Page images
[graphic][merged small]

who had but a misty notion of Bohemian ceremonies-reverently bowed his head, thinking the chant had a religious significance, and happily too unfamiliar with English to know that the concluding line was "And don't you forget it!" Lights being raised, dinner was served, each course to appropriate music, the barons of beef, for example, being produced on the shoulders of white-capped cooks entering to a stately march. Besides the music incidental to the service there were many other numbers, the one most perplexing to the guest being a chorus roared and boomed by the joyous three hundred, in which, to the tune of "The Lord High Executioner," the guest was welcomed thus:

[blocks in formation]

with libretto Italian lines for the soloists. When Salvini had listened to a few such lines as "Una Voce poco fa," or "Di Provenza, la mar," he began to understand the situation if not the relevancy of the phrases, and roared with laughter. After that, at a private signal, general conversation gradually ceased until Salvini and an Italian-speaking member alone were conversing. Then from a screened balcony the sweetest voiced tenor in the club began softly to sing. Salvini's attention gradually strayed from his companion, and he looked about him as one uncertain whether he hears a familiar sound or dreams it. The singer's voice rose louder and louder until Salvini jumped to his feet with a sobbing "Dio mio!" and threw kisses to the unseen singer, who, of course, was singing the serenade written for Salvini by the friend of his youth. At the appropriate time for the punch, lights were again lowered and a company of Bohemians robed like monks entered chanting, marched to the table enclosure, uplifted their hands to the seeming globe of flowers, which mysteriously descended, disclosing itself to be a punch bowl, now aglow with the burning beverage, which the monks proceeded to serve.

Salvini had promised some friends to join them at supper that night at one o'clock. It was five in the morning when he left the club, bidding good-bye to a

couple of hundred members and joining in their enthusiastic shouts of

Una Voce poco far

By a set of curious chances-
Di Provenza, la mar-

On his own recognizances!

Space permits but a brief mention of a remarkable reception to Sir Henry Irving. After supper the actor was invited to the jinks room for coffee and cigars, and he was enjoying them there when there entered upon the stage a member cleverly made up as a character in one of Irving's plays, who proceeded to objurgate the actor in lines the character uses in the play to the character played by Irving. That seemed to the guest a skilful device for an uncommon form of "roast," but he stared in wonder when a second member appeared, a third, a fourth, more and more, a seemingly endless succession of stage folk, each addressing the amazed Sir Henry in the language of condemnation used by some character in some play identified with the guest's career. The reader may guess, now, at the general scheme, but he cannot imagine the extent and perfection to which it was carried. Bohemians had made a searching study of every line of every play, modern or ancient, classic or failure, English or foreign, in which Sir Henry had appeared during his whole career as a star, and taken every line in which opinions other than complimentary are expressed to or about the characters. played by Irving. In each case the character was costumed according to the directions used by Irving in staging the plays, and no detail was neglected which would give the whole performance a serious theatric value. Irving was astonished, and no one there was better able to comprehend the amount of study, work and expense which had gone into the perfection of the scheme.

Some time afterwards each member of the club received an encased card, designed and printed by a bank-note concern, and signed by Sir Henry, passing the holder at any time into any theatre in which Irving might be playing. These are valued souvenirs, and I know of but one having been used: a Bohemian, having but one night's chance in London

to see Sir Henry in a new play, found that not a seat was to be had at any price. As he could not delay his own departure, he presented his pass at the box office. It was sent to the star's dressing room and promptly returned with direction to give the holder the star's private box. During the first entre-act the wandering Bohemian received a cordial note from the actor, including an invitation to sup with him that night.

In reading the earlier annals of the club's activities, one comes upon such familiar names as Samuel Clemens, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Henry George-the latter then merely enjoying poverty and progress, not writing it-Lieutenant Derby (Phoenix), Julian Rix, Jules Tavenier-in fact, the name of every San Franciscan, native or adoptive, who has done good work in art, literature or the stage. In looking over the early jinks papers of such men, I find a poem which seems to me to be the work of Bret Harte, although it is tentatively credited by a recent club historian to Lauren E. Crane, on the authority of an endorsement on the musty original copy: "Read at a Bohemian Jinks, Lauren E. Crane." But I find that Crane was the sire of the jinks at which it was read, and it was not unusual for sires to read contributions from absent members, and at that time Bret Harte, an honorary member, was in New York. Harte had worked on the San Francisco papers with many of the club members, and would very likely respond to a sire's command to contribute a paper. The verses tell the story of company of miners sheltered from a storm in a hotel where a gambler stakes his wife on a game of cards. Two of the stanzas will serve to show the style: It was down on the San Waukeen-the spring When the water rose so high That the stove was about the only thing That a fire was game to dry;

We crowded into Morayno's house
On the hill above the plain,

An' just went in for a big carouse

While waitin' fur things to drain.

