Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 7
Civilian Prisoners in Australia Set Free—The Story of Thomas Hassett—O'Reilly's Narrative Poems—His Love of Country and Denunciation of Sham Patriots—Death of his Father—Speech for the Press—His Marriage, and Home Life—Pilot Burned Out in the Great Boston Fire—The Papyrus Club Founded.
IN addition to his daily editorial work, O'Reilly filled several engagements to lecture during this and subsequent years. His first lecture, after the collapse of the Fenian invasion of Canada, was given in Liberty Hall, New Bedford, Mass., on the 20th of June, 1870, for the benefit of Captain Gifford of the Gazelle. The Captain and Mr. Hathaway occupied seats on the stage, and heard the story of their kindness told with all the eloquence of gratitude, and received with all the enthusiasm of an Irish audience.
On the 29th of October, he lectured in Boston Music Hall, for the benefit of the Engineer Corps of the Ninth Regiment, and again, on December 11, for the benefit of St. Stephen's Church, Boston. During all this time, amid professional and public cares, he found leisure for constant study, for the rewriting and revising of some of his earlier poems, and for a ceaseless, active interest in the fate of his fellow-prisoners. To the end of his life, any man who had worn the badge of honor as a penal convict, for his devotion to Ireland, held a lien on the affection and good services of Boyle O'Reilly. In the early part of 1870, the British Government granted conditional pardon to such political convicts in Australia as had been civilians at the time of their offense. The act of clemency carried little with it, beyond the mere boon of liberty. Their prison doors were opened, and they were turned loose to make what use they might of their only capital, freedom. Thanks to the kindness of Irish residents in the colony, they were provided for, and aided in making their way, some to their homes in Ireland, and others to the Mecca of all aspirants for liberty—the United States.
Eight civilians and fifteen military prisoners were exempted from the amnesty. One of these, writing to the more fortunate man who had amnestied himself, said: "It is my birthday as I write this, and I know I am turning it to the best account by writing to such a dear old friend. Who knows, perhaps I may be able to spend the next one with you; if not, then we will hope for the following one. At all events, we must not despair. I would count the time I spend here as nothing if I could only see the factions in America and elsewhere all united in one grand organization. This is a something to hope for. Let such a thing once become un fait accompli, and then it is but a little more time, a little more patience, and—what? The thought sends a thrill through my whole frame like an electric shock." "Poor fellow!" commented O'Reilly, in the Pilot, "how much pain is he not saved by the rigor which excludes news from the prison. That sweet old dream of unity can bear him up under all clouds of fate, giving a young and talented man, like the writer of the above letter, patience to write calmly—'If not next year, perhaps the following. We must not despair!' To him who would breed dissension among Irishmen, are not those words of this imprisoned man as terrible as the 'Mane, Thecel, Phares' which chilled the heart of the Assyrian?"
