"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


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

‘I also, on one occasion, while smarting under a well merited but none the less offensive reprimand, left the maternal cot, in Wheeling, Va., ostensibly for school, and having deposited my books and slate in the coal-shed, proceeded to the wharf and hid myself on board a steamer plying between Wheeling and the, to me, remote and romantic port of Steubenville, Ohio.
   After wandering about the streets of the latter place for some hours I formed the acquaintance of a large and jovial philanthropist who was then the keeper of the principal inn, and who, under the impression that I was a friendless waif from Pittsburg, took a benevolent interest in me. Having fed and comforted me, he propounded a series of questions, all of which I answered with a seeming frankness that forestalled suspicion of guile. The next day my large hearted patron offered to send me to school; but I demurred, assuring him that I had been to school, enough, and that I would rather earn my living honestly, by blacking boots in his hotel. He replied that the industry I mentioned was just then a monopoly vested beyond his immediate control, but he would set me up in business as a newsboy, if that would suit me. I gratefully accepted his offer; and plied the latter vocation with energy and profit for two days, by which time my generous benefactor had
so entirely won my confidence that in an impulsive moment I told him all.
    When I had done so the astonished publican gave me some grave and excellent fatherly advice, and, in spite of my protests, took me on board the packet as soon as it next arrived and placed me under care of the captain. I was very indignant for a while; but soon after the voyage began I became agreeably interested in the prospect of quickly reaching home.
 When I ran into the house, I saw my mother slowly and with a weary air ascending the narrow front stairway. At my impulsive shout she turned, in the curve of the little landing, threw up her arms, and almost fell upon me in her haste to hug the wicked boy whose undutifulness had graven some fresh, deep lines of grief, which joy could not disguise, on her sad, sweet countenance. For three days my slate and books had been the only traces of me in Wheeling.’

Shortly after this adventure, the family move to Cincinnati where, with the help of his older brother (two other siblings had died at a young age), the young tramp's mother tearfully deposits him at a reformatory. The events told here very closely mirror the real life experiences of both Flynt and Everson's cruel treatment at the hands of their jailers. But a year later, after a prison riot, our hero is able to persuade his mother and brother to rescue him from further abuse and he is discharged home again.


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.

Following his short army career, Willie Wagtail, engages in various adventures, including working on the paddle steamers serving the Mississippi and its tributaries. After rescuing a damsel in distress from a sinking steamer which had caught ablaze (see Everson's real life escape from a burning steamer in my last post), our hero gives up paid employment and, through circumstances rather than choice, finally becomes a tramp; but not until 150 pages into the book. The coincidence being that our hero had lost most of his money in the river and provided the damsel, for whom he had developed an attraction, with the remainder. Tramping his way back to Cincinnati he encounters a fellow tramp (with the moniker of Sorrowful Sam) over a wood pile, the chopping of which clearly being one of the hobo's standard means of earning a few cents in hard times. Will, for by now that is how he prefers to be addressed, ponders on what his tramp companion might have been ‘before tramping became a fine art in America’, and asks him why he is averse to working to fund an easier life. The reply he gets is:

“Work ... has wasted more human life and happiness, and cemented the foundations of more inhuman wrong, energies of war, physic, and bad whisky—and yet you, a reading man, and a thinker, ask me why I do not work !”

With a two dollar bill in his pocket to prove they are no vagrants, Will's companion teaches him all manner of deception to secure a meal or a bed for the night, without having to part with the money:

‘I clearly perceived that he was an accomplished liar, whose mendacity was never burdened with unnecessary detail, merely for effect. He seemed, indeed, to love truth in the abstract, his deviations from it, as may be seen by careful study of his mention of logs to the swine-herder, being of the most simple and effective sort. But I was rapidly discovering that he was a monumental fraud, twined all around with graceful, vine-like virtues that amounted in the aggregate to one immense, insidious snare; and my reverie was a self-interrogation whether I concluded that as two days more would bring us to the place appointed for the rendezvous, I would burden my soul with complicity in his immoral, if not eminently nefarious impostures, for that length of time. In this conclusion I was to some extent fortified, if not swayed, by his confidence in the sojourning virtues of the two-dollar bill. I let him carry it during the remainder of our journeying together, and he never let the sun go down upon our supperless, shelterless souls.’

