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. his own, becoming "so much an American," claimed The New York Leader, "that his foreign birth and education would never be recognized in his writings" (Wolle 60).
According to scholar Mark Lause, it was O'Brien and Henry Clapp who first stumbled upon Pfaff's in 1856 (47). A favorite of Clapp's, O'Brien soon became "one of the cardinals in the high church of Bohemia," and he maintained close relationships with several Pfaffians, including William North (Martin 29; J. Browne 154). A friction, though developed between O'Brien and North and evolved into a full-blown scandal when the Irishman was accused of stealing his story, "The Diamond Lens," from a manuscript written by the recently deceased North. William Winter claims that O'Brien's stories were original compositions, several of which he witnessed being written while he was shown others almost immediately after they were completed, whereas Thomas Gunn defended the authorship of the late North (Winter 67-8; Gunn vol. 9, 48, 91). North was not the only individual with whom O'Brien fought. According to Parry, during his days at Pfaff's O'Brien was the "chief fighter" in the frequent "fistic combats over literary issues" with his broken nose as his "hallmark and Fist-Gammon O'Bouncer his nickname" (A. Parry 50-51). Nevertheless, O'Brien "became a great friend of all with whom he fought; it was almost a matter of principle with him. It was said that O'Brien never cared for anyone with whom he did not quarrel" (A. Parry 52).
During his career, O'Brien contributed pieces to major American magazines, notably Harper's New Monthly Magazine and Harper's Weekly. O'Brien also wrote a regular column in Henry Clapp's Saturday Press called "Dramatic Feuilleton," encouraging patronage of the budding American drama scene (Gunn, vol. 10, 18). O'Brien also had an interest in theatre which he shared with Pfaffians like John Brougham, Ada Clare, and William Winter, which led him to write plays such as A Gentleman from Ireland and The Sisters, both of which enjoyed successful runs in New York in 1854. Brougham even starred in A Gentleman from Ireland in its initial production at Wallack's Theatre in December 1854. Like the rest of the crowd who frequented Pfaff's, O'Brien was also a devotee of Edgar Allan Poe, even coming to be known as "a Celtic Poe."
When the Civil War began, O'Brien enlisted in the Union Army, producing patriotic verse and participating in recruitment. In February 1862 he was cited for bravery in an engagement in West Virginia, but a few days later he was shot by a Confederate soldier while on a scouting mission. He died two months later from tetanus brought on by improper medical care of his wound (Parry 50-1; Lause 110). Though remembered predominantly for his work as a poet and short story writer, his supernatural and science fiction tales have received renewed interest in recent years.
Whitman comments in this interview that "Fitz James O'Brien was very bright" and one of the regulars at Pfaff's.[pages:10]
O'Brien is mentioned as one of the "bright spirits" who met at Pfaff's.[pages:10]
Allen refers to him as one of Pfaff's "literary customers," and "a clever short-story writer" (229). According to Allen, in terms of debate at Pfaff's, "He was no match for the mercurial Fitz-James O'Brien, satirical George Arnold, or perhaps even his sardonic friend Henry Clapp" (270).[pages:229,270,494]
Arnold writes a tribute to O'Brien's "Personal Characteristics."
One of the assistant co-editors of The Saturday Press with Aldrich and Winter, 1858-1860.[pages:290]
Belasco mentions that his poetry was printed in Clapp's columns of "original" poems, which usually appeared on the first page of the Saturday Press (252).[pages:252]
Cites Fitz-James O'Brien as contributing to the first issue of Putnam's. Claims that O'Brien and William North arrived in New York in the same week. Describes him as "a man of remarkable gifts and of very comely presence, brave, generous, and impulsive. States that "his death, which did not
occur until after he had undergone the amputation of his right arm, was remarkable for the heroic cheerfulness he displayed in his sufferings" (2).
Possible author of A Gentleman from Ireland, performed Dec. 11, 1854, with J. Brougham in the cast.[pages:i.484]
O'Brien gained literary fame with the publication of Diamond Lens in the Atlantic Monthly; according to Browne, this event occured ten years prior to his writing (about 1859) (154).
By Browne's description O'Brien was "a generous, gifted, rollicking Irishman, was one of the cardinals in the high church of Bohemia, until the breaking out of the War" (154). Browne continues, "O'Brien had a warm heart, a fine mind and a liberal hand; but he was impulsive to excess and too careless of his future for his own good" (154).
Of O'Brien's military career, Browne states, "He entered the field and distinguished himself for desperate courage until he was killed in Virginia and forgotten" (154).[pages:154]
Clare discusses O'Brien's "Mother of Pearl" in the February issue of Harper's Magazine. While she likes the story in general, she feels that choice of the drug hasheesh in the crisis of a story has become unoriginal (2).[pages:2]
He is listed as one of the "associates" of the Saturday Press. Derby notes that he is deceased at the time of his writing (232).
He is mentioned as one of the "brightest and most popular humorous men of the day," known to rally around the book store of George W. Carleton. Derby notes that "the noonday hour frequently found most of them at Pfaff's celebrated German restuarant, in a Broadway basement, near Bleecker-street, the rendezvous at that day of the so-called Bohemians" (239).
When the Times doubled its size in 1852, O'Brien was among the "brilliant corps of assistant editors" hired by Raymond (354).[pages:232,239,354]
English claims O'Brien, Clapp, and Arnold "used to laughingly class themselves as Bohemians, speak of Pfaff, his beer; but they spoke of no club" (202). English states, "I remember very well saying to one of these gentlemen, with a feeble attempt at pleasantry -- 'As there are so many buyers of beer among your people it is quite proper that you should have a cellar to receive you'" (202).[pages:202]
Mentioned as a writer Whitman met at Pfaff's.[pages:61]
Whitman befriended O'Brien while at Pfaff's.
O'Brien is mentioned as one of the "men of distinct talent" who patronized Pfaff's beer cellar (1).[pages:1]
Identified as one of "The group of men at that table [who] constituted the Bohemia of a quarter of a century ago, the most notable gathering of its kind that one city has ever known."
O'Brien is mentioned as one of "the best know writers who frequented that cozy corner [Pfaff's]."[pages:9]
Mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News."[pages:479]
He is mentioned as part of "a group of journalists and magazine-writers of great repute in their own day, but as remote as Prester John to ours" with whom Aldrich was familiar during his days in the "Literary Bohemia" in New York (37).
Greenslet states that "Of the group that failed to come through, perhaps the most engaging personality, and the one dearest to Aldrich, was Fitz James O'Brien" (38).
Greenslet states, "Born in Ireland in 1826, O'Brien had, as a young man, run through a bequest of L8000, in two years, and come to New York to make a living with his pen. At first he was connected with a forgotten periodical called the 'Lantern.'" Aldrich first met O'Brien when he was helping to end the run of the "Lantern" (38).
O'Brien achieved success with his story "The Diamond Lens," "written during a visit at 105 Clinton Place, and printed in the first volume of the "Atlantic Monthly." Greenslet claims O'Brien "achieved a tale of mystery and marvel that still ranks among the finest American short stories" (40).
O'Brien enlisted in the Union army and was "mortally wounded in an unimportant cavalry skirmish in February, 1862" (40).
Greenslet claims there are "numerous memorabilia" of the "warm, peppery friendship between Aldrich and O'Brien." Greenslet cites and anecdote that Aldrich used to tell about how O'Brien borrowed $40 dollars from him to buy a suit of clothes and then used it to buy a dinner to which Aldrich was not invited. At one point, due to some misunderstanding, O'Brien challenged Aldrich to a duel, which Aldrich managed to resolve by claiming that it was in violation of the "punctillo of the duello" to challenge someone to a duel when one owed the other money (40).
Greenlset also cites an anecdote that Aldrich told that when Aldrich was staying at 105 Clinton Place, "in the absence of the Frost family," O'Brien suggested they live for a week in the "Venitian manner," in which they would "sleep all day and live all night." The two attempted this lifestyle for a while, "exploring the streets all night and going to bed at seven A.M., but it seems soon to have palled on them" (40-1).
Aldrich missed a message from telling him he had been appointed to General Lander's staff. The appointment went to O'Brien. Henry Clapp is quoted as remarking on the event: "Aldrich was shot in O'Brien's shoulder" (54).[pages:38,39-41,43,54]
Gunn provides his opinion of O'Brien: "North & O'Brien at the Office. O'Brien's a snob (154)."[pages:38, 79, 83, 95, 102-103, 121, 154]
O'Brien entered the book auction-store while Gunn was there: "At a book auction-store met Holcomb and Levy. Talking with them,(O'Brien passed in, & out again, with his usual supercilious aping-aristocratic coolness)" (26).
Powell talks about O'Brien: "By the bye, from Powell we heard how O'Brien had been excellently well-licked for some impertinence by his whilome [sic] crony North" (27-28).[pages:26-28, 60, 98, 153, 178]
Welden tells Gunn about O'Brien knocking someone's teeth out: "While at it Welden came, talked awhile. How Seymour was detested in the Office, how O'Brien had knocked out teeth twain from an harmless individual's mouth for permitting the expression to escape 'that he was no gentleman!'" (47)
Gunn explains the duties of the Times staff: "Wilson has left the 'Times'. Seymour does the dramaticals & O'Brien hardly anything" (207).
Welden informs Gunn of O'Brien's lie: "Welden called on me in the morning. I think he had been imbibing a little, and he talked freely of Seymour and O'Brien. How the latter had told gratis lies about my poor Ghost Story in the Whig Review, saying that it had been translated, adapted, stolen from the french. I who can't read a line of french am likely to have thought of such a thing! Little thought I when scribbling away in the Leonard street attic, of such a charge. Nevertheless both Seymour, (alias Bailey) & O'Brien have industriously lied to that effect. And the former ridiculed, vilified and tattled of our Staten Island summer ramble, when I & Waud admitted him to our company. And O'Brien always 'carries loaded pistols' – (bah, – the coward!) since he was licked at Barton's theatre. And tis surmised that Seymour does the same" (219).[pages:47, 207, 219]
Gunn recounts that O'Brien was a part of the Ornithorincus Club: "To the Ornithorincus. Banks, Wurzbach, the Arnolds, Yewel and others there. Singing and bacchanilization. (Bellew off to Boston, after the Jerrold escapade.) Haney and Sol Eytinge came for awhile. DeWaldron and others. O'Brien too, who sang parts of a parody on the Fra Diavolo our "See on yonder rock reclining" – touching the Ornithorincus" (200).
Gunn mentions seeing O'Brien in an upper room of a cafe and expresses his distaste for him: "Haney and Sol coming, Banks left. Out with them after drinks, to a newly started Cafe chansant, where was a dreary ball fizzling out – and meeting Gaylor in Broadway returned with him to the Ornithorincus. In the upper room were Yewell, Arnold and O'Brien. Sol had received $30 or so to day, so he must needs stand drinks and a snack. Talk of Walt Whitman's poem, politics, and miscellanous matters. O'Brien declaring that Milton was not a poet. I don't like an inch of him. Theres an insufferable assumption of superiority over everybody about him which is either exasperating or ridiculous – as you are affected by it. Me it exasperates. His insolent wide open eyes, swell moustache and whiskers and Irish pretense are un-getover-able" (208).
Gunn attaches a newspaper clipping about the Ornithorhyncus Club and O'Brien's song (209).[pages:200, 208, 209]
O'Brien is one of the few people at the "Club": "That subsequent evening was an agreablish one. O'Brien, Banks and one other were the only persons present save Bellew and myself. The 'Club,' as I foresaw, has pretty nearly fizzled out, there being fewer droppers in on Saturday nights than on other occasions. The sure result of trying to put men in harness, and have stated occasions for joviality. This evening there was no singing, no dreary punning, only quiet talk" (9).
