A Tiffany Gift

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for 150 Years

SINCE NEW YORK CITY IS WHERE, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, MOST OF THE MONEY IN THE COUNTRY tends to migrate, it is not surprising that it seems to have almost as many jewelry stores as it does restaurants. Of these many are excellent, and a few—Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels—are grand by any standards. But only one of them has lodged itself in the national consciousness as being something beyond a purveyor of luxury goods. Read more »

Hard Looks at Hidden History

Hard Looks at Hidden History

One of the more unlikely results of the American Revolution was Australia. Most American colonists came here voluntarily, of course, but until 1776 we meekly accepted boatloads of His Majesty’s convicts as indentured servants.Read more »

The Blighted Life Of The Writer, Circa 1840

The urge to create literature was as strong in the mid-1800s as it is today, but rejections were brutal and the pay was even worse

How does the writing life in preCivil War America compare with that of the 1980s? If you had picked up the New York literary newspaper The New Mirror on Saturday, January 6, 1844, you would have read: “The prices paid now to acceptable magazine-writers are very high, though the number of writers has increased so much that there are thousands who can get no article accepted.Read more »

Plain Talk From Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many Americans, Hemingway among them, thought him a solemn prig. But Emerson’s biographer discovers a man who found strength and music in the language of the streets.

In the wake of the centennial year of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s death in 1882, scholars, critics, and journalists in various parts of the country started to take a fresh look at the man and his works. They have found that the prejudices against Emerson expressed by H. L. Mencken and Ernest Hemingway persist to the present day. Mencken said in The American Mercury (October 1930) that “Emerson was always very careful to keep idealism within the bounds of American respectability.Read more »

Sinclair Lewis Got It Exactly Right

He re-created with perfect pitch every tone of voice, every creak and rattle of an America that was disintegrating even as it gave birth to the country we inhabit today

My first—and last—sight of Sinclair Lewis was in Union Square. Lewis Gannett, the book columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in the 1930s, had somehow contrived to make himself a penthouse of sorts atop a factory there, and one night he gave a party at which Sinclair Lewis was the central fact. From Gannett’s windows you could see down to the grubby commerce that surrounded the square.Read more »

Ten Books That Shaped The American Character

Walden is here, of course; but so too is Fanny Farmer’s first cookbook

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books—especially contraband books—is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off.Read more »

Our Neighbor Mark Twain

The years the famous writer spent in their town were magic to a young boy and his sister.

A year after our arrival in Redding, Connecticut, Mark Twain came there to live. Everybody in town had watched the building of his great house on a wide, more or less level plain, which, on our side of it, rose above a cliff that ran along Knob Crook Brook and its lovely glen. His land had been the sheep pasture of my Great-greatgrandfather Banks and was approached by an ancient stone bridge over the brook and below a steep road that no horse cared to climb.Read more »

The Magazine That Taught Faulkner, Fitzgerald, And Millay How To Write

When many of our greatest authors were children, they were first published in the pages of St. Nicholas

At first, it might seem F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eudora Welty, and E. B. White have little in common besides their country of birth and their line of work. But when they were growing up, these writers all were devoted readers of the same publication: St. Nicholas, the monthly magazine for children. Founded in 1873, St. Nicholas delighted and instructed children for almost seventy years. Read more »

Matters Of Fact

Vidal’s Lincoln

WHEN ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S wartime secretaries, John Hay and John G. Nicolay, serialized their life of the President in Century magazine in 1885, Lincoln’s old friend and law partner William H. Herndon did not like it. The articles were too reverential, he thought, too Republican, too everlastingly long. But worse than that, he added, the authors “handle things with silken gloves & a ‘cammel hair pencil’: they do not write with an iron pen.” Read more »

The Long, Happy Life Of ‘bartlett’s Quotations’

It is the repository of the wisdom and poetry
of the world. Its editor tells the story of how it came into being and how it stays there
.

NO ONE IN 1855 could have foreseen that a modest little volume of 258 pages, bound in cardboard and the size of a postcard, would mushroom into the immense tome of 1600 pages that serves as a cornerstone of most libraries in the English-speaking world. Familiar Quotations was the creation of John Bartlett, for whom—to paraphrase Melville’s remark about the whaleship being Ishmael’s Yale and Harvard—the University Book Store in Cambridge was college. Read more »