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Arnold, George (1834-1865)

Essayist, Journalist, Poet

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. His artistic training did, however, aid him in illustrating his own work; he created the caricature of himself as "McArone," included with his Poems (1886), and a drawing of fellow Pfaff's regular, sculptor Launt Thompson, which is included in Ferris Greenslet's The Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1908).

As McArone (his most successful of many personages--created for a series in Vanity Fair in 1860 and continued in the Leader and Weekly Review ), Arnold produced a flood of poems, stories, essays, satires, and editorials in the major literary venues of his day, including Harper's , Vanity Fair , and The Atlantic Monthly . He also published poetry and books on children's games. Arnold was "a very clever writer in prose and verse, a regular contributor to the Saturday Press , and remarkable for his versatility" (Browne 155). He was also "Clapp's closest friend and protégé" (Miller 37).

Arnold may have been responsible for Walt Whitman's defection from Pfaff's. After an impromptu reading of one of Whitman’s poems, there was discord among his listeners: “The poem Whitman shared that night, however, did not solicit the like-minded accord he had expected. Instead it sparked an unusually heated debate around the table about whether the federal government should continue its war, now that nearly six months had passed without a resounding Union victory” (Genoways 116). During the debate Arnold “rose from his chair and lifted his wine glass” proposing a toast to the success of the South (Genoways 117). The two poets then entered into a heated argument over the issue over Southern rebellion: "They were sitting opposite each other at the table, George [Arnold] was for rebellion and Walt [Whitman] was opposed...words grew hot. Walt warned George to be more guarded in his sentiments. George fired up more and more. Walt passed his 'mawler' toward George's ear. George passed a bottle of claret toward the topknot of the poet's head. Pfaff made a jump and gave a yell of 'Oh! mine gots, mens, what's you do for a dis?' Clapp broke his black pipe while pulling at Arnold's coat-tail; Ned Wilkins lost the power of his lungs for five minutes after tugging at the brawny arm of Walt; and we all received a beautiful mixture of rum, claret, and coffee on the knees of our trousers. Everything was soon settled, and Walt and George shook hands, and wondered much that they were so foolish" (qtd. in Lalor 135-136). Emory Halloway suggests that this brawl leads Whitman to distance himself from Pfaff's (Walt Whitman 157, 193). Years later, Whitman reportedly forgave Arnold, although he never returned to Pfaff's (Parry 43).

Like many of his Pfaff's compatriots, Arnold lived a brief and colorful life. Following suit of fellow Pfaff's regular Fitz-James O'Brien, Arnold joined the army when the Civil War broke out, but his health failed and he died at his family home in November 1865. His death at such a young age was unfortunate, but not entirely surprising: "From such a temperment [sic] as his, earnest and continued exertion was not to be expected. Like Voiture he trifled life away in pointed phrases and tuneful numbers; but gained a large circle of devoted friends. At three and thirty he slipped out of the World which had been much and little to him, and left behind him many sincere mourners who speak of him still with words of love and moistened eyes" (Browne 155).

One of these mourning friends, artist Elihu Vedder, recollects that Arnold used to visit him while he was painting: "I can recall his gentle, sad smile yet. Gentleness was his great charm. We both lived near Pfaff's, and it was there he read me his poem, shortly after it was written-- 'Here I sit drinking my beer.' He died young; I do not know of what he died, but he seemed to be worn out even when I first met him... He thought his life a wasted life; it was with him a gorgeous romance of youthful despair; but into that grave went a tender charm, great talent, and great weakness" (228). E. C. Stedman memorialized Arnold in The Ballad of the Prince, and Other Poems (1869), and William Winter wrote his eulogy. Winter explained that "those who met George Arnold... saw a handsome, merry creature, whose blue eyes sparkled with mirth, whose voice was cheerful, whose manners were buoyant and winning, whose courtesy was free and gay" (qtd. in Whicher) According to Winter, Arnold was "the most entirely beloved member" of the Bohemian group. He adds that Arnold's "manly character, his careless good-humor, his blithe temperment, his personal beauty, and his winning manners made him attractive to everybody" (Old Friends 94).