The Ecphorizer

Notes of a Magaziner
Paul Healy

Issue #12 (August 1982)

Dipping in the Atlantic Monthly for 1864

Toward the end of the Prohibition Era a night clerk in a downtown hotel of a small Ohio River town had a dream. He dreamt of going to New York and becoming a famous writer. Unlike most dreams, this one came true - and O.O. McIntyre's syndicated column, "New York Day-by-Day," was carried in

...on the right hand of the Indies, there is an Island called California...

dozens of newspapers throughout the country.

But O.O. Mclntrye had another dream - of retiring to the small town where he grew up and had worked. To that end he purchased a fine old house in the center of town (what we in the Bay Area would regard as a "mansion.") My future sister-in-law was renting that house at the time of his purchase, and he informed her that she could clear out the attic and take anything she wished. Now the previous owners had been a well-educated family who had taken a number of magazines, and had stored them in the attic. To a very young man who loved old books and magazines they were a treasure trove of inestimable value, and that is how my magazine collection began.

The oldest magazine in the collection is a bound volume of The Atlantic Monthly (A Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics,) 1864. As is the case with most magazines today, the year was divided into two volumes, XIII and XIV, but the owner had them bound together as a single volume. In the May issue an anonymous writer discussed "California as a Vineland":

"A large tract of land, to which has been given the name 'Anaheim,' has been recently purchased by a German company. It is sold to actual settlers in lots of twenty acres, affording room for twenty thousand vines. There are now planted nearly three hundred thousand, which are in very flourishing condition. The wines from this district will soon be on the market."

The writer then goes on to characterize each of the wines, comparing them to those grown in the great vineyards of France and Germany. He concludes:

"It only remains for the vintners to keep their wines pure, and always up to the highest standard, and to take such measures as shall insure their delivery in a like condition to the consumers, to build up a business which shall eclipse any of the great houses of Europe. Thus will the State and nation be benefited, by keeping at home money which we annually pay for wine to foreign countries, and the people will be led away from the use of strong, fiery drinks, to accept instead the light wines of their native land."

In March, 1864, the lead article in The Atlantic Monthly was "The Queen of California." After having some fun with the speculations the title of the article will arouse in the parlors of "The Golden City of the Golden State," the writer continues:

"Mr. E. F. Hale, of Boston, sent to the Antiquarian Society last year a paper which shows that the name of California was known to literature before it was given to our peninsula by Cortes. Cortes discovered the peninsula in 1535, and seems to have called it California then. But Mr. Hale shows that twenty-five years before that time, in a romance called Deeds of Esplandian (being the fifth book in a series of celebrated romances following Amadis of Gaul) the name of California was given to an island 'on the right hand of the Indies'."

The description of California in that work is as follows:

"Know, then, that on the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise, and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the fashion of Amazons .... Their island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness of the wild beasts they tamed and rode. For, in all the island, there was no metal but gold."

Some of our modern women libbers would have felt at home with the queen and her subjects, for they caught the griffins which inhabited the island while small, trained them as mounts, fed them on the boys they bore, and trained them to catch and devour, or kill, all men who landed on the island. But to continue with the description of the Queen:

'...there reigned in this island of California a Queen, Calafia, very large in person, the most beautiful of them all, of blooming years, and in her thoughts desirous of achieving great things, strong of limb and of great courage, more than any of those who have filled her throne before her."

The writer then remarks that with such romances "...the yellow covered novels of their time, did the Pizarros and Balboas and Corteses and other young blades while away the weary hours of camp life. Glad enough was Cortes out of such a tale to get the noble name of his great discovery." As one would expect in such an early romance, the Queen is ultimately defeated in battle, becomes a Christian, and marries a valorous knight. (You surely don't need to ask, "Why not a king?")

As might be expected of The Atlantic Monthly the Reviews and Literary Notices are of serious nonfiction works, with a few volumes of poems and novels thrown in for variety. And some things don't change much in a century and a quarter. The review of the 1864 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, revised and improved by Chauncey A. Goodrich, LL.D. states that:

"...the quite limited number of changes put forward... if adopted.., would redeem our common language from some of the gross anomalies and grievous confusion which now make it a monster among the graphic systems of the world, and a stumbling block and stone of offence to all who undertake to learn it."

The only other work reviewed in the issue is a new volume of poems by Robert Browning, Dramatis Personae Of "Mr. Sludge, the Medium," the reviewer writes: "...(it) cannot be called a poem. It would not be possible to write satire, epic, idyll, not even elegy upon that 'rathole philosophy,' as Mr. Emerson once styled the new fetichism of the 6 mahogany tables." 

Renaissance man Paul Healy writes that his home contains an official Library Annex for magazines, which is "how rapidly pushing up through the roof."

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