The Boston Visionists: Letters of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue to F. Holland Day
Goodhue, Bertram Grosvenor (1869 – 1924), Archive of ten (10) ANS and ALS to Fred Holland Day, Boston and Cambridge, 1892-1893. 16 pp., both full sheets and half-sheets, two with wax seals. With one envelope. Marginal tears to one letter, otherwise condition generally fine.
A revealing collection of personal correspondence between the principals of Copeland and Day, the finest literary exemplar of the arts & crafts movement in the United States, offering a glimpse into the tightly knit coterie of aesthetes known as the Boston Visionists.
Centered on and Fred Holland Day (1864 – 1933), Herbert Copeland (1867–1923), Ralph Adams Cram (1863 – 1942), Bliss Carman (1861 – 1929) and Goodhue, this homosocial network shared a devotion to both the ornate medievalism of William Morris and the fulgent decadence of Oscar Wilde. Between 1892 and 1893, Goodhue, Cram, Day and Copeland produced The Knight Errant, a short-lived arts journal inspired by the Kelmscott Press. In 1893, Copeland and Day invited Goodhue to serve as designer for a new publishing venture that aimed to introduce book arts to an American audience. One of their first successes was to snag the honor of being the American distributor of The Yellow Book.
F. Holland Day, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (ca. 1892), Library of Congress
Copeland and Day were in their late twenties at the time they founded their press; Goodhue was even younger. Ralph Adams Cram, Goodhue’s friend and business partner (and perhaps lover, according to Douglass Shand-Tucci) spoke of him in fulsome terms:
a genius takes his place in no recognized category, and Bertram was this, to a degree I have seldom met with during an over-long life. As a master of decorative detail of every sort he had no rival then nor had had for some centuries before; his pen-and-ink renderings were the wonder and the admiration of the whole profession, while he had a creative imagination, exquisite in the beauty of its manifestations, sometimes elflike in its fantasy, that actually left one breathless. … I never knew a man with more overflowing and infectious vitality than his during the quarter-century we worked together, and this quality was by no means confined to architecture. I think it was he, more than any one else, who was instrumental in bringing together that extraordinary group of young men who found such joy in life in Boston in the vivid years between 1890 and 1900.
F. Holland Day, Ralph Adams Cram (1892), Library of Congress
The Visionists were the core of this extraordinary group of writers, artists, and publishers who forming such exquisite small presses as Copeland and Day, Small and Maynard, Stone and Kimball, and the Merrymount Press. Goodhue contributed ornaments, illustrations, and type designs to all of these – two of his fonts (Cheltenham Old Style and Merrymount) are still in wide usage today. “He would design a font of type or a sumptuous set of initials as quickly as he would clothe an architectural form with the splendid vesture of intricate Gothic ornament,” noted Cram. For Bliss Carman, Goodhue was “The unbarbered man of books, / Seven centuries out of style; / B.G. who belied his looks, / With a mood beneath his smile.”
Goodhue’s frontispiece for Cram’s The Decadent, a novel modeled on Huysmans’ A Rebours, featured portraits of both in the style of Charles Ricketts
Ralph Adams Cram’s biographer Douglass Shand-Tucci marshals evidence to indicate that this homosocial coterie shared erotic sensibilities as well as aesthetic. He notes that Day and Copeland were gay, as were other members of their circle (Bliss Carman, Richard Hovey, Alice Brown, Louise Imogen Guiney, etc.), who recalled the group with the coded language of decadence, aestheticism, comradeship, and Greek idealism familiar to readers of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and Walter Pater. Shand-Tucci suggests that Cram and Goodhue were “also, and I suspect from the first, soulmates and, after some fashion, lovers.” His close reading of Cram’s first book, The Decadent (Copeland and Day, 1893), illustrated by Goodhue and dedicated to him, suggests that Cram found in the younger man “what was to be the supreme relationship of his life and work.”
F. Holland Day, Self Portrait in Medieval Costume (ca. 1893), Library of Congress
The fons et origo of the Visionists was F. Holland Day, whose personal wealth, impeccable taste, and stylized manner made him a cultural lodestone. An ardent bibliophile, he was galvanized by Wilde’s tour of the United States, undertook a pilgrimage to meet Edward Carpenter, and made headlines for organizing a memorial to the poet Keats. A collector and a photographer whose disciples include Edward Steichen, his house in Norwood is today a museum. In addition to founding a fine press that launched the careers of such graphic artists as Will Bradley and Ethel Reed, Day also staged elaborate masques and pageants both at house that reportedly were laced with opium.
