From the day when the Union first opened its doors at No. 1 Bond Street, it was one of the wealthiest and most exclusive of New York clubs. The names of its organizers are names associated with the history of the city. Ogden Hoffman, whom Mr. Fairfield describes as "a bald-headed, dreamy-eyed man, in his day the star of the New York Bar, both for fervid eloquence and profound learning"; Philip Hone, he of the immortal "Diary"; Thomas P. Oakley, Samuel Jones, Beverly Robinson, W.B. Lewrence, Charles King, E.T. Throop, and J. Depeyster Ogden. These were some of the men whose names were appended to the provisional constitution drawn up on June 30, 1836. C. Fenno Hoffman, "next to Morris the sweetest song-writer America has produced," later became a member of the association, which from its inception, was the representative organization of the old families. Livingstons, Clasons, Dunhams, Griswolds, Van Cortlandts, Paines, Centers, Vandervoorts, Stuyvesants, Van Renssalaers, Irelands, Suydams, and other names of Knickerbocker fame, filled its list of membership with a sort of aristocratic monotony of that Knickerbockerism, which has since, to use the words of Mr. Fairfield again, "in solemn and silent Second Avenue (the Faubourg St. Germain of the city), earned the epithet of the Bourbons of New York." Solemn and silent Second Avenue is solemn and silent no more. Long since gone are the social glories of that thoroughfare that once boldly stepped forward to challenge the supremacy of the street that is the subject of this book. "Sic transit!" or something of the kind would have been the probable comment of Mr. Fairfield, for he, in common with others of his age, delighted in flinging in a scrap of Latin or French on every possible occasion. They were industrious investigators of the thesaurus in those days.
The first home of the Union, at No. 1 Bond Street, was in reality the house of its secretary, John H.L. McCrackan. In 1837 a building on Broadway near Leonard Street was secured, and the club moved into it, there to remain for three years. Then, for seven years, it was in a house on the other side of Broadway, and in 1847, obeying the prevalent impulse up-townward, it shifted its quarters to the spot from which it was later to remove to the Twenty-first Street home. That structure at Broadway and Fourth Street was the property of the Stuyvesant family, and after the departure of the men of the Union, was occupied by the confectioner Maillard as a hotel and restaurant. In 1852 the question of a permanent building began to be discussed, and in 1854 the land at the Twenty-first Street corner was secured and the work of erecting the structure that in its day was the most imposing of all that lined Fifth Avenue between Waverly Place and the Broadway junction begun. The club moved into the new quarters in May, 1855, at a time when its membership numbered approximately five hundred. In writing of the Union as it was in 1871 Mr. Fairfield made the comment that literature was hardly represented at all, and journalism only by Manton Marble of the "World." As had been the case of Thackeray and the Athenaeum of London, Mr. Marble, at the time of his first candidacy, had been blackballed. The objection, also as in the case of Thackeray, was ascribed not to the personality of the man, but to his profession. But Mr. Marble was eventually admitted through the efforts of a member of the Board of Directors, who declared boldly that not a new member should be elected until the blackballs against the journalist had been withdrawn. Robert J. Dillon, landscape gardener, and J.H. Lazarus, portrait painter, were almost the sole art representatives, and in 1871 J. Lester Wallack was the only actor on the club list. Wallack's great contemporary of the stage, Edwin Booth, was a member of the Century and of the Lotos. The law of the day was represented by such men as Mayor Hall, until he resigned as a result of the criticism of fellow-members growing out of the exposures of the Tammany frauds in the summer and autumn of 1871, W.M. Evarts, Judge Garvin, Judge Gunning S. Bedford, Eli P. Norton, and John E. Burrill. Of men prominent in political and municipal life were August Belmont, Samuel J. Tilden, Peter B. Sweeny, former Mayor George Opdyke, Isaac Bell, and Andrew H. Green, later to become the "Father of Greater New York." Among the dominant financial figures, in addition to August Belmont, were A.T. Stewart, John J. Cisco, Henry Clews, and John Jacob Astor. From the Army were U.S. Grant, then the nation's President, John H. Coster, George W. Cullom, Samuel W. Crawford, Howard Stockton, Rufus Ingalls, J.L. Rathbone, I.U.D. Reeve, and Stewart Van Vliet. From the Navy, James B. Breese, James Alden, Edward C. Gratton, Thomas M. Potter, Henry O. Mayo, James Glynn, W.C. Leroy, L.M. Powell, and John H. Wright.
By virtue of its descent from the Sketch and the Column, the Century Association might lay claim to seniority among the clubs of Fifth Avenue. The Sketch Club was the result of the union of the literary and artistic elements of New York, which, in 1829, were producing an annual called "The Talisman." Among the writers in the Sketch were Bryant, Verplanck, and Sands, and later Washington Irving and J.K. Paulding joined it. There was no regular home, the club meeting at the houses of members in turn. For six months, during 1830, it did not exist, having been dissolved in May of that year, and reorganized in December. Thereafter, for a few years, it met in the Council Room of the National Academy of Design, and then returned to the custom of meeting at the homes of the members. That organization was the embryo Century. The Sketch Club had first taken form in 1829. Four years before that a society called the Column had been established by graduates of Columbia College. That organization, too, had a share in the moulding of the new club.
The meeting that brought the Century into being was held the evening of January 13, 1847, in the rotunda of the New York Gallery of Fine Arts in the City Hall Park. The call for the meeting had been sent out a few weeks before, the men composing the signing committee being John G. Chapman, A.B. Burand, C.C. Ingham, A.M. Cozzens, F.W. Edmonds, and H.T. Tuckerman. The original Centurions were forty-two in number, of whom twenty-five came from the Sketch, and six from the Column. There were ten artists, ten merchants, four authors, three bankers, three physicians, two clergymen, two lawyers, one editor, one diplomat, and three men of leisure. All were more or less representative men of the city, which had grown from the town of three hundred and fifty thousand of the day of the Union's formation, to a young metropolis of six hundred thousand. Gulian C. Verplanck was the club's first president, and back in his day began the Century's peculiar Twelfth Night Festival, which has been continued ever since. Twelfth Night with the Centurions is distinctive in that it is not an annual event nor the event of any given year. The very uncertainty of the ceremonial has added zest to the revel, which usually ends with an old-fashioned Virginia Reel. A few years ago the reel was led by Theodore Roosevelt and the late Joseph H. Choate.
The first home of the Century, which it occupied for two years, was in rooms at 495 Broadway—between Broome and Spring Streets. During this period a journal called the "Century" was started, and edited by F.S. Cozzens and John H. Gourley. Then, in 1848, the club moved to 435 Broome Street; thence, in 1850, to 575 Broadway; in 1852, to Clinton Place, where Thackeray learned to love it, and where, by virtue of proximity, it first laid claim to be regarded as a Fifth Avenue club.
In Clinton Place the Century stayed until it went to its Fifteenth Street house, where it was so long to remain. Gulian Verplanck's presidency lasted for many years. At first it was a happy tenure of office. But the Civil War came, bringing with it grave dissensions. Verplanck may be said to have invited the divisions that crept into the club, and which led to his overwhelming defeat in the election of 1864. He was succeeded by the historian Bancroft, who held office until 1868, when he resigned because of his departure for Prussia as the United States Minister to Berlin.