One of the Hougoumont's life convicts, Thomas Hassett, rightly despairing of amnesty, made his escape from the road party early in June, and, like O'Reilly, penetrated through the bush to the sea, taking refuge on board ship at Bunbury. There he was recaptured, on the very threshold of freedom, and sentenced-to three years' hard labor in the chain-gang at Swan River, with six months' solitary confinement. Hassett was a remarkably daring man. He, with James Wrenn and other Fenians, had served through two campaigns in the Papal Brigade. Returning to Ireland he joined the Twenty-fourth Infantry, and immediately began organizing a revolutionary movement. He was doing sentry duty at the Royal Hospital, Dublin, in December, 1866, when he received timely warning that a guard had arrived at the picket room to arrest him. O'Reilly tells the picturesque sequel as follows:
"Private Hassett walked off his post, and, shouldering his rifle, proceeded confidently through the streets of Dublin, in which a soldier with arms is never questioned. It was ten o'clock at night, and it so happened that Hassett knew of a certain meeting of organizers and other 'boys on their keepin,' which was being held that evening. Thither he bent his steps, reached the house, and, knowing how it was done, gained admission. The rebels sat in council up stairs: faces grew dark, teeth were set close, and revolvers grasped when they heard the steady stamp on the stairs, and the 'ground arms,' at their door. A moment after, the door opened and the man in scarlet walked into the room—all there knew him well. With full equipments, knapsack, rifle, and bayonet, and sixty rounds of ammunition, Hassett had deserted from his post, and walked straight into the ranks of rebellion. He was quickly divested of his military accoutrements; scouts went out to a neighboring clothing store, and soon returned with every requisite for a fullfledged 'civilian.' The red coat was voted to the fire, and the belt and arms were stored away with a religious hope in the coming fight for an Irish Republic. The next evening one more was added to the group of strangely dressed men who smoked and drank their 'pots o' porter' in a certain house in Thomas Street. The new-comer was closely shaven and had the appearance of a muscular Methodist minister. The men there were all deserters, and the last arrival was Hassett. Vainly watching for the coming fight, the poor fellows lived in mysterious misery for several weeks. It is hard to realize here now the feeling that was rife in Dublin then. At last one of the deserters was recognized in the streets by the military informer,— Private Foley, of the Fifth Dragoons,—tracked to the rendezvous, surrounded by the police, and every one captured."
Hassett and his comrades were not forgotten, as we shall see in relating the romantic story of their rescue by the American whaling bark Catalpa, in 1876.
The partial amnesty was extended also to certain Fenian prisoners in Ireland, including John Flood, Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary, O'Donovan Rossa, John Devoy, O'Meagher Condon, and others, who arrived in New York in January, 1871.
During this year, the Uncle Ned's Tales, and other early poems were reprinted in the Pilot, and attracted a good deal of attention to their author. There was an element of strength underlying their occasional crudities, which gave promise of something better in the young poet. The appearance of his "Amber Whale," "Dukite Snake," and other narrative poems confirmed that promise. They were original in conception and dramatic in form. Although he was to achieve his greater, enduring fame in a far different field of poetry, his first popular success was made as a writer of narrative verse. The popular taste is not to be despised; for, undoubtedly, the versified story is the natural poem—if anything so artificial in form as a poem can be said to have a natural character. The world loves a story; and it is the bard's chronicle, from the tale of Troy Town, down to the latest ballad, that is committed to memory when loftier and more elevated flights of the Muse are admired and forgotten. In this respect the world of twenty years ago was very like the world of two thousand years ago. It craved for something new, and the demand created a supply of brilliant young writers, who brought novel wares to the literary market. Bret Harte and Joaquin Miller came from California with widely differing, but equally striking, lyrics of wild life. John Hay and Will Carleton struck other notes of the people's heart. There was a renaissance of natural poetry.
O'Reilly, fresh from a newer, stranger land of songless birds and scentless flowers, sung not of birds, nor of flowers, but of mankind. The setting of his stories was doubly foreign—the social, as well as geographical antipodes. The dullest reader could not fail to see that the story, however fanciful it might be, bore the stamp of truth to nature, and that the teller spoke only of what he himself had seen, or felt, or been. The "Dukite Snake" might be as unreal as the phoenix; but the Bush and its inmates were taken from the life. The "Amber Whale" was redolent of the sea—nobody but a sailor-man could have given its nautical flavor and technical lore with such perfect fidelity.
These long narrative poems were not distinguished for analysis or character study. They were anything but subjective. They gave no hint of the philosophical quality which was to mark his later verse; but they were picturesque, dramatic, virile, and achieved their only purpose, that of telling a strong story in direct, forcible fashion. He had not as yet learned the finer art of pruning away extraneous matter, and presenting a powerful tale in a terse, concrete form, as he afterward could do with such a story as that of "Eensign Epps."
The "Dukite Snake "appeared in the Christmas supplement of the Boston Journal for 1871. O'Reilly wrote but once over a pseudonym. It was a short poem contributed, I think, to the Boston Traveler, and signed with the punning name "Boileau.
