Wednesday, January 1, 2014

James Huneker

On November 17, 1905, James Gibbons Huneker, America's foremost music critic and probably foremost critic of the arts in general, wrote to Edwin W. Morse, his editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, thanking him for the copy of The House of Mirth, then newly published, that Huneker read straight through in six hours. Huneker felt the book to be very theatrical, and proposed himself to Morse as the man who could turn it into a play:

Much of Lily Bart would evaporate in the hard, dry atmosphere of the theatre but that Jew Rosedale--he would loom up magnificently. I am not sure but that he would be the central figure in the play. He is wonderful. Studied from life and yet a summing up of racial traits and tribal ambitions. He is much more vital and convincing than Selden who, at the close, is a pale prig. However I am not writing a review--only a word of thanks for the pleasure the book has given me. And I am for personal reasons, curious about Mrs. Wharton's plans for a drama. I could knock the novel into an acting play in 3 months; though I fancy she will make her own version.
(Josephine Huneker, ed., Letters of James Gibbons Huneker, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922, p. 47.)

In fact, Clyde Fitch was the one who made it into a play, a process Edith recounts in A Backward Glance.

But Huneker was far from an unalloyed admirer of Edith Wharton. Later he would call her "Edith Glacial Wharton," and compare her quite unfavorably with Dreiser--all a question of red-bloodedness. As for The Age of Innocence? "Pale, prim, proper, anemic."

This is hardly surprising. It would be hard to imagine two more different temperaments than Edith Wharton and James Huneker, she hosting a dinner party on the rue de Varenne, he quaffing a Pilsener (some say he quaffed a dozen a day) among the anarchists (he was not one of them, he just liked their company) at Justus Schwab's saloon on the Lower East Side. 

And they are two of my favorite writers.

In Robin Lynn's and my Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes (W.W. Norton, 2013), we reprint Huneker's marvelous essay "The Lungs," on New York parks, from his 1915 book New Cosmopolis. And Huneker figures prominently in two of my walking tours. Every year, on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the December 16, 1893, premiere, at Carnegie Hall, of Antonin Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, I lead a tour I call, after Josef Škvorecký's wonderful novel, Dvořák in Love, on the Czech composer's life in New York between 1892 and 1895--a life in which Huneker played a major role. More surprisingly, in the tour I lead of Ditmas Park, a neighborhood in the Flatbush part of Brooklyn, I make a point of showing people the apartment building at 1618 Beverly Road, where Huneker and his wife lived from 1912 until his death, in that building, in 1921. 

Apartment building at 1618 Beverly Road, Flatbush, Brooklyn, where James Huneker lived from 1912 to 1921. (Photo used with permission of PropertyShark.)

In 1912, when the Hunekers moved to their rental apartment in Flatbush, Edith had lived for two years at 53 rue de Varenne. By 1921, when James Huneker died in Flatbush, Edith had, in addition to her apartment on the rue de Varenne, Pavillon Colombe and Ste.-Claire Château in Hyères. But Huneker liked it in Brooklyn. He was what Edith was not: a flâneur. She may have liked her motor flights. Huneker didn't drive. He got around--and boy did he get around--by trolley, el, and subway, and mostly on foot. He explored the nooks and crannies of Brooklyn, stopping often along the way for a beer. His "starting point," he wrote in 1915, "for many trips into the wilderness of platitudinous brownstone, brick and mortar, steel and stone," was Fred Schumm's Chop House, at Fulton and Adams Streets, where Shake Shack now is. "To it I always returned when the sun's rays slanted through the broad avenues westward. It is good to have an island of safety, and here is one for the average Brooklynite, not to count the casual transpontine visitor. Another is the old-time oyster and chop house of Gage & Tollner"--remarkable to think that in 1915 Gage & Tollner, which closed in 2004, was already being called "old-time"--across the street from Schumm's. It may not be so hard to imagine the teenage Edith Wharton out gallivanting with Emelyn Washburn, but Huneker was 58 when he made his sorties from Schumm's. (Edith, in 1915, was in war-torn France. Incidentally, Huneker was awarded the French Legion of Honor, for his service in promoting French writers and artists in America, in 1910. Edith Wharton was awarded it in 1917, for her work during wartime.)

James Huneker in 1915.