From the very day when it took form the Century seems to have had an atmosphere—almost a history. In the years long before the more modern clubs of a literary flavour were dreamed of, the Century was bringing together the leading men-of-letters and of art of New York. Yet somehow the Century of early times impresses newer generations as having been tremendously portentous and dignified. There was never any suggestion of Bohemia. After the establishment of the Century the gifted Poe was to enjoy, or rather to endure, two more years of life. By no stretch of the imagination can we think of his being in the club, even as the guest of an evening. There was plenty of good-fellowship, no doubt, and good cheer, but also the chill of a certain reserve. The talk seems, after all the years, to have been essentially serious—men expressing themselves not lightly, but judicially, and after long deliberation; Mr. Bryant gravely conceding the right of Pope or Dryden or Watts, according to the subject of discussion, to be ranked as a poet, or denying the same, while members of lesser note sat about listening and nodding, but preserving becoming reticence. There was almost a Bostonese austerity about the great men of that early time and circle. They wore their garments as Roman Senators wore their togas. It was not good form for the stranger to break lightly into the talk of the Immortals. To have done so would have been to provoke the amazement and censure that was the lot of Mark Twain many years after, when, at a dinner in the Hub, he sought to jest irreverently with the sacred names of Holmes, Emerson, and Longfellow. Again try to fancy the shy, eccentric, improvident genius of "Ulalume," "The Bells," and "The Fall of the House of Usher" at ease in a company that, while delightful, was all propriety and solid intellectuality. No, Poe would no more have fitted into the Century than Balzac or Zola would have fitted into the French Academy which so persistently denied them. And, to be perfectly frank, had the writer been a Centurion of that period, and had the name of Edgar Allan Poe come up for election, he might have been one of the first to drop a black pill in the box, loudly acclaiming the genius, but deploring the impossible and unclubable personality.
After the presidency of Bancroft came that of Bryant. He held the office until his death in 1878, but as he was always averse to crowds, he was seldom seen at the club except in official meetings. An enthusiastic Centurion, writing of the club at the time of Bryant's death, when it had been in existence thirty-one years, spoke of it as having drawn together the choicest spirits of that generation of New York. "Without formality or design, it had become an institute of mutual enlightenment among men knowing the worth of one another's work, likened by Bellows, more than half seriously, to the French Academy. A sure result of this communion was absolute equality among those who shared it. No true Centurion ever assumed anything, each standing in his real place. The atmosphere killed pretension and stifled shams. The pedant or the conceited person silently drifted away. How could it be otherwise, while a famous painter was describing some scene, or a noted philosopher illustrating some theory, or an acute statesman drawing some historical parallel, than that the egotist should drop himself, and the proser forget to prose?" The late Clarence King was in his day a leader in the Century talk, and his comment on the club was that it contained "the rag-tag and bob-tail of all that was best in the country." Many times has it been introduced under thin disguises in the fiction dealing with New York. In some of the novels of Robert W. Chambers it appears as the Pyramid. Twenty years ago Paul Leicester Ford brought it into "The Story of an Untold Love," calling it The Philomathean. According to the hero of that tale, the Philomathean was the one club where charlatanry and dishonesty must fail, however it succeeded with the world, and where the poorest man stood on a par with the wealthiest. The Centurion of all times has had much to be proud of, and he has not been blind to his blessings, nor ashamed to acquaint the world with his great good fortune.
Although most of them began in side streets, and many of them have in the later years migrated again to side streets, through the greater part of their history the clubs here discussed belong essentially to the "Avenue" from which they have drawn so much of their inspiration. It does not matter that the present home of the Century is at 7 West Forty-third Street, or that the Lotos for the past few years has been at 110 West Fifty-seventh Street. They remain, as they always have been, Fifth Avenue clubs. Part of the history of the Lotos Club is written in the chapter dealing with "Some Great Days on the Avenue." For the fame of the organization as a giver of elaborate banquets to distinguished guests has spread through the land. The Lotos dates back to the early spring of 1870, when a group of young New York journalists met in the office of the New York "Leader" to take the initiatory steps necessary for the formation of a club. These men were De Witt Van Buren of the "Leader," Andrew C. Wheeler of the "Daily World," George W. Hows of the "Evening Express," F.A. Schwab of the "Daily Times," W.L. Alden of the "Citizen," and J.H. Elliot of the "Home Journal." As the founders were all connected with the literary, musical, art, or dramatic departments of their papers, it was not surprising that the projected association was to be modelled upon the Savage, Garrick, and Junior Garrick of London. Earlier failure had shown that a strictly literary organization was out of the question. A wider and more comprehensive membership was a necessity. As set forth in Article I., Section 2 of the Lotos Constitution, the primary object of the club was "to promote social intercourse among journalists, literary men, artists, and members of the theatrical profession."
From the first temporary quarters in the parlours of the Belvidere House, then at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, the club moved into a permanent home at No. 2 Irving Place, a building adjoining the Academy of Music. In the autumn of 1870 the first president, De Witt Van Buren, died, and was succeeded by A. Oakley Hall, then the Mayor of New York, who assumed the office entirely in his social capacity, as a journalist, dramatist, and patron of the arts. It was he who suggested the famous "Lotos Saturday Nights." There is a flavour of high Bohemia in the list of members of that period. Among the artists were Beard, Reinhart, Burling, Lumley, Chapin, Bispham, and Pickett; there were such pianists as Wehli, Mills, Hopkins, Colby, and Bassford; singers like Randolfi, Laurence, Thomas, MacDonald, Perring, Seguin, Matthison, and Davis; and actors like Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, Mark Smith, John Brougham, and George Clark.
Some one has said that every generation must express itself in a new club. The decade from 1861-1870 expressed itself in several. To those years of New York date the Columbia Yacht (1867), the Harvard, first of the college clubs (1865), the Manhattan (1865), the New York Athletic (1868), and the Union League (1863). The last named organization owes its birth to the doubts and complications of the darkest hour of the War of Secession. Unite to stand behind the President with our full strength, was the slogan of the men who met in January, 1863, to form the plans for the new association. At the beginning there was talk of adopting the name "Loyal League." The first work of the club was the organization of negro troops in New York City. Despite the opposition of Governor Seymour, and the ridicule of the newspapers, who held up the idea of the negro as a soldier as a huge joke, the Leaguers persisted in their efforts, with the result that in December, 1863, the Twentieth Regiment of U.S. coloured troops was enlisted, and within a few months, two more regiments, known as the Twenty-sixth and the Thirty-first.
In those days the club-house faced Union Square, at the junction of Seventeenth Street and Broadway. Early in 1868 the Union League moved to a house at the corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street, the building afterwards to be occupied in turn by the University Club and the Manhattan Club. The structure had been erected by Mr. Jerome for the use of the Jockey Club, but was leased to the Union League for a term of ten years. Among the early honorary members of the Union League were Abraham Lincoln, General U.S. Grant, General W.T. Sherman, Lieutenant-General "Phil" Sheridan, Major-Generals Burnside, Wright, and Hancock, Admiral David G. Porter, and Rear-Admiral Bailey. The active membership of 1870 included such names as William Cullen Bryant, William M. Evarts, Whitelaw Reid, Parke Godwin, Horace Greeley, Chester A. Arthur, Thomas Nast, Joseph H. Choate, Eastman Johnson, George P. Putnam, Daniel P. Appleton, Dr. Samuel Osgood, George Griswold, E.D. Stanton.
