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 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.
Born in Albany, Abraham Oakey Hall lost his father to yellow fever at the age of three and entered the public school system. He excelled in journalism from an early age, and his earnings from contributions to various periodicals helped him pay for his education at the University of the City of New York. By 1844 Oakey had received a B. A. and an M. A., followed by a semester of study at Harvard Law School. His studies at Harvard were cut short, possibly due to a lack of money, and he went to work at Charles W. Sanford’s New York City law office (Carman).
George Jones was born in London in 1810 and immigrated to Boston at the age of six. He made his first appearance on stage in 1828 at Boston’s Federal Street Theatre, and became manager of the Marshall Theatre in Richmond in 1839. That same year, Jones’ first wife Melinda gave birth to Avonia, who would become a popular actress. “In 1833 he was installed Count of Sertorli of the Holy Roman Empire, of the First Commander of the Imperial Order of Golden Knight and Count Palatine, and thereafter always wore in public the insignia of his knighthood” (“Queries and Answers”).
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).
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).
A graduate of the University of New York Medical School, Dr. Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa worked at Broadway Hospital in New York City, the same hospital Walt Whitman occasionally visited to comfort the sick and wounded among his working-class friends during the 1850s and early 1860s. Roosa recalls that "[n]o one could see him [Whitman] sitting by the bedside of a suffering stage driver without soon learning that he had a sincere and profound sympathy for this order of men" (Roosa 30).
Walt Whitman mentions Stanley as one of the people who frequented Pfaff’s: “Our host himself, an old friend of mine, quickly appear’d on the scene to welcome me and bring up the news, and, first opening a big fat bottle of the best wine in the cellar, talk about ante-bellum times, ’59 and ’60, and the jovial suppers at his then Broadway place, near Bleecker street. Ah, the friends and names and frequenters, those times, that place. Most are dead--Ada Clare, Wilkins, Daisy Sheppard, O’Brien, Henry Clapp, Stanley, Mullin, Wood, Brougham, Arnold--all gone.
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.
Richard Henry Stoddard's early years were rather Dickensian. After his sea-captain father was lost at sea, Stoddard endured a life of poverty that led him to move with his mother to New York City in 1835. There he worked at a number of odd jobs before being employed, at age eleven, in an iron foundry. An autodidact who read voraciously in his youth, Stoddard published his first book of poems, Footprints (1849), after befriending Bayard Taylor--who introduced Stoddard to his future wife, Elizabeth Drew Barstow, herself an author of both fiction of poetry.
John Swinton’s family relocated from his native Scotland in 1843, settling in Montreal, Canada, where Swinton worked as an apprentice in the printing industry. Though he briefly entered Williston Seminary in 1853, Swinton’s commitment to journalism led him across the United States; he worked on the Lawrence Republican in Kansas in 1856 as well as the New York Times after he moved to that city.
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.
Born in Auburn, NY, Frank Wood's literary career began around 1858. During this year, he wrote for one of the publications of Frank Leslie. He would become the first editor of Vanity Fair, before going on to be a contributor to the Pfaffian newspaper, The Saturday Press (Winter, Brief Chronicles, 337). It was not until 1863, though, that scholar Mark Lause argues that Wood gained success in the literary world with his play, Leah the Forsook (Lause 59).