Born in Philadelphia, Charles Godfrey Leland Leland received his early schooling in Massachusetts and Philadelphia, where Bronson Alcott was one of his teachers. He contributed short poems to newspapers before the age of fifteen. After graduating from Princeton in 1846, Leland traveled to Europe and spent two years studying in Germany. In 1848 he participated in uprisings in Paris before returning to Philadelphia to study law. Leland was fond of Europe, and “hated the calm smugness of his home city after the turmoil and color of Europe.” He continued to rail against the “homely virtues” of his home city, yet was drawn to it, repeatedly skipping between New York and Philadelphia over the years (Parry 151-2).
Turning to journalism, Leland began to write articles for the Union Magazine, the New York Illustrated News (where he was Rufus Griswold’s assistant), and the Evening Bulletin. During his lifetime, he edited Graham’s Magazine, the Continental Monthly, and the Philadelphia Press. He is also noted for having edited Vanity Fair (Watson 521; Stovall 223; Lause 52). His most successful literary productions were the widely read comedic Hans Breitmann ballads, but he also published work on gypsies, linguistics, and legends (G. Allen 506). Parry notes that “Leland scowled when in far-off Egypt he was recognized not as a serious writer on art and political subjects, but as the author of the nonsensical Hans Breitmann ballads” (230). At the height of the Pfaff’s period, Leland published a book of essays and sketches, Meister Karl’s Sketch-Book (1855), in the manner of Washington Irving, a writer greatly admired by the frequenters of Pfaff’s.
Leland was part of a circle of under-appreciated writers who befriended Whitman in the 1870s, and reportedly influenced his “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” While Allen suggests that Whitman seems to have “admired” Leland for his “easy association with the Bohemians and bummers,” Leland was careful to distance himself from the Pfaff’s group (507-508). In his autobiography, Memoir, Leland asserts that he “held [himself] very strictly aloof from the Bohemians, save in business affairs” (235). Leland explains that part of this distance was due to his married state (he married Eliza Bella Fisher in 1856) and also because he “never saw the day in [his] life when to be regarded as a real Bohemian vagabond, or shiftless person, would not have given [him] the horrors. [He] would have infinitely preferred the poorest settled employment to such life” (235). He also contests the charge that he introduced Artemus Ward (C. Browne) to “the Bohemian brotherhood,” acknowledging only his part in initially helping Ward develop story ideas. (235-36).
Parry, conversely, suggests that Leland did not acknowledge the extent of his attraction to the bohemian scene. He asserts that Leland had a particular interest in Gypsies which he “managed to convince himself and others...was strictly scientific, hence laudable.” He writes, “Pfaff’s would have been Leland’s proper milieu, but by then he had a restraining wife” (152). Stovall supports this view, suggesting that Leland may have met Whitman in the 1850s at Pfaffs but was deterred from becoming a bohemian by his wife (223). Leland was fond of companionship and his desire to “gather a group of other impatient young souls about him” was part of what he found difficult about Philadelphia (Parry 151).
Leland lived a nomadic existence, and continued to move around the U.S. and Europe following his enlistment in the in the Union army in 1863 in time. Leland served as lieutenant in the battle of Gettysburg and at some point was “prostrated by a sunstroke, from the effects of which he never fully recovered” (Wilson 683). He traveled afterwards in the West and in Europe. He settled in London in 1869 where he remained for ten years, befriending Walter Besant and founding the Rabelais Club. Upon returning to the United States, he lent his support to the cause of incorporating industrial education into the public schools. 1881 saw him helping the founding of an industrial art school in Philadelphia. In 1884, he returned to Europe where he remained until his death in Florence in 1903.
Leland was a Philadelphia writer who translated Heine, wrote a book on gypsies, and helped start an Industrial Art School in Philadelphia in 1881. He was a member of a circle of under-appreciated writers in Philadelphia who befriended Whitman in the 1870s (506). Allen mentions that Whitman read Leland's translation of Heine's Pictures of Travel in 1856 and notes some influence on Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." Whitman also seems to have "admired" Leland for his "easy association with 'Bohemians and bummers'" (507-508).[pages:506-508, 560 (n140)]
Mistakenly links Leland to Pfaff's and the Bohemian lifestyle. Leland refutes the article in Memoirs, while also praising it as "brilliant" and "singular" (235).
Mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News." The blurb gives "updates" on the whereabouts of many of the former Bohemians.
