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Morley's clubs SRL

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An account of the writer, editor and critic Christopher Morley (1980-1957) as the founder of The Baker Street Irregulars, America's first and continuing Sherlock Holmes society, in 1934, and the role played in this process by various
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  ÒDeficit, Damnation, and DeathÓ  : Christopher Morley and His Clubs Jon Lellenberg From a talk at The Coffee House, New York City,  January 13, 2016. W E ALL KNOW ABOUT C HRISTOPHER M ORLEY AND CLUBS , BUT THERE Õ S ALWAYS A BIT MORE TO LEARN . Morley was, of course, the writer, editor, and critic whose most successful novel, the 1939 bestseller  Kitty Foyle , was made into a hit movie in 1940 for which Ginger Rogers won the Academy Award as Best Actress. The title character was an Irish-American working-girl tossed to and fro upon the reefs of the stratified class culture of Philadelphia that led University of Pennsylvania sociologist E. Digby Baltzell to coin the term WASP. Morley was born in 1890 on PhiladelphiaÕs Main Line, the fashionable suburbs running along the Pennsylvania RailroadÕs line northwest of the city, communities which were and still are home to much of the cityÕs upper stratum. This was something of an accident, though. MorleyÕs unmoneyed parents came from England srcinally, his father a mathemathics professor at Haverford College, a Quaker institution, before becoming chairman in 1900 of the Math Department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In a 1919 book, Our Poets of Today  by Howard Willard Cook (N.Y.: Moffat, Yard & Co.), is an autobiographical statement by Chris Morley, who was  just 28 years old at the timeÑgetting into this WhoÕs Who of American verse on the strength of a 1917 volume called Songs for a Little House , which followed the success of MorleyÕs fanciful novel about the book trade,  Parnassus on Wheels ,    published that same year  .  In his tongue-in-cheek statement, Morley described his upbringing:  Born May 5, 1890, at Haverford, Pa. My father is a mathematician and  poet, my mother is a musician and a fine cook and a poet, so you see I was handicapped by intellectual society and good nourishment. I have always yearned to be a poet, but will never get anywhere because I fall into the happy slough of mediocrity. I canÕt write either badly enough or well enough to dull the abhorred shears. My chief trouble is that I am too well fed. Great literature proceeds from an empty stomach. Most of my boyhood was spent in miscellaneous deviltry in Baltimore, ringing doorbells and putting out purses on the pavement with strings to them. Most of the money I still see has a string tied to it, and someone else has hold of the string. I never thought of cudgeling the muse until I went to college at Haverford, which is just a mile from Bryn Mawr. Enough said. The nymphs of Bryn Mawr College are responsible for more juvenile verse in eastern Pennsylvania than the statisticians dream. When I was eighteen I had an idea that if I could only write a poem a day for twenty years, the world would be made safe for Helicon. And then he added: ÒI wrote a poem in 1918, and I intend to write one in 1919.Ó But he also provided some biographical truth. He had been valedictorian of his class at Haverford College in 1910, and then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. When he returned home in 1913, he talked his way into a job at Doubleday Page & Co., at Garden City L.I., as a publicist and reader of manuscripts submitted to it. In 1917 he became a sub-editor at  LadiesÕ Home Journal  , a short-lived post consisting mainly, he said, of reading Òa few million jokes sent in by readers for the famous ÔThat Reminds MeÕ page.Ó Before long he and the  LadiesÕ Home Journal   agreed upon an amicable divorce, and he returned to Philadelphia to be a reporter and columnist at the  Evening Ledger  . The second role especially appealed to him, and he returned to New York for good in 1920 to be a columnist for the weekly literary supplement of the  New York Evening  Post  , while continuing to write his own books. One day in 1924 the newspaperÕs publisher allegedly observed people buying the Saturday issue at newsstands, and flipping the literary supplement into the nearest trash can. Forthwith he dropped it from the newspaper; but instead of vanishing, it became the independent Saturday Review of Literature  instead, and Morley and his ÒBowling GreenÓ column with it.   All this time he continue to write, producing The Haunted Bookshop , his sequel to  Parnassus on Wheels , in 1919; more verse; two volumes of essays serious and humorous in 1918 and 1920; and so on. And he became known to his readers as someone addicted to clubs. In that statement back in Our Poets of Today , heÕd said: ÒI belong to the Grolier Club and Coffee House in New York, and to the Franklin Inn in Philadelphia, and am  proud of having founded the Ôsmall fryÕ that used to meet at BrowneÕs Chop House, and I hope it will continue to do so as long as there are small fry in the journalistic business.Ó The Grolier Club, uptown on 60th Street off Park Avenue, is of the course the well-known bibliophile society, the oldest such club in America, and one can easily imagine a  bookman like Morley among its members. He was one from 1917 to 1919 only, however. In an essay in The Colophon  in 1949 entitled ÒOn Belonging to Clubs,Ó which might have  been titled ÒOn Resigning from Clubs,Ó he related how the Grolier had decided it wanted a Baby Member, but had forgotten that Òa young man complete with family might not only wear purple patches in his prose but also on his pants.Ó And so, on Òthe very day our first child was born, and I was digging like a dachshund in a badger-den, in came the accolade, and a bill for initiation.