He liked Brooklyn in part because its homely charms reminded him of his native city. Huneker was born in Philadelphia on January 31, 1857. He was five years older than Edith, and six years younger than Minnie Jones, who was born in the same city and a world apart from Huneker. She came from Society Hill. He was born at 1434 North 7th Street, a desolate place today, but then a prosperous middle-class neighborhood with many Catholics (like the Hunekers) and Jews. He was not born in the lap of luxury, but his family was certainly not poor. In fact, his cultured parents were serious collectors of prints, a circumstance that greatly aided his visual education. In the 1870s he served an apprenticeship in the law. In 1874, his family moved to 1711 Race Street. At that time there was no Benjamin Franklin Parkway cutting through the neighborhood (it was a good 40 years off), but the house stood in the shadow of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, one of the finest buildings in America. In the following year, at the age of 18, he began to study piano, and he began writing about music for the Evening Bulletin. Soon, he would give up the law for the world of music. For three years "I dreamed and yearned," Huneker wrote in his autobiographical Steeplejack (1920), "as only a lad love-sick with art can yearn. Life stretched like a lyric ray of moonlight paving the silvery waters of the future. Nothing seemed impossible. All was permitted. I felt an invincible force within my veins--the swelling sap! Ah! Youth is immortal." In 1878, the law now behind him, he went to Paris where for a year he audited piano classes at the Conservatoire and philosophy classes at the Sorbonne. Between 1879 and 1886 he lived in Philadelphia. In the latter year he moved to New York. He studied piano under the famous Rafael Joseffy (who had been a pupil of Liszt), through whom in 1888 Huneker became an instructor at Jeannette Thurber's National Conservatory of Music in America, the music school, on 17th Street just east of Irving Place (where Washington Irving High School now stands), that had the imprimatur, though not the financial backing, of the United States Congress. Huneker taught at the National Conservatory for ten years, including the years (1892 to 1895) when Antonín Dvořák was its director.

James Huneker, c. 1890, photograph by Napoleon Sarony.

In 1919, on the eve of Prohibition, Huneker wrote "I was entrusted by the President, Jeannette M. Thurber, with the care on his arrival of Dr. Antonin Dvorak" ("Musical Memories: Oscar Hammerstein and Dr. Dvorak," New York Times, August 24, 1919). Mrs. Thurber may have thought of putting Huneker together with Dvořák because they both had bibulous reputations. Huneker took Dvořák out for a night on the town, a tour through the "thirst belt," as Huneker referred to lower Third Avenue. The two men began at Goerwitz's, "across the street from the National Conservatory." It was also known as Scheffel Hall, and its distinctive building, a designated landmark, still stands on Third Avenue just north of 17th Street (not really across the street, but no matter). Alas, the building did not yet sport its present elaborate façade on the 1892 night Huneker and Dvořák went there--though that façade, added two years later, would later be very familiar to Huneker and Dvořák. They then walked down to Gus Lüchow's, on 14th Street--"for a musician not to be seen at Lüchow's argued that he was unknown in the social world of tone." "At each stopping-place Doc Borax"--as Conservatory staff called Dvořák--"absorbed a cocktail or two." As for Huneker, "alcohol I abhor. Therefore I stuck to my usual three-voiced invention of hops, malt, and water." Dvořák knew no English; Huneker no Czech. Therefore they conversed in German: "I rejoiced at meeting a man," Huneker wrote, "whose Teutonic accent, above all whose grammar, was worse than mine." After Dvořák had had nineteen cocktails, "maybe more," Huneker suggested they get something to eat. Dvořák would not hear of it, instead insisting that Huneker drink some slivovitz--"It makes warm after beer." At that point, Huneker knew he could no longer keep up, and left Old Borax--"He could drink as much spirits as I could beer, and never turn a hair"--to his own devices.

Huneker related his story of a night out with Dvořák (whose music, by the way, Huneker never especially cared for) for one reason: "Next year the nation will be put in cotton-wool and its feeble will coddled by noble precepts and winning words from mouths smoking with fiery wisdom." (Shortly after Prohibition began, federal agents raided Fred Schumm's Chop House.)

Huneker wrote for many publications, with his most notable association being with the New York Sun, for whom for a dozen or so years he wrote music, drama, and art criticism and reviewed books. He was as versatile a writer on the arts as his generation produced. In addition to the Evening Bulletin and the Sun, Huneker wrote for The Etude (a once famous music magazine), the New York Times, Puck, the Bookman, Scribners, the Smart Set, and the New York World, among other publications. His first of 22 books was Mezzotints in Modern Music (Internet Archive), published in 1899. (Huneker's piano teacher in Philadelphia, Michael Cross, was a friend of Huneker's father and, like him, a collector of prints.) Arguably Huneker's best-known book is Chopin: The Man and His Music (Project Gutenberg), published in 1900. 

In 1987, the music critic Samuel Lipman, then the publisher of the New Criterion, wrote in that magazine of his childhood as a piano prodigy, in California in the 1940s, and of his boredom as his strict teacher drilled him in the works of Chopin.

But wait. As the child stared sadly at the music before him, he found something more in those assorted yellow-bound volumes published by G. Schirmer than mere notes, the uninvited causes of his labors; there were words, too, enchanting descriptions of the Polish composer’s music. Indeed, the greatness and romance the child could hardly find emerging from his own exertions he found in the words the kind publisher had provided….the writer of the delicious and educative words that caused my time to move so profitably was James Huneker.

A very different writer from Samuel Lipman, the computer and cognitive scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter, wrote in his book I Am a Strange Loop (2007),

In my teens and twenties, I played a lot of Chopin on the piano, often out of the bright yellow editions published by G. Schirmer in New York City. Each of those volumes opened with an essay penned in the early 1900s by the American critic James Huneker. Today, many people would find Huneker's prose overblown, but I did not; its unrestrained emotionality resonated with my perception of Chopin's music, and I still love his style of writing and his rich metaphors.

