HENRY BLAKE FULLER
Joseph A. Matter
The Chicago Literary Club
March 22, 1965
Late in 1929 there appeared in The Bookman the following paragraph:
There died in Chicago this year a man who was hailed by
Huneker as his master, who wrote one recognized masterpiece, and
influenced a whole school of modern writers. And yet, when he
died, his books were out of print, they are to be found only on the
older shelves of the public libraries, and few people know anything
about them or him.
My first contact with the books of Henry B. Fuller occurred about 1927 when a stranger
came into my office with a few books under his arm and asked me if I would be interested in
buying first editions of several of Fuller's works. I was familiar with Fuller by reputation, the
volumes were reasonably priced, and I bought them. I read each of the books with quiet but deep
enjoyment and became a permanent Fuller partisan.
Henry Blake Fuller was born in 1857 in a house on the present site of the LaSalle Street
Station in Chicago. He was the last male in direct descent from Dr. Samuel Fuller, who came to
America on the Mayflower. His mother was descended from a New England family
which came to Boston about 1631. His father, George Wood Fuller, was active in Chicago civic
life and at his death was Vice-President of the Home National Bank. The boy obtained his first
schooling at Moseley School in Chicago, from which he graduated with first medal. He then
attended Chicago High School, a boarding school in Wisconsin called Allison Classical Academy,
and finally South Division High School, where his grades for his two years there were 99.7 and
99.8, nearer perfection than Ivory Soap used to advertise itself to be.
Thinking to improve his ability to write, he began at fourteen to keep a series of journals,
which were continued throughout his school life. An early entry is significant:
Only when I succeed in this may I complacently regard
myself as a master of the English tongue. Not only shall I possess to
perfection the power of character sketching, but shall couch my
expression in words most elegant. Then shall I be able to execute
most vivid word paintings, to nicely proportionate my matter, to
arrange with order and conciseness my brilliant ideas, and to round
off my sentences in graceful Ciceronian periods.
These journals, together with some manuscripts, some later journals and much of his
correspondence are preserved in the Newberry Library. The ink in the school journals is badly
faded but still suffices to display a precise, Spencerian handwriting not to be expected in a boy of
Except for his preoccupation with his school marks, these journals portray a rather normal
boy, excited over holidays and Christmas presents. His life-long need for privacy and an orderly
life was early evidenced when at fifteen he recorded in his journal: "I (now) have a little back
room all to myself. Am going to buy some more books immediately. As yet, no gas." He disliked
the resulting frivolity when at Allison he was forced to share a room. After one party he made the
following journal entry: "In the morning I dressed and ate crackers among unwashed stew-pans,
scattered packs of cards and old cigar stumps . . . . Of my whole school life at the Allison these
convivial nocturnes were my greatest trial. Quiet and privacy were invaded, study was entirely
prevented, bedtime and sleep thoughtlessly disregarded."
Fuller's school journals contain detailed itineraries for the travel in Europe of which he
constantly dreamed. He was 22 in 1879 when his grandfather died. Almost at once he left for the
first of his several European trips, probably using money received from his grandfather's estate.
He had spent years in preparation, thoroughly acquainting himself with all phases of European
history and culture. He methodically covered much of Europe on his first trip and just as
methodically filled three ledgers with over 400 pages of his copper-pate handwriting, vividly
setting forth his account of that "wander-jahr". From this time on, although his home was in
Chicago his heart remained in Europe.
Nevertheless Fuller was not the conventional American tourist, accepting everything he
saw as an example of the greater elegance of Europe. He had already developed sufficient taste
and judgment to enable him to recognize what was really good. His first months were spent in
England. His reaction to Westminster Abbey was that which many of us have experienced a
"marble jungle". St. Paul's he referred to as "Wren's great classic sham". Eton College he thought
was snobbish. Exposed to this first shrimp, he called it "an average struck between a crab and a
peanut". He sent many long descriptive articles home to Chicago, some of which were published
in the Tribune.
It is good to learn that Fuller's time abroad was not spent solely in pursuit of serious
objectives. I found in the Newberry papers a letter written from Algeria, in which he reports on
the entertainment offered in a Tunis night-club: "There was plenty of common barnyard talent
hitching its dress up over its titties and singing `Her Golden Hair' and such-like in French. Well, it
was fully worth the fifteen cents (and the six cents for beer)." We must conclude that Fuller was
not a very heavy drinker.
