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.
Frank Bellew was born in India, possibly to Captain Francis-John and Anne Smoult Temple (Colburn 1374). While growing up, Bellew also lived in France and England before moving to New York City in 1850. Once in New York, he worked as a caricaturist and illustrator for numerous publications including Yankee Notions, The Lantern, the New York Picayune, Nick-Nax, Vanity Fair, Harper's Weekly,Harper's Monthly, and Scribner's Monthly.
Joel Benton was raised in the small town of Amenia, New York. He was the cousin of Myron Benton. He was educated at Amenia Seminary, where he stayed until 1851. He entered the publishing world at the age of nineteen when he was hired as managing editor of the newly created Amenia Times (The Sun, Sept. 16, 1911, 2). He also contributed pieces to the newspaper, the Mercury (Schmidgall 80-1). Benton was an avid fan of Horace Greeley; he returned to journalism in 1872 in order to support Greeley during his presidential campaign.
Albert Brisbane was born into a moderately wealthy landowning family in Batavia, New York. He received most of his education from his mother until, at the age of fifteen, he was sent to a boarding school in Long Island, New York.
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.
Horace Greeley was born in 1811 near Amherst, New Hampshire, to a poor farming family. Though physically feeble, Greeley had an affinity for books and tried for a printing apprenticeship at the age of eleven. He became an apprentice three years later in Vermont, where he learned the business rapidly and sent most of his earnings to his father. Greeley went back to farm life at the age of twenty before going to seek his fortune (Appleton 734). Greeley fostered this rags-to-riches story, claiming to have arrived in New York City in 1831 with only twenty-five dollars in his pocket.
Charles Graham Halpine was born in Oldcastle, co. Meath, Ireland to Reverend Nicholas John Halpin and Anne Grehan. Although originally educated for the medical and law professions at Trinity College in Dublin, the early death of his father caused Halpine to take up journalism. Immigrating to the United States in 1851 (Boarse), he initially supported himself by working in advertising and later as the private secretary to P. T. Barnum (Monoghan). He would later become a well-known poet and journalist most recognized under the name Miles O’Reilly.
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).
Best know for his portrayal of Asa Trenchard in Our American Cousin and Rip Van Winkle in Rip Van Winkle, Joseph Jefferson was one of the most popular comedians of his time. Born February 20, 1829 in Philadelphia, Jefferson was the son of actors and was introduced to the stage as a child. Jefferson made his adult debut in New York in 1849 at the age of twenty. His early New York successes led to a tour of the South and theatrical engagements in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Born in Philadelphia, Charles Godfrey Leland Leland received his early schooling in Massachusetts and Philadelphia, where Bronson Alcott was one of his teachers. He contributed short poems to newspapers before the age of fifteen. After graduating from Princeton in 1846, Leland traveled to Europe and spent two years studying in Germany. In 1848 he participated in uprisings in Paris before returning to Philadelphia to study law.
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.
An "American dancer and adventuress," the woman later known as Lola Montez has several different birthdates, but scholar Bruce Seymour argues that she was likely born in 1820 in Ireland as Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (Seymour 4). The thrice-married Gilbert first debuted in London as "Lola Montez" in 1843 and experienced success in Europe. In 1847, as the mistress of Louis I of Bavaria, Montez was made Baroness Rosenthal and Countess Lansfeld and was able to control the Bavarian government until she was opposed by the Jesuits and ousted by revolution in 1848 ("Montez").
Known best by his pseudonym of Petroleum V. Nasby, David Ross Locke was born in upstate New York near Binghamton to a poor family. According to his biographer, John Harrison, Locke had "little formal education." (5) Instead, Locke built his career off his own hard work and ingenuity, starting from a very young age. When he was 12, Locke became an apprentice at a Cortland newspaper called the Democrat, a position that lasted for seven years.