Hofstadter recalls how he was struck by what Huneker wrote about one of Chopin's études (the eleventh, "Winter Wind," in opus 25, in A minor): "Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it." This sets Hofstadter off on one of his characteristic thought experiments. If there are large-souled and small-souled men and women, then one's ensouledness is quantifiable. Hofstadter humorously suggests that we measure the size of souls in units called "hunekers."

Samuel Lipman wrote: "Unlike his music-critic colleagues (and friends) H.E. Krehbiel, Richard Aldrich, and Lawrence Gilman, Huneker was an exciting writer. In this day of the increasing penetration of criticism--especially music criticism--by the academy, Huneker’s work strikes me as possessing, and conveying, the golden value of artistic involvement. In the best sense, his style was always oriented to action, leading the reader toward ever more vital thought about and experience of art."

One of his last books, published in 1920, was his only novel, the remarkable Painted Veils (Internet Archive), a roman à clef about the soprano Mary Garden, of whom he also wrote in the same year in his nonfictional book Bedouins (Internet Archive). Mary Garden may be a model for Eden Bower in Willa Cather's great story "Coming, Aphrodite!" which was also published in 1920. (That, of course, was also the year Edith Wharton showed us Christine Nilsson on stage at the Academy of Music in Faust.)

On February 13, 1921, Huneker's funeral service took place, not in a church (he had long abandoned his parents' devout Catholicism), but in Town Hall, on 43rd Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. The 1,500-seat Town Hall, which had been built by the League for Political Education, which had advocated for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, had, on the day of the funeral service, been open for exactly one month and one day. For the service, the hall was filled to capacity. The service took place four days after Huneker died of pneumonia nine days after his 64th birthday. At the close, a string quartet played Schumann's Träumerei, "associated," said the Times, "with the early days of the Thomas Orchestra, when Huneker first wrote of music in New York." His widow Josephine, to whom he had been married for the last 21 years, was there, as was his son and only child, Erik, from his second of three marriages (he was twice divorced). The honorary pallbearers included the Metropolitan Opera general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the conductor Artur Bodanzky, the music historian Henry T. Finck, the theatrical impresario David Belasco, and, yes, Gus Lüchow. Mary Garden was there. Huneker's eulogists were the music critic Henry Krehbiel, the actor Francis Wilson, the lawyer and art collector John Quinn, and the lawyer George Wickersham.

Huneker's best friend from Philadelphia days was George Woodward Wickersham, who remained a lifelong friend. Wickersham and Huneker were law students together. But where Huneker gave up the law for the arts, Wickersham became a partner in one of New York's most prestigious firms, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. (Wickersham joined the firm in 1883, when it was called Strong & Cadwalader.) The first-named partner was John Lambert Cadwalader, granduncle of Mary Cadwalader Jones and a good friend of Edith Wharton--one of the vanishing American gentlemen of whom she wrote in A Backward Glance. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft originated in 1792 as the law firm of John Wells. In 1818 it became Strong & Wells when Wells entered into partnership with George Washington Strong whose son, the great diarist George Templeton Strong (a Columbia College classmate of George Frederic Jones) served as a partner in the firm between 1845 and 1872. John Cadwalader joined in 1878, and Henry W. Taft (the brother of President William Howard Taft) in 1899. (The present name dates from 1914.) (John Cadwalader played a critical role in the formation of the New York Public Library.)

Wickersham was one of America's top corporation lawyers--indeed, it may even be said that he was one of America's most powerful men. In 1909, President Taft named Wickersham Attorney General of the United States. His vigorous enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act made him an enemy of many business leaders who when he was in private practice had counted on him as a friend. (It's also said it helped unelect Taft.)

Wickersham died in 1936 at the age of 77. (He was one year younger than Huneker.) His funeral took place at St. George's Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square. The baritone soloist in St. George's choir, Harry T. Burleigh, had sung there since 1894, or since two years after the African-American singer from Erie, Pennsylvania, had won a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music. The Conservatory jury that awarded Burleigh his scholarship included James Huneker.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer

Speaking of women of parts, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer lived for 25 years right around the corner from Church of the Ascension, one short block down Fifth Avenue from Minnie Jones, at 9 West 10th Street. The house was built in 1847, but sometime in the 20th century was remodeled in such a way that none of its original character remains, nor, we presume, any of its character from the years when Mrs. Van Rensselaer lived there.

9 West 10th Street
(Photo by Kate Leonova, with the permission of PropertyShark.)

Mariana Griswold was born in New York City on February 25, 1851. She was two months younger than Mary Cadwalader Rawle of Philadelphia. Mariana died, at 9 West 10th Street, on January 20, 1934, a year and nine months before Minnie. They had similarly patrician backgrounds. Mariana's father was George Griswold, of one of the prosperous South Street mercantile families that was involved in the China trade and that once dominated New York society. He was also an early member of the Republican Party. His parents, and Mariana's mother's parents, the Alleys, lived on Washington Square North in the very years--the 1840s--Henry James describes in Washington Square.

