Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hoffman on The New-York Book of Poetry

One known letter from Charles Fenno Hoffman concerns The New-York Book of Poetry, edited by Hoffman and published by George Dearborn in 1837 as a holiday gift book. Hoffman did heroic work to identify and collect poems by natives of New York State. The collection took an amazingly short time to assemble: only two weeks ("a fortnight") according to the prefatory "Advertisement." As originally proposed by Hoffman to Dearborn, the scope of the project would have been limited to poems and poets associated with New York City, "real Knickerbockers solely." Hoffman's proposed title, "The Wreath of St. Nicholas," reflects this narrower, more exclusive focus. But Dearborn enlarged the scope to include New York State writers, as Hoffman reveals in this December 1836 letter to his Albany friend John B. Van Schaick. My transcription below adds punctuation, mostly periods, lacking in the digitized volume of Charles Fenno Hoffman by Homer F. Barnes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1930) that is currently accessible via the Internet Archive.
New York, Dec. 12th, 1836
My dear Van 
I write to you in haste and though it may prove a bore you must try an [sic] answer in equal haste, if possible. The matter in a word is this: four days ago Mr. Dearborn determined to get up a “New York Book" of poetry and have it out in ten days from this—that is, in time for the holidays. Several of his acquaintances were applied to for their commonplace books and together we have raked up some dozen or two names of persons born in this state who have written verses worth collecting and doubtless there are as many more of whom we know nothing. I had but one piece of Bogart's, a drinking song which is already struck off on handsome 8 vo sheets. But I have none of yours. My papers, many of them, having been burnt last summer. Now I want you to send three or four of the best of your “old iron” and moreover to get permission from Miss Dewitt that was and Miss Vanderpool that is, not [sic] to publish “The Wife” and some of their other pieces which you must obtain with their names and you can tell them—or whatever instrument you use to extract poettics [?] from them—that the whole collection consists chiefly of private names for the first time affiixed to pieces that have appeared anonymously. Have you nothing of Henry L. Bogart’s? The Knickerbockers must flare up. If the volume which will consist of 200 pages succeeds, it will be followed by another to whip in the pieces which have lagged behind this. The writers must be natives of New York. The thing was started by my proposing to Dearborn to get up a book representing real Knickerbockers solely—to be called “The Wreath of St. Nicholas." But thinking it could not be filled up well or would not sell he determined to publish a more general affair and call it “The New York Book.” By the by I forgot to tell you that the whole matter is a secret yet which you must betray only so far as it may be necessary. Did you read Verplanck's introduction to “The Fairy Book”? I shall urge him to write just such another for Dearborn’s collection. 
Very cordially yours,
C. F. H.
N. B. Why do you not let me know at my office—I mean that of the Monthly—when you visit N. York? I live three miles out of town and go so little into society that I never hear when my friends from other places are in the city. I called twice on you when I last heard you were here and repeatedly before when hearing of your being here. I have sought you just in time to learn that you were gone. I live such an oozy life now that it is a real pleasure to me to well out to an old friend occasionally.
In footnote 43 on page 78 of Charles Fenno Hoffman, Homer F. Barnes locates the manuscript letter of December 12, 1836 from Hoffman to John B. Van Schaick in the collections of the
"Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia."

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