The Contributors' Club

THE Atlantic for April, 1860, contained an article (entitled Come si Chiama ? ) on the names of American towns. At that time there were some ten thousand places, cities, towns, and villages, on the census return for 1850. The United States Postal Guide now contains the names of thirty-nine thousand three hundred and twenty-five post-offices. There are only about half that number of names for use in distinguishing them. If mere nominal differences be overlooked, where the variation is in the mode of writing, as Flat Woods, Va., and Flatwoods, Pa., or the adding of s apostrophized, as Foster and Foster’s, the names would be less than one half the places. The postmaster-general has therefore issued an official circular requesting the use of the county names. But for the two thousand five hundred and sixty-seven counties are provided only one thousand four hundred and fifty-five names. Some popular names are found in half the States of the Union.

Since the article of 1860, much has been done to correct the evil. There were then one hundred and thirty-eight towns named Washington. There are now but twenty-six post-offices so entitled. The same is true of other names, then popular, that they have been reduced in like proportion.

But the poverty of invention then complained of remains. Many of the names are not names at all. They are simply appellations. They might be borne by a ship or a horse or a locomotive with more fitness than by a town.

For instance, all proper names of persons. The classic names which perpetuated the founder or the founder’s favorite showed by the grammatical termination what was meant. Alexandria or Antiochia was the city of Alexander or Antiochus, Cæsarea the city of Cæsar. The name recorded a fact. It may be pretentious for Mr. Smith or Mr. Dodge to call his new factory village Smithville or Dodgeopolis, but it is legitimate. Smith or Dodge is the real conditor urbis, and has as good right to say so as had Nimrod or Belus.

But if patronymics are objectionable, given names are more so. The Postal Guide shows how deeply we have sinned in this particular. Under the letter A alone are more than thirty, beginning with Aaron and Abel, and ending with Aubrey and Aucilla.

Again, names belonging to countries or natural features are unfit. What is the sense of calling a town Europe, or America, or Andes, or Australia, or Italy, or Ireland ? Yet this has been done repeatedly, as the Postal Guide shows.

There is no good reason for applying to petty places the names of famous cities and towns abroad. There is one exception, which is justifiable on the ground that it records a fact, namely, that the settlers of the new town came from the old. Thus, in my former paper I was puzzled over the title High Spire. A correspondent informed me that it was the corruption of Neu Speyers, — New Speyers, — from the famous Rhineland city.

Scriptural names were once highly significant; but repeated they lose all their meaning, and become as distasteful as when the good New Englanders bestowed on their children names taken at random from the Bible, regardless whether they were of prophets or of apostates, of martyrs or of malefactors.

The classic fever which led to the baptism of so many unhappy towns, notably in Western New York, has died out. But names taken from modern literature, as Ivanhoe, Waverley, Highland Mary, Don Juan, are not much better.

Also, there is a class of names which seem borrowed from the sheet music which lies on the pianos of rural inns, such as Hazel Dell, Sunny Dale, Glen Julia, and the like.

Then there are names chosen mainly for the sound. Thus I find in the Postal Guide Ambrosia, Alpharetta, Animosa, Alexandriana, Amicolola, Alpha, Beta, Delta, Kappa, Omega, Caverna, Colita, Robious, Noverta, Padora, Omro, Ora, Orel. There are quaint names with a meaning, such as Accident, Recklesstown, Troublesome, Difficult, Disputanta, Discord, Antiquity, Agenda, Alert, Alembic, Arcana, Arcanum, Harmonious, Jollytown, Jolly, Industry, Glad Tidings, Good Intent, Gravity, Mirabile, Mutual Love, Energy, Liberty, Effort, Equality, Eminence, Justice, Enterprise, Modest Town, Clear Grit, Sublimity, Temperance, Tolerance, Bird in Hand, Blowout, Bargaintown, Cashtown, Businessburg, Pay Down, Convenience, Congruity, Day Book, Buyerstown, Competition, Compensation, Confidence, Concert. Form is represented by Angle, Acme, Apex, Ogee, Oblong; architecture by Fan-Light and Cupola; Latin grammar by Amo, Amor, Esto, Novi, Ira, Cela, Caput, Strata, and Caro. Mythology appears as Lethe, Medusa, Saturn, Ceres, Juno, Clio, River Styx. Cleon and Denos suggest Aristophanes. There are unsavory names, too, as Graball and Bangall, Muck, Drain, Cuthand, Cut Shin, Catarrh, Dirt-Town, Dismal, Bogus, Saw-Dust, Frost, Hurricane, Cyclone, Fussville, Poverty Hill, Raub, Trickum.

