Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Discovery of America and New York in 1892

by Stephen J. Gertz

For most visitors to Manhattan, both foreign and domestic, New York is the Shrine of the Good Time. This is only natural, for outsiders come to New York for the sole purpose of having a good time, and it is for their New York hosts to provide it. The visiting Englishman, or the visiting Californian, is convinced that New York is made up of millions of gay pixies, flittering about constantly in a sophisticated manner in search of a new thrill. - Robert Benchley

When John Smith, a naive new arrival to New York in 1882, explores the city's nightlife, exotic though unnerving and, ultimately, enervating adventures ensure. By the end of his journey into Gotham's underbelly, as recounted in a scarce volume, The Discovery of America and New York, he needs to lie down for five weeks. The fast lane during the Gilded Age was no place for a meek pony to rev horsepower it desired but didn't possess.

"The only True and Authentic Portrait & Signature of John Smith,
discoverer of America."

He attends a performance of The Black Crook, considered to be the first modern American book-musical (it featured a song, Oh, You Naughty, Naughty Men! perhaps inspiring young John Smith's escapades); experiences Madison Square Rooftop Garden, later the scene for Harry Thaw's murder of architect Stanford White over the alluring Evelyn Nesbit; a New York barroom; the Eden Musée (a toney wax museum and art center); a casino; etc. and so forth.

Note the "seal" of the NY Society for the Prevention of Vice stamp in red.

So forth, indeed, that he winds up passed-out drunk in a barrel after being mugged and beaten. Found by the police, he is, naturally, arrested. Idiocy-with-intent-to-commit-foolishness has always been frowned upon by the NYPD; it's on the books, a municipal code violation. They distain naifs who should know better. This is New York, after all, where newcomers have fifteen minutes to wise-up or else suffer the consequences.

Smith, "Discovered by one of the Natives."

Battered, bruised, and bereft of his innocence, he finds his way to Dr. D.M. Stimson's office, where he discovers the modern health care crisis in its infancy: he has to wait a long time to be seen. A VERY long time.

Little is known of illustrator H.W. McVickar. He was born in 1860, and flourished in his career 1880-1905 as an exponent of the Art Nouveau style before he appears to have fallen off a cliff and been forgotten. He is responsible for thirty-one works in seventy publications in three languages, including novels by Henry James (Daisy Miller; An International Episode), many other books, and Harper's and Life magazines.

The Discovery of America and New York was self-published by McVickar as a gift book to friends and his doctor, D.M. Stimson - yes, a real person, a surgeon of renown in the city.

McVICKAR, H[enry (aka Harry)]. W[hitney]. The Discovery of America and New York: October 12, 1892 by a Young Man Who Had Been Five Weeks in Bed Named John Smith. [New York]: [by the author], 1892. First (only) edition, limited to an unknown but likely very small number of copies. Octavo. 62 pp. with  thirty-one pen and ink drawings, including faux titlepage, each predominately full page, most with watercolor highlighting, several in full color. Half-leather over marbled boards, with "Dr. D.M. Stimson" embossed in gilt to upper cover.

Unrecorded, with no copies noted by OCLC/KVK.

Images courtesy of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email