Dick Doone was thar, and his wife-the cuss
Had a girl all smiles and glow-
What wimmen and dogs will stand from us
Is the singerlist thing I know.

And when Dick drank he was pizen mean,
And as cross as a broken snake,
But she took everything smooth an' clean
Till nothin' was left to take.

I submit the first half of the first stanza as genuine Harte. Crane's known verses were not suggestive of Harte. Here are two stanzas of a poem of Crane's read at a jinks, celebrating the club's apple toddy, a joyous beverage compounded and set away in the wine cellar two years before


Fair apples born of Paradise-
If Eden ever grew one!-
And purified by fire and frost,
An emblem, now, of Eden lost,
Yet holding power in bloom and spice
To make us here a new one.

Ripe apples, such as Eve once gave
That old Bohemian Adam,

To fill the hours with pure delight,
What time he swore the lunch was light,
And tried his own good name to save
By scandalising Madam!

The Oliver Wendell Holmes jinks produced what are perhaps the only verses of occasion ever sent by telegraph. The sire of the jinks, early in the evening, telegraphed to Dr. Holmes the club's affectionate greetings, forgetting that early in the evening in San Francisco is midnight in Boston. But that was a happy oversight, because the Western Union brought this reply before the jinks was concluded:

Message from San Francisco! Whisper low!
Asleep in bed an hour and more ago.
While on his peaceful pillow he reclines,
Say to the friends who sent these loving lines,
"Silent, unanswering, still to friendship true,
He smiles in slumber, for he dreams of you!"
BOSTON, February 28, '74. Midnight.

That the Bohemians take life cheerily and enjoy good things to eat and drink is an abstraction sufficiently considered in the excellent Dr. Draper's too much neglected views of the effect of soil and climate on peoples; and, besides, the motto of the Bohemian Club is, "Weaving spiders come not here,"

[ocr errors]


F the many letters that an author receives from strangers there are few that can help him in his work and still fewer that can tickle his vanity. His susceptibility to the flattery of strangers, of whose critical judgment he has serious doubt, is apt to be blunted long before he becomes popular enough to be favoured with such opinions by mail. Let the letter writers address themselves to the author's publishers and assure them how eagerly they and all their friends look for new masterpieces from that inspired pen. This is the proper way, especially when the stories appear first in magazines. The author will get the letters in the end, and the editors and publishers will be so glad that they will submit to a raise in the rate per word-if they get enough letters. Let the author's unknown admirers who must write or burst, even resort to the beautiful endless chain. Every thousand letters the editor gets will mean at least an extra pair of shoes on the next story.

Of a few hundred letters received from utter strangers since I took to avowed fiction, in contradistinction to daily newspaper work, only one warmed my heart. It read as follows:

NEW YORK, April 12, 1905.

I have informed McClure's Magazine that I consider your story of The Golden Flood, begun in the February number, the best that has been published in any magazine for many years, and accordingly sent my cheque for subscription, commencing May 1. Trusting you will approve of my action, I am,


