University of Virginia Library

Search this document 



Page 179


On a cloudy afternoon, in the early part of April, behold
me stepping ashore on the Courtlandt Street pier, from the
Jersey City ferry-boat. Everything was new and bewildering.
The rush of my fellow-passengers; the cries of the
hackmen, brandishing their long whips; the crowd of carts,
drays, and carriages, and the surge and swirl of one chaotic
whirlpool of Noise, in the vortex of which I seemed to
stand, stunned and confused my perceptions. After nearly
losing the trunk in which my inestimable manuscripts were
stowed, and paying an enormous price for its transfer to a
thick-necked porter, who, I feared, would knock me down
before I could hand him the money, I succeeded in finding
quarters at Lovejoy's Hotel, an establishment which Sep
Bratton had recommended to me. The officiating clerk,
who struck me as a fellow of very obliging manners, gave
me a front room on the fourth story, on learning that I
should probably remain a week or two. I had neither an
acquaintance nor a commendatory letter to any person in
the great city; but my funds, I supposed, were sufficient to
support me for two or three months, and it was quite impossible
that I should not find employment by that time.

I spent the remainder of my first day in wandering
around the Park and up and down Broadway, feasting my
eyes on the grandeur and novelty of everything I saw. I
knew not which was most remarkable — the never-ending
crowd that filled the chief thoroughfare, the irregular splendor


Page 180
of the shops, or the filthiness of the pavement. With
the recollection of the undeviating Philadelphian squares
of brick bound in white marble in my mind, I could with
difficulty comprehend that I had not passed into some foreign
country. I was also favorably impressed with the
apparent friendliness of the inhabitants. Although the
most of them passed me without even a glance, I was accosted
in the Park by several gentlemen, who, probably
recognizing the stranger in my air, asked me if I did not
wish to see the city. Indeed, they were so importunate
that I had some difficulty in declining their proffered services.
Then, as evening came down on Broadway, I was
quite surprised at receiving now and then a greeting from
a superbly dressed lady, who certainly could never have
seen me before. Some of them, in fact, seemed to be on
the point of speaking to me; but as I feared they had mistaken
me for some one else, I hurried away, slightly embarrassed.

I was so impatient to explore the field which I intended
thenceforth to cultivate, that, as soon as I had taken breakfast
next morning in the subterranean restaurant of the
hotel, I set out for the office of “The Hesperian,” which
was near at hand, in Beekman Street. A small boy was
just taking down the shutters. On my inquiring for Mr.
Jenks, he informed me that that individual would be in at
eleven o'clock, when I might call again, if I wanted to see
him. During the intervening three or four hours I wandered
about, from the Battery to Canal Street, purchased
and read two or three literary papers I had never heard of
before, and supplied myself with several manuscripts, for
Mr. Jenks's inspection.

On returning to “The Hesperian” office, I found a tall,
thin-faced young man, with a black moustache, behind the
counter. He was making up bundles of the magazine, and
the number of copies on the shelves behind him excited
my amazement. If this was Jenks, I thought, no doubt he


Page 181
was a young author like myself, and would receive me with
the open arms of fraternal sympathy.

“Are you Mr. Jenks?” I asked.

“No: wish to see him particular?”

It was, therefore, only W. Timms, the “per.”

“Anything I can do for you?” he repeated.

“Thank you,” said I, “I should like to see Mr. Jenks
himself, a moment, if he 's in.”

By way of answer, he twirled his left thumb towards the
back of the office, giving a jerk of his head in the same
direction, as he tied another bundle.

Looking that way, I saw that one corner of the office
was partitioned off from the rest, monopolizing more than
half the light of the back-window. The door to this enclosure
was open, and I could distinguish a large head,
mounted on a square body, within.

Mr. Jenks was absorbed in the perusal of a newspaper,
which he held before him, firmly grasped in both hands, as
if about to tear it in twain. Before he looked up, I had
time to take a rapid survey of his appearance. He was a
man of forty-five, short, stout, gray, and partly bald; features
keen, rigidly marked, and with a hard, material stamp
— no gleam of taste or imagination anywhere. He evidently
noticed my entrance, but finished his sentence or
paragraph before consenting to be interrupted.