As a girl, Mariana visited the Newport house of her father's brother, J.N.A. Griswold, who moved to Newport in 1863 and in that year built a house designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The Griswold house, on Bellevue Avenue, is one of the most delightful houses in Newport. Though we associate Hunt with the splendiferous "cottages" of the 1890s, like The Breakers, the Griswold house belongs--like the Joneses' Pencraig--to an earlier, more rustic Newport, when the houses really were more cottage-like. That said, the English half-timbered style of the Griswold house was actually something Hunt brought back with him from the École des Beaux-Arts. In France, Hunt had lived through a period of Anglomania, which included a vogue for English-style seaside cottages. J.N.A. Griswold died in 1909, leaving an estate of $25 million (Washington Post, September 24, 1909).

Richard Morris Hunt, J.N.A. Griswold House, Newport, R.I., 1863.
Hermione Lee, in her biography of Edith Wharton, writes:
Wharton's thinking about American taste was anticipated by another influential, pioneering upper-class American woman, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer. She belonged to Wharton's social group: a distant relation of Walter Berry's by her marriage to Schuyler van [sic] Rensselaer, a close friend of Minnie Jones and of one of Wharton's publishers, Richard [Watson] Gilder (who had a farmhouse at Tyringham, near The Mount, where Van Rensselaer was often a guest).
Mariana was educated at home (and what at-home educations these girls received!) until she was 17, when she went with her family to live in Dresden. The Griswolds' last New York residence before their move abroad was 91 Fifth Avenue, at 17th Street, in a house no longer standing, a block south of the home (no longer standing) of August Belmont, on whom Edith Wharton modeled Julius Beaufort at whose home the ballroom scene near the beginning of The Age of Innocence takes place. The Griswolds remained in Dresden for five years. That means that Mariana's time in Europe, and her time in Germany, overlapped with that of the Joneses'. (The Joneses were in Europe from 1866 to 1872; Mariana Griswold from 1868 to 1873. The Joneses, who were in the Black Forest in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, did not go to Dresden during this time.) Americans lived abroad in those years both because they wished to see the world (this was, Edith wrote in A Backward Glance, especially true of New Yorkers, significantly less true of New Englanders), and because it was cheaper (always a consideration to those living on carefully husbanded hereditary fortunes, or whose hereditary businesses met untimely ends, as when the Griswolds' shipping business declined after the Civil War). Dresden was, at this time, a popular expatriate resort, so it's not unusual to find the Griswolds camping out there. A young American whose time in Dresden overlapped with Mariana's was John Singer Sargent, who was five years younger than she, and it is probable that in the tight expatriate community they knew each other there or at least knew of each other. (Half a century earlier, Washington Irving lived in Dresden. Edith Wharton's parents went to Dresden on their European trip of 1847-48, and Edith herself would visit the Saxon city and its art treasures in 1913 with Bernard Berenson as her guide.) In fact, Mariana's father remained in Dresden until his death in 1884. It was in Germany that Mariana married the mining engineer Schuyler Van Rensselaer, a direct descendant of the Albany patroons, in 1873. (He had gone to Saxony to study at the Mining Academy of Freiburg.) Mariana and Schuyler then lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey, until his death in 1884. They had one child, a son, George, who died, from tuberculosis, in 1894, while a student at Harvard. (Father, son, and mother are all buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.)

From the time of her husband's death, Mariana lived in New York City. She had begun writing art criticism in 1876, when she was 25. From 1876 to 1887 she wrote for American Architect and Building News. By the end of the century she was writing regularly on art, architecture, and landscape gardening. She wrote for many years for Richard Watson Gilder's Century. In 1888, she began writing for Garden and Forest, published by Charles Sprague Sargent's Arnold Arboretum. Also in 1888, her still-cited book Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works was published. It was, by any measure, the most significant monograph on an American architect that had ever been written, and the most significant monograph on an architect ever written by an American. (Richardson had died in 1886.)

As though 1888 was not already momentous enough, in that year Mariana's friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens fashioned a low-relief bronze portrait in profile, 21 inches high, of Mariana. (In 1923 she sent the original to Harvard's Fogg Museum. She had given a later casting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1917.)

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, portrait of Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, 1888.

In 1892, English Cathedrals came out, based on a series of articles she had written over a period of several years for the Century.

Charles Scribner's Sons, in the year--1893--that they moved into their new building, designed by Ernest Flagg, on Fifth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets, published Mariana's Art Out-of-Doors: Hints on Good Taste in Gardening, a book in its way as important as that other Scribner's title of four years later, The Decoration of Houses. When Mrs. Van Rensselaer cites "breadth, repose, simplicity, and fitness" as the aims to be sought in landscape design, she sounds very much like Codman and Wharton.

(The cover of the original 1893 edition of Art Out-of-Doors was designed by another woman of parts, Margaret Armstrong, who in addition to being an influential book designer was a famed botanical illustrator, expert on wildflowers, and biographer of Fanny Kemble. She was also the daughter of the stained glass artist and mosaicist D. Maitland Armstrong, and grew up in a house, still standing, at 58 West 10th Street. Life in that highly cultured, eccentric household is recounted in the charming memoir Those Days [1963] by Margaret's brother, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, editor of Foreign Affairs.)

