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Bayard Taylor - John Godfrey's Fortunes (1864)

(United States, 1825–1878)

This novel was begin on March 14, 1864, while Mr. Taylor was temporarily staying at 150 East Fourteenth Street, New York City, but the greater part was composed in the library of his Cedarcroft residence, near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and here it was finished August 11th following, If was published by G. P. Putnam in November of that year. The story is not—what it has been sometimes styled—autobiographic, but certain of the author's personal experiences have been woven into the texture of the tale, the main purpose of which is the portrayal of the literary and journalistic atmosphere of New York in the middle of the nineteenth century. This circumstance gives to the narrative a definite historical value, The pretensions to culture on the part of certain literary aspirants are sharply satirized in the account of the Friday evening receptions of Adeliza Choate, while "the literary soirées of another lady whom I will not name, but whose tact, true refinement, and admirable culture drew around her all that was best in letters and in the arts," are appreciatively referred to, the actual hostess in this case being the late Mrs. Anne Lynch Botta. The character of Adeliza Choate is to some extent a reflection of the traits of the now forgotten author of Sappho, as that of Brandagee is supposed to have been suggested by the career of the once noted literary Bohemian, Fitz-James O'Brien. The scene of the earlier chapters is in the rural districts of southeastern Pennsylyania, but with the fourteenth chapter it shifts to New York City. This shorter version of the story has been made by the widow of the distinguished author-diplomatist.

HEN I, John Godfrey, was eight years old, my father, who had been a mechanic in the large village of Honeybrook, Pennsylvania, died, leaving me in the care of my mother. She then removed to the smaller village of Cross-Keys, where she had inherited from an aunt a small cottage and garden, and there supported herself by sewing.

My principal crony was Bob Simmons, who hoped to be a mason, and another playmate was Charley Rand. My mother was determined that I should have an education and made many sacrifices to that end. When I was sixteen it was decided that I should attend Dr. Dymond's boarding-school, a mile beyond Honeybrook. Charley Rand was also to go, and each was to spend Sunday at home. The school was fairly good, and I made progress. I soon made friends among the several dozen boys, but was especially drawn to one named Penrose, a fellow of eighteen, who was unusually handsome. He shared my bed, and his desk faced mine, but he made no overtures to acquaintance for many weeks. One day in Honeybrook I came upon Simmons, who was laying the bricks of a new house, and I was very glad to see him, though my companion, Thornton, sneered at Bob's occupation.

At the opening of my second summer term I became anxious about my mother's health, and one night after I had gone to bed I could not control my sobs. Penrose whispered to me tenderly, and when I explained what was the matter said all he could to comfort me and clasped my hand firmly. He was as silent as ever next day, but I understood him now. I was summoned home the next afternoon, and in a day or two my mother died. It was planned that I should remain at school till autumn and then go to my uncle, Amos Woolley, at Reading. At school Penrose met me with a long, silent pressure of the hand, and soon afterward, in the course of inquiries which he made, it was discovered that we were second cousins. After this it was al-ways John and Alexander with us.

At the end of the term I went to Reading and became an inmate of my uncle's family, which consisted of himself, my Aunt Peggy, and Bolty Himpel, a youth of my own age, who assisted Uncle Amos in his grocery store. My uncle was a narrow religionist, who had very little sympathy with my literary aspirations, and I led a monotonous existence with him; but he was not unkind, and while the rougher work of the establishment fell to Bolty's share, the keeping of the accounts was left to me. He was my guardian and trustee for the fifteen hundred dollars my father had left, the interest of which sum my mother had devoted to my education.

While I was at Reading the idea of writing for publication came to mind, and after composing a poem entitled The Unknown Bard, I signed it "Selim" and sent it to the Saturday Evening Post. When it was printed, some weeks later, I was full of exultation. I was at last the companion, if not the equal, of Bessie Bulfinch, Adeliza Choate, and other bards whose effusions I had read in the Post.

