Born and raised in England, Thomas Butler Gunn first worked as an illustrator for the famous British satirical journal Punch. In 1849, Gunn moved to New York City, where he quickly found work drawing for the city’s comic papers, including the New York Reveille, Nick Nax, the New York Picayune, the Lantern, and Yankee Notions (Faflik xiii, xiv). He also took up writing and editing. In 1857, he published the Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses (New York: Mason Brothers), a humorous description of boarding-house life. The book was illustrated by Gunn’s friends Frank Bellew, Alfred R. Waud, and John Andrew.
In 1886, Gunn was mentioned in an article that referred to an old New York Bohemian Club that frequented "Pfaaf's [sic]" (“Our New York Letter” 64). After this article was published, playwright and politician Thomas Dunn English wrote to the editor to call into question the validity of the piece, describing Gunn as “a correct, upright, and decorous gentleman, anything but a Bohemian, as the term is generally understood.” (“That Club at Pfaaf’s [sic]” 202). However, Gunn’s own diaries (now owned by the Missouri History Museum), tell a different story, confirming his regular visits to Pfaff’s beginning in 1859. Gunn had a large circle of friends, and his entries provide a fascinating and detailed look at the many individuals who were part of the “Pfaff clique” including Walt Whitman, Frank Bellew, Ada Clare, Sol Eytinge, Thomas Nast, and Mortimer Thompson. Still, Gunn never considered himself a Bohemian, despite his close connections with the group. In fact, his entries reveal his disdain for many aspects of the Bohemian lifestyle.
During the Civil War, Gunn became a Civil War correspondent; one anonymous journalist notes, "his letters were full of good matter, and his style excellent." He was stationed in Charleston prior to Abraham Lincoln's Presidential Inauguration. He wrote for the Evening Post and later the New York Tribune (“Reminiscences of an Old American Publisher, No. III” 127). Gunn and other Northern reporters in the South had to take special precautions to protect themselves: they wore blue secession cockades on their lapels, wrote their reports in an elaborate code, and addressed their reports to New York banks and commercial houses who had agreed to work as fronts (Starr 21).
Gunn returned to England in 1863, where he continued his career as a writer. He remained in England for the rest of his life (Faflik xxviii).
English mentions that Gunn was also mentioned as a frequenter of Pfaff's in the "Our New York" piece. English claims to know Gunn as he was a steady contributor to "a New York journal" to which English was also "connected." English states, "He was a correct, upright, and decorous gentleman, anything but a Bohemian, as the term is generally understood. He never spoke of such a club to me" (202).[pages:202]
This 2009 reprint of Gunn's 1857 text features an introduction by scholar David Faflik which includes a brief biography of Gunn's life.[pages:xi-xxxi]
Gunn is named as the illustrator of the comic newspaper the Reveille from 1853-1854 (263). Gunn is also named as the editor of the New York Picayune in 1858 (264).[pages:263, 264]
Gunn is mentioned as belonging to Thomas Nast's circle of friends. Paine also notes that Gunn is the descendant of British poet Samuel Butler (30).[pages:30, 388]
Parry reprints the illustration "An Artists' Boarding-House" from Gunn's book, The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses on p.23.[pages:23]
Mentions Gunn's reporting during the Civil War for the Evening Post and New York Tribune. Notes that "his letters were full of good matter, and his style excellent."[pages:127]
Prior to the inauguration of Lincoln, Gunn, "an Englishman thoroughly grateful for his British accent," were "on the scene" in Charleston as reporters for the Tribune (20-21). Gunn and the other men Dana added to the Tribune's Charleston staff had to take special precautions as reporters for a Northern newspaper stationed in the South: they wore blue secession cockades on their lapels, wrote their reports in an elaborate code devised by Dana, and addressed their reports to New York banks and commercial houses who had agreed to work as fronts (21).
When Gay took over as managing editor of the Tribune, he relied on Gunn, who had done good work for the paper in Charleston before the war, D.J. Kinney, and three "hastily hired recruits" to deliver him speedy reports. During the Penninsular campaign, the Tribune was often beaten in reporting the news. Gay sent Gunn the following letter to "awaken" him:
I pray you remember that the Tribune is a daily newspaper - or meant to be - and not a historical record of past events. Correspondence to be of any value must be prompt, fresh, and full of facts. I know how difficult it is, under the censorship, to write, but there must be facts enough of general interest all about you to make a daily letter...I should like you to write daily, if only 1/2, 1/4 column, so that the report of all you may tell be continuous. The curiousity and anxiety about Yorktown is feverish, and the public like the paper best that is always giving something. If there is absolutely nothing to write about, drop me a line and tell me that. The Herald is constantly ahead of us with Yorktown news. The battle of the 16th were were compelled to copy from it. (106-107).
According to Starr, Gunn was using the letter as notepaper after the fall of Yorktown. Unfortunately, Gunn mislaid the paper. Shortly after, the Herald ran the following in the editorial columns:
One of our correspondents - who see everythign, hear everything, and find everything - fished this unique epistle out of a pile of rebel documents...We do not knoow the name of the Tribune reporter to whom it is addressed, but his notes in pencil are on the back of the original letter. (107)
The Herald ran Gay's letter in full (107). Gunn quickly wrote to Gay: "God knows how the Herald got hold of your letter to me...The Herald men here repudiate the thing, but many of them would pick pockets." Gunn also wrote that his horse had been stolen (107).[pages:20-21,106-107]
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]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015