Almost a year to a day from the time he left for England Fuller was back in Chicago,
immeasurably more mature, sophisticated and self-confident by reason of his year abroad. Except
for his subsequent trips to Europe and a sojourn or two in Boston and New York, he lived out his
life in Chicago. After his father died in 1885 Fuller had to take over the management of the family
business affairs. Until his mother's death in 1907 he lived with his sister or at the family home on
Prairie Avenue. Thereafter he moved rather frequently from one cheerless rooming house to
another, where he could not be reached by telephone and where no one ever dared to intrude. We
would have expected him to have become one of the exiles who found life in Europe more
congenial than that in America. He apparently had some independent income and that, together
with the proceeds from his writing, would have supported him there. Nevertheless, he stayed in
Chicago, made much of the claims which bound him to the city, and at times seemed positively to
enjoy its incompatibility.
For a number of years Fuller puttered around with short stories, essays and articles, many
of them satirical, and experimented a little with some pretty poor poetry and some very creditable
short plays, opera librettos and music. These operas never reached production but they did
evidence thorough knowledge of music and included some charming songs. One of his librettos
for a musical play, Cyrano de Bergerac, was produced.
Although it is hard to see what other than their literary interests the two men could have
had in common, Hamlin Garland became one of Fuller's closest friends. In his book Roadside
Meetings Garland gives us probably the best picture available of Fuller as an individual: a
small, alert gentleman with a full brown beard who carried himself with fastidious grace; who
resented the mental and physical bad smells and the raucous noises of his native town; who was
the best informed man of all of his acquaintances in Chicago but who made no direct display of his
acquirements; who said little but whose sentences were short, precisely controlled and pertinent;
who had little patience with fuzzy pretensions, and who was intellectually arrogant but never
bitter, although displaying more mellowness in his books than in his personal
Garland says that although Fuller's merriment, wit and laughter made him very popular in
the circles where he felt at ease, it would never do to count upon him. If he thought he was
becoming involved too deeply he would fail to show up for an appointment, or if he came his stay
was apt to be brief. He almost never entertained any of his friends, but was punctilious and
generous about wedding presents and at Christmas always remembered them all. He could be and
usually was delightfully gay and wittily candid and was seldom left out of party invitations. After
his death, 75 of his friends joined in a little volume entitled Tributes to Henry B.,
published by Ralph Seymour. In one of them Mrs. Bert Leston Taylor wrote: "He first came to
our home one Saturday night after a Thomas concert. We talked all night, the hours passing like
minutes under the spell of Mr. Fuller's brilliant mind. After that, no party was complete without
Fuller's visits to the Garland home in the country were short, for to him the song of the
robin was a "yelp" and the voice of the katydid a "drone". The "eternal twitter" of the sparrows
infuriated him. The "accursed roosters" unseasonably awakened him in the morning and the "silly
cackle" of the chickens prevented him from writing. Butterflies filled him with pessimistic
forebodings or generations of cabbage worms. Only at night before the fire with nature safely and
firmly shut out did Fuller regain his customary and charming humor.
Fuller loved to spend days in the libraries of the large cities and nearly blinded himself by
incessant reading. His interests were catholic in their scope. Garland once came upon him in the
Newberry Library and said, "What are you reading now?" Taking off his glasses to wipe his tired
eyes, Fuller replied, "I've been posting up on the relative size and gun-power of the various
No one has been more closely a part of the literary life of Chicago since before the turn of
the century than has Ralph Fletcher Seymour. He has in turn been artist, writer, editor, maker of
books, and publisher. We are friends, and he was good enough to entertain me one afternoon
recently with reminiscences of Fuller, which I recorded on tape. In that interview he gave me a
picture of Fuller as a participant in social life much like Garland's account. Miss Anna Morgan
lived in Ravinia in a house near his own loaned her by Seymour. On almost every Saturday or
Sunday interesting persons were apt to be found at the Seymour home. Seymour said,
Henry Fuller would often be one of the
group and Clarence Darrow would frequently join us on Sundays
and they would sit listening to the conversation or to my wife play
Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. Fuller was a very quiet sort, and I
thought he was suspicious, but I am not so sure that he
was perhaps he was just disappointed in the cultural standards of
most of his associates. Fuller would not excuse any of the many
faults of the group and didn't like anything that wasn't high class,
although he himself wasn't high class except when he wrote.
Fuller's first novel happened to be also the first of his books I read. It is one of his three or
four best, and is still my favorite. I cannot do better than let him tell you in his own words about
his writing of the novel:
The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani was written in
1886 (perhaps through into 1887) when I was approaching 30. I
had been abroad (with especial reference to Italy) in 1880, and
again in 1883. A third visit, after another three years, must be, by
reason of family circumstances, one for the mind and pen only.