Mariana had so much in common with Edith Wharton: the old-money background, the at-home education, the European sojourn, the marriage to a man from a socially prominent family, and even many friends. Yet Mariana seems not to have endured Edith's "wilderness years," those many years between her promising youth and her arrival as a writer. Mariana established herself in the public prints at a much younger age than Edith did, and seems to have done so in a fairly untroubled way--none of the hand-wringing about how this was not what she was brought up to do. Surely there were family differences that affected this, and differences between Schuyler Van Rensselaer and Teddy Wharton that affected this. In many respects, Mariana seems temperamentally closer to Minnie Jones than to Edith, as for example in Mariana's and Minnie's vigorous work on behalf of social causes.

It has been said that Mariana never, in her remaining forty years, recovered from the death of her son, who was also her close companion. In any event, it was right around this time that her attention moved away from art and architecture. In the late nineties she threw herelf into settlement house work (she headed the women's auxiliary and taught a course on Egyptian archaeology at University Settlement on Rivington Street) and public-school advocacy. She also wrote fiction: In 1897 Scribner's published her story collection One Man Who Was Content in the same year that they published The Decoration of Houses. Intriguingly, she also got caught up in the suffrage movement--but as an anti-suffragist (a topic for another time). Then, after the turn of the century, she began working on her two-volume History of the City of New York in the Seventeenth Century, published in 1909.

Like the Richardson monograph, the History was a pioneering work that is still consulted today. It was right at the time of the publication of the History that she moved to 9 West 10th Street. Her dear friend Richard Watson Gilder spent his final illness and died under Mariana's roof, as he had taken ill just as his family was moving house and he needed to be in a more settled environment. In 1910, largely because of the History, Columbia awarded her an honorary doctorate, just as, thirteen years later, Yale would confer an honorary doctorate upon Edith Wharton.

The architectural historian David Gebhard edited a volume of Mrs. Van Rensselaer's writings, Accents as Well as Broad Effects: Writings on Architecture, Landscape, and the Environment, 1876-1925, published by the University of California Press in 1996. It includes an essay cited by Hermione Lee as an example of the mutually congenial aesthetic sensibilities of Van Rensselaer and Edith Wharton. Mariana wrote that the home of William Kissam Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva, on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, was "the most beautiful house in New York."

Richard Morris Hunt, William Kissam Vanderbilt House, 660 Fifth Avenue, 1878-82.

She was not alone. This is the house of which Charles Follen McKim once said, "I can sleep better knowing it's there." (I doubt he'd have felt the same about the site's current occupant, one of the 1,671 [according to Wikipedia] Zara stores in the world, although, to be fair, it is the one known as the "Fifth Avenue flagship store".) "We may," wrote Mrs. Van Rensselaer,
pick little faults in this building if we will. We may say--and the more we admire it the more apt we are to say, I think--that it would be better as a country than as a city house....We may feel...that since it is a city house its ornamentation is rather too profuse and delicate. But it is so skillfully applied and so charmingly executed; is so architectural in spite of its delicacy, that we have not the heart to wish it altered. Indeed, I think we may greatly rejoice in this sumptuous accumulation of beauty; for, while it is necessary that the virtues and possibilities of simplicity should be preached, it is well to be reminded occasionally that they are not the only virtues or the finest possibilities. It is well that we should see that the richest elaboration need not be ostentatious, much less vulgar; that lavish art may be as refined as modest art; that excess means wrong work, not always much work.
(Hermione Lee cites that passage.) Mrs. Van Rensselaer went on: "If we examine the decoration closely, moreover, we shall see how great an improvement we have made in manual skill. What would have been the use had Mr. Hunt designed such work even a dozen years ago? Can we think with tolerance of how it then have been translated into stone?" Indeed, even today the story of how New York got good at stone carving (hint: immigration had something to do with it) has yet to be told comprehensively.

Richard Morris Hunt, architect of the Vanderbilt house, carried the Loire Valley home in his luggage from the École des Beaux-Arts, just as he had brought home the seaside villas of Normandy when he designed J.N.A. Griswold's Newport house twenty years before.

And I love this: "Stucco is not intrinsically immoral. English stucco is bad because utterly hideous, while Venetian stucco was admirable because more beautiful than stone or marble. Surely it was as artistic as a wall where every brick may be counted in unmitigated sincerity of shape and color."

Like Edith Wharton's, Mrs. Van Rensselaer's was a completely modern sensibility. She sought the fresh, the unhackneyed, the colloquial, the uncluttered, the unupholstered, and valued suitability, breadth, and repose. But never did she confuse the simple for the simplistic, the reposeful for the dull, the elegant for the austere. She shared a sensibility with another great architecture critic of her time, Montgomery Schuyler (1843-1914). But dare I say that Mrs. Van Rensselaer's writings, though they did not seem as convincing as Schuyler's when read at the high tide of high modernism (at least not to Lewis Mumford and Henry-Russell Hitchcock), today feel more sound?