It is not clear, thus far at least, where Page acquired his knowledge of tramping, at a time when there must have been little written accounts of tramp life. He next describes the carved signs tramps use to communicate with each other which, in this case, lead Will, his companion Sam, and a third tramp with the moniker Fishing Jake, to what my own reader will now be familiar with as a tramp 'jungle'. By this time Will is starting to express some comfort and pleasure with the tramping lifestyle:

'‘Reclining luxuriously on the brown and yellow leaves, in the glow of the ash-white, smoldering [sic] log, surrounded by a unique assortment of utensils which doubtless had been "lifted" from farms not many miles away, I listened to the hum of voices and looked through the towering limbs at the sun-paled ghost of the gibbous moon, while a feeling of unmixed, exquisite joy expanded within me. I could easily understand how such a rendezvous scattered in its dispersion the seeds of reproduction. Food, Sam told me, was the responsibility of foragers sent out each afternoon, to solicit and find.’

The tramp 'chapter'—a kind of vagabond freemasonry—that Page describes in this encampment, appears to be an extended family of those who have chosen to tramp and congregate together for ideological reasons rather than the hobo jungles of necessity described in my earlier posts. Whether Page is portraying a golden age of tramping that existed following the end of the Civil War, but prior to the first of the major depressions that heralded the hobo epidemic, or, whether he is just simply exercising his creative imagination, I have yet to decide. Certainly, his allusion later to Jesus, as the ultimate leader of an itinerant tramp movement, provides some helpful clues. At any rate, on debating whether or not to resume his travels alone, our hero is subjected to a speech that has the all hallmarks of a fraternal tramp brotherhood, with internal rules and conventions, and an elected leader rather than a random collection of wandering vagabonds.

‘For the next hour considerable pressure was brought to bear, to shake my purpose of resuming my journey immediately. The Chairman of the Convention, a patriarchal Pilgrim in a panama hat and embroidered dressing gown—both, like the wearer, somewhat the worse for age and accumulated terraqueous discoloration—in a low voice assured me that many halcyon days like that we were then enjoying would follow each other in almost uninterrupted succession before winter began its reign in earnest; and that he had intimations of several excellent plans, not publicly mooted, by which the rigorous aspect of the approaching season might be much softened.

As Page continues his description of this tramping fraternity, one might suspect him of ascribing to vagabondage—whether for literary or ideological effect—civilising qualities that represent everything that tramping, as I have come to understand it, rejects. I will need to research further to discover if there indeed were such parallel societies in trampdom; those that both rejected and imitated mainstream society's codes of behaviour. It is of further interest to note in the following passage, the use of self-imposed injuries to secure charitable benefits, similar to those described by Jack Everson in my post discussing that author:

‘ "Ours," explained the venerable Chairman, "is essentially a very democratic Order; but, possessing grades of rank and dignity, it must, of necessity, possess corresponding degrees of privilege, since without rewards there can be no incentive or stability to individual merit. Hence in ours, as in all human social organizations, there are certain arcana devoted to such knowledge and advantages as are reserved for those whose ability elevates them above the common herd. And so, at present, there is a plan of passing the crisis of the coming winter which it would not be proper, politic, or wise to mention outside of our own particular chapter. It is to separate into parties of two or three and sojourn during the inclement season in the hospitals of those neighboring cities which are provided with comfortable quarantine improvements. It is a curious fact, well known but commonly disregarded in the medical profession, that tartaremetic ointment will speedily produce an eruption almost indistinguishable, to an expert physician on his guard, from that of variola. And, owing to the prejudice against small-pox that always prevails in all populous places, we have only (provided we have been well vaccinated) to select our city, annoint [sic] ourselves and at the proper time appear at the dispensary, to secure free quarters of a most desirable kind, for an indefinite period, with the further alluring certainty of receiving new apparel in which to encounter the vicissitudes of the ensuing season." ’