Gunn records speculation about O'Brien and money: "With Bellew awhile, walking to Wall Street and talking over mutual misapprehensions of character in the old 'Lantern' time. He appears to have detested me with equal cordiality, then. 'Tis said O'Brien has money left him in Ireland. May be" (64-65).
Gunn talks of two stories in Harper's, which happen to be O'Brien's: "Now I had involuntarily given O'Brien credit for some ability with his pen. Only the other might, when at Bellew's, in conversation I happen to speak to of two insufferably trashy stories in Harper's, when I learnt that O'Brien was the author of them! Had he chanced to have been present I should have come out with my condemnation as largely, never supposing he could have written such trash. After all, one's predispositions to like or dislike are pretty often justifiable" (125-126).
O'Brien tells Gunn there is a warrant for his arrest: "Met O'Brien up at Bellew's one morning, and he spoke of there being a warrant out against him, in consequence of one of a party of fellows, with whom he was dining, having emptied a chamber pot out of window upon some ladies who were passing in Broadway!" (184).[pages:9, 64-65, 125-126, 184]
Gunn journals about O'Brien's life stories, "O'Brien and Bellew with us in Haney's room at night. The former talked much of fast men in London and New York, of lorettes and actors. He told some goodish stories. I suppose his life has been such that he hasn't a friend in the world" (12).
Gunn saves a newspaper clipping about a fight between O'Brien and Wilkes (13).
Gunn describes a picnic at Hoboken with New York artists and journalists. O'Brien is among them and Gunn describes his drunken behavior, "There was enough and to spare. O'Brien had bidden his landlord cater for him, and the man had put up the roast fowls, the major part of a ham, pickles, bread, condiments, a gallon of cold- whiskey punch – as strong as raw spirit – and a bottle of brandy... Soon the fellows got to boxing – we had brought the gloves. Cahill and O'Brien had a spar or two in which O'Brien did not come out best. Then, three boys appearing, one with a gun, we fell to taking sixpenny shots, at caps, hats or trees. This continued for a long time everybody scattering about among the rocks and trees promiscuously..." (23-25).
Gunn says O'Brien was very drunk and taken to Davenport's, "The other fellows, after their boat had started heard the noise of the fight and were impatient not to be present. After taking O'Brien, who was very drunk to Davenport's, in Broadway, they came round to Bleecker St to learn our fortune" (26-27).
O'Brien informs Gunn that his piece won't appear in the paper anymore, "O'Brien up in the evening awhile. His "Man About Town" won't appear in Harper's any more. He attributes it to Bonner's enmity" (28).
Gunn describes a conversation with O'Brien, "By the way O'Brien said a characteristic thing to me today. Doesticks' wife was mentioned. "Did he get any money with her?" asked he. I have rarely met an Irishman who didn't think a man's marriage a failure if it didn't bring pecuniary profit. Very few Englishmen – especially young Englishmen – would have asked such a questin" (31).
O'Brien was of those who visited Clapp, "At evening with Cahill and Haney to visit Clapp, a newspaper man, living in this street. A sort of literary soiree. O'Brien, Bellew, Piercy, Arnold, Whelpley and Wilkins (of the Herald) were present, with a Mr Delanno – the only non-literary man present. Pipes, cigars, beer, puns and songs. Not a very successful evening" (35-36).
Gunn describes O'Brien's habits and personality, In the talk I got an- tagonizing with O'Brien, who is, I believe, radically, inherently, and inevitably my opposite. And I think both of us feel this. He is a clever man, is O'Brien. A man of more than Irish assurance, of indomitable conceit. Radically a selfish man, whose theory of life commences and ends with selfindulgence...." (43-46).
Gunn annotates a newspaper clipping, seeing it as a slap at O'Brien (44).
Gunn says O'Brien owes people a dinner, "O'Brien called in the afternoon. Incidentally, I have heard a characteristic thing of him. Underwood, one of the editors of the "Atlantic Monthly" being on here, O'Brien must needs give him, Wilkins, Clapp and Fry (of the Tribune) a supper at Delmonico's – some $30 affair or more" (53).
Gunn reveals details of O'Briens financial crisis, "A middle-aged, shabby man came up to inquire about O'Brien, and told us how he had been his landlord in Great Jones Street, how O'B had had the best room in the house at the rent of $12 per week, with food, attendance, gas and whatnot; how O'B owed him upwards of $180, how he and his family were turned out of the house in consequence of O'B's not paying up; how O'B owed $80 and upwards at his Broadway boarding-house, $200 elsewhere and the like old news. The man had been to Harpers, who'd sent him to the Picayune. He knew O'B lived in Jersey city, said the last time he'd encountered him, O'B was drunk, in the Bowery. Furthermore he spoke of O'B's giving a Delmonico dinner at his lodgings, half at his landlord's cost. Cahill was a little inclined to be rude to the poor devil, Wilbur to chaff him, I thought it a hard case and let him talk as much as he liked – and he did like to talk a great deal. This heavy- swell Bohemianism has very dirty corners to it" (56).
Gunn describes the contradiction of O'Brien's plagiarism, "Apropos of O'Brien it's said that he plagiarized the idea of his "Diamond Lens" story from North. Somebody writes to the Post that Briggs of the Times and Courier heard North read a story to the same effect from M. S. Now one of O'B's characteristics is detecting or affirming plagiarisms in the writings of others. "My dear fellow it's been done!" is commonly on his lips. Tell him a proposed plot of anything and he's sure to have read or done it – or intended doing it. So well was this understood that Cahill and Arnold used to amuse themselves by suggesting wild, improbably plots for plays and farces, for the purpose of eliciting the "My dear fellows, it's been done!" (63).
Gunn writes about O'Brien's plariarism controversy, "Also he spake of the "Diamond Lens" controversy, which turns out disasterously for O'Brien. Both Merrick, Seymour, Picton & Guernsey depose to having seen North's M.S. – the original story. Picton's out in a letter to today's Times about it. Apropos of O'B, his last excentricity consists in walking up Broadway with a gaudily striped umbrella, such as shops use for signs. On a former occasion he and a companion sold strings of fish and Sunday papers – just as folks were coming out of church. They met Guernsey and offered him some. They were sober at the time. O'Brien was drunk during the umbrella display" (76).
Gunn annotates a newspaper clipping regarding O'Brien's alleged plagiarism, "Guerney told me the contrary of this &c. T Bellew told me – also Cahill – as he, I have no doubt believed, that the idea of the story was his originally. And O'B's narration of his proposed plot for the story to myself and others, before it appeared – was exactly similar to North's Microcosmos – as described by Seymour" (77-79).
Gunn provides more detail on the O'Brien plagiarism controversy, "O'Brien had an article from the "Boston Transcript" puffing him tremendously as the author of the Dia- mond Lens, and giving a memoir of him, his literary & dramatic successes (?) &c. Haney read it aloud. It was written by Clapp. There were exaggerations in it amounting to lying. Talking of Picton, Haney says he's generally drunk within precisely fifteen minutes after the bank, wherein he's
employed as cashier, closes! O'B said he didn't know Picton had any feud with him. Last time they met they took sundry drinks together and Picton confided some grievance of his to O'B. It's edifying to see how dearly "literary gents" love one another!" (80).
Gunn attaches a newspaper clipping and engraving of a cartoon depicting Charles Seymour and a letter written by Fitz James O'Brien as "Henry Ward Beeche" (82).
Gunn journals about O'Brien stealing North's story, "She figures in his Novel, the "Slave of the Lamp" as Mrs Normer, and so, if I recollect rightly, does the dog. It's not particularly recognizable, unlike his O'Brien 'Fitz Gammon O'Bouncer.' By the bye, if North could only have known how, four years subsequent, O'B would filch his story – one he especially prided himself on!! O'B might have chuckled as he did it that "the whirligig of Time brings it's revenges." (91).
Gunn describes a game Arnold and Cahill would play with O'Brien, "This is an old dodge of O'Brien's. His wide-eyed, confident "My dear fellow, it's been done before!" or "I had precisely the same idea!" was so well known that Arnold and Cahill used to play upon it by informing him of improbable plots for plays which they (never) intended to write, when it always appeared that O'B's luxuriant imagination had anticipated them! Not that the idea of sketching the eating-houses of New York is a very out of the way one – anybody might have hit upon it. But 'tis a pet trick of O'Brien's" (140).
Gunn says O'Brien is writing a burlesque, "Returned up town, passing O'Brien and a companion of his. He rather swellishly dressed and his whiskers of lighter color than usual. (He is writing a burlesque, in conjunction with Stuart (alias O'Flaherty) and another, to be produced at Wallack's" (147).
Cahill and Clapp went to Wallack's to see a burlesque by O'Brien and Stuart, "Gun playing cribbage with Haney at night, he a little boozy. Cahill with Clapp at Wallacks to see a new burlesque by Stuart, O'Brien and another. It was produced last night, not a success. Haney & Clapp called for the authors but the less interested audience requested them to "Dry up!" So a scene with three stuffed figures, prepared for the occasion, wasn't available!!" (158).
Gunn documents O'Brien's confession to his involvement in another row, "In the evening with Gun to Bellew's present boarding-house, 22nd street. O'Brien has got into another row, as he confessed to Bellew, in consequence of his own insolence. He was drunk and "insulting everybody" at the New York Hotel – a place where he is in extreme ill odor) having "shewn it up" in Harper's some months ago,) when a Nicaraguan captain or colonel, resenting his remarks, licked him infernally, blacking both his eyes, damaging his nose and administering pugilistic punishment generally. Bellew had visited him today" (162).
Gunn provides detail on the row between O'Brien and Farnham, "O'Brien's antagonist was a Captain Farnham. The man was showing tricks at cards, which provoked some insulting comment on O'Brien's part. The ex-filibuster got his antagonist's head "in chancery," and didn't spare it. For a man who crows on his "muscle" our Irish friend is licked rather often. He pockets it, too. I never heard of his licking anybody excepting an old man employed about the Times Office, four or five years ago, who objected to being "ordered about" by O'B" (164-165).[pages:12, 13, 23-25, 26-27, 28, 31, 35-36, 43-46, 44, 53, 56, 63, 76, 77-79, 80, 82(ill.), 91, 140, 147, 158, 162, 164-165]
Gunn discusses the friendship between O'Brien and Henry Clapp: "O'Brien consorts with Clapp, and affects to admire his powers of conversation. Morally they are on the same level, basing their every act on utter selfishness. They swindled their landlord in this (Bleecker Street) of some hundred dollars or so and the man came to a smash in consequence. This I had from Mrs Potter. Some acquaintances of hers, seeing Clapp and O'Brien entering this house in one of their visits to Haney, warned Mrs P. against them, thinking they might design boarding with them. By the word swindling I mean they owe that amount to their unlucky entertainer" (15-16).
Gunn describes O'Brien's Saturday Press theater column: "The 'Dramatic Feulleton' by Fitz james O'Brien, with his distinguished name to each article (why wasn't English good enough for their paper, I wonder?) is cleverish, but infernally conceited. O'B[rien] actually reviewed his own two-act farce of the 'Gentleman from Ireland' (plot hocked from the French – a thing that even the venial Wilkins of the Herald has the grace to refrain from in similar cases)" (18).
