Cafe Marliave Memoirs

These online columns in Boston/New England studies,  always sourced but never peer reviewed and always divided up into sections that approximate a twenty  minute read, are the latest iteration of DSTs column on WGBH,  Boston’s PBS outlet,  for Christopher Lydon’s Ten O’Clock  News.  The column moved  in the 1990s to to the Boston Phoenix as “Skyline”  (named by editor Peter Kadzis)  and now  appears on the BBH website,  modeled on the Center for History and New Media blogs at George Mason University. CONTENTS  THIS  MONTH : Malcolm X’s Tale / Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Tale / Henri and Clemence Marliave’s Tale / John Boyle O’Rielly’s Tale / FDRs Tale or was it Prufrock’s?

DICKENSIAN BOSWORTH STREET AND THE 140 YEAR OLD CAFE Marliave have of late  been endowed with new meaning and vitality with the erection next door to my favorite historic restaurant of a  skyscraper condominium tower,  45 Province Street.  A romantic  past and an  insistent   present have rather improbably come together here  to create the most successful historic preservation seen around here in years.  And this despite the fact that this is a very odd couple indeed at first glance:   a 32 story skyscraper  hardly twenty feet from a three story Victorian town house .  The scenario works,  however,  because the tower’s developer,  the Abbey Group,  got behind a design of Brunner Cott that combines a frankly modern profile  unencumbered by  any red brick anywhere but  careful  at the same time to adroitly deploy enough reddish terra cotta on its otherwise glassy facade to shade happily into the older streetscape.   The result is to enliven an historic,  rather picturesque but also untill now increasingly tired locale,  always worth preserving,  but very much in need of a sparking pick-me-up.  Suddenly,  we see the historic buildings all the better because of the happy contrast with the modernist tower,  itself a striking design.

In a similar spirit,  Marliave’s new owner-chef,  Scott Herritt,   has presided over a brilliant and stylish re-creation of the restaurant’s historic interior.

Ten years ago when  a lawyer friend of mine,  Michael DeLacey, used  regularly to  rendezvous with me for a monthly lunch to review preservation matters  (he generally pro, I should add, unlike yours truly)  Marliave’s itself was a challenging setting in this respect for both of us.  On the one hand it was as evocative of the 1890s as Locke Ober’s,  at half the price,  but on the other hand there was  also a good deal of 1950s ironwork lanterns and such we both agreed were the most awful kitsch,  but  a half century later was  itself on the verge of becoming  “period” decor.  What to do kept coming up,  but never to any point.  We eventually drifted away.  Later,  I was not surprised to learn the restaurant had closed.

I was therefore more than interested when former Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert Quinn suggested Marliave,  newly reopened he told me,  for lunch.  What a delight.  Alas,  the collection of wonderful oil paintings  I had always so much enjoyed (enough to take photographs of  I have subsequently given to Lorna Condon at Historic New England)  in their rich gilded frames was nowhere to be seen.  But everything else was there.  And more creative heads than DeLacey’s or mine had solved  the problem  of  a half gilded age and half 1950s kitsch interior.  The decorator’s just reimagined everything — all the interior finishes from Victorian tin ceilings to 1950s ironwork —  painted  either black or white!  It is the most stylish and stunningly modern form of historic preservation I’ve ever seen.

Quinn and I sat in “O’Rielly’s Corner”,  the same place DeLacey and I used to favor,  and its treatment sums up the whole new design take on the old design concept:  the hokey old color portrait of the middle aged poet had been removed,  and a stark black and white one when he was a young revolutionary,  hung in its place — in a black frame. Of O’Rielly more soon.

A month later,  when BRA director John Palmieri suggested Marliave’s for a planned meal,  I accepted  with aclarity, and found myself this time upstairs with a striking view of Province and Bromfield streets below. Moreover,  what  was only a noisy construction site at the time of my first  visit now  emerged as the new condominium tower — which I’m so grateful Palmieri   introduced me to  — and its superb relationship with the restaurant was very clear,  all the more so as the street between restaurant and tower, which dead ends  at  the old Province Street steps,  had become a marvellous outdoor cafe for Marliave’s.  A perfect vantage  from which to observe  what I find to be a  fascinating urban  scene.

MALCOLM  X’s  TALE

For all its charming Dickensian aspect,  Bosworth  Street today is overwhelmingly  early 20th-century in feeling,  its character straight out of a 1930s black and white movie set in big city America.   There are no  Model T Ford’s parked  anywhere in sight,  but tall,   turn-of -the-20th-century office and hotel blocks,   rich with elaborate stone facades and shadowy ascending   fire escapes of ornamental  ironwork, crowd the very  narrow street  on both sides,  making of it a small-scale urban canyon.   There is a kind of grimy elegance about Bosworth Street.   More important all the new stylishness of restaurant  and tower has led  to no preetying up of  this  scene.   It is all a very real as well as a very picturesque scene,  the more so because the chic outdoor cafe is arrayed right at the corner of Bosworth and  Chapman Place, the alley that runs up from School Street,  and one sips one’s aperetif within easy sight of the employees entrance of the famous Parker House Hotel.  That  prosaic enough entrance, moreover,  has   more romance about it than one might think.  Tourists pay attention to the front door of the Parker House because no less than Charles Dickens resided there during one of his stays in Boston.  Which is fine. Who does not like Dickens?  But the  hotel’s employees entrance  poses  perhaps more fructifying thoughts over that aperetif. As does Bosworth Street itself.

This street’s  flavor , historically,  is at one and the same time both  aristocratic and populist — roles played here by figures as various as  Oliver Wendell Holmes  Senior and Junior,   on the one hand,  and Malxolm X  and Ho Chi Minh on the other, as various and metropolitan a cast of characters as ny street could boast of anywhere.  Ho first.