Well, that was easy. The study of things Italian had continued to
engross me; I was saturated and had but to precipitate. The
overflow, without any prompting or solicitation quite took care of
itself. The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani was written in a
business office on Lake Street, Chicago . . . . I had a desk beside
the manager's own. Mine was as large as his; my waste basket too.
One day when alone, I reached down into the waste basket, filched
up a discarded envelope and began: "It was the Chevalier of
Pensieri-Vani who halted his traveling carriage ' . . . . All these
early chapters or sections were written merely for his (the
Chevalier's) pleasure and mine; or, rather, for his necessity and
mine: Seemingly, they had to be. There was no slightest thought of
possible publication until the book was three-quarters or four-fifths
done. . . . Some three years later . . . a minor house in Boston
undertook publication at my expense. The proofs, which came
slowly, were read at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, through a late
summer and an early autumn. This work, done by an inexperienced
hand, far from all books of reference, helped produce a rather
imperfect volume; and I felt both gratified and relieved when the
Century Company at New York made a proposal to bring out a
new edition. This edition had, of course, the benefit of revision; and
due attention was given to type, binding, and decorations. The first
edition, faulty as it was, had the fortune to gain the good will of
James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton and other New
Englanders; indeed all the first notices of consequence came from
Boston, where the Transcript in particular was kind.
As Fuller indicates, Lowell expressed his delight in the book, and in fact the Eastern
reviewers were almost unanimous in extolling its merits. Most of them found it hard to believe
that anything so good had come out of Chicago, but had to admit that in this case at least,
something good had come out of Nazareth. The book is short and simply tells the story of travel
through Italy by several dilettantes who used as excuses for their trips the search for various
things of artistic and recondite nature a rumored Perugino painting, some Aldines and Elzevirs,
and even an architecturally matchless design for a city hall. It is the descriptions of the Italian
scene, the conversations among the friends and the masterfully expressed dissertations on art,
architecture, music, literature and just plain living which make up an utterly delightful and
In one passage we feel that Fuller was causing one of his characters to voice Fuller's own
To him the only man to be envied was the man whose time
was in some degree his own; and the most pitiable object that
civilization could offer was the rich man a slave to his chronometer.
Too much had been said about the dignity of labor, and not enough
about the preciousness of leisure. Civilization, in its last outcome,
was heavily in the debt of leisure, and the success of any society
worth considering was to be estimated largely by the use to which
its fortunati had put their spare moments.
Here I was reminded of Schopenhauer's comment that the greatest advantage a man can have is to
have private means sufficient to permit him to live his life comfortably without the necessity of
working, since only then can a man say each morning, "This day is my own".
Of his second novel, The Chatelaine of La Trinit‚, published by the Century
Company in 1892, Fuller said: "The Chatelaine of La Trinit‚ was meant to do for the
Alps French, German, Swiss and Italian what its predecessor had done for Italy itself." The
book is more finished in form and structure than is the Chevalier. If it has a central
theme it is that no person should ever attempt to evaluate the standards of others according to his
own estimate of what standards are true. The book contains more of Fuller's ideas and prejudices.
One of the most emphatic of these was to form the basis for his two Chicago novels which were
to follow, the evil arising from a social edifice in which the female is the cornerstone: "What,"
demands Zeitgeist in the novel,
was American society, but a magnificent galley in which husbands
and fathers toiled at the oars, while wives and daughters sat above
in perfumed idleness? He had met a gentleman in New York, the
possessor of twenty millions of florins, who had told him that he
was working for his board and clothes. . . . This unfortunate toiled
more incessantly than his meanest clerk, and had absolutely not a
single pleasure; but his wife and daughters . . . resided in a great
hotel, without duties, insensible of any obligations, and unoccupied
except by their own diversions . . . .
It was during this period in Fuller's career that the informal group of literati and artists was
formed which persisted for some 25 years and which came to be known as "The Little Room".
Sullivan's Auditorium had just been completed and the Thomas orchestra had moved into it. It
became customary after the Friday matinee for a number of congenial souls to get together for
tea. Hamlin Garland later claimed the credit for having founded the groups but this is
Thirty-one of Fuller's letters in the Newberry papers were written to brothers, I.K. and
A.B. Pond. They disclose so long and close a friendship that I asked Ralph Seymour how Fuller
had happened to become acquainted with them. "They were architects," he replied.
I.K. was the imaginative one and A.B. was the one deeply interested in right living,
city planning and social settlements. They were part of an esoteric group here in
those early days which met in Mr. Ralph Clarkson's tenth floor studio in the Fine
Arts Building. It was called "The Little Room". Miss Anna Morgan and Miss Clara
Laughlin often presided at two shining brass samovars, and maids from the
women's club one floor down served coffee, tea and sandwiches. Chatfield-Taylor,
his wife, H.K. Webster from Evanston, two or three professors, Lorado Taft,
Charles Francis Browne and Henry Fuller were members. Browne and Lorado Taft
were brothers-in-law. Hamlin Garland had married Taft's sister and they became
part of the group.