In and Out of Work


In any event, our hero decides to leave his comrades to their own devices and strike out once more alone. Following a period as a bicycle salesman in Cincinnati, the entrepreneur heads for Chicago where he opens a very successful business manufacturing and selling lamps and 'chimneys'. With several thousand dollars in the bank and his prospects blossoming, Will then credits one of his own lamps for starting the great fire of Chicago in 1871:

‘The bank did not break; but the following night a melancholy cow, disgusted with her diet, kicked over one of my non-explosive lamps and shot it, after the indestructible chimney, into a pile of hay. It was Mistress O'Leary's cow; and by the following night Chicago was a mass of incandescent ruins. There was something mysteriously swift and hot about that combustion. It burst out with a supernatural suddenness and omnipresence, and cleaned up its own debris, removing stone and fusing metal, all as if the very air of heaven had suddenly been converted into the incendiary breath of hell.'

Needless to say, having by this time got the drift of Page's narrative style, he loses everything in the fire but the clothes on his back, and is forced to tramping once more. There follows a series of fortunes and misfortunes in New York City, too numerous to mention here; although it is interesting to note that Page uses Washington Irving's nickname, Gotham, for that city. There then follows an illness prompting another change of direction:

‘Anxiety to protect the weakest and the shame of owing debts I could not pay, or some other, unknown cause, brought on a serious illness in which it would have fared evil with me if Providence, by the hand of Dr. Robert Taylor, had not succored me in my hour of sore and helpless need. That open-hearted gentleman treated me skilfully and like a father, providing for me until I was up and able to provide for myself. May his age be old and green!
  In the hours of convalesence [sic] I balanced my inclinations at leisure, and found they oscillated persistently toward the wide and hospitable West. To get there was the problem. But as soon as I was able, and before I was really fit for work, I solved its first equation by shipping as pantryman on the steamship Cortez, then loading for New Orleans.’

Disembarking in New Orleans in a state of exhaustion, our penniless and starving vagabond finds himself outside a local YMCA. Only sheer desperation drives him to throw himself on the mercy of God's disciples; the consequent failure of which enterprise produces such a highly entertaining satire on misplaced Christian charity, that I include here a major part of that passage:

‘I had often heard of "The Young Men's Christian Association," and seen, sometimes in my urban rambles, chaste signs of that eminently virtuous collection of alleged immature specimens of the masculine gender. And in a cloudy way the inference had floated in my mind that it was composed of youthful men who employed a large fund in the special duty of continuing the work of a Master whose most powerful preaching and practice reiterate, to enjoin: "Do good to them that do evil unto you— If any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak, also— Feed the hungry— Clothe the naked— Give to him that asketh; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away." And an abundance more of positive precept and example full of the same catholic spirit, and overflowing with similar mandatory and unmistakable import, that God does not make men in his own image too base or vile to be legitimate objects of zealous anxiety to all who love and honor Jesus. 

[...]