For obvious reasons,   Boston has often been an attractive  port of call for  revolutionaries  of all  stripes.  Rebels from everywhere — from LaFayette to Gandhi  — have been fond of citing  the Boston Tea Party.   Did not Garibaldi write a much quoted letter home  from Boston quoted in all  the biography’s of the father of Italian independence?   Here too Prince  Kropotkin founded an active fund raising organization in aid of overthrowing the Czar.   Asian revolutionaries as well.   George Weston was  probably exagerating when he wrote  of Sun Yat Sen, who led the overthrow of the Chinese monarchy to establish the Republic of China,  that when he was in Boston  “in a basement room at 12 Tyler Street….much of the strategy of the Chinese Revolution was plotted.”  (All we know, really, is that the father of the Chinese Revolution was, indeed,  preaching his cause in Boston’s Chinatown in 1910, and hid out at the Chee-Kong Tong Lodge there).

Two years later, in 1912,  it was the father of the Vietnamese Revolution  — during a  period  William Druiker,  Ho’s biographer,  calls  “one of the most mysterious and puzzling periods in his life” —   whose shadow flitted through Bostonian climes,  and where better than on shadowy Bosworth Street,  which never sees the sun . Druiker more or less sums up everything that is known of this chapter in Ho’s life when he writes “virtually the only incontestable evidence confirm[ing] his presence…[is]…a postcard from Boston,  which was mailed to Phan Chu Trinh in France . It mentioned that he was working as a cook’s helper in the Parker House.”

Restaurants and revolutionaries always go together, of course —  the future King Louis Phillippe of France lived (and agitated) in exile above theUnion Oyster House not many blocks from here in the early 19th century —  and Bosworth Street,  as we will see,  became very much a street of restaurants.  One wonders,  however,  what more young    Nguyen Tat Thanh   (Ho’s name then)   absorbed therein.  He too was known  in later years  to cite the Boston Tea Party,  but  also  to have been awed not just by America’s revoltionary lore but by its tall  buildings as well,  and must have noticed as he daily came and went from his job how disproportionately tall on so narrow a byway as Bosworth was the elaborately detailed,  even regal,  Sargent Building  by Peabody and Stearns that was going up the  very year,  1912,  young Ho  was making his daily way to another such,  the Parker House annex of  1895.  Actually, according  to Druiker the chief effect on Ho of his American staythat year,  spent partly in Boston and partly in New York,  was that he was  “impressed by the fact that Asian immigrants in the  U. S.  appeared to have equal rights in law if not in fact”.

That this was also the case with African-Americans,  however,  did not at all impress — rather,  from his entirely different point of view as an American, it outraged — young Malcolm Little  (famously to become Malcolm X)  when three decades later he walked Ho’s  path to his own menial  job on Bosworth Street.   “I became a busboy at the Parker House “,  Malcolm wrote in his autobiography,  perhaps   outraged , or perhaps unaware , that,  historically,  the entire dining room staff at elite Boston hotels had been black since the late 19th century.  “I wore a starched white jacket out in the dining room,  where the waiters would put the customers dirty plates and silver on big aluminum trays which I would take to the kitchen.”  In later years Malcolm would have felt more empathy with Ho. When as a Muslim he made the  hajj to Mecca, it  “opened Malcolm’s eyes to the relationship between the black struggles in America and the aspirations of the world’s peoples”.

There is certainly enough to think about on Bosworth Street.


OLIVER   WENDELL  HOLMES’S  TALE

Today’s gritty urban elegance  is very far indeed from Bosworth Street’s earliest estate in the 1820s and  ’30s. Then  it was a street of  modest but charming red brick town houses  of the sort Jane Austen would have loved.  Called when first it was opened in 1825 Montgomery Place,  and not made public untill Cook’s alley was renamed Chapman Place in 1883,  when Montgomery became Bosworth (in honor of the block’s estate holder) ,  one of those red brick houses was in 1840 very mch the apple of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s eye when  the young physician,  just back from his medical studies in Paris,  laid plans with his bride to  “walk the long path together”,  as he  famously proposed to her on Boston Common.

It was in their new house that in 1841 the furture Justice Holmes was born,  to this day perhaps the most importantUnited States Supreme Court justice since Marshall.  Hardly less  important,  here too it was that Holmes the elder wrote in 1857  the first of his Atlantic  stories that became  “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table”.  It was a series that soon won a Transatlantic renown — in London Trollope waited eagerly for each   installment ,  as did Thackeray —  and is too little read today, despite the important new scholarly treatment of it  by William Dowling.

“You may set it down as a truth which admits of few exceptions,  that those who ask your OPINION really want your PRAISE,  and will be contented with nothing less,”   Holmes wrote,  asserting  some years before Freud what  all know but few care to say.  But “truth is tough”,  Holmes also said,  it will not break like a bubble at a touch”.  Just two maxims from Holmes’s pen surely makes my point,  and  they surey make   Bosworth Street something of a literary shrine for his admirers,  for this is where the professor’s breakfast table was.

Holmes himself described the street on which he lived.  “We come to the head of a place or court running eastward from the main street.  ‘Look down there’, I said.  ‘My professor lived in that house next the further corner  [opposite Marliave’s today],  for years and years'”,  Holmes wrote in his  “First Walk with the School Mistress”…..’The professor lived in that house a long time — not twenty years,  but preety near it….What changes he saw in that quiet place!…Children came into life,  grew to maturity,  wedded, faded away,  threw themselves away , the whole drama of life'”,  Holmes continued, “‘ was played in that stock company’s theatre of a dozen hoses….Peace be to those walls forever.”

