"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche



1 Mar 2013

A Philosophy of Tramping—Thomas Manning Page



A re-edited version of the original post is now published in Chapter 1 of
Published by Feral House February 2020





PHOTOGRAPH NOT
YET AVAILABLE;
any leads on which would
be greatly appreciated.


Before even getting so far as Chapter 1 of Page's book, Bohemian Life; or The Autobiography of a Tramp, it is clear that this writer is a cynic par excellence. In the upside-down world that defines cynicism, satirical irony is there from the book's opening, as Page deliberately defies convention by opening with a postscript that contains a diatribe against prefaces!

POSTSCRIPT.

The custom of writing prefaces is a servile one that has come down to us from those good old days when authors had to choose between the alternatives of starving in garrets or else procuring patronage by fawning like spaniels on such vein, noble personages as were willing to pay for the pleasure of seeing there grand names and mythical virtues embalmed in fulsome print.
   When, in the progress of events, it ceased to be necessary to cringe before such beneficence, the literary craftsmen, at a loss by force of habit of something to propitiate, bethought him of the expedient of cringing to the reader; grotesquely ignoring that a book worth the reading needs no apology, and that to a volume of the other sort it is superfluous to add an extenuating which, in the nature of things, is necessarily an enlargement of the offence.
   An authority which no one of intelligence will hastily impugn has affirmed that the annals of any adult human being's life conscientiously written, would make entertaining and instructive literature; and in this apothegm lies the raison d'être of this volume, as well as full exoneration of the compiler from all responsibility except the single one of penning the record conscientiously—a duty that has been discharged most scrupulously.
   The captious critic may cavil at the title adopted, alleging that Bohemianism is an exotic fungus, and the title, therefore, a misnomer. But to all such gothic-minded generalisation the sufficient petard is: America, a large continent discovered by one Christopher Columbus, and sundry other ancient mariners, which has more than once astonished Europe, Asia and Africa by improving on their peculiar specialities, has latterly devoted particular attention to the production of an improved, transatlantic quality of Bohemianism, an average specimen of which is, for the first time, offered in the following pages.
THE AUTHOR.

Taunting other writers, his publisher, critics and his reader, Page at least describes the purpose of his work: to introduce Bohemianism to an American audience; even though William Makepeace Thackeray had popularised the term in Vanity Fair some 36 years earlier. There are some parallels here between Page's view of publishing and that which I have outlined in the Preface to my own work in progress, and incredible that such a view was being expressed as long ago as 1884. How little the world of publishing has changed. And, to press home his satirical comments, Page adds in the following apology to his readers for having to produce a second edition so soon after the first:

APOLOGY FOR THE SECOND EDITION
 —————
 The only excuse that can be offered for this quickly flooding the country with another large edition of these chronicles is the sordid one, of unexpected wealth in bank hastily by first edition, which easily gotten gain has instigated the mercenary publishers to peremptorily  command another edition to immediately come forth.
   Under such circumstances, all that a helpless author can do, besides repudiating all other responsibility, is what has been faithfully done, by diligently revising the text and multiplying and improving the illustrations.
THE AUTHOR.
St. Louis, May 7th, 1884

When I commenced my reading of Page's 'autobiography' I was not immediately aware that this was a fictional work—to be truthful, I'm still not entirely sure how much of Page's book might be fictional and what part autobiographical, as I will later reveal. Page was writing in the first person without naming himself or other family members, and so there were no clues that the hero of the book was not also the author. To be sure, below the book's dedication, in handwriting, is scribbled Willie Wagtale. Given the absurdity of the epithet, I had ignored this as the joke of a previous owner of the book. It is not until well over 100 pages in, that the name is revealed as belonging to the book's narrator. And so, commencing my reading of The Autobiography of a Tramp, in the full belief that Page was both author and narrator, I was baffled why nothing is given away about where or when our hero was born. Page simply teases his reader that he was born ‘in the usual way': at an early age and from a mother:

‘Looking back at a life chequered with experience, intent on recording its phenomena, and anxious to begin in a manner reassuring to the oft deluded, hence wary and distrustful reader, I irrevocably jot down that I was born at an early age, in the usual way. This adventure was due wholly to the fact that I then had a mother. Many persons have had mothers, at some period of life. And in general everybody has had a father, too, —except Adam, who began life as an orphan under auspices so favorable that he had no use for one.’