There are names without meaning or euphony, as Ari, Alzey, Anso, Baloil, Bashi, Busti, Canni, Chilo, Chino, Culdrum, Drenthe, De Turksville, Elo, Elrod, Eucutta, Gardi, Cisne, Hahira, Hico, Harthegig, Hiko, Hika, Lapidum, Inkpa City, Jadden, Leopaa, Marak, Moe, Mattawoman, Gonic, Medybemps, Nurey, Nuzums, Pysht, Clitherall, Slagle, Speonk, Squab, Skagit, Zif, and Zig. There are compound titles, also odd, as Cob Moo Sa, Coinjock, Bonduel, O. K., O. Z., Jay Eu, Ni Wot, Ty Ty, Nola Chucky, Dragonsville, Colehour, Gap Civil, U Bet, Shoo Fly, Funny Louis, Happy Jack, Board Tree, Calf Killer, Birthright, Blowzit, Old Brother, Keep Tryst, Loyalsock, Lucky Queen, Sir John’s Run, and Chismville. Some of these are, as Sir Thomas Browne says, “ capable of a wide solution,” if one knew where to look for it.

Laurel Bloomery would do fairly, if one could recognize the bad English of the termination, though Creamery is getting itself naturalized ; but the names which belong to times of day, as Sunrise, Sunset, Daylight, etc., are hardly legitimate. There are many names of saints, some two or three hundred. These are historical. They mark first a settlement by French or Spanish pioneers, and next a possible clew to the date as found in the saint’s day whose name the place bears. But where in the calendar is one to find St. Tammany ? Tammany is regarded as the English or Dutch corruption of the Indian Sachem, Miantonomoh, who certainly was never canonized. Yet a county in Louisiana bears that name. Saint Gilman and Saint Wendell look suspiciously like a bit of Protestant beatification. Also, St. Jo and St. Joe are hardly reverent enough for formal appellations, though permissible in colloquial use. There are traces of other religious or philosophic proclivities which are characteristic ; thus Laud and Calvin, and some sympathizer with the French Revolution has Ca Ira. But Philomath and Catharpin, this last a nautical term, require explanation. Selah, which puzzles readers of the Psalms, is more puzzling as the name of a town.

But one marked feature of this nomenclature is the repetition of popular names. Paradises, Edens, appear by the dozen. Names like Auburn and Melrose are everywhere. In 1850 there were fourteen Newports, now there are twenty-two. Apropos of the confusion this makes, I once came to the Hartford station with a fellow-traveler. On one side of the building was a train bound north, on the other one bound east. He was going to Newport, Lake Memphremagog; I to Newport, R. I. He, with American brevity, said, “ Check for Newport.” Why I suspected a mistake I forget now, but I did, and interposed just in time to save his trunk from going astray, and was duly grumbled at for my officiousness by everybody but the proprietor, and he was too busy in anathematizing the confusion of names to notice me. Like Dean Ramsay’s hero, “ he did na sweer at onything in parteecular, but juist stude in ta middle of ta road and swoor at lairge.” Dean Stanley lost a day of his hurried trip by going to Concord, N. H., for Concord, Mass.

It is not always fair to transfer names from the old States to the new. Thus Charter Oak and Plymouth Rock are both found in Iowa, and this is a manifest wrong to history. The historian of 1979 may be much bewildered in his facts.

