Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Thomas Bailey Aldrich moved with his father to New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of three. He remained there until age thirteen, when his father's impending death prompted Aldrich's return to New Hampshire and his mother's household (Parker). At age sixteen, Aldrich started working as a clerk for his uncle, Charles Frost: "While working over the books of the firm, his mind was often busy with themes outside of the commission house, all leading towards a literary career" (Hemstreet 218).
Though many details about his early life are in dispute, scholars agree that Arnold was born in New York City and that his father may have been the Reverend George B. Arnold. The family relocated to Illinois and then to Monmouth County, New Jersey where Arnold enjoyed a country upbringing. Though he apprenticed himself to a portrait painter in New York in 1852, Arnold soon determined that literature would be his true calling.
Born in Norwich, England as a farmer's son, Boughton emigrated to Albany, New York with his family at the age of three. At age nineteen, and without the benefit of formal training, he sold his first painting, The Wayfarer , at the American Art Union exhibition. In 1858 he exhibited Winter Twilight at the New York Academy of Design. His influences included Edward May, with whom he studied during a visit to Paris, and Édouard Frère. In 1862 two of Boughton's paintings were exhibited in the British Institution.
Born in Ireland, John Brougham originally pursued a surgical career at the Peter Street Hospital in Dublin. A change in fortune resulted in his decision to move to England and become an actor in 1830. He was associated with London's Tottenham Street Theatre, the Olympic Theatre, and became manager of the London Lyceum in 1840. Brougham produced over 100 works and is remembered for his comedic playwriting and acting.
Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely café life of the city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, drawing a crowd of journalists, 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 (Martin 15-7).
Ada Clare (whose given name was Jane McIlheny) was born in South Carolina. As Thomas Gunn, a contemporary of Clare, describes she "made an attempt – several attempts – to become a tragic actress, but despite any amount of puffery on the part of fellows who knew her (or wanted to know her in a scriptural sense) failed. She had money and aspired for 'fame' only" (Gunn vol. 11, 160). She received a small inheritance upon her parents' deaths, which she used to travel to Paris.
Boston-born Ralph Waldo Emerson lost his father, a Concord minister, when he was eight years old, leaving the family in difficult circumstances. Greatly influenced by his aunt Mary Moody Emerson, who was deeply committed to the Emerson children’s education, Emerson's interest in writing grew. He worked his way through Harvard, graduating as class poet in 1821. After college, Emerson taught at a young ladies’ finishing school and then entered divinity school. Following the death of his first wife, he resigned from the ministry over doctrinal differences and began pursuing a literary career.
William Winter describes Solomon Eytinge, Jr. as "[a] man of original and deeply interesting character, an artist of exceptional facility, possessed of a fine imagination and great warmth of feeling [. . .] In his prime as a draughtsman he was distinguished for the felicity of his invention, the richness of his humor, and the tenderness of his pathos. He had a keen wit and was the soul of kindness and mirth” (Old Friends 317).
Charles Desmarais Gardette was born in Philadelphia in 1830 to an aristocratic family and received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1851 (Rawson). Soon moving from medicine to journalism, he published in the Evening Journal and Record of Philadelphia, as well as the Evening Post of New York. His work includes fiction, poetry, and essays. Like some of his compatriots at Pfaff’s, including Aldrich, Nast, Shanly, and Arnold, Gardette tried his hand at writing for children, publishing the didactic Johnnie Dodge, or, The Freaks and Fortunes of an Idle Boy in 1868.
Born into an anti-slavery family of eight children, Howells aided his family by setting type in his journalist father's printing office. Though he never finished high school, Howells would later receive honorary degrees from six universities as well as the offer of Ivy League professorships. Howells published frequently in the Saturday Press (Belasco 252) and was one of the “foremost writers of fiction” in novel form. Percy Holmes Boynton puts him in the company of such writers as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Walt Whitman in being “scrupulously careful writers” (49).
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, Fitz Hugh Ludlow began sampling various drugs at the age of sixteen. He went to Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he continued to experiment with drugs, especially hashish (Martin 51-2). His most well-known work, The Hasheesh Eater (1857), was written in the tradition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) and was based on his personal experiences under the influence of the drug.
While not much is known about the early life of Edward Mallen, he is remembered as an artist and frequenter of Pfaff's. William Winter identifies "Edward F. Mullen" as one of the artists who frequented Pfaff’s Cave along with Launt Thompson, George Boughton, and Sol Eytinge, Jr. (Old Friends 66, 88). Walt Whitman, a close friend of his, is also quoted as saying that "Mullin" was "among the leaders" at Pfaff’s (Bohan 134; T. Donaldson 208-209).
Adah Menken, an actress "not known for her talent, but rather for her frenetic energy, her charismatic presence, and her willingness to expose herself," was born in a suburb of New Orleans (Richards 192). Adah’s given name was probably Adah Bertha Theodore, but conflicting accounts of her early years and parentage (many generated by herself for publicity purposes) make it difficult to say with certainty.
Born in County Cork and raised primarily in Limerick, Ireland, Fitz-James O'Brien moved to New York City in 1852. Descending from an Anglo-Irish landholding family, O'Brien received his inheritance (estimated at £8000) at about the age of 21. Between 1849 and 1851, it is believed that O'Brien edited a failed literary magazine called The Parlour Magazine of the Literature of All Nations and squandered his inheritance (Wolle 21). Leaving England almost penniless, O'Brien immigrated to America and made the U.S.
Charles Pfaff's obituary in the New York Times characterizes him as the proprietor of the famous Bohemian "chop house" at 647 Broadway that flourished between 1860 and 1875 ("In and About the City," 2). Born in Baden, Switzerland likely in 1819, Pfaff first arrived in New York in the early 1850s "part of a wave of German immigrants" (Blalock; Martin 18). According to scholar Justin Martin, "Herr Pfaff was a round little man with shaggy eyebrows and chubby fingers. His Old World manner and thickly accented English gave him a courtly and discreet air" (18).
Often credited with inspiring the Pfaff's Bohemians, Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the army on May 26, 1827 under the name Edgar A. Perry. He received an appointment to West Point and entered the Military Academy on July 1, 1830 but was later dismissed after neglecting his duties. Poe received his first recognition as a writer in 1833 when he won a prize of $50 in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor for his story, "A MS.
Charles Dawson Shanly emigrated to New York City from Ireland via Canada and was working as the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Public Works in 1857. In New York City during the late 1850s and 1860s, Shanly was productive as a journalist and editor at such publications as Vanity Fair, Mrs. Grundy, the New York Leader, the Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Saturday Press.
Nathaniel Graham Shepherd (also Shepard) was born in New York City and grew up to study poetry there. Little information remains about his early life, but Shepherd was an artistically inclined youth. In pursuit of artistic growth, he moved to Georgia for a number of years to teach drawing. Upon returning to New York, Shepherd made his livelihood in the insurance business while still pursuing poetry in his leisure time.
Born in Connecticut, Stedman’s merchant father died leaving the small child in the care of his mother, maternal grandfather, and lawyer uncle. Stedman’s childhood passed between his grandfather’s New Jersey farm and his uncle’s Connecticut residence. Much of Stedman’s literary education likely came from his mother, who herself was an author of both verse and essay. Stedman’s juvenilia consists of poetry inspired by the Romantics and Tennyson. He attended Yale University but was expelled after a youthful indiscretion.