A new book by the the landscape historian Judith K. Major, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer: A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age, is due in March 2013 from University of Virginia Press. This will be the first book ever about Mrs. Van Rensselaer. I will be reviewing it for Traditional Building magazine, and will point to the review when it appears. In addition, two very fine doctoral dissertations about Mrs. Van Rensselaer have been written, one by Cynthia Kinnard at Johns Hopkins in 1977, and one by Lois Dinnerstein at City University of New York in 1979. Most of what I know about Mrs. Van Rensselaer comes from these dissertations, which can be downloaded through the ProQuest service if you are lucky enough to have access to it. David Gebhard's introductory essay in Accents as Well as Broad Effects is long and excellent. Judith K. Major wrote the biography of Mrs. Van Rensselaer that appears at the indispensable Cultural Landscape Foundation web site.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

She Was Brilliant with Them

Mary Cadwalader Rawle, of Philadelphia, married Frederic Rhinelander Jones, of New York, on Thursday, March 24, 1870. Freddy's immediate family did not attend the wedding. They were, at the time, living in Paris. Minnie, as Mary was known, first met eight-year-old Edith in Paris, and immediately became as an older sister to her. Freddy and Minnie's only child, Beatrix Cadwalader Jones, was born on June 19, 1872. A plaque on the outside of 21 East 11th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue, identifies the handsome, but understated, Greek Revival row house as the birthplace of Beatrix.

21 East 11th Street, built in 1848.
(Photograph by Nicholas Strini, courtesy of PropertyShark.)

In 1895, after having studied at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and traveled in Italy and England, Beatrix set up a landscape gardening office in a room in the house. And it was in this house that, on December 17, 1913, 41-year-old Beatrix married a 44-year-old Yale professor and historian named Max Farrand. Their reception took place in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Duncan at 3 East 75th Street (1902-04, C.P.H. Gilbert). (The house was next door to the home of Edward S. Harkness, 1 East 75th Street, which would, in 1952, become the headquarters of the Commonwealth Fund, founded by Harkness in 1918 and the first director of which was Max Farrand.) By the time of her marriage, Beatrix was well established in her landscape gardening career, but she is famous today under her married name, Beatrix Farrand. Max and Beatrix led what seems a charmed life together, dividing their time between her mother's Reef Point Estate in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Montecito, in Santa Barbara County, California, where in 1927 Max became the director of the Huntington Library--and where Beatrix designed the library's landscape setting. Beatrix, by the way, got her love and much of her knowledge of gardening from her father's side of the family, not least from Edith's mother, Lucretia, an avid gardener at the family's Pencraig estate in Newport. As for Beatrix's mother, "Her inability to identify even the simplest flowers sometimes amused friends and relatives," according to Cynthia Zaitzevsky in her excellent 2009 book Long Island Landscapes and the Women Who Designed Them.

Her ignorance of flowers notwithstanding, Mary Cadwalader Jones was a woman of parts. She and Edith's brother Freddy were divorced in 1896, but had lived apart for five years. Yet Minnie and Edith remained the closest of friends. Minnie lived at 21 East 11th Street until her death in 1935--65 years in the same house. She was descended from two prominent old Philadelphia families, the Rawles and the Cadwaladers, and was born in the landmark Powel House, a beautiful 1765 house at 244 South 3rd Street.

Powel House, 1765, 244 South 3rd Street, Philadelphia.
(By See below (Wiki Takes Philadelphia) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Minnie was born in 1850. In her memoir of her Philadelphia girlhood, Lantern Slides, which was posthumously printed by the great Merrymount Press in 1937, Minnie recalled both the quiet charms of 19th-century Society Hill as well as the remarkable men she met as a result of her father's--William Henry Rawle's--career as a prominent lawyer. (Rawle & Henderson, founded by Minnie's great-grandfather in 1783, is today the oldest existing law firm in America.) Joseph Bonaparte was a house guest. So, too, was William Makepeace Thackeray--merely the first of several great novelists whom Minnie would call friend. In 1862, the year of Edith Wharton's birth, Minnie accompanied her widowed father to Washington, where she met President Lincoln. "I only noticed that Mr. Lincoln was very tall, that he spoke with an accent unfamiliar to me, and that his clothes fitted him badly; they were much too loose and his trousers bagged at the knees." In his review of Lantern Slides in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (April 1938), Boies Penrose (the son of Senator Penrose) wrote, "her delineation of Philadelphia in the Civil War period is as vivid as Henry Adams' picture of the Boston of the same day in his Education." Adams and Minnie, incidentally, were friends. Lantern Slides appeared in the year of Edith Wharton's death. Edith had agreed to write a foreword to the book, but was too ill to do so.

William Oliver Stone, portrait of Mary Cadwalader Rawle, 1868. (From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

On East 11th Street Minnie maintained a kind of salon, entertaining artistic and literary luminaries of the day, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, and the novelist Francis Marion Crawford. Another attendee was John LaFarge, Henry Adams's close friend whose magnificent Ascension mural was painted in situ right around the corner at the Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, in 1888, eighteen years after the Joneses moved to 11th Street. In 1913, three years after LaFarge's death, Minnie arranged the publication (by Macmillan) of, and wrote the preface to, LaFarge's unfinished book The Gospel Story in Art. (Google Books has a copy bearing the book plate of the art historian Paul J. Sachs.) It was before LaFarge's great mural that Minnie's memorial service was held at the Church of the Ascension on what would have been her 85th birthday, December 12, 1935.