Now it is evident that the post-office department has tried to do something to correct this reduplication, and has partly succeeded. In 1850, presidential names abounded. Out of ten thousand names, over five hundred, more than one twentieth of the whole, were divided among nine presidents. This list has been greatly cut down. Still, vast confusion remains. The Burlingtons, Springfields, Salems, Cambridges, are manifold.

The English way of distinguishing in such cases is to append a title, as Harrow-on-the-Hill, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and New York State has sensibly followed this by Hastings-on-the-Hudson, etc. Might not the department enact that the oldest town of a name should keep its title, and all the rest either change, or put on a distinguishing surname ? The newest comer should be required, under penalty of lacking postal facilities, to drop the reduplicated name, and to adopt one unappropriated. Perhaps, in view of the post-offices which will be, ere this paper sees the light, probably forty thousand, this may not be easy.

It was once the case that human beings were called by some name which denoted their personal peculiarity. This passed away, either because names or because peculiarities were exhausted. The supply fell short of the demand. All parents and sponsors had not the inventive genius of the mother who presented her infant at the font as Cular Semira, informing the rector that “ she made the name up out of her own head.” One would think she had been at the christening of some of the above-named towns.

I think there is a principle which should rule the matter. The mark of locality should, if possible, be upon the names of a section. When one hears an English name for the first time, it is generally possible to guess the quarter of the island to which it belongs. Thus, nobody would put Trewartha in Yorkshire, or Thirsk in Cornwall. Where the Indian names have been kept, the same is true of this country. Eufala, Alabama, are quite unlike the manyconsonanted jaw-breakers of Maine.

The local names of natural objects vary with each section. I notice the word Glaize in several Western names. I presume it is from the French glaise, potter’s clay. It is a good local title, and implies French discoverers at once and what they found. Where they can be, Indian names should be retained. The worst of them can hardly be as bad and meaningless as Globe or Cosmos. Where they cannot be kept, they may be translated. Failing this source, why not fall back upon the archaic form of the English name already in use ? Thus, Birmingham the second might be required to take the Saxon form of Bromwich-ham, still preserved, by the way, in the popular Brummagem. There is an instance of this in the Connecticut Killingworth, named by first settlers after their native Kenilworth, but pronounced according to local use.

There is a usage somewhere, when new townships are made out of parts of two old ones, of combining the names, and the effect is not always unhappy: thus Waterbury, in Connecticut, out of Watertown and Woodbury. Here is a historical fact preserved in a shape which can survive the loss of town records.

It is sometimes said that this continent has no history. In a certain sense this is true. It has had no infancy, no childhood. Its civilization came over ready-made in the Mayflower and HalfMoon, and still exists in the shape of antique furniture enough to load Noah’s Ark to the water lines. But that is the more reason for preserving what history there is. Names of places are history’s landmarks. And since a name once given is like a label pasted on a trunk, not easily gotten off again, it is simply an outrage to allow the caprice of an early pioneer to affix to a town a title which shall ever after be hateful in the ears of its citizens. Let the reader look back over the lists given (and these are but a few of the weeds pulled up from the parterre), and think of himself writing many of them after his name in a hotel register, or being greeted by Mr. Speaker as the honorable gentleman from, say, Squak.

I do not know where the ultimate power of reform resides. I only do know, on comparing the present Postal Guide with the census report of 1850, that a great reform has been partly accomplished.

If it is in the power of the post-office department absolutely to correct the evil, — which can hardly be the case,— I suggest that it is still a flagrant one. If it is not, then I ask, What pressure can be brought to bear upon recalcitrant towns? How can Burlington, Vt., Burlington, N. Y., and Burlington, Iowa, for instance, decide their claims ?

Some force there should be, and, as in certain cases mentioned above, rebaptism seems particularly needful. I have ventured to try what a dip in the Atlantic may do.