Alas,  growing and booming cities are not like that,  and the  professor’s peace was not to be .  But  so large a part did the dining room table play in Holmes’s celebrated stories  of boarding house life in Boston,  not  less famous finally than Balzac’s of the same life in Paris,  that Holmes can hardly have wept  at the streets fate when a greater respectabiity drew him away to Beacon Hill and the Back Bay in the wake of  the arrival on soon to be Bosworth Street of the real thing,  and not just one boarding house either.  By the time Holmes moved in 1860 the street was lined with them.  Indeed,  according to Daniel  Fiske,  not five years after Holmes took up residence there the street was filled with  “private residences  and boarding houses“.   Thus not alittle of the wit and drollery of Holmes’s stories may actually have derived from neighboring houses.  And that was, perhaps, why years after he’d moved he wrote of a notable London street,  “Cheyne Row is a passage which reminded me alittle of my old habitat, Montgomery Place,  now Bosworth Street”.

By then, in 1892,  Restaurant Marliave, which dates from 1870,  was twenty two years old,  and had been open on Bosworth Street for seven years.


HENRI  AND  CLEMENCE  MARLIAVE’S  TALE

A fact of which there can be no doubt at all is that in Paris in the late 1860s,  twenty years after Holmes had departed the French capitol ,  Henri Marliave  was a very ambitious waiter.  So much so he made the most infinitely French and thus as  practical as romantic a decision to propose to the lady who was the proprietor of the restaurant  in which he worked.   His proposal accepted ,  he next convinced Clemence Marliave,     as she was soon to be,  to close down her establishment and to immigrate with him to America , where  they settled in Boston and opened in 1870 Restaurant Marliave.

Alas,  success did not attend their first effort.  In fact ,  it was disastrous.  Still it was a venture , and rather an early one,  and one wonders if it was,  as has  been claimed,  America’s first  — outside of New Orleans —  French restaurant?  Or,   perhaps the first   in the modern period,  or the first to offer table d’hote.  No,  perhaps,  and no again.

The very first French restaurant in this country was indeed  in Boston:  but it was founded long before Marliave’s,  in  1794  by Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat  Julien,  a refuge form the French  Revolution   noted for the turtle soup that is named after him.  The restaurant was located near what is now Post Office Square.  After his death it was continued by his widow and after hers by another French immigrant,  Frederic Rouillard,  at another location,  untill 1839.   Interestingly,  the pattern established by Julien,  of  immigration of restaurants as well as people in the wake of the various wars and revolutions that marked French life in the 19th century,  also occasioned the  opening of at least one of  Boston’s three premiere French restaurants later in the century:  Mieusset’s,  established in Van Renssaelaer place in 1868,  Marliave’s rival  as  one of the first generation in America outside of New Orleans of continental European restaurants of the Gilded Age.  Moreover,   in the only other U. S. city likely to rival Boston in this department,  it  was  not untill 1870 that  The New York  Times  noted the existence of more than one  “French restaurant” , as well as several  “foreign table d’hote restaurants”  in that city

In fact,  Henri and Clemence Marliave had opened their new venture at a time of great change in the U. S. in such matters.  “A decade or two ago”,  the  Times opined in 1885 of just the decade Marliave’s had opened in,  “it would have been practically impossible for many thousand people to  live  as they are living now [in cities].  Flats were unknown and restaurants — of the right kind — a rarity.  The resident had to choose between a house of his own,  a hotel,  or a boarding house…. Of foreign   table d’hote restaurants,  in which for a fixed price,  a dinner in courses is served the customer,  there were three or four…in New York,  [all located] in fashionable byways within sight of the main arteries of the metropolis”.

There,  perhaps, was the key , in Boston as in the metropolis to its south.   Kingston Street  (off of which opened Kingston place) was not a main artery.  But Tremont Street  (off of which Van Rensselaer place opened)  was one of downtown Boston’s chief  thoroughfares,  a location that would have been particularly important for a French restaurant,  which a Boston Globe feature article of 1894 made plain,  outranked by far Italian,  German,  Jewish or Chinese eateries.  (In the French restaurant visited by the Globe reporter in ’94,   which is not  named,  he noted  “the service is of the very best….A  decidedly artistic taste is displayed in the decoration  ….There were several good oil paintings.  Unlike those of the Italian restaurant the appointments of the tables are dainty and attractive….[P]erfect decorum reigned….There was potage,  fermiere,  broiled shad,  gigot bretonne,  turkey,  salad and for desert fruit au frommage and cafe noir”. And so on.

Not surprising then,  that  Marliave’s earliest rival in Boston should have  settled in Van Rensselaer place,  opening a cafe  there that was the great successs of  this other  Parisian  couple,  who “with very little money,  but with good spirits…sailed for America”  and either through good advice or just good fortune made the better choice of location than  had Henri and Clemence.  Very quickly,  according to contemporary report,  Mieusset’s began to attract  “persons of wealth and fashion in Boston and visitors from other cities often paid a visit to their little space”,  located as it was  , moreover,  in a more bohemian than business quarter,  which is why for example,  the area  attracted the Tavern Club when it was formed in 1884.  According to Walter Muir  Whitehill  that new  club rented  an apartment  below the studio of a well known  artist,  Frederic  Vinton,  who  “stated emphatically that  he would let it for anything except a whorehouse”,  apparantly  in that quarter a distinct possibility .

Henri and Clemence,  meanwhile,  regrouped,  so to speak.  Henri accepted the position of head chef at Young’s Hotel,  a leading Boston hostelry of the era,  and eventually Restaurant Marliave re-opened — on Van Remnsselaer place!

There,  furthermore,  never mind the competition from Missuett’s,  which may have helped more than  hindered,  Marliaves was a conspicious success.  Among their patrons stood out sculptor John O’Donoghue,  several MIT faculty,  including the writer Arlo Bates, and the poet-editor John Boyle O’Reilly.  Alas for Henri’s rheumatism,  which precipitated another closing down and a retreat to Hot Springs — which,  however,  proved no solution, and soon the couple were back in Boston,  where in 1880 they took up residence  again,   this time in  a rather more  elegant small brick town house,  opening there (at no. 11)  that year  “a small room [on the first floor] on Bosworth Street”,  to which cafe  one is entitled to believe  all their old patrons joyously returned.

