Joel Chandler Harris, 1848–1908
Uncle Remus: or, Mr. Fox, Mr. Rabbit, and Mr. Terrapin. Third Edition. London, New York: George Routledge, 1881.
Waxing nostalgic about life with her father—William Morris, the great
Pre-Raphaelite poet, designer, and pioneering socialist—the artist Mary (“May”) Morris (1862–1938) averred in her Introductions to his collected works that “there were no happier hours of our home-evenings than when… we were gathered together around the great fireplace, Father reading aloud.” Among the family favorites were works by the journalist and folklorist from Georgia, Joel Chandler Harris. She recalled her father reveling in private in “the fascinating drolleries of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox” and, moreover, reading one of Harris’s tales in public, “in the little meeting-hall at one of our Hammersmith Socialist Society’s annual parties” (presumably, in what he imagined to be an appropriate American regional accent). Referring to Harris’s literary adaptations of African American oral narratives as “African stories,” May Morris accepted their cultural authenticity, as did many turn-of-the-century British readers. These were, in fact, hybrids—compounded, as Lee Pederson suggested in “Language in the Uncle Remus Tales” (1985), not only of rural linguistic traditions “shared by blacks and whites” in “Middle Georgia,” but of “the classical tradition of English prose.” Thus, they were already transatlantic artifacts, even before their British publication in Routledge’s “American Library” series, where they sold for one shilling apiece, with a decorative front cover that featured, most surprisingly and inexplicably, the image of a trio of Pre-Raphaelite white maidens, alongside a rabbit walking upright.
Moncure Daniel Conway, 1832–1907
Travels in South Kensington: With Notes on Decorative Art and Architecture in England, Illustrated. New York: Harper & Bros, 1882.
Most Americans chose to travel to Britain. The Reverend Moncure Daniel Conway was in the unique position of being sent there. In 1863, midway through the Civil War, he was chosen by his fellow abolitionists to present their case in England and, armed with a letter of introduction from William Lloyd Garrison, to use his contacts and his own eloquence to turn popular support against the South. Even after the war ended, however, he remained in London, for he had undergone an emancipation of his own. The Virginia-born graduate of Dickinson College and of Harvard’s Divinity School had already made the transition from Methodism to Unitarianism; while leading the South Place Chapel in Finsbury, he also broke with the Unitarian Church. But his even more dramatic conversion was to Aestheticism or, as it sometimes was called, the Religion of Beauty. The memoirs that he published at the turn of the century are a treasure trove of recollections of the Pre-Raphaelites, their artistic contemporaries, and their successors, filled with detailed accounts of visits to Rossetti’s studio, to the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron’s house in the Isle of Wight, and to Hyde Park, where he listened as his friend William Morris addressed “rough people” and “raged against himself as one of the class of their non-producing oppressors.” A portrait of Morris was one of the illustrations in Travels in South Kensington, Conway’s paean to the London neighborhood most closely associated with the Aesthetic movement and to the decorative taste of residents such as J. M. Whistler. The cover design for this book was by “D. W.”—Dora Wheeler (1856–1940), the American decorative artist best known today through William Merritt Chase’s Whistlerian and Japanesque 1883 painting of her in a peacock-blue dress.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849–1924
Little Lord Fauntleroy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886.
No one was more transatlantic than Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is sometimes classified as a British author, and sometimes as an American. In The One I Knew Best of All: A Memory of the Mind of a Child (1893), she noted that even as a little girl in Manchester, she “longed” to “find out . . . what America was like, what it was like to cross the Atlantic Ocean,” which she did at age fifteen, when her family moved to Tennessee. According to one of her biographers, G. H. Gerzina, she made that crossing thirty-three times over the years. On his 1882 tour of America, Oscar Wilde visited her in Washington, DC, where she lived with her husband and two children, and he arrived resplendent in the aesthetic costume of velvet jacket and knee breeches. Several critics have speculated that this inspired her to dress the young protagonist of Little Lord Fauntleroy, which was serialized in the New York-based St. Nicholas magazine in 1885, in “a black velvet suit, with a lace collar” and to give him “a splendid mop of waving hair” styled in “love-locks.” After the novel was dramatized and performed in New York, “the fashion for Little Lord Fauntleroy suits boomed” across America and, as Ann Thwaite records, “reluctant small boys were forced by their mothers into black velvet suits.” Thwaite adds that the writer Stephen Crane, appalled by the spectacle of young American boys with long curls, allegedly bribed two of them to get haircuts.
