Reveries Of A Bachelor And Lower Fifth Avenue
( Originally Published 1921 )
Ever since 1827 when the old Potter's Field was converted into the Washington Parade Ground a unique and distinctly interesting character has attached to the neighborhood.
Readers of Henry James will readily recall Dr. Soper who prescribed for the select members of the community that were afflicted with real or imaginary ailments. The Doctor had for a number of years lived in a pretentious red brick house with granite copings and an enormous fan-light over the door, standing in a street that was within five minutes" walk of City Hall. This neighbor-hood, from the social point of view, saw its best days about 1820. After this the tide of fashion began to set steadily northwards. Naturally, the Doctor followed the tide. In 1835, he built himself a handsome, modern, wide-fronted house with a balcony before the drawing room windows and a flight of white marble steps ascending to a portal which was also faced with white marble. The location was the north side of Washington Square, which, as our author remarks, was the ideal of quiet and of general retirement. "This structure," he continues, "and many of its neighbors, which it exactly resembled, were supposed, forty years ago, to embody the last results of architectural science, and they remain to this day very solid and honorable dwellings. In front of them was the Square, containing a considerable quantity of inexpensive vegetation, enclosed by a wooden paling, which increased its rural appearance; and round the corner was the more august precinct of Fifth Avenue, taking its origin at this point with a spacious and confident air which already marked it for high destinies. I know not if it is owing to the tenderness of early associations, but this portion of New York appears to many persons the most delectable. It has a kind of established repose which is not of frequent occurrence in other quarters of the long, shrill city ; it has a riper, richer, more honorable look than any of the upper ramifications of the great longitudinal thoroughfare—the look of having had some-thing of a social history. It was here, as you might have been informed on good authority, that you had come into a world which appeared to offer a variety of interests ; it was here that your grandmother lived, in venerable solitude, and dispensed a hospitality which commended itself alike to the-infant imagination and the infant palate; it was here that you took your first walks abroad, following the nursery maid with unequal step, and sniffing up the strange odor of the ailanthus trees, which at that time formed the principal umbrage of the Square, enough to dislike it as it deserved ; it was here finally that your first school, kept by a broad-bosomed, broad-based old lady with a ferule, who was always having tea in a blue cup, with a saucer that didn't match, enlarged the circle both of your observations and your sensations."
Those—and there is now a goodly and growing number—who count themselves admirers of Edgar Allan Poe and who resent the indifference and lack of appreciation of his contemporaries, know that in 1845, while the man of mystery and of misery was living in Amity, now West Third Street, the "Raven" was published in the Evening Mirror. And so the immortal poem will be linked with the name and the fame and the Washington Square abode of Poe for evermore.
Likewise the friends of Bayard Taylor are aware that at the age of 22, he tempted fortune by editing and publishing a country newspaper and having recognized the futility of the enterprise, that he came to New York, found employment in the office of The Tribune and taught a class in Miss Lucy Green's School for Young Ladies at Number 1 Fifth Avenue, receiving the munificent sum of four dollars a week, which he considered good pay.
Again, the many staunch and loyal admirers of Bunner love to think of "The Midge" and the Washington Square atmosphere that so beautifully and realistically characterizes one of the most charming and touching stories ever written.
All these traditions, memories, bits of romance and literary associations are fairly well known, but it is safe to say that few people are acquainted with the fact that "The Reveries of a Bachelor," that classic favorite of at least two generations, was written, in part, in the neighborhood of Washington Square.
The accompanying letter is, without doubt, one of the most interesting contributions to the literary history of the city. The letter came in answer to an inquiry regarding a paragraph in The New York Sun intimating that the "Reveries" had been written in the locality mentioned.
The text is as follows
During year 1849 to 1851 (when "Reveries" was brewing) I was for most of winter and fall months a lodger at Mrs. Ludlow's boarding house, Fifth Av. (present site of Brevoort House) so doubtless wrote there some of the pages of "Reveries": how much could not say. The "Sun" paragraph I have not seen—so cannot speak for its correctness.
Nov. 24, 1906. DONALD G. MITCHELL.
The date, it will be noticed, is 1906. At that time, Ik Marvel, as he chose to call himself when he wrote the "Reveries" was 84. He died two years later at his country home, Edgewood, Connecticut.