“Well?” said he, suddenly, tossing the paper to one
side: “what is it?”

“Perhaps you remember,” I mildly suggested, “writing
to me about my poem of `Leonora's Dream,' which will be
in; The Hesperian' for May.”

“What 's your name?” he asked.


“What 's the handle to your `Godfrey'?”

This question was not only rude but incomprehensible.
I supposed, after a moment's reflection, that he must mean
my business or vocation, and was about to explain, when he
repeated, —


Page 182

“Your given name?”

I gave it.

He stretched forth his arm, took a folio volume from its
upright niche over his desk, looked at its index, turned
over the pages until he found what was probably a copy of
the letter, and read, jerking out these words as he did so:

“Yes — Godfrey — May number — magazine for six
months gratuitously.” Here he slapped the volume shut,
replaced it, and reiterated, “Well?”

“I have brought some other poems,” I said. “Perhaps
you might like some of them. I have come to New York
to make literature my profession, and should therefore expect
to be paid for my articles. Here is a long narrative
poem, which I think my best; it is a romantic subject —
`Ossian on the Hill of Morven.' Would you like to look
at it?”

He took the proffered manuscript, tossed over leaf after
leaf to see its length, and then addressed me with unnecessary
energy: “Young man, this may be apples of gold in
pictures of silver, for anything I know, — but it won't do
for me. It would make ten pages of the magazine, and
four a month is as much as I can allow for poetry. I have
a bushel-basket full of contributions which I can't use.
The public want variety. It 's a good thing to encourage
young writers, and we reckon to do our share, — but business
is business.”

Very much discouraged, yet unwilling to give up all hope
of literary occupation, I asked whether it would not be possible
for me to furnish articles of another character.

“You 're hardly up to what I want,” said Mr. Jenks.
“I 'd like to have a few short, sentimental stories, to piece
out with now and then, — something light and airy,” (here
he made a spiral upward movement with his forefinger,)
“such as women like to read, — with a good deal of Millinery
in them. It takes practice just to hit the mark in
these things.”


Page 183

“I might try, Mr. Jenks,” I suggested.

“As you please. But I make no engagements beforehand,
except with standard authors. What have you

I handed him the remaining sheets, which contained
various brief lyrics, mostly of an amatory character. He
whirled them over in the same rapid way, reading a line
here and there, and then returned them, together with my

“One or two things there might do, if I was n't overstocked,”
he said. “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. Write a sonnet on a railroad accident,
or something else that everybody will read, or have one of
your singable poems set to music and made fashionable,
and then I 'll talk to you. You can't expect me to pay,
while there 's a young and rising genius on every bush, and
to be had for the picking.”

As he said this, he turned short around to his desk, and
began opening a pile of letters. Nothing was left to me
but to retreat, in rather a disordered manner. W. Timms
gave a significant glance at the manuscripts in my hand as
I passed out through the store, and I hastened to hide them
in the breast-pocket of my coat. I will not conceal the fact
that I was deeply humiliated, not so much because my
poems were refused, as because I had voluntarily come
down to the plane where I must submit to be tested by
coarse, material standards. I felt now for the first time
that there is an Anteros, as well as an Eros, in literature,
and the transition from one to the other was too sudden to
be made without a shock. I began to fear that what I believed
to be Inspiration would accomplish little towards the
furtherance of my plans, unless it were allied to what I
knew to be Policy; — in other words, that my only chance
of success with “The Hesperian” lay in writing one of the


Page 184
short, airy, millinery tales, which Mr. Jenks could use “to
piece out with.”

