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Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: Gavin Callaghan (IP Logged)
Date: 29 January, 2006 06:11PM
I've had trouble placing this essay anywhere due to the obscurity of the subject matter. S. T. Joshi kindly (and perhaps rightly) called an earlier version of this essay "recondite"; the Lost Souls website seemed to think this person never existed (!), notwithstanding the help I provided them in finding various Park Barnitz obscurities; and even Edward Nizalowski, the head of the local historical society in Newark Valley, NY, seemed unimpressed by the possibilities of issuing it as a historical pamphlet, Mr. Nizalowski likewise dismissing my idea about transforming Tappan's library and various collections into the basis of a regional Decadence museum. I think, however, that fans of HPL and CAS might find the subject matter intriguing, especially given the various similarities discernable between Lee Roy J. Tappan's dismal and sickly life, and Clark Ashton's Smith's own health during roughly the same time period. Also, the sad decline of Tappan's family, leaving him, as a young man, its only living heir, seems to mirror the various accounts of familial decline, such as those related by Edith Miniter, which later so fascinated H. P. Lovecraft.

"A Death Most Peculiar and Sad": LeeRoy J. Tappan and the Omar Khayyam Cult
Gavin Callaghan

"In the Magic Hall of Echoes stood I in seclusion,
Where every echo seemed the Voice it mocked,
Thrusting the keen Lance of Truth in each Illusion,
Through some flaw left for my confusion."--LeeRoy J. Tappan

"He was a very human young man. He was a dreamer. He
dreamed dreams and had visions." --Rev. B.B. Knapp, speaking on LeeRoy J. Tappan, (1913)

"Decadent minor poets sprang up in the most unexpected places…" --Holbrook Jackson, The Eighteen Nineties

In a tiny art nouveau building, --the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library in Newark Valley, New York--, situated above the mantlepiece between a stately lithograph of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on one side and some oil paintings of outdoor scenes on the other, hangs a gold-framed portrait of the library's young founder, a canvas like a neo-Decadent portrait by Romaine Brooks, showing a clean-shaven and stunningly pale young man wearing a black suit and bow tie and sitting in front of a gloomy gray background, --the late LeeRoy J. Tappan, poet, invalid, amateur Orientalist, anthropologist, scholar, antiques collector, aesthete, and much-envied philanthropist, who collapsed "in a sort of fainting fit" on Main Street in Newark Valley in 1905, and died a week later from a combination of tuberculosis and meningitis at the age of twenty-five.

He was the author of a privately printed, limited edition, 111-stanza poem entitled The Meditations of Ali Ben Hafiz, (described in Tappan's obituary as being "a rather pretentious" work, "much resembling in its theme the famous oriental poem, the Rubaiyat"). His rooms were filled with rugs, antique furniture, ornate hangings, blue china. He burned Chinese patchouli incense in a metal scorpion-shaped incense burner, and collected Egyptian curios, Buddhas, and owned a fanged Japanese No-drama vampire mask as well as a human skull. His collection of weapons was sizeable: machetes, muskets, bayonets, knives, swords, and shields; as was his fine collection of rare books, limited edition volumes published only by subscription: volumes dealing with the Orient, mysticism, comparative religion, mythology, and ancient Persian, Moslem, Greek, and Hindu lore, all amassed as if, --spurred on by the strangely accelerated decay of his immediate family--, Tappan were doing research into various aspects of the afterlife in preparation for his own imminent demise. There were books by Orientalist Edwin Arnold, adventurer Sir Richard Burton, poetaster Richard Le Galliene; standard works on the East like Cotton's Arabic Primer and Clement Huart's History of Arabic Literature; epics like The Ramayana, several versions of The Rubaiyat, Sadi's Gulistan, Kalidasa's Sanskrit drama Sakuntala, Henry Iliowizi's The Weird Orient, dealing with the Norse and the Greek gods, and anthologies of Firdausi, Omar Khayyam, Nizami, Rumi, Essedi, Sa'Di, Hafiz, and Jami. Though he was, according to the Owego Times, "well and favorably known in this village", his friends including prominent artists Alida Noble and George Byron Sutton, as well as local writers such as Tioga County Herald editor Gilbert Purple and local columnist George Livermore, --all of whom knew him as "Roy"--, Tappan was closest with cousins on his mother's side of the family, in whose home he spent his last delirious week and whom he honored with various small bequests in his will, --the rest of the town apparently watching his life from afar and wondering how much in fact the young man was worth.

According to his obituary, LeeRoy J. Tappan, "except for a course in the Eastman Business College, (…) did not pursue his studies in any institution beyond the High School here, but he was a great reader and an earnest student along certain lines at least", --a fact which was "not generally appreciated by his neighbors and friends..." Another source, a "distant cousin" of Tappan's, once recalled, "We didn't know too much about Lee Roy as he kept to himself most of the time writing and studying." (Howland 24) Known by his friends as a kindly person of retiring and intellectual disposition, --with the deaths, in short succession, of his father Revere (when Tappan was aged eleven; typhoid pneumonia complicated by heart trouble), his mother Ida and his grandfather Luther J. Spaulding (both from tuberculosis in the same week), and then his beloved grandmother Frances Spaulding (typhoid fever after a three-week illness), --deaths which left Tappan the sole heir to a sizeable estate--, Tappan quickly became known as an intensely brooding and lonely person, this brooding, combined with his inherited nervous trouble (i.e., susceptibility to consumption), doing much, --according to the local papers, at least--, to cause his death.