Charley Rand was now in a lawyer's office in Reading and I saw him often, although his wheedling manner gave me a vague distrust of him. He managed to learn from me the amount of my own small property and how I had allowed my uncle to re-invert the interest, and asked many questions as to Uncle Amos's property likewise. My uncle's household had now be-come so uncongenial that I decided to leave it; and when I in-formed Rand of my resolve he assisted me, through his employer, Mulford, in getting a school to teach in the village of Upper Samaria. My uncle was very indignant on hearing this news, and refused to advance any of my money till I should be of age : and so we parted in anger.

Squire Bratton was the chief personage in Upper Samaria, and at his pretentious mansion I spent my first night in the village, becoming acquainted thus early with his pretty daughter, manda. I successfully passed the trustees' examination the next day, had my salary fixed at twenty-five dollars a month, aid secured a boarding-place at the home of Yule, the miller.

I was popular with my pupils, and after a time the tidings that "the schoolmaster wrote verses for the newspapers" were circulated in the neighborhood; for my latest verses, though still signed "Selim," had appeared with the local address, "Yule's Mill, Berks Co., Pa." My lines appeared to confer upon me a certain distinction, and I was besieged to contribute verses to albums. In the mean time I felt a growing attachment to Miss Bratton, but hesitated to declare myself. On one occasion Rand came to the Brattons' on business, and he advised me to go to Philadelphia or New York, where he was sure I could find some desirable post. At the end of March my school engagement would end; but before my term expired I found courage to tell Amanda that I loved her, and received her avowal of love in return. It was decided that our attachment should be kept secret for the present, and it was subsequently arranged that our correspondence should be through Dan Yule, the miller's grown-up son, who would perform any service for me and ask no questions.

Early in April I went to New York to seek my fortune, and as a poem of mine, Leonora's Dream, was to appear in The Hesperian for May, I called on the editor the second day after my arrival to offer other poems. He whirled them over rapidly, reading a line here and there, and returned them, saying:

" One or two things there might do, if I wasn't overstocked. Besides, you're not known, and your name would be no advantage to the magazine. Get a little reputation, young man, before you try to make your living by literature."

I left the editor's office much discouraged, and began to fear that Inspiration would do little for me unless allied to Policy, and that my only chance with The Hesperian lay in writing some airy trifle of a tale that the editor could use "to piece out with." On the same day I called on a music-publisher, who pronounced my poems very sweet and tender but said more depended on the air than on the words, and it was out of his line. A second music-publisher to whom I offered my poems informed me that he commonly paid a dollar for the words of a song, and promised to show them to his composer for his decision. The next week I made many more trials, but met with small success. One or two literary editors accepted a poem as an unpaid contribution, the composer before mentioned proved too busy to set my poems to music, and The Hesperian accepted a story on condition that I changed the dénouement. On the appearance of the story I was to receive five dollars.

In the mean time I had made the acquaintance of Swansford, a young composer, and engaged quarters at his boarding-place in Hester Street. Swansford and I soon became warm friends, and one evening I wrote a nonsensical parody of the fashionable sentimental song of the day, which he set to burlesque music, and which ultimately brought us seventy-five dollars. Lettsom, a law-reporter whom I met, now introduced me to Mr. Clarendon, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Wonder; and the editor, after receiving me kindly, at once set me at work on some experimental condensation of a half-column article into a fifteen-line item. Fortunately my work pleased him and I was en-gaged at six dollars a week to do writing of this nature.

A life of regular labor now began for me; and though I made some errors at the start, I soon became expert and enjoyed my work. Mr. Jenks, of The Hesperian, after learning of my new employment, paid me ten dollars for my next story, and in the course of six months my weekly salary at the Wonder was raised to ten dollars, This increase, with occasional sums received from The Hesperian, led me to carry out my long-cherished intention of publishing a volume of my own verse; and in the following May Leonora's Dream and Other Poems appeared. press notices of the volume were mostly brief but pleasant, and so much elated we that I did not then detect their vague, mechanical character.