Gunn talks about O'Brien breaking his word to write a story for Frank Leslie's Stars and Stripes: "O'Brien's break of with Frank Leslie, the particulars of which I heard the other day, is funny and characteristic. He had agreed to furnish a serial story for the 'Stars and Stripes,' which they had announced grandiloquently in circular & advertisement. Well time came for copy, O'B said he had no place to write in &c, so they fixed up a room for him in the building. He loafed awhile, then declared he must have a bottle of Heidseick and cigars, when he would incontinently blaze away. Cigars and champagne were procured. He drank the latter, smoked the former, wrote ten pages and then left – taking M. S. with him. Next day Clapp, who has heretofore officiated as O'Brien's jackal, comes round, says that O'B[rien] can't write without money in his pocket and must have $100! This ended the affair. Doesticks declared, before his loss, that he wouldn't write for it, Brougham will do scarcely anything – so Watson confessed to me – and I won't write unless I get money paid when I bring in copy. It's time to break off with bad paymasters" (66).
Gunn describes an encounter with O'Brien at the Saturday Press office: "At noon went over the way to the Saturday Press office. There I found not Clapp, but O'Brien standing with back to the stove, in a small, rather dingy and decidedly unventilated room, two others being present. O'Brien chose to assume his ultra-insolent, supercilious airs towards me, wherefore we had a little conversational spar" (82-84).
Gunn recounts O'Brien's departure from the Saturday Press: "O'Brien's left the Saturday Press, which, he says, owed him some $100 and more. Wilkins supersedes him and does better. The paper is horridly in debt, the milch-cow having gone south. So the hideous little 'free-lover' and Socialist (Clapp is both) has it all his own way – Aldrich having left, too" (103).
Gunn reveals O'Brien's falsification, "Apropos of "House hold Words," I must put down something characteristic of O'Brien, on the authority of Briggs of the Courier and Times, a very reliable one. When O'Brien came to this country he claimed the authorship of certain admired articles in Household Words and other English publications, and got some credit on the strength of the representation. In due time a volume was published comprising, among its contents, the very articles claimed by O'B with the true author's name attached!" (105-106).
Gunn tells a story about O'Brien trying to escape a creditor, "Looking accidentally at the list of arrivals at the hotels, the other day, I saw chronicled Fitz-james O'Brien, at the "Everett house!" O'B is out of luck, I know, hence probably this Barry Lindon proceeding. Heard a characteristic thing of him, too. I was not the only person who noticed his name in the papers. That unfortunate old man in blue specs, whom he owes $125 or so, for board, who must have become quite an "old man of the Sea" to O'B for one meets this equally unlucky and pertenacious creditor everywhere, in newspaperdom, when he launches out into his piteous and prolix details to anybody who will listen to him – this old man, then, goes to the hotel and tells his story to . Word is conveyed to O'B. "Man wants money? send him up!" is the order. Man is shown up accordingly, an employee accompanying him, probably to see how the land lay. "Good morning, Mr O'Brien," says creditor. "You have the advantage of me, sir!" says O'B. "Isn't 'your' name O'Brien, sir? don't you recollect me? – owe me so and so," says creditor. "Never saw you before in my life!" says O'B. And he persisted in denying his identity, and the poor man had to go away, making nothing by the visit. Pretty recently O'B was so hard up, he had to camp in Clapp's room. They both vilify each other now. O'B is every day a dropper in at Haney's office. Wonder what he expects to make by it?" (111-112).
Gunn describes a quarrel between Clapp and O'Brien, "Talk, incidentally of O'Brien, who it seems, has quarreled with Clapp or something like it. O'B sent a lawyer's letter apropos of money owing to him for his "feulleton"izing in the Saturday Press, which Clapp related as an excellent joke. Then he passed into general comment on O'B. "He was too d____d infernal selfish altogether – there was no denying he was a smart man though, and he could stand anything but a fool – give him a rogue, a smart rogue, rather. He don't believe in the good, amiable, Christ like men" (how the ugly countenance grew uglier with spite and unbelief as he said the words) "like Greeley." (113-114).
Gunn journals about O'Brien's departure to Boston, "Mort says O'Brien has gone to Boston, having entirely used up all his chances here. He was shewn the door at the Everett House. The "Diamond Lens" theft ended all his chance in the Atlantic Mag – so a man connected with it told Thomson" (117-118).
Gunn talks about an article that MacKenzie wrote about O'Brien, "Old Shelton MacKenzie has written an article on O'Brien, in the Constellation; just the sort of article one Irishman would write of another. There's one lie in it, I know, that asserting th precedence of Doesticks Witches of N.Y over O'B's fortune tellers. All the rest I've heard before. The assumed baronetry has caused much mirthto those who know the man. It's in accordance with his principle of when desperately cornered to do something audacious. "When in doubt, play a trump." Not being known in Boston and anticipating that a real live baronet might get the entree to "society" – O'B's constant aspiration – he has trumped up this characteristic lie. He started it first in a letter to the Times, as I learnt from Briggs, who tapped me on the shoulder one morning and complimented me on my (!) article in the Constellation. I believe he was trying the dodge in order to get confirmation, or information, as to the real writer, though he stuck to it that he supposed me the author. Shrewd man is Briggs, and an ugly. I wish O'Brien had got a baronetry. It would be delightfully funny to see him under the influence of it. He would give dinners to his acquaintances, pay his debts (or a tithe of them) with the most magnificent flourish contract the times as many and in a word, be, if possible a still more insufferable puppy and snob than now. Marry his coronet would be spouted in a week or two" (137 & 141).
A newspaper engraving depicting O'Brien wearing a crown, alluding to the rumor that O'Brien is the heir to an Irish baronetcy (138).
Gunn includes a newspaper clipping about the rumor that O'Brien is the heir to an Irish baronetcy (139).
Gunn includes a newspaper clipping written by Mackenzie regarding a rumor about O'Brien (140).
Gunn describes a feud between Picton and O'Brien, "He kicked up a row at the Office, after Haney's temporary secession, when O'Brien and the "Bees" were present, chiefly in consequence of his dislike to O'B. Picton and his "crowd" were drunk and averse to the "G_d__n English hole" as they called it. His feud with O'Brien arose thus. When cashier to the Nassau Bank, Picton having recently been introduced to O'B, on the following day got a note on Sedgwick (the Crystal Palace man) for some $30 or $50, with a request that he would cash it. Mistaking the signature for Bellew's, whom Picton knew and good-naturedly wished to oblige, he complied. It proved to be O'Brien's and there was considerable difficulty in getting Sedgwick to take it up, which however he did for value received (I suppose in Times puffs) from O'Bouncer. Picton believes he risked "being stuck" himself" (143).
Cahill inquires about O'Brien at the Parker House, "Cahill has been on to Boston, appropos of some of Doesticks book-making business. Inquiring at the "Parker House" as to whether O'Brien lived there, he got a very emphatic "No Sir–ee!" from the bartender as answer. O'B had run up a bill of over $100 there; has been giving "literary breakfasts" and conducting himself after his usual Barry Lyndon fashion. Bellew gave him an introductory letter to Emerson and he had others – I question the honesty of endorsing the swindler. He was living at Cambridge, said to be "literary editor of a Boston paper" (150).[pages:15-16, 18, 66, 82-84, 103, 150-106, 111-112, 113-114, 117-118, 137&141, 139, 140, 143, 150]
Gunn describes stories told about O'Brien: "Wood added a fresh O'Brienism. Dr Palmer (of the Tribune and Up and Down the Irawaddy') has just returned from Boston (probably from concluding arrangements pertinent to his becoming additional editor to the Atlantic) and reports O'B confined to his bed from a severe licking received at the hands of a bartender, I think of the Tremont House. The Baron of Inchiquin's patrician eyes were blacked, his aristocratic nose maltreated, etc. By the way, I don't remember putting down another anecdote, derived from Haney; relating how a shabby and unfortunate boarding-house landlady had appeared at Phillips and Sampson's (the publishers of the Atlantic) to solicit the firm's interference in her favor, with Mr O'Brien. To complete the subject, I put down Rosenberg's account of O'B's characteristic Diddlerism at a boarding house, in this city, where both of them boarded. After getting in debt to the amount of $80 or $100, O'B, in answer to the landlord's repeated applications, inform ed him impressively that he 'should have no money for him' for two weeks, when his play being produced, the debt should be discharged in full. Towards the running out of this period, he gave a supper to half a dozen fellows, actors &c (Brougham among them) as desirous of celebrating the performance of his play in advance, 'having no better' about it; inducing the landlord to further expenditure, in wands &c, ordering in champagne and liqueurs from two different wine-merchants. The party kept it up till morning, making a devil of a row, getting drunk, and when they departed O'Brien accompanied one of their number – to return no more to that boarding house!" (55-56).
Gunn writes about O'Brien's defeat: "Mort Thomson, returned from a visit to Boston, reports particulars of O'Brien's recent licking, which was infinitely more severe than has been supposed. Mort talked with his antagonist, the bartender. O'B was drunkenly insolent, again and again, till the man, provoked beyond endurance, leapt over the counter and pitched into him. O'B kept his room for three weeks – or rather the room of an acquaintance. Bar-tender was 30 lbs less than his adversary in weight. O'B has had delirum tremens twice while in Boston, and is a good deal nearer the bottom of the inclined plane he has always been descending. He insulted another man subsequent to the fight at the Tremont, and was literally carried to the door and pitched into the street!" (61-62).
Gunn describes another of O'Brien's dishonest characteristics: "Another item in illustration of the thousand scoundrelisms of O'Brien. Gun going tonight to an advertising bootmaker learns that the Baron Inchiquin has victimized said bootmaker to the amount of $70 or so. He came with a good customer, wherefore, the man gave him credit (81).
Gunn describes Alf's statement of O'Brien: "Of O'Brien Alf states only that he has seen him in company with a brother of Clapp's, 'an ass who feels honored by the position of satellite' to Fitzbouncer" (88).
Gunn assumes O'Brien has worked for Bateman: "I suppose O'Brien does puffs, correspondence, what not for Bateman. Cahill fell in with O'B one night, so helplessly drunk that he took him to his hotel" (165).[pages:55-56, 61-62, 81, 88, 165]
Mrs. O'Brien has informed Gunn of O'Brien's decline in manners: "O'Brien had recently called. Mrs. B spoke of the great change for the worse that has taken place in his manners, since his advent in this country. Says, too, that Clapp tries to imitate North, as a conversationist. Mrs. B admired North. Indeed he was much more likeable than O'Brien or Clapp" (18).
Gunn notes O'Brien's drunken behavior: "Boweryem and Morris in my room. O'Brien, being drunk and pugilistic, half-tried to force latter at the expense of Arnold, to the afternoon" (85).
Gunn describes seeing O'Brien at the bar of Crook and Duffs: "Found Bellew talking to Frank Leslie at Crook and Duffs, Wilbour joined us. Cahill around. Plenty of familiar faces there. Briggs promised to join us in half-an-hour, during which time Bellew and I lunched. O'Brien and a knot of others at the bar, his black eye very unsightly, his countenance generally about-towny and vicious; every way deteriorated. He wore his Mambrino-helmet hat and land check, peg-top trousers" (89).
Gunn describes O'Brien's continuing grudge of Cahill: "At Pfaff's they encountered Wood (poor-young-man Wood) O'Brien and Arnold, the latter very drunk. O'Brien was tacitly insolent and offensive on Cahill's appearance. (He wants to fasten a quarrel on him, supposing him his physical inferior, consequently an easy victory. Indeed he has always entertained a Celtic grudge against Cahill since the spar- ring-match at Hoboken, on the day of our picnic, when Cahill had rather the better of it, to the openly expressed satisfaction of everybody.) But nothing came of it, last night, beyond a little chaff at O'B's expense. After he and Wood had drank at Ledger's cost, they assumed the supercilious and the former wanted to know in a side whisper, who that was? As Ledger is quite capable of thrashing both of 'em, perhaps it's as well he didn't hear the inquiry" (137).