I am sorry that Seymour's kindly discretion has not permitted me to repeat intact his pithy
comments about The Little Room members. He is a delightful chap with whom to visit, with an
earthy, forceful way of expressing himself which is inimitable, and utterly without inhibitions in his
conversation as long as he knows it is off the record.
Lucy and Harriet Monroe were regular members of The Little Room. Lucy was to become
chief editor of the Chicago publishing house of Stone and Kimball, both of whom also attended.
Sullivan dropped in occasionally. Somewhat later, Emerson Hough, Keith Preston, Francis
Hackett and Llewellyn Jones became regulars. Any visitor to Chicago with artistic pretensions
was almost sure to be present at one or more meetings. Henry Fuller, pre-eminent among the
literary members, would occasionally give a lecture to the group. Sometimes Anna Morgan's
dramatic students would stage one of the lesser known plays by Shaw, Ibsen or Maeterlinck. In
fact, it was at a Little Room meeting that Anna Morgan gave Shaw's Candida its first
Many of the persons who later became members of The Little Room had a hand in the
huge parade which was organized as part of an elaborate reception given in 1890 to the idolized
stockbroker poet, E.C. Stedman, when he came to Chicago from New York for a brief visit.
Eugene Field covered the parade in his newspaper column, and I cannot resist setting out almost
in full his list of the component parts of the parade. Field, tongue in cheek, gave them as
The grand marshall, horseback, accompanied by 10 male members of the
Twentieth Century Club, also horseback.
In commenting on the parade, Bernard Duffey says there was a fitness in having the 200 Chicago
poets go afoot while the exclusive and moneyed Chicago Literary Club, which accepted without
complaint the substantially accurate charge that it was the only literary club in existence with no
literary men as members, should ride in carriages. Field's reference to Armour's advertising car
was in line with his constant cracks about the incongruity of hogs and cultural pretensions. One is
reminded of Philip Armour's comment to a friend, "My culture is mostly in my wife's
Mr. Stedman in a landau drawn by four horses, two black and two white.
The Twentieth Century Club in carriages.
The Robert Browning Club in Frank Parmelee's busses.
The Homer Club, afoot, preceded by a fife and drum corps and a real Greek
philosopher attired in a tunic.
A brass band.
A beautiful young woman playing the guitar, symbolizing Apollo and his lute, in a
car drawn by nine milk white stallions impersonating the muses.
200 Chicago poets, afoot.
The Chicago Literary Club in carriages.
Another brass band.
Magnificent advertising car of Armour and Co. illustrating the progress of
The Fire Department.
Another brass band.
Citizens in carriages, afoot, and horseback.
Advertising cars and wagons.
Fuller's next two novels, The Cliff Dwellers and With the Procession,
were published respectively in 1893 and 1895. Both were realistic novels of Chicago life and
much has been said and written about the sharp contrast between his two European novels and
these two. In reality only the material and the locale, but not the central theme, are changed.
Fuller's hatred for business as an interference with the more important things in life, and his feeling
that it is women and the unreasonable weight which the mistaken importance attached to them
gives them in compelling men to sacrifice themselves for their women's materialistic ambitions,
continued to be a theme of these two books.
The Cliff Dwellers was perhaps the first of the many American novels to follow
which emphasized the short-comings and drawbacks of big business in America, and which
endeavored to emphasize the greater importance of the social and political conditions which grow
out of big business. The title refers to those inhabiting the symbol of the book the Clifton, an
eighteen-story office building, a thing which was at that time a peculiarly appropriate symbol for
Chicago, the home of the skyscraper. In his manuscript My Early Books Fuller says of
the novel: "The Cliff Dwellers, my first essay in `realism', was developed from (an earlier)
novelette . . . produced on the occasion of a competition instituted by a Chicago newspaper which
wished a realistic story with local flavor . . . . The Cliff Dwellers (was written) a few years later,
when the Columbian Exposition helped along a hearing for Chicago Fiction. The theme was less
mournful than that of the early study period. . . . I doubt whether my theme was detected. Since
then (in writing) I have tried to intimate the theme plainly, on the first page, if not in the title."
