Friday, June 22, 2018

James F. Otis aka Gemotice

Some while back I was wondering who covered Shakespeare for the New York Express in May 1849, during the Astor Place riots. As explained in a couple of earlier posts
contemporary reports in the Express, conflated in the 20th century by Percy Hammond, placed--well, may have placed--Herman Melville at Macready's first performance in the company of Henry J. Raymond, Richard Grant White, and Washington Irving.

So, the unnamed "correspondent" in newspaper accounts quoted or paraphrased by Hammond might have been James Frederick Otis (1808-1867), aka "Gemotice" (= Jim Otis). In any event, James F. Otis was definitely the chief music and theater critic for The New York Express c. 1843-1853.

We learn that Mr. James F. Otis, formerly an editor of the Brother Jonathan, and recently a Washington Correspondent of the Commercial Advertiser, is engaged as a musical and dramatic critic in the New-York Express. We hope this gentleman will not fail to favor the public at large with his opinion on two points of considerable interest, viz: the architectural pretensions of the new façade of the Park Theatre and the guilt of Hamlet's mother.  --The New World, September 30, 1843
The Great Metropolis, or, New-York Almanac for 1851 names James F. Otis as "musical and dramatic" editor of The New-York Express, immediately after "Principal Editors, James and Erastus Brooks."
 In the days of Jenny Lind, Parodi, and Catherine Hayes there was a very influential critical trio, who controlled, to a certain extent, the concerts and operas. These were C. B. Burchardt, Jim Otis and Jottic, the music seller and publisher of Broadway. Jim Otis (whose nom de plume was Gemotice) was the musical critic of the Express, and hand in glove with all the writers and bohemians of the press. Their favorite rendezvous was Windust's tavern, on Park Row, or Albert Maretzek's restaurant, in Broadway, just above Grand street. --The Art Collector
Augustin Daly succeeded as
"dramatic reviewer for The Express, a position the late James Otis ("Gemotice") had filled with marked ability for many a year. That position on The Express in which Otis was so honored has always been richer in remote opportunities than in immediate cash...."  --New York Clipper, September 22, 1877
In New York Naked (1850) George G. Foster identifies James F. Otis as a third "principal editor of the Express":
Beside the two Messrs. Brooks, the other principal editor of the Express, is James F. Otis, formerly a poet of considerable distinction, and now an indefatigable, sprightly paragraphist, reporter and general critic. He is one of the most popular out-door editors we have in New York; is always "about " whenever there is anything going on, and for his lively qualities in social life is sought for on all occasions of good companionship. His incessant occupations on the innumerable editions of the journal to which he is attached, renders all serious and continuous effort of his mind hopeless, and he is one of a thousand instances of a fine genius being wasted, frittered, and squandered, for want of time, opportunity, and compensation, to justify its higher exercise. Like the great body of us poor scribblers, he is obliged to eke out his salary by contributions of hasty value to all sorts of papers, and by any kind of temporary literary labor that turns up. But he is always in a good humor, and always apparently contented with himself, the world, and everybody around him.
From a chapter on New York critics in Squints through an Opera Glass (1850):
That rough-looking customer whom we saw to-day at Mercer's, in an immense drab pea-jacket, which he had evidently borrowed of a New Jersey pilot, is "Gemotice," of the Spirit of the Times, and Jim Otis, of the Express. The public know him as James F. Otis, a poet of some standing; but his principal labors have been for some years past devoted to the Express, where he has employed himself alternately in every department of the paper. He is not a musician; but his keen appreciation and long experience as listener and writer, make up in a great measure for the want of professional knowledge, and his judgment on musical matters, is generally just and genial. We miss him this winter from the Express, whose musical notices betray a malicious ignorance as awkwardly manifested as it is harmless. We do not know who is Mr. Otis's successor—nor can we say that we very greatly desire to make that accession to our list of friends.
James F. Otis (born Tristram Coffin Otis in Newburyport, Massachusetts on August 18, 1808) was the son of Elizabeth Coffin and Samuel Allyne Otis, and thus a nephew of Samuel's brother Harrison Gray Otis. James was an early admirer of Whittier, and an abolitionist. Extant letters to William Lloyd Garrison show the enthusiasm Otis had for the anti-slavery cause in the 1830's, as a young lawyer in Portland, Maine. In 1833 Otis published A sketch of the character and defence of the principles of William Lloyd Garrison. Five years later, his disavowal of abolitionism after a trip to Virginia earned Otis a bitter rebuke in the Herald of Freedom, reprinted in The Liberator (September 14, 1838). Circumstances and politics of his public withdrawal from the Abolition Society are criticized in the September 1835 Extra Globe.

As "Gemotice" James F. Otis contributed regularly in the latter 1840's to The Spirit of the Times, edited by his friend William T. Porter.

In 1853 Otis joined the New Orleans Picayune as associate editor. In March 13, 1864 a New York correspondent of the New Orleans Daily True Delta reported that Otis was back in New York City, "flourishing at the 'Express' office." He soon returned to New Orleans though, finally leaving in November 1866 in hopes of restoring his health. Otis died in Boston on the first day of February 1867. The Boston Journal obit of February 2, 1867 remembered him as "a gentleman of kindly feelings and most courteous bearing."

Boston Journal - February 2, 1867

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