Shortly after the publication of the "Amber Whale" in the New York Tribune, the author received a tempting offer from Horace Greeley to join the staff of that paper. The proffered salary was large compared with that which he was then receiving; but it was met by a counter offer from the proprietor of the Pilot, which induced him, wisely, to remain where he was. He was making a reputation in the American city which was the literary center of the country. The circle of his personal friendship was large, and steadily growing. More than all, he was in a position to be of incalculable service to the cause of his native country; and it is the simplest of truths to say that this consideration would have outweighed, at any period of his life, every prospect of personal gain or literary honors. Love of country was with him not merely a strong sentiment,—it was the ruling passion, to which he would have sacrificed any and every other ambition or possession.
It was in this spirit of absolutely unselfish patriotism that he sharply arraigned the demagogues and self-seekers who endeavored to mislead his countrymen by posing as Irish-American "leaders."
"If the Irish people in this country," he said, "were to utter one prayer with more devotion than another, we think it should be, 'Save us from our leaders!' The consideration of the mysterious union between an acknowledged impostor, imbecile, or fire-eater, and the people who are affected by his words and acts, is full of interest to any one who looks beneath the surface at men and things. The authority of the demagogue, or, rather, the toleration with which people bear his noisy assumption of authority, springs from some metaphysical mystery far beyond the ken of common mortals.
"We have noticed in one of the most prominent of the demagogic journals, lately, an editorial call for 'An Irish-American Party,' for which the dangerous demagogue says 'the necessity is forced upon us.' We can tell him that the day is surely coming when the necessity of punishing the author of such criminal folly will be forced upon the Irish people of America. Day after day we see sheets called 'Irish- American journals' filled with such blatant nonsense or suicidal advice. Thank Heaven, these productions are not very numerous, nor do they compete in influence with our respectable Irish -American press. But their existence is a sore, which will spread, as all sores do, if neglected. The Irish people should keep their eyes on these fellows who sway the passions of the most ignorant portion of the community. On every occasion that arises, it is the duty of Irish-American Catholics, in view of their own respectability, to protest shortly and decisively against these would-be 'representative Irish leaders,' or 'Irish' newspapers."
It would be hard for the most critical of native Americans to find fault with the Americanism of the foregoing advice, or with the editoral appeal to his fellow-countrymen, in the following issue, to "Think it out"—to reflect and reason, before indorsing every well-meant, but ill-directed, project proposed to them.
The cause of Home Rule, then being discussed in Ireland, received his earnest support, as "a greater effort for political equality than any that Ireland has yet seen, not even excepting the agitation of Daniel O'Connell." The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Fenian movement had done admirable service for the Irish cause, but the Home Rule movement was distinctly of home origin. Then says O'Reilly: "Why in the name of wonder is it that the Irish in America who profess to have such intense sympathy with Ireland's politics, are so silent or so ignorant of this great but quiet movement? Surely the people in Ireland have greater rights to decide what sort of government Ireland wants than the Irish people in America. Those who have left the motherland may love her as well as those who have remained; but the people there have more right to choose their government than the people here to choose it for them. There is a great deal that wants consideration in this question, and we earnestly advise our Irish-American journals, politicians, and people to quietly think it out!"
Again, he excoriates the blatant demagogue who asks for support in American politics, on the ground that, "He's a friend to an Irishman."
There was need just then of a public censor like this young man, who had no selfish or political ends to gain, and who struck boldly and untiringly at everything openly or secretly inimical to the welfare of his race. He broke no lances against wind-mills. When he saw an abuse, he attacked it with all his might, and never abandoned the fight until the abuse was ended. The "comic" Irishman of stage and novel was mercilessly criticised by him, at the same time that he recognized where the responsibility primarily lay. "We do not dream," he said, in speaking of a particularly offensive performance by a troop of so-called "Hibernian Minstrels," "that the people who have established them will remove them; these people are too ignorant or too selfish. But they depend on the public,—and the Irish-American public,—for support. Let us laugh at the good-natured attempts of Englishmen or Americans to portray Irish humorous character; but if we want to see the truth, let us do it ourselves and do it truthfully. But this copying of the worst attempts of people who do not understand the Irish character, and this exaggeration by our own people of the most offensive misrepresentations of the others, is unworthy of rational and respectable beings. No wonder that people who do not know us, who only see us as we represent ourselves on the stage, should judge us harshly and wrongly. It is in the power of every person, and of every family, especially of Irish extraction, to do something toward the removal of this evil by refusing support to these vulgar libelers of our national character."
