SINCE 1893, when he made his first tour through the country as a lecturer, F. Marion Crawford has become a somewhat familiar figure to many Americans, who have noted his athletic form, his handsome face, his melodious voice, his polished deportment. He is easily the best known of the American authors who make their homes abroad.
In Major Pond’s “Reminiscences,” by the way, they who have heard Mr. Crawford read from his novels or recite his description of Pope Leo XIII, will find a very interesting account of the author’s experiences during his American tours.
Mr. Crawford is a cosmopolite of the first rank. He was born in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, August 2, 1854. His father was Thomas Crawford, the famous sculptor, who, born in the west of Ireland and reared in America, had, some years before, been sent to Rome to master his profession. He had finished studying with the great Thorwaldsen, and had made a reputation of his own, when he met and married Miss Louisa Ward, who was visiting Rome with Dr. Samuel G. Howe and his wife, Julia Ward Howe. Marion was the youngest of four children. One of his sisters, Mrs. Fraser, has made no small name for herself as a writer.
At the age of two, Marion was sent to live for awhile with kinsfolk in Bordentown, N. J. ” Among the earliest things that I remember,” he said once to an interviewer, ” is my great delight in watching the coming and going of the trains as they shot across the farm near the old house.”
His father died in 1857, and then Marion was taken back to Italy, where he spent his early days.
Most of my boyhood,” he said, to an interviewer, when he was in this country on his first lecture tour, ” was spent under the direction of a French governess. Not only did I learn her language from her, but all of my studies, geography, arithmetic, and so forth, were taught me in French, and I learned to write it with great readiness, as a mere boy, because it was the language of my daily tasks. The consequence is that to this day I write French with the ease of English. There have been times when I know that I have lost some of my facility in speaking French through long absence from the country, but the acquirement of writing is always with me, which shows the value of early impressions in that direction.”
When twelve years old Marion was sent to St. Paul’s School, Concord, N. H., where he remained for two years. Readers familiar with his portraits will remember that in most of them he is represented as smoking. This inveterate habit he acquired during his first year’s residence at St. Paul’s.
The age of fifteen found the migrant youth back in Rome again, where he took up the study of Greek and mathematics. Later he studied with a private tutor at Hatfield Broadoak, in Essex, England, and from this school he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he passed four terms. There he perfected himself in German, Swedish and Spanish. He found German of good use when, later, he studied at Karlsruhe and at Heidelberg. At the age of twenty-two he returned to Rome to study at the University of Rome. There one of the professors interested him in Buddhism and the other Oriental mysteries.
This professor, who recognized the young pupil’s aptitude in languages, advised him to go to India and study Sanscrit, and then returning, he could readily obtain a professorship. The advice appealed to young Crawford, and he borrowed a hundred pounds and sailed for Bombay. There he occasionally wrote articles for one of the newspapers, but his employment was uncertain, and two pounds represented all his worldly possessions when the editor of the Bombay Gazette informed him that the editor of the Allahabad Indian Herald was in need of a good man.” Would he take the position? ” Would a duck swim? ” said Mr. Crawford ; and off he went to Allahabad, a thousand miles away. There he learned that the ” good man ” was sup-posed to fill the posts of reporter, managing editor and editorial writer, with now and then a turn at type-setting. Thus none of the sixteen hours of the working day would be wasted. But Mr. Crawford couldn’t afford to grumble. Instead he buckled down to what he describes as the hardest eighteen months’ work of his life.
In 1880, at the age of twenty-six, with no valuable possessions except his experience, he returned to Rome, and thence, early in 1881, he set out for America. The old steamship in which he took passage broke down in mid-ocean, and Mr. Crawford’s great physical strength and nervous energy were in constant demand. As the only cabin passenger on board, he had the honor of alternating on deck with the captain and the mates. At Bermuda, where the ship put in for repairs, he nar rowly escaped drowning. Finally, at the end of two months, the ship reached New York. In this country he made his home at times with his uncle, Samuel Ward, the Horace of “Dr. Claudius,” and at times with his aunt, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. He had not been long in the country before he entered Harvard College, where he took a special course in Sanscrit under Prof. Charles Lanman.
He left Harvard in a state of uncertainty. He was ready to do anything to earn a living. He tried unsuccessfully to place some articles on philology. He reviewed books, principally for the New York Times. He lectured on The Origin of Sacrifice.” He won a small stun of money with an article on the silver question. One day early in May, 1882, his kind uncle, Samuel Ward, asked him to dinner at the New York Club, which was then situated in Madison Square. But here is where Mr. Crawford should come in to tell his own interesting story :
As was perfectly natural, we began to exchange stories while smoking, and I told him (Mr. Ward), with a great deal of detail, my recollections of an interesting man whom I met in Simla. When I had finished, he said to me : ‘ That is a good two-part magazine story, and you must write it out immediately.’ He took me around to his apartments, and that night I began to write the story of ‘ Mr. Isaacs.’ Part of the first chapter was written afterward, but the rest of that chapter and several succeeding chapters are the story I told to Uncle Sam. I kept at it from day to day, getting more interested in the work as I proceeded, and from time to time I would read a chapter to Uncle Sam. When I got through the original story I was so amused with the writing of it that it occurred to me that I might as well make Mr. Isaacs fall in love with an English girl, and then I kept on writing to see what would happen.
