Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

. (page 45 of 72)
Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 45 of 72)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and apostles of the Utopia that is to come.

Mr. Curtis and his brother remained at " Brook Farm " until
1844, and they then passed two years in Concord, Mass., study-
ing and farming. Here Mr. Curtis became very intimate with
Emerson, Hawthorn and Henry Thoreau, forming warm friend-
ships with them which were broken only by death. In his
' Homes of American Authors" he has printed some interest-
ing notes of his intercourse with the philosopher, the romancer
and the hermit.

In 1846 Mr. Curtis determined on making an extended
tour in the old world, which, at that time, was a more eventful
and important undertaking than it is now, when the " Atlantic
Ferry " will take you across in a little more than a week. In


August of that year he sailed from New York for Marseilles in
a passenger packet. The voyage occupied nearly fifty days.
From Marseilles he went by steamer to Leghorn and from that
city to Pisa, where he lingered awhile to admire the wonders of
the Leaning Tower, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Campo
Santo. From Pisa he passed on through the luscious vintage
to Florence. The winter was spent in Rome. In the spring of
1847 Mr. Curtis visited Naples and other portions of Southern
Italy, then made his way slowly northward, back to Florence,
where he remained some time, finishing the summer by a long
and delightful sojourn in Venice, in the congenial society of
Kensett, Hicks and other American artists. In the autumn he
traveled through Lombardy to Como, and over the Stelvio
through the Tyrol and Salzkammergut to Vienna, reaching
Berlin in the middle of November. The spring of 1848 found
him in Dresden, Prague and again in Vienna, whence he sailed
down the Danube to Pesth, returning to Switzerland for the
summer. He traveled through Switzerland with all the delight
of leisure, and not with the modern American frenzy, which
counts as lost time every hour consumed in passing from place
to place. In the same manner he studied the cities, the people
and the art of Holland who indeed could hurry through
Holland and in the autumn sailed from Malta to Alexandria.
Mr. Curtis was fortunate in visiting the land of the Pharoahs
when the spirit of modern progress had scarcely begun its
devastating work within the shadow of the pyramids. The de-
struction of the picturesque is surely not an evil necessarily
attendant upon social, political and industrial progress; but
progress is very apt, when suddenly aroused, to play sad havoc
with things which might better be preserved than destroyed.
Were there not quarries of stone in Egypt, that temples old
as human tradition must be despoiled to build new cities >
Doubtless the railroad and the steamboat are great conveniences
for people who are in a hurry, but they have unmade the Egypt
of history and the imagination. They had not done so when
our Howadji looked upon the pyramids and sailed slowly up
the Nile to the second cataract. The sacred river still flowed
"through old hushed Egypt and its sands, like some grave,
mighty thought, threading a dream," and the effect of that
hushed and dreamy life upon his imagination found delightful
expression in his "Nile Notes," which are full of the flavor and


perfume of the East. Ten years afterward they could not have
been written. Stephens visited the Nile still earlier; but he was
a man of merely dry observation. He had no enthusiasm, no
imagination, and the record of his journeyings is as dull as a
ledger in comparison with the Howadji's dreamy musings and
charming descriptions.

A journey across the desert by way of Gaza to Jerusalem, of
which he wrote an account in the " Howadji in Syria," ended
Mr. Curtis' eastern travels. He spent the early summer of
1850 in England and returned home in August. His pen had
not been idle during his wanderings. Besides his journal, he
had written letters for the " Courier and Enquirer " of which
Henry J. Raymond was then managing editor, and for the
New York " Tribune," where his friend, Mr. Charles A. Dana,
held the same position. On his return, he entered upon an ac-
tive literary life. He became musical critic and editorial writer
on the " Tribune,'" and wrote out his " Nile Notes," which
were published in 1851 by the Harpers. In the autumn of that
year he wrote a series of picturesque traveling letters to the
" Tribune.'' from the Catskills, Saratoga, Trenton, Niagara,
Newport and Nahant, which were published in 1852 as "Lotus
Eating," beautifully illustrated by his friend Kensett. In the
same year the "Howadji in Syria" was published, and Mr.
Curtis wrote some sketches of social life for " Harper 's