The idea grew less repulsive, as I brooded over it. I
found my mind spontaneously at work, contriving characters
and situations, almost before I knew it. By night, I
had wellnigh decided to make the attempt. Meanwhile, I
recognized that there was a grain of truth amid the harshness
of Mr. Jenks's concluding words. I should certainly
have but little chance of obtaining employment unless my
name were known to some extent. “Selim,” of course,
must be dropped, and “John Godfrey” stand forth boldly
as the father of his own angelic progeny; but even then,
I was not sure that the reputation would immediately follow.
I might plunge into the golden flood as soon as I was
able to swim, but how could I learn the art on the dry land
of poverty and obscurity? One of the suggestions struck
me as being plausible. I knew how eagerly songs are
passed from voice to voice through the country, and music
seemed a fitting adjunct to some of my shorter lyrics. If,
for instance, that commencing “I pine for thee at night
and morn” were wedded to some fair and tender melody,
it alone might raise me in a short time from the darkness
of my estate.

In the afternoon, therefore, I made another venture.
Not deterred by the crossed banjos in the window of a
music-store, and the lithograph of Christy's Minstrels, in
costume, on the title-page of a publication, I entered and
offered my finer wares. I was received with more courtesy
than at “The Hesperian” office, but the result was the same.
The publisher dealt rather in quadrilles, polkas, and Ethiopian
melodies, than songs of a sentimental character. He
read my poems, which he pronounced very sweet and tender,
and thought they might be popular, — but more depended
on the air than on the words, and it was rather out
of his line. His politeness encouraged me to use a little
persuasion, yet without effect. He was sorry, etc., — under


Page 185
other circumstances, etc., — and I felt, finally, that his
smooth manner covered a fixed decision. I went home
towards evening, with the manuscripts still in my pocket.

It is useless to deny that my hopes were somewhat dashed
by the day's experience. Already the fragrance of life
began to drift away, and the purple bloom to fade. Even
a poet, I saw, (and whether I were one or not, this was the
only character in which I had presented myself,) met with
a cold and questioning reception from the world. Whatever
I might achieve must be the spoil, not the gift, of
Fate: I must clench for a blow the hand which I had
stretched out with an open palm. All my petty local
triumphs, my narrow distinctions, my honest friendships,
were become absolutely nothing. I wore no badge that
could be recognized, but stood naked before a world that
would test every thew of my frame before it clothed me
with its mantle of honor.

Physical fatigue and the reaction from my first causeless
yet inevitable excitement added to the gloom of the mood
that fell upon me. Let no one tell me that there are natures
so steeled and strung to their purpose that they never
know discouragement. Some, indeed, may always turn a
brave face to their fellow-beings; a few, perhaps, might
sooner die than betray a flagging courage; but no high
prize was ever reached by a brain unacquainted with doubt.

I read something — I forget what — to escape from myself,
and went early to bed. There, I knew, I should find
a certain balm for all moral abrasions. With each article
of clothing I laid aside a heavy thought, and when my body
dipped into the air as into some delicate, ethereal fluid,
every material aspect of life drifted away like fragments of
a wreck and left me the pure sensation of existence. Then
I sank into my bed, as some wandering spirit might sink to
rest for a while, upon a denser cloud, cool with dew, yet
warm with rosy sunshine. Every joint and muscle fell into
slack, exquisite repose, or, if sometimes a limb stretched


Page 186
itself forth with an exploring impulse, it was simply to enjoy
more fully the consciousness of its freedom. My
breast grew light and my heart beat with an even, velvety
throb; the restless thoughts laid themselves, one by one,
to sleep, and gentle, radiant fancies whispered from the pillow.
In that sensation lay for me almost the only pure and
perfect blending of body and spirit; — their natural enmity
forgotten, their wavering bounds of rule softly obliterated,
they clasped each other in a brief embrace of love.

Wretched, thrice wretched is the man whose bed has
ceased to be a blessing — whose pillow no longer seems,
while his eyes close with a murmured word of prayer, the
arm of God, tenderly upholding his head during the helplessness
of Sleep!

In the morning, I put on a portion of my trouble with
my clothes. I was yet without a moral disinfectant, and the
rustling of the manuscripts in my pocket brought back some
of yesterday's disappointment. I had no intention, however,
of giving up the struggle; it had become a sort of
conscience with me to perform what I had once decided
upon. The obligation was not measured by the importance
of the act. I had half made up my mind to attempt a short
“millinery” story for “The Hesperian”; but, even if this
should fail, there were other literary papers and periodicals
in the city. My interview with the music-dealer had left a
more agreeable impression than that with Mr. Jenks. Generalizing
from single experiences, as a young man is apt to
do, I suspected that publishers of songs were a more courteous
and refined class of men than publishers of magazines.
I would therefore first exhaust this class of chances.