To the name of the Union League is inevitably linked that of the Manhattan Club, for, the Civil War once at an end, the latter became the expression of the political aims and aspirations of the Democratic Party as the former was of the Republican. The Manhattan had its origin in the turmoil of the election of 1864, and the defeat of the Democratic candidate, General McClellan. The first movers in its foundation were Douglass Taylor, then secretary of the Tammany society, Street Commissioner George W. McLean, S.L.M. Barlow of the "World," Judge Hilton, the Hon. A. Schell, A.L. Robertson, and John T. Hoffman, later Governor of New York State from 1869 till 1872. The earlier meetings were held in the old Delmonico's, at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue, and then the Manhattan moved into its first real home at No. 96 Fifth Avenue, just a block above the famous restaurant, where many of the meetings continued to be held. John Van Buren was the first president, with Augustus Schell first vice-president, A.L. Robertson second vice-president, Manton Marble secretary, and W. Butler Duncan treasurer.
In the winter of 1867-8 the club was enlivened by a bout of fisticuffs that was a "celebrated case" of its day. There was then a strict club rule forbidding the introduction of a guest. Manager Bateman, the father of Miss Bateman the actress, saw fit to violate this law. A member of the House Committee, perhaps overzealous in the idea of his duties, carried his protest to the point of forbidding the servants of the club to serve the unwelcome guest. Mr. Bateman's resentment of the action took the form of a personal assault, which became the sensation of the hour and the topic of the newspapers. "Evidently," remarked the "Herald" (those were the days of the elder Bennett, who in his vast experience in New York journalism had more than once felt the sting of a horse-whip), "to be slapped is what some faces are made for!" But the Governors did not see the matter in the light that the "Herald" did, and the pugilistically inclined manager was summarily expelled, the board refusing to settle the matter by accepting his resignation.
Another Fifth Avenue club that claimed 1865 as the year of its origin was the Traveller's. For obvious reasons many of the clubs of the seventh decade of the last century chose to be near the old Delmonico restaurant, and the Traveller's was no exception, making its first home on the opposite corner. The object of the association was to bring together travellers of all nations, and to do proper honour to distinguished who were visiting the United States. After two years at the Fourteenth Street corner the Traveller's moved northward to a new home at No. 222 Fifth Avenue, the George W. Burnham residence at Eighteenth Street. Mr. Fairfield apparently did not regard the club with entire favour, for in his book of 1873 he speaks of the club-house as being "a leading resort for America-examining Englishmen, and the headquarters of an English coterie of considerable social importance." "O tempora! O mores!" he exclaims. There were palmy days in the past, when the receptions were social reunions of eclat. But "they have made an end of all that, having settled into a body as quiet as Mr. Mantilini expected to be after taking a bath in the Thames." But, granting Mr. Fairfield's claim that the literary quality of the Traveller's had deteriorated, there still remained the list of Honorary Members carrying a certain prestige. Professor Louis Agassiz headed the list; and others were Paul Du Chaillu, the African explorer whose adventures were for a long time regarded as clever romance; the Hon. Anson Burlingame, who had been an envoy from the Chinese Emperor; Sir Samuel Baker, of London; Rev. J.C. Fletcher, Professor Raphael Pumpelly, the Right Rev. Bishop Southgate, the Hon. J. Ross Browne, and M. Michel Chevalier, of the French Senate.
"Lotos and Arcadian: both stuff for dreams. The one excogitated in spring-time, when Nature was taking her break-of-day drowse, previous to getting up and going about business; the other suggestive of Nature indulging in a half-light reverie in a sort of crimson and scarlet dressing-gown, previous to putting on her night-cap and going to bed, after a hard summer's work. The one reminding of a land where it is always afternoon of a day in the last of June, when one can almost hear the music of corn-growing, the mystic throes of buds toiling into blossom; the other of a land where it is always about eight o'clock in the morning with the dew still on the meadow-grass, and the world rubbing its eyes and brushing away cobwebs of dream, before buckling down to the struggle. The one somewhat reminiscent of Egypt and crocodiles, lisping palms and Arabs, of long and lotos-eating days of keff, in which even the lazy hours loiter in shady nooks, and the wind holds its breath in sympathy with the general doziness, and seems to be listening to something; the other of vivid Greek life, with its shepherds:
"'Piping on hollow reeds to their pent sheep, Calm be thy Lyra's sleep,'
of Pindar, of Orphic song, of lost Milesian tales, of a life growing into sculpture or breaking into sinuous hexameter waves. The one mystic, the other beautiful, both symbolical."
With this rhapsody Mr. Fairfield introduced the Arcadian Club of New York, an organization that for a time threatened to rival the Lotos in the latter's particular field. Writing men snatched up into the clouds in those days for their metaphors, and combed Mythology for illustrations with which to garnish descriptions of the most commonplace events of everyday life. Here is another gem from Mr. Fairfield's book, also in his chapter about the Arcadian Club.
"Gentlemen of society, bankers, stylish young men with vast ideas of personal importance, amateurs and patrons! City Hall is the brain of New York, of the continent, and it is one of the laws of the world that brains will rule. Rebel as muscles merely of the body politic, and ye rebel against inexorable law: that scribbling literati in the fifth story—for newspapers like men have their brains in the upper story—is more potent than you in settling the artistic position of a Lucca or a Rubenstein, a Dickens or a Dore, a Tennyson or a Carlyle. Have ye ever read a wonderful little ballad by Uhland, entitled 'The Minstrel's Curse?' If so, recall it—for it is typical, not of that which comes by-and-by, but of that which is: the exponent of the beautiful having become in his way an autocrat. Unfortunate it is that journalism is not always representative of the best culture—that managing editors will now and then entrust criticism to incompetents, but its popular power is quite the same, notwithstanding, and this good the popular newspaper has wrought, to wit—that the exponent of the arts, media of culture as they are, is no longer dependent upon the caprices and whims of isolated patrons, nor hampered in his freedom of expression by canons of theirs." And so on ad infinitum. The present writer confesses in all humility that he has not the least idea as to what the eloquent gentleman meant. But remember that it was the age that produced the "St. Elmo" of Augusta Evans Wilson.
Literary Landmarks and Figures
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 himself 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 Caroline 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 Sunny side 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 Howells 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 mors 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 Herman Melville, and Mary L. Booth, who afterwards 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.R. 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. Johnson 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 Bennett 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."
Fifth Avenue in Fiction
Fifth Avenue in Fiction—Pages of Romance—The Henry James Heroes and Heroines—George William Curtiss's "Prue and I"—Edgar Fawcett and Edgar Saltus—The "Big Four" of Archibald Clavering Gunter—The Home of Dr. Sloper—O. Henry and Arthur Train—Bunner and Washington Square—"Predestined"—The De Rham House and Van Bibber's Burglar—Delmonico's—The "Amen Corner"—Union and Madison Squares—The Coming of Potash and Perlmutter—Up the Avenue.
To Macaulay's New Zealander, contemplating from London Bridge the ruins of St. Paul's, and the miles upon miles of silent stones stretching to north and west and east, there would undoubtedly have come the desire to reconstruct a mental picture of the vast, dead city in certain of the various periods in which it had been teeming and throbbing with human life. Had the wish become the task, formal history would have played its part. Informal history would have proved more fruitful, and bygone days would have taken shape in the study of old prints, letters, and diaries. But for the full flavour of the town that once was and now had become crumbling dust he would have turned to pages that had been professedly pages of romance.