The hero of the book, George Ogden, goes to work in The Clifton for a bank and presses forward
with single purpose, subjecting all other considerations to business success until he finally
achieves it. Other men housed in the building evidence other aspects of the result of the placing of
over-importance on business. Fuller makes Ogden's first wife push him to despair in her insistence
on success, money and social prestige. The villain of the book is not any of the characters rather
they are regarded as unfortunate victims of a system and a city. The villain is Chicago
In With the Procession Jane Marshall, daughter of an old Chicago family, insists
on bringing that family to live the life lived by others of Chicago's wealthy. Her motives were fine
but her actions resulted in only tragedy. Here, as in The Cliff Dwellers, Fuller does not
blame her. Again it is Chicago which is the villain. As he promised, Fuller indicated on the first
page of the book the point which he wished to make in the novel. The opening paragraph
When old Mr. Marshall finally took to his bed, the
household viewed this action with more surprise than sympathy,
and more impatience than surprise. It seemed like the breaking
down of a machine whose trustworthiness had been hitherto
infallible; his family were almost forced to the acknowledgment that
he was but a mere human being after all. They had enjoyed a certain
intimacy with him, in lengths varying with their respective ages, but
they had never made a full avowal that his being rested on any
tangible physical basis. Rather had they fallen into the way of
considering him as a disembodied intelligence, whose sole function
was to direct the transmutation of values and credits and resources
and opportunities into the creature comforts demanded by the state
of life unto which it had pleased Providence to call them; and their
dismay was now such as might occur at the Mint if the great stamp
were suddenly and of its own accord to cease its coinage of double-eagles and to sink into a silence of supine idleness.
The critics were unanimous in praise of the two books. Theodore Dreiser called With
the Procession the first piece of American realism that he had encountered, and even during
the days of his own prominence he considered it the best of the school. Howells was lyrical and
said it could not be bettered. "I greeted the first twenty-four pages with cries of delight," he
wrote. This emphasis on praise by Howells reminds me of the very pat statement by John Macy in
his Spirit of American Literature that "Howells was a man of rare and diversified gifts,
born to be one of the great interpreters of human life, but something happened to him. He was
stricken by the Dead Hand in Literature. He became Dean of American Letters and there was no
one else on the faculty." Howells pleaded for realism in novels, but as Macy remarked, "If there
were no more passion in the world than Mr. Howells recognizes and portrays, about 80,000,000
of us Americans would never have been born, and once born half of us would have died of
Not unexpectedly, Hamlin Garland claimed credit for Fuller's switch to novels about
Chicago. As he put it in his Roadside Meetings:
Without the sense to perceive that Fuller's fine art was
precisely what the city most needed as a counterpoise to its
tasteless journalism, I went about saying that an aspiring use of
local color was of more value than a derivative romance no matter
how exquisite. "We must have fiction as new in design as our
skyscrapers," I repeated, and then quite unexpectedly Fuller took
me at my word and published a novel which had the definition of a
steel tower wherein all of the characters were connected in one way
or another with the newest of our architectural monstrosities. He
called his novel The Cliff Dwellers and I, recognizing that
he had beaten the realists at their own game, at once wrote to him
acknowledging the art as well as the truth of the book.
Garland's letter drew a very cool and aloof reply from Fuller in which he suggested that the book
was to be taken really as a sort of wrist-exercise preparatory, perhaps, to something better in the
future. "There are a good many ways to skin a cat," Fuller wrote, "and the realistic way, I dare
say, is as good a way as any."
I was happy, indeed, when Maurice English, Senior Editor of the University of Chicago
Press, told me, when he learned I was writing this paper, that that Press is preparing to reprint
With the Procession and that a member of its staff has written a really brilliant report on
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War Fuller amazed his friends by publishing
The New Flag, a book consisting of such violent diatribes against the imperialistic
policies of the McKinley administration and the principal political figures of the day, including
McKinley, Hanna, Roosevelt and Lodge, as to be completely out of character. Its intemperate and
scurrilous language can be explained only by the great depth of feeling which Fuller must have
had about the policies which resulted in the war. No publisher would look at it, so Fuller
published it at his own expense. Today a copy of this paper-backed book is almost impossible to
obtain, but there is one in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society, and in a recent
publication of that Society, Paul Angle devoted several pages to the book. Other persons who
disagreed with our war with Spain were vocal, but Angle says that Fuller worked up the bitterest
attack of all.
The "poetry" in the book is so crude in form as to belie the classification, but when read
today has at least the merit of being funny. I spare you all but these lines, addressed to
Hail! stalwart son and Canton Hero!
When the heat of the controversy was over Fuller doubtless regretted the book. Certainly had it
been written by anyone else he would have criticized it severely for its lack of literary quality or
excuse. In any event, as far as we know he never again mentioned it.
Thou Xerxes up to date, or Nero!