By this time I had been a year at the Wander office, and was granted a week's holiday. T had heard from Amanda at long intervals, and now hastened to Upper Samaria to see her and present her with a choicely bound copy of Leonora's Dream, thinking to give her a delightful surprise. On seeing me she appeared greatly confused, and when I spoke of my love and how the end of our long waiting had come at last she answered coldly. I responded passionately, and in answer to her scream "Charles! Charles!" my school-friend Rand appeared, and soon learned that the two were now husband and wife. Amanda denied that we had even been engaged, and in the uing quarrel with Rand I knocked him down, Filled with and grief, I left for Reading the next day, and there in an rerview with Uncle Amos I informed him that I was now of he and wished him to pay over to me the money for which he was trustee. This he said he was unable to do, on account of having invested my money, and nearly all of his own, in a land speculation in which Bratton and Rand were concerned and from which nothing could be expected for some time in return. Though I had learned to earn my own living and knew I should not suffer, He felt bitterly that I was again the dupe of others, and I accused my uncle of dishonesty, assuring him that until he became honest and restored my inheritance I should have no more to do with him.

On my return to the Wander office T was promoted to the city department at a weekly salary of fifteen dollars. I told Swansford how Amanda had treated me, and in return he told me that the woman be loved had been forced to marry another. At an evening company at Mr, Clarendon%, not long After my return, I met a Miss Haworth, with whom, however, I had no conversation, and Mr. Brandagee, an erratic literary person of whom I afterward saw much in the course of my career, and who repelled at the same time that he fascinated me by his manner. He took me on one occasion to a soirée at the house of Mrs. Yorkton, known in literary circles as Adeliza Choate. There I met many of the literary small fry of New York, and at the time I was disposed to rate these persons at their own high valuation. I attended Mrs. Yorkton's Friday receptions regularly for many weeks, but subsequently gained admittance to very different literary receptions, the hostess on these occasions being a woman of rare culture who gathered about her persons of real worth, in literature as in art.

Feeling that I could afford to make the change, I presently removed to more expensive quarters in Bleecker Street, and not long afterward I encountered Penrose by chance, to our mutual pleasure. He introduced me to his sister and her husband, Edmund Shanks, who invited me to a dinner-party at Delmonico's. Among the guests at the dinner were Miss Hawor' and her stepbrother, Mr. Floyd, whose face impressed r disagreeably, and I sat between Miss Haworth and Penrose. enjoyed talking with her, and as I walked home with Pen, he told me that Miss Haworth was an heiress, and that her t brother wished to marry her. At the house of a Mr. Deern soon after the Delmonico dinner, I met his wife and her friend Miss Haworth, and subsequent meetings assured me that I a in love with Miss Haworth, although I did not dare to hope of love in return. Another summer came, and she departed/ Western tour. For the first time in a year I looked a Leonora's Dream. My first sensation was one of simple at its crudities; my second, one of gratitude that I had sufficiently to perceive them.

While reporting a fire one September night I was the meaning of rescuing Jane Berry, a country girl, from a disorderly hou near by, where she had been forcibly detained, and as she ha no friends in the city I placed her with some humble friends of mine who would give her shelter for a while. In October Miss Haworth returned to her house in Gramercy Park, and on the occasion of my first call upon her Penrose appeared there also.

As we left we encountered Floyd at the door. On the way home-ward Penrose said:

" John, you and I must have an explanation. You love Isabel Haworth, and so do L You and I have been friends, but if you are as much in earnest as I take you to be we are from this time forth rivals perhaps enemies."

I answered that rivals we might be, but I hoped not enemies, and we parted at Bleecker Street. There was but one contingency that might bring us together as we were of old—disappointment to both.

I met Isabel at a literary function soon afterward, but her manner seemed somewhat abstracted; and when I next called at Gramercy Park a note was handed me at the door containing only the words: "Miss Haworth informs Mr. Godfrey that her acquaintance with him has ceased." I felt convinced that either Penrose or Floyd had misrepresented my character to her, and I made up my mind to a lonely life. I grew indifferent to the nature of my associates and consorted more and more with reckless and dissipated fellows. Brandagee and Babcock had established a scurrilous sheet called the Oracle, my contributions to which insured me support for the immediate future, and I became careless in regard to my duties at the Wonder office. Mr. Clarendon found serious fault with me and advised me to sever my connection with the Oracle.

"No," said I, "I prefer giving up my place here"; and saying he was sorry for it, Mr. Clarendon dismissed me.

