Apr 07, 2022 - Sale 2600

Sale 2600 - Lot 45

Price Realized: $ 500
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 600 - $ 900
(CALIFORNIA.) Fan letter to the early western satirist George Horatio Derby from an influential editor. Autograph Letter Signed from Lewis Gaylord Clark, signed "L. Gaylord Clark" and "L.G.C.," to "dear Phoenix" [George Horatio Derby]. 4 pages, 8 x 5 inches, on one folding sheet; minor foxing. Knickerbocker offices [New York], 19 August 1856

Additional Details

George Horatio Derby (1823-1861) was an officer in the Army's Corps of Topographical Engineers who was assigned to San Diego in 1853. There he launched a side career as a humorist under the pen names "Squibob" and "John Phoenix," contributing pieces to several California newspapers. An extended illness led to his resignation from the Army in 1859; he removed with his wife and son to New York, and died in 1861 well before his 40th birthday. His satirical writings have remained popular over the years.

This letter was written by Lewis Gaylord Clark (1808-1873), who as editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine was one of the literary tastemakers of his era. They had apparently corresponded several times before. Clark flattered Derby's wit and tried to solicit his submission for the Knickerbocker: "I vow, I never laughed so loud and long as I did when I got that letter. . . . My wife heard me, and our friends, full half a mile off. . . . That letter was over six mos. in coming. . . . Look here, Brother Phoenix, write for the Knickerbocker. Your humor hits my poor fancy, such as it is, exactly. That satire which tells without stinging, that equivoque which does not go too near the edge, that burlesque which, while it exposes folly and humbug, does nothing else (a rare merit, Mr. Derby)--these are yours. Is a fact, and no flattery, as true as you live. Give us su'thin. Don't be a-feared. . . . You will hear something about yourself in our Sept. no. Keep your good things for me. . . . The K is such a medium, that there is not another like it in the country. We go before 150,000 readers a month, and the right kind."

Clark also alluded to Derby's other sideline, as an artist, as Derby had mailed him a portrait: "Washington Irving sent me over a note yesterday--his cottage is exactly opposite me, across the Tappan Zee--in which he acknowledges your picture of Washington. . . . He says 'Let me thank you for the composite picture of General Washington. It is inimitable. I have placed it to the disposition of Mr. Putnam, for his series of American illustrations.'"

WITH--approximately 210 letters dated circa 1885-1905 from Derby's widow Mary Angeline Coons Derby (1827-1906) mostly from Brooklyn, NY to their son George McClellan Derby (1856-1948), most still in their original envelopes; approximately 50 letters circa 1895-1907 from Mary's sister Virginia Coons Shaler, aka "Aunt Jenny" (1836-1908) to George McClellan Derby (some while she was with her husband in Panama where he was a railroad superintendent); and approximately 24 other miscellaneous letters to George McClellan Derby dated 1874-1903. The son was a West Point graduate and Corps of Engineers career officer best known for his important role in Cuba in the Spanish-American War, where he conducted reconnaissance missions, mapped troop landing areas, and surveyed the field by balloon ascension during the advance; he was later stationed for several years in New Orleans.