures of the Recent Past.
IF, of a day of the fifties of the last century, I had been an arrival in London, my first thought would probably have been of a sole at Sweeting's or a slice of saddle of mutton at Simpson's in the Strand, provided, of course, that the establishments named then existed, and the dishes in question were as delectable as in later years, when I came to know them in the life. The baser appetite satisfied, the first pilgrimage would have been, not to the Tower, or to Lambeth Palace, or the British Museum, but to Pall Mall, in the hopes of catching a glimpse, in a club window or on the pavement, of the " good grey head of Thackeray. The first impression might have been disappointing. There was in the spectacles and high-carried chin something pompous and supercilious. The great man, had he noticed them at all, would probably have been quite contemptuous of my admiring glances, his mind occupied with the idea of winning a nod from a passing duke ; but I would have seen the " good grey head," and thrilled at the memory of " Vanity Fair " and " Henry Esmond." Similarly, in the Paris of that time or of a little earlier period, I would have considered the day well spent if in the course of it I had seen Victor Hugo with his umbrella, riding on the Imperiale of an omnibus, or the good Dumas exhibiting his woolly pate conspicuously in a boulevard cafe, or the author of " The Mysteries of Paris " and " The Wandering Jew " posing at a table in the Restaurant de Paris or Bignon's, or the fat figure of M. de Balzac waddling in the direction of a printing house to toil and groan and sweat over the proofs of the latest addition to the " Comedie Humaine." We cannot behold such giants in our generation, city, and street. Yet Fifth Avenue, from the day the first houses pushed northward from Washington Square, has had its literary landmarks, figures, and traditions.
Ten years ago, had you been passing of a summer's day a house at the southeast corner of the Avenue and Ninth Street, you might have seen emerging from the front door, a figure clad in white flannel, and looked upon the countenance of the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It was, and is, a house of red brick, a house of three stories and a high basement, built by the architect who had designed Grace Church. The number is 21. Clemens went to live there in the autumn of 1904, remaining for a time at the near-by Grosvenor while the new habitation was being put in order, and the home furniture that had been brought from Hartford was being installed. When No. 21 was ready for occupation, only Clemens and his daughter Jean went to live there, for Clara had not recovered from the strain of her mother's long illness, and the shock of her death, and was in retirement under the care of a trained nurse. Clemens, according to his biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, was lonely in No. 21, and sought to liven matters by installing a great AEolian Orchestrelle. In January, 1906, Paine paid his first visit to the house and found the great man propped up in bed, with his head at the foot, turning over the pages of " Huckleberry Finn " in search of a paragraph about which some random correspondent had asked explanation.
But to go back long before Clemens's time, and to begin in the neighbourhood of the old square. In the days when Fifth Avenue was young Poe must have found his way there, accompanied, perhaps, by the pale, invalided Virginia, to gaze at the fine new houses, for only a few hundred yards away was his last city residence, where Lowell called and found his host " not him-self that day," and where were penned " The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," the " Philosophy of Composition," and " The Literati of New York." Then there was the house in Waverly Place, the home of Anne Lynch, the poet of " The Battle of Life," which was a kind of literary salon of its day, where Poe once read aloud the newly published " Raven," and where Bayard Taylor visited, and Taylor's friend Caro-line Kirkland, and Margaret Fuller, and Lydia Child, and Ann S. Stephens, who wrote " Fashion and Famine " and " Mary Derwent," and young Richard Henry Stoddard, and Elizabeth Barstow, who became his wife. Not far from the Lynch house was the humble dwelling in which Poe wrote " The Fall of the House of Usher."