The establishment of " Putnam'' s Monthly,'" in 1853, opened
a new field to Mr. Curtis, who, in conjunction with Parke God-
win and Charles F. Briggs, assumed the editorial management
of that periodical, which was destined to a brilliant though
brief career. Within the first year of its existence he wrote
the papers on Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow and Bancroft,
in the series on "The Homes of American Authors." To this
magazine Mr. Curtis contributed "The Potiphar Papers," a
brilliant satire on certain phases of New York society, and
"Prueandl," a series of delightful sketches, rather than a
story, which was published in 1857. When the magazine passed
into the hands of Messrs. Dix & Edwards, Mr. Curtis and Mr.
Frederick Law Olmsted became connected with the firm and
were involved in its failure. Considering himself morally,
if not legally, responsible for a portion of the indebtedness,
Mr. Curtis refused to avail himself of the technicalities of the


law and set himself to the work of paying the creditors. He
devoted himself diligently to literary work. The amount of
labor he performed was literally enormous. Besides filling the
"Easy Chair" of "Harper's Magazine" in which he had just
taken his seat, and writing "The Lounger" in "Harper's
Weekly," he delivered a long series of lectures, sometimes
speaking a hundred nights in a season, and traveling, almost
without rest, from place to place at the insatiable call of man-
agers and committees. No man was ever more popular as a
lecturer. The charm of his manner was irresistible; he had not
only something to say which the people wanted to hear, but
knew how to say it with the grace and ease which belong to the
true orator. One of the most popular of his lectures was that
on that perfect soldier of chivalry, Sir Philip Sidney.
Scarcely less popular were his Lowell lectures on the mod-
ern English novelists, which were repeated in New York,
Brooklyn and other places. The physical and mental strain
involved in this labor was so excessive that many people
wondered that he was willing to undergo it. A few only of his
immediate friends knew that the proceeds of all his lectures
during a period of almost ten years, and a part of his salary
as editor, were devoted to the liquidation of the debt from
which the law, but not his high sense of moral responsibility,
would have absolved him.

During these years the slavery question had gradually ab-
sorbed public attention and had become the paramount theme
in the press, the pulpit, and the lyceum. In his Newport
loungings Mr. Curtis had noted the effect produced on northern
society by the slave power, and his attention had been called to
the necessity of combating the evil influence by every popular
means. Accordingly, in all his lectures, like many of the ly-
ceum speakers at that time, he discussed the subject with great
freedom and force. The lecture lyceum, indeed, did much to
arouse and enlighten public opinion on this vital question, and
to prepare the way for the great revival of anti-slavery feeling
in the north which followed the personal assault on Charles
Su inner in 1856. It is necessary to recall these times in order
to form a just estimate of Mr. Curtis, and his career in public
affairs. He was one of a large number of young men who felt,
when that assault took place, that there were more imperative
duties than the delights of dalliance in the primrose paths of


literature. In the year just mentioned he delivered a college
address at Middletown on the "Duty of the American Scholar
to Politics and the Times," in which the situation and the
impending crisis were discussed from an anti-slavery point of
view. He went on the stump for Fremont, in that year, speak-
ing in New York, New England, New Jersey and Pennsylvania-
and entered actively into politics on Staten Island, where he
lived, and where for many years he was chairman of the repub-
lican county committee.

