In the shadow of the Civil War, a circle of radicals in a rowdy saloon changed American society and helped set Walt Whitman on the path to poetic immortality.
Rebel Souls is the first book ever written about the colorful group of artists- regulars at Pfaff's Saloon in Manhattan-rightly considered America's original Bohemians. Besides a young Whitman, the circle included actor Edwin Booth; trailblazing stand-up comic Artemus Ward; psychedelic drug pioneer and author Fitz Hugh Ludlow; and brazen performer Adah Menken, famous for her Naked Lady routine. Central to their times, the artists managed to forge connections with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and even Abraham Lincoln. This vibrant tale, packed with original research, offers the pleasures of a great group biography like The Banquet Years or The Metaphysical Club. Justin Martin shows how this first bohemian culture-imported from Paris to a dingy Broadway saloon-seeded and nurtured an American tradition of rebel art that thrives to this day.
Martin (Genius of Place) offers an engaging history of a literary underground a bohemian group headed by Henry Clapp Jr. that actually gathered underground, sitting around a long table in a vaulted room at Pfaff's saloon in New York City. Though Walt Whitman is the best-known of the group, readers may find themselves drawn to his lesser-known comrades: Fitz Hugh Ludlow, author of The Hashish Eater; actress Ada Clare; Adah Isaac Menken, who achieved considerable fame on stage, tied naked to a horse in the opera Mazeppa; and Charlie Brown (aka Artemus Ward), who was considered "America's first stand-up comedian." Martin's writing rises to the occasion; readers will long to have heard Ward's act, to have seen a production of Mazeppa, or to have read selections from Ludlow's book and Clare's columns in the Saturday Press. The main focus of the book is Whitman his participation in circle, his efforts to publish Leaves of Grass, his ministering to wounded soldiers, and his infatuation with Peter Doyle. Highlights include Ludlow's travels with artist Albert Bierstadt and a brief appearance by Mark Twain. Despite the author's evident passion and considerable research, the narrative suffers from occasional choppiness and repetition. But it's still a worthwhile read despite these minor flaws and introduces armchair literary historians to a dazzling cast of eccentrics. 16 pages of b&w photos.