I strayed into that prayer-meeting, lured by a neatly printed and pressing invitation to all men, and especially to strangers in the city, to walk right up; because, in the innocency of youth, or the credulity of my temporary mental abberration [sic], I supposed that the young disciples congregated up stairs, who could not fail to see that I was sick and needy, distressed by hunger and sufficiently naked, might, at least, delight their Redeemer by giving my famished stomach one good fill and shake-down.
   As I entered, the spirit I anticipated seemed to move those excellent young men; for one, whose bald spot indexed mature juvenility, grasped my hand and drew me into a seat; and another old headed nursling rushed over and asked me whether I loved the Saviour; followed by a ripe young man of uncertain age, who inquired particularly after my stony heart; while a fourth, who greatly to my reassurance seemed rather under middle age, presented me with a pamphlet entitled, "Milk For Babes;" just as an unquestionably young, slim saintlet, in kid gloves and golden spectacles, volunteered to pray for me. 
   They were all so kind, and anxiously sympathetic with my obvious unhealthiness and visible distress, that when the near-sighted young man implored the Lord not to let me die in my sins and added a few personal remarks associating me with the thief on the cross, I weakened, and laying my two hands on the pit of my stomach, groaned aloud.
   At this outburst of inward agony the petitioner redoubled his earnest eloquence; and as he prayed hot tears, or drops of some sort, rolled down his cheeks; while two of his youthful brethren hastened to my assistance and comforted and strengthened me, by telling me that if I died in my existing condition I would certainly be damned, and warning me to flee in terror from the wrath to come.
   And there is where they made a mistake—resorting to language that sounded profane and threatening; for if I was hungry, and for the time being a little off in intellect, I was familiar with profanity; and had demonstrated, when but a tender stripling, at the cannon's mouth, that I was game.
   The very idea of any one but women and children being frightened into heaven made me feel quite indignant and worldly minded; so much so that while the young man with the obstructed vision saw his whole duty as a Christian dude in appealing feelingly to Jesus to bind up the broken hearted, and temper the wind to the shorn lamb, I wickedly took a mental inventory of all that exuberant piety, and thought, like a flash, of a wayside confidence of Sorrowful Sam. Sam, so he then confided to me, had once been an exemplary ornament to the Methodist congregation; but since he took to tramping, he inimitably admitted, he had not industriously attended to the interests of his immortal soul. His mortal stomach, he solemnly explained, presented such pressing claims on all his leisure that there was no alternative but to let his immortal soul stand back and wait.
Yet, he earnestly protested, he had not back-slided, or ceased to think often and yearningly of the life and example of the wise founder of Christianity, who, like the lily, did not toil or spin, or follow the carpenter's trade any great length of time; but just rambled about with his itinerant disciples, without any regular where to lay his head—making the wayside pleasant with delightful conversation, and the halts pleasanter with miracles of wine and loaves and fishes.
   "By Jucks! Mr. Wagtail," he concluded, "had only waited a couple of thousand years, nary constable's posse would ever have got within ten miles of him; for every dog-gone tramp out of jail would have forsaken all and followed him, till Gehenna froze over."
   While wickedly digressing in the wake of this reminiscence I did not decline any of the well meant attentions the devout young males were lavishing on me. On the contrary, as prayer alternated with exhortation some of the phraseology employed, such as casual allusions to the bread of life and elegant raiment and regular supper and expensive side-walks of the New Jerusalem, made my mouth water. For the first time I duly realized how profoundly the men who compiled the common vocabulary of worship were versed in the sublime cravings of the human heart.
   At length it seemed time to one of them to ask me how I felt, then; and when I said, "Pretty bad," he inquired whether I thought I would feel any better if I was to pray.
   I said I thought I would.
   Then they all knelt together, for the first time, to augment the weight of my petition, I supposed; and I stood up and poured out my inward agony in prayer. 
   I regret my inability to report that prayer in detail. It went up from the bottom of my heart, or some deep organ in the same vicinity; but the only notes preserved of it are those of the recording angel. I still, however, retain a vivid recollection of its general plan. It began in earnest by informing the Lord that I was a miserable, starving sinner, adrift in a strange city, without a cent to my name, or a hole, or a nest, or even a corn-row, in which to lay my head. And, in view of these pressing circumstances I begged him, for Christ's sake, to send a fast and reliable angel with a whole pan full of the livest sort of coals, unto some sinful Dives or excellent Samaritan, to melt his granite imitation of a heart—until
he saw the point and hastened to feed one of God's stray black lambs.

[...]

When I opened my eyes to sit down I at once saw that I had powerfully impressed that prayer-meeting. It was a warm September day; and when I began, the atmosphere of the hall was sultry; but when I said amen, it was pervaded with a crisp and bracing coolness. Perceiving that no young man present seemed in a frame of mind to point out that the practical prayer of the needy tramp left that meeting no alternative save to crucify their Lord afresh, or else take up an immediate collection, in a flattering silence I silently withdrew.

Page's portrayal of Jesus as the ultimate tramp leader (but by no means the first tramp celebrity—that honour belongs to Heracles), has parallels with my own characterisation of Jesus as a Cynic philosopher. Either way, his more popular characterisation as the son of God, and the stupidity of people who worship gods, is subjected by Page in the piece above, to a cynical irony worthy of the best philosophical treatise on the subject. As Page also portrays in the earlier description of the tramp brotherhood, we are provided with parallel worlds in which the god-fearing and the 'civilised' majority of humans, are not capable of understanding that there are among them, those who prefer to exile themselves from all the dubious benefits that the upstanding, model citizen or the religious zealot enjoys.