At 11 Bosworth the Marliave’s undoubtedly hit their stride.  Henri’s ill health would persist as a problem  (he would die at only 54),  but for fifteen years,  between 1880 and 1895 , Cafe Marliave thrived,  becoming an almost legendary Boston institution.  Going there seems to have been a remarkable dining experience,  its tone set by Henri himself,  who one old customer remembered as always moving   “from table to table,  drinking white wine with his guests”,  while all the time  “Madame was always seen sitting at the cash box”.  It is an image that  was very French,  as is confirmed by  Pierre  Prat,  the general manager of the Boston  Public Library’s Map Room cafe today,  and it explains much about  the Marliave’s  marriage and too about their  restaurtant , and why,  for example,  young Daniel  Gregory Mason,  the future composer,  recalled as a Harvard student going so often  “to dine at Marliave’s,  where as  [he recalled a friend saying]  one played at being abroad”.  It was an illusion Henri and Clemence sustained quite well,  and soon theatrical people especially,  whose patronage is terribly important at such a cafe,  began to frequent Marliave’s.

There was,  for instance,  the dinner given for the much admired actress,  Katherine Herne,  in May of 1891,  reports of which were of a very genial evening indeed:  ” [I was]  ushered  into the upper dining room”,  one reporter remembered,  giving us a view into Marliave’s layout then,  and ” soon others of the party  arrived, …some forty well known in literary and theatrical circles,  [including]  Mr. and Mrs. James A. Herne,  who had just finnished the evening performance of ‘Margaret Fleming’ at Chickering Hall….Soon after  [Mrs Herne’s]  arrival,  the party descended to the main dining room.  Two long tables were laid the length of the hall and before each guest was a neat souvineer menu….The two-score and more present included…musicians, artists, etc, etc. and were altogether the joliest company.”   Guests whose names would be recognized today included the radical journalist, Benjamin Flower,  the  left  wing writer Hamlin Garland and socialites like  Mary Sears.

Then there was the night in 1903 when  “nearly 100 members of the French Society La Prevoyance sat down last night at hotel Marliave….[to a]  dinner  [that]  was of the merriest.  An orchestra played French songs and the company stopped eating to sing them.  Whenever the orchestra could not recollect any French songs it played the ‘Marseillaise,  which was sung at intervals from 8 o’clock to midnight.”  Boston’s   French Consul General  presided.

The theatrical and artistic clientelle,  the bohemian atmosphere,  the good food and excellent service was not all there was to Marliave”s.  Monsieur and Madame  also chose staff,  it would seem,  quite carefully.  Witness the memory of Ralph Adams Cram in the 1890s about his youthful evenings at  “Marliave’s of the theoretical French table d’hote and veritable ‘red ink’ as a beverage, with the incomparable Francise to serve us.”

Francise?  Undoubtedly this  Americanism referred to  Frances Leclaire,  who by contemporary report Henri and Clemence first employed on Van Rensselaer place and were careful to secure the servces of on Bosworth Street.  What role  ‘Francise’  played,  however,  remains murky.  Certainly,  when monsieur and madame were heading back to Paris in 1890 for the summer,  the Globe reported:  “Bohemia will know what awaits its constituients when it is stated that Frances Leclaire and Arthur Dreyfus will represent M. and Mme .Marliave during [their] absence.”  Of Leclaire herself,  it was also said — opaquely or not  according to your point of view —  that  “the celebrated Frances made her tact felt as a waiter.”  About what it is hard to say.  All the Globe ventured was that  “everyone knows the little French restaurant on Bosworth Street where the Bohemians of the hub gather.”

Frances did not,  though she is conspiciously listed as unmarried in the street  directory (as “Miss Frances Leclaire”) board with the Marliave’s over the restaurant.  She lived  around the corner in a room at 22 Chapman place.  Single, “incomparable”  and  “tactful”  thus exhausts what we  know of  ‘Francise’,  although there is this from John Torrey Morse in 1896,  the year after Henri died and was buried in great style from Boston’s French church,  Notre Dame des Victoires on Isabella Street:  wrote Morse,  “Montgomery Place,  afterward become Bosworth Street,  [was] a purlieu not savory….”

As early as 1895 the Globe at least dealt rather forthrightly with such implications,  noting how discreet was the outside of  “the best known [French restaurant, obviously Marliave’s] in Boston” — “there is nothing to distinguish [the restaurants] exterior from the rest of the houses in the dingy,  narrow street”,  and yet how fascinating by contrast was the interior.  Remarking on  “the blase men and preety women who are always interesting to each other”,  the report observed pointedly that inside the restaurant  “especially in winter and from 6 to 9 in the evening,  the spectacle that presents itself to the view is one of the most inspiring in this counrty”,  detailing it almost delightedly:  [Marliave’s] is generally crowded…but what an atmosphere…The room resounds with the merry voices of of men and women,  made more merry and exultant with the stimulus of the wine . Invariably  a band in the hallway plays some preety airs from the opera’s”.  And so on,  not a Puritan note struck.

Nor was that the extent of it.  The Globe admitted quite bluntly what was really going on.  “You eat your roast,  you drink your coffee, and while apparantly interested in what your friend has to say,  you cast side glances at the very preety girl at the next table,  and,  while contemplating the volume of smoke of your cigarette,  you secretly wonder whether that blink was meant for your eye,  and whether the damsel could be as much interested in you as you are in her.”  Only then does the report pull back,  noting how everything is   “made more interesting by the soupcon of the risque in it all, and all at only the expense of 75  cents for dinner and wine,  with [an] additional 10 cents to Abigail,  [who]  has almost become a famous personage in Boston.”  Another  ‘Francise’,  presumably.

