June 5, 2010

Death of Stephen Crane and O. Henry

Stephen Crane ended the 19th century with a severe hemorrhage of the lungs, shortly after hosting a several day-long Christmas banquet. He recovered somewhat but, amidst writing a novel called The O'Ruddy, he suffered two more massive hemorrhages in the spring of 1900. He went to a health spa in Germany, still dictating a few chapters for his novel. He died on June 5, 1900. He was 28 years old.

The O'Ruddy was published posthumously in 1903. Despite his youth, before his death Crane had already published Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure (among other works). Even so, he was not quite as prolific as O. Henry, who died the same day, ten years later, on June 5, 1910. Henry was 47.

Henry, whose real name was William Sidney Porter, wrote mostly short stories, often upbeat, usually with a surprise ending. One of his most famous is "The Gift of the Magi." The story follows a poor couple searching for the perfect gift for their spouse. The wife buys a fob for her husband's prized watch, selling her beautiful hair for money to make the purchase. Unbeknown to her, the husband has sold his watch to buy an extravagant set of combs for his wife's long hair. Henry compares this couple to the Biblical magi:

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.


  1. Interesting post, with perhaps a small typo. Per the connection with today's date, I believe you intended to state that Crane died on June 5 (not 15th), 1900.

    My father died on June 5 as well. He was not a literary man per se, but his favorite poem was Rudyard Kipling's "If," a framed copy of which he kept on the wall of his den.

  2. Typo corrected - thanks for catching it!

    "If" is a great poem; I admire your father's taste.

  3. Thank you for your kind words, Rob. They mean a lot on this 31st anniversary of my fathers' death. He tried to live his life by every line of Kipling's poem.

    Which is meaningful to me, despite my strong belief (I'm with Poe here) that poetry need not be instructive or have some agenda: that a poem exists for the sheer beauty of the poem itself.