John LaFarge, Ascension mural, Church of the Ascension, 1888.
(John LaFarge [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.)

Macmillan had published, in 1900, Minnie's book European Travel for Women, a still highly readable and entertaining book. She was also known in her lifetime for her service to the field of nursing and advocacy of nursing education. As chairman of the Advisory Board of the New York City Training School for Nurses, she administered a modified version of the Hippocratic Oath to graduating nurses--she was the first, indeed, to recognize that nurses, as well as physicians, should take a version of the Oath. She also wrote a fine essay on the history and meaning of the Oath in the American Journal of Nursing (January 1909).

Not least, Minnie befriended Henry James. They first met in New York in March 1883, at a dinner party held by E.L. Godkin, editor of the New York Evening Post. That July, James visited Minnie in Bar Harbor. Minnie believed, in her own words, "that the most natural friendships are those between men and women. Probably my upbringing had something to do with this conviction, but throughout my life my intimate friends, with few exceptions, have been men, and I have found that if they are treated fairly, as decent men treat each other, and not tricked or used, as they so often are by women, they 'respond to treatment,' as the medical jargon has it, admirably." In 1911, James announced that Minnie and the novelist Howard Sturgis "are my best friends." James twice, on his last two visits to America (1904-05 and 1910-11), stayed in the 11th Street house. (On both visits James also stayed with the Whartons at The Mount.)

And Edith spent her last night in America, in 1923, when she had come to accept an honorary doctorate from Yale, under Minnie's roof on East 11th Street.

Minnie died, from pneumonia, in London on September 22, 1935, on her way back to New York after having spent part of the summer with Edith at Pavillon Colombe, outside of Paris. She was 84 years old. She is buried in the Aldbury churchyard in Hertfordshire--"like me," Hermione Lee quotes Edith saying to Bernard Berenson, "she had a horror of dead bodies carried from one end of the world to the other." At her memorial service nearly three months later, at Church of the Ascension, the art critic Royal Cortissoz eulogized Minnie. He spoke of the brilliant writers and artists she had known--Theodore Roosevelt, Henry James, John LaFarge. (Minnie's correspondence, preserved at Beinecke Library at Yale, also includes letters from Grover Cleveland, Nikola Tesla, and H.G. Wells.) "And," said Cortissoz, "she was brilliant with them."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trinity Chapel

"Mrs. George Frederic Jones requests the honor of your presence at the marriage of her daughter to Mr. Edward R. Wharton, at Trinity Chapel, on Wednesday April Twenty-ninth at twelve o'clock."

Her apparently nameless daughter!

The Times corrected the oversight:

New York Times, April 30, 1885.

Edith Newbold Jones, of 28 West 25th Street, was 23 years old. 

Trinity Chapel was dedicated in 1855, thirty years to the month before the Jones-Wharton wedding. 

New York Times, April 20, 1855.

The chapel was designed by Richard Upjohn, who had designed the mother church, Trinity Church, at Broadway and Wall Street.

John William Hill, "Chancel of Trinity Chapel, New York," 1856 (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Richard Upjohn, Trinity Chapel (now Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava), 1855 .
(By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Of greater architectural note than the church is its parish school, next door to the east. Built in 1860, the school was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould, designer or co-designer of many structures in Central Park, including Bethesda Terrace and the original building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mould's Trinity Chapel School was, according to the architectural historian David Van Zanten, "the first canonical Ruskinian High Victorian building erected in the United States" (Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, March 1969, p. 45). 

Wurts Bros. West 25th Street. Trinity School. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Building from 1860, photo from c. 1912.

Mould, like Upjohn before him, had come to New York from his native England (Mould from London, Upjohn from Dorset). In the words of David Van Zanten, Mould was "the closest thing to a bohemian, many-talented artist New York possessed during the 1850s and 1860s." Mould had come to New York specifically to design All Souls Unitarian Church (the "Church of the Holy Zebra," demolished), on Park Avenue South and 20th Street, in 1855. His extravagant decoration, based entirely on forms from nature, of Bethesda Terrace owes a debt to the 14th-century Italian sculptor Andrea Pisano. Mould also knew Dante Gabriel Rossetti (whose House of Life Newland Archer cherishes) in England, and may himself be thought of as, in a sense, a "pre-Raphaelite." Indeed, one of Mould's champions was James Jackson Jarves, said to be one of the models for Lewis Raycie in False Dawn.

Upjohn and Mould both represent stages in the Gothic Revival in New York. Gothic architecture and Gothic decor struck a dominant chord in the High Victorian era. In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer, after dining with his mother and sister, "lingered afterward over a cigar in the Gothic library with glazed black-walnut bookcases and finial-topped chairs which was the only room in the house where Mrs. Archer allowed smoking." We may see by that "Gothic library" that the revolution in taste announced by John Ruskin (whom Edith read as a girl while visiting Italy), and by Lewis Raycie, in the 1840s of False Dawn had, by the 1870s of The Age of Innocence, been completed.