Thy vacuous face and vacant blinking
Show not the deep and devlish thinking
That makes thy mental puppets squirm
To figure out a second term
By geometric combinations
Of rotten politics and rations!
An amusing glimpse into Fuller's character is afforded by his reaction to the naming of The
Cliff Dwellers Club. My first question to Ralph Seymour when I interviewed him was, "How long
did you know Henry Fuller?" His reply was,
Well, I got acquainted with Henry Fuller first when The
Cliff Dwellers Club was founded. Hamlin Garland and the Ponds
and Arthur Aldis and Chatfield-Taylor, and especially Charlie
Hutchinson and Frank Logan started The Cliff Dwellers and at first
they used to meet in a hotel dining room. Hamlin Garland was the
first President but they had trouble with him and this presidency.
While the Club's constitution defined two years as the maximum for
presidents, he stayed continuously for six. They didn't know what
to call the club they thought of the `Attic Club' but someone
suggested `The Cliff Dwellers,' which was the name of a book
written by Henry Fuller, and they asked him would he let them call
this new club that name and I think they intended to make him an
officer of the club and he barely said he would, then he refused
flatly to join. In fact he seemed to resent the fact that they had the
title of his book for their name. Henry Fuller visited the club only
one time, when someone inveigled him to go up for some special
I found Seymour's recollection verified in a letter written by Fuller to Bert Leston Taylor, which
read in part: "The Attic Club, I hear, is to be called the `Cliff Dwellers'. I hope not. If it is, I don't
join, you bet!"
Duffey in his Chicago Renaissance says of the club:
An offshoot of The Little Room, and perhaps its legitimate
heir, was The Cliff Dwellers Club organized by Garland from
among the male members of The Little Room in 1907. Fuller
refused to come in and it would appear that his choice was a sound
one, for The Cliff Dwellers, launched by Garland to heighten the
status of artists and writers, grew into a comfortable urban club, but
one without great creative importance to the practicing artist if,
indeed he could hope to afford its fees. . . . When (Garland) moved
to New York in 1915 and found himself suddenly unable to attend
the testimonial dinner which The Cliff Dwellers, over whom he had
presided since their beginning, had planned for him, the Dwellers
were seized with a fullness of spirit which his straitlaced
omnipresence had heretofore restrained. Roswell Field, who was at
the dinner, hurriedly sent out for some bottles and set himself up as
bartender, and Will Payne scrawled out a large sign for the wall,
"This Place Has Changed Hands."
I have heard this story several times from early members of the club it must have turned out to
be quite an evening!
After Under the Skylights, a group of three satires written in 1901 upon the
artistic pretensions of a culture-minded Chicago, holding up to ridicule in no uncertain fashion
many of the public figures and movements of the time, Fuller did not write another novel until
1919. In that year Ralph Seymour published for him Bertram Cope's Year. I have never
read it, but it must have been a curious book. The hero was a young university instructor of
markedly feminine tendencies. Not only was a homosexual theme dangerous at that time, but the
novel was dull and lacking in point or purpose. A reviewer in The Bookman said, "The
book though filled with dynamite, scrupulously packed, fell harmless as a dud and Fuller's friends
silenced it into limbo."
Ralph Seymour, as publisher, was naturally disappointed. When I asked him about the
book he replied:
His books never did sell well. He'd write them and he had
the best of publishers because he was really good. I am sure when
he gave me Bertram Cope's Year, he hoped I could sell it,
being right here, but I made a total failure of selling the book. No
one seemed to want it and I'll bet I didn't sell 200 copies.
Seymour's difficulty in selling Bertram Cope's Year was experienced by Fuller's other
publishers. Despite the merit of his books they never sold very well. I am reminded of the remark
made by the German, Felix Dahn: "To write books is easy; it requires only pen and ink and the
ever-patient paper. To print books is a little more difficult, because genius so often rejoices in
illegible handwriting. To read books is more difficult still, because of the tendency to go to sleep.
But the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark upon is to sell a book."
Booksellers today are taking more and more to Madison Avenue methods. I read the other day in
the Saturday Review that a British bookshop was displaying copies of Louisa May
Alcott's Little Women under a poster proclaiming: "Four Young Girls Tell
I am sorry that more time cannot be devoted to Fuller's miscellaneous work. In many
respects his essays and book reviews bulwark his reputation as much or more than his novels. In
1883 he wrote some satirical and burlesque essays and what may have been one of the earliest
treatments on record of an affair between the boss and his stenographer, entitled The
Romance of a Middle-Aged Merchant and His Female Secretary. One of his early books
was comprised of thirteen short plays published under the name The Puppet Booth. Two
were presented at the Chicago Grand Opera House in 1897 under the direction of Miss Anna
Morgan. In 1900 he was on the editorial staff of The Saturday Evening Post. From 1901
to 1903 he worked on the Chicago Evening Post doing book pages, reviews and special
articles. For years he contributed a steady stream of stories and feature articles to the better
magazines. Later he was on the staff of the Chicago Record Herald, and he has left a
memorandum that in a period of about five years commencing in 1910 he wrote almost 2,000
editorials for that paper. During the twenties his name appeared continuously as a reviewer in
The Freeman, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times and The New
York Herald Tribune.
