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Charles Warren Stoddard
An American author, born 7 August, 1843, at Rochester, N. Y.; died 23 April, 1909, at Monterey, California. He was descended in a direct line from Anthony Stoddard of England, who settled at Boston, Mass., in 1639. While he was still a child his parents moved to New York City, where they lived till 1855, when they migrated to San Francisco, California. In 1857 he returned alone to New York, lived with his grandparents for two years, and then rejoined his family in San Francisco. In a short time he began writing verses, which he sent anonymously to a local newspaper. They met with great success and were later published with the modest title "Poems by Charles Warren Stoddard". Poor health compelled him to give up his plans for a college education. He tried the stage, but soon realized that such a life was not his calling. In 1864 he visited the South Sea Islands and from there wrote his "Idyls" - letters which he sent to a friend who had them published in book form. "They are," as Mr. Howells says, "the lightest, sweetest, wildest, freshest things that were ever written about the life of that summer ocean." He made four other trips to the South Sea Islands, and gave his impressions in "Lazy Letters from Low Latitudes" and "The Island of Tranquil Delights". Several times he visited Molokai, and became well acquainted with Father Damien, the Apostle to the Lepers, and wrote his interesting little book, "The Lepers of Molokai", which, with Stevenson's famous letter, did much to establish Father Damien's true position in public esteem. In 1867, soon after his first visit to the South Sea Islands, he was received into the Catholic Church, for which he had a most tender devotion. The story of his conversion he has told in a small book interestingly written: "A Troubled Heart and How it was Comforted". Of this book he has said: "Here you have my inner life all laid bare." To this change in his religious belief are due in great measure those genial optimistic qualities that endeared him to all who knew him.
In 1873 he started on a long tour as special correspondent of the "San Francisco Chronicle". His commission was a roving one, without restrictions of any kind. He was absent for five years, during which he travelled over Europe and went as far east as Palestine and Egypt. He sent considerable matter to his newspaper, much of which was never reprinted, though some of it was among his best work. In 1885, having decided to settle down, he accepted the chair of English literature in the University of Notre Dame, Indiana; but owing to ill-health he soon resigned. The same reason caused him to resign a corresponding position which he held in the Catholic University, Washington, D. C., from 1889 to 1902. In a short time he moved to Cambridge, Mass., intending to devote himself exclusively to literary work. A serious and almost fatal illness interfered with his plans, yet he was not idle. He put forth his "Exits and Entrances", a book of essays and sketches which he called his favourite work, probably because it told of his intimate friend Stevenson and of others among his host of literary acquaintances. At this time he also wrote his only novel, "For the Pleasure of His Company", of which he said, "Here you have my Confessions." So strictly biographical are most of his writings that Stoddard hoped by supplying a few missing links to enable the reader to trace out the whole story of his life. In 1905 he returned to California and settled in Monterey with a hope of recovering his health. He lingered on till 1909, when he died in his sixty-sixth year. To superficial observers he was a man of contradictions. He was essentially Bohemian, but of the higher type, a man who could not resist the call of the far-away land, his home, as he himself said, being always under his hat. And yet he was a mystic and a recluse even in his travels. "Imaginative and impressionable", two epithets which he applied to his South Sea friends, are particularly appropriate to Stoddard himself.
That charm of his traits which may be described as "sweetness, peacefulness, tenderness, gentleness" he imparted to his writings. Noted English authors have given the highest praise to some of his work, and have taken to task the American public for their lack of appreciation of him. Besides the books already mentioned he wrote: "Summer Cruising in the south Seas" (1874); "Marshallah, a Flight into Egypt" (1885); "A Trip to Hawaii" (1885); "In the Footprints of the Padres" (1892); "Hawaiian Life" (1894); "The Wonder Worker of Padua" (1896); "A Cruise under the Crescent" (1898); "Over the Rocky Mountains to Alaska" (1899); "Father Damien, a Sketch" (1903); "With Staff and Scrip" (1904); "Hither and Yon"; "The Confessions of a Reformed Poet" (1907); "The Dream Lady" (1907).
JAMES in California Classics Series (1909); Nat. Mag. (Aug., 1911); Ave Maria (June, 1909); Overland Monthly (Jan., June, 1909).
M. J. Flaherty.