George Templeton Strong called Jacob Wrey Mould "that ugly and uncouth but very clever J. Wrey Mould, architect and universal genius."
In The Age of Innocence, Newland and Ellen rendezvous at "the Art Museum--in the Park."
Avoiding the popular "Wolfe collection," whose anecdotic canvases filled one of the main galleries of the queer wilderness of cast-iron and encaustic tiles known as the Metropolitan Museum, they had wandered down a passage to the room where the "Cesnola antiquities" mouldered in unvisited loneliness.
That's Calvert Vaux's and Jacob Wrey Mould's museum that they are in. It opened in 1880. In the novel it's still presumably the 1870s, but Edith seems rather purposely to confuse chronology. (A portion of the original building, by the way, is visible inside the Lehman Wing.) There's one other thing about that passage that strikes me: the word "mouldered." I can't imagine Edith was thinking of Mould. But note that "mouldered" is pronounced with a long o. Mould is how the British spell mold. Yet people persist in pronouncing Jacob Wrey Mould's surname as though it rhymed with spooled. One person said to me it should be pronounced like Gould. (Well, Chicago Bears placekicker Robbie Gould pronounces his surname as Gold.) I just don't imagine that's so, and I advise people to say his name with the long o.

Back to Edith and Teddy. Their wedding was small and simple. Yet, weddings at their level of society were, in those days, seldom small and simple. Compare their Trinity Chapel wedding, in which Edith had no bridesmaids, to the wedding of Newland Archer and May Welland, which took place at Grace Church and featured eight bridesmaids. Edith had been baptized at Grace Church, and to follow form should have been married there as well. The low-key nature of the nuptials probably had to do with Edith's earlier engagement to Harry Stevens, and how Town Topics had trumpeted the breaking off of that engagement.

Still, that Edith's and Teddy's wedding was a serious social affair is attested to by the fact that the Reverend Dr. Morgan Dix, the famous rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, presided over it.


In her column in the Chicago Tribune of April 29, 1888, the anonymous "Tell-Tale Sister" discussed Senator Roscoe Conkling's "power of fascinating women, which was as strong a quality of his nature as any of those for which he was widely known."
I know two women who are almost frantic at Roscoe Conkling's death, and they are both married. Now, I don't mean to say he was responsible for this, but there was a something about the man that women could not resist. I  heard a young, beautiful girl  declare last summer that a thrill ran through her if Mr. Conkling only passed her in the hotel corridor.
And: "He was the first man I ever saw have his fingernails manicured."

It is said that Conkling died as a result of "exposure" suffered when he attempted to walk from his office, on Wall Street, to the New-York Club, on the northeast corner of Broadway and 25th Street, during the Great Blizzard of March 12, 1888. Conkling kept his city residence at the southwest corner of Broadway and 25th, in the Hoffman House. The Hoffman House stood from 1877 to 1915. Conkling died in his suite there on April 18. That was more than a month after the blizzard, and he had taken ill only a couple of weeks before his death. I wonder how people can be so sure that the blizzard killed him, but Conkling is regularly referred to as the blizzard's most famous victim. He was 58 years old at the time of his death, and still an outstanding physical specimen, as the ladies' attentions may attest.

He had two funerals. The first was at Trinity Chapel, just across 25th Street from the Hoffman House, on April 20, 1888, three years to the month after the wedding of Edith and Teddy Wharton. Because Conkling had been one of the most powerful senators in America, grandees filled the chapel. Conkling's pallbearers included New York City mayor Abram S. Hewitt, and Senator Don Cameron, of Pennsylvania, whose wife, Elizabeth Sherman, Edith's close contemporary, was an intimate friend of Henry Adams. (Hewitt, wrote Adams in his Education, was "the best equipped, the most active-minded, and most industrious" congressman in Washington. Hewitt served in Congress for twelve years before becoming mayor of New York City. For all the Henry Adams connections at the funeral, it is well to point out that Conkling pretty much summed up everything that repelled Adams in the national life of America.) Boss Thomas Collier Platt (whose "Amen Corner" had been just around the corner at the Fifth Avenue Hotel) was there, and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, and several other Grants. (U.S. Grant had died in 1885.)

And who officiated? None other than the Reverend Dr. Morgan Dix.

After the service, Conkling's body boarded a train at Grand Central Depot, at 42nd Street, and moved on to the second funeral, in Utica, where he lived when he was not in New York City on business, and where he was buried.

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Nymphs and Satyr, 1873

If there's one thing New York history buffs know about the Hoffman House, it's that its bar was adorned with a scandalous painting entitled Nymphs and Satyr by the French artist Adolphe-William Bouguereau. Painted in 1873, it was installed in the Hoffman House in 1882, and so was there when Edith and Teddy got married, and when Conkling's funeral took place. Today the painting is in the Clark Art Institute of Williams College, in Williamstown, Mass.

In 1893, John Quincy Adams Ward's statue of Conkling was dedicated in Madison Square. It stands near the southeast corner of the square, near Shake Shack. It's quite a beautiful statue, fully conveying Conkling's physical attractiveness.

John Quincy Adams Ward, statue of Roscoe Conkling, 1893.