In February of this year (1871), O'Reilly received the sad news of the death of his father, who had survived his beloved wife but two years. He was buried beside her in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, the following inscription being placed on his coffin plate:
WILLIAM DAVID O'REILLY,
Aged sixty-three years.
Died February 17, 1871.
deceased was father of
John Boyle O'Reilly,
A good Irish Soldier.
Convicted by English court-martial, and self-amnestied
by escaping from Western Australia to America.
May the brave son live long, and may the
remains of the noble father rest
O'Reilly's place was soon allotted him among the journalists of Boston. He appreciated the grave responsibilities of his profession as few men have done. Replying to a toast for the Press at a banquet given to the Irish Band which attended the great Peace Jubilee at Boston, in July, 1873, he said:
But I will not generalize further. I was led into this train of thought by a something that I know will be interesting to every man here, and to thousands of those who are not here. A short time ago I held in my hand a Boston paper printed seventy-six years ago. It was the first daily paper ever printed in Boston—please to remember, the first daily paper ever printed in Boston. It was called the Boston Daily Advertiser, a name which has a highly respectable representative to-day. And why, gentlemen, did this old paper interest me; and why do I say it will interest you to hear of it? Because the editor of this paper, the first daily of Boston, was an Irishman; and not only an Irishman by birth, but a man who was a fugitive from his native land, because he had been a friend of Napper Tandy, and a United Irishman. This talented Irish exile, whose name was John Burke, had been expelled from Trinity College, Dublin, because the Government found that he was the author of a Series of articles on republicanism which had appeared in the Dublin Evening Post. Buckingham tells us, in his "Reminiscences," that the paper published by this Irishman was one of unusual ability, moderation of language, and broadness of view. I will read you a short extract from his opening address, which will touch many a heart here to-night, and which will show what sort of man was this John Burke:
"I call you fellow-citizens! for I, too, am a citizen of these States. From the moment a stranger puts his foot on the soil of America, his fetters are rent to pieces, and the scales of servitude which he had contracted under European tyrannies fall off; he becomes a free man; and though civil regulations may refuse him the immediate exercise of his right, he is virtually a citizen; .... he resigns his prejudices on the threshold of the temple of liberty; they are melted down in the great crucible of public opinion. This I take to be the way in which all men are affected when they enter these States; that I am so will be little doubted when it is known how much I am indebted to their liberality; I shall give better proof of it than words; there is nothing that I would not resign for your service but my gratitude and love of liberty."These words were written seventy-six years ago by an Irishman, and although men of our race, and of the religious belief of our majority, have lived down many prejudices and many injustices since then, there still remains a mountain to be removed by us and our descendants. But with the help of an enlightened and unprejudiced press, we can succeed where our forerunners failed; and to the daily press of Boston—especially to that able paper which bears the name of the first of the family—I offer the words of John Burke, the first editor of a daily paper in Boston.
Such was O'Reilly, the editor, lecturer, and rapidly growing leader of the Irish-American people. In private life he was an earnest student, yet, at the same time, one who could and did relax with boyish abandon. His bachelor's den on the top floor of a lodging-house in Staniford Street became the nightly resort of a group of young men of kindred tastes. Dr. Robert Dwyer Joyce, the Irish poet, was the oldest member of the nameless club, to which also gathered Charles E. Hurd, the scholarly journalist; Edward Mitchell, Dr. Dennett, and two or three other congenial spirits, to smoke and read and discuss, and sometimes dismember, the newest works from their own and other pens. Out of this informal coterie grew the almost equally informal, but famous literary and social organization, the "Papyrus Club," of which more anon.