Gunn jokes about O'Brien's money-borrowing habits: "During his 'Ornithorynchus' days Cahill lent O'Brien some $17, more or less, of course never getting repaid. Shepherd has been equally green towards Clapp, lending him $10. O'Brien 'tried it on', too, with Shepherd, but unsuccessfully. Generous-souled fellow, O'Brien! he never bears malice, not he! he'll ask a man for money in the morning whom he has insulted overnight!" (139).
Gunn describes O'Brien's drinking problem: "O'Brien is in a bad way, drunk four days together, subject to delirium tremens. He got turned out or had to leave the Hone House, where he occupied a room and is now "on town" in every sense. He looked deplorably shaky and wandered in talk, on visiting Haney, today" (157-58).
Gunn describes O'Brien's habits and background: "If O'Brien continue his present career, he'll die miserably enough; nor do I suppose he'll ever re-cross the Atlantic. The talk about his patrician kinsfolk is all Blatherskite and Erin go Brag; money has never been sent to him during his sorest need. His father is said to be a Cork lawyer, one in struggling circumstances, one Bryan, for the 'Fitz' as well as the 'O'' is assumed by his son, who first, as I recollect, called himself James Fitzjames O'Brien, subsequently sinking the first James. It was then that he pretended to cousinship with Smith the 'patriot' which pretence Meagher threw cold water on. It was then he lied about having written for 'Household Words' pointing out certain stories, which subsequently appeared in book-form, in with the real author's name on the title-page" (158-59).[pages:18, 85, 89, 137, 139, 157-158, 158-159]
Gunn mentions that O'Brien has been staying in Shepherd's room, "O'Brien showed at our supper-table in Shepherd's company again, on Saturday. He sleeps in his room on the sofa; is very hard up. Must be, indeed, to prey on the juveniles" (73).
Gunn says Bob Gun almost mistook O'Brien on the sofa for Shepherd, "Going into Shepherd's room to get something, on rising, he found O'Brien on the sofa and being extremely short sighted, had almost mistaken him for Shepherd and punched him in the ribs, when there might have been a row, for the Irishman hates honest Bob, ever since he got an order for a suit of clothes out of him, advance payment for the story of "From Hand to Mouth" which of course he left unfinished in the Picayune" (73).
Gunn details a fight between O'Brien and House at Pfaff's, "A row at Pfaff's last night of which I heard particulars of Shepherd, over our breakfast-table. It appears that House has been talking loosely of O'Brien, mentioning things which everybody knows he is guilty of, but which it isn't manners to speak too openly of. For instance he stated that O'Brien had claimed the authorship of other mens writings, both inhold Words, that he told such lies that one couldn't believe a word he says and the like...Besides O'Brien's stupendous assumption, occasional large gains – always exaggerated in the telling – and dishonest generosity, evidences an unconscious deference to him, as also his superior depravity, for it's a damnable truth that a man may rise in the estimation of his fellows from his wickedness" (80-82&84).
Gunn describes an argument between House and O'Brien over money, "Looking into Shepherd's room, on going up stairs after dinner, there was O'Brien, undressed and asleep on the sofa, a half finished poem about the coming of the Prince of Wales on the table. I omitted putting down one incident of his row with House. After the struggle, the latter demanded repayment of monies loaned to O'Brien, who responded, in his Mulberry Hawk voice, "I was not aware, Sir, that I owed you anything!" House stated the amount. Loafing all the evening. Three just-arrived Britishers in the parlor, going to board here" (103-104).
Gunn describes involving O'Brien, Shepherd, Marsh, and a black man they insulted by refusing to ride in the streetcar with him, "Dining at Ittner's with O'Brien and one John Marsh, whom I have heard of, they got into a dispute about abolition, Shepherd advocating it and the two others going in violently on the pro-slavery side. (Of course! catch an Irishman on any but the mean and cruel and oppressive side!) The squabble was continued in a 6th avenue car, which being one admitting colored people, on the entrance of a stalwart negro, Marsh offensively objected to his presence and demanded, with oaths and abuse, that the man should be put out. This the conductor very properly refused, so the drunken fast men quitted the car, the insulted negro doing the same. Forthwith he marched up to the March, pitched into him, blacked his eye and gave him a richly deserved licking. The neighborhood of Varick Street being a low and niggery one, Africa had plenty of champions, black and white. O'Brien was collared and throttled and Shepherd, taking off his coat, had a turn up with a red-shirted rowdy, whom the others told him he vanquished. It was a "free fight" and the "swells" got generally mauled. Shepherd went into a grocery-store, "to get a cheese-knife or something," and on emerging saw Marsh knocked down by a blow "straight from the shoulder" of the African Hercules. Finally the three well-dressed rowdies were hustled into a car and discharged at a drug-store in the 6th Avenue. There Marsh insulted the shop-man on the old abolitionist question and another fight was imminent – being only prevented by the accidental presence of a coachman or hack-driver who knew and championed Shepherd. Anon the three adjourned to Reilly's tavern, in University place and got very drunk indeed. Shepherd concluded with the intimation that he was "going to Jenny (at '30') to get doctored!" Marsh and O'Brien, as subsequently appeared, went to a Broadway drinking place, where the former insulted and narrowly escaped a thrashing from an individual who had once been bar-man of the "Pewter Mug," which, no less than his powerful appearance, vouched for his pugilistic abilities. Marsh, himself, is rather a dandy and coxscombe in aspect" (108-109 & 110).
Gunn explains that O'Brien expected Clapp to return a favor, "O'Brien asserts that he has lent Clapp money repeatedly (which may be the case, for the Irishman's vanity might induce him to play the free handed Bohemian) but that, when he, O'Brien was out of luck, in want of a dinner, homeless and half desperate, though he wrote almost supplicatory letters to Clapp, for a single dollar, he failed to obtain it" (120).
Gunn journals O'Brien's account of Bellew's wife's former husband's infedility, "Speaking with Shepherd in his room after supper, this evening, I learnt a little about Bellew's wife's former husband. The man had to do with a mistress of O'Brien, who thrashed him for it, in St John's square, and this marital infidelity enabled his wife to procure a divorce. This is O'Brien's account: I remember hearing something to the effect that the business was plotted for the purpose obtained, moral evidence of the man's infidelity being undoubted beforehand. If so, it may explain Bellew's toleration of O'B., who knows that Mrs. B dislikes him and returns the feeling" (205-206).
Gunn describes an incident between O'Brien and Roberts, "Another O'Brien incident. He met Roberts of the "Constellation," in a barroom, Clapp, George Arnold, Shepherd and others being present, when one of the party introduced O'B. to Roberts. It was subsequent to the publication of Shelton Mackenzie's attack on O'B., who drew himself up inquiring if Roberts were the publisher of the paper, and on being answered in the affirmative first walked aside with him, then returned and abused him to his face, before those assembled, as a liar, blackguard, &c. Roberts took it sensibly, said that O'B. was surrounded by
friends, he without any, that he didn't want a bar-room brawl, but offered his card and what subsequent satisfaction a private interview might afford, and so left. O'Brien asserts that he sent Wilkins to him with a hostile message and that
Roberts tendered some apology" (206).
Gunn describes the aftermath of the fight between O'Brien and Roberts, "Looking in Shepherd's room found the hero of the last story lying asleep on the sofa, with a tremendous black eye. He had come in at daybreak or later, very drunk, wanting Shepherd to go out and have a cocktail with him. Towards evening I saw him again, with Shepherd and two others, "hard-looking" men, one occupying O'Brien's morning position, but dressed. "Fitz," as Shepherd calls him, talked with Sir Mulberry Hawk-like accent and his hands were swollen and bruised. The little room was hot, in spite of the day's coolness, and it smelt of men. A suggestive picture of Sunday life among "fast" men" (206-207).[pages:73, 80-82 &84, 103-104, 108-109 & 110, 120, 205-206, 206, 206-207, 207]
Mitchel tells Gunn that O'Brien originally pretended to be a cousin to Smith O'Brien: "Talking incidentally of O'Brien, young Mitchel volunteered some uncomplimentary information respecting him; how he, O'B. had pretended, on his arrival in this country, to be a first cousin to Smith O'Brien (which I could confirm, for I heard him say it ten years ago) until Meagher denied it, emphatically with contemptuous mention of the pretender."[pages:37]
Gunn says O'Brien has joined the 7th Regiment, "O'Brien has joined the 7th Regiment, on the chance of getting a free passage to England, during the visit to the Volunteers which Bellew is trying to engineer through" (18).
Gunn talks about O'Brien getting Boweryem in at Harper's, "O'Brien came in and talked of "the return of the poor prodigal"; of getting him something to do at Harper's – of which there is as much probability, under O'Brien's recommendation and endorsement, as of getting him into Heaven" (50).
Gunn annotates a newspaper engraving by Mullen, "Drawn by Mullen, from the (Comic Monthly.) Intended for Sol Eytinge (bad) Wilkins. Intended for O'Brien./ George Arnold Mullen" (158).
Gunn writes about O'Brien, "O'Brien (who was so drunk during a parade at Washington, as to oblige his commanding officer to order a man to conduct him to his tent [Burger (our ex-boarder) told Cahill this.] expects a captaincy. He, O'B. has "jerkked his little editorials and poems," as the Bohemians would say, in glorification of the Seventh, which certainly did all it undertook – but no fighting" (224-225).[pages:18, 50, 158, 224-225]
Gunn annotates a newspaper clipping mentioning O'Brien, "All bosh. They didn't go" (25).
Shepherd tells Gun about O'Brien and Brown's sidewalk extravaganza, "Returning to New York, I met Shepherd in Bleecker Street and he, professing to be hard-up and in want of a drink, accompanied me into the Store, where we had ale. He narrated how he, O'Brien and Brown ("Artemus Ward") had been on a "big drink" yesterday, how on leaving him at his boarding-house, they had fallen to dancing on the sidewalk, inviting passers-by to join them, hiring two organ-grinders to play to them and subsequently endeavoring to set them fighting with one another" (33-34).
O'Brien is mentioned in a newspaper clipping (172).[pages:25, 33-34, 172]
Gunn journals about "Captain" O'Brien: "Cahill has seen 'Captain' O'Brien once in the city, he having come up from the 'camp' of the Mc.Clellan Rifles on Staten Island, as John Wood told me, also. Cahill had a curt interview with O'B., the latter inquiring in his usual agreeable tone of insolence why Cahill hadn't fulfilled a certain agreement about writing puffs for the regiment, for promised but unperformed bucksheesh. O'B. told Wood that he had passed his examination as an officer, which was of an extremely severe and scrutinizing character – of course. Of all the pseudo-Bohemians who bragged of their military ardor, not one has really gone to the war" (26-27).
Gunn writes of an incident when O'Brien shot a man for insubordination: "O'Brien has shot a man in the abdomen, for insubordination, outside the limits of the camp and is now in charge of the civil authorities. Bellew did not see him and talks very gravely of the deed, as does his wife. 'Mr. O'Brien,' she says, 'is very much hated by the soldiers.' 'They may hang him!' adds Bellew. I am pretty sure they will do no such thing, albeit he may deserve it; only unlettered homicides are executed in this democritic city; though seeing what the man's life is, I don't think I should affect to sentimentalize if the Baron of Inchiquin were induced with the order of the halter. However as blowing a hole with a pistol-bullet through the stomach of an Irishman, even by another and by a 'literary man,' is hardly a recognized privilege, 'Captain' O'Brien may expiate the indulgence of his humane Celtic temper between four stone walls for a year or two. The deed occurred on Friday night, and Bellew reports that the soldier cannot survive this one" (42-43).