No doubt the graves of such Gothic, tormented poets, multiple Jonathan Swift Somers's, each with his own fragmentary "Spooniad", dot the American landscape in a way which would make an H.L. Mencken cringe; but though such literary hagiographies were already quaint things when Mencken made sport of the "grotesque" and sad tale of minor poet Madison Cawein, I will not dare to do so much as sneer anywhere in my recital of the brief facts of Tappan's chilling biography. Born in March 16, 1880, as the only child of two members of prominent Newark Valley families the Tappans and the Spauldings, Tappan was regarded as having "all the bright prospects before him that any young man could want," his father the second in two generations of doctors, the family owning numerous properties in various states as well as several buildings in town, including the local Opera House. Electing not to pursue his late father's chosen path in the medical profession, Tappan, perhaps encouraged by lifelong friends Noble and Sutton, became a gifted amateur painter, one of his 1894 still lifes of a breakfast scene, with an Oscar-Wildean blue china pitcher prominently displayed, even now hanging in the reference room of the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library. In 1898, perhaps already sensing the signs of the tuberculosis which would signal his family's and his own eventual decay, the eighteen-year-old Tappan joined the local First Congregational Church to which both Alida Noble and his grandmother already belonged.

In 1900, perhaps encouraged by his self-described Capitalist grandfather to provide some means for supporting himself in the future, Tappan attended the intensive course in business offered by Harvey Gridley Eastman's College in Poughkeepsie, New York, the school providing a campus setting complete with fake money, fake banks, fake post offices, and fake documents, all recreating the financial institutions of the greater world in a setting manned entirely by students. Ironically for the poet, Eastman gave his students the following rules: "Don't drink, don't chew, don't smoke, don't swear, don't deceive, don't read novels." (Herst 591-598) Unfortunately, both for the world of business and for Tappan's family, Tappan's career in accounting was cut short by the deaths of both his mother and his grandfather, forcing him to return home.

Following the deaths of his mother and his grandfather, Tappan lived on with his grandmother in their house on Main Street. According to his Tioga County Herald obituary, he wrote articles on oriental and archeological topics for various periodicals, and on literary topics for Elbert Hubbard's decadent The Philistine as well as for other "kindred publications", --works which I have unfortunately been unable to trace. At this time, as well, according to Tappan's obituary in the Herald, he travelled to Buffalo, New York, to assist at the Ethnology Exhibition for the Pan-American Exposition of the summer of 1901 (the same exposition at which President McKinley was later assassinated), --although, again, his presence at the exhibition in any official capacity has been otherwise very difficult to document.

It was at this time, in 1901, that Tappan's friendship with the newly-arrived Pastor of the First Congregational Church, the Reverend Benjamin B. Knapp, began, --a friendship so remarkable that even in 1995, almost a century later, one of Tappan's distant relatives was able to write to me, "I do know that he and the Congregational Preacher at that time were very, very close friends…", while in 1913, on the occasion of the unveiling of Tappan's portrait, which now hangs in the Library, the Herald stated, "Mr. Knapp and Mr. Tappan were intimate friends and the minister was made the confidant of the young man as probably no other person." A staunch reformer, vigorously dedicated to the idea, -- so popular at this time--, of the use of education and civic institutions to improve the human race, ("Men and women are products…" Rev. Knapp later said, "to be planned and cultivated as you would create and produce any other commodity…."), Knapp soon took it upon himself to improve Newark Valley's town library, which was at that time controlled by the Congregational Church and stored in the Chapel, Knapp applying for a grant from the state and removing the books to larger quarters elsewhere. Tappan himself refers to this Library in his will with a certain derision as the "so-called public library", as it consisted of "dead" old books which few people read, the books having been purchased back in the 1880's by the Rev. Jay Clizbe.

Rev. Knapp's actions had a huge effect on Tappan, the Pastor's religious exhortations apparently working to ground the young man's previously nervous and despondent speculations on Death and Fate by offering the prospect of visible improvements in the lot of the human race brought about through the application of his considerable wealth. As Knapp described in 1913:

"…Friendship carries a certain fertilizing force. All biographers
tell us that each epoch in a man's life is ushered in by a
friend. And thus a friendship grew between the minister and Lee
Roy J. Tappan, a son of the village and a young man of the church
society. The minister, together with 'Roy', often visited the
library rooms, leaving to walk down the street, talking over the
need of better appointments and housing. Locations were marked out and pictures were drawn in the sand; estimates were entered
into--- and always at the end of such discussions, the conclusion
was reached that 'some one' must erect a library building for the
town. Who that 'someone' was to be was the great question.

