Friday, January 22, 2021

One of the most desperate characters in the City

Over the years I've devoted several posts to the colorful early history of Manhattan's Water Street Mission, an institution that was founded in 1872 by reformed convict Jerry McAuley (and which still exists, though under a different name). Above is a little handout card from the mission that can be fairly precisely dated to 1882-84, after McAuley had moved on to start a second mission further uptown.

According to Samuel Hadley's Down in Water Street, McAuley's immediate successor or co-successor was the John O'Neil whose name appears on the card, but O'Neil was only in charge briefly before giving up the helm to one J. F. Shorey, who was already in place as superintendent by November 1884. Hadley himself took charge in 1886. Below is the floral design on the other side of the card.
There doesn't seem to be much other information available on the O'Neils. The only significant source I've found is the New York Times obituary from 1879 (below) for a Mrs. John O'Neil "who identified herself for years with Jerry McAuley's Water-Street Mission." Here we learn that her husband John, who apparently survived her, had been a career criminal and "one of the most desperate characters in the City" before his eventual reformation. He might not have been cut out for the task of superintending the mission, but he seems to have settled down to a productive life.
Around the same time there was another John O'Neil in New York City who was notorious for criminal activities, specifically burglary, but whose very recognizable modus operandi was a clever con involving pawn shop tickets. One of his arrests came just a few weeks after the death of the Water Street Mrs. O'Neil, but there's no reason to suspect that the two men were one and the same. The website Professional Criminals of America — REVISED, based on an 1886 volume devoted to the topic, has a photo and details of the activities of the unreformed O'Neil.

Previous Water Street Mission posts:

The Madonna of Cherry Hill
Death of a Salesman
A Manhattan Mission
Cassie Burns
The Water Street Mission, Revisited
Tracts (2): Jerry McAuley's Story

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Notes for a Commonplace Book (29)

Thomas De Quincey:
Of this at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may, and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever; just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil -- and that they are waiting to be revealed, when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
I suspect that Borges, who knew De Quincey's work well and regarded it highly, likely had this passage in the back of his mind when he wrote his famous short story about a man who suffers a head injury and becomes literally unable to forget anything.

That no memory is ever entirely erased is not, perhaps, an entirely untestable proposition. One could easily imagine experiments that would demonstrate the existence of "inscriptions" of which the mind has no conscious memory. But in the end it probably should be regarded as a supposition that is both certainly true — in some sense — and at the same time utterly unfathomable to rational inquiry. And it makes me think of gravity, which, if the little I understand of it is correct, never loses a faint pull on an object no matter how distant it travels.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Nobody Should Be Surprised

If anyone in this country is still harboring illusions about the man in the White House and his core of thugs, it's about time they asked themselves why — or how. Defeated at the polls, trounced in the courts (often by judges he put in their posts), repudiated by much of his own party, defied now by the (Republican) Senate majority leader and his own hand-picked vice-president, the sociopath has no avenues left but an appeal to violence, and violence, directly provoked by his own words, is exactly what we have. Is there really anyone left who can look at the scene in Washington today and not realize that the whole Trump cult has been nothing but a lie? It didn't "get a little out of hand"; it was rotten to the core from the very start, and every opportunist who thought it was possible to make common cause with MAGA cap-wearing, gun-waving fascist lunatics and somehow keep their hands clean has a lot to answer for today. How could anyone think that it was possible to make common cause with an unscrupulous monster who was willing to put his own ego ahead of the very principles of democratic government and the rule of law, and who was willing to unleash armed goons to achieve his ends? Does American democracy no longer matter? Was it really all worth selling out for a bit of partisan advantage, the chance to make an extra buck and bruise a few liberals?

Make no mistake; Trump is doomed. It's a lot easier to provoke a riot than it is to run a country when you've lost your last shred of legitimacy. The country's battered institutions will re-group, preserve what's left of their integrity, and move on to other crises. But the damage is done, literally and figuratively. Elections, as they like to say, have consequences; no one has any right to be surprised at the consequences of the presidential election of 2016. Learn the lesson. Next time it may be worse.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Blackburn & Cortázar: The Correspondence

Today, entirely by accident, I learned of the existence of this bundle of eight chapbooks published in 2017 by the Center for Humanities at CUNY as part of a project called Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. My interest in this particular number (Series VII) centers on two of the chapbooks, which bear the collective title of “Querido Pablito"/"Julissimo Querido," Selected Correspondence, 1958-1971 (Parts I & II). These volumes contain translations of the letters between Julio Cortázar and his first US translator (and literary agent), Paul Blackburn. I'm familiar with portions of the correspondence from the five-volume Spanish-language edition of Cortázar's Cartas, but I despaired of ever seeing them published here. (Some time ago I translated and posted brief excerpts here and here.)

The CUNY chapbooks are a little tricky to find at the moment, in part because CUNY's offices have been shuttered by the pandemic. If it helps, the ISBN for this series is 9780997679625.

World Without Borders has an excerpt from the CUNY volumes as well as an interview with the editors, Ammiel Alcalay, Jacqui Cornetta, Alison Macomber, and Alexander Soria.

In addition to the two chapbooks described above, the next installment in the CUNY series (Series VIII) contains a chapbook dedicated to a translation of a portion of Cortázar's posthumously-published study of Keats, Imagen de John Keats.

More information to come.