— But few things, in the opinion of Mr. Freeman, have had greater influence in furthering, in a liberal direction, the development of the English constitution than the apparently unimportant fact that the younger sons of peers are not distinguished, by a " partieule ” or otherwise, from the mass of commoners.

The Slavic languages, also, do not permit the particule, although French journalists continue to speak of Monsieur de Gortschakov, as they used to of Monsieur de Palmerston. But English nations are probably the only ones which set little value upon fine-sounding names, the reason, of course, being that, with them, they confer no practical advantage. How different this is in France, especially when a rich roturier desires to marry, we all know. Not many, however, are aware how few genuine noble names there are, nor how easy it is to establish a claim to a false one. In Mr. Hamerton’s charming book on French life, there are some agreeable pages on this subject ; though Mr. Hamerton describes only the manner in which titles are assumed, and ignores statistics. But in a conversation which the late Mr. Senior had with Mr. Adolphe de Cercourt in 1862, I get the numbers required. In 1789, he said, there were some 220,000 persons censés to be noble. At least nine tenths of these families perished in the Revolution, or died out, or sank into poverty so abject as to be now unknown. “ In my province, Lorraine, there were then about two hundred and fifty families of recognized nobility. In 1815, only eleven were left. The creations by later sovereigns have not been numerous enough materially to affect the number. If there are now in France 22,000 nobles, it is the maximum. At three to a family, they form 7333 families.”

But, however few the real nobles may be, the spurious ones are numerous enough ; and, in most cases, nobody but some old woman who has made a Bible of her peerage can tell the difference. And even if it were easy to do so, it would not be for the interest of the noblesse to expose false claims, for it is only through the eagerness to please and to be received on the part of the spurious gentry that it maintains any hold upon the country. An apparently invented name is sometimes an accident in the case of the person who was first called by it, but it is likely to become a barefaced assumption with his descendants. In the Parliament of 1848, for instance, there were two men named Dupont, and one of them, who was called, from the district whence he came, “de l’Eure,” became well known. But the son of Mr, Dupont (de l'Eure), if he had one, probably calls himself, briefly, Mr. So-and-So de l'Eure. Thus Mr. Adolphe Granier de Cassagnac, who died last January, printed his name as we have here; but his son Paul ignores the plebeian Granier, and is De Cassagnac simply. Sometimes, however, a noble patronymic can be acquired in a single generation; as in the case of Mr. Eugène Jacquot (de Mirecourt), a country town in Vosges. In Germany, the making of high-sounding names is even more common than in France; for the ways in which the assumption can be made are there more numerous. Of the Cassaguac style, the name of the Paris correspondent of The Times is an amusing instance. This gentleman’s name was Oppert, and he came from the village of Blowitz, in Prussia. He was, therefore, in his native land, Mr. Oppert aus Blowitz; but as the French knows no distinction between the meaning of the words aus and von, he was, in that language, Mr. Oppert de Blowitz, or, as he usually signs himself, O. de Blowitz ; whence arose the suggestion of Le Voltaire, that, so long as he had entire liberty of choice, he might as well have called himself O. de Cologne. This, however, is not the common way in which German names are assumed. As the titles of the lower grades of the German nobility are shared by all the sons, some device is necessary to distinguish between them, and this is usually done by bracketing with the family name that of the personal estate. Bismarck, for instance, being the only Fürst of the name, can now afford to do without an appendage of this kind ; but he began life as Mr. von Bismarck-Schönhausen. the “ Schönhausen ” distinguishing his branch of the family from their cousins, the Bismarck-Bohlens, and perhaps others. Now, while there are plenty of instances of German bourgeois substituting the aristocratic “ von ” for the merely descriptive “ aus,” the ordinary way of distinguishing one’s self is to make out of the vulgar Schulze, for instance, the comparatively high-sounding Schulze-Delitsch ; out of plain Braun and plainer Schmidt, the new and beautiful appellations of Braun Wiesbaden and Schmidt-Weissenfels. Of the other kind of improved names, the best examples are perhaps those of the poets Müller von Königswinter and Hoffmann von Fallersleben.