He had been over two years and a half in Boston when he vacated his bachelor's den, and took upon himself the responsibilities of married life. In the Pilot of August 24, 1872) appeared the modest announcement: "Married, on Thursday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, in St. Mary's Church, Charlestown, by Rev. George A. Hamilton, Mr. John Boyle O'Reilly, of Boston, to Miss Mary Murphy, of Charlestown." The romance of love thus happily culminating had existed for over two years. The young poet first heard of his future wife through reading a little story written by her in The Young Crusader, a very successful juvenile magazine edited by Rev. William Byrne, the present Vicar-General of Boston. Something in the little story took his fancy; he made inquiries about the writer, whose nom de plume was "Agnes Smiley," and sought and obtained an introduction to her. A mutual love soon grew up between them. Miss Murphy was born in Charlestown on the 5th of May, 1850. Her parents were John Murphy, who was born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, in 1823, and died in Charlestown June 28, 1861, and Jane Smiley, born in County Donegal, Ireland, 1830, who came to Charlestown in early life, and still lives, a widowed mother with her widowed daughter.
O'Reilly and his bride made a brief wedding trip through New Hampshire and Maine, and on returning began the joys and cares of domestic life at their home on Winthrop Street, Charlestown. There were born to them four daughters: Mollie, on May 18, 1873; Eliza Boyle, July 25, 1874; Agnes Smiley, May 19, 1877, and Blanid, June 18, 1880. In naming the children, the first was called after her mother, the second after the poet's own mother, the third by the pretty name to which such tender associations were attached, and the fourth after the heroine of Dr. Joyce's Irish epic. The following letter, written two years later, gives a charming picture of the quiet, happy home which he had made for himself in a strange land:
The "Pilot" Editorial Rooms,
September. 7, 1874.
My Dear Aunt Crissy:
It was like listening to you and looking at you, to read your kind letter. It has made me so happy and yet so sad that I do not know which feeling is uppermost. I know you were pleased to see my poor book; but what would my own dear patient mother have felt when she saw me winning praise from men? Thank God! I have her picture—the girls and Edward were kind enough to send it to me—and I have it grandly framed, and hung in our parlor. My little Mollie loves to kiss it, and I can only allow her to kiss the frame for fear of injuring the picture. Mary loves to look at it as much as I do, and she loves you, dear Aunt, from your one or two letters. Please write her a letter as soon as you can. She is getting strong again, from the birth of our second baby—our Eliza Boyle O'Reilly. Is it not strangely touching to see this new generation with the old names—springing up in a new land, and cherishing as traditions all that we knew as facts? Somehow, I feel as old as you and Uncle James. It seems so long since I was a boy that I really do not, cannot, accept young men or their ways of thinking. It gives me the sincerest pleasure to know that Uncle James is doing so well. He has a good book-keeper when he has you; but I am sure he knows that God has blessed him with that greatest of all blessings—a good wife. Willy's good fortune is as dear to me as if he were my own brother. I always knew he would be a clever chemist, and I am sure he is. Please God, sometime, when the Government lets me, I shall walk into his shop and ask for a bottle of medicine. He would never know the bearded man, with streaks of gray, from the thoughtless boy he knew long ago. Nobody in England would know me but you: you could see the Boyle in me.
It will please you, I know, to know just how I am doing. I inclose a lot of extracts from the leading papers of America, which will show you that I do not lack literary reputation. My position in Boston—which is the chief city in this country for literature and general culture—is quite good. I am chief editor of the Pilot—which is the most influential Catholic paper in America, probably in the world. My salary is $3,000 a year (£2 a day); $4,000 next year. Besides, I write when I please for the leading magazines and literary papers—which also adds to my income. Of course, $3,000 a year does not represent its equivalent in English money in England. Everything is sold at a higher rate here. However, Mary, who is a wonderful manager, has saved a few thousand dollars (I give her all the money), and we are prepared for a rainy day. My health is excellent. I have just returned from a vacation, which I spent in the glorious Southern States of Maryland and Virginia. I visited Baltimore and Washington, and had an invitation to stay with the President of the Jesuit University, at Georgetown. I do not know what you think of America, Aunt, but it may surprise you to hear that the cities here are far greater and grander than those in the Old World, always excepting London for size, of course. Washington is the most magnificent city I ever saw. But what do you care for America! Give my love to all, and believe me, dear Aunt, to be,
Always your affectionate nephew,
John Boyle O'Reilly.
