Gertrude Stein, Geographer: I

When Gertrude Stein was a young girl, the twentieth century was approaching like a distant train whose hoot you could only just hear. A whole age was about to end. Nations would rededicate themselves, an entire generation bite into a fresh loaf, turn over a new leaf…tremble, pray. Despite this threat from the realm of number, though, most of the world went on as before, repeating itself over and over in every place, beginning and rebeginning, again and again and again.

Kipling had just written The Phantom ‘Rickshaw. Stevenson was about to bring out The Master of Ballantrae, Howells to publish A Hazard of New Fortunes, while recently young Miss Stein had composed a melodrama called Snatched from Death, or the Sundered Sisters.

Henry James had also been busy. The Bostonians and The Princess Casamassima appeared in the same year, almost moments ago, it must have seemed, and Scribner’s Magazine was now serializing A London Life. Writing machines were prominently advertised in the same periodical, as well as a restorative medicine made of cocainized beef, wine, and iron, said to be invaluable for nervous prostration, brain exhaustion, cases of the opium, tobacco, alcohol, or chloral habit, gastric catarrh, and weak states of the voice or generative systems, among other things. Indeed, women were frequently in need of similar elixirs to combat depressions of the spirit, neurasthenia, sick headache, dyspepsia, and loss of appetite. Adelina Patti was recommending Pears Soap. There were several new developments among stoves. Lew Wallace, Dr. Abbott, Motley’s Works, Walter Besant’s novels, Charles Dudley Warner, Rider Haggard, and a series labeled “The English Men of Letters” were being smartly puffed, as well as the stories of Constance Fenimore Woolson and an edifying volume by Charles Reade called Bible Characters (12 mo, cloth, 75 cents).

At Gettysburg, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle, George Parsons Lathrop read a very long commemorative ode.

   And, with a movement magnificent, Pickett, the golden- haired leader,
Thousands and thousands flings onward, as if he sent Merely a meek inter- ceder.

And at the great Paris Exposition, among the Americans represented, Thomas Hovenden showed his picture, The Last Moments of John Brown, of which one critic said: “It is easy to believe that we are looking at a faithful transcript of the actual scene, and that photography itself could not have made a more accurate record.” “It is the best American painting yet produced,” wrote another. Holloway’s reading stand was deemed particularly good for ladies, combining a book rest, dictionary holder, lamp stand, and invalid’s table. It was sold where made in Cuyahoga Falls.

For some time Gertrude Stein had been absorbed, she claimed, in Shakespeare (of course), and in Wordsworth (the long dull late and densely moral poems particularly), Scott’s wonderful Waverley, Burns, Bunyan, Crabbe, in Carlyle’s Frederick the Great, Fielding, Smollett, and even Lecky’s formidable Constitutional History of England…works of the sort I’d cite, too, if I were asked. Prognostications of doom were also common, and…

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