Another newspaper report of six years later,  though couched in the very different tone of a police matter,  is even more  telling.  The part of the story of interest to us recounts the experience of a young man — John Crichett by name –who  “early last evening … dropped into hotel Marliave,  11 Bosworth Street.   Mr. Crichett saw a good many people there…but paid no attention to any of them   except a couple of good looking girls who sat at a table alone …. both preety and he guessed from their appearance good natured.  He ventured to take a seat by them and  to suggest it would be a nice thing for all hands to have a drink. . The girls didn’t reproove him.”

Act Two opens  a bit  later, as it were, with “Mr.  Crichett  proudly flash[ing] a tidy roll of bills with one of $100 as the wrapper”,  whereupon the two girls became even more interested.  Mr. Crichett,  “having audibly expressed  [the] desire to have a good time…more drinks…were consumed and soon the girls were seen to be sitting close and [being] rather affectionate”.  One girl,  in fact,  was observed to be  “sitting on [Mr. Crichett’s] lap”.  Well,  it was all downhill from there:  Mr Crichett noticed soon enough his roll of bills had gone missing,  and a policeman had to be called  “by the hotel people”,  which as Madame was then running the restaurant,  probably meant sending someone upstairs to alert her that untoward events were unfolding below.  The tactful Francise is nowhere to be heard of.  By 1901 she was perhaps gone.  Certainly Arthur Dreyfus was.  Newspaper announcements about his own new restaurant,  Dreyfus’s French Cafe,  appeared in 1904.  Clearly,  Marliave had begun its downward spiral to 1920’s speakeasy.

It was,  however,  for its glory days in the 1890s that Marliave’s will always be best remembered.  Bohemia is always more attractive in its beginnings,  which was well and truly celebrated by John Boyle O’Reilly in the poem he was said to have written at his corner table  in the ground floor cafe,   “In Bohemia”.

JOHN BOYLE  O’RIELLY’S  TALE

A literary figure like Holmes,  a revolutionary like Malcolm,  a foreigner like  Ho,  O’Rielly was as much as any of  them an ardent idealist and a fierce advocate for his causes,  whether Irish Nationalism or literary distinction.  Neither aristocratic householder,  however,  nor menial worker,  O’Reilly  played his role in Bosworth Street as a frequenter of its leading cafe,  becoming a regular at Marliave and so identified with the restaurant  that the corner table he held forth at,  regaling with with an infinite charm and bravura  his friends and colleagues,  boasts still  his portrait, as has already been noticed here,   more than a century later.

Irish born,  a life-long and devout Roman Catholic,  son of a schoolmaster ,  O’Reilly became in his youth in Ireland both  an early  aspirant to literary and journalistic prsuits  and an ardent patriot,  running afoul of the British naturally when while serving in the army he was discovered to be recruiting for the Fenians,  a militant secret Irish nationalist society.  Arrested and imprisoned,  O’Reilly was  “Bostonian by way of heroic escape”,  in historian Paula Kane’s words,  “from penal exile in Australia”,  from which he made  his way to  Boston,  where he became in 1870 editor of   the then entirely secular Boston Pilot.

O’Reilly’s tenure was not an easy one.  Boston’s Brahmins,  full throated finally  in their support of the African -American cause and of independence causes everywhere,  made an exception in that respect of Queen Victoria’s dominions. Italian nationalists like Garibaldi —  whose  sculptural form has adorned Commonwealth Avenue for  more than 100  years now — were more than welcome and earnestly supported in their campaign against the pope, afterall,  while Irish nationalists,  very pro church and pope,  were more than shunned.  O’Reilly’s literary and political success in Boston,  immortalized by Daniel Chester Frenchs superb memorial to him in the Back Bay Fens, was thus a considerable tribute  to a man who stood at very controversial intersections indeed.  When one critic, N. P. Willis,  “observed wistfullly from New York that in Boston they would tolerate neither the rich fool nor the merely literary man,  Bostonians were not so sure….[When]  young Robert Grant  [of a distinguished  Brahmin family,  later a judge],  took his cultural responsibilities so seriously as to join the Papyrus Club and spend convivial evenings in company with such Bohemians as John Boyle O’Reilly…his  father saw fit to issue a timely warning against burning the candle at both ends”.  One wonders if evenings at the Somerst Club would so much have concerned Grant Senior, who also   led efforts to make sure that a Roman Catholic church wold never be built  or purchased in the Back Bay’s aristocratic  heartland,  a fact largely forgotten (surpressed?)  today.

O’Reilly,  a good newspaperman,  surely knew of that fact,   but held resolutely to a higher plane.  Yet as Matthew Johnson has pointed out in his  “Special Sorrows The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Jewish, Polish Immigrants in the United States”,  his life in Boston was troubled enough that his death at only 46 has often been thought to have been by his own hand.  But  it is a measure of his achievement that no less than Oscar Wilde,  a friend of  O’Reilly’s who made his American literary debut in the Pilot during O’Reilly’s editorship,  saw the Bostonian journalists importance on the national stage very well.  As Juan P. Kreig writes  : “There is every reason to believe Wilde had O’Reilly in mind when he wrote….’An entirely new factor has appeared in the social development of the country, and this factor is the Irish-American….What captivity was to the Jews,  exile has been to the Irish-American and American influence has educated them.  Their first practical leader is an Irish Americam.”

It was a lot to act out at a corner table in Marliave’s,  and that was not,  of course,  O’Reilly’s principal venue.  But it was one of his chief places to dialogue with his diverse constituency.  Another,  the Boston Press Club,  was right next door,  and its proximity to O’Reilly’s favorite French restaurant  surely was not incidental.