Significantly, Hartford businessman Austin C. Dunham, in his memoirs, directly links this interest in reading and learning, inculcated in the American public at this time by the examples of foreign art and learning seen in the various World Fairs and other such expositions, with the implanting "in almost every city and in many villages" of that staple, --"the free public library" (55), suggesting a direct connection between Tappan's work at the Ethnology Exhibition in Buffalo and his later endowment of the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library. --But Tappan's civic project was an institution with a twist, a Decadent memorial to and stemming directly from his interest in Orientalism, which, added to his morbid brooding on the inexplicable loss of his family, necessitated the enshrinement of their memory in some sort of a permanent form, --a grand public mausoleum planted directly in the center of town, like the tomb at Halicarnassus built by King Mausolos, a wonder of the world like those mentioned by Tappan in his Persian-flavored poems. Perhaps it was this mercurial aesthetic vision of Tappan's which caused Knapp to temper his statements at the fifth anniversary of the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library's founding by saying, "He was a very human young man…" And maybe we can catch a glimpse of some of Tappan's earnest discussions with Rev. Knapp, --discussions which no doubt revolved around arguments about life, death, mortality, the afterlife, and destiny, with Knapp of course taking the orthodox Christian view on all such matters--, from one of Tappan's quatrains from The Meditations of Ali Ben Hafiz:

Repentance! I with him many a discussion share,
And oft'times to his way of thinking brought;
Though me he never a censure spare,
All my musings come to naught." (19)

It was also during this period of brooding and meditation on the unpredictability of life and death, that Tappan, sitting in a haze of patchouli incense, --that scent which managed to savor, according to Arthur Symons, of the Orient, of artificiality, and of women of the night, all at once--, surrounded by tomes of ancient, esoteric and recondite lore, --volumes self-described in Tappan's will as being "rare, choice, or old"--, and surrounded by as well his copious collection of blue china, --those objects which, according to Dean Burgon of Oxford, smacked of "a form of heathenism which it is our bounden duty to fight against and crush out, if possible" (Ellmann 45 )--, began work on his own peculiar version of a Yankee "Thanatopsis". But, unlike Bryant, his own opus would be written in the peculiar Decadent idiom of his day, his narrative/monologue given an Oriental mask and an Oriental form, --a voice, like that of former decadents Wallace Stevens, Edward Arlington Robinson, and William Butler Yeats, on the very cusp of modernism, and deriving from that most avant-garde of the cults of the 1890's, that of Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Tappan's thirty-page poem, The Meditations of Ali Ben Hafiz, though published in August, 1902, was dated 938 A.D. and attributed to a fictional Arab scholar named "Ali Ben Hafiz", ("Hafiz" being the designation of a person who has memorized the Koran), the book printed under Tappan's personal supervision in a signed limited edition of 150 copies on antique laid, deckle edge paper. Much like T. S. Eliot's later poem The Wasteland, five pages of learned notes on the esoteric lore contained within the preceding stanzas was appended. Although Tappan gave copies to local friends and various reviewers, and although, according to his obituary, the book "received many notices most complimentary from the press and literary critics", I have never been able to trace any such reviews, and no volumes of the book are currently extant anywhere in Newark Valley, the only copy I know of being located in the Harris Collection of poetry at the John Hay Library at Brown University.

The Meditations are prefaced by a short quote from stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, perhaps referring to Tappan's stoic resignation to the prospect of a life (and death) confined to Newark Valley: "…there is not another condition of life so well suited for philosophisizing as that in which thou now happenest to be." The inclusion of this quote seems to ground Tappan's poem firmly in that Whitmanesque, Emersonian, rationalist strain which was first detected in Edward Fitzgerald's The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam following scholar Charles Eliot Norton's seminal review, and which was reflected in things like the later poem "The Rubaiyat of Doc Sifers" by James Whitcomb Riley, in which, according to Vinnie-Marie D'Ambrosio, "Riley's idealization of the local country doctor" spoke in "a kind of agnostic humanitarianism in dialect quatrains". (61) But the Omar Khayyam Cult had two strains in its midst, the Rationalist and the Decadent, a sort of twin alliance of the friends of blasphemy, a fact which perhaps accounted for the curious appeal of Fitzgerald's poem, Fitzgerald uniting the two literary tendencies of his age--- the orientalist, medievalist tendency one sees in Pre-Raphaelitism and Decadence, with the pessimistic, atheistic, scientific, and evolutionist tendencies expressed by so many others: James Thomson (B.V.), Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, and Ambrose Beirce. As Fitzgerald himself wrote in 1857, long before his poem became known, "Hafiz and Old Omar Khayyam ring like true Metal. The philosophy of the latter is, alas! one that never fails in the world," (Gosse 77) --an "infidel" philosophy which Fitzgerald once described in a letter to Tennyson as being "as Savage against Destiny etc. as Manfred." (D'Ambrosio 73) As Richard Le Galliene said in his 1900 Book of Omar and The Rubaiyat, "It might be proved that this small handful of strangely scented rose-leaves have been dynamic as a disintegrating spiritual force in England and America, as no other written words have been during the last 25 years. Mr. George Moore has been nothing like so dangerous! One of Omar's forcible epigrams has proved mightier than a volume by Mr. Hebert Spencer." (D'Ambrosio 212)