Mr. Curtis was a delegate to the second national convention
of the republican party, which assembled at Chicago on the
16th of May, 1860. It will be remembered that the construction
of a " platform " was a labor of considerable difficulty. There
were still many republicans who wished to conciliate the border
states, and when Joshua R. Giddings moved in convention to
add to the first resolution the "life, liberty, and pursuit of
happiness" clause from the declaration of independence, the
opposition was loud and determined. The motion was lost by
a large vote and Mr. Giddings, who had urged its adoption in
the most eloquent and impressive manner, proposed to with-
draw from the convention ; but Mr. Curtis took an early oppor-
tunity to renew the motion, in a slightly modified form. There
were again loud cries of opposition. Mr. Curtis asked whether
the party was prepared at its second national convention to vote
against the great charter of American liberty, and cautioned
the delegates to beware how, there in the broad prairies of the
west, they receded from the position which the party had
occupied at Pittsburg, and refused to repeat the words of the
fathers of the revolution. His eloquent periods acted like magic
on the convention. The amendment was adopted unanimously
amid wild excitement, the great multitude rising and giving
round after round of applause. "Ten thousand voices," says
a contemporary report, "swelled into a deafening roar, and for
several minutes every attempt to restore order was hopelessly
vain. The crowd of people outside took up and re-echoed the
cheers, making a scene of excitement and enthusiasm unparal-
leled in any similar gathering." It was a great popular
triumph, and was of vital service to the party, not only in
retaining the influence of Mr. Giddings and his followers, but
in swelling the enthusiasm which greeted the platform and the
candidates. The same earnestness of purpose which charac-


terized him in the convention of 1860 was manifested in the
action of Mr. Curtis at the convention of 1884. The nomination
of Mr. Elaine for the presidency he believed to he a mistake of
too grave a nature to be passed by him in silence, and his sub-
sequent refusal to support the republican candidates was in
simple conformity to the dictates of his conscience.

It was a noteworthy event in the history of American journal-^
ism when, in December of 1863, Mr. Curtis became the political
editor of "Harper's Weekly " He had been conducting a de-
partment called "The Lounger," begun in the autumn of 1857,
which consisted at first of essays in the lighter vein on social
and literary topics, very much in the manner of the "Easy
Chair." After the beginning of the war Mr. Curtis frequently
introduced subjects of a national and political character in this
department, but his field was comparatively restricted. From
the moment, however, that he took his seat in the editorial
chair, his discussions assumed a wider scope, embracing all the
great issues before the country. Thoroughly equipped for his
new position by mental training and political experience, and
in full sympathy with his audience, he made " Harper 1 s
Weekly" a power in the republican party. He was hampered
by no office restrictions. The publishers knew the secret of real
responsibility, and, giving him their confidence, gave it unre-
servedly. There was, of course, entire harmony of principle
and purpose between Mr. Curtis and his publishers ; and while
there was also, of course, occasional differences of judgment as
to men and measures, there was never any interference with
the course pursued by Mr. Curtis, nor any attempt to dictate
the tone of the paper. This unrestricted independence gave Mr.
Curtis a commanding influence in republican councils and over
his readers. He won and has kept the enthusiastic personal sup-
port and admiration of his audience, as no other editor has suc-
ceeded in doing, with the single exception of Horace Greely. The
relations between Mr. Curtis and his readers are, in fact, almost
personal in their nature, and he has never seriously entertained
proposals, however brilliant and tempting, that would interrupt
those relations. Thus, although he could serve as a regent of
the university, and a non-residenl professor at Cornell Univer-
sity for four years, he declined in 1800, upon the death of Henry
J. Raymond, who had previously asked him to become assistant


editor, an invitation to the chief editorship of the New York

No other man has done more to create and maintain a healthy
popular sentiment on the subject of civil service reform.
In " Harper 's Weekly" and in his public addresses, he has
expounded and advocated this important measure with a per-
sistency which has drawn upon him the wrath and ridicule of
those who are pleased to style themselves "practical" politi-
cians. "Sentimentalist" and "Visionary" are among the
mildest names applied to him by his political opponents ; and
he has been accused frequently of treachery to party allegiance,
because of the outspoken manner in which he has exposed and
denounced obnoxious measures within the party. But Mr.
Curtis acknowledges no party allegiance, in the sense that
"machine" politicians understand the term ; his only allegiance
is to right, to high principle, to honor. He has the loftiest con-
ceptions of the duty of the citizen. He holds that it should be
the aim of every man, not only to keep himself pure, but to
assist in the purification and elevation of politics ; that it is the
duty of every respectable citizen to take part in civil affairs and
to keep them out of the control of the baser elements of society.
Between "sentimental" politics like this, and "practical"
politics, which implies pandering to those baser elements, there
can be no room for choice. As Charles Sumner once said, in
his imperious way, to one who asked him to consider the other
side of the slavery question : " Sir, in a matter of this sort there
is no other side."