Suppose Elizabethan London had been his especial interest. That he would have seen through the eyes of Sir John Falstaff and his riotous, dissolute cronies of the Boar's Head Tavern. Georgian London? What better companion could he have had in his scheme of investigation than Mr. Thomas Jones, recently come up from the West Country? For a vision of Corinthian London could he have done better than take up Conan Doyle's "Rodney Stone," with its vivid pictures of the stilted eccentrics who hovered about the Prince-Regent, the coffee-houses thronged with England's warriors of the land and sea, and the haunts of the hard-faced men of the Prize Ring?
The Artful Dodger, guiding the innocent Oliver to the den of Fagin the Jew, would have introduced that last New Zealander to the sordid section of London about Great Saffron Hill and Little Saffron Hill that existed before the construction of the Holborn Viaduct. In the pages of Thackeray and George Meredith he would have studied the West-End of Victorian days. Certain seamy aspects of London life of the last years of the nineteenth century would have been revealed in the novels of George Gissing; and the books of a score of scribes, whose permanent place in letters is still a matter of conjecture, would have flashed glimpses of the city's streets, foibles, manners, and emotions in the early years of the twentieth century.
Our literature has, as yet, given us no figure analogous to that Last New Zealander of Macaulay. But in the bustling New York of fifty or one hundred years hence the dreamer or the student wishing to feel how the inhabitants of Manhattan lived three or four score years ago, or how we are living today, will not disdain to turn over pages originally designed to lighten the tedium of idle hours.
Now and again, in the novels of the fifties and sixties, there are glimpses of the stretch from Washington Square to Fourteenth Street, but the greater Fifth Avenue, as a factor in fiction, dates from about the time when Daisy Miller became a type. To those who really understand them, every one of the great, vital streets of the world has a soul as well as a body. The social invader from the West, the merchant whose establishment still found profit in Grand Street, the banker from Broad Street, or the ship's chandler from South, the club awakening to the fact that its quarters on Broadway or in one of the side streets near Irving Place was too far downtown, or in size inadequate to its growing membership—those were the agencies that wrought the Avenue's material development. But it was the American travelling in Europe in the days when we first found Henry James's heroine on the shores of Lake Geneva and later in Rome, when transatlantic voyagers were not so commonplace as they became later, whose pangs of homesickness in his pension in the Rue de Clichy in Paris, or his hotel in Sorrento, first invested Fifth Avenue with a spirit. It was different perhaps when he returned home with a slight pose of foreign manners, to bask for a brief moment in the sunny flood of distinction that was due him as a kind of later Sir John Franklin. But over there what were cathedral naves and spires, or art galleries, or purple Mediterranean waves, or laboriously acquired French verbs, to the jutting brown-stone stoops and the maples breaking into blossom?
There was a kind of writing, not fish or flesh or good red herring, but just the same altogether charming in its day, inspiring of dreams, and a vehicle for pleasant fancy. It belonged to what, from our grave old point of view, was the youth of the world, and the spirit of youth, its ingenuousness, and its ardour, were needed to appreciate it. Ik Marvel's "Reveries of a Bachelor" was of that genre—and how the hearth logs blazed and the fair faces flickered in the flames in those pages of Mr. Donald G. Mitchell!—and George William Curtiss's "Prue and I"; and the latter book was one of the first in which was to be found the flavour of the old Fifth Avenue. Then there were the forgotten novelists of the seventies and early eighties, and some who are not quite forgotten, such as the two Edgars, Fawcett and Saltus, and the days when every visiting Englishman, no matter what he might have done in real life, in fiction had to stay, while in New York, at the Brevoort House. All sorts of inconsequential novels flit through the mind in recalling that bygone period. There was a gentleman whose atrociously written, but marvellously constructed "thrillers" were to be found in every deck chair at the noon hour on transatlantic steamers of thirty years ago. That was the late Archibald Clavering Gunter. The present generation knows him and his works not at all; but how a past generation used to read and reread "Mr. Barnes of New York," and "Mr. Potter of Texas," and "Miss Nobody of Nowhere," and "That Frenchman," which should have been called "M. De Vernay of Paris." Those were the earliest and the "big four." The list of successors is a long one, but that certain something, that indefinable quality, which had made the first books great trash was irrevocably gone. Of all the flamboyant characters of the tales Mr. Barnes was deservedly the most popular, and at such times as he was not winning international rifle matches at Monte Carlo, or racing about Europe in respectable pursuit of desirable young ladies, he inhabited a dwelling on lower Fifth Avenue. Practically all Fifth Avenue were the scenes of "Miss Nobody of Nowhere," with its charming heroine and her adopted parents, its wicked English nobleman, and its comical little Anglo-maniac dude. Under some name or other a "Gussie Van Beekman" was a necessary ingredient of every Gunter novel.
It is a far cry from Gunter to Henry James, though each wrought according to his lights, and served his purpose in his time. It was when the Avenue was in its infancy that Dr. Sloper, of James's "Washington Square," went to live in the brick house with white stone trimmings, that, practically unchanged, may be seen today, diagonally across the street from the Arch. The novelist wrote of the locality as having "a kind of established repose which is not of frequent occurrence in other quarters of the long, shrill city"; and ascribed to it, "a richer, riper look than any of the upper ramifications of the great longitudinal thoroughfare—the look of having had something of a social history." That "richer, riper look," that suggestion of a past, is there to-day, and is likely to be there tomorrow. The particular Sloper house is quite easy of identification. It is the third from the corner as one goes westward from the Avenue. In 1835, when Dr. Sloper first took possession, moving uptown from the neighbourhood of the City Hall, which had seen its best days socially, the Square, then the ideal of quiet and genteel retirement, was enclosed by a wooden paling. The edifice in which the Slopers lived and its neighbours were then thought to embody the last results of architectural science. It actually dates to 1831. Among the merchants who built in that year were Thomas Suffern, Saul Allen, John Johnston, George Griswold, James Boorman, and William C. Rhinelander. It was their type of house that was accepted for the neighbourhood as the first streets began to open to the right and left of Fifth Avenue. That northern stretch of the Square, first invaded in fiction by Henry James, has ever been a favourite background of the story-spinners, who never tire of contrasting its tone of well-bred aristocracy with the squalor, half-Bohemian and half-proletarian, that faces it from across the Park. In fiction one does not necessarily have to be of an old New York family in order to inhabit one of those north-side dwellings. Robert Walmsley, of O. Henry's "The Defeat of the City," lived there, and the boyhood to which he looked back was one spent on an up-state farm; while another erstwhile tenant in the exclusive row was the devious Artemas Quibble, of Mr. Arthur Train's narrative, who began life humbly somewhere in grey New England, and ended it, so far as the reader was informed, in Sing Sing Prison. Then there was the home of Mrs. Martin, the "Duchess of Washington Square" of Brander Matthews's "The Last Meeting," and that of Miss Grandish, of Julian Ralph's "People We Pass," and the house of Mrs. Delaney, of Edgar Fawcett's "Rutherford," and the structure which inspired one-half of Edward W. Townsend's "Just Across the Square," and the five-room apartment "at the top of a house with dormer windows on the north side" where Sanford lived according to F. Hopkinson Smith's "Caleb West," and where his guests, looking out, could see the "night life of the Park, miniature figures strolling about under the trees, flashing in brilliant light or swallowed up in dense shadow as they passed in the glare of many lamps scattered among the budding foliage." Also over the Square, regarded in the light of fiction, is the friendly shadow of Bunner, who liked it at any time, but liked it best of all at night, with the great dim branches swaying and breaking in the breeze, the gas lamps flickering and blinking, when the tumults and the shoutings of the day were gone and "only a tramp or something worse in woman's shape was hurrying across the bleak space, along the winding asphalt, walking over the Potter's Field of the past on the way to the Potter's Field to be."
