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Clapp, Henry Jr. (1814-1875)

Editor, Journalist, Poet, Reformer, Translator

Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris as a secretary for Albert Brisbane, a wealthy reformer who wanted him to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely cafélife of that city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, to which he brought his own Saturday Press staff, eventually drawing other journalists as well as painters, actors, and poets to cultivate an American Bohemia in which participants admired and discussed the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving. Junius H. Browne notes that "[Clapp] was nearly twice as old as most of his companions; was witty, skeptical, cynical, daring, and had a certain kind of magnetism that drew and held men, though he was neither person nor manner, what would be called attractive" (152). Clapp, sometimes referred to as the "King of Bohemia," was often telling stories and jokes and displaying a facility for word play and puns. Indeed, Pfaff's regular Elihu Vedder recalls that Clapp's verbal ability made up for his lack of physical attractiveness; Vedder calls him the "ugly one of the crowd, and his face was indeed a living attestation of the truth of Darwin's theory... [But it was often said] 'just let old Clapp talk, and he will talk that face off in fifteen minutes'" (Digressions 232). Others may have been more intimidated by Clapp's quick, satirical speech. In "First Impressions of Literary New York," William Dean Howells refers to Clapp as a man of "open and avowed cynicism" (63) and a "certain sardonic power" (65) which he employed "rather fiercely and freely" (65).

Clapp is best known as the tireless editor, instigator, and fundraiser for the Saturday Press, a short-lived but influential literary journal which showcased fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and social commentary by many of Pfaff's bohemians. Howells contends that the Saturday Press "embodied the new literary life of the city" ("First Impressions" 63). Clapp published the first issue on October 23, 1858, changing the title to the New York Saturday Press on December 4, 1858. Within the Press's pages, Clapp made efforts to include works by women writers like Ada Clare. She wrote the weekly column "Thoughts and Things" in which she discoursed upon a range of topics from women's rights to the status of the American theater.

Howells characterizes Clapp as an editor who was "kind to some neglected talents, and befriended them with a vigor and a zeal" ("First Impressions" 65). He includes Whitman in that number, estimating that the poet owed a great debt to the patronage of Clapp. Clapp was dedicated to establishing Walt Whitman's career by continually keeping his work before the public in the pages of the Press. Clapp published eleven of Whitman's poems and printed over twenty reviews of Leaves of Grass in addition to publishing eight poems written as parodies or homages to Whitman's distinct style. Clapp also gave ample advertising space to Thayer and Eldridge, the Boston-based publishing firm that had recently released the third (1860) edition of Leaves of Grass. Clapp remained a tireless champion of Whitman's work; Whitman would later muse that his own history could not be written without including Henry Clapp, Jr.

Unfortunately, the Press did not enjoy the same success as Whitman. On December 15, 1860, as the U.S. Civil War loomed and the Press faced mounting financial problems, Clapp temporarily ceased publication. He resumed it briefly between August 5, 1865 and June 2, 1866 when the paper folded permanently due to financial difficulties. In his declining years, Clapp suffered from a dependence on alcohol and spent time in the Binghamton Inebriate Asylum. When he died, the Daily Graphic entitled his April 16, 1875 obituary "The Late Henry Clapp. A Bohemian's Checkered Life."