Saturday, June 20, 2009

In memoriam: C. F. Briggs

Charles Frederick Briggs died today, June 20, in 1877. Who is C. F. Briggs, you ask?

A former sailor from Nantucket, Massachusetts, Briggs became moderately famous with his novel The Adventures of Harry Franco. Later, Briggs decided to enter the world of literary journalism. In December 1844, Briggs wrote to James Russell Lowell: "I have made arrangements for publishing the first number of my long talked of paper in January." He partnered with John Bisco and the publication was named The Broadway Journal.

It seems like Lowell was the real intermediary between Briggs and Poe (Lowell and Briggs were close enough that Lowell's 1848 book-length satirical poem A Fable for Critics was dedicated to Briggs, who also was given all its profits). Through a letter dated December 12, 1844, Lowell "introduced" the two. Briggs brought Poe into the fold as a contributor (his first contribution was a review of Elizabeth Barrett) but eventually tapped him as a business partner. Poe became one-third owner before both Bisco and Briggs jumped ship. Their departure made The Broadway Journal the only publication Poe ever owned, though it was a short-lived honor.

Despite their business partnership, Briggs and Poe cannot be considered friends. Briggs was trying to pressure Poe out of the journal as early as May 1845; instead, he gave up and left (as much because of Bisco as Poe). "I refused to do anything more with the journal," he wrote to Lowell by July 16. He also spread rumors of Poe's drinking (Poe had recently turned to the bottle after 18 months as a teetotaler) and referred to him as having a "characterless character" who was "utterly deficient of high motive."

Not that Poe was the good guy here either; he took a few stabs at his former business partner in print, including a mention in his infamous "Literati of New York" series. As he wrote, "Mr. Briggs has never composed in his life three consecutive sentences of grammatical English. He is grossly uneducated." Briggs responded by spreading rumors that Poe was in an insane asylum and noted that Poe is struck with "infirmities of mind and body." He also turned Poe into a satirical character in his serialized novel The Trippings of Tom Pepper.

I have recently found evidence that Briggs was buried on Staten Island. He's now on my "must-visit" list. RIP, "Harry Franco."

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