Gunn journals about the talk of O'Brien's homicide: "Fletcher Harper told version of O'Brien's homicide. To Frank Leslie's, saw him and Wood. W. Waud, Berghans and White (all-artists on the paper) came out. With them to Crook and Duff's. Others there; Glover the lewd and foolish-faced; Anthony the engraver (the lower part of whose face is singularly mean and unsatisfactory)and Banks passed out. Bellew in, momentarily. Found him at Haney's five minutes afterwards; out with him. He was going to Staten Island immediately and told me that the man shot by O'Brien was Sergeant to the regiment. Close to the 'Herald' office a man accosted me whom I recognized as Gabay, my fellow-passenger across the Atlantic in the 'Indiana.' He told me he had stayed in Europe eight months. He was born in London, of Dutch parents, and now keeps a cigar-shop at 263, Hudson Street. Across the street I met Shanley who talked of O'Brien, naming the Sergeant and stating that O'B. had exhibited to him (Shanley) a revolver on Friday, saying that he expected to have to use it on that particular person. To Strong's. Saw him; got the last $5 for last chapter of story and stayed chatting with the little man for half an hour or more. He mentioned incidentally things about sundry acquaintances. Talking of O'Brien, Strong, who was with him in the abortive chain-cable laying experiment to Newfoundland, undertaken some four or five years ago, told how upon an old gentleman's objecting to O'B's arbitrarily using his boat to be rowed ashore in, the Irishman bullied him and threatened to throw him overboard. But the senior had a son on board who proposed to do the like to Sir Braggart, who thereupon, in Strong's language 'wilted right down'." (47-49).
Gunn attaches a newspaper clippings regarding the shooting of Sergeant Davneport by O'Brien (52).
Gunn mentions O'Brien's plans to go to Washington: "O'Brien was resplendent in the costume of a U. S. officer, blue-broadcloth suit, red sash and sword. He has no other right to wear it, or to assume his title of 'captain' beyond his 'great expectations' of obtaining a commission in the regular army. The pistolling business has ended his connection with the McClellan Rifles. He talks of going to Washington within a day or two" (86).
Gunn documents Robertson's account of O'Brien's shooting: "Before Boweryem's appearance, Robertson had told me the true story of O'Brien's shooting the man Davenport, which he was well qualified to do, having narrowly escaped witnessing it. Robertson was turned over to the McClellan Rifles with a certain number of that unlucky corps, the British Volunteers, and sojourned at the camp at Factoryville during the summer months. He, an Anglo-Indian and old soldier, saw very little to admire in the state of things. O'Brien was continually drunk, arbitrary and detested by the men; he went about swaggering with a loaded revolver in his belt, threatening to shoot those who disobeyed his orders; 'a dangerous man,' says Robertson. This Sergeant Davenport, an Irishman, an ex-Indian soldier, O'Brien especially hated; he had menaced him repeatedly. Going down to Staten Island from New York, Robertson found himself on board with O'Brien, who, then very drunk, invited Robertson to drink with him, which he did. At Factoryville, Robertson was called away to speak to one of the inhabitants of the place, and on his arrival at the camp, the shooting of Davenport had occurred, during the interval. He found the Sergeant with a pistol-bullet in his body, just above his naval. O'Brien had demanded the man's pass &c, to which Davenport replied that O'B. must know that he had leave to quit the camp – they had returned on the same boat – possibly without much pretence [sic] of respect for his question. Then O'Brien drew his pistol and blazed away with the unquestionable attempt to murder, the servant Sergeant, missing at the first fire, but not so at the second. The soldiers were so exasperated that they would assuredly have killed O'Brien, had he remained in camp that night. He was under temporary arrest; but the man didn't die as was expected; O'Brien's colonel favored the escape of a companion; the press generally reported the thing a la Cahill, against the Sergeant and the man is now limping about Governor's Island, with a bullet in his body, as recently seen by my informant. O'Brien got his appointment on Lander's staff by making interest with Mrs Lander, who was Miss Davenport the actress – the daughter of the 'original Crummles' – indeed the 'Phenomenon' of Nicholas Nickleby. He had puffed her in the papers" (223-225).
Gunn annotates a newspaper clipping about O'Brien being shot, "N. Y. Times. Feb 24" (244).[pages:26-27, 42-43, 47-49, 52, 86, 223-225, 244]
Gunn describes two letters written by O'Brien, "Cahill brought home two letters today, written by O'Brien; having to fudge up one as from "our correspondent," using the contents for the morrow's paper. Both were written in pencil, the first detailing the Blooming Gap affair – with the narrator's achievements in due prominence – the other endorsed, "In bed – wounded." It told how he had ridden at the head of his men, responding to the "rebel" officer's inquiry as to what they were
by "Union men, God damn you!" and firing his revolver, when a smart skirmish ensued, in which O'Brien got wounded, "the bullet going through and through" his "scapular." Of course he didn't want to quit the fight but had to ride 21 miles in his "pain and agony." Then follows a verbatim copy of a complimentary despatch to him from McClellan and a request that transcripts of it and the letter should be sent to three newspaper acquaintances, of which Bellew and F. Wood were two. It was originally written to a Mr Davis who was once introduced to Cahill by O'Brien as a "son of the richest man in New York" (15-16).
A newspaper clipping regarding O'Brien's death (125).
Gunn discusses the death of O'Brien, "Of O'Brien's death this: "O'Brien has paid one debt at last, it is said, that of nature. His wound inflamed, the arm was taken off, lock-jaw set in and poor O'Brien died." To which I add from letters received subsequently: "O'B. was buried from the 7th Regiment armory, (at Greenwood): Frank Wood is his literary executor." From Boweryem: "Baron Inchiquin had a grand funeral: to have been consistent the undertaker should have been stuck and the mural sculpter sold." (And O'Brien's creditors have followed as mourners.) I append the Herald's notice of the obsequies and also an article written by Guernsey of the grubby finger-nails, editor of Harper's Monthly, and published in
the Weekly:" (142).
Gunn includes a newspaper clipping regarding O'Brien's funeral (142).
Gunn attaches an additional newspaper clipping regarding O'Brien's death (pgs. 142/144/146/148/150).[pages:15-16, 125, 142, 142/144/146/148/150]
Gunn mentions that Turner had beaten O'Brien: "Met Capt. Jim Turner. Did I ever chronicle his licking O'Brien for ridiculing an actress who was Turner's mistress, and who played at Burton's in Chamber Street seven or eight years ago. Turner was in the police, then; and O'Brien had got Raymond to let him do some sensation criticism in the Times."[pages:178]
Gunn attaches a newspaper clipping regarding the career of O'Brien.[pages:221]
Hahn says he was an occasional visitor.[pages:10,13,20]
O'Brien served in the Seventh Regiment of New York. Hemstreet describes him as "the erratic and brilliant journalist, whose tale of The Diamond Lens was his best contribution to the literature of that day" (220).
Hemstreet also mentions that O'Brien told a story of how he was sent to see Henry T. Tuckerman "in a big brown building in Tenth Street;" at the time of Hemstreet's writing, the location still exists (221-22).[pages:220-22]
Mentions that North satirized O'Brien as "Fitz Gammon O'Bouncer" in Slave of the Lamp.
Howells claimed that to be published in the Saturday Press was to be in his "company" (63).
Howells begins a discussion of O'Brien's military career by mentioning O'Brien's literary successes with the story of "The Diamond Lens" and a ghost story. Howells mentions that upon his return to New York he found out that O'Brien had enlisted in the war. Howells claims O'Brien "had risen to be an officer in the swift process of the first days of it" (73).
Howells recounts that O'Brien had shot and killed a man at camp, and the outcome or his punishment was uncertain. O'Brien was cleared of wrong-doing on that account. O'Brien would die of lockjaw from a battle injury (73).[pages:63,73]
The obituary identifies him as one of the "Knights of the Round Table" of the "lions of Bohemia."[pages:2]
Lalor desribes him as one of the "brightest lights" of the New York Bohemians (131).[pages:131]
Mentioned as a member of the "'Pfaff group,' which assisted in the publication of the Saturday Press.[pages:832]
Fitz-James O'Brien was a regular at Pfaff's and one of the first Bohemians (along with Henry Clapp) to frequent the place. O'Brien was born to a well-off family and had come to the United States as an assistant to Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman. O'Brien was described as both "quick-fisted" and "generous" and was considered one of the "'cardinals in the high church of Bohemia.'" Though he mostly thought of himself as a poet, he also wrote macabre short stories that rivaled Poe's. His work on Putnam's Monthly Magazine earned him a solid reputation by 1859 (47-48).
O'Brien and Clapp introduced their friends and fellow writers to Pfaff's, making it grow in popularity among their circle of bohemians (49).
O'Brien served in the army in place of Aldrich. On February 15, 1862, he was ambushed by Confederates. As he rode forward to shoot the "'foremost rebel'" he was wounded in his shoulder. The injury claimed his life on April 6, 1862 (110). Though O'Brien's unionist sentiments have been questioned, it is clear that "O'Brien and the circle at Pfaff's left an ample record of a deep dedication to the cause for which he gave his life" (125-126).[pages:51, 60, 113, 124, 47-48, 49-50, 106, 110, 115, 116, 125-126, 52, 76]
Levin notes that Fitz-James O'Brien was the Bohemian "most likely to inspire comparisons to both the working-class loafer and the aristocratic dandy" (33). He alternately performed two different class identities as an Irishman with expensive tastes, and as a "starving" author picketing Harper's magazine. He was "an individual embodiment of that constant threat to bourgeois life: the boom-and-bust economy" (33).[pages:20, 33, 35-36, 67]
Levin describes O'Brien as an Irish imigrant author of "Poe-like" stories." [O'Brien] "probably best embodied Bohemian eccentricity" (21). Levin also claims that O'Brien "was the Bohemian most likely to inspire comparisons to both the working-class loafer and tne aristocratic dandy" because he "performed different class identities" (41). According to Levin, "O'Brien - who reportedly liked 'to appear not to work at all' and who would 'saunter downtown as if time killing were his only object in life' - critiqued the Bohemian persona more scathingly than any Sunday paper" through his story "The Bohemian" (44).[pages:21,41,44,86,87,90,109]
Praises O'Brien, stating that "[t]he well-born, well-bred, and accomplished young Irishman was welcomed to the best literary and social circles. Permanent and recognized positions in the press were always at his command, and were at different times held on the Times, Putnam's Magazine, Harper's Weekly, and subsequently, and for a still longer period, upon that brilliant but erratic paper, the Saturday Press."
A note on Harper's New Monthly Magazine mentions that Fitz James O'Brien will have two poems in the December edition, "Love at the Lattice" and "Prize Fight" (2).[pages:2]
Maverick continues to assert that O'Brien borrowed from William North.
A note on Harper's Magazine lists Fitz James O'Brien among the "principal contributors." A note on the Atlantic lists Fitz James O'Brien among the contributors (3).[pages:3]
A member of Clapp's "cabinet" in the "Kingdom of Bohemia" and at the Saturday Press. The article mentions that "O'Brien fell in battle."[pages:192]
Described as a brawler. Died during the Civil War from lockjaw caused by a hastily bandaged headwound.[pages:236]
He is described as one of the "others who rallied" at Pfaff's.[pages:396]
A regular at Pfaff's (16). O'Brien was the first theater critic for the Saturday Press (26).
O'Brien, along with John Brougham, Edward G. P. Wilkins, and Mark Smith formed "The Bees" in 1856 (44). O'Brien was also a member of the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity (44).
O'Brien is included in Frank Bellew's 1856 Picayune cartoon "depicting playwrights registering their dramatic works before the first copyright law went into effect (52).
William Winter recalls O'Brien's unique effect upon people (73).
Upon meeting O'Brien, William Winter stated that "the fiery Irishman 'astonished some of the quiet literary circles of that staid and decorous region by his utter and unaffected irreverence for various camphorated figure-heads which were then an incubus upon American letters'" (qtd. in T. Miller 73).[pages:16, 26, 37, 38, 44, 52, 73, 80]
A staff member of The Saturday Press; O'Brien's job was to write about the theater. O'Brien was with the paper for less than three months.[pages:39]
North satirizes O'Brien with the character "Fitzgammon O'Bouncer."