"Nathan D. Urner, who was once city editor on the Tribune, and Charles G. Leland of Hans Breitmann fame, both lead retired lives, but are still fruitful literary workers."[pages:479]
Gunn and a group of men converse at Gen. Hamilton's: "St. Charles Street to Gen. Hamilton's. Shaw, Leland and others there. In the rear room; drinks. Arrived of Major Harry – or Harai, as he affectedly spelt it – Robinson from Baton Rouge. Howell had lent him his revolver – a neat 'Colt' – which the Major had lost from his belt while riding. Stories and talk."[pages:129]
This text identifies the following pseudonyms: Hans Brietman (42), Mace Sloper (58), Meister Karl (62).[pages:42, 58, 62]
Leland is a noted Philadelphia writer who visited Pfaff's when in town, and who would later become the editor of Vanity Fair (52, 53).[pages:52, 53]
Leland distances himself from the Bohemians; he asserts that he was never involved with the Pfaffians, except in business (235).[pages:FP(ill.), 235]
O'Brien describes Leland as "fantastic, and frequently inimitable."[pages:514]
Leland's pen name was Hans Breitmann, under which he wrote "funny ballads in the German dialect"; Leland was also "the authority on Gypsy lore, a participant of the French barricades of 1848, a fighter in the American Civil War, the editor of the old Vanity Fair." Parry quotes Leland's niece, Elizabeth Robins Pennell:
"Anywhere, save in Philadelphia, he might, like Gautier in Paris, have gathered a group of other impatient young souls about him. In Philadelphia, he was practically alone, so that his contempt was not tempered by the humour of companionship. To be in revolt all by one's self was to have none of the fun of defiance" (151).
Leland was born and raised in Philadelpia and educated at Princeton, Heidelberg, and Munich and spent time in Paris, where Parry quotes his niece, "the vie de Boheme had not become petrified into a legend; Murger, its prophet was just beginning to be heard of" (151). Parry notes that his letters to his brother Henry in the Winter on 1847-1848 seem to celebrate the Bohemian lifestyle, but Parry notes that Leland "not even once called himself a Bohemian, but undoubtedly lived like one" (151). According to Parry, Leland was disappointed with life in Philadelphia and its drabness when he returned home in 1848; "He hated the calm smugness of his home city after the turmoil and color of Europe. He said that Philadelphia was the only city in the world of which so little evil or so much good could be said, yet of which so few worth-while people spoke with any enthusiasm. He thought it significant that the Philadelphians spent more money on bouquets than books. With the mingled airs of cosmopolitanism and Hamletism he exclaimed: 'I had been in Arcadia; I was now in a very pleasant sunny Philistia; but I could not forget the past!'" (151-152).
Parry writes that Leland thought New York might be "livlier" and left the legal profession and Philadelphia for "Manhattan and literature" in the 1850s. After staying in Manhattan briefly, he returned home to Philadelpia, as "there was live in his hatred for his home city." After his return, "again his sharp tongue lashed the homely virtues of Philadelphia, paining his folk and friends," and he again returned to New York, where he was employed in a series of jobs, including editing Vanity Fair, which was where many of the Pfaff's circle "gaily labored" (152).
Parry writes that "Pfaff's would have been Leland's proper milieu, but by then he had a restraining wife. When, in 1871, the Revue de Deux Mondes of Paris published an article about him and his Hans Brietmann ballads, there was a mention of a rumor that he had been a frequenter of Pfaff's and that it was he who introduced Artemus Ward to the Bohemians. Leland flared up in an angry refutation. He wrote: 'I held myself very strictly aloof from the Bohemians, save in business affairs. This was partly because I was married, and I never saw the day in my life when to be regarded as a real Bohemian vagabond, or shiftless person, would not have given me the horrors.' Once, he quit a literary job because he thought he was surrounded by 'shady, shaky Bohemianism.' Yet, he hated Philadelphia because it was so sunny and solid. For many years, he kept fleeing Philadelphia, and returning to it. He was a true son of his city, inhibited, yet trying to break away from the inhibitions, and succeeding only in part" (152).
Parry writes that Leland's interest in the Gypsies gave him a "certain relase and compromise" between his impluses. "There were freedom and romance in his many friendships among the Gypsies, in his learning to speak the Romany language. Yet the interest remained entirely respectable." According to Parry, Leland claimed a "scientific" interest in the Gypsies and felt it was safe to introduce his niece to his Gypsy associates and teach her Romany without undoing her convent education (152).
Parry also notes that Leland "never ceased to resent his Hans Breitmann fame. He enjoyed the writing of the funny ballads, but their fame had a sinful aspect to him. He longed for the free and funny in life, yet he ran away from it" (152-153). Of his international fame, Parry writes that "Leland scowled when in far-off Egypt he was recognized not as a serious writer on art and poltical subjects, but as the author of the nonsensical Hans Breitmann ballads" (230).[pages:151-153,155,230]
He was an editor at Vanity Fair. Stovall includes Leland's discussion Whitman and the Bohemians.[pages:223]
Watson lists Charles G. Leland as an editor of Vanity Fair (521).[pages:521]
In 1863, on returning to Philadelphia from Boston, Leland wrote and illustrated his political satire "The Book of Cooperheads."[pages:683]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015