In 1912 Harried Monroe started her magazine Poetry, and Fuller was unsparing
in his efforts to assist her in making the magazine succeed. He, Edith Wyatt and Chatfield-Taylor
were an advisory board assisting Miss Monroe. Ralph Seymour was the printer. When I asked
Seymour about his connection with the magazine, he replied:
About that time I was in my office on the top floor of the
Fine Arts Building one day and in came Harriet Monroe, whom I
had known for years, casually through The Little Room and
because she was a friend of Lorado Taft's and Anna Morgan's, and
she said, "Ralph, I have here a most precious thing, it is my child
and I am going to ask you to be good to it and to take care of it." I
said, "What are you talking about, Harriet?" and she said, "I have
here the copy for the first issue of a magazine to be called
Poetry", and I said, "How are you going to run that?"
Well, she said the place was just full of people who were bursting
with contributions to American literature and they should have an
outlet for their poetry as well as their prose writing, and Mr. Henry
Fuller was going to be her reliance for corrections in grammar and
good composition and stuff, and that was how the famous magazine
known as Poetry began. For four years I produced that
magazine for Harriet Monroe. Every month those two people (and I
liked Miss Monroe a great deal, and I even liked Henry Fuller but
was somewhat frightened of him because I couldn't say the words
which would call his attention to me) really owned the office for a
In spite of his promise to himself to write no more novels, in the last eight months of his
life, at the age of 72, Fuller commenced and through a feverish burst of energy completed two
books which were published posthumously. Of Gardens of This World, he wrote its
sixteen chapters, 35,000 words, in eighteen days and typed them himself. Two months later
Not on the Screen 60,000 words, had also been sent to the publishers.
Knopf published Gardens of This World in 1929. Its people are the now elderly
survivors of the young men and women of the Chevalier and the Chatelaine,
with whom are contrasted some unmannerly, new-generation young people. Fuller again follows
his characters, now affected by the disillusionment and the waning vigor and spirit of their old
age, on their travels. Fuller's own disillusionment and frustrating disappointment in the outcome of
his life were reflected in the changed goals and reactions of the youthful characters who had
peopled his first two novels. The critics recognized the absence of acid criticism and the quiet
humor and tolerance of change which the book reflected as new in Fuller's writing, and placed the
novel high among his works. This book, together with the Chevalier and the
Chatelaine, represents the harvest of his happiest and richest years, those spent in his
Not on the Screen, a satire on the motion picture films of the period, was
definitely an attempt by Fuller to write a novel which would sell. Again the locale was Chicago.
Technically it was perfectly done, but neither this book nor Gardens of This World met
with the success which both Fuller and his friends had anticipated. He had once remarked, very
possibly in a spirit of "sour grapes," that he would be ashamed if any book of his had a circulation
of over 2,000 copies, but it can hardly be believed that he had not fervently hoped for a real
success with these last two novels.
One of Fuller's close friends during his last years was Mrs. Alice Dickey, a Chicago
woman of rather substantial income which she devoted to making available periodic writers'
forums for embryonic authors. I was having dinner with her at the Cordon Club one evening in
connection with one of these projects when it occurred to me to ask her if she had known Fuller.
"Very well, indeed," she replied. After relating several incidents involving him, she went on with
the account of his death in 1929:
I had an appointment with him for a hot morning in July
which he failed to keep. This was so unlike him that it worried me.
His health had not been good and he had been suffering a good deal
from the long hot spell Chicago was undergoing. By mid-afternoon
I was worried enough to go around to the rooming house where he
was living. The landlord had not seen him that day. Together we
went up to Henry B.'s room and unlocked the door. There we
found Henry sitting in an arm-chair facing the window, dressed only
in his long underwear. He had apparently been sitting there
watching the street below when his heart failed. I could not help but
think as I looked at him that of all the men I knew there was
probably none who would have been as embarrassed and unhappy
as Henry B. to know that I had found him sitting there in his
Much has been written in an effort to understand why Fuller's books have not commanded
a larger following. Perhaps his trouble was inability to push himself. He so little wanted publicity
that in his personal copy of Anna Morgan's My Chicago, the leaves in which she praised
his work were pasted together. His biographer, Griffin, says that while he spared no effort for the
advancement of others and gave freely of his interest and personal assistance to further his friends,
whether by kindly yet trenchant criticisms or long laborious hours of proof-reading and gathering
data for their use, to advance his own cause he did nothing.