North satirizes O'Brien with the character "Fitzgammon O'Bouncer."
O'Brien writes that he, Brougham, Goodrich are currently working on a three act play titled "The Dark Hour Before Dawn" to be performed by amateurs for a Dramatic Fund Association benefit in the chief cities of the Union (3).[pages:3]
O'Brien reveals himself as "Dodo," who wrote the first "Dramatic Feuilleton" (3).[pages:3]
Winter includes tributes to the life and professional accomplishments of O'Brien.
O'Brien is mentioned as one of Clapp's assistants at the Saturday Press. He is described as "the gifted poet, for the time, of Harper's Magazine, full of the enthusiasm of his Irish nature, and as brave and reckless as his people ususally are." He is described during his Pfaff's days as being "not much of a talker, but and excellent writer."
The "Obituary" also notes O'Brien's death in the "War of the Rebellion," claiming that he "served nobly" and "died without an enemy."[pages:7]
His My Christmas Dinner written "expresly for this theater" opened at Wallack's 12/25/1852. A Gentleman from Ireland played at Wallacks in Dec. 1854. O'Brien also adapted The Sisters from the French for Wallacks for Dec. 27,1854. This play ran until Jan. 13, 1855.[pages:218,361-362]
In 1890, Gayler attributes the authorship of Rosedale to O'Brien; Winter disputes this claim.[pages:542]
O'Brien is described as "light-hearted" and is included in the list of the "happy, careless children of Bohemia" who attended the "carnivals in Pfaff's cellar" (5).[pages:5]
O'Brien is mentioned as a frequenter of Pfaff's who, along with others, found Nast "amusing" and "took him to theatres and other cozy resorts and 'showed him the town'" (22).[pages:22]
Parry writes of the literary movements in New York before the era of Greenwich Village: "Henry Clapp, Fitz-James O'Brien, Ada Clare, and their group were the first organizers writers to insist on transferring contemporary life and literature from the prison of salons to the freer air of saloons. They upheld the memory of Poe, they helped enthrone Whitman, and they prepared the path for much of the unorthodox that was to follow in American letters" (xiii).
Parry also writes that in the Pfaffians' attempts to "emulate Poe's distrust of mankind and his despair of the world," O'Brien "tried to borrow the mystery and horrors of Poe's imagination for his own stories" (9).
Parry mentions that O'Brien died of lock-jaw as a result of a battle-wound suffered during the Civil War and was one of several Pfaffians who died or did not return to the saloon after the Civil War (32).
In Clapp's recollections of the pre-war Pfaff's, he remembered that "O'Brien glowed with fun and poetry" (46).
Parry mentions O'Brien's reputation as the "chief fighter" at Pfaff's (50-51). O'Brien fought over everything from literature to the right of the way on the sidewalk, often ending up in the Jefferson Market jail: "Thus, as early as the 'Fifties, Greenwich Village received its first escapader, even if during his sojourn he had to stay under lock and key" (51). "[h]e fought friends and strangers with his tongue, pen, and fists. He had reckless but obscure love affairs. He played the gentleman by returning loans whenever magazines paid him for his news-topic poems, by pressing money, when he had it, into the palms of needy friends even if they did not ask for it, by concealing the names of his amours, and by shaking hands with his adversaries when the bouts were over" (52).
Parry writes that O'Brien's brawls and "stormy career" are reason enough to devote attention to him (51).
O'Brien's American experience lasted only a decade - he arrived in the United States in 1852, was one of the first Pfaffians to enlist in the Civil War, and his body was returned to New York in early 1862 (51). Parry speculates that it was not the subject of the conflict that attracted O'Brien, but his nature as a fighter (50).
Parry quotes O'Brien's anonymously-written obituary from Harper's Weekly, April 26, 1862: "Though of foreign birth and education, he so moulded his genius to the land in which the best years of his life were passed, that he was more thoroughly American than most writers of native birth and training" (51-52).
Parry explains O'Brien's Americanization by his Irishness, mentioning that he had contributed to Leisure Hour and Dickens' Household Words and was briefly a "worshipper" of Dickens, but soon "came under the spell of Poe, imitating his weird style and themes" which Parry feels at least partially influenced O'Brien to make plans for America (52).
According to Parry, when he decided to become "respectable" during the backlash against Bohemians "Stoddard tried to wean such valued friends as O'Brien, Stedman, and Taylor from the dissolute circle. O'Brien resisted successfully, and died tragically, but Stedman and Taylor were easily led into respectability" (59).
Parry describes O'Brien's phyisical appearance: "O'Brien's physical appearance helped him materially with the American editors. He was of middle stature but of athletic build and boyish sprightliness. His skin was fair and smooth except for certain scars of pugilistic origin, and these in a poet looked romantic enough. His eyes were a fine blue, his hair was wavy and brown, and his heavy mustache almost concealed his small chin. His voice was melodious yet convincing, but William North, the first enemy he made in America, called him a braggart, a borrower, and a bully" (52).
Parry notes O'Brien's fame for borrowing money to give parties at Delmonico's and suppers at Pfaff's and then not inviting the source of his money to the affair (52).
O'Brien appears to have been frequently without money or a place to stay, and often turned to freinds when he was thrown out of bars and his lodgings. According to Parry, the topics of his poetry included finishing schools, tenement houses, the death of Elisha Kane, "and many other contemporary topcsi, often with his tongue in his cheek." Parry also mentions that while he loved boxing, O'Brien's "The Prize Fight" was a protest against the nature of the sport, written for an editor that commissioned a poem that would move his "genteel lady-readers" and paid O'Brien well. According to Parry "O'Brien was having much fun while doing things against his own credo" including selling his story "The Diamond Lens" and others to the Atlantic Monthly despite his disparagement of the journal at Pfaff's (52-53).
When the Civil War broke out he first enlisted in the New York Seventh Regiment, which was sent to defend Washington. However, it turned out that the regiment was full of "dandies" from Delmonico's who were not interested in fighting and the whole regiment was sent back to New York. In New York, O'Brien attempted to raise his own regiment, known as the "McClellan Rifles" with aspirations of becoming a colonel. O'Brien became involved in recruiting, leading to the publication of a "friendly cartoon" by Edward T. Mullen in Vanity Fair. During this time, O'Brien shot a Union soldier in his camp during an argument, and would have most likely been shot by the members of his own squad had the North not been desparate for officers. Due in large part to his victim's recovery O'Brien was aquitted. Before his soldiers could get revenge, O'Brien was shot in a hand-to-hand skirmish on February 6, 1862. According to Parry, he rode for hours with a hastily bandaged wound and spent several weeks in agony on his cot before succumbing to lockjaw on April 6, 1862, in Cumberland Maryland (53-54). Of O'Brien's death, Parry writes that "At least one garereteer in a group must die as a soldier of fortune, away from friends and loves. This tradition was inaugurated in America by Fitz-James O'Brien" (50).
Parry also mentions that before his death, O'Brien had spoken of writing the "Great American Novel" and had begun writing notes (33). O'Brien used an acecdote Clapp told at Pfaff's about Albert Brisbane's glass eye in his story "The Wondersmith" (45). Parry also mentions that O'Brien was the subject of the "first and most notable" of many charges of plagiarism made against the Pfaffians. It was alleged that O'Brien had taken the "Diamond Lens" from North's papers when he committed suicide. The idea O'Brien's story is identical to North's unpublished "Microcosmus" which was known about by a few of his friends but was never found in manuscript form among his belongings or in any newspaper or magazine office (55-56).
Of O'Brien's other writing, Parry writes that "In his short story, 'The Bohemian,' O'Brien gave some detailed and fantastic accounts of love as it was practised in the garrets of New York. Philip Brann, the daring Bohemian, hypnotized the lady-love of a friend. Then the two took her to Coney Island to search for hidden treasure. The treasure was unearthed, but poor Annie died in the arms of her lover" (56).
Written during the period in which he frequented Pfaff's, O'Brien's "The Bohemian" was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in July 1855. The tale satirizes artistic bohemian Philip Brann whose greed ultimately destroys friend Henry Cranstoun's fiancé, Annie Deane, and leads him to reconsider the character of true wealth. O'Brien also displays his satirical talents in a series of seven articles on "counter jumpers" in which he mocks male shop-clerks. Two parodies of Walt Whitman appear in this group in the spring of 1860 including "Counter-Jumps. A Poemettina.-- After Walt Whitman" which playfully imitates the structure and voice of Whitman's "Song of Myself." It jibes, "I am the essence of retail. The sum and result of small profits/ and quick returns," finishing with "I sound my feeble yelp over the woofs of the World" (qtd. in A. Parry 183).
Parry notes that one of the New Bohemian's most glaring mistakes when referring to the Pfaffian's was to mis-name O'Brien "Fitz-John" (186).[pages:xiii,9,32,33,43,45,46,50-54,51(ill.),54(ill.),55-56,59,61,64,77-78,183,186]
Thomas Picton compares O'Brien to William North stating, "[a]ny person acquainted with the two parties cannot fail to draw a disparaging distinction between the scholastic attainments of the late Mr. North and the Hibernian pretensions of the ever-present and somewhat pertinacious Mr. Fitz-James O'Brien, whose sole merit in Saxon literature must be derived from his apochryphal descent from the Kings of old Erin."
Quelqu'un reports that the Tycoon has had a "brilliant run" at Jefferson's (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un mentions that O'Brien has written "a spirited poem" about the Chicago Zouaves for Harper's Weekly (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un reports that O'Brien's Tycoon, or Young America in Japan will be performed at Laura Keene's. Quelqu'un praises O'Brien's writing and encourages the General to see O'Brien's Burlesque (3).[pages:3]
Reynolds mentions that he wrote horror stories in the style of Poe (377).[pages:377]
Identified as a regular at Pfaff's and as the author of "The Diamond Lens," "The Lost Room," "The Wonder Smith," and "A Gentleman from Ireland" (a play written for Mr. Wallack). O'Brien's decision to enlist in the Union Army is recounted, as is his death in 1862 (208).[pages:198-99,204,208-09,296]
Quotes a few lines from O'Brien's ode Kane, attributed them to William North.[pages:245]
A regular in the bohemian circle at Pfaff's. O'Brien died of tetanus during the Civil War.[pages:142]
He is listed as one of the Pfaffian writers that "have fallen into obscurity." Stansell wonders how much influence these writers weilded on Whitman's literary career (108).
Stansell writes that for Poe and O'Brien a decade later, journalism became "a profession for the broken and disappointed of the gentlemanly classes" (114). She also describes him as "dashing" and writes that O'Brien was, "a once wealthy Irishman and Pfaffian in the late '50s who had arrived in New York with impressive letters of introduction to New York's most powerful editors, 'a large and valuable library,' 'dressing cases; pictures' a ward-robe of much splendor; and all sorts of knick knackery, such as young bachelors love to collect'" (114).
As one of the "Pfaffian regulars" who did "serious writing along with journalism", O'Brien wrote short stories (114). Stansell writes that at Pfaff's "There was verbal play with literary material: O'Brien took the idea for a sensationalist Poe-esque story about a glass eye from a story Clapp told one night" (117). Stansell writes that "O'Brien...would dash into Pfaff's to sponge off freinds when he was dead broke, then dash out again with an idea for a story of knock off" (118).[pages:108,114,117,118]
Despite Starr's doubts that the Bohemians "resurrected" Poe for his artistic ability and more for his lifestyle, Starr does note that "Fitz-James O'Brien at his macabre best emulated Poe superbly" (5).