That the views which Mr. Curtis holds will win in the end
admits of no doubt. Many a failure may yet be in store for
their advocates, but, unless free institutions are destined to go
under, civil service reform must ultimately triumph. Mr. Cur-
tis was not discouraged by its failure under President Grant's
administration. He accepted the chairmanship of the civil
service commission, in 1871, with sanguine hopes of success.
The president was sincere and earnest in his desire to thus sig-
nalize his administration : but, in 1873, becoming convinced
that, yielding to the pressure of "practical" politicians, Gen-
eral Grant had changed his views, Mr. Curtis resigned, and the
next year the president formally abandoned the project. It
had been well for the president, and for the republican party,
had he listened to wiser councils. Even those who have always


sneered at " Sunday school" politics begin now to discern the
signs of the times; and the president's recent recommendations
in his annual message; and the various bills hurriedly intro-
duced in congress, favoring reform in the civil service, show
that the views which Mr. Curtis advocates have taken a strong-
er hold on the public than was dreamed of by his opponents.

Mr. Curtis has never accepted a political office, although often
pressed to do so. By Mr. Seward he was offered the consul-
generalship to Egypt ; President Hayes urged him to accept
the post of minister to England, and afterward that of minister
to Germany ; but he could not be tempted away from his edito-
rial position. Once he accepted the nomination for representa-
tive to congress, knowing that his district was hopelessly
democratic, and that there was no prospect of his election. In
1867, he served in the state constitutional convention in which
he was chairman of the committee on education. He frequently
took part in the debates, and made a speech in favor of the ex-
tension of the franchise to women a measure of which he has
been for years a consistent advocate.

Mr. Curtis was married in 1857, to a daughter of Mr. Robert
G. Shaw, the eminent philanthropist, recently deceased. For
many years he has resided in West New Brighton, Staten
Island, except during the summer months, when he seeks rest
and relaxation in a pleasant, old-fashioned country home in the
village of Ashn'eld, Mass.

His devotion to journalism and political affairs has prevented
Mr. Curtis from pursuing authorship as a profession if we are
to regard authorship as the writing of books; but although he
has put forth no volume since the publication of "Trumps,"
the readers of the "Easy Chair" in " Harper's Magazine"
and of "Manners Upon the Road" in "Harper's Bazaar"
will recognize in him the most charming essayist of the day.
The delicate, graceful humor of these papers, the purity of
style, the wide range of culture and observation which they in-
dicate, but which is never obtrusive, give them a distinctive
character of their own. The "Easy Chair" is the first part of
the magazine to which the reader turns. The author of
"Trumps," "The Potiphar Papers," and " Prue and I," could
hardly have failed as a novelist, had he chosen to pursue that
path of literature ; but we will not regret his choice, for while
we have many novelists, where shall we look for another name
like his in the field of American journalism \


JOHN ADAMS APPLETON, one of the members of the firm of
D. Appleton & Co., publishers and importers of books in New
York city, and for many years one of Staten Island's most
prominent and respected residents, was born in Boston, Mass.,
January 9, 1817. As a young man he entered the business with
his father and brothers, and in the prosecution of that business
upon sound and manly principles he met with gratifying suc-
cess. He acquired a, large fortune which he wisely used, not
only for the benefit of his immediate family and friends, but
also for the good of the community in which he lived, and
especially for the cause of the church to which he was devotedly

There were several points in Mr. Appleton's character which
deserve to be noted. He was first of all, a devout, consistent
Christian; one who was neither ashamed nor afraid to acknowl-
edge his faith in his Saviour, and one who strove to remember
always that he was a steward of God placed in charge of large
means and opportunities for promoting the spi'ead of the Gospel
and the happiness of his fellow-men. Through life he con-
tinued steadfast in his faith, and when the summons came he
laid down the burden of life with firm, unwavering confidence
in the mercy of our Heavenly Father in and through Christ
Jesus our Lord. He was for many years senior warden of St.
John's Church, Clifton, and was one of its largest benefactors.
It may, indeed, be called his monument. A mural tablet has
been erected in the church of his affections, commemorating
his qniet life of faith and service as a Christian. It was done
by the members of the church, his friends, and the employees
in his business.