The Omar Khayyam cult of the Decadent avant-garde is a curious phenomenon to many today, and stands in marked contrast to the current abhorrence which characterizes American thought in relation to Mohammedism, especially in the aftermath of September 11th. An outgrowth of the Orientalist branch of the Romantic movement in art, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was the bible of this nihilistic, often profane cult (artist Ethel Reed, one of Aubrey Beardsley's replacements as Art Editor on The Yellow Book, wrote to Ralph Adams Cram during an absinthe-soaked stay abroad to say, "Fancy my forgetting my Bible--my Omar!!" [Shand-Tucci 347]), --a cult whose "size and endurance", Robert D. Harlan writes, is nowadays "difficult for us to comprehend". (77) Men like John Hay, Moncure Conway, John Addington Symonds, and Andrew Lang all spoke of the "Freemasonry" whose badge was knowledge of Omar Khayyam, a work whose controversy, Louis Untermeyer wrote, "helped to create a cult," (xi) single individuals in America often buying "numbers of copies for gratuitous distribution before the book was reprinted". (Doubleday, xxi) In the important and landmark work, Eliot Possessed: T. S. Eliot and Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, Vinnie-Marie D' Ambrosio explains,

"Because it has lain at its nadir for some fifty years, the
poem's impact on Eliot, or on anyone, has not seemed to be a
profitable subject for serious consideration. It's effect,
however, was wider and deeper than any but the Persianists among
us understand. Even near the end of its heyday, Eliot's friend
and mentor, Ezra Pound, said that the Rubaiyat was 'The only good
poem of the time that has gone to the people'--- and indeed it
had, with a vengeance." (3)

Omar Khayyam clubs and societies were created on both sides of the Atlantic, whose members and attendees consisted of the most prominent persons of the day in arts, politics, and letters, all of them dedicated to the music of Omar and his poetry of decay. As Richard Le Galliene wrote in the preface to his own version of Khayyam's poems, "As for that very minor matter, my Persian, I would put it to my friends of the Omar Khayyam Club--- whether Persian be any 'necessary adjunct or true ornament' of your true Omarian. Indeed, I have a notion, ---which, of course, may be quite erroneous--- that a knowledge of Persian disqualifies one for membership in that genial society." (11-12)

Countless editions of Fitzgerald's poem, as well as new translations, parodies and imitations were printed, most of them in English, 1/3 of them in America, many of which have still not been catalogued in bibliographies on the subject. Publishers like William Doxey, Thomas Mosher, and others, ground out thousands of cheap copies, while, according to A. H. Miller, for "the millionaire youth wondrous cheap editions were hatched" with ornate bindings and illuminated illustrations on parchment, (D'Ambrosio 71) --William Doxey's popular bookstore window displays devoted to "Decadence" and "The Rubaiyat", pictured in 1896 and 1897 issues of The Bookman, perhaps symbolizing, as no lengthy list of Rubaiyat-inspired merchandise ever could, the gradual acceptance of this standard text of Decadence by all levels of society, continuing the slow process of the "Romanticizing of the world" begun by the Romantic revolution over a century before.

As Henry A. Beers writes in A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century, "A literary movement which reverts to the past for its inspiration is necessarily also a learned movement. Antiquarian scholarship must lead the way," (187) and so it was with the Orientalist branch of Romanticist archaisism, from Horace Walpole's feverishly surreal Hieroglyphic Tales (1785) to William Beckford's Vathek (1786) and so on to Edward Fitzgerald's Quatrains of Omar Khayyam (1859) and the later Pre-Raphaelites of the 1860's and '70's, who first discovered and popularized Fitzgerald's poem in England. This interest in a mythic, medieval, fairy-tale past, seen as far back in Romanticism as Goethe, culminated in both the compact textual experiments of French Symbolistes like Rimbaud and Mallarme and in the intricately-detailed canvases and artwork of the Pre-Raphaelites, --paintings in which the viewer is taken into the moment of the fairy tale, its sights, sounds, and smells, --the same sounds and smells, perhaps, that Rimbaud assigned to the letters in his poem "Vowles", with their "white kings, trembling Queen Anne's lace" and their "Foreheads worn with heavy alchemies." (123)

If however we are to accept that the Pre-Raphaelite movement represents the acceptance, or transfusion into the population, of Romantic ideas, and that the consequent popularity of the Rubaiyat is to be regarded as a symptom of this acceptance, it must be done with the realization that, as Edmund Gosse pointed out in his essay "Edward Fitzgerald", "The Omar Khayyam of Fitzgerald takes its place in the third period of Victorian poetry, as an original force wholly in sympathy with other forces of which its author took no cognizance." (Gosse 82) That Edward Fitzgerald was connected, both aesthetically and philosophically, to this later movement, is certain, Fitzgerald's first work, Euphranor (1851), being a Socratic prose-work in which is discussed, according to Edmund Gosse, "how the principles of chivalry can be wholesomely maintained in modern life" (my italics), while Fitzgerald's numerous translations: from Hafiz, from Jami, from Calderon, etc., certainly fit in with the Pre-Raphaelite fascination with the exotic, the medieval, and the past.