After some search, I discovered another music-store, in
the lower part of Broadway. There was a guitar in the
window, instead of banjos, and the title-pages represented
young ladies gazing on the moon, bunches of forget-menots,
and affectionate pairs in crimson gondolas. This
looked promising, and I entered with a bold step. On


Page 187
either side ran a counter, heaped with squares of music-sheets,
but nobody was in attendance. Beyond this, an
open space, in which pianos stood, and there I saw two gentlemen,
one seated and playing a lively air, the other standing
near him. As I advanced towards them, the former
looked up from his performance, addressed me in a sharp,
shrill voice, with — “Wait a minute, sir!” and went on

I leaned against the end of the counter, and heard what

“This is the way it should be played,” said the performer,
— “quite a different movement, you see, from yours. I 'll
sing two or three lines, to show you what I mean.”

Thereupon, clearing his throat, he sang, with a voice
somewhat cracked and husky, —

“When — I-ee am dying, the angels will come
On swift wings a-flying, to carry me home.”
“There!” he continued, “that 's about the time I want, but
I see you have n't enough syllables for the notes. I had
to say `a-flying' to stretch the line out. There 's another
wanted in the first, after `when.' I 'll put in another `when,'
and you 'll see how much better it will go, and faster.

“`Whenwhen I am dying, the angels will come'” —

“If you please,” said the other gentleman, who, I now
saw, was a young, fresh-faced, attractive person, “I will
show how I meant the song to be sung.”

He took his seat at the piano, and, with a weak but clear
and tuneful voice, sang the same lines, but much more
slowly and with a different accentuation.

“Oh, that won't do, that will never do!” exclaimed the
first, almost pushing him from the stool. “It would n't be
popular at all; it 's quite doleful. More spirit, Mr. Swansford!
Listen again, — you must see that my idea is the
best, only you should change the words and have just as


Page 188
many syllables as notes.” Thereupon he sang, to a galloping
accompaniment, faster than ever, —

“Whenwhen I am dying, the angelswillcome
On swift wingswings flying, to carrymehome.”

The young man looked dejected, and I could see that he
was not in the least convinced. “If you insist upon having
it so, Mr. Kettlewell,” said he, “I must rewrite the music.”

“I have nothing against the music, Mr. Swansford,” said
the publisher, as I now conjectured him to be; “it 's only
the time. You might, perhaps, put a little more brilliant
fingering in the accompaniment, — it would be more popular.
The more showy music is, the better it sells. Think
over the matter, while I attend to this gentleman.”

He rose from the piano and came towards me. He was
a small man, with lively gray eyes, a hooked nose, and a
shrivelled throat. “Business” was written upon his face
no less distinctly than on that of Mr. Jenks, though in different
hieroglyphics. He was easier to encounter, but, I
feared, more difficult to move. I told him in a few words
what I wanted, and offered him my lyrics for inspection.
They began already to seem a little battered in my eyes;
they were no longer wild-flowers, fresh with dew, but wilted
vegetables in a market-basket.

“Hm — hm,” said he, “the words are good in their way,
though it is n't much matter about them, if the subject is
popular and the air is taking. I don't often do this sort of
thing, Mr. —?”

“Godfrey,” I remarked.

“Ah, Mr. Godfrey. The name seems familiar. What
songs of yours are in circulation?”

I was obliged to confess that none of my effusions had
yet been sung. Always detected as a beginner! It is very
likely that, for a single second, I may have felt a temptation
to lie.

“That makes a difference,” he said. “It 's risky. But


Page 189
if you 'll leave them, I 'll show them to my composer, and
see what he thinks. How much a piece do you want for
them? I always like to know terms in advance.”