Just off the Square, at 21 Washington Place, Henry Jones was born. In a house that once stood at the northwest corner Bayard Taylor lived for a time and wrote the " Epistle from Mount Tmolus," and some of the " Poems of the Orient." In later days a large apartment house grew up on the site, and there George Parsons Lathrop dwelt, and penned some of the verse of his " Days and Dreams," while his wife, the daughter of the author of " The Scarlet Letter," composed portions of " Along the Shore." In the old University building on the east side of the Square Theodore Winthrop—later as Colonel Winthrop to meet a soldier's death at Big Bethel—wrote " John Brent," and the famous but utterly dreary " Cecil Dreeme," and a few doors below is the red brick apartment where in more modern days so many of the younger scribblers have toiled in the years of their pseudo-Bohemia. Across the Square N. P. Willis, the town's crack descriptive writer, was in the habit of making his way, and on one occasion with sorry results. The actor, Edwin Forrest, appeared in his path and fell upon him with vigorous assault. Bystanders were on the point of intervening. " Stand back, gentlemen! " cried the Thespian. " He has interfered in my domestic affairs." And he proceeded with the whacking.
Not only the Square, but the side streets below Fourteenth, must be taken into a consideration of the old literary landmarks and figures of Fifth Avenue. Thackeray was only one of the foreign authors visiting America who found ease and comfort in the club-house of the Century in Clinton Place. In the same thoroughfare lived and died Evert Augustus Duyckinck, co-author with his brother George of the " Cyclopedia of American Literature," and author of " The War for the Union "; and Mrs. Botta, the Anne Lynch of earlier mention, had for a time a home there; and in the street Richard Watson Gilder dwelt later, and in No. 33, in a third-story back room, a young clerk named Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote his " Ballad of Babie Bell "; and there, at No. 84 which was the residence of Judge Daly, the African explorer Paul Du Chaillu wrote fiction and fact that by sceptical contemporaries was generally accepted as fiction. A block farther north was another home of Mrs. Botta, and the house of the actress who is remembered as Tom Moore's first sweetheart, and the one-time abode of William Cullen Bryant, who wrote of it as being near the home of Irving's friend Brevoort. The neighbourhood is rich with memories. We have but to beckon and the ghosts of those literary men and women whose names have been forgotten, and of those whose reputations have endured, step forth in imagination to fill the street. I see Irving, down from his Sunnyside estate for a visit to the town that was once the fat village of his Diedrich Knickerbocker, . strolling over from the Irving Place structure that is reputed to have been his, but which was not his, to study the new manners and fashions, and to mull on the startling changes and swift passage of time. I see the irascible author of the " Leather Stocking Tales," for the moment weary of squabbling over land agreements with his Cooperstown neighbours and prosecuting suits against up-state newspapers, stealing into New York for a glimpse of his first city residence down in Beach Street in Greenwich Village, where he wrote " The Pilot," and " Lionel Lincoln," and incidentally satisfying his curiosity as to the new developments in urban elegance and fashion. I can see FitzGreene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, a mile or two away from their accustomed haunts; and any one else whom it pleases me to see; our foreign guests and critics, Dickens, looking about superciliously, or Anthony Trollope, breathing hard, or Trollope mere, or Harriet Martineau, or Captain Marryat, or Mayne Reid, or Samuel Lover. For in a case like this a trifling matter like an anachronism or a misstatement counts for little or nothing.
On Ninth Street, just west of the Charles De Rhams house, which was formerly the Henry Brevoort house, are the two or three buildings that in bygone days made up the Hotel Griffou. There, twenty years or so ago, the late Thomas A. Janvier lived and studied the queer Latin-American types that went into his stories of the Efferanti family. There also William Dean How-ells frequently dined, and the late Edmund Clarence Stedman and Richard Watson Gilder went from time to time. Then the older and more dignified men drifted away, and the tables in the dining room rang with the laughter and high talk of a younger group, known as the " Griffou Push." Brave dreams were there, and limitless ambitions, and some achievement. But in many cases Pallida Tors came knocking all too soon, and those who lived sought other environments, and the " Push " was no more, and the little hotel became a memory of yesterday.