The Bohemian Artist in New York and Paris

Having said which, our fictional hero himself is a tramp only of necessity, although he is also clearly a victim of wanderlust. He remains in any occupation but briefly, mistrusting success even when it presents itself—in spite of a bewildering diversity of talents. Following the unproductive prayer meeting, Will finds casual work on a steamer that feeds him and deposits him in St Louis where, having discovered a new talent on the steamer, he sets up in business as a portrait artist, before returning once again to Cincinnati where he continues to ply the same trade. Convinced that he should now train as a professional artist, our hero responds to an advertisement as a companion for an invalid Englishmen bound for Liverpool, from whence he intends to proceed to Paris and realise his new occupation in what he believes to be the principal centre of that vocation. One suspects here that the transmutation from itinerant worker to Bohemian is now about to take place.

‘Having never fallen in with a descriptive narrative of amateur ocean travel that did not fondly yearn over one deep, stirring emotion that usually stands out prominently among first impressions of the bounding billow, I swore by my beard, and the bare spot that is making havoc of the scenery on the summit of my head, that this book should, at least, possess so much striking originality as could be compressed into a total absence of animadversion on the conventional topic.’

The next one hundred or so pages describe our hero's initiation into life as a bohemian artist in Paris, of his friends and his adventures. This whole section of the book also describes the protagonist's equal and unconsummated love for two different women. The one is the damsel he rescued from the burning steam boat and whose acquaintance he resumes, the other is a dancer who lives in the same pension and becomes his model. Hopelessly in love with both women, he yet refuses to respond to their attentions not wishing to be unfaithful to either one. And here I cannot help wondering just how much and what portions of Page's book may be autobiographical—in any part. And that might also explain why Page went to his grave a childless bachelor. Was Page himself ever an artist? Fiction or not, he displays a significant knowledge of art, and going through Page's probate documents, there were several paintings in his possession including what was described a crayon portrait of Page himself; a medium he describes his fictional character as using. In any event, like most cynics, Page may also have been a frustrated romantic, as the following passage, concerning the fictional hero setting himself up as the stereotype starving artist in his (New York) garret, suggests:

‘To love art thoroughly one should suffer for it; since nothing else tests and toughens the fiber of an affection too strong to snap in the ordeal, like the prolonged agony of physical discomfort. For months and years I clung to the feet of my mistress [art], often shivering, sometimes famishing, but always refusing to be repulsed into any of the numerous ignobler callings in which I had never known either hunger or privation.’

Nonetheless, Will Wagtail seems to have spent an entertaining and enjoyable number years as a struggling New York artist, in the company of other artists, writers and musicians, with whom he established a private 'Bohemian Club'. The description of the activities of this motley society, their buffoonery, feasting and drunken poetry readings, has parallels with the Dadaists and the Beats whom I refer to in my last post. The fact that the milieu described by Page took place at the end of the 1870s (forty years before the emergence of Dadaism, and eighty years before Beat arrived on the scene), does reinforce that such 'movements' are not a unique product of a particular historical era, but a timeless reaction to the banality of 'civilised' society that all cynics find alien to their character. As I discuss in the chapter titled, 'Return of the Dog Cynics: 20th century performance art', in my own book, Cynicism from Diogenes to Dilbert, to view 'the Avant-Garde' as a fixed point in art history is a contradiction:

‘By employing the label neo-avant-garde we have undermined what avant-garde stood for: challenging, subverting, overturning, and undermining the clichés that former artistic styles and images had come to represent. ... it is avant-garde as an ongoing movement rather than as an artistic style that concerns us. In this context, we can regard avant-garde as the cutting edge that defaces the currency of false or defunct ideas, styles, and customs in the world of Western art—the compulsive cynical act of keeping art awake and on its toes. ... Cynical art, then, is represented in two complementary ways. It is iconoclastic: rupturing and smashing images and ideas, and it is avant-gardist: creating new images and ideas. If it is to work in this way it must push aside the tired images of its own creations as much as those it identifies as the work of others.’

End of avant-garde digression.