By and by I remembered a mysterious Buddhist whom I had met once in India, and so I introduced him, still further to complicate matters. I went to Newport to visit my aunt, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, while I was in the midst of the story, and continued it there. It was on June 13, 1882, while in her home, that I finished the last chapter of ‘ Mr. Isaacs,’ and, Uncle Sam appearing in Newport at that time, I read him the part of the story which he had not heard. ‘ You will give it to me,’ he said, ‘ and I shall try to find a publisher.’ He had for many years frequented the bookstore of Macmillan, and was well acquainted with the elder George Brett. He took the manuscript to Mr. Brett, who for-warded it to the English house, and in a short time it was accepted.
” Having tasted blood, I began, very soon after finishing ‘ Mr. Isaacs,’ to write another story for my own amusement, ‘ Dr. Claudius.’ Late in November I was advised by the Messrs. Macmillan that in order to secure an English copyright, as well as an American copyright, I must be on English soil on the day of publication. So I went to St. John, New Brunswick, where I had a very pleasant time, and continued to write the story of ‘ Dr. Claudius,’ which I finished in December. ‘ Mr. Isaacs’ was published on December 6, and I, of course, knew nothing about its reception. However, toward the end of the month I started on my return journey to the United States, and when I arrived in Boston on the day before Christmas, and stepped out of the train, I was surprised beyond measure to find the railway news stand almost covered with great posters announcing ‘ Mr. Isaacs.’ The next morning, at my hotel, I found a note awaiting me from Thomas Bailey Aldrich, then editor of The Atlantic Monthly, asking me for an interview, at which he proposed that I write a serial for his magazine. I felt confident then, and do now, that ‘ Dr. Claudius’ would not be a good serial story. How-ever, I promised that Mr. Aldrich should have a serial, and began soon after to write A Roman Singer,’ which was completed in February, 1883.”
That is Mr. Crawford’s own story of his start as a novelist, told to us nine years ago in a Boston hotel. The original of Mr. Isaacs was a diamond dealer in Simla named Jacobs. We have heard it related that the chief figure in ” A Roman Singer ” was partly sketched from a musician now resident in Boston, whom the novelist had known intimately in Rome. The American scenery of Dr. Claudius ” was, of course, fresh in the author’s mind.
Mr. Crawford said last year : ” What a novelist needs in order to succeed is energy above all else. But he also needs to be very poor. No man with money will work hard enough when he is young to succeed. He needs to begin early, work hard, and sit long in one place. If he has money he won’t sit long in one place.” Mr. Crawford had no money when he started, but he had abundant energy, and he could sit for a day in one place. Hence his success. In
The Three Fates” the close reader will discern a glimpse of the foundation of Mr. Crawford’s literary career.
In May, 1883, the rising author went back to Italy, where he wrote ” To Lee-ward” and ” Saracinesca.” The next year he spent in Constantinople, and there he was married to Miss Elizabeth Berdan, the daughter of General Berdan. In 1885 he settled permanently at Sorrento. “Villa Crawford,” his home, stands on a high bluff, overlooking the 13 ay of Naples. There, in a room padded to keep out sound, the author of ” Mr. Isaacs ” has done most of his literary work for the last fifteen years.
Mr. Crawford has frequently been called ” a born novelist,” and we have yet to find a critic who, judging him by all that he has done, is inclined to deny him the right to that high title. His dialogue is vivid, his problems, as a rule, logically worked out, his dramatic situations strong and timely. Not all his works, however, are of even power or attractiveness; and no one recognizes this fact more clearly than the novelist himself. He has said that the book which he enjoyed writing most is
Mr. Isaacs “; the book which has for him the most reality is “Pietro Ghisleri,” and the book of the most polish is ” Zoroaster.” In years gone by ” Zoroaster” was studied in the English departments of many colleges.
I believe,” said Mr. Crawford, last year, that the novelist is the result of a demand. Consequently, I believe that it is the province of the novel to amuse, to cultivate, mainly to please. I do not believe that the novel should instruct. The story is the great thing. Therefore, I do not believe in problem novels, or what they call realism. It is disagreeable to the people.” Yet, in his thirty-six works, he has said, to use his own words, some ” pretty tall things.”
Mr. Crawford attributes much of his skill in writing English to the letters which his mother used to write to him when he was away at school. After she had married Mr. Terry, her home in Rome, the Palazzo Odescalchi, became the meeting-place of many brilliant men and women. Artists, poets and literarians crowded her house every Wednesday afternoon, and this choice admiration of her ended only with her death. Of French, German, and, of course Italian, her brilliant son is as sure a master as he is of English ; he writes Turkish and Russian readily, and he converses fluently in most of the Eastern tongues. His recreation is yachting. Indeed he holds a ship-master’s certificate entitling him to navigate sailing vessels on the high seas. Five years ago he proved his seamanship by navigating his yacht, an old New York pilot boat, across the seas to Sorrento.
All in all, a delightful and accomplished author and gentleman-at-large.