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Webb, Charles Henry (1834-1905)

Editor, Journalist, Poet, War Correspondent

Born in northern New York state, Charles Henry Webb, also known in the literary world as "John Paul" was a journalist and poet. As a young man Charles Henry Webb left his parents' home and spent three years at sea. When he returned to the United States, Web lived in New York City and worked as a journalist for the New York Times before moving to California where he wrote for the San Francisco Bulletin and edited The Californian. While in California, Webb founded a newspaper "to present the best wit and literature which the Pacific Coast could produce" and featured work by Mark Twain, among many others (The New York Times, June 4, 1905, SM2). His writing was "crowded with bits of autobiography" (L. Starr 261). In one instance, Webb describes the absurdity of living arrangements during the war: "I was quartered for the night, or rather halved and sandwiched, between two Colonels, who neglected to take off their boots and spurs before retiring...The Colonel on my right, events proved, was subject to nightmares, which led him to mistake me for a horse, and plunge his spurs violently into my flank -- a flank movement which rather took me by surprise. I woke the Colonel and explained the mistake, whereupon he apologized, and amused himself the remainder of the night by spurring an orderly who lay crosswise in the tent" (qtd. in L. Starr 261).

Webb is connected to the Pfaff's bohemians in at least two ways. First, Pfaffian Sol Eytinge drew illustrations to accompany Webb's Liffith Lank, or Lunacy (1867), a parody of Charles Reade's Griffith Gaunt, and his St. Twel'mo, or the Cuneiform Cyclopedist of Chattanooga (1868), a parody of Augusta Evans Wilson's St. Elmo. Second, Webb, who met Mark Twain in California, was instrumental in getting Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" published in the Saturday Press. In his obituary published in the New York Times, the author notes that Webb's "early days in New York were those of the Pfaff group of poets, wits, and epigrammatists, and he was welcomed with acclamation into their society." The author of the obituary notes that Webb, who "at once from an acclaimed place among them," was " an occasional visitor" rather "than a frequenter of the club, but when he came mirth walked with him and sat down by his side, his fellow-guest and familiar at all times and everywhere" (The New York Times, June 4, 1905, SM2).

Charles Henry Webb died in May of 1905. He was remembered for his exquisite work described as: "the quality of his verse is high; the wit, which is expressive, is unsurpassed by the work of any of his contemporaries, not forgetting that Oliver Wendell Holmes was among them" (The New York Times, June 4, 1905, SM2).