But to turn into the Avenue proper, and to follow the trail of the novelists northward. At the very point of departure we are on the site of the imaginary structure that gave the title to Leroy Scott's "No. 13 Washington Square," for the reason that there is no such number at all, and that the house in question must have occupied the space between Nos. 12 and 14, respectively, on the east and west corners facing Waverly Place. Before the next street is reached we have passed the home of the Huntingdons of Edgar Fawcett's "A Hopeless Case," and at the southwest corner of the Avenue and Eighth Street, facing the Brevoort, is No. 68 Clinton Place, which was not only the setting, but also the raison d'etre of Thomas A. Janvier's "A Temporary Deadlock." Almost diagonally across the street is an old brick house, with Ionic pillars of marble and a fanlight at the arched entrance—one of those houses that, to use the novelist's words, "preserve unobtrusively, in the midst of a city that is being constantly rebuilt, the pure beauty of Colonial dwellings." It was the home of the Ferrols of Stephen French Whitman's "Predestined," one of the books of real power that appear from time to time, to be strangely neglected, and through that neglect to tempt the discriminating reader to contempt for the literary judgment of his age.
At the northwest corner of Ninth Street there is a brownish-green building erected in the long, long ago to serve as a domicile of the Brevoort family, which had once exercised pastoral sway over so many acres of this region. Later it became the home of the De Rhams. But to Richard Harding Davis, then a reporter on the "Evening Sun," it had nothing of the flavour of the Patroons. It was simply the house where young Cortlandt Van Bibber, returning from Jersey City where he had witnessed the "go" between "Dutchy" Mack and a coloured person professionally known as the Black Diamond, found his burglar. There is no mistaking the house, which "faced the avenue," nor the stone wall that ran back to the brown stable which opened on the side street, nor the door in the wall, that, opening cautiously, showed Van Bibber the head of his quarry. "The house was tightly closed, as if some one was lying inside dead," was a line of Mr. Davis's description. Many years after the writing of "Van Bibber's Burglar," another maker of fiction associated with New York was standing before the Ninth Street house, of the history of which he knew nothing. "Grim tragedy lives there, or should live there," said Owen Johnson, "I never pass here without the feeling that there is some one lying dead inside."
Van Bibber's presence in the neighbourhood was in no wise surprising, for it was one of his favourite haunts when he was not engaged farther up the Avenue, in his daily labour, which was, as he explained to the chance acquaintance met at the ball in Lyric Hall described in "Cinderella," "mixing cocktails at the Knickerbocker Club." Only a few doors distant from the Ninth Street house there is an apartment hotel known as the Berkeley, and it was to a Berkeley apartment that Van Bibber, as related in "Her First Appearance," took the child that he had practically kidnapped to restore her to her father and to be rewarded for his intrusion by being sensibly called a well-meaning fool. But there is another apartment house at the south-west corner of the Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street which better fits the description, which tells how Van Bibber, from the windows, could see the many gas lamps of Broadway where it crossed the Avenue a few blocks away, and the bunches of light on Madison Square Garden.
Edgar Fawcett was hardly of the generation of the Flora McFlimseys. As a matter of fact he was a small boy in knickerbockers when the famous William Allen Butler poem, "Nothing to Wear," first appeared in the pages of "Harper's Weekly." But Miss McFlimsey was an enduring young lady, who, for many years was accepted as symbolizing the foibles of Madison Square, and she was in a measure in Fawcett's mind when he wrote, in "A Gentleman of Leisure," that vigorous description contrasting socially the stretch of the Avenue below Fourteenth Street with the later development a dozen blocks to the north. In another Fawcett novel, "Olivia Delaplaine," we find the home of the heroine's husband in Tenth Street, just off the Avenue; and, reverting to "A Gentleman of Leisure," Clinton Wainwright, the gentleman in question, lived, like a "visiting Englishman," at the Brevoort.
There have been many Delmonicos. But for the purposes of fiction there has never been one just like the establishment that occupied a corner at the junction of the Avenue and Fourteenth Street. It was a more limited town in those days. The novelist wishing to depict his hero doing the right thing in the right way by his heroine did not have the variety of choice he has now. Two squares away, the Academy of Music was, theatrically and operatically, the social centre, so to carry on the narrative with a proper regard for the conventions, the preceding dinner or the following supper was necessarily at the old Delmonico's. They were good trenchermen and trencherwomen, those heroes and heroines of yesterday! Many oyster-beds were depleted, and bins of rare vintage emptied to satisfy the healthy appetites of the inked pages. Somehow the mouth waters with the memory. When Delmonico's moved on to Twenty-sixth Street, and from its terraced tables its patrons could look up at graceful Diana, there were many famous dinners of fiction, such as the one, for example, consumed by the otherwise faultless Walters, for a brief period in the service of Mr. Van Bibber—the menu selected: "Little Neck clams first, with chablis, and pea-soup, and caviare on toast, before the oyster crabs, with Johannisberger Cabinet; then an entree of calves' brains and rice; then no roast, but a bird, cold asparagus with French dressing, Camembert cheese, and Turkish coffee," may be accepted as indicating the gastronomical taste of the author in the days when youth meant good digestion—but with the departure from the old Fourteenth Street corner something of the flavour of the name passed forever.
If New York has never had another restaurant that meant to the novelist just what the traditional Delmonico's meant, there has also never been another hotel like the old Fifth Avenue. In actual life the so-called "Ladies' Parlour" on the second floor, reached, if I remember rightly, by means of an entrance on the Twenty-third Street side, was dreary enough; but turn to the pages of the romance of the sixties and seventies and eighties, and on the heavily upholstered sofas enamoured couples sat in furtive meeting, and words of endearment were whispered, and all the stock intrigue of fiction was set in motion. Then, on the ground floor, was the Amen Corner, without which no tale of political life was complete, and the various rooms for more formal gatherings, such as the one in which took place "The Great Secretary of State Interview," as narrated by Jesse Lynch Williams many years ago.
But for the full flavour of the romance of this section of Fifth Avenue it is not necessary to go back to the leisurely novelists of the eighties and before. Recall the work of a man who, a short ten years ago, was turning out from week to week the mirth-provoking, amazement-provoking tales dealing with the life of what he termed his "Little Old Bagdad on-the-Subway," his "Noisyville on-the-Hudson," his "City of Chameleon Changes." For the Avenue as the expression of the city's wealth and magnificence and aristocracy the late O. Henry had little love. The glitter and pomp and pageantry were not for "the likes of him." He preferred the more plebeian trails, the department-store infested thoroughfare to the west, with the clattering "El" road overhead; or Fourth Avenue to the east, beginning at the statue of "George the Veracious," running between the silent and terrible mountains, finally, with a shriek and a crash, to dive headlong into the tunnel at Thirty-fourth Street, and never to be seen again; or even some purlieu of the great East Side, where he could sit listening at ease in the humble shop of Fitbad the Tailor.
