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 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.
Very little is known about Ada Clifton’s early life before she came to the stage in New York. Ireland places Ada Clifton’s debut on the New York stage in 1855 and labels her as a pupil of Mrs. Maeder (642). We do know that Clifton eventually performed with Laura Keene's company, and alongside Edwin Booth and John Brougham after joining with the company at Burton’s theatre on Broadway (Wingate 213). Clifton did star as Ophelia opposite Edwin Booth in Hamlet and also appeared in the title role of Aladdin beginning July 23, 1860 (Odell Vol.7).
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.
Fitz-Greene Halleck was born in Guilford, Connecticut to a family descended from the earliest Pilgrim Fathers. Halleck completed New England schooling at the age of fourteen, after which he served as a clerk to kinsman Andrew Eliot for six years. Eliot sent him on business to New York in 1808, where he met his future employers Jacob Barker and John Jacob Astor. He could join the Connecticut militia and open an evening school for clerk-related matters before returning to the city in 1811 at the age of twenty-one (Wilson).
Born in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania, Bayard Taylor's ancestors were Quakers with ties to William Penn. Taylor began writing poems as a child and served an apprenticeship at the West Chester Village Record. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, editor of Graham's Magazine, encouraged Taylor to publish his first volume of poetry, Ximena (1844). He traveled to Europe soon after; before leaving, he visited New York and met Nathaniel Parker Willis, a frequenter of Pfaff's and an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe.
Born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adulthood amid the sights and sounds of New York City and its environs. As a young man Whitman worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right. Before committing himself to poetry, Whitman also worked intermittently as a schoolteacher, a carpenter, and a writer of sensational prose fiction.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).