Eugene Field, A Study In Heredity And Contradictions
Part 5 out of 5
Last year not more than 2,700 young authors contributed stories to
the Christmas number of the Daily News: this year the number of
contributors reached 6,125.
Hitherto the rivalry between our trade and our literature has been
friendly to a degree. The packer has patronized the poet;
metaphorically speaking, the hog and the epic have lain down together
and wallowed in the same Parnassan pool. The censers that have swung
continually in the temple of the muses have been replenished with
lard oil, and to our grateful olfactories has the joyous Lake breezes
wafted the refreshing odors of sonnets and of slaughter pens
But how long is this sort of thing going to last? It surely cannot be
the millennium. These twin giants will some day--alas, too
soon--learn their powers and be greedy to test them against one
another. A fatal jealousy seems to be inevitable; it may be fended
off, but how?
The world's fair will be likely to precipitate a conflict between the
interests of which we speak. Each interest is already claiming
precedence, and we hear with alarm that less than a week ago one of
our most respected packers threatened to withdraw his support of the
international copyright bill unless the Chicago Literary Society
united in an indorsement of his sugar-cured hams.
When we think of the horrors that will attend and follow a set-to
between Chicago trade and Chicago literature, we are prone to cry
out, in the words of the immortal Moore--not Tom--but Mrs. Julia A.,
_An awful tremor quakes the soul!
And makes the heart to quiver,
While up and down the spine doth roll
A melancholy shiver._
In December, 1895, Edmund Clarence Stedman contributed to the "Souvenir
Book" of the New York Hebrew Fair a charmingly appreciative, yet justly
critical, tribute to Eugene Field, whom he likened to Shakespeare's
Yorick, whose "motley covered the sweetest nature and tenderest heart."
Mr. Stedman there speaks of Field as a "complex American with the
obstreperous _bizarrerie_ of the frontier and the artistic delicacy of
our oldest culture always at odds within him--but he was above all a
child of nature, a frolic incarnate, and just as he would have been in
any time or country." He also tells how Field put their friendship to
one of those tests which sooner or later he applied to all--the test of
linking their names with something utterly ludicrous and impossible,
but published with all the solemn earmarks of verity. It was on the
occasion of Mr. Stedman's visit to Chicago on its invitation to lecture
before the Twentieth Century Club. This gave Field the cue to announce
the coming event in a way to fill the visitor with consternation. About
two weeks before the poet-critic was expected, Field's column contained
the following innocent paragraph:
Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman, the poet, and the foremost of American
critics, is about to visit Chicago. He comes as the guest of the
Twentieth Century Club, and on the evening of Tuesday, the 28th
inst., he will deliver before that discriminating body an address
upon the subject of "Poetry," this address being one of the notable
series which Mr. Stedman prepared for and read before the
undergraduates of Johns Hopkins University last winter. These
discourses are, as we judge from epitomes published in the New York
Tribune, marvels of scholarship and of criticism.
Twenty years have elapsed, as we understand, since Mr. Stedman last
visited Chicago. He will find amazing changes, all in the nature of
improvements. He will be delighted with the beauty of our city and
with the appreciation, the intelligence, and the culture of our
society. But what should and will please him most will be the
cordiality of that reception which Chicago will give him, and the
enthusiasm with which she will entertain this charming prince of
American letters, this eminent poet, this mighty good fellow!
I doubt if Mr. Stedman ever saw this item, which Field merely
inserted, as was his wont, as a prelude to the whimsical announcement
which followed in two days, and which was eagerly copied in the New
York papers in time to make Mr. Stedman cast about for some excuse for
being somewhere else than in Chicago on the 29th of April, 1891. This
second notice is too good an instance of the liberty Field took with
the name of a friend in his delectable vocation of laying "the knotted
lash of sarcasm" about the shoulders of wealth and fashion of Chicago,
not to be quoted in full. It was given with all the precision of
typographical arrangement that is considered proper in printing a
veritable programme of some public procession, in the following terms:
Chicago literary circles are all agog over the prospective visit of
Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman, the eminent poet-critic. At the regular
monthly conclave of the Robert Browning Benevolent and Patriotical
Association of Cook County, night before last, it was resolved to
invite Mr. Stedman to a grand complimentary banquet at the Kinsley's
on Wednesday evening, the 29th. Prof. William Morton Payne, grand
marshal of the parade which is to conduct the famous guest from the
railway station the morning he arrives, tells us that the procession
will be in this order:
Twenty police officers afoot.
The grand marshal, horseback, accompanied by ten male members of the
Twentieth Century Club, also horseback.
Mr. Stedman in a landau drawn by four horses, two black and two white.
The Twentieth Century Club in carriages.
A brass band afoot.
The Robert Browning Club in Frank Parmelee's 'buses.
The Homer Clubs afoot, preceded by a fife-and-drum corps and a real
Greek philosopher attired in a tunic.
Another brass band.
A beautiful young woman playing the guitar, symbolizing Apollo and his
lute in a car drawn by nine milk-white stallions, impersonating the
Two Hundred Chicago poets afoot.
The Chicago Literary Club in carriages.
A splendid gilded chariot bearing Gunther's Shakespeare autograph and
Mr. Ellsworth's first printed book.
Another brass band.
Magnificent advertising car of Armour and Co., illustrating the
progress of civilization.
The Fishbladder Brigade and the Blue Island Avenue Shelley Club.
The fire department.
Another brass band.
Citizens in carriages, afoot and horseback.
Advertising cars and wagons.
The line of march will be an extensive one, taking in the
packing-houses and other notable points. At Mr. Armour's interesting
professional establishment the process of slaughtering will be
illustrated for the delectation of the honored guest, after which an
appropriate poem will be read by Decatur Jones, President of the Lake
View Elite Club. Then Mr. Armour will entertain a select few at a
champagne luncheon in the scalding-room.
In high literary circles it is rumored that the Rev. F.M. Bristol has
got an option on all autographs that Mr. Stedman may write during his
stay in Chicago. Much excitement has been caused by this, and there is
talk of an indignation meeting in Battery D, to be addressed by the
Rev. Flavius Gunsaulus, the Rev. Frank W. Brobst, and other eminent
Small wonder that Mr. Stedman's soul was filled with trepidation as
his train approached Chicago, and that he was greatly relieved as it
rolled into the station to find only a few friends awaiting him; and
among them he quickly singled out Eugene Field, "his sardonic face
agrin like a school-boy's."
Enough has been written and quoted to give the reader a fair idea of
the general character of Eugene Field's daily work and of the spirit
that inspired it. As Mr. Stedman has said, the work of the journeyman
and the real literary artist appeared cheek by jowl in his column. The
best of it has been preserved in his collected works. That given in
this chapter is merely intended to show how he illuminated the
lightest and most ephemeral topics of the day with a literary touch at
once acute and humorous, and certainly unconventional. In the Appendix
to these volumes the reader will find a review of the fictitious
biography of Miss Emma Abbott, the once noted opera singer. It is an
ingenious piece of work and will repay reading as a satire on current
reviewing, besides illustrating the daring liberty Field could take
with anyone whom he reckoned a friend.
The following paragraph, which will serve as a tail-piece to this
chapter, printed May 31st, 1894, shows how the playful raillery which
marked his earlier work in and about Chicago survived to the end:
The oldest house in Chicago stands on the West Side, and was built
in 1839 A.D. The oldest horse in Chicago works for the Lake View
Street-Car Company, and was present at the battle of Marathon 490 B.C.
END OF VOL. I.
Back to Full Books