Ó He borrowed some money to pay the initiation fee, Òstalling doctor and hospital and nurse as long as I could,Ó and took part in one of the GrolierÕs Sunday Night Suppers where he sat next to J. P. Morgan, and even lent him some pipe tobacco. But instead of having brought a rare volume from his presumed book collection to discuss, Òthe only rarissima  I had on me was the final punch of a ten-trip ticket to Queens Village, L.I.Ó So Òas soon as my initiation fee expired I did also.Ó The Coffee House lasted longer. Morley was a member by 1918, and remained one until 1932, when during the Great Depression he gave it up along with other things, like lending pipe tobacco to J. P. Morgan. By that time, the clubs he liked best were those he created himself, and which met not in clubhouses of their own accompanied by mortgages, but in taverns and, during Prohibition years, speakeasies. One of his most famous of those was the product of his  Evening Post   and Saturday Review of Literature  life, dubbed The Three Hours for Lunch Club. It first met in an Italian joint on the edge of Greenwich Village, then peregrinated around Manhattan several years, and eventually settled principally into the back-room of the speakeasy on East 45th Street off Lexington Avenue owned by Christ Cella, later famous after Repeal for his steakhouse which lasted into the mid-1990s under his sonÕs management.  The clubÕs affairs, meaning the interests and table-talk of its literary personalities, were frequently featured in his column. And after a while, in his  Evening Post   column in 1921, Morley wrote: ÒIt has been suggested that the Three Hours for Lunch Club is an immoral institution; that it is founded upon an insufficient respect for the devotions of industry; that it runs counter to the form and pressure of the age; that it encourages greedy and rambling humor in the young of both sexes; that it even punctures, in the  bosoms of settled merchants and rotarians, that capsule of efficiency and determination  by which Great Matters are Put Over. It has been said, in short, that the Three Hours for Lunch Club should be more clandestine and reticent about its truancies.Ó Of course Morley scoffed at this: ÒThe Club,Ó he averred, Òthinks that the life of this city, brutally intense and bewildering, has yet a beauty and glamour and a secret word to the mind, so subtle that it cannot be closely phrased, but so important that to miss it is to miss life itself. And to forfeit an attempt to see, understand, and mutually communicate this loveliness is to forfeit that burning spark that makes menÕs spirits worthwhile.Ó Its members were in their late twenties and early thirties, still rising in their arts and careers, and making a very good time out of it, notwithstanding Prohibition. The progenitor of his Three Hours for Lunch Club was a similar one we have known less about, Òthe small fryÓ (always in lower-case letters, Morley declared). It too was a luncheon club, of junior publishing people, authors, and editors. Founded in September 1915, it met firt in a tiny lunch-room atop the  Evening Post   building on Vesey Street in lower Manhattan where Morley worked. As it grew in numbers, Òthe small fryÓ moved to BrowneÕs Chop House, a joint founded in 1856 or Õ57 by an English actor cast upon these shores. By MorleyÕs time, BrowneÕs was in its third home at 1424 Broadway, next to the Empire Theater and across the street from the then-new Metropolitan Opera house. ÒTo emphasize the lowly rank of its members we called our club Ôthe small fryÕ,Ó Morley said in his autobiographical novel  John Mistletoe  in 1931, Òbut we were none of us  deficient in large dreams.Ó And some did become household names nationally; not only Morley himself, but Sinclair Lewis, Vachel Lindsay, and others. ÒThe small fryÓ did not outlast the World WarÕs demands upon its membersÕ time and energies, but it led to Morley becoming a member of The Coffee House as well, which had come into existence about the same time. ÒFrank Crowninshield [its founder, and editor of Vanity Fair magazine], then warily screening possible members for his Coffee House,Ó Morley reminisced in 1952, Òused to attend the small fry lunches to choose sprouts of social merit for his lively klatsch. Those whom he considered as Men About Towne [referring to the writer Charles Hanson Towne, another early Coffee House member] were tapped for membership, and became too frisque for the humble fry.Ó Other memberships of MorleyÕs came and went as time passed, clubs like The Players, on Gramercy Park, and one of his own making with even its own clubhouse for a change, The Foundry,* ! across the river in Hoboken N.J. on what Morley called Òthe Seacoast of Bohemia,Ó where he and some others had taken the aged Old Rialto Theatre in order to revive old melodramaÑan enterprise surprisingly successful at the end of the 1920s, partly because Hoboken had a reputation for not interfering with its speakeasiesÕ  business, until the Depression hit. Dearest of all to his heart was The Three Hours for Lunch Club, Òwhich existed only one meal at a time,Ó he exultedÑbut it too had evolutions convincing him to beware of clubs and invitations to join them. ÒI knew by then,Ó he said, Òthat clubs werenÕt for me, unless I invented them myself. I was quite happy, for a whole, at dear old Frank CrowninshieldÕs Coffee House on 45th Street, but if you didnÕt write for, or talk like, his Vanity Fair  , you were gently eased out. Even Thackeray would have been greyballed.Ó Inventing his own clubs, Morley would find, was no guarantee either. In his boy-hood, when the Sherlock Holmes stories were coming out for the first time, he had eagerly inflicted them upon his younger brothers, along with the familyÕs academic  practice of detailed examinations in the Canon, and he had also formed a similar club with three other Baltimore youngsters later on, calling themselves ÒThe Sign of Four.Ó It had not outlasted boyhood, but fifty years later he saluted the other three in a  London ! * See Harrison HuntÕs ÒChristopher MorleyÕs Foundry Club and the Baker Street Irregulars,Ó Saturday Review of Literature , No. 5, January 7, 2017.  
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