I contacted the book's publishers and the archivists of digital copies. None had any autobiographical information on Page, assuming, as I had, that the work was the actual autobiography of its author. It was only on contacting a genealogist in Wheeling, West Virginia, fictional birthplace of the book's hero, that some factual information about Page came to light. A newspaper article from the St. Louis Republic dated April 19th 1900, announcing Page's death from a heart attack, did provide some brief autobiographical information, which I later augmented on acquiring 200 digital pages from Page's probate documents. These revealed no more about the man or his writing other than that the contents of  his house included a library of over one thousand books. Then a librarian from the St. Louis Public Library, unearthed the newspaper report below that, far from clarifying Page's biography, only further adds to the mystery surrounding the enigma that is Thomas Manning Page. I was also pointed to a brief entry about Page in the Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis (1899), but this also revealed very little. Here is the full transcript of the newspaper report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dated March 29th 1884:

"BOHEMIAN LIFE"

A new and an Attractive Book by an Anonymous Author

There will be published from a local publishing house next week a book which will no doubt attract a great deal of public attention from the reading public, and which will find readers in all parts of the country. It's coming has been spoken off occasionally during the past six weeks and some attempts at description have been made, but nothing definitely was known until to-day. It is by an anonymous author, whose identity, however, is known to the artists and literary men of the city, many of whom have been given a glimpse of its pages. The book is called "Bohemian Life" and the title indicates the nature of its contents. It is the story of the wanderings of a Bohemian by a Bohemian, the author being a well known and comparatively opulent artist, who travelled through Europe on foot. Scorning a more elegant phrase, the author says the book is the story of a tramp by a tramp, but those who have read the opening chapters unanimously agree that it is the story of the life of an artist, a poet and a scholar, who, obeying his vagrant impulses, has loitered in the paths worn by the feet of those who love the beautiful. Adventures by land and sea are charmingly told, glimpses of our late war are given, the art galleries of Europe are described and the difficulties that beset an artist's career are humorously and lovingly treated. There is nothing encyclopaedic about the book. Everything is subordinated to the story of the Bohemian, and great places only figure as they figure in such books as "The Innocents Abroad." A rollicking humor pervades the book and makes the narrative one of the most interesting ever told. But the literary beauty of the work is more than equalled by its artistic features. It is filled with engravings illustrative of the story, copied from sketches made by the best artists in the United States, or, as the author terms it, "illustrations by the illustrious." Every chapter is begun by an initial letter, designed by well known artists, extremely unique and fanciful in their design. The chief characters of the book are all portrayed and the important scenes are well pictured. No more handsome book could be conceived. The first edition will be a royal one, a deluxe edition, and will be disposed of by the author personally. The second edition has already been ordered, and as a testimony of the high character of the work it may be stated that a Chicago firm has contracted to sell 50,000 copes of it the first year and has purchased absolutely 20,000 copies. "Bohemian Life" is a production of which St. Louis has reason to be proud.

And so we now have some evidence that Page might have been a Bohemian artist: 'the wanderings of a Bohemian by a Bohemian, the author being a well known and comparatively opulent artist, who travelled through Europe on foot,' even if the report underplays his characterization as a tramp. I will only add here that, strangely, a further edition of Bohemian Life was published in 1886, this time under the new title, Tramp Life: of roving adventures in Europe and America. But let me now continue with Page's story as I understand it so far. The narrative of the book itself is left to the readers imagination as to what may be fact and what fiction. For myself, it really matters very little, I let the book speak for itself.

Page was born on 7th May 1841, enrolling in the Confederate army at the age of twenty and serving in the Fourth Tennessee Regiment with, according to the article, some distinction. He was wounded several times and captured at the battle of Chicamauga, then released in an exchange of prisoners and was fighting with General Robert E. Lee when the Confederate Army finally surrendered at Appomattox in April 1861. At the completion of the war Page returned to his home town of St. Louis where he took up journalism and writing. Page's obituary refers to him as writing 'several books', although only Bohemian Life seems to have survived. The manuscript of a 'World History' by Page was destroyed in a fire and never re-written. On his father's death, Page took over the presidency of his father's business, the Page and Krausse Manufacturing and Mining Company of St Louis. Page was an only child, never married, had no children, and so there are no close surviving relatives.