That this convergence between the poem's tone and the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic was purely coincidental is confirmed by The Rubaiyat's initial public "failure" in 1859: Fitzgerald promoted it not at all, and it was only re-discovered one day by Whitley Stokes who found it in a box of remainders. These booklets made the rounds with his friends, and were fetched up by Swinburne, George Meredith, William Simpson, Sir Richard Burton, and Dante Rosetti, Swinburne introducing Meredith to Omar's "paper-covered treasure" by "waving the white sheet of what seemed to be a pamphlet" in the air, and then, as Meredith described in 1909, shouting "a stanza new to my ears". (D'Ambrosio 206)

It is possible to see, in the portrait of Fitzgerald which gradually became revealed to the public around 1900, many similarities to Tappan, both of them shy, intellectual, out of place in the world, retiring, --Fitzgerald, whose authorship of his translation was not made known to the wider public until 1876, struggling anonymously and alone over the work for years, pondering the original poem "over and over," as his friend and Persian-scholar Cowell later said, and altering it during "his lonely walks." According to Richard Le Galliene, these alterations made Fitzgerald's version of the poem both more pessimistic and at the same time less sexual than Omar Khayyam's original, Khayyam's interest in "love and 'women with languorous narcissus eyes'" having, writes Le Galliene, "a considerably greater number of verses devoted to" it in the original manuscripts "than one would gather from Fitzgerald;….." (16-17)

Nor is it correct to assume that this resemblance between Tappan and Fitzgerald is simply due to nothing more than their chosen careers as Oriental scholars, as is amply demonstrated by contrasting their shy and retiring lives with the adventurous life and travels of Orientalist and poet Edwin Arnold. By 1899, conservative scholar Paul Elmer More was writing in a review that Fitzgerald was effeminate and weak (D'Ambrosio 55), while Havelock Ellis included Fitzgerald as a case study for "sexual inversion" in his Studies in the Psychology of Sex, writing, "Fitzgerald was an eccentric person who, though rich and on friendly terms with some of the most distinguished men of his time, was always out of harmony with his environment." (D'Ambrosio 94) Although I do not mean to suggest that Tappan was anything like an active sexual invert, this latter description of Fitzgerald still manages to accurately depict the life and brooding disharmony of LeeRoy J.Tappan with his place in Newark Valley, and why he may have chosen the form of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat in order to depict his Aurelian reaction to the Poe-esque decay of his family.

This morbid tendency in Fitzgerald's Omar came in for censure in an 1895 review
in Elbert Hubbard's The Philistine by Nathan Haskell Dole, who, --apparently taking the title of the periodical seriously--, said that Homer and Omar are "the poles of verse--- one standing for the heroic and romantic, self conscious and buoyant, the other for vampire introspection and fatalism which mistakes interior darkness for an eclipse of the universe." Of course, inasmuch as all reality is interior, it can be argued that Tappan was not mistaken to make this connection, insofar at least as he was able, through such introspection, to predict his 1905 death in his 1902 book of poems. Tappan wrote:

One taste from the brimming cup
And lo! there stands another waiting for his sup,
Ready the place to occupy,
Where, short before the other stood so soon to die.
Across the sky a lurid glare,
And quickly all again is dark;
Or pausing a brief hour its light to share
Is gone, and we remaining understand, in part.
The fated hour soon makes its round
When for that trackless shore are bound
The mortals who in this lone sphere
Are doomed to joy, to sorrow and to fear." ( 2)
I into the Globe of Destiny did look,
Whose crystal depths a measureless well did seem,
Whose waters quickly many colors took,
Changing, ever changing in a varied gleam.
A million! yea, ten thousand times a million, were the scenes before me passed,
Cried a Voice from out the Darkness, 'Short your life time ere the last."
Why? Whence? And whither? which in the Globe to solve I looked
Acknowledge I with swimming senses, are far beyond the mortal grasp...
...We are Phantoms of the wind like ye;
All Life offers are but passing breezes on the changing strings:
Love, the Rose, thy Friends, if enduring this would pleasure be,
But having drunk Life's Cup, Death, the dregs into our faces flings." (Tappan 4-5)

Tappan swings, in his stanzas, --which range from the creation of the universe at the beginning of the work, to its apocalypse at the end--, from advocating a life of pleasure and the senses, to counseling moderation and a belief in natural religion, although self-doubt, uncertainty and confusion are the dominant tone in his poems, the cruel nature of Fate causing Tappan's Hafiz to wonder if Life's author be a beneficent Wise One, or some darker power. Far from finding peace in "the vine" like Omar, Tappan's Hafiz instead sees in the Cup a reminder of the dark designs of the unexpected:

The bubble on the beaker's brim shines
For a moment, but to break, and To-Day finds
Us awakening from the dreams that seemed so fair;
The slip between the Cup and Lip oft changes our designs." (15)

Elsewhere, in verses which end by counseling a belief, --perhaps advocated to Tappan by Rev. B. B. Knapp--, in a kind and just God, Tappan strikes out at the madman's fundamentalist philosophy which he found in his volumes of Arabian lore and which, even then, he was able to see, predicted such disasters as September 11th:

Mohammed to the Faithful, Paradise holds out;
Gautama, Zoroaster and the Nazarene
Each their respective versions shout,
Whose devotes declare their own the only mean.
Oh! what confusion and to what complications led
By the two and seventy jarring sects,
Each "The Right," and saved he who this selects;
Did not the Tower of Babel rear to Heaven its head?" (9-10)
Mohammed says, 'In the Battle's ardent heat,
All who Death in valor meet,
For such, beckoning Houris in the skies,
Welcoming to gardens fair, midst Eternal Joy replete….
Those there be, wholly to carnage and the Koran given,
Who think each time their blades into an unbeliever's heart are driven,
The more direct their path to Heaven
And joys unspeakable for which they've striven.
Great Alla! Art Thou not with anger shook
When such as these before Thee stand,
Claiming as their guide inspired, the book
Mohammed in his fertile brain has planned?
One cannot wash his spirit clean in blood
Of either human or the beast,
Nor gladden GOD by crimsoning the altars in a flood
From sacrifices offered up by priest." (13-14)