After this I rapidly drifted into a kind of vagabond existence, Swansford being almost the only old friend I cared to meet; and being no longer able to pay my way at Bleecker Street, I put a few things into my pockets, leaving my other effects behind, and hired a wretched attic in Crosby Street at five dollars a month, the money being borrowed from Swansford. My single suit grew shabby from constant wear, and one night I staggered out of a barroom, drunk and despairing. As I did so a passer-by regarded me sharply.

"Why, John—John Godfrey, is it you?" he said.

It was Bob Simmons. He took me to his boarding-place and cared for me tenderly, and to him I told my story from the time I last saw him in Honeybrook and received his sympathy.

"What would you do now in my place?" I said.

"Forgit what can't be helped, and take a fresh start. Let them fellows alone you've been with. That editor now--Clarendon—I'd go straight to hint"

I took Bob's advice; saw Mr. Clarendon; told him as much of my recent life as it was necessary for him to know, and was taken on at the Wonder office, though with a somewhat lessened salary. That night Bob appeared with my trunk, brought from Bleecker Street after paying my bill there, and I told him of my success. While smoking his evening pipe he spoke of his own sorrow—how he had loved a country girl who had run away from home and been lost to sight, and I presently learned that her name was Jane Berry. As rapidly as I could I related all that I knew of her, but could not tell him where she then was, as she had found work but had left no address with the persons I had placed her with.

As soon as my first week's wages were paid I hastened to pay my debt to Swansford, whom I found ill and slowly dying. Weeks went by, and one evening he handed me a package which after his death I was to give to the woman he had loved. It was directed to Mrs. Fanny Deering, and on seeing this I resolved to entreat her to visit him ere he died. The next day as I was about to enter her house I met Penrose, who greeted me warmly and hurriedly told me that Isabel had refused him, and that he was now going to establish himself in San Francisco. I informed him that I still loved her but almost despaired of ever winning her. We parted friends, and I then saw Mrs. Deering, to whom I related the fact of Swansford's illness. She consented to go with me at once to his bedside, and to her great joy she was not too late. For the last few days of his life she heard from him every day through me.

From Mrs. Deering I obtained tidings of Isabel, and she informed me that her friend had in some way heard unfavorable news of me, her informant being Floyd, as I came to know later. Soon afterward I received a note from Miss Haworth acknowledging that she had unjustly judged me and asking me to call. I did so, and in the course of our talk I ascertained that she had become acquainted with Jane Berry, whom she was now trying to help, and through whom she learned that Floyd had deceived her in his account of me. Obeying an irresistible impulse, I now told her of my love for her and to my great joy perceived that my affection was returned. She had long loved me, but when greatly exaggerated tales of misconduct on my part reached her she had resolved never to see me again and therefore had written the brief note that had made me so miserable. On another occasion. I told her of my follies, her pardon for which already existed in her love.

Isabel's mother had expressed in her will the desire that her daughter should not marry before her twenty-first birth-day, when she would come into full possession of her fortune, of which Floyd was one of the trustees. Till then our betrothal was not to be mentioned publicly, as he would probably oppose our wishes.

In September Uncle Amos wrote me that his land speculations, contrary to his fears, had turned out so well that my original legacy was now increased to twenty thousand dollars. I visited him at once, as he requested, and received from him a check for the amount. Looking back to my life at Reading, I now perceived that I had misjudged him and that his apparent hypocrisy was but the outcome of narrowness and ignorance. Though he had yielded to temptation in regard to my inheritance, his ultimate intention was honest. He and I were now reconciled; and after returning to New York, With the advice of Mr. Clarendon, I resigned my post on the Wonder, as I could now devote myself to study and literary work.

In October Isabel's birthday occurred and her fortune of eighty thousand dollars was placed at her own disposal. It had troubled me not a little that she was an heiress, and I was chiefly glad in regard to my own money received from Uncle Amos in that it diminished the difference in this respect between us. In October we were married. Penrose from California sent his sincere congratulations, and a superb India shawl as a wedding-gift. In the following spring we visited my mother's grave at Cross-Keys, and thence we went to Reading, where Isabel quickly won the hearts of my uncle and aunt. We now have a pleasant home on Staten Island, and the presence therein of young Charles Swansford Godfrey and his little sister Barbara furnishes us continual delight.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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