In a discussion of the idea that "To be a Bohemian affored license for all manner of youthful exuberances," Starr mentions that Aldrich (according to Starr,of the Tribune) and O'Brien ("known, for cause, at Pfaff's as 'Fists Gammon O'Bouncer'") "experimented at 'sleeping all day and living all night'"(7). Starr continues on about O'Brien's "youthful exuberances," calling him "improvident to a fault" and citing an incident where O'Brien picketed the office of Harper's (the bindery/publisher) with a sign reading "I AM STARVING" after being refused a loan. The publishers eventually gave in (7).
Starr writes that in the days prior to the Civil War, like many others in New York, the "Pfaffians were exposed increasingly to the clamour of a world beyond their ken. Something like a revolution was afoot in the realm of journalism, a revolution that would lift these light-hearted pranksters from their subterranean retreat ad whirl them in its vortex. Soon O'Brien, Aldrich, Thomson, Williams, and Stedman, together with others in Clapp's happy coterie--Charles G. Halpine (who stammered to fame at Pfaff's, speaking inadvertantly of 'H-H-Harriet Beseecher Bestowe'), William Conant Church, William Swinton, E.H. House, Charles Henry Webb, a couple of artists, Frank H. Bellew and Thomas Nast: in all more than half of the identifiable clientele at the Cave--would take the field along with hundreds of other youths of like mind to participate in the greatest undertaking in the history of journalism" (9).
Starr writes of the movements of the seventy-five thousand volunteers called for by Lincoln in the major Northern cities: "New York's beloved Seventh marched off amid pandemoneum on Broadway, Fitz-James O'Brien recording every step for the Tribune" (32).[pages:5,7,9,32]
Stoddard calls O'Brien "the best of the Bohemians" and recalls that O'Brien would usually win poetry contest between Stoddard, O'Brien, and Bayard Taylor. However, Stoddard also states that "haste is evident in all that he wrote" and that O'Brien saw no reason to "labor at a story, or a poem, when he could sell it as it was."
Stovall notes that O'Brien called on Whitman.[pages:6]
Mentioned in reference to the Bohemian Club, which may be a post-Pfaff's group of journalists, even though they are described here as frequenting "Pfaaf's" [sic]. See Thomas Dunn English's "That Club at Pfaaf's [sic]."[pages:64]
While the reviewer asserts that O'Brien was "one of the cleverest of all the Bohemians," he also draws attention to the uneven quality of O'Brien's work, reflecting that "[t]he startling cleverness of his work at its best, taken in connection with its commonplace feebleness at its worst, at first bewilders the reader, and then invites him to critical analysis" (471). The reviewer then suggests that O'Brien's best work was influenced by the works of others, stating that, "[i]t is not that O'Brien was in any way a plagiarist. He was not. But he had a strange power of absorption,–or rather of assimilation, to express an elusive idea in a slovenly manner. He saw what some earlier author had done; saw it was good; and at once set about doing better in the same line" (471).[pages:469,471-472]
Watson lists Fitz-James O'Brien as a contributor to Vanity Fair (521).[pages:521]
Whitman records in his journal on August 16 that he met with Charles Pfaff for an excellent breakfast at his restaurant on 24th Street. "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, Stnaley, Mullin, Wood, Brougham, Arnold—all gone. And there Pfaff and I, sitting opposite each other at the little table, gave rememberance to them in a style they would have themselves fully confirm'd, namely, big, brimming, fill'd-up champagne-glasses, drain'd in abstracted silence, very leisurely, to the last drop."[pages:5:21]
O'Brien was born in about 1828, and was a "native" of Limerick. He graduated from Dublin Univeristy and moved to London to edit a paper, which failed. When O'Brien arrived in New York in 1852, he brought with him a letter of introduction from Dr. Mackenzie which he presented to prominent editors such as Major Noah and General Morris. In 1852, Dr. Mackenzie was living in Liverpool, but he was "later eminent in the journalism of Philadelphia" (75-76). Winter states: "O'Brien's career was brief, stormy, laborious, sometimes gay, sometimes miserable, and its close, though honorable, was sad" (75).
"Upon his arrival in America O'Brien entered with vigor upon the duties of the literary vocation." In this early period, O'Brien wrote for "The Home Journal," "The Evening Post," "The New York Times," "The Whig Review," "Harper's Magazine," and other publications. O'Brien also wrote short stage plays and was friends with both Lester Wallack and his father. Aldrich recalled that when he first met O'Brien, "he was trimming the wick of 'The Lantern,' the paper started by Brougham. Winter claims: "The best of O'Brien's works were first published in 'Putnam's Magazine,' 'Harper's' and 'The Atlantic.' The last article that came from his pen was printed in 'Vanity Fair,' a comic paper that struggled through much vicissitude, during the war time, and, though its payments were small, was of vital service to our Bohemian circle" (76).
When Clapp began the "Saturday Press," O'Brien was hired to write about the Stage. However, Winter remarks that "O'Brien was a man to whom the curb of regular employment was intolerable," and he was only associated with the paper for a few weeks (66-67).
He is listed by Winter as one of the Bohemians who frequented Pfaff's Cave (88). Winter states, "Among those Bohemian comrades of mine,--all dead and gone now and mostly forgotten,--O'Brien was at once the most potential genius and the most original character. As I think of him I recall Byron's expressive figure, 'a wild bird and a wanderer'" (67).
In the early days of "The Atlantic Monthly," O'Brien published "The Diamond Lens" and "The Wondersmith"; Winter guesses that contemporary audiences are unlikely to have heard of either work. However, Winter notes that "These stories were hailed as the most ingenious fabrics of fiction that had been contributed to our literature since the day when Edgar Poe surprised and charmed the reading community with his imaginative, enthralling tale of 'The Fall of the House of Usher.' They revived, indeed, the fashion of the weird short story, and they provided a model for subsequent compositions of that order" (67).
Winter notes "that brillaint Irishman" O'Brien, "as a passing guest," in Aldrich's rooms at the Frost house, wrote the story "What Was It?" (139).
Winter recalls that after O'Brien's "The Diamond Lens" was published, "a groundless, foolish fable was set afloat" that alleged that O'Brien had taken the story from one of North's manuscripts. Winter states that "the fact being that it ['The Diamond Lens'] was prompted by a remark made to him [O'Brien] by Dr. A.L Carroll (he who, for a short time in 1865, published a comic paper called 'Mrs. Grundy'), relative to the marvellous things contained in a drop of water" (67-68). Winter claims that O'Brien's stories were original compositions, several of which he wistnessed being written while he was shown others almost immediately after they were completed. Winter claims that O'Brien's "fine poem" of "The Falling Star" was written at his "lodging," and that he still has the first draft of the work, which "Fitz" left on his table, along with the pen he was using. Winter claims that Fitz-James O'Brien's story, "The Wondersmith" was inspired by an anecdote that Clapp told in O'Brien and Winter's presence. Clapp's story follows: "'Once, while I was working for Albert Brisbane' (so, in substance, said the Prince of Bohemia), 'I had to read to him, one evening, many pages of a translation I had made, for his use, of Fourier's book on the Social Destiny of Man. He was closely attentive and seemed to be deeply interested; but, after a time, I heard a slight snore, and looking at him, in profile, I saw that he was sound asleep--and yet the eye that I could see was wide open. The and thus I ascertained, somewhat to my surprise, that he had a glass eye.'" Winter recalls that after Clapp told the story, there was a discussion "about the use of glass eyes and about the startling effects producible by the wearer of such an optic who should suddenly remove it from his visage, polish it, and replace it." In "The Wondersmith," "O'Brien causes the uncanny keeper of the toys to place his glass eye, as a watcher,--investing that orb with the faculty of sight and the means of communication (69-70).
On the topic of the focus on "intemperance," Winter states: "Poe died in 1849, aged forty, leaving works that fill ten closely packed volumes. No man achieves a result like that whose brain is damaged by stimulants. The same disparagement has been diffused as to Fitz-James O'Brien, that fine poet and romancer, who died at thirty-four,--losing his life in the American Civil War,--whose writings I collected and published. I have known O'Brien to have neither lodging, food nor money,--to be, in fact, destitute of everything except the garments in which he stood. The volume of his works that I collected,--including the remarkable stories of 'The Diamond Lens' and 'The Wondersmith,'--is one of five hundred pages; and there are other writings of his in my possession that would make another volume of an equal size. He was an Irishman and knew and like the favorite tipple of his native land; but it is to his genius that the world owes his writings,--not to his drams" (34-35).
Winter recalls that O'Brien and William North were friends, but had had a falling-out. In "The Slave of the Lamp" (later "The Man of the World"), North "described and satirized" O'Brien in the character "Fitz-Gammon O'Bouncer" (68).
Winter tells the following story about O'Brien: "At twilight on a gloomy autumn day in 1860, when I happened to be sitting alone at the long table under the sidewalk in Pfaff's Cave, O'Brien came into that place and took a seat near to me. His face was pale and careworn and his expression preoccupied and dejected. He was, at first, silent; but presently he inquired whether I intended to go to my lodging, saying that he would like to go there with me, and to write something that he had in mind. I knew O'Brien, and thoroughly understanding his ways, I comprehended at once the dilemma in which he was placed. Our circle of boys had a name for it. He was 'on a rock'; that is to say, he was destitute. I told him that I had something to do, that would keep me absent for an hour, at the end of which time I would return for him. That was a pretext for going to my abode (it was in Varick Street), and causing a room to be prepared for my friend. He remained in that lodging for two nights and a day. In the course of that time he slept only about four hours: I could not induce him to food or drink: he would not eat even a little fruit that I obtained and contrived to leave in his way. On the morning of the second day he appeared at my bedside, having a roll of manuscript in his hand, and, formally, even frigidly, took leave of me. 'Sir,' he said, 'I wish you good morning'; and so saying, he departed. About four o'clock in the afternoon of that day I entered Delmonico's and there I found Fitz,--in glory. He was arrayed in new garments; he had refreshed himself; he was dispensing refreshment to all who would partake of it; his aspect was of wealth and joy. He had, in the meantime, sold to 'Harper's Magazine,' for a large price (at least in those days considered large), the product of his vigil at my lodging, and he was rejoicing in the sensation of affluence. He was a strange being: I remember that he became angry because I would not borrow some money from him, and at last I was obliged to appease him by accepting the loan of a small banknote. The composition he had sold was his fabric of narrative verse called 'The Sewing Bird,' --a singularly ingenious work, blending fancy with satire, which had been suggested to him by the sight of one of those little silver-colored birds, then a recent invention, used by sewing girls, to hold cloth. The drift of it is that much of the remunerative work that should be left for women to do is pre-empted and taken from them by men. It meant more at that time, perhaps, than it does now. It was widely read and much admired. The wish that every remunerative work to which women are equal should be reserved for them is, no doubt, general; but there is a ludicrous side to the subject, as noticed by that great novelist Wilkie Collins, who, in one of his most delightful stories, refers to '...Maternal societies for confining poor women; Magdalen societies for rescuing poor women; Strong-Minded societies for putting poor women into poor men's places and leaving the poor men to shift for themselves.' Still, 'The Sewing Bird' is a clever work, and it had a good effect" (70-73).
Of O'Brien's temper, Winter states that "Like many persons of the Irish race, O'Brien was impetuous in temper and 'sudden and quick in quarrel." Winter recalls that O'Brien and the Scotch novelist Donald McLeod were friends, and that one night the two were forced to share a bed. In this shared space, an argument broke out between the two over Irish or Scottish "racial superiority." "O'Brien was aggressively positive as to the predominant merit of the Irish," and McLeod felt the same way about the Scottish. The two men argued and then fell asleep, challenging each other to settle matters in the morning. According to Winter, "Both were sincere in their ferocious intentions, but neither of them could resist the suddenly comic aspect of their dispute, and so the quarrel ended in a laugh." Winter learned of the story when O'Brien told him of the incident (73-74).