There were literary associations about the old Studio Building in Tenth Street long before the " Old Masters " of New York went there to work, and Carmencita came to dance in Chase's studio. In the big brown structure Henry T. Tuckerman once lived, and kept his library, and wrote " The Criterion," and the " Book of the Artists," and entertained his friends of the world of letters; and there Fitzjames O'Brien, the genial Fitz, the " gipsy of letters," the author of " The Diamond Lens," visited him. Almost across the street, in a little rear wooden house that was to serve as the New York home of F. Hopkinson Smith's Colonel Carter of Cartersville, was at one time the quarters of the Tile Club, where, in the golden days, men ceased to be known by the stiff and formal names used in more ceremonious surroundings, and became instead the Owl, or the Griffin, or the Pagan, or the Chestnut, or the Puritan, or the O'Donoghue, or the Bone, or the Grasshopper, or the Marine, or the Terrapin, or the Gaul, or the Bulgarian, or Briareus, or Sirius, or Cadmius, or Polyphemus.
A little off the Avenue, on East Twentieth Street, was the home of the Cary sisters, Alice and Phoebe ; and to the unpretentious little brick dwelling of Sunday evenings repaired Stoddard, and Whittier, and Aldrich, and Ripley, and Her-man Melville, and Mary L. Booth, who after-wards became Mrs. Lamb, and wrote the " History of New York," and Samuel G. Goodrich, the famous " Peter Parley," and Alice Haven, popular writer of juvenile tales, and Justin McCarthy, and James Parton, husband of " Fanny Fern," himself one of these rare scribes of his age whose writing can be genuinely enjoyed by readers of the present generation, and occasionally, grim old Horace Greeley, who, if, as he said, in the course of forty years had never been able to get a day off to go " a-fishing," managed, now and then, to find an evening of leisure in which to divert himself with the pleasant, bookish talk at No. 53. A salon as " was a salon "—that of the Cary girls. With the vast, unwieldy city of today in mind we wonder how they managed it, by what charm and persuasion they gathered with such regularity so many of the literati really worth while. But it was a smaller town then. It was easier to be neighbourly. When Thackeray, on the evening of New Year's Day, 1853, journeyed in a sleigh from his hotel to a reception held in a house on the west side of Fifth Avenue between Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Streets, the destination was characterized as a villa in the country.
To revert to the note with which this chapter began. Were it possible for us to be transported back to the London of the fifties the sight of a Thackeray, a Dickens, a Tennyson, or a Browning would not have been necessary to stir our pulses. It would have been an event to have seen in the flesh some of the humbler men, G. P. It. James, or Samuel Warren, of " Ten Thousand a Year," or any of the ephemeral celebrities who adorned the pages of the Maclise Gallery of Portraits. So why disdain, merely because they are of our own time, the makers of copy who may be seen on the Fifth Avenue of today? I remember my first literary walk down the Avenue. It was in the company of Mr. Edward W. Townsend. I was very young, and he was the creator of Chimmie Fadden, and the author of " A Daughter of the Tenements," and I wished that all the world might see. Then the time came when the sight of literary faces was less of a novelty, when it was not unusual to meet the author of " The Rise of Silas Lapham," who had left his home on Fifty-ninth Street, facing the Park, for an afternoon stroll, and to receive his nod of kindly recognition ; or to pass Edmund Clarence Stedman, to whom I owed, as so many others have owed, the first words of encouragement, or to see Frank R. Stockton, or Mr. Gilder and Mr. John-son of the " Century," or Brander Matthews on his way to the club in West Forty-third Street.
Looking down upon the Avenue, at the corner of Thirty-third Street, just below the Waldorf, are familiar windows. They belonged to a hotel that was, or is, the Cambridge, and in the rooms behind the windows, I recall occasional pleasant and profitable hours spent in the company of Richard Harding Davis. There was another window some blocks farther down, in the building occupying the point where Fifth Avenue and Broadway join. That window gave light to the workshop of James L. Ford, the obstinate satirist, who resents the charge of amiability, and who will not be pleased if you tell him that in the pages of " The Literary Shop " he did the best work of his life. At another corner, between the two already mentioned, the early riser of a few years ago might have seen the literary pride of Indiana assuming the duties of the traffic policeman who had not yet reached his post, and with the aid of a whistle joyously acquired ordering east and west-bound vehicles to proceed and north and south-bound vehicles to halt.