There was, however, one portion of land belonging to the Avenue where he felt himself thoroughly at home. When, of a summer's evening, darkness had fallen, and the leaves were fluttering in the warm breeze, and high overhead Diana's light was twinkling, and the derelicts were gathered on the Park benches, the world was full of delightful mystery and magic. Close to the curb, at one corner of the Square, a low grey motor-car with engine silent. Then whimsical fancy and a haunting memory of Robert Louis Stevenson's "New Arabian Nights" builded up the story "While the Auto Waits." Or perhaps the sight of a car swiftly moving with its emergency tire dangerously loose, and to that fertile brain were flashed the ingredients of "The Fifth Wheel." "There is an aristocracy of the public parks and even of the vagabonds who use them for their private apartments," wrote Sidney Porter in "The Shocks of Doom." Vallance of the story felt rather than knew this, but when he stepped down out of his world into chaos his feet brought him directly to Madison Square. Probably Sherard Plumer, the down-and-out artist, was another to recognize its quality even before he fell in with Carson Chalmers, as outlined in "A Madison Square Arabian Night"; and also Marcus Clayton of Roanoke County, Virginia, and Eva Bedford, of Bedford County of the same State; and the disreputable Soapy, of "The Cop and the Anthem," when he sought a park bench on which to ponder over just what violation of the law would insure his deportation to Blackwell's Island, which was his Palm Beach and Riviera for the winter months. Here, to O. Henry, was the common ground of all, the happy and the unfortunate, the just and the unjust, the Caliph and the cad; and far above, against the sky, was the dainty goddess who presided over the destinies of all, Miss Diana, who, according to the opinion expressed by Mrs. Liberty in "The Lady Higher Up," has the best job for a statue in the whole town, with the Cat-Show, and the Horse-Show, and the military tournaments where the privates "look grand as generals, and the generals try to look grand as floorwalkers," and the Sportsman's Show, and above all, the French Ball, "where the original Cohens and the Robert Emmet-Sangerbund Society dance the Highland fling with one another."
Other figures of fiction, in fancy, flit across the Square, or throng the near-by streets. In that dense, pushing, alien-tongued multitude that at the noon hour congests the sidewalks of the Avenue to the south of Twenty-third Street, one may catch a glimpse of Mr. Montague Glass's Abe Potash and Morris Perlmutter, long since moved uptown from their original loft in Division Street in the stories, and in Leonard Street in fact. The crowd is thickest at the Twenty-first Street corner, where, in the novels of other days, the mature burghers used to watch the passing ladies from the windows of the Union Club. But there is little inclination to tarry long there. The environment of the Square is a pleasanter environment. When Delmonico's was at the Twenty-sixth Street corner, the hero of one of Brander Matthews's "Vignettes of Manhattan" pointed out of one of its windows and confessed that, failure in life as he was, he would die out of sight of the tower of the Madison Square Garden. A reminiscent sign or two is all that is left of the old Hotel Brunswick, which, among the hostelries of other days, yielded precedence only to the Fifth Avenue and the Brevoort as a factor in fiction.
Reverting to Mr. Davis, the Tower was one of the staple subjects of conversation of his heroes and heroines when they happened to be in the Congo, or Morocco, or looking longingly from the decks of steamers in South American waters; and the shadowy personage—very probably Van Bibber—who took "A Walk up the Avenue" started on his journey from the Square. Van Bibber! Of course it was Van Bibber. It must have been Van Bibber. For when he reached Thirty-second Street a half-dozen men nodded to him in that casual manner in which men nod to a passing club-mate. The particular club has since moved some thirty blocks uptown, but to the old building you will find frequent references not only in the Davis stories, but also in the novels of Robert W. Chambers, who was in the habit of indicating it as the Patroon.
Beyond Madison Square the novelists of earlier generations seldom went. It is to the men of today, above all to those who have been specializing in what may be called the New York "novel a la mode" that we must turn in order to follow farther the trail. Here is the stately street as portrayed in Mr. Chambers's "The Danger Mark," or "The Firing Line," or "The Younger Set," or in any one of a dozen swiftly moving serials of the hour, whether the author be Mr. Rupert Hughes, or Mr. Owen Johnson, or Mr. Gouverneur Morris, or Mr. Rex Beach. The novel may serve its light purpose today and tomorrow be forgotten. But the current of human life up and down the Avenue is ever running more swiftly.
Trails of Bohemia
Trails of Bohemia—The Avenue and its Tributaries—The "Musketeers of the Brush"—The Voice of the Ghetto—South Fifth Avenue and the Old French Quarter—The Garibaldi—"A la Ville de Rouen "—The Restaurant du Grand Vatel—The New Bohemia—The Lane of the Mad Eccentrics—Sheridan Square—"The Pirate's Den"—Absolam, a Slave—Gonfarone's—Maria's.
Once upon a time an over-astute critic found grave fault with the title of a novel by Mr. William Dean Howells. There was to his mind at least an unfortunate suggestion in calling a book "The Coast of Bohemia," even though "Bohemia" was used in its figurative sense. What if the title had been derived from a line in Shakespeare? That did not alter the fact that ascribing a coast to Bohemia was like giving the Swiss Republic an Admiralty and alluding to Berne as a naval base. What would that censorious critic have to say of the association of Bohemia with stately Fifth Avenue? For to him and his kind it is not given to realize that Bohemia is a state of mind, a period of ardour and exaltation, a reminiscence of youth rather than a material region.
The great stream has its tributaries. To Fifth Avenue belong the side streets that feed it and in turn draw from it flavour and inspiration. To it belong Washington Square, the south side as well as the north side, and the street beyond, that today is known as West Broadway, and yesterday was South Fifth Avenue, and before that, in the remote past, was Laurens Street; and the crossing thoroughfares that constituted the French Quarter of the late seventies and early eighties; and the northeastern part of Greenwich Village, that was once the "American Quarter," and is now masquerading as a super Monmartre, with its "Vermillion Hounds," and "Purple Pups," and "Pirates' Dens."
Nor for the flavour of Bohemia is there actual need of leaving the Avenue itself. It was more than twenty years ago that the writer, turning into Fifth Avenue at Twenty-sixth Street of a sunshiny afternoon, was confronted with an apparition, or rather with apparitions, direct from the Latin Quarter of Paris. Three top-hatted young men were walking arm in arm. One, of imposing stature, wore conspicuously the type of side whiskers formerly known as "Dundrearys." The second, of medium height, was adorned by an aggressive beard. The third, small and slight, was smooth shaven. A similar trio was encountered a dozen blocks farther up the Avenue, and, in the neighbourhood of the Plaza, a third trio. It was a time when George Du Maurier's "Trilby" was in the full swing of its great popularity, when the name of the sinister Svengali was on every lip, and certain young eccentrics found huge delight in attracting attention to themselves by parading the Avenue attired as "Taffy," the "Laird," and "Little Billee."
There is a stretch of the Avenue upon which the Fifth Avenue Association frowns; which the native American avoids; and which the old-time New Yorker regards with passionate regret as he recalls the departed glories of the Union Club and the jutting brown-stone stoops of yesterday. At the noon hour the sidewalks swarm with foreign faces. There is shrill chatter in alien tongues and the air is laden with strange odours. Even here Bohemia may be. Perhaps, toiling over a machine in one of the sweat-shops of the towering buildings a true poet may be coining his dreams and aspirations and heartaches into plaintive song; another, like the Sidney Rosenfeld of a score of years ago, who, over his work in the Ghetto of the lower East Side, asked and answered:
"Why do I laugh? Why do I weep? I do not know; it is too deep."