Further European TravelsObservations on Life and Romance


By 23rd March 1882, the vagabond artist's wanderlust had returned, he abandoned the Bohemian Club, and set forth on a steamer bound for Germany. But he did not tarry long in that country, having met a fellow artist of acquaintance, they decided instead to tramp for Paris, visiting several German cities along the way. On arrival in Paris there follows an interesting observation about the drinking habits of various nationalities that is as true today as it was 130 years ago. After echoing statistics that show the average wine consumption in Paris is equivalent to a pint of wine daily for every man woman and child, and that the statistics for beer in Germany is even higher, the following conclusions are drawn:

‘Yet, near-sighted, strong-necked, gothic-minded Prohibitionist, what does all that prove? Only, that the wine of France is cheap; and that in Bavaria the beer is good. Well will it be for England and America when their people in like manner sweat and swill; for in those countries of adulterated stimulants inebriety is an enormous social ulcer, while in France and Germany, thanks to the purge of light, pure beverages, it is a sporadic pimple almost invisible and virtually unfelt.’

There then follows a lengthy diatribe against art critics, culminating in the following passage:

‘When the cook who compounds a rare pudding, and the cobbler who constructs an exemplary shoe have to employ a self-elected fraud, who calls himself a critic, to instruct them in the mysteries of pudding and shoe excellence, then—but not until then—will art criticism cease to be a joke with an easel at one end of it and an esel [idiot] at the other.’

But the main reason for Will's diversion to Paris was abortive. He fails to meet up with his former friends, in particular his close companion and former model, Estelle. Even so, he does get news of her from an old acquaintance:

‘Estelle, when he last heard of her, having ended the season of 1881, as second but favorite singer of grand opera in London, had engaged with a new combination as star, to go shining around the world. He thought she was then undoubtedly adding to her slowly but surely growing reputation, in Bombay, Hong Kong, or Melbourne, or some other seaport under our feet.’

Page has a reason for reintroducing the female infatuations of his narrator at this point in the text. The final chapter of Bohemian Life is a satire on the purveyors of plots and happy endings, especially of the romantic kind. So without giving the 'ending' away, a literary nicety that Page is determined to subvert, I include the following passages simply to give a flavour of Page's literary circumlocutions:

‘BUT WHAT—the romantic skipper will exclaim, or at least wonder, on fluttering this thin, final chapter—has become of Est—or is it Ada?
   An embarrassing question, truly; to which there is no truthful answer more pertinent than the short one, that all proper to be known about that interesting young being will be found out when her biography is published. This is the autobiography of a very other person; wherein an engaging young woman must, of necessity, appear and disappear’

Returning to Paris, Estelle was dismayed to hear that she had missed her friend by six months, whereupon she penned a letter to several addresses that might reach their intended recipient. It is while reading this same letter that Will is moved to consider which of his two loves is the most intense.

‘It was no ordinary letter. And its effect on me was very extraordinary.
   In the early morning, when I wot not what was following hard after me, there was no doubt that I was constant to my old and early love; for by a slow process of time, the same that removes mountains and casts them into the sea, my partiality to Ada had steadily undermined my fondness for Estelle. But later in the day a subtile [sic] perfume that the briny ocean could not eliminate from a flimsy tissue, had, by some necromancy, undone the work of time.
   
[...]

The world is quite old enough to thrive on stronger romantic meat than the diluted pap its dry nurses have long been wont to administer to it. Love rules the court, the camp, the grove, and so much of the remainder of earth's habitable area, that it is important for both old and young to understand the truth about its dominion. The conventional idea of the silver chord that vibrates between the sexes is an abstraction which has no shape or form, other than that of a figment of the unphilosophic imagination. ... One love attacks, destroys and dispossesses another love, as often as the same human organism loves twice. Such being the simple, true psychology of the grand passion, it must be possible for twin attachments to evolve, so equally fit for survival and so impartially favored by environment that months, years, or even a life-time, may not supply sufficient time for the struggle to determine which, in itself, is evolution's choice.

[...]

And now the wanderer must lie down and rest. Not that he is as yet aged or infirm; but, alas! necessity is the stepmother of adventure; and when a prodigal so gets the upper hand of the imperious dame that he can riot at home in peace and luxury, there is little romantic interest left in him.


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.
 

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