In other verses, which would presumably have been out of place in Fitzgerald, Tappan recalls a musk-lipped Houri named "Halima", whose beauties Tappan compares with those of the Islamic Prophet's paradise

I, Pleasure in the Courts of Love have sought,
'Mid scenes on which a thousand times I've thought,
And though each scene the same sweet flavor leaves,
To me, Repentance ever says: 'Thy time too cheaply bought.'
Through halls of marble, cool as Himalayas' snow, I went,
O'er whose alabaster roof there ran rich carvings which great beauty lent;
And down the sides to lattices and woven round the dome,
Jade, onyx and the jasper stone in wonderous inlay blent.
From portals of carved cedar wood, curtains red, green and gold were hung;
Feet deep into rich carpets sunk o'er whose making generations sung;
Lamps of chased silver fed by perfumed oil from the
Roof swinging, shown like soft lights from the heavens flung.
A fountain with the ripple of hushed music filled the scented air;
The basin where in it fell, of marble white with pink veins was wrought,
In whose clear depths fish, red and gold, like pleasures share;
And over all such rest and comfort as the Prophet's promises declare." (5-6)

In 1903, Tappan's grandmother died, Tappan being described in the paper as "the only survivor of two families well known here for years", the death of his "last remaining near relative" being "indeed a heavy blow for Mr. Tappan and the sympathy of a wide circle of friends goes out to him." Tappan was unable to travel to the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, being either too grief stricken or already too ill himself to go. As Tappan's obituary states: "In September 1903, Mrs. Spaulding died and to her Le Roy (sic) was much attached and seemed never to recover mourning her loss to the day of his death, and this, with his lonely life, probably had much to do with undermining his health," while a September 6th, 1905 news item reports that "he had been brooding over the loss of his family and relations, and this, with his inherited nervous trouble, combined with tuberculosis of the stomach and bowels, caused his death." Tappan's best friend, meanwhile, directly linked his grandmother's death to the creation of his strange will, the Rev. B. B. Knapp saying, "there came to the young man the deep sorrow in the loss of his maternal grandmother, his only near relative. This pushed upon him the re-adjustment not only of his life, but of his business matters." So it was that Tappan drew up his rather unique will in March, 1904, at the age of twenty four, choosing a former Newark Valley resident as his executor in case of sudden illness or death and hiding his will in the back of his filing case.

For the time being, he kept his plans for the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library to himself. Tappan frequently visited the home of his friend, Alida Noble, at this time, inspecting and discussing her paintings, and "not long previous to his last illness he had indeed stated", according to the Herald, that he wished for Noble paint his portrait in oil "if the artist would undertake the work." In the end, however, so sudden, it seems, was Tappan's death, that Noble was forced to rely, according to the Herald, on the last photograph taken of Tappan made "at a period about two years before his death" in order to paint her portrait, so that when the painting was unveiled in 1913 it was noted that the countenance of the portrait was "a trifle more boyish than it was when he was last in our midst." By the time, in May, 1905, that the Rev. B. B. Knapp was leaving Newark Valley for a new Pastorage in Florida, Tappan was already considered to be "in very poor health," and just before Knapp left he received a note from Tappan, saying, "I've made my will and you will like it."

In July of that year Tappan became ill with tuberculosis, and in late August, "while on the street, he fell in a sort of fainting fit and was unconscious for a time." Tappan was taken to the home of his cousin, Anson H. Miller, where he was cared for, dying at four a.m. on Sunday, September 3, 1905, at the age of 25. He had been lying in bed for a week, being "conscious only at intervals, his death expected at any time," in a "Thanatopsis"-like deathbed scene strangely echoing the ending of Tappan's own book of poems:

When thou about thee the garment of oblivion hold,
Fear not lest horrid visions be to thy sleep unrolled,
But smiling to the friends around thy couch,
Into blissful ease incline, as thee the mystic arms enfold.
TAMAM" (28)

The final cause of death was listed in the Herald as meningitis and acute milliary tuberculosis, or "tuberculosis throughout the entire system", the death being "a death most peculiar and sad, he being the last member of two families that were prominent here but a few years ago." Unlike Tappan's father, Revere, who left no will and whose safe had to be opened after his death with a blowtorch, Tappan's posthumous plans went fairly smoothly, although his relatives on his father's side, who Tappan apparently despised, were terribly disappointed by his will. As Gilbert Purple states in his history of Newark Valley, Tappan's provisions, donating all of the money from his considerable estate to the town for the creation of a village library, "came as a complete surprise to all". The sale of his properties brought in an estimated $24,000 to the town, the Herald conceding that "these estimates are always placed very low...but it seems likely that" Tappan's estate was worth "much less than was generally supposed," previous estimates of his estate in the papers having ranged from $50, 000 to $80, 000.