Interestingly, the most complete explanation of  Boston’s new press club of 1886 appeared in the Chicago Tribune, where its Boston correspondent  (“Shawmut”)  opined that past attempts had failed because  class antagonisms surfaced: ” those who went sported swallow-tailed coats,  wore collars so huge that they were distinguished with difficulty and some went even so far as to effect the one eyeglass!  It goes without saying that the rank and file did not rally….[T]he club was run by the dudes of the profession…many of them excellent men,  but not working journalists.”  And few of them either sounding   very Boheminan.  That was the title,  of course,  of O’Reilly’s most well knoiwn verse.  “I’d rather live in Bohemia than any other land”,  quoth  he;   “For only there are the values true”,  if only,  he added,  because  “the wise of Bohemia are never shrewd” —  which was a good shot —  and  “Bohemia has none but adopted sons”,  which was a better one.   The depth of the poet’s feelings in the matter were not in doubt:  “I’d rather fail in Bohemia”,  he concluded,  “than win in any other land.”

Contemporary reports of Boston’s press club document that like Marliave’s it was a scene of perennial masculine “mirth and conviviality” ,  and again it is from a Chicago source  that this repute  can be documented.  Writes J. B. Smith:  “The choice of  [the  clubs  location]  fell in the midst of a section of the city where the children of Bohemia had long pre-empted their  claim.  In Bosworth Street,  fragrant with the odors of of English chop houses  [the best known,  Billy Parks,  was diagonally across the street from Marliaves]  and French table d’hote,  the club made its home.  A bible society   occupies the first floor of the  clubhouse”,  Smith added,  for the benefit,  he said, of wives who wondered what the attaction was!

One of the attractions was the 24 hour lifestyle of the club. Indeed,  it is likely  the poet began  “In Bohemia” at Marliaves and finnished it after  hours at the press club.  “A restaurant  is run for the  benefit of the members, ” Smith continued, … [a restaurant] run day and  night….When the lights are out and the shutters up at other dining   establishments the steward of the club is still found at his post.  Even after the morning papers have gone to press…the reporters who have been caught with long asignments,  and the news editors…who never sleep untill the dawn approaches,  may be found reviving their drooping spirits from the stores of the steward’s larder. …. Telephone and messenger service keep the members within easy communication of the newspaper offices [on nearby Newspaper Row,  along downtown Washington Street then].

Fragrant  Bosworth Street , alive 24/7 ,  is a vivid image of the 1880s and ’90s, and it is  detaied by Smith’s description of the club’s monthly “smokers”.  Some of the more memorable  ” entertainments held in the clubhouse” according to Smith included those tendered to African explorer Henry M. Stanley  (he of  “Dr.Livingstone,  I presume”),  and to P. T. Barnum.  Mark Twain also favored the Bosworth Street clubhouse with his presence,  “turn[ing] on the fountain of his wit and humor”.  More seriously,  George Kennan gave a series of lectures on Russia.  But no one scored so big a hit as  comedian  Billy Nye,  whose visit   occasioned  an observation later quoted in the Globe:  “Bosworth Street…has a character of its own.  Bill Nye,  the humorist, styled it   ‘a short, thick-set street’  [when]  the Boston press club occupied a house on the south side of the street,  and extended pressing hospitality to visiting  lions of the literary and artistic  world.”

“Pressing hospitality”  is another vivid image,  while  the mention of artistic as well as literary lions,  like the theatrical dinners given at Marliave’s,  points up the fact  that  there was much more of a connection then — in Bohemia — between newspaper people and theatrical  people.   Indeed,  the whole atmosphere of Bosworth Street quite benefited from the nearby Ordway Minstrel Hall that stood just across Province Street and court from Marliave’s,  the court  a favorite place of residence for  “actors,  w ho,  arrayed in large plaid or checked trousers”,  according to Alexander Corbett,  ” with flamboyant neckties,  big solitaire diamonds in their shirt bosoms…and sporting huge watch chains and slender,  nifty canes,  constituted quite a sight”.  And quite a lot of Bosworth Streets customers as well,  no doubt.

Mention of the Bible society,  however,  also makes a point,  and it must  be said that the cast of institutional characters on the street was just as diverse as the peope.  The   Banner of  Light”,  the leading American Spiritualist newspaper,  and Madame Bavatsky’s base when in Boston , was published just on the corner of Bosworth and Province.  Furthermore, the  Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was also based in Bosworth Street,  again in a house faciong Marliave’s.  Furthermore,  John Boyle O’Reilly, if he was not a member of the Theosophica Society, wsas indeed  a member of that  animal rights group.   In fact,  O’Reilly sat on the board of directors of that venerable society,  founded by Brahmin lawyer George Thorndike Angell and socialite Emily Appleton.  O’Reilly even wrote and declaimed a poem on the subject,  sharing the stage of nearby Tremont Temple at the SPCAs  annual meeting  with one of his closest Brahmin friends,  with whom O’Reilly often made common cause for African-American  causes too,   Wendell Phillips.

One could write quite a book about O’Reilly’s circle of friends,  which included Walt Whitman,  very likely more than once his dinner guest at  Marliave’s.  (It was O’Reilly who suggested the Boston publication in 1880 of the latest edition of  “Leaves of Grass”,  first published in Boston in 1860 with its controversial Calamus verses,  but then surpressed in 1880 because  “Boston was still bound by by its puritanical mores and,  paradoxically,  liberalized by them as well in its reformist tendencies”.   As I said,  for O’Reilly,  a dyed-in-the-wool Bohemian,  nothing in Boston was ever easy).

Whitman’s own judgement of O’Reilly was telling.  Very much the  “tempest class,  ardent Irish….clean, clear, afire with ideals”  was the way  the American poet  described  O’Reily, who  returned the favor . Reviewing  “Leaves of Grass”  in the Pilot,  its editor  insisted Whitman’s ideas were ” not prurient,  though they are naked”.  Interestingly, Whitman,  who could be critical of O’Reilly’s poetry  (not of course in the same league as Whitman’s)  often couched his judgement  after the manner of the dinner table:  characterizing one of O’Reilly’s verses,  for example,  as like  “a big feast…yet I growled,  yet I am not satisfied,  yet think often of ten cent dinners….” As has been observed,  “it is impossible to ignore the associationn Whitman makes here between O’Reilly’s literary work and food”.  Marliave’s offered no ten cent dinner. But even by the standards of the day its  50 cent  or 75 cent dinner — “with or without wine” —  was far from expensive.

