The Literati of New York/No. I/Charles F. Briggs
Mr. Briggs is better known as Harry Franco, a nom de plume assumed since the publication, in the "Knickerbocker " of his series of papers called "Adventures of Harry Franco." He also wrote for the "Knickerbocker " some articles entitled "The Haunted Merchant," and from time to time subsequently has been a contributor to that journal. The two productions just mentioned have some merit. They depend for their effect upon the relation in a straightforward manner, just as one would talk, of the most commonplace events — a kind of writing which, to ordinary and especially to indolent intellects, has a very observable charm. To cultivated or to active minds it is in an equal degree distasteful, even when claiming the merit of originality. Mr. Briggs's manner, however, is an obvious imitation of Smollett, and, as usual with imitation, produces an unfavourable impression upon those conversant with the original. It is a common failing, also, with imitators, to out-Herod Herod in aping the peculiarities of the model, and too frequently the faults are more pertinaciously exaggerated than the merits. Thus, the author of "Harry Franco" carries the simplicity of Smollett to insipidity, and his picturesque low-life is made to degenerate into sheer vulgarity. A fair idea of the general tone of the work may be gathered from the following passage: —
" 'Come, colonel,' said the gentleman, slapping me on the shoulder, 'what'll you take?'
" 'Nothing, I thank you,' I replied; 'I have taken enough already.'
" 'What! don't you liquorate?'
"I shook my head, for I did not exactly understand him.
" 'Don't drink, hey?'
" 'Sometimes,' I answered.
" 'What! temperance man? — signed a pledge?'
" 'No, I have not signed a pledge not to drink.'
" 'Then you shall take a horn — so come along.'
"And so saying he dragged me up to the bar.
" 'Now, what'll you take — julep, sling, cocktail or sherry cobbler?'
" 'Anything you choose,' I replied, for I had not the most remote idea what the drinks were composed of which he enumerated.
" 'Then give us a couple of cocktails, barkeeper,' said the gentleman; 'and let us have them as quick as you damn please, for I am as thirsty as the great desert of Sahara which old Judah Paddock traveled over.' "
If Mr. Briggs has a forte, it is a Flemish fidelity that omits nothing, whether agreeable or disagreeable; but I cannot call this forte a virtue. He has also some humour, but nothing of an original character. Occasionally he has written good things. page 200 A magazine article called "Dobbs and his Cantelope" was quite easy and clever in its way; but the way is necessarily a small one. Now and then he has attempted criticism, of which, as might be expected, he made a farce. The silliest thing of this kind ever penned, perhaps, was an elaborate attack of his on Thomas Babington Macaulay, published in "The Democratic Review;" — the force of folly could no farther go. Mr. Briggs has never composed in his life three consecutive sentences of grammatical English. He is grossly uneducated.
In connection with Mr. John Bisco he was the originator of the late "Broadway Journal" — my editorial association with that work not having commenced until the sixth or seventh number, although I wrote for it occasionally from the first. Among the principal papers contributed by Mr. B. were those discussing the paintings at the last exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in New York. I may be permitted to say that there was scarcely a point in his whole series of criticisms on this subject at which I did not radically disagree with him. Whatever taste he has in art is, like his taste in letters, Flemish.
Mr. Briggs's personal appearance is not prepossessing. He is about five feet six inches in height, somewhat slightly framed, with a sharp, thin face, narrow and low forehead, pert-looking nose, mouth rather pleasant in expression, eyes not so good, gray and small, although occasionally brilliant. In dress he is apt to affect the artist, priding himself especially upon his personal acquaintance with artists and his general connoisseurship. He is a member of the Art Union. He walks with a quick, nervous step. His address is quite good, frank and insinuating. His conversation has now and then the merit of humour, but he has a perfect mania for contradiction, and it is impossible to utter an uninterrupted sentence in his hearing. He has much warmth of feeling, and is not a person to be disliked, although very apt to irritate and annoy. Two of his most marked characteristics are vacillation of purpose and a passion for being mysterious. His most intimate friends seem to know nothing of his movements, and it is folly to expect from him a direct answer about anything. He has, apparently, traveled; pretends to a knowledge of French (of which he is profoundly ignorant); has been engaged in an infinite variety of employments, and now, I believe, occupies a lawyer's office in Nassau street. He is married, goes little into society, and seems about forty years of age.