Photograph of Oscar Wilde. New York, . Cabinet Card.
The transatlantic reproduction and dissemination of the results of Oscar Wilde’s collaboration with the photographer Napoleon Sarony left a legacy that is impossible to overestimate. Taken in New York City during Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour of America—a tour arranged by Richard D’Oyly Carte (1894–1901) as an adjunct to the American production of Patience (1881), Gilbert and Sullivan’s satire of British Aestheticism—the suite of twenty-seven different poses defined forever the visual image of the Aesthete. These photographs eventually served, moreover, as iconic representations both of gay style and of the concept of literary celebrity itself. That Wilde should have found his way to Sarony’s studio was no accident. Olivier Sarony, brother of Napoleon, was famous as a portrait photographer in England. Wilde’s interest in the world of the stage also would have led him there, as Napoleon Sarony was the favored photographer of American theatrical performers. Certainly, Sarony, who was born in Quebec but had lived and worked for decades in the U. S., would not have registered surprise, as a more conventional photographer might have done, at the wish of this Irish poet, just arrived from London, to experiment with costumes and poses. Sarony, too, was given to outlandish and eye-catching attire, although his attention to detail was less careful than Wilde’s. As an unnamed writer for the Photographic Times: An Illustrated Monthly revealed in January 1897, shortly after Sarony’s death, “During the winter he used to wear an old straw hat in the studio and frequently he would go down Broadway with an immense overcoat and this little straw hat he had forgotten to change.”
Joaquin Miller, 1837–1913
The Building of the City Beautiful. London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893.
Looked at from one perspective, Joaquin Miller was a pathological liar, an eccentric, and a poseur. But in the turn-of-the-century worlds of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic London, who wasn’t? Both D. G. Rossetti and Oscar Wilde became, in different generations, great fans of his, as much for his self-conscious affectation of a Wild West persona as for any literary merit his work might have had. Indeed, the dressing-up in cowboy garb that accompanied the transformation of Cincinnatus Miller from the Pacific Northwest (by way of birth in Indiana) into Joaquin Miller, the so-called “American Byron” and author of Songs of the Sierras (1871), was all part of his charm for British audiences, who embraced him after his arrival in London in 1870. The Building of the City Beautiful, issued in the 1890s by the two publishers who ran the Bodley Head, contained a series of recollections of Miller’s experiences in Britain from that visit of more than twenty years earlier—fabricated events such as his supposed quest for water in an English pub, as a naïve traveler “from Oregon, the land of pure water, where God pours it down from the snowy clouds of the hollow of His hand,” and his unhappy discovery instead of beer, which he claimed never to have tasted before. But it also recounted (and, of course, embroidered upon) such actual occasions as his dinner in September 1871, before leaving England, at the house of D. G. Rossetti. No wonder Oscar Wilde delighted in his company and sought him out in New York, during his own American tour, writing in a letter of 28 February 1882, “I need not tell you that whenever you visit England you will be received with that courtesy with which it is our pleasure to welcome all Americans, and that honour with which it is our privilege to greet all poets.”
Emma Lazarus, 1849–1887
“A Day in Surrey with William Morris,” Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, July 1886.