If you know your Avenue well enough, the countenances of nearly all of the " Best-Selling " kings are easy of recognition. Arriving at the Thirties, Robert W. Chambers is likely to turn off, bound for one of the antique shops that are to be found in the parallel thoroughfare two blocks to the east. At any point on the Avenue between the Washington Arch and the Plaza you may stumble upon the cane-swinging discoverer of the principality of Graustark, and the cane-swinging inventor of the " Tennessee Shad," appraising together the new styles in women's hats, or investigating the display in a shop-window. What is the subject that they are so earnestly discussing? The Influence of Rabelais on the Monastic System of the Fifteenth Century? The obscurity of Robert Browning? Whether or not the art of the novel is a finer art than it was in the days of the Victorians? Not at all. The point in dispute is the figure of Delehanty's batting average in 1867. The vital importance of the matter is the reason of their obvious excitement.
Of more serious aspect is Mr., James Lane Allen, whose tales of the Kentucky Blue Grass Region I hope will be read as they deserve for many generations to come. Rex Beach swings along musing perhaps on the solitudes of Lake Hopatcong. Rupert Hughes studies the faces in the Avenue throng with the hope of finding the inspiration for a title for the projected novel that will be more eccentric, if possible, than the title of the last. Jesse Lynch Williams and Arthur Train seek rest after their perambulatory efforts in the luxurious seclusion of the University Club at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street—the " Morgue " of the flippant—where, from the windows, the former first saw My Lost Duchess, and the latter discovered the possibilities of McAllister. A few years ago in one of the business buildings that had broken into the residential stretch below Fourteenth Street, was the office that F. Marion Crawford always maintained for use during the occasional visits he made to New York. The tall figure of the author of the Saracinesca novels was a familiar sight on the Avenue of the late nineties and the first years of the present century. But his stays were brief. The call of the vineyard-covered mountains about Sorrento was too strong.
From time to time the Avenue has seen literary visitors whose appearance could not be regarded as a temporary home coming. Twenty years have passed since Rudyard Kipling paid us his last visit, and it was a very different Fifth Avenue from the street of today that he knew. But even then it was a part of the town that moved him to dreams of " heavenly loot." There was, until a year or two ago at least, in an office at Fourth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, an old cane-bottomed chair. Once it had been in a room on the seventh story of a building at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street, and there it had been known as the Barrie Chair, for in it the creator of Thrums had been wont to curl himself up, and from its comfortable depths, peer through the window down at the busy sidewalk below. In the church-going crowds of a Fifth Avenue Sunday there are many who recall the sturdy figure of Dr. John Watson, the Ian MacLaren of the " Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush " tales, who on several occasions occupied a New York pulpit. The last time those who sat under him saw a man apparently in the full vigour of rugged health. Yet a few days later brought the news of his sudden death, far away from the heather of his Scotland. The author of " The Beloved Vagabond " is no more a stranger to the Avenue than he is to Bond Street, or the Rue de la Paix; and Arnold Ben-nett has recorded impressions that are at once disparaging and polite; and Jeffery Farnol used to trudge it, impecunious and unknown, before " The Broad Highway " came to strike the note of popular favour.
Many more are the names that might be mentioned, for the street has ever been a magnet, and even those who toil in the attics of Bohemia find their way here, in the hours of leisure, to see and to be observed. Grub Street has assumed the garments of propriety, and shorn itself of its long hair, and in the prosperous, well-dressed throng that surges up and down the Fifth Avenue pavement, its denizens pass to and fro, no longer shyly, furtively, and conspicuously out of place, but with the easy assurance of those who are " to the manor born."