I have already referred to Page's paradoxical, upside-down way of writing. Discovering that Page was a Confederate, cleared up at least one anomaly in his writing. Why, I wondered, did the hero of Page's 'autobiography', a child soldier in the Union army, express so many sympathies with the Southern cause? This literary strategy was just one employed by this unconventional author to prompt his reader to ruminate on their understanding of the text.

So why am I including a fictional autobiography alongside actual autobiographies? Apart from my view that all fiction is autobiographical to some extent, and all factual histories certainly contain a degree of fiction, I have always maintained the view that myth and legend are as instructive, sometimes more so, as so-called historical accounts. I intend, in any case, to turn to fictional accounts of tramping later in my research, but the particular style and content of Page's book fits as comfortably here as elsewhere, and certainly qualifies Page as a tramp writer. I was also surprised just how closely the early events in this book parallel those of my last two tramp writers, Josiah Flynt and Jack Everson, even though Page pre-dates them both. Like Flynt and Everson, Page's hero (not named for the first 100 pages of the book) loses his father at an early age; who also beat him, is a tearaway, spends time in a reform school, drove his loving mother to distraction, and has adventures as a child tramp. But perhaps this was a more common scenario in the 1800s than looking back from our present age seems reasonable. In any event, what follows is the first tramping adventure of Page's protagonist; and at the time of reading I was still convinced I was witnessing Page's own adventures.


Early Life

[...]

Soldier, Sailor, Tramp


The end of the young tramp's failed schooling coincides with the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, and, although his mother does not give the parental consent required, he joins the Eighty-Third Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (of the Union Army) as a drummer boy. The adventures told by Page here provide a fascinating account of the Civil War which help put in some context the phenomena I referred to in my last post, of the way in which one of the legacies of that war would be to create the raw material for the Golden Age of Tramping in America. Flynt was one of many commentators to describe how the war had created an army of men well used to travelling around the country and sustaining themselves on a minimum of food and shelter; in fact all the skills required to survive without working. Many ex-soldiers were simply unaccustomed to the responsibilities of domestic and civil responsibilities, and continued the way of living they had been trained to endure. In any case, with the outcome of the economic collapse in 1873, only eight years after the war had ended, there was little prospect of work even for those so inclined.

In and Out of Work

[...]

The Bohemian Artist in New York and Paris

[...]

Further European TravelsObservations on Life and Romance


[...]

Afterwords

From 'William Clark Breckenridge: his life, lineage and writings' (1932):

Breckenridge writes in 1917 that Bohemian Life was the only book that Page ever published but lists many other publications to which Page contributed articles, essays, sketches and poems, under the pseudonyms 'Sydney Harrington', 'The Hornet Poet' and 'Comet John'. Some further comments on Page by Breckenridge are noteworthy: 

Page was a bachelor, with many marked peculiarities, one of which was his invariable rule to read one library book each day.

[...]

Page had travelled through Europe and he later incorporated some of his experiences while there in the only volume he published.

[...]


He was never known as a writer. He was by profession a crayon portrait artist and a good one in that line, but nothing more.'


From 'St Louis, Queen City of the West'  (St. Louis, Mo.: Mercantile Advancement Co., 1898-99) 

...the Page and Krausse Manufacturing and Mining Company['s] ... extensive plant is located at Nos. 408 and 410 Valentine street and 411-413 Poplar street. This is an old-established and highly successful concern ... The firm was incorporated under the Missouri laws in 1884, two years before the demise of Mr E.B. Krausse. Subsequently the decease of Mr. William M. Page occurred, and since that event the sons of the two former owners have constituted the company and operated the business. Their premises consist of a large three-story brick building, accommodating office, factory and stock rooms, the factory being supplied with all the best apparatus and paraphernalia applicable to this special branch of manufacturing industry. The scope and manufacture comprises the production of refined and floated barytes ... The individual component members of the company are Messrs. T. M. Page, president and E.B. Krausse, secretary, both of whom are native St Louisans of the younger and more progressive generation of businessmen. 

 
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Linda Fluharty, West Virginia Genealogy coordinator, the writer Dave Lossos of 'Genealogy in St. Louis', Adele Heagney of St Louis Public Library, and Jason D. Stratman and Kay Thurman of Missouri History Museum for their very helpful assistance in tracking down key documents relating to Thomas Manning Page.
 

Full story now available in The Lives and Extraordinary Adventures of Fifteen Tramp Writers from the Golden Age of Vagabondage

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