It remains to mention a third way in which Germans become noble. While, in that country, some are born noble, and others, as we have seen, acquire nobility, a third class have nobility thrust upon them. Thus the husband of Mrs. Paalzow, whose life and work have recently been brought so agreeably to our notice, was a simple bourgeois, nor did letters patent ever bestow nobility upon his wife. But her characters breathed an atmosphere so aristocratic, and she herself was so patronized at court, that the public regarded it as a matter of course that she had the von, and, though she never herself used it, it accompanies her name in the literature histories to this day.

— A comparison of the various “authorities ” on the life of Poe furnishes as great a curiosity as there is in American literature. I have not tried to go through the whole list, but from a few works I have gathered these interesting facts.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, on the 19th of January and the 19th of February, 1809. It would seem that this might have satisfied him as a beginning, especially if Bostonians are right in thinking—as a famous divine once said they do — that a man who is born in Boston does not share with the rest of mankind the need of being born again. But for some unknown reason Poe changed his birthplace in 1811, and this time began life in Baltimore. On the face of it this seems a grave error of judgment; but it was not; it was merely the working out of an inherited tendency : for his parents died quite as often as he himself was born. His mother died of pneumonia, in Richmond, December 8, 1811 ; “Mr. Poe died of consumption, two weeks after the death of his wife; ” he was also burned to death at the destruction of the Richmond Theatre on the 26th of December, 1811. (According to one authority, he perished in a vain attempt to save his wife, who was in the burning building.) Finally both parents died of consumption, in 1815.

Young Poe was then adapted by Mr. John Allan of Richmond, in 1811, and by Mr. John Allan of Baltimore in 1815. After some rather mythical experiences at English schools, he returned home, and in 1822 entered the University of Virginia, from which he graduated in 1826, after having been a member of the University only one session; he was also expelled for “gambling, intemperance, and other vices,” leaving a spotless record behind him (“at no time did he fall under the censure of the faculty ”). After all this, one is not surprised to learn that without leaving America he went to Athens to aid in freeing the Greeks, but was mysteriously sent home from St. Petersburg before he reached Athens. And so the stories go, through a great part of the life of this man who is variously described as being almost as satanic as Beelzebub, almost as angelic as Gabriel, and quite as nobly human as the purest and tenderest husband and son.

It is certainly a pity that our standard works of reference, and the books which we put into the hands of our school-children, should be so contradictory. It is easy to see how Allibone, Thomas, Underwood, and the others who wrote ten years ago, or more, were led into their inaccuracies. They naturally trusted much to Griswold’s imaginative book, which he called a memoir of Poe, and hence they repeated many of his statements, drawing from them such inferences as they severally chose. But since Mr. Gill’s fruitful labors have found expression in his Life of Poe, and since the publication of several memoirs in which there is at least a close approximation to the truth, it has been possible for critics and anthologists to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors. Yet Adams, in his Dictionary of English Literature (1877), though he refers to Ingram’s excellent memoir, gives the old, wrong date of birth ; and Mr. Eugene Lawrence, in his Primer of American Literature (1880), says doubtfully, “ Poe was born at Baltimore, 1811 (1809),”— while Mr. Richardson, in his book bearing the same title, published two years ago, gives only the wrong date. The latest anthology that I have seen, too, credits Poe with being born at Baltimore in 1811, and graduating from the University of Virginia.

— “ Father has an ear for grammar,” said a lady who wished to signify that her father used correct language, although he had little knowledge of rules. It struck me as an odd expression when I heard it, but I have since had reason to regard it as a very appropriate one. I was again reminded of the saying by the article on Unlearnable Things in the June Contributors’ Club, which I read with a great deal of interest. (It is strange what an interest people do take in such matters, — even people who have only “ an ear for grammar.”) The writer of the article in question gives it as his opinion that “ one man can’t punctuate another man’s manuscript.” Should one man ever try to amend in any way another man’s, or woman’s, manuscript? I had occasion to use the expression “ to look charming,” in a recent article which I sent to a magazine. Imagine my annoyance, when I saw it in print, at finding that the editor had substituted “ charmingly ” for “ charming,” — as if I did n’t know where adverbs should be used, and where adjectives !