Very respectfully,

His action met with my cordial and immediate approval. I wrote him so. He called on me the very next day. He was a funny little old man, rosy-cheeked as an infant, with very white hair and beard, dressed so neatly that you at once thought of a nurse. His thin, piping little voice shook a little, not with age, but with ex

citement. He begged my forgiveness for the liberty he took in coming to see me, but he could not help it, he had enjoyed the story so much. He had to come. I was the first author he had ever done such a thing to, and he hoped I would excuse him. He and his wife had read the story together. It was a wonderful work and I was a wonderful writer. He hoped I would forgive the liberty he took, but I was a wonderful writer and he just couldn't help telling me. His wife and he had guessed at the end and wondered how it would come out. But they just had to give it up. Some nights they were late in getting asleep for thinking and talking about it. When he took the magazine that had the last instalment home to her she was in bed, but she made him read it to her. They had no children, and every evening they read aloud, one to the other. He told her he was going to call on me to tell me how they had enjoyed the story, but she had sought to dissuade him. She told him he must not be so forward. But he made up his mind he would get my address from the publishers. When my letter came he showed it to her and then he came. He hoped I would forgive the liberty he took. It was a wonderful story and he just couldn't help it. I could say nothing-his words came in a steady stream-but from time to time I moved my right hand up and down, the hand that in his tremulous excitement he had grasped with both of his and forgot to release, his bright eyes shining and his face flushed and his piping little voice going at a great rate, as if he feared I would scold him for being too forward. His wife thought he was, he told me again, and he never had called on any other author. But The Golden Flood was

[blocks in formation]

he would know me if he saw me again, he was so excited; but I'll never forget him. And the publishers have his dollar. God-er-bless 'em, too.

The first letter I ever received was one I wrote myself, addressed to the editor of the afternoon paper which was at that time receiving some literary assistance from me. The letter informed him how much the writer had enjoyed that "special" on the Banana Industry. It was, the writer said, the best monograph extant on that important subject. I felt this was legitimate enough, because the said editor would not allow me space on it, his childish excuse being that the article was "on the punk," and that it was sent up to the composing room by mistake. The unliterary galoot-my salary, thanks to a just God, is now greater than his—summoned me and said:

"Here's a highly encomiastic letter about your damned banana story."

"Yes?" I said, with every appearance of triumphant delight, "you see that"

"Whom did you get to write the letter for you?" he pursued coldly. He knew my writing, having blue-pencilled so much of it.

"Nobody," I retorted, with the immeasurable dignity of a man who is found out. "But that would make a good story -the young author who in a disguised hand sends letters to the editor, telling the great pleasure the perusal of the interesting"

"You will continue to enlighten the readers of this paper," he said, "as to the latest quotations on butter, eggs, cheese, petroleum, fertilisers and pig iron, and everything else that will fit in the commercial page." This is not funny. It is the truth. The man still lives. I was promoted to doing the stock market gossip. That led to my getting letters about my Wall Street stories that were not written by myself. The letters, I mean. For the others I alone must continue to take the blame.

The first genuine letter from a stranger I ever received was this, sent from a fashionable summer resort in Massachusetts:

Will you pardon an Englishwoman sojourning in your country, if she ventures to request

your autograph? She has read your stories and has greatly enjoyed them.

I wrote

She had a very pretty name. back that she doubtless had made a mistake, and could not have enjoyed my stories, because she was English and a woman. But that if she wished to do a good deed, would she let me name the heroine of my next novel after her? She replied at once:

I have read your Wall Street stories, all of them, and I've enjoyed them all. A friend explained some of the points, but not many, notwithstanding my sex and nationality. As for using my name for your heroine, you are welcome to it. It will not be mine much longer. I'm to be married next week.

That man got a treasure.

The second letter was also from a girl:

I have read your book. Some friends were discussing "The Break in Turpentine." To settle a dispute, will you please inform me if you are a Hebrew ?

She signed a name not unlike Cohen. As she enclosed a stamped and addressed envelope, I answered that I regretted to say I was not.

Requests for autographs probably form the greater part of my letter box contents. These are not always accompanied by postage stamps. A chap in Boston does far better than the rest. He sends a printed slip informing his victims that he is a collector and would greatly prize their autographs. He has secured the autographs of the following: A long list of distinguished names follows. It is headed by Thomas Bailey Aldrich. As he sends a blank card and a stamped and addressed envelope, the man who reads the name of Aldrich goes no further, but signs his name and sends it to the Bostonian. Autograph collecting is a mild and inoffensive form of idiocy. Not so idiotic are the requests for signed copies of your books, to be auctioned off with much éclat at church fairs, etc. They sometimes tell you how much that will help you by making you known, to say nothing of the credit mark in a better world. Personally I make it a point of succumbing to the delicate flattery of the people who would make me famous in spite of myself. That

« PreviousContinue »