Finally,  a more serious word about O’Reilly’s poetry.  President John F. Kennedy,  more given to Alan Seegar and Robert Frost,  used to frequently quote some verse by O’Reilly more than  worthy of  some thought::  “The world is large,  when two weary leagues / two loving hearts divide; / But the world is small,  when your enemy is loose on the other side.”

F.  D.  R.  ‘ s  TALE,  OR  WAS  IT  PRUFROCKS?

Speaking of  “Marliave’s famous fifty-cent table d’hote,  rien compris . . . .” that blessing of the day is prominently mentioned in the discussion of 1890s and 1900s Harvard life detailed on the website of the Restoration Project for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Suite at Adams House,  where the future U. S. president was an undergraduate in the Gilded Age.  And so it should be in any discussion of the Harvard careers of those of FDRs generation and  class , including the likes of T. S. Eliot  and  George Santayana , who I’d be very surprised to learn did not know Marliave’s well, never mind Prufrock.

Indeed,  perhaps this restaurant’s greatest claim to fame,  and most important niche in American history,  is that in the Gilded Age it was a key part of the Harvard experience.  Marliave’s even turns up in Richard Norton Smith’s  “The Harvard Century:  The Making of a University to a Nation”.  Therein is documented the fact that  “the 1890s found many Harvard undergraduates sitting down with a regular appetite to the feast spread by the French and English  fin de siecle,” a world view,  in Douglas Mao’s words,  in Boston  “centered at Marliave’s…where they could…repeat the Decadent commonplace that all the poems had been written and all the paintings painted”.  Notwithstanding, “something  there is about a cafe that begats a club”,  I wrote in my guide to Harvard University architecture  in 2001 in the section about the elegant JFK Street clubhouse of the Fox Club,  the founding foxes of which, indeed,  gathered frequently at Marliaves,  where this legendary social club (members have included  T. S. Eiot and,  today,  Bill Gates)  was founded in 1898.

Harvard has always drunk a lot,  and most of it in the blocks off Tremont Street between School and Winter streets. By the 1860s according to Artemus Ward,  “Harvard University was pleasantly  and conveniently situated in the barroom of Parker’s in School Street.”  By the 1920s Lucius Beebe held that Locke Ober had replaced Parker’s, remarking sagely that  “the University [had moved]  precisely four city blocks,  where,  of course, it again found itself in a saloon.”  Inbetween, for Bohemians, there was Restaurant Marliave.

Before O’Reillys more literary circle,  the chief group  identified with this cafe  was more artistic,  centering on the important American painter and pioneer of the Barbizon School,  William Morris Hunt.  Natrually at home in such a setting — Hunt had been several times suspended from Harvard for being  “too fond of his amusements” —  the same was true of his friends and followers,  “convivial spirits”  , as critic Sadakichi Hartman recounted,  who  “met at Marliave’s,  a real French restaurant which had the charm of novelty then.”

The effect of such a cafe-based circle could be considerable,  as Frank Torrey Robinson explained at the time.  “Going one day into Marliave’s restaurant,  a famous resort at noonday for such artistic spirits as Hunt,  [Frank] Robinson,  [Marcus] Waterman…Bartlett the sculptor…and other like natures,  [the  future  portraitist I. H. Caliga]  became absorbed in the  arguments of these lights of art. ” Making it his custom to take his lunch there everyday and hearing  “what might have been well worth printing,  it set him to thinking,  and as a result he brought in one of his paintings”.  Waterman pronounced it rather good and in effect launched an extremely successful career.

“I got a crowd together, / And at Marliave’s we soon were flocking,  birds / of a fne feather” ,  Walter Bynner Stokes began his  “Young Harvard and Other Poems” — apparantly all the poems had not been wrtten — and goes on to paint rather a good word picture of the restaurant in its heyday:   “Madame is there presiding. / With her earings and gray gown, / And that oneness of her stomach,  hips and little twinkling frown / ….Greet the comers,  pour the cordials, make corrections in your French….” Stokes continued,  making plain what a crucial part of a Harvard educaton it all was.

Marliave’s had a more  renowned laureate,  however,  in  Charles Macomb Flandrau,   whose best known book , “Diary of a Freshman”,  was serialized in the mass market Saturday Evening Post in 1901.  Already in his “Harvard Episodes” of 1897  Flandrau had revealed some of the mysteries of Marliave’s upstairs private dining rooms —  noting that the behavior of members of  “The Advocate  [a Harvard literary magazine]  at Marliave’s  [members included in this period T. S.  Eliot]  exhibited that easy indifference to the fragility of crockery by which the artistic temperament makes itself heard” —  and in “Diary”  Flandrau dedicated the whole of chapter ten to Marliave’s.  It was,  reviewer J. L. Gilder asserted in 1901, worth reading “whether the reader knows the square,  the Yard,  Marliave’s and college life or not.”

We discovered this fascinating little place the other evening along Tremont Street…[where] Berri suddenly stopped  in front of a sort of alley and clutched me:  from the other end came the sound of music — a  harp, a flute and a violin playing one of those Neapolitan…songs that always…make you feel as if you’ve been abroad. [Venturing down the alley,  Bosworth Street,  Flandrau’s protagonists find the]  brightly lighted little restaurant with the music  [and they stand about]  listening and watching the people who went in.  [All of them seemed to stop to peer through a glass door, and then]  after a moment of indecision passed on up a flight of steep steps.  [The two young men nervously follow suit.