The great fire of Boston, beginning on Saturday evening, November 9, wiped out of existence the richest portion of the business quarter, destroying eighty-five million dollars' worth of property. The large granite building owned and occupied by the Pilot, on Franklin Street, was entirely consumed. As soon as possible, new quarters were taken on Cornhill, in the building of Rand & Avery, which, by a strange fatality, was also burned to the ground eleven days later. Nothing daunted, the Pilot resumed business again at No. 360 Washington Street. A little impatience was excusable in it when called upon to announce, early in the following June, that the paper had been burnt out for the third time on May 30. "When a fire comes to Boston nowadays," it said, "it comes looking round all the corners for its old friend the Pilot. It is evident that the fire has a rare appreciation of a good newspaper and a good companion to pass a brilliant hour Nevertheless, we do not want to appear too light-hearted on this occasion: it might lead people to think that a fire was not of much account anyway. Of course we are used to being burnt out, and it does not affect us much after the first mouthful of smoke and cinders. But when it comes to three times in seven months, we protest. We are not salamanders; the oldest phoenix of them all would get sick of such a gaudy dissipation. For the remainder of our lives in Boston we want the fire to let us severely alone." The Pilot's stock was totally destroyed in this last fire, and though it was well insured the loss was hard to bear, following the greater preceding calamities. By these Mr. Donahoe had been made poorer to the extent of $350,000, a loss which, with other reverses, ultimately brought on financial failure. The friends of the paper showed their timely good feeling by doing their utmost for it in its hour of adversity; some old subscribers paying arrears of fifteen years or more, others subscribing for ten years in advance, and a few requesting to have their names put down as subscribers "for life."
O'Reilly's "Wail of Two Cities" (Chicago and Boston) appeared in the number of the Pilot issued immediately after the great fire of November 9, 1872.
The Papyrus Club was the outcome of a reception given by the newspaper men of Boston to Henry M. Stanley, the famous African explorer, on Saturday afternoon, December 14, 1872. About thirty of Stanley's fellow- journalists assembled at the Parker House, W. B. Smart, President of the Boston Press Club, presiding, and John Boyle O'Reilly delivering the address of welcome. He paid a tribute to the "reportorial" profession, and especially to the representative of it, "a man, a young man, trained only as all present had been, who had yet been able to lead an expedition into the heart of Africa, and succeed where the Old World, with all its resources, had failed." After the formal reception and dinner, half a dozen of the young newspaper men present continued the post-prandial exercises at a then famous old chop-house known as "Billy Park's," in Central Court, on Washington Street, in the rear of Jordan & Marsh's dry -goods establishment. The march of commerce has wiped out the hostelry, and built over the Court, but it was on that night, and in "Billy Park's" Tavern, that the Papyrus Club was born. Its christening did not take place until some weeks later. The men who met that night at; Park's were O'Reilly, Stanley, Edward King, Charles Eyre Pascoe, William A. Hovey ("Causeur"), Francis H. Underwood, first editor of the Atlantic Monthly, Alexander Young, the historian, and W. W. Messer, Jr. The second meeting of the club occurred on the following Saturday at the same place. Its object, as stated in the newspaper reports at the time, was that of "organizing the leading writers of the daily, weekly, and periodical press of the city in a club, for the purpose of promoting better acquaintance, one with another, and affording headquarters to which gentlemen of reputation in literature and art may be invited while on visits to Boston."