The attic, the studio, the restaurant, the cafe are the accepted symbols of Bohemia. What reader of Henri Murger's "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme" has ever forgotten the Cafe Momus, where the riotous behaviour of Marcel, Schaunard, Rodolphe, and Colline brought the proprietor to the verge of ruin? Who has not in his heart a tender spot for Terre's Tavern, in the Rue Neuve des Petits Champs, where the bouillebaisse came from—the bouillebaisse, of which some of the ingredients were "red peppers, garlic, saffron roach, and dace"? It is of no great importance whether the particular scene be on the "rive gauche" of the River Seine, or in the labyrinth of narrow streets that make up the Soho district of London, or in rapidly shifting New York. All that is needed is youth, or unwilling middle age still playing at youth, and the atmosphere where artistic and literary aspirations are in the air, and poverty wearing a conspicuous stock, and the "glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome," and the relative merits of Tennyson and Browning being talked over to the accompaniment of knives and forks rattling against plates of spaghetti and the clinking of wine glasses.
Years ago, to find the tangible New York Bohemia would have been a matter of crossing from the Avenue's southern extremity, and diving into the streets that lie to the south of Washington Square. There was the old French Quarter, and there foregathered the professional joke-makers and the machine poets who contributed to "Puck," and the "New York Ledger" when that periodical felt the guiding hand of Robert Bonner. Of that group Henry Cuyler Bunner was probably the most conspicuous. In his early days he was a twenty-four-hour Bohemian. In later life, when he had moved to the country, he remained a noon Bohemian. He was the prime spirit of the little Garibaldi in MacDougal Street of which James L. Ford wrote in "Bohemia Invaded." Not often did he stray over to Greenwich Village. He disliked what he called its bourgeois conservatism.
For a period of years that section immediately to the south of the Square was the French Quarter. There were the peaceful artisans, and also there were political refugees of dangerous proclivities, men who had had a share in the blazing terrors of the Commune, and who, in some cases, had paid the price in years of imprisonment under the tropical sun of Cayenne. In all their wanderings they had carried the spirit of revolution with them and spouted death to despots over their glasses of absinthe in cellar cafes. William H. Rideing, in an article which was published in "Scribner's Magazine" for November, 1879, described these men as he had found them in the Taverne Alsacienne in Greene Street: "gathered around the tables absorbed in piquet, ecarte, or vingt-et-un ... most of them without coats, the shabbiness of their other garments lighted up by a brilliant red bandanna kerchief or a crimson overshirt." Keen glances were shot at strangers, for the tavern had a certain clientele outside of which it had few customers and suspicion was rife at any invasion. "They are drinking wine, vermouth, and greenish opaline draughts of absinthe. Staggering in unnerved and stupefied from the previous night's debauch, they show few signs of vitality until four or five glasses of the absinthe have been drunk, and then they awaken; their eyes brighten and their tongues are loosened—the routine of play, smoke, and alcohol is resumed."
Pleasanter to recall are the sober, industrious men and women who were denizens of the neighbourhood in the years gone by—Mademoiselle Berthe and her little sisters, fabricating roses and violets out of muslin and wax in their attic apartment, Madame Lange, the blanchisseuse, ironing in front of an open window, Triquet, the charcutier, Roux, the bottier, Malvaison, the marchand de vin. Then there were others of the colony, higher in the social scale and less prosperous in their finances, the impecunious music-teachers and professors of languages who maintained themselves with a frosty air of shabby gentility on a very slender income, and the practitioners of literature and art who maintained themselves somehow on no income at all. For the leisure hours of these there were the innocent wine-shops of South Fifth Avenue, such as the Brasserie Pigault, which Bunner introduced to the readers of "The Midge" with a quaint conceit. The sign of the little cafe from without read: "A LA VILLE DE ROUEN. J. PIGAULT. LAGER BEER. FINE WINES AND LIQUEURS." But its regular patrons knew it best from within, from the warm tables they liked to scan the letters backward, against the glass that protected them from the winter's night. It was a quaint haunt, where gathered Doctor Peters and Father Dube, and Parker Prout, the old artist who had failed in life because of too much talent, and M. Martin, and the venerable Potain, who had lost his mind after his wife's death, and Ovide Marie, the curly-haired musician from Amity Street.
But the prize exhibit, the piece de resistance of that old Bohemia of the French Quarter to the south of Washington Square was the Restaurant du Grand Vatel in Bleecker Street. Not only the French strugglers, but American artists and authors in embryo used to dine there substantially and economically. As Mr. Rideing described it: "The floor is sanded, and the little tables are covered with oil-cloth, each having a pewter cruet in the centre. A placard flutters from the wall, announcing a grand festival, banquet, ball, and artistic tombola in celebration of the eighth anniversary of the bloody revolution of March 18, 1871, under the auspices of the 'Societe des Refugies de la Commune'—'Family tickets, twenty-five cents, hat-room checks, ten cents'—from which we gather that the 'Restaurant du Grand Vatel' has some queer patrons. The landlady sits behind a little desk in the corner. She is a woman of enormous girth, with short petticoats which reveal her thick, white woolen socks; her complexion is dark, her eyes are black and deep, and large golden rings dangle from her ears."
The regular patrons begin to come in. The poor professor, after his unprofitable labours of the day, enters, and bows to the landlady, who is cordial or severe in her greeting according to the items on the little slate which records her accounts. He begins his meal. "He has soupe aux croutons, veau a la Marengo, pommes frites, a small portion of Gruyere, and a bottle of wine. He eats appreciatively after the manner of a bon vivant; he uses his napkin gently and frequently; he glances blandly at the surroundings; watching him, you would suppose the viands were the choicest of the season, exquisitely prepared, while, in reality, they are poor and unsubstantial stuff, the refuse, perhaps, of better restaurants. Having finished the edibles, he calls for a 'gloria,' that is, black coffee and cognac; and, sipping this, he communes with his fancies which come and vanish in the blue waves of cigarette smoke. His aspect bespeaks perfect complacency—Fate cannot harm me; I have dined today."
To Mr. Rideing we are indebted for certain items indicating the very moderate scale of prices at the Restaurant du Grand Vatel. Outside there was a sign that read: "Tous les plats, eight cents; plats extra varies; cafe superieur, three cents; cafe au lait, five cents." Here is a list of some of the dishes and their cost: Soup and a plate of beef and bread, ten cents; soupe aux croutons, five cents; boeuf, legumes, ten cents; veau a la Marengo, twelve cents; mouton a Ravigotte, ten cents; ragout de mouton aux pommes, eight cents; boeuf braise aux oignons, ten cents; macaroni au gratin, six cents; celeri salade, six cents; compote de pommes, four cents; fromage Neufchatel, three cents; Limbourg, four cents; Gruyere, three cents; bread, one cent. Thus, Mr. Rideing figured out, the professor's dinner, wine included, cost him the sum of forty cents, and with five cents added for a roll and a cup of coffee in the morning, his daily expenditure for food was less than half a dollar.