Looking through the glass door to the first floor cafe they see] a long narrow room with three rows of little tables reaching from end to end….The tobacco smoke was so thick…foreign-looking waiters were tearing in and out among the tables…and everybody was laughing and gesticulating and having such a good time.  [Disappointed there were no free tables,  the two collegians continue up the staircase only to discover why all the others would have preferred the cafe ;  the upstairs was ] comparitively empty and quiet and rather dreary.

[On the way out , however,  peering again through the glass door,  they spy this time a youngish professor of theirs,  named Fleetwood]  dining alone at a table in the corner  [and at once foist themselves upon him]. ‘I’m glad you like my Bohemia’,  [the professor intones,  and favors the two with a history of Marliave’s]:  ‘all sorts of people, — writers and painters and exiled noblemen — … dine here….But the place,  of course,  isn’t what it used to be’.  I’m seven or eight years too late….It was more entertaining in the days of Leontine, — the shrewd,  vivacious, businesslike French woman who,  when Monsieur Marliave became too ill,  and Madame too old,  used to make change and scold the waiters and say good evening to you,  and whose red-striped gingham shirt-waists fitted her like models from Pacquin.  It was Leontine who brought back the wonderful wall-paper from Paris…that represents a hunting scene with willowy ladies in preposterous pink velvet…and waving plumes and gentlemen blowing tasseled horns…

But Monsieur is dead,  and Madame just dried up and blew away,  and Leontine is married….Afterward  [the three go to the theatre and then ]  we went to Newspaper Row and waited…while Fleetwood…wrote his review. The Cambridge car was jammed.  We never got home until amost four in the morning.

Chapter Ten expains much,  including that Marliave’s, like  all good things,  was  never  what what it used to be. Whether it was  ‘Francise’  or  ‘Abigail’  or  ‘Leontine’,  such was always the case.  Perhaps not with the most mysterious of all this cast, however, unnamed  except for her breasts!

In his  biography  of the legendary  Harvard tutor  Charles Copeland,  Donald Adams recounts how  “Copey would dine … with his young student friends for a mildly bibulous evening”,  at one of which,  “at Marliave’s,  the waitress regaled them with the story of the customer who had expressed unbounded admiration for her breasts.  One of them he named Fort Munroe,  but she could not recall what he had christened the other.  ‘Doubtless Old Point Comfort’,  said Copeland.

Which is all there is to say, I think, of Cafe Marliave Memoirs.

shand-tucci@comcast.net

SOURCES

Adams, Donald. “Copey” HOUGHTON (1960)

[Boston Press Club] “Boston Has a Press Club”  BOSTON GLOBE (20 April, 19 May, 7 June 1886)

[Boston Press Club] see www.archive.org/stream/…/pressclub ofchicago

[Boston Press Club] Smith, J. B. and Howell, E. C. “The Boston Press Club” BOSTON GLOBE (CHICAGO TRIBUNE reprint) (7 June 1868)

Bynner, Witter. “Young Harvard and Other Poems” STOKES (1907)

Cram, Ralph Adams. “My Life in Architecture” LITTLE< BROWN (1934)

Druiker, John J. “Ho Chi Minh A Life” HYPERION (2000)

[Foreign Restaurants]  “The Restaurant System” NEW YORK TIMES (24 May 1885);  “Cheap Restaurants” NEW YORK TIMES (6 August 1871) “Boston’s Foreign Restaurants”, BOSTON GLOBE (7 January 1894).

FDR Restoration Project- see www.fdrsuite.org.

Flandrau, Charles Macomb. “Diary of a Freshman” APPLETON (1912)

Flandrau, Charles Macomb. “Harvard Episodes” (COPELANMD & DAY (1897

Hartman, Sadakichi (Jane C. Weaver. ed) “Boston Toward the End of the  Eighties” UNIV.  OF CALIFORNIA (199

Holmes, Oliver  Wendell. “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” PHILLIPS SAMPSON (1858)

[Julien’s] Drake, Samuel Adams “Old Landmarks and Historic Personages”

[Julien’s] Smith, Andrew “History of Soup” (see www.cheftalk.com)

Johnson, Matthew. “Special Sorrows” HARVARD (1995)

Krieger, Joann P. “A Whitman  Chronology” IOWA UNIV> PRESS (2008)

[Kennedy, John F.] see www.kennedylibrary.org

[Malcolm X] Haley, Alex “Autobiography of Malcom X” BALLANTINE (1964)

Mason, Daniel Gregory “At Harvard in the Nineties” NEW ENGLAND QUARTERLY (March 1936)

Mao, Douglas “Solid Objects” PRINCETON (1998)

[Marliave’s/BOSTON GLOBE]  “Henri Marliave…Dead” (23 May 1895)  “Off fro Nice” (31 July 1890) “Funeral of Henri Marliave” (27 May 1895) “He Missed $300” (8 June 1901)  ;  “Had a Merry Night” (15 July 1903) “Vernal Greetings” (8 May 1891).

[Marliave’s/Misc.] see www.erroloys.com/Boston/workingnotesconvoy.htm);  see also www.Bostonchefs.com for the claim Marliave offered the first table d’hote in the U.S.

[Mieusset’s]  “The Ernest Mieusset’s” BOSTON GLOBE (4 July 1907)

[Nye, Bill]  see  Boston Press Club (16 August 1908)

[Ordway Minstrel Hall] see Corbett, Alexander, “Ordways BOSTON GLOBE (16 August 1908)

Roche, James J. “Life of John Boyle O’Reilly” CASSELL (1891)

Smith, Richard Norton “The Harvard Century” HARVARD (1998)

Stevens, Peter F. “The Voyage of the Catalpa” CARROLL & GRAF (1903)

[Whitmamn, Walt] see www.whitmanarchive.org

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