Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Born Today In 1843, Author Charles Warren Stoddard, Famously Wrote about His Travels In Polynesia

Charles Warren Stoddard was born today, August 7, in 1843. He was an American author and editor best known for his travel books about Polynesian life.

Stoddard was born in Rochester, New York. He was descended in a direct line from Anthony Stoddard of England, who settled at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1639.

While he was still a child, he moved with his parents to New York City. In 1855, the family migrated to San Francisco, California when his father found a job at a mercantile firm. Stoddard was 11 and was immediately smitten with the city and, as he recalled, its "natural tendency to overdress, to over-decorate, to overdo almost everything." In 1857, he joined his ill brother Ned on a restorative trip in the East Coast, where they stayed at their grandfather's farm in western New York. He rejoined his family in San Francisco by 1859.

Stoddard began writing verses at a young age amid the growing literary climate of California. His first published work saw print in The Golden Era for September 1862 under the pseudonym "Pip Pepperpod." He later recalled how he clandestinely slipped his contribution into the Era's mailbox without anyone knowing: "No member of my family suspected that I was so bold as to dream of entering the circle of the elect who wrote regularly every week for the chief literary organ west of the Rocky Mountains." His writings were well received and were later published as Poems by Charles Warren Stoddard. Poor health compelled him to give up his plans for a college education. He tried a career on the stage without success.

In 1864, he visited the South Sea Islands and there wrote South-Sea Idyls, a series of letters he sent to a friend. This friend had them published in book form in 1873. "They are," wrote William Dean Howells, "the lightest, sweetest, wildest, freshest things that were ever written about the life of that summer ocean." He made four other trips to the South Sea Islands, and wrote his impressions in Lazy Letters from Low Latitudes and The Island of Tranquil Delights.

Stoddard was gay. He praised South Sea societies' receptiveness to homosexual liaisons and lived in relationships with men.

From San Francisco, late in 1866, Stoddard sent his newly published Poems to Herman Melville, along with news that in Hawaii he had found no traces of Melville. Having written even more fervently to Walt Whitman, Stoddard had been excited by Typee, finding the Kory-Kory character so stimulating that he wrote a story celebrating the sort of male friendships to which Melville had more than once alluded. From the poems Stoddard sent, Melville may have sensed no homosexual undercurrent, and the extant draft of his reply in January 1867 is noncommittal.

Stoddard visited Molokai several times and became well acquainted with Father Damien–a Catholic saint since 2009–who ministered to the lepers there. Stoddard's The Lepers of Molokai, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, did much to establish Father Damien's position in public esteem. In 1867, soon after his first visit to the South Sea Islands, Stoddard was received into the Catholic Church. He told the story of his conversion in a small book, A Troubled Heart and How it was Comforted, of which he said: "Here you have my inner life all laid bare."

In 1873, he started on a long tour as special correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. His roving commission carried no restrictions of any kind. For 5 years he traveled through Europe and went as far east as Palestine and Egypt. He sent considerable material to his newspaper, much of which it never printed, though some of it was among his best work.

Francis Millet, a well-regarded American Academic Classicist artist, had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s and Venice in the mid-1870s, where he lived with Stoddard. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz presents letters from Millet to Stoddard that suggest they had a romantic and intimate affair while living a bohemian life together. Amy Sueyoshi additionally traces Stoddard's affair with Yone Noguchi through their passionate correspondence to one another.

In 1885, having decided to settle down, he accepted the position of chair of English literature department at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He resigned, officially citing malaria. Literary historian Roger Austen has written that the real reason behind Stoddard's decision was the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality.

The same reason caused him to resign a corresponding position that he hald at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from 1889 to 1902. In a short time he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, intending to devote himself exclusively to literary work. A serious and almost fatal illness interfered with his plans. He published his Exits and Entrances, a book of essays and sketches which he called his favorite work, probably because it told of his friendship with Stevenson and of other literary acquaintances.

In April 1903, he returned to San Francisco and was the guest of honor at a welcome-home party at the Bohemian Club with Henry James and Enrico Caruso in attendance. He then settled in Monterey, California, with a hope of recovering his health, although he traveled within California and was in San Francisco during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

He stayed on in Monterey, where he was diagnosed with heart disease, until his death from a heart attack on April 23, 1909.

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