Thankful not to have received a downright rebuff, I informed
him that I was ignorant of the usual remuneration,
but would be satisfied with whatever he should think them

“Well,” he observed, “I mostly get common, sentimental
songs for a dollar. There 's Spenser G. Bryan, to be sure,
he has five dollars, but then his songs are always fashionable,
and the sale makes up the difference to me. You
could n't expect to compete with a Spenser G. Bryan, so I
suppose a dollar would be about the right thing.”

As he paused, awaiting an answer, I modestly signified
my assent, although the sum seemed to me terribly insignificant.
At that rate I should have to write three hundred
and sixty-five songs in a year, in order barely to live!
After being notified that I might call again in eight or ten
days, to learn the composer's decision, I took leave of Mr.

This transaction gave me at least a momentary courage.
It promised to be a stepping-stone, if of the smallest and
most slippery character. There was also this pitiful consolation,
— that I was not the only aspiring young author,
struggling to rise out of obscurity. I could not doubt that
the young man — Mr. Swansford — had come on an errand
similar to mine. He was perhaps a little further advanced
— had commenced his career, but not as yet emerged from
its first obstructions. I longed to make his acquaintance,
and therefore lingered near the place. In a few minutes
he issued from the store, with a roll of paper in his hand.
His head was bent, and his whole air expressed discouragement:
one hand crushed the paper it grasped, while the
other was clenched, as it hung by his side.

Presently he seemed to become magnetically aware of
my gaze, and looked up. I noticed now, that his skin was


Page 190
quite transparent, and there were dark shades under his
eyes. He wore a very silky moustache, and had a soft,
straggling tuft on his chin; yet, even with these masculine
indications, his face was delicate as a young girl's. I recognized
a kinship of some sort between us, and, fancying that
I read a similar recognition in his eyes, I said to him, without
further prelude, —

You sang the song correctly.”

“Did I not?” he exclaimed. “You heard how he butchered
it; — was ever anything so stupid and so profane?
But he won't hear of anything else; I must change it.
You offered him songs, too, I noticed. Do you compose?”

“Only words — not music.”

“Then you can only half understand what I must put up
with. You see I always write the melody first: it 's more
to me than the poetry. If I knew a poet who understood
music, and could give its sentiment truly in words, I should
not try to write them myself.”

“I wish you had seen the songs I just left with your publisher!”
I eagerly exclaimed. “But I have others in my
trunk. Will you come to my room and look over them,
Mr. Swansford?”

He accepted the invitation, and in the course of an hour
or two we became very well acquainted indeed. We interchanged
biographies, and were delighted to find here and
there a point of resemblance. He was a native of a small
town in Connecticut, where his parents — persons of limited
means — still lived. He had already been a year in
the city, studying music on a fund derived from his moderate
savings as teacher of a singing-class at home. He was
four or five years older than myself, and thus possessed a
little more experience of the ways of the world; but he
never had, and never would, overcome his distaste for the
hard, practical materialism which he encountered on every
side. A few of his songs had been published, and had
attained a moderate success, without bringing him much


Page 191
remuneration. He was now far enough advanced in his musical
studies, however, to give lessons, and should rely upon
them for support while elaborating his great musical designs.
I dimly felt, in the course of our conversation, the presence
of a purer and loftier ideal than my own. The first half-unconscious
contrast of our natures presented him sublimed
and etherealized beside the sensuous love of Beauty which
was my strongest characteristic.

We parted on good terms with each other — almost as
friends. That evening I returned his visit, at his boarding-house
in the triangular region between the Bowery and East
Broadway. He had an attic room, with a dormer-window
looking out on a realm of narrow back-yards, divided by
board-walls, which had received such a nap from the weather
that they resembled felt rather than wood. A bed, cottage-piano,
and chest of drawers so filled up the room that there
was barely space for a little table squeezed into the hollow
of the window, and two chairs. He had no stove, and could
only obtain a partial warmth in winter by leaving his door
open to catch the atmosphere from below. Above his bed
hung lithographic heads of Mendelssohn and Beethoven.
Poor and starved as was the aspect of the room, there was
nevertheless something attractive in its atmosphere. It was
not beautiful by day, but was admirably adapted to the midnight
isolation of genius.