Knapp, of course, attributed Tappan's plan to the guiding force of God in the young man's life, --the influence of the Omar Khayyam cult being conveniently, --or merely publicly--, forgotten. Tappan's collection of curios, blue china, weapons, relics, and rare books, meanwhile, were stipulated by Tappan to be placed on permanent and prominent display in the Library, to be viewed by the general public, --where his patchouli incense can be seen even to this day, while his sizeable collection of Orientalist books were to be made part of the library's circulating collection. In keeping with the rationalist/humanist beliefs of "Ali Ben Hafiz", books were to be selected by a committee made up of five churchmen and one non-sectarian, with no book being barred from the Library, the only basis for restriction being "the age of the drawer and the discretion of the Librarian". The library itself was to be placed in the center of the village green (which it wasn't, the property not being available), while in the interior of the Library were to be placed three tablets of marble or bronze, with the names of Tappan and his deceased family on them. Other small bequests were made to Tappan's blind second-cousin Emily, to his second-cousin Anson, to the First Congregational Church for memorial windows for his mother and grandmother, and to the poor and needy of the village.

Though Charles E. Samuels writes "The vogue for Oriental poetry has been so completely forgotten that it is hardly mentioned in the literary histories, because it
flourished primarily among the minor poets who have fallen completely out of fashion...," (D'Ambrosio 208), in truth those who imitated and/or were influenced by The Rubaiyat, in addition to Tappan, constitutes a distinguished list, including no less than Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Edward Arlington Robinson, Ralph Adams Cram, and George Sterling, a fact which has proven to be an embarrassment to literary critics averse to critical evaluations of a writer's meaning. With T.S. Eliot in particular, this provided a bulwark against full understanding of his poems, even though, as a member of the same Harvard milieu as Park Barnitz, Edward Robinson, and Wallace Stevens, Eliot wrote in and later satirized this Decadent impulse throughout his oeuvre. Critics like Robert H. Canary and George Williams downplayed and even ignored outright Eliot's various references to Omar Khayyam and Edward Fitzgerald, and only in works like those of Arthur F. Beringause, Christopher Ricks, and most especially Vinnie-Marie D'Ambrosio, have the first steps have been made toward a full understanding of Fitzgerald's relation to Modernism and Eliot's reaction to him.

According to Frederick Faverty, some critics have realized that Fitzgerald's "struggle to express in all of his translations, but especially in the Rubaiyat, the mal du siecle that he felt", is being recognized as essential to the development of modernism, making him "both Victorian and modern", his use of "Omar as a persona to express his own fears, doubts, and disillusionments about his own time" " prefiguring both the methods and the thoughts of the 'moderns'..." (147) It was this that attracted so many writers in Tappan's time to Fitzgerald's method, his use of an authoritative mask, sanctified by antiquity, serving to provide a voice for the poet during a time of increasing disintegration of literary forms. This "divide" between the Decadent avant-garde and later Modernism would eventually be crossed by Yeats, Stevens, Eliot, Ralph Adams Cram and others, but not by Tappan or the other tragic souls of the 1890's, those who succumbed to that strange syndrome of the absinthe-period which caused so many poets to wither and die. LeeRoy J. Tappan takes his place among them: a Yankee stoic, solitary and out of place even in death, trapped there amongst the deranged, the inverts, the Catholics, and the drunkards who also fell; Baron Corvo, Lionel Johnson, Count Stenbock, Ernest Dowson, Hubert Crackenthorpe, John Barlas, John Davidson, Aubrey Beardsley, Digby Dolben, David Gray, Ethel Reed, B.V. and X.L..

Works Cited
Beers, Henry A. A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century. Henry Holt & Co., New York. (1899)
D'Ambrosio, Vinnie-Marie. Eliot Possessed: T. S. Eliot and Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. New York University Press. (1989).
Dunham, Austin C. Reminiscences of Austin C. Dunham. The Case, Lockwood and Brainard Co. Hartford, Connecticut. (undated; circa 1913-1915)
Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. Knopf, New York. (1988).
Faverty, Frederic Everett. The Victorian Poets. Harvard University Press. (1968).
The First Congregational Church of Newark Valley of Newark Valley, NY. Press of the Tioga County Herald. (1901).
Fitzgerald, Edward. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Illus. Dulac, Edmund. Doubleday. (1933)
(-----------, ---------). The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Ed. Louis Untermeyer. Random House. (1947).
Gosse, Edmund. Critical Kit-Kats. William Heinemann, London. (1913).
Harlan, Robert D. At the Sign of the Lark. Book Club of California. (1983).
Herst Jr., Herman. "It Looks Like a Postage Stamp." Society of Philatetic Americans Journal. (June, 1972).
Howland, Vida. A History of the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library. Thesis. (January, 1965).
Jackson, Holbrook. The Eighteen-Nineties. Life and Letters reprint, Jonathan Cape. (1931).
Le Galliene, Richard. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. (1901).
Livermore, George. "Uncle Arthur George Says." (newspaper column, undated)
Mencken, H.L. "Five Men at Random: Part 3, Madison Cawein" Prejudices; Third Series. Knopf, New York. (1922)
Owego Gazette. Owego, New York. (September, 1905).
Owego Times. Owego, New York. (September, 1905).
Purple, Gilbert. As We Remember the Village of Newark Valley; 1880-1937.
(Purple, Gilbert, and More, S.P., editors) Tioga County Herald. "After the death of Dr. R.C. Tappan…" news item. (March 7, 1891).
(--------,----------). Tioga County Herald. "Death of Leroy (sic) J. Tappan." (September 8, 1905)
(--------,----------). Tioga County Herald. "Leroy (sic) Tappan's Will." (September 8, 1905).
(--------,----------). Tioga County Herald. "Mrs. Frances A. Spaulding." (September 18, 1903).
(--------,----------). Tioga County Herald. "Unveiling of Tappan Portrait" (October 17, 1913.)
Rimbaud, Arthur. Complete Works. Trans. Paul Schmidt. Harper Colophon Books. (1976). 4th printing.
Shand-Tucci, Douglas. Boston Bohemia; Ralph Adams Cram, Life & Architecture, Vol. I. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. (1995).
Schneider, Martha J. "Early Artists of Newark Valley", Newark Valley Historical Society web-page.
Tappan, LeeRoy John. The Meditations of Ali Ben Hafiz. Privately printed, (Binghamton?), New York. (August, 1902).
Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library Catalogue. pages 21-22. Newark Valley, NY. (1910).
Tioga County Historical Society. Accession records. "Items from the Tappan Collection." (April-September, 1971).
Twelfth Census of the United States. LeRawly, Orem, enumerator. microfilm, Tioga County Historical Society. (June 11, 1900.)