The year 1883 was a most important one for Emma Lazarus, the Jewish poet from New York City. She wrote “The New Colossus,” which would be engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and she made her first trip to England. Her Pre-Raphaelite sympathies had long been evident, especially in the medievalist narrative poem, “Tannhäuser,” in Admetus and Other Poems (1871). On arriving in London, she gravitated to the studios of the artists G. F. Watts, Frederic Leighton, George Du Maurier, and Edward Burne-Jones. Through Burne-Jones she met William Morris, who invited her to Merton Abbey, the site of his textile works. One year later, she wrote a worshipful account of this visit for the American Century Magazine, which was edited by another Anglophile poet, Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909). Her article celebrated the “frank comradeship, marked by mutual respect and good-will” between “employer and employed” at Merton Abbey, along with features such as the “richly bound” books available in a “circulating library for the benefit of the operatives,” illustrating Morris’s “theory that the workingman must be helped and uplifted . . . by developing and feeding his sense of beauty.” She made the case to American readers for Morris’s view of socialism and reproduced his 21 April 1884 letter to her, in which he advocated “revolution” as the solution to the modern labor problem. The Century Magazine held this article back for two years, a delay perhaps resulting from Gilder’s political caution, but one that Lazarus blamed on the alleged intervention of the English critic Edmund Gosse, whom she had also met in London. It finally appeared in 1886, accompanied by a portrait drawing of Morris by Lisa Stillman, daughter of the Pre-Raphaelites’ associate, W[illiam]. J[ames]. Stillman, and stepdaughter of the painter and Pre-Raphaelite model, Marie Spartali Stillman.
Samuel Sidney McClure, 1857–1949
Letter to Samuel Sidney McClure, 29 June 1892.
On arriving in London, those who belonged to the American literary scene could usually count on a warm welcome from their British counterparts. Many became sought-after guests, eagerly invited to the homes of even the most famous writers. But there was an exception to this rule: journalists. Anyone associated with the “New Journalism”—the label applied in Britain to work that was superficial, sensational, and focused on personalities—was likely to be admitted most reluctantly, if at all. When S. S. McClure, who was born in Ireland but raised in Indiana, traveled in 1892 from New York City to London, his interest in interviewing celebrities met with a mixed response. From William Morris, in particular, he received a chilly rebuff, as shown in this previously unknown letter. Addressing McClure merely as “Dear Sir,” Morris wrote from Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, “I am going out of town for a week today so we could not meet. But I may as well say at once that I decline all interviewing of any kind whatever; as I have found that the result is misrepresentation of my views unless I take far more trouble in correcting the interviewers’ notes than would suffice for the writing of a serious article of my own. Personally I am sorry to naysay you, but what I do for one I must do for all, and I find that I really must defend myself by making a rule not to be broken.” McClure’s disappointment, however, would have been slight, for he had other strings in his bow. Not only was he already the founder in New York of the profitable McClure Syndicate, which signed up authors and handled the serializing of their work in periodicals, but he was soon to start a new venture in 1894, McClure’s Magazine, which launched the craze for “muckraking” journalism and lasted until 1911.
F. (Fred) Holland Day, 1864–1933
An American Memorial to Keats. [Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1894].
Like the obsession with Pan and Classical Greek myth or the imaginative involvement with Malory’s tales of Arthurian chivalry, the worship of John Keats helped to knit together—across the span of an ocean and the generational divide between the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetes—a whole transatlantic literary community. In “To a Lady, After Hearing Her Read Keats’ Nightingale” (1887), the Canadian poet Charles G. D. Roberts hymned “This supreme song of him who dreamed/All beauty.” But no one identified more closely with this Romantic devotee of the ideal than the writer, photographer, and (with his business partner, Herbert Copeland) publisher from Massachusetts, F. Holland Day. For him, Keats was as powerful (and as erotic) an icon as Jesus Christ, whom Day impersonated in staged photographic images. It was Day, as a collector of Keats’s works and as secretary of the American Memorial Committee, who advanced the plan to commission a bust of Keats by another Boston-based artist, the sculptor Ann Whitney (1821–1915), and to unveil it in Hampstead parish church on 16 July 1894. Equally eager to promote this project and raise support for it in British circles was the Aesthete and critic, Edmund Gosse. At the ceremony, as reported by a correspondent for The Times of London and by Katharine Tynan for the Literary World, the transatlantic star power in attendance was dazzling: Day and Gosse, of course, but also George Moore, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Du Maurier, Coventry Patmore, W. B. Yeats, Louise Chandler Mouton, Israel Zangwill, Aubrey Beardsley, Sarah Grand, and Alice Meynell, among many others (though not Bret Harte, who was originally supposed to play an important role, or Algernon Swinburne, who merely sent a letter that was read at the event.) Even William Morris was involved, agreeing to print at his Kelmscott Press the invitation for the ceremony. Just as Day adored Keats—and also Oscar Wilde whom he had met by accident, as Estelle Jussim notes, in Boston’s South Station in 1882—so he admired William Morris, often copying the look of Kelmscott Press books for the volumes by British, Canadian, and American authors that he issued as a publisher.