The trails of Bohemia, or of pseudo-Bohemia, have never been so flaming and flagrant as they are today. From that corner of the Avenue facing the Arch cross the Square diagonally to the head of Washington Place. A hundred yards to the west lies the Lane of the Mad Eccentrics. Two or three years ago the little triangle of a park known as Sheridan Square was surrounded by structures of red brick that dated from the days when Greenwich Village preserved something of its proud individuality. Then a plan of transformation, involving a new avenue, cleared a wide path with the suddenness of a Kansas cyclone. Bits of the picturesque past went tumbling down before the onslaught of the demolishers. But in various nooks and corners that remained there sprang up bits of a picturesque although probably ephemeral present.
It is easy to regard the Lane of the Mad Eccentrics from the point of view of metropolitan sophistication; to dismiss the Vermilion Hound and the Hell Hole and the Pirate's Den and the Purple Pup and Polly's as clap-trap and tinsel designed for the mystification of yokels and social investigators from Long Island City. But it is impossible to deny that the crazy decorations have added a touch of real colour to what had been a drab corner of the town. The present writer has no intention of going into a detailed sketch of this fragment of Bohemia for the reason that Anna Alice Chapin discussed it so well, so buoyantly, and so sympathetically in her book on "Greenwich Village" published a year or so ago. A few lines from her description of the Pirate's Den will give the flavour of any one of the enterprises that line the Lane of the Mad Eccentrics and are to be found, here and there, in the neighbouring streets.
"It is a very real pirate's den, lighted only by candles. A coffin casts a shadow, and there is a regulation 'Jolly Roger,' a black flag ornamented with skull and crossbones. Grim? Surely, but even a healthy-minded child will play at gruesome and ghoulish games once in a while.
"There is a Dead Man's Chest, too—and if you open it you will find a ladder leading down into the mysterious depths unknown. If you are very adventurous you will climb down and bump your head against the cellar ceiling and inspect what is going to be a subterranean grotto as soon as it can be fitted up. You climb down again and sit in the dim, smoky little room and look about you. It is the most perfect pirate's den you can imagine. On the walls hang huge casks and kegs and wine bottles in their straw covers—all the sign manuals of past and future orgies. Yet the 'Pirate's Den' is 'dry'—straw-dry, brick-dry—as dry as the Sahara. If you want a 'drink' the well-mannered 'cut-throat' who serves you will give you a mighty mug of ginger-ale or sarsaparilla. If you are a real Villager and can still play at being a real pirate you drink it without a smile, and solemnly consider it real red wine filched at the end of a cutlass from captured merchantmen on the high seas. On the big, dark centre table is carefully drawn the map of 'Treasure Island.'
"The pirate who serves you (incidentally he writes poetry and helps to edit a magazine among other things) apologizes for the lack of a Stevenson parrot. 'A chap we know is going to bring back one from the South Sea Islands,' he declares seriously. 'And we are going to teach it to say: "Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!"'"
Then there is the Bohemian trail that leads along three sides of Washington Square. In the red Benedick much literary ink has been spilled. Until a few years ago there were several studios of artists along the south side of the Square. One of the artists, highly talented but quite mad, boasted for a brief period the possession of a slave—a huge Riff from the mountains of Morocco, acquired in some mysterious manner. All Bohemia flocked to the studio to witness the anachronism. For the benefit of those of New York who did not belong to Bohemia the artist delighted to promenade the streets followed at a respectful distance by his serf. Absolam—so the chattel was called—bearing his chains lightly, considered his main duty to be to make love to the ladies of Bohemia. The artist's real troubles began when he undertook to rid himself of his slave. Absolam, waxing greasily fatter and fatter, basking in the warmth of delightful celebrity, refused to be lost.
Long before the days of Absolam and his master there were painter men about the Square. Morse, according to Helen W. Henderson's "A Loiterer in New York," was the first artist to work there. He lived in the old New York University building, and when he was not before his easel, was experimenting with the telegraph. In that building also Draper wrote, and perfected his invention of the daguerreotype, and Colt invented the revolver named after him. The old grey castellated structure, erected in 1837, stood on the east side of the Square until 1894.
Of a restaurant that played a part in one of his stories O. Henry wrote: "Formerly it was a resort of interesting Bohemians; but now only writers, painters, actors, and musicians go there." The same topsy-turvical irony might have been directed with equal happiness at the cafe of the Brevoort, or the Black Cat on West Broadway, or Gonfarone's at the corner of Eighth and MacDougal Streets, or at old Maria's. Whatever else it may be Bohemia is a democracy, and regardless of condition or occupation any one who so wishes may lay claim to and enjoy the privileges of immediate citizenship. We have become more tolerant with the years. He who prates of Philistines is himself a Philistine.
Formerly it was different. To escape the reproach of the uplifted eyebrow, the quizzical look, the "que diable allait il faire dans cette galere?" expression, it was necessary to be one of the Mr. Lutes or Miss Nedra Jennings Nuncheons, of Stephen French Whitman's "Predestined," who were regular habitues of "Benedetto's," under which name Gonfarone's was thinly disguised. Mr. Lute wrote a quatrain once every three months for the "Mauve Monthly," and Miss Nuncheon, tall and thin, with a mop of orange-coloured hair, contributed somewhere stories about the "smart set," "a society existing far off amid the glamour of opera-boxes, conservatories full of orchids, yachts like ocean steamships, mansions with marble stairways, Paris dresses by the gross, and hatfuls of diamonds, where the women were always discovered in boudoirs with a French maid named Fanchette in attendance, receiving bunches of long-stemmed roses from potential correspondents, while the men, all very tall and dark, possessed of interesting pasts, were introduced before fireplaces in sumptuous bachelor apartments, the veins knotted on their temples, and their strong yet aristocratic fingers clutching a photograph or a scented note."
Gonfarone's, the "Benedetto's" of the tale, is an old, converted dwelling house. There are the brown-stone steps, flanked by a pair of iron lanterns, giving entrance to a narrow corridor; and, beyond, to the right, the dining room, extending through the house, linoleum underfoot, hat-racks and buffets of oak aligned against the brownish walls, and, everywhere, little tables, each covered with a scanty cloth, set close together. In the days when Felix Piers was in the habit of patronizing the place there floated to his ears such phrases as "bad colour scheme!" "sophomoric treatment!" "miserable drawing!" "no atmosphere!" But all that was years ago. When the writer dined there last, a month or so back, fragments of conversation caught from the clatter of the tongues of the Bohemians were: "Take it from me, kid!" "If old man Weinstein thinks he can put that over, he's got another guess coming!" "And then I give her the juice and we lost that super-six in the dust!" "Yes, Huggins has got some infield!"
Fifteen or twenty years ago the trail of Bohemia would have inevitably led to Maria's in West Twelfth Street. For there to be found, among others, was a certain Mickey Finn, as celebrated in his day and town as Aristide Bruant was in a section of Paris of the nineties. About Finn gathered a group of newspaper men and journalists. The distinction was that the newspaper man was one who earned his daily bread on Park Row, while the journalist had written a sketch for the New York "Sun" in 1878, and still carried and proudly exhibited the clipping. The original Maria, a large Italian cook who presided autocratically over the kitchen of the basement restaurant, long since migrated somewhere to the north. She had exacted her share of the homage and the substance of her clients. After her departure there was still the attempt to keep up the ancient fire of witticism, and "la la la la!" was still uttered in what was thought to be the best Parisian accent, and the judgments of magazine editors, and the achievements of the painters who sold their portraits, and the writers whose novels crept into the lists of the "six bestsellers" continued to be damned in no uncertain tones. But the old spirit seems irrevocably gone.