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).
C.B.S. announces him as "a new dramatist." C.B.S. claims that he remembers Webb quite well and that on their last meeting he did not find Webb's puns very amusing, to which Webb responded by "kindly [offering] to p-p-p-punch my head for me." C.B.S. discusses his earlier career as a poet and his new venture as a playwright with Our Friend from Victoria, which was well-recieved, and his follow-up burlesque, Arrah-na-Pogue (345).[pages:345]
Derby writes that one of the "anecdotes that Mr. [George W. Carleton] relates about his comic authors, is, that Charles H. Webb ('John Paul') characteristically added on the title-page of one of his burlesques, 'Author of John Paul Sketches, and other books too humorous to mention'" (242).[pages:242]
Webb is noted as a war correspondent who spent time in New York at Pfaff's.[pages:110]
Levin mentions Webb in a discussion of Bret Harte. Webb is described as "a former Pfaffian who began contributing to the Golden Era in 1864, and who soon after started a new literary monthly entitled the Californian with Harte, [Webb} also mocked Harte's chosen subjectivity; he ironically protested that all the Golden Era's regular contributors were sober and respectable, with the exception of 'Bret,' whose debauchery was legendary" (118). Webb was one of several Pfaffians to visit or relocate to San Francisco and write for the Golden Era. Webb joined the staff of the Golden Era in 1863, and "may well have helped Lawrence with his 'in-group' references to Pfaff's" (162). According to Levin, Webb was the only Pfaffian to "thematize Bohemianism" in his Golden Era columns (162). Webb became Harte's "chief partner" in the "endeavor" to "describe a collaborative vie de boheme" in the Golden Era. Levin notes that aside from being associated with the Bohemianism at Pfaff's, Webb "had had the requisite romantic past: he had spent four years whaling in the South Seas and in the Arctic; he was also a notorious womanizer and, in San Francisco, he lived at the Occidental Hotel among the 'fast set' of urban bachelors. More importantly, his weekly column, 'Things,' exhibited much of The New York Saturday Press's incisive irreverence and bursts of moral indignation, and Webb and Harte quickly determined to start their own magazine together" (162-163).[pages:118,162-167,174]
The column reports that Webb, founder and editor of The Californian is currently in New York, looking years younger and years richer than he did when he left for California (4).[pages:4]
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 and 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 describes him as one of the "withering realists" of the time (259).
Webb traveled with the Times and the large group of journalists that witnessed the first Battle of Bull Run (43).
Of Webb's skill, Starr writes: "Charles Henry Webb of the Times far outshone him [Smalley]. Despite a talent for mischief Webb brought with him from Pfaff's, he was a competant reporter, among the first in the North to comprehend the genius of Thomas J. Jackson." Starr prints an excerpt from Webb's report on Jackson and the battle of Cross Keys (121).
Webb, "later a close friend of Mark Twain, imparted a light touch to the correspondence of the New York Times. Webb delighted in unexpected twists in the midst of perfectly sensible recitals, ending one dispatch: 'I hope to date my next letter from Richmond,' a sentiment so trite as to be painful, adding, '-not from the tobacco factories, however'" (260-261).
Starr also notes that Webb nearly drowned while crossing a stream that was too high for the troops to cross in the spring of 1862. Starr also writes that "Unlike many of his fellows, Webb retained his perspective in writing of the enemy. 'Of the horrors and atrocities that are related as having been practiced by the Confederate troops,' he wrote, 'I must confess I do not believe one. These men are our countrymen...Are we to believe that the lapse of a year has transformed them to fiends?' This was the resolute fair-mindedness that prompted him to given Stonewall Jackson his fair due" (261).[pages:9,43,96,121,259,260-261,266]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015