Louise Chandler Moulton, 1835–1908
Letter to Theodore Watts-Dunton, 21 March .
Fate seemed to thrust Louise Chandler onto the American cultural scene. Her cousin was the critic and editor E. C. (Edmund Clarence) Stedman, and among her childhood friends in Pomfret, Connecticut was J. M. Whistler. She became a poet, short story writer, novelist, and journalist, and her marriage to William Moulton, the editor and publisher of a literary magazine, placed her at the center of the literary world in Boston, where she made friends with the father of Henry, William, and Alice James. For thirty years, beginning in 1876, she spent her summers in London and achieved her greatest fame as the creator of an unrivaled transatlantic literary salon. Among its regular visitors were the Rossettis, George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, Edmund Gosse, the lesbian aunt-and-niece couple who published as “Michael Field,” Olive Schreiner (the South African feminist and socialist), Alice Meynell (the Catholic poet), and most of the Yellow Book magazine circle. To no one was she closer, however, than the poet Philip Bourke Marston, who went blind in his youth. He made her his literary executor and, after his death in 1887, she loyally produced a volume of his collected poems. In the process, she sought advice from the critic Theodore Watts (later Watts-Dunton), especially as to whether to include a poem to which “Rossetti [had] strongly objected.” She trusted Watts’s judgment, in part, because he lived with Algernon Swinburne, whose poetry (according to her biographer, Lilian Whiting), “had for her a fascination from the start.”
The Collected Poems of Philip Bourke Marston: Comprising “Song-Tide,” “All in All,” “Wind-Voices,” “A Last Harvest,” and “Aftermath,” with Biographical Sketch by Louise Chandler Moulton. London: Ward, Lock, Bowden, 1892.
In the late-nineteenth century, the name of the British author, Philip Bourke Marston, invariably was followed in print by the epithet “the blind poet.” Clearly, his Victorian contemporaries found it astonishing that anyone would have both a disability and talent. Lilian Whiting’s 1910 biography of Louise Chandler Moulton rather patronizingly singled out the latter’s close friendship with Marston as evidence of her unusual sensitivity and her sympathetic nature. But the relationship with him brought the Boston-based writer, who spent part of every year in London cultivating the acquaintance of literary lions, many tangible benefits. Chief among these was access to members of the Rossettis’ circle—such as the poet and editor, William Sharp (who had a second literary identity, as “Fiona Macleod”)—and to his brother-in-law, Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844–1881). After completing her project of collecting Philip Bourke Marston’s poetry, she went on to produce Arthur O’Shaughnessy: His Life and His Work with Selections from His Poems (1894). She also received, on Marston’s death, a priceless bequest of literary correspondence, signed first editions, and manuscripts, including (according to Lilian Whiting) a souvenir of her idol, Algernon Swinburne: part of the “manuscript of the great chorus in ‘Atlanta in Calydon’ corrected in Swinburne’s own hand.”
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This exhibition is associated with the conference, "Useful & Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites," which will be held October 7–9, 2010, at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) and at the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Wilmington, DE).