Re: Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: Gavin Callaghan (IP Logged)
Date: 1 February, 2006 08:14PM
It seems to me, too, that this Orientalist atmosphere in which Tappan wrote is closely related to that same Orientalist atmosphere in which Clark Ashton Smith wrote those adventures which have recently been republished by Hippocampus Press. H. P. Lovecraft's adoption of the personality of Abdul Alhazred, meanwhile, --who, rather like Fitzgerald's "Omar" and Tappan's "Ali Ben hafiz", Lovecraft describes as being an "indifferent Moslem"--, suggests that Lovecraft was influenced by this same mystic-Orientalist atmosphere as well.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 1 Feb 06 | 08:15PM by Gavin Callaghan.

Re: Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: Siderealpress (IP Logged)
Date: 8 December, 2012 06:14PM
Hi all,

a fascinating piece on a name new to me.

For those interested in reading 'The Meditations...' they are available FREE on PDF.

Here is the link:




Re: Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 9 December, 2012 10:23AM
Gavin, Dr. Farmer here - quite interesting - this is a side-note - I am wondering if the Spaulding family herein mentioned could possibly be related to Rev.Solomon Spaulding, also a Congregational Minister in the early 1800s.
This is the Spaulding who wrote several large and very bad novels of expansive imagination, one of which, entitled "The Manuscript Lost" - was purloined from the print shop during the time when a certain Sydney Rigdon worked there. Both Rigdon and the manuscript disappeared the same day - Spaulding died in 1816 or 1817. Rigdon hooked up up Joseph Smith, and in 1830 Smith produced the "Book of Mormon" - essentially Spauldings novel. The Spaulding's kept up a law-suit against the Mormon's until 1895 and finally just gave up - in 1976 about, the 17 pages in the middle of the book from the "unidentified Scribe" appeared in a Mormon publication, whereupon some interprising ex-mormons shipped copies to 5 separate handwriting analysts along with known copies of Spauldings handwriting. All came back in the affirmative that they were indeed from the same hand. Just a little interesting side note, but the possibililty of this other connection for your poet/author/painter I find quite intriguing.

Re: Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: Gavin Callaghan (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2012 05:22PM
Very interesting- J. Smith supposedly received the Golden Plates from an angel not far from Newark Valley, Ny, in Palmyra, which is located to the north. Before he became a "prophet", too, Smith used to conduct treasure-hunting expeditions using an Indian "seer-stone" along the Susquehanna River in the Binghamton area, which is again very close to Tappan's Newark Valley.

The whole area of NY's Southern Tier, where I'm from, is known as "The Burnt-Over District", because of all the religious revivals and cults which passed through the area in the 1800s. To the north we also had the Oneida Community, which practised free-love of a sort; and there was also Jemima Wilkinson, a.k.a. the Publick Universal Friend, an ex-Quaker seeress who dressed like a man and founded her own "inspired" community of devotees.

Re: Obscure American Decadent
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2012 11:24PM
Gavin Callaghan Wrote:
> Very interesting- J. Smith supposedly received the
> Golden Plates from an angel not far from Newark
> Valley, Ny, in Palmyra, which is located to the
> north. Before he became a "prophet", too, Smith
> used to conduct treasure-hunting expeditions using
> an Indian "seer-stone" along the Susquehanna River
> in the Binghamton area, which is again very close
> to Tappan's Newark Valley.
> The whole area of NY's Southern Tier, where I'm
> from, is known as "The Burnt-Over District",
> because of all the religious revivals and cults
> which passed through the area in the 1800s. To
> the north we also had the Oneida Community, which
> practised free-love of a sort; and there was also
> Jemima Wilkinson, a.k.a. the Publick Universal
> Friend, an ex-Quaker seeress who dressed like a
> man and founded her own "inspired" community of
> devotees.
Smith supposedly had the "Urim and the Thummim" from the breastplate of Aaron which he called "peep stones" by which he "translated" the imaginary "golden plates" -

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