You see the adverb is not included in the “ freightage of unlearnable things ” which I carry, — in fact, it is my strong point, as it is A Boston Girl’s, — but the thing that troubles me most is the use of the subjunctive mood. I have studied Bullions’ Grammar on the subject, which, though an old work, seems still to be very good authority, judging from the conformity to its rules which I have noticed in the best writers ; and I thought when I read, “ The present subjunctive, in its proper form, according to present approved usage, has always a future reference; that is, it denotes a present uncertainty or contingency respecting a supposed future action or event: thus, ‘ If he write ’ is equivalent to ' If he should write,’ or ‘ If he shall write,’ ” that I had found a safe rule to follow, and resolved that I would use the subjunctive only in reference to a future action or event. This rule, however, I find is constantly violated by good writers and I conclude that the distinction therein laid down has become obsolete, and that I must draw the line somewhere else. Therefore it is a great comfort to me to see it stated that “ some grammarians reject the subjunctive altogether,” — if they only all would, it would be such a happy way out of my difficulty!—although, as it confronts me everywhere in my reading, I can not avail myself with a quite clear conscience of the license allowed by that rather vaguely defined class.

— Our friend Saavedra is in Curaçao again, on his way to Caracas, and he has been telling us of the fiestas in his town of Bocono. Saavedra, whose father was at one time president of the state of Trujillo, was sent abroad to study, with a number of young men, by the Venezuelan government. On returning to his country he resolved to devote himself to the education and elevation of his countrymen, preferring to begin his work in Bocono, — far in the interior,—and rejecting all proffered advantages, so tempting to young Venezuelans, held out by friends in the larger cities, who earnestly desired him to make a name for himself, and “ not bury himself in the interior.” He lives in the Cordilleras, in the most beautiful valley, full of trees, with three rivers, all large enough for boats, where the climate is a little cooler than in Caracas. When Saavedra returned from Europe he founded a Society for Recreation and Progress, hired two large rooms, and began to form a library. Each member gave a book or two, so that now they have two hundred and fifty volumes and a number of periodicals. The library is open all night, and the workingmen go there to read. Next, Saavedra proposed to buy a printingpress. Immense enthusiasm. Everybody contributed : “ eighty señoras and señoritas,” he says proudly. The money was sent to the United States, and they soon heard that the famous press was in Curaçao. Then it was proposed to make a great fiesta in honor of its arrival. The members of the society decided to name all the streets of Bocono, and to plant trees in the central square. The authorities had nothing to do in all this but give the permission, and added twelve dollars to buy paint. The members themselves painted the names. Bocono has six thousand inhabitants, and there are sixteen streets, eight one way and eight the other. Thus they form squares, which are named Calle de Bolivar, Calle de la Independencia, etc. The people also planted one hundred and eighty trees in a square where there is a tree called Liberty. set there on the day which gave liberty to the slaves. When they heard that the press was on the road and almost there, eighty people on horseback went to receive it. There were thirty ladies, each with a small flag and a wreath of flowers. When they reached the cart with the press, they covered it and the packages with the flags and flowers, and conducted it in triumph to Bocono. They dedicated the square with music and speeches, and in the evening met in the library. Imagine it, — they had never seen a printing-press ! The printer came from the capital, Trujillo. Saavedra says there was a breathless silence when the press was put in motion, and as the sheet was drawn out with the declaration of the independence of Venezuela printed on it every one, ladies, gentlemen, and the populace in the doors and windows, burst into cheers. Bocono is full of Indian caves, in which they find skeletons, arms, and big-headed idols. Saavedra is founding a museum, and intends to have a grand exploration of all the caves.