In admirable keeping with this inner life of faith, Mr. Ap-
pleton always proved himself to be a gentleman of the truest
type. He was uniformly courteous and considerate toward
others, never wounding the feelings of any one, however ob-
scure or lowly his lot, and always ready with a pleasant word
and kindly act. Though of a rather nervous temperament, and
disliking everything of the nature of parade or show, he was
fond of congenial society, and took delight in dispensing cordial
and unostentatious hospitality at his beautiful residence on
Staten Island.

As a business man Mr. Appleton was deservedly esteemed,
an honor to the name. He took his full share in upholding the


reputation which the house of D. Appleton & Co. has
always sustained for integrity and fairness in their vast busi-
ness transactions. He was jealous for the good name of the
house, and desirous, by every effort on his part, to extend its
honorable influence. A few years previous to his death he was
severely injured by being thrown from his carriage, and he
never fully recovered from the shock which was thus given to
his system. His last illness was aggravated by a complication
of disorders, and he sank rapidly under the attack, passing away
in the early morning of Wednesday, July 13, 1881, in the sixty-
fifth year of his age.

He was endeared to all with whom he was brought into close
business relations, as touching evidence of which may be ad-
duced the spontaneous gathering of the employees of the house,
the day after his death, and the resolutions unanimously
adopted at the meeting. Especially was he. respected and
esteemed upon Staten Island, where his liberality and charity
won for him a host of admiring and constant friends. Perhaps
no private citizen ever received a more universal eulogium from
the press at the time of his death than did Mr. Appleton.

THE SMITH FAMILY. Richard Penn Smith, better known
on Staten Island as Col. Penn Smith, is a descendant of the
Smith family of Philadelphia so many members of which
have made themselves famous by their literary and artistic
abilities. The great-grandfather of Mr. Smith was the Rev.
Dr. Smith, first provost of Philadelphia College in the Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania. He was a man of great talent and
one who had enjoyed a highly finished European education.
For twenty-five years Doctor Smith stood foremost among the
eminent persons of his time. He was a profound and varied
scholar, a vigorous thinker and a writer of great beauty and
energy, many of his literary productions being compared by
British reviewers to those of Massillon and Bossuet. Doctor
Smith was prominent in all the aggressive movements of his
day, and was among the first to recognize and assist Benjamin
West toward the eminence which he afterward achieved.
His writings have been collected into several volumes which
have passed through various editions, meeting always with
marked approbation.

The eldest son of Rev. Dr. Smith, William Moore Smith, was
also a man of note. He inherited from his father a love of



study, especially of the classics. Early in life he published a
volume of poems, characterized by brilliancy of fancy, ease of
versification, justness of sentiment and chaste and nervous
diction. The poems were reprinted in England, where they
were made the subject of much commendation, a fact at that
time of such unfrequent occurrence that it deserves to be re-
membered. Mr. Smith enlarged his views by extensive foreign
travel, after returning from which he became a barrister in
Philadelphia. Here he rapidly rose to eminence in his pro-
fession, from which, however, he retired at an early age,
spending his after years in the family mansion on the

Richard Penn Smith, son of the preceding and father of the
subject of this sketch, was a man of distinguished ability both
as a literateur and as a dramatist. He followed in the foot-
steps of his literary predecessors, and is remembered among
the best magazine writers of his day. He was for five years
proprietor of the "Aurora," a well known Philadelphia paper
and, though its editor, found leisure at the same time to con-
tribute many articles to the periodical literature of the time,
besides producing several dramatic pieces, some of which were
not only cordially received at their first representation, but
still continue to maintain their place on the stage. Among
his earliest plays were the "Disowned, or the Prodigal" and
"Deformed, or Woman's Trial." These plays were performed
at the Chestnut street theater, Philadelphia, after which they
were taken to London where they created a most favorable im-

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 45 of 72)