November 18, 2010

He has, unfortunately, no name

From the Evening Post for November 18, 1830: "Several inquires having been made of us respecting the name of the author of an 'Epistle to Mr. Hogbin'... we might satisfy the curiosity of those who had applied to us." The article in question had been published only two days earlier. The author, however, cheekily replied that he had, "unfortunately, no name. His father and mother... declined giving him any."

"Epistle to Mr. Hogbin" had been billed as the last of the "Croakers," a series which had begun back in 1819. Mostly humorous verses, the series drew substantial interest, in part  because of the anonymity of its two authors. In fact, when their publisher demanded to meet them, they introduced themselves: "I am Croaker, and this gentleman, sir, is Croaker Junior." Their pseudonym was inspired by Oliver Goldsmith's "The Good-natured Man." The installment published in November 1830 was the final one because one of the two contributors had died.

The two men were Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck. Drake died ten years earlier in 1820, just over a month after his 25th birthday. Halleck had been devastated by the death of his friend (and, many suspect, his romantic interest, though there is no evidence Drake returned those feelings). The final Croaker article, which now claimed its author was "A Working Man," was written solely by Halleck (pictured at left). The article retained its humorous intent but presented a topic that was taken quite seriously at the time: he lampooned a labor union. Halleck's character boasted, "We workingmen prophets... [have] broken the chains of laws, churches, and marriages."

Since Drake's death, Halleck had gone on to become a major poetical force in early American writing and is today memorialized in New York City's Central Park.

*Recommended reading: American Byron: Homosexuality & The Fall Of Fitz-Greene Halleck (2001), by John W. M. Hallock.

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