At this meeting, besides those who had attended the first, were present, Geo. M. Towle, the historian; N. S. Dodge, and Benjamin Wolf, wh gave the club its name. It was quickly and Charles E. Pascoe as secretary. Its early history is shrouded with some of the mystery appropriate to all great institutions. O'Reilly was one of the executive committee. A printed call, dated February 26, 1873, says:
I am requested by the president and members of the executive committee to suggest that the opportunity will be a favorable one for presenting the names of persons who desire to join the club, and that it will materially add to the pleasure of the occasion, and afford members an opportunity to vote intelligently upon the admission of candidates, if gentlemen see fit to bring with them, as their guests, those whose names they intend proposing.
As it is necessary that exact information as to the number to be present should be in the hands of the caterer for the evening prior to Friday, the 28th inst., you are requested to inform Mr. Benjamin Woolf, Globe office, by note or otherwise, and not later than Thursday, 27th inst., whether you intend to participate, and if so, whether a guest will accompany you.
As the organized existence of the club will in a great measure date from the meeting in question, it is hoped that every member will make an effort to be present.
Very respectfully yours,
Chas. F. Pascoe,
Among the other early members of the club were J. Cheever Goodwin, Nat. Childs, Geo. F. Babbitt, Robert G. Fitch, Henry M. Rogers, Edgar Parker, Edwin P. Whipple, Dr. George B. Loring, E. A. Sothern ("Lord Dundreary"), Benjamin H. Ticknor, T. B. Ticknor, Howard M. Ticknor, James R. Osgood, George M. Baker, Dr. W. S. Dennett, William T. Adams ("Oliver Optic"), Dr. R. D. Joyce, Lambert Hollis, Dr. F. A. Harris, William M. Hunt, the famous artist, and several other men distinguished in art and literature.
It goes without saying that none of the members were blessed with worldly wealth. At first the club was pure democracy, unfettered by law or precedent, the only authority ever invoked by the kindly ruler, President Dodge, consisting in a vague threat to "name" any member whose boisterousness exceeded the bounds of decorum. The dinner was simple, consisting of chops, steaks, or joints, its austerity being mitigated by beer.
In due time, as the club prospered, an attempt was made, which never wholly succeeded, to introduce evening costume. The president had always appeared thus arrayed, and it was voted, by way of compromise, that his dignified "swallow-tail" should be considered the "club coat." At an early stage in its career the club voted to increase its membership and finances, simultaneously, by admitting a certain number of gentlemen, not exceeding one third of the whole, as "non-literary members." There was a hazy expectation that wealth would thence flow into the coffers of the club, which should be thereby enabled to build a house and live up to its reputation. Bonds were to be issued, but those securities were never listed on the Stock Exchange. When it came to the election of "non-literary" millionaires, the club insisted on choosing candidates possessed of qualities not usually concomitant with wealth. The non-literary members chosen were "good fellows" to a man: the literary members were of the same character ipso facto. On one historic evening there were elected Thomas Bailey Aldrich, William Dean Howells, Charles Gaylord, and Dr. George B. Loring. Such non-literary men as E. E. Eice, of "Evangeline," George Roberts, W. A. Means, F. V. Parker, and a score of others, did not detract from the gayety of the genial Bohemian crowd.
There was something more than mere pleasure associated with those meetings. As George M. Towle has well said: "Pleasant as are its literary features, its habit of hospitality to prominent strangers, its brilliant ladies' nights, its occasional music and fitful eloquence, to me its most grateful use is the freedom, the enlivenment, and I may perhaps even add, the affectionateness of its social sphere. I suppose most of us feel a kindlier interest in a man when we know he is a Papyrus man. I think we are more ready to help him when he is trouble, to regret his calamities, to rejoice in his good fortune. I think any Papyrus man who has suffered some worldly grief may come here to this board in the absolute certainty that he will be surrounded by such an atmosphere of brotherly sympathy and encouragement as will enable him to carry away revived spirits and renewed hopes. These genial customs, these monthly greetings, soften the harshness of life, encourage the kindliness, tolerance, and generosity of feeling which serve us in good and noble stead in our daily battles with the outer world."