Goodhue, Cram, Day and other Visionists staged elaborate medieval pageants at the museum of the Boston Arts Students Association, and more intimate masques at Day’s house. Boston Globe, 1 April 1893
Cram notes that Day was particularly indebted to Goodhue, for both his publications and his entertainments:
To the new publishing firm of Copeland & Day, Goodhue was a godsend, helping with drawings and advice to make their earlier books works of distinction. … Music and amateur theatricals captured him; he was certainly a splendid sight, flaunting in mediaeval costume in the long-ago pageants in the old Art Museum or Day’s fantastic house in Norwood.
These letters date from their earliest friendship, beginning with Goodhue’s entrée into the Boston scene in 1892, and testify to their personal and professional relationship. They discuss their plans for costume pageants at both at Day’s house and at museum of the Boston Arts Students Association, and make plans for Day to photograph Goodhue. Several of the letters refer to an unrealized project, an edition of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. This is from Goodhue’s letter of 13 April 1893:
I am ashamed not to have answered your letter before – but business before pleasures my friend – and you know Cram. [Charles] Ricketts letter is beautiful & you should have seen the one I wrote him in return…. Books … You are certainly a shrieking success and I hear nothing but praise for us all, the Popsicle[?] Queen and everything, and my heart is flowing with milk and honey or something of that sort. Where is that paper [?] – I want to get at Oscar Wilde awfully, and I think we can make the American edition of the House of Pomegranates an enormous success.
And from 21 April 1893:
The other evening I formulated a scrawl to O.W. which I enclose[.] Make what notes and correction on it you will and return it to me or better come in & talk it over.
F. Holland Day, Herbert Copeland (ca. 1890s), Library of Congress
There is a fair amount of good reading between the lines as well. For example, several of the letters betray Goodhue’s social anxiety – he came from a modest background and Day from wealth. Goodhue apologizes for not having stationary to match Day’s. These letters also reveal that Herbert Copeland, whom Patricia J. Fanning calls an outsider to their clique, appears to have been living with Goodhue. Another letter suggests that it was Goodhue who introduced the remarkable Ethel Reed to Day and the firm that launched her brief meteoric career.
F. Holland Day, Ethel Reed in Nymph Costume (ca. 1895), Library of Congress
The present archive predates the correspondence from Goodhue once held by the Norwood Historical Society and now at the Library of Congress and is earlier too than the correspondence in the Goodhue archive at Columbia University’s Avery Library. A fascinating window into the lambent demimonde of fin-de-siècle Boston.
Boss, Thomas G. “Copeland and Day and the Art of Bookmaking.” In Patricia J. Fanning, ed. New Perspectives on F. Holland Day: Selected Presentations from the Fred Holland Day in Context Symposium, Stonehill College. North Easton, MA: Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, 1998, pp. 17-24
Carman, Bliss. Saint Kavin, a ballad. Cambridge: John Wilson, 1894
Cram, Ralph Adams. The decadent: being the gospel of inaction: wherein are set forth in romance form certain reflections touching the curious characteristics of these ultimate years and the divers causes thereof [Boston: Copeland and Day], 1893
-----. “Partnership,” in Charles Harris Whitaker, ed. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue – architect and master of many arts. New York: American Institute of Architects, 1925
-----. My life in architecture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1936
Jussim, Estelle. Slave to beauty: The eccentric life and controversial career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1981
Fanning, Patricia J. Through an uncommon lens: the life and photography of F. Holland Day. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008
Findlay, Nancy. “A millennium in book-making: the book arts in Boston,” in Marilee Boyd Meyer, ed., Inspiring Reform: Boston’s Arts and Crafts Movement. Wellesley: Davis Museum and Cultural Center, 1997
-----. Artists of the book in Boston, 1890 – 1910. Cambridge: Houghton Library, 1985
Kimball, Ingalls. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue book decorations. New York: Grolier Club, 1931
Krauss, Joe W. Messrs. Copeland & Day: 69 Cornhill, Boston 1893-1899. Philadelphia, George S. MacManus Co., 1979
O'Gorman, James F. “'Either in books or [in] architecture': Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in the nineties." Harvard Library Bulletin XXXV (Spring 1987): 165-183
Oliver, Richard. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Boston: Architectural History Foundation and MIT, 1983
Shand-Tucci, Douglass. Ralph Adams Cram: Boston bohemia, 1881-1900. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995
Thompson, Susan Otis. American book design and William Morris. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1977
Wager, Anna. Kindred spirits: communal making and religious revival in arts and crafts movements, 1870-1920. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, 2018
F. Holland Day, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in Day's Library (ca. 1892), Library of Congress