Winter reprints a November 21, 1860, letter from O'Brien to his friend, John E. Owens, as a demonstration of O'Brien's sense of humor p. 74-75.
Winter states that "when the war began O'Brien promptly sought service in the field." O'Brien first enlisted with the New York Seventh Regiment, and was later on the staff of General Lander's forces in the position of a Volunteer Aid. O'Brien was seriously wounded in the shoulder joint of his right arm (it was shattered) on February 6, 1862, in a fight with the cavalry of Confederate Colonel Ashley. He died from that wound on April 6, 1862, at Cumberland, VA. Aldrich and O'Brien, "applied, almost simultaneously," to be the Aid of General Lander, leader of the New York Seventh Regiment, in April, 1862. Aldrich initially won the appointment, but the letter with his assignment to be delivered to Portsmouth never reached him, so the appointment went to O'Brien. Winter includes "One of Henry Clapp's grim witticisms on that subject: 'Aldrich, I see,' he said, 'has been shot in O'Brien's shoulder.'" Winter qualifies this by stating that "The old cynic did not like either of them" (76-77).
Winter remarks: "As to O'Brien, friendship had to charitable towards infirmities of character and errors of conduct. He lacked both moral courage and intellectual restraint. He was wayward, choleric, defiant, sometimes almost savage: but he was generous in disposition and capable of heroism, and his works afford abundant evidence of the imagination that accompanies genius and the grace that authenticates literary art. Among my Bohemian comrades, he was not the most beloved, but he had the right to be the most admired." To further discuss O'Brien's character and skill, Winter quotes several stanzas of O'Brien's poem "The Fallen Star" p. 78 which Winter feels "unconsciously, he [O'Brien] revealed the better part of his own nature, with some part of his own experience, and which pathetically indicate the writer's personality and the influence it diffused (77-78).
Winter states that the most "abrupt" contrast between personalities "was afforded by the restful, indolent, elegant demeanor of Wilkins, and the vital, breezy, exuberant, demeanor of Fitz-James O'Brien,--the most representative Bohemian writer whom it has been my fortune to know" (95). In discussing his temper, Winter notes that O'Brien sometimes became involved (or involved himself) in arguments that led to physical violence. "Persons whom he disliked he would not recognize and, in the expression of opinion, especially as to questions of literary art, he was explicit"; Winter states that this was a prevailing trait among the members of the Bohemian circle. This practice "was a salutory experience for young writers, because it habituated them to the custom not only of speaking the truth, as they understood it, but of hearing the truth, as others understood it, about their own productions." Winter provides an example of this practice: "I greatly like your poem of 'Orgia,' O'Brien said to me, "and I like it all the more because I did not think you could write anything so good" (95-96).
In response to Howells' criticisms of the Bohemians and in a discussion of their writing, Winter states: "Revelry requires money: at the time Mr. Howells met those Bohemians, -- with the 'damp locks' and the 'frenzied eyes,' -- it is probably that the group did not possess enough money among them all to buy a quart bottle of champagne. Furthermore, they were writers of remarkable quality, and they were under the stringent necessity of working continually and very hard: and it seems pertinent to suggest that such a poem, for instance, as George Arnold's 'Old Pedagogue,' or Fitz-James O'Brien's Ode in commemoration of Kane, or Charles Dawson Shanly's 'Walker of the Snow,' is not to be produced from under the stimulation of alcohol. Literature is a matter of brains, not drugs. It would be equally just and sensible for American criticism to cherish American literature, and to cease from carping about the infirmities, whether actual or putative, of persons dead and gone, who can no longer defend themselves" (93).
Winter also refers to Brougham's recollections of O'Brien: "John Brougham, the comedian, expressed to me the opinion that O'Brien never cared much for any person with whom he did not quarrel, and as both of them were Irishmen that opinion, perhaps, is correct" (95).
According to Winter, "The quarrels in which O'Brien participated were more often pugilistic than literary; contests into which he plunged, with Celtic delight in the tempest of combat. He was constitutionally valorous, but, as his valor lacked discretion and he did not hesitate to engage with giants, he was usually defeated." Winter recalls O'Brien reading his poem "The Lost Steamship" at Pfaff's after getting into a fistfight on Broadway over who had the right-of-way on the sidewalk. O'Brien "read that poem to our circle in a magnificent manner, with all the passionate vigor, all the weird feeling, and all the tremor of haunted imagination that its tragical theme requires." Winter continues with remarks about O'Brien's skill in capturing the feeling and horror of the tradegy (96-98).
Of his fights, Winter states that "Poor O'Brien's fights were, no doubt, serious enough to him, but to most of his associates they seemed comic." Winter discusses O'Brien's "Waterloo" on June 14,1858, at the New York Hotel, and the "playful" account of the event he heard from the doctor that treated O'Brien afterwards; O'Brien's nose was smashed and his facial injuries made him unrecognizable (98-99).
Winter argues that O'Brien was not always brawling and reckless, and that the "gypsy-like wildness of temperment" was developed over time and through disappointments. Winter cites Arnold for proof of this fact: "When I first knew O'Brien, in 1856-'57, he had elegant rooms; a large and valuable library; piles of manuscripts; dressing-cases; pictures; a ward-robe of much splendor; and all sorts of knick-knackery, such as young bachelors love to collect." Winter states that others who knew O'Brien when he arrived in 1852, described him as "a man of uncommonly attractive aspect,--making mention of his athletic figure, genial face, fair complexion, pleasing smile, waving brown hair, and winning demeanor." Winter notes that when he met O'Brien, "a change had occured, alike in his person and circumstances." At that time, O'Brien had gone to Boston as an assistant to H.L. Bateman, who was directing the professional tour of Matilda Heron. According to Winter, "it was easy to perceive that he had experienced considerable vicissitude and was a confirmed literary gypsy." O'Brien had apparently aged and his hair had begun to thin at this point, but Winter remarks that "his expressive gray-blue eyes were clear and brilliant; his laughter was bluff and breezy; his voice strong and musical; his manner was gay; and he was a cheerful companion,--making the most of To-day, and caring not at all for To-morrow" (99-100).
Winter reprints an 1880 "serio-comic" letter from Aldrich to Winter that discusses O'Brien. Aldrich writes of a dinner at Delmonico's that O'Brien hosted for Clapp, Arnold, and possibly Winter, that O'Brien had borrowed $35.00 from Aldrich to host. Aldrich was not invited to the event (100-101).
Winter discusses a rumor orginated and published by Briggs/Harry Franco about O'Brien: "O'Brien was not the heir to a title, nor did he pretend to be. The clever, piquant, tart, and rather malicious writer, Charles F. Briggs, once prominent in New York journalism as 'Harry Franco,' originated and published the incorrect statement,--which was accepted by Aldrich and others,--that O'Brien was a relative of Smith O'Brien, at one time conspicuous as an Irish 'agitator,' and was an heir to the title borne by Smith O'Brien's brother, Lord Inchiquin. Fitz-James's father was a lawyer: his mother's maiden name was de Courcy" (102).
Of O'Brien's works, Winter notes that the story "The Scarlet Petticoat" was started in the paper "Leslie's Stars and Stripes" in 1859, and ran for a few months, but was never completed. Several of O'Brien's works have been lost. Winter mentions that in 1881, he had a volume of O'Brien's works published which contained forty-three poems and thirteen stories. For a companion volume, Winter was able to collect "from various sources" thirty pieces of prose, fifteen pieces of verse, several plays, and "many interesting fragments," enough, Winter claims, "to make a book of five hundred pages" (102-103).
Winter also reprints a letter from O'Brien to Aldrich p.103.
O'Brien was a member of Taylor's poetic group, along with Richard Henry Stoddard, Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard, Edmund Clarence Stedman, George Henry Boker, George William Curtis, Christopher P. Cranch, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow. Winter notes that at the time of his writing "not one remains" of this group (177). Winter also notes that for a period, O'Brien was especially close to Taylor and Stoddard, but this did not continue. Winter also notes that when he published O'Brien's collected works in 1881 --Poems and Stories, "the most censorious review of them that appeared was, I remember, written by Stoddard, in "The New York Tribune" (295).
O'Brien was a member of a New York group of artists and writers that existed before the Pfaff's Bohemians that also included Gayler, North, Bellew, Charles G. Rosenberg, Seymour, and Eytinge. Winter was not a member of this group; all of its members are dead at the time of Winter's writing. Winter states, "That society, unlike the Pfaff's coterie, was, after a fortuitous fashion, organized, and it had a name,--the remarkable name of the Ornithorhyncus Club." The club was named after a Duck-Billed Platypus (308). O'Brien wrote one of the group's songs, which "was sung to an air from the ever popular 'Fra Diavolo'"; this song was "an especial favorite" of the group (309-310).
Of the poets associated with the Bohemian period, Winter states that O'Brien's name is one among a list of "names that shine, with more or less lustre, in the scroll of American poets, and recurrence to their period affords opportunity for correction of errors concerning it, which have been conspicuously made" (292).
Winter reprints a letter written to him from Aldrich that discusses a poem that is credited to O'Brien. It appears that the poem is a recent "discovery." The letter is dated March 8,1881, and Winter states that Aldrich had been editor of "The Atlantic Monthly" for a while. In regards to O'Brien, Aldrich writes: "If that is O'Brien's poem, it is the best he ever wrote. Here and there I catch the tone of his voice. That wild fancy, in the second stanza, about the floating yellow hair of the drowning sun, seems like O'Brien at his very best. The poem is wholly new to me..." (367).
Winter claims that "O'Brien had a presentiment of his early and violent death." Winter cites a letter to him from the artist Albert R. Waud, "who was in his company 'at the front'" for support:
"After O'Brien became Aid on Lander's staff a feeling took possession of him that he would not long survive the commission: under its influence he became, at times, strangely softened. His bouyant epicureanism partly deserted him. He showed greater consideration for others and was less convivial than was his wont.
One night I rode with him to the camp of the First Massachusetts Battery, where the evening passed pleasantly, with cigars and punch. Some one sang the song, from 'Don Casesar de Bazan,' 'Then let me like a soldier die.' Next morning he started, to join the General (Lander) at Harper's Ferry. As we rode he kept repeating the words of the song; said he appreciated it the more, as he had a presentiment that he should be shot, before long. He would not be rallied out of it, but remarked that he was content; and, when we parted, said good-bye, as cheerfully as need be.
I heard, afterward, that medical incompetance had more to do with his death than the wound. How true it was I don't know. But the same thing was said of General Lander; and there was, at that time, a great want of surgical experience in the field" (104).
In a final word on O'Brien's life, Winter states: "The propulsive influences of that period, greatly broadened and strengthened, are splendidly operative now, and the hard vicissitudes of such a case as that of O'Brien would be needless or impossible to-day. Poet, romancer, wanderer, soldier, he sang his song, he told his story, he met his fate like a brave man, giving his life for his adopted land, and dying,--with much promise unfulfilled,--when only thirty-four years old" (105).[pages:66-68,69-70,70-78,88,93,95-105,139,177,292,295,308,309-310,367]
O'Brien is mentioned throughout the book, but the relevant Pfaff's information is on the listed pages. Called the "Prince of Bohemians." Was rumored to have had an affair with Ada Clare.[pages:2, 92, 130]
Wood's tribute to O'Brien as "Soldier and Poet" includes biographical information as well as his assessment of O'Brien's contribution to literature.
Wood's tribute to O'Brien as "Soldier and Poet" includes biographical information as well as his assessment of O'Brien's contribution to literature.[pages:xxxvi-xlv]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015