For Chicagoans Fuller is of particular significance in that his writing career corresponded
almost exactly with that of the movement of which he was so important a part, that known as the
"Chicago Literary Renaissance". Beginning with the start of the last decade of the last century, for
30 or 40 years praise was universally lavished on Chicago writers, and Chicago was the lively and
actual center of American letters, but by the late twenties Chicago had been superseded as a
creative center. As Duffey puts it, "It was not only dead but also old hat, and the latter damaged it
perhaps more completely than the first." One by one the authors who had dazzled the country
with their bold innovations left the city. Herrick left for the East in 1913 and Garland in 1915.
Edgar Lee Masters went in 1919, Harry Sell and Burton Rascoe in 1920. The Little Theatre and
the Little Review were already gone. Sherwood Anderson also left in 1920, Vachel Lindsay in
1921, and Ben Hecht in 1924. Bodenheim had not spent much time in Chicago for some years.
Harry Hansen's move to New York and the Herald-Tribune in 1926 pretty much
completed the exodus. In pondering what there was in the Chicago Renaissance, after modern
criticism has done its work, that is of use to us these later days, Duffey suggests that the best
choices are probably the ironic and elegant realism of Henry Fuller, the radical estrangement of
the Spoon River Anthology, the striving mythopoesis of Sandburg's Lincoln, or the padded but
precise feet of Anderson's best prose.
An effect of Fuller's many book reviews was a growing correspondence with authors
whose works he reviewed. Thornton Wilder said of Fuller, "It was my good fortune after my first
book to find a friend whose long, detailed letters of analysis filled my need for friend and teacher."
Fuller appears to have felt keenly the irony of his own neglect by the public when writers like
Dreiser, Bromfield, Cabell and Wilder, each of whom was receiving great public acclaim, wrote to
him with deference as a past master of their common art. I cannot but remember the story that a
few days before his death Herbert Spencer had the eighteen volumes of the Synthetic
Philosophy piled on his lap and as he felt their cold weight, wondered if he would not have
done better could he have had a grandchild in their stead. Surely Fuller must have felt similar
emotions. If familiar with it, he may well have ruefully recalled Samuel Johnson's saying that no
place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public
Fuller's own feelings about his life and his literary career are best expressed in his novel
The Last Refuge. Each character in the book is searching passionately for the land where
his aspirations will be fulfilled and the bitterness of thwarted hopes disappear. Almost beyond
doubt Fuller gave vent to his own feelings through the mouth of von Kaltenau. We are told that
after going over his life in retrospect von Kaltenau concluded that his life had been too free from
ties, from duties, from obligations and from restraints. He had spread himself too thin in too many
directions. He felt himself at once both too experienced and too inexperienced. He knew some
things that he would be only too glad to forget and felt himself innocent in certain matters that
every man of his age should have familiarized himself with. The book of life had been opened
wide before him but he had only carelessly fluttered the leaves. Things were often more to him
than men, and places more than personalities. He had lived in his own little world of ideas, in a
fine non-human fashion; he had seldom felt the need of another's sympathetic participation in his
moods. He had succeeded in establishing himself. He had some position, recognition and
following, but not complete. In asking himself why, he found the answer that his participation in
life had been after all but partial. He had lived by the seashore without ever venturing into the
water. His best years his good years were past; he lived by proxy; he felt by mere secondary
Finally, a purely personal reaction to Fuller's books. As I grow older, I have come to
believe that we use too little of our time in reading older books. Joseph Joubert remarked that the
great drawback in new books is that they prevent our reading the old ones. Emerson advised
never reading any book that is not a year old. George Ade thought that only the more rugged
mortals should attempt to keep up with current literature, and Richard le Gallienne expressed it
nicely in his bit of doggerel:
Behind the times I know I am,
Persons who have read none of Fuller's novels have suffered a loss for which they are the worse.
Long centuries ago a Chinese scholar wrote that there is no greater pleasure than alone, by the
light of a lamp, to open a book and make the men of the unseen world our companions. I could
ask for no better companion on those occasions than Fuller, and particularly Fuller in his three
Italian novels. The next time you sit alone to open a book by the light of a lamp, I commend to
you as your companion of the unseen world, Henry Blake Fuller.
But what is a tired man to do?
I light my pipe and read Charles Lamb.