Adventures and Letters by Richard Harding Davis

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Richard Harding Davis was born in Philadelphia on April 18, 1864, but, so far as memory serves me, his life and mine began together several years later in the three-story brick house on South Twenty-first Street, to which we had just moved. For more than forty years this was our home in all that the word implies, and I do not believe that there was ever a moment when it was not the predominating influence in Richard’s life and in his work. As I learned in later years, the house had come into the possession of my father and mother after a period on their part of hard endeavor and unusual sacrifice. It was their ambition to add to this home not only the comforts and the beautiful inanimate things of life, but to create an atmosphere which would prove a constant help to those who lived under its roof–an inspiration to their children that should endure so long as they lived. At the time of my brother’s death the fact was frequently commented upon that, unlike most literary folk, he had never known what it was to be poor and to suffer the pangs of hunger and failure. That he never suffered from the lack of a home was certainly as true as that in his work he knew but little of failure, for the first stories he wrote for the magazines brought him into a prominence and popularity that lasted until the end. But if Richard gained his success early in life and was blessed with a very lovely home to which he could always return, he was not brought up in a manner which in any way could be called lavish. Lavish he may have been in later years, but if he was it was with the money for which those who knew him best knew how very hard he had worked.

In a general way, I cannot remember that our life as boys differed in any essential from that of other boys. My brother went to the Episcopal Academy and his weekly report never failed to fill the whole house with an impenetrable gloom and ever-increasing fears as to the possibilities of his future. At school and at college Richard was, to say the least, an indifferent student. And what made this undeniable fact so annoying, particularly to his teachers, was that morally he stood so very high. To “crib,” to lie, or in any way to cheat or to do any unworthy act was, I believe, quite beyond his understanding. Therefore, while his constant lack of interest in his studies goaded his teachers to despair, when it came to a question of stamping out wrongdoing on the part of the student body he was invariably found aligned on the side of the faculty. Not that Richard in any way resembled a prig or was even, so far as I know, ever so considered by the most reprehensible of his fellow students. He was altogether too red-blooded for that, and I believe the students whom he antagonized rather admired his chivalric point of honor even if they failed to imitate it. As a schoolboy he was aggressive, radical, outspoken, fearless, usually of the opposition and, indeed, often the sole member of his own party. Among the students at the several schools he attended he had but few intimate friends; but of the various little groups of which he happened to be a member his aggressiveness and his imagination usually made him the leader. As far back as I can remember, Richard was always starting something–usually a new club or a violent reform movement. And in school or college, as in all the other walks of life, the reformer must, of necessity, lead a somewhat tempestuous, if happy, existence. The following letter, written to his father when Richard was a student at Swarthmore, and about fifteen, will give an idea of his conception of the ethics in the case:


I am quite on the Potomac. I with all the boys at our table were called up, there is seven of us, before Prex. for stealing sugar-bowls and things off the table. All the youths said, “O President, I didn’t do it.” When it came my turn I merely smiled gravely, and he passed on to the last. Then he said, “The only boy that doesn’t deny it is Davis. Davis, you are excused. I wish to talk to the rest of them.” That all goes to show he can be a gentleman if he would only try. I am a natural born philosopher so I thought this idea is too idiotic for me to converse about so I recommend silence and I also argued that to deny you must necessarily be accused and to be accused of stealing would of course cause me to bid Prex. good-by, so the only way was, taking these two considerations with each other, to deny nothing but let the good-natured old duffer see how silly it was by retaining a placid silence and so crushing his base but thoughtless behavior and machinations.


In the early days at home–that is, when the sun shone–we played cricket and baseball and football in our very spacious back yard, and the programme of our sports was always subject to Richard’s change without notice. When it rained we adjourned to the third-story front, where we played melodrama of simple plot but many thrills, and it was always Richard who wrote the plays, produced them, and played the principal part. As I recall these dramas of my early youth, the action was almost endless and, although the company comprised two charming misses (at least I know that they eventually grew into two very lovely women), there was no time wasted over anything so sentimental or futile as love-scenes. But whatever else the play contained in the way of great scenes, there was always a mountain pass–the mountains being composed of a chair and two tables–and Richard was forever leading his little band over the pass while the band, wholly indifferent as to whether the road led to honor, glory, or total annihilation, meekly followed its leader. For some reason, probably on account of my early admiration for Richard and being only too willing to obey his command, I was invariably cast for the villain in these early dramas, and the end of the play always ended in a hand-to-hand conflict between the hero and myself. As Richard, naturally, was the hero and incidentally the stronger of the two, it can readily be imagined that the fight always ended in my complete undoing. Strangulation was the method usually employed to finish me, and, whatever else Richard was at that tender age, I can testify to his extraordinary ability as a choker.

But these early days in the city were not at all the happiest days of that period in Richard’s life. He took but little interest even in the social or the athletic side of his school life, and his failures in his studies
troubled him sorely, only I fear, however, because it troubled his mother and father. The great day of the year to us was the day our schools closed and we started for our summer vacation. When Richard was less than a year old my mother and father, who at the time was convalescing from a long illness, had left Philadelphia on a search for a complete rest in the country. Their travels, which it seems were undertaken in the spirit of a voyage of discovery and adventure, finally led them to the old Curtis House at Point Pleasant on the New Jersey coast. But the Point Pleasant of that time had very little in common with the present well-known summer resort. In those days the place was reached after a long journey by rail followed by a three hours’ drive in a rickety stagecoach over deep sandy roads, albeit the roads did lead through silent, sweet-smelling pine forests. Point Pleasant itself was then a collection of half a dozen big farms which stretched from the Manasquan River to the ocean half a mile distant. Nothing could have been more primitive or as I remember it in its pastoral loveliness much more beautiful. Just beyond our cottage the river ran its silent, lazy course to the sea. With the exception of several farmhouses, its banks were then unsullied by human habitation of any sort, and on either side beyond the low green banks lay fields of wheat and corn, and dense groves of pine and oak and chestnut trees. Between us and the ocean were more waving fields of corn, broken by little clumps of trees, and beyond these damp Nile-green pasture meadows, and then salty marshes that led to the glistening, white sand-dunes, and the great silver semi- circle of foaming breakers, and the broad, blue sea. On all the land that lay between us and the ocean, where the town of Point Pleasant now stands, I think there were but four farmhouses, and these in no way interfered with the landscape or the life of the primitive world in which we played.

Whatever the mental stimulus my brother derived from his home in Philadelphia, the foundation of the physical strength that stood him in such good stead in the campaigns of his later years he derived from those early days at Point Pleasant. The cottage we lived in was an old two-story frame building, to which my father had added two small sleeping-rooms. Outside there was a vine-covered porch and within a great stone fireplace flanked by cupboards, from which during those happy days I know Richard and I, openly and covertly, must have extracted tons of hardtack and cake. The little house was called “Vagabond’s Rest,” and a haven of rest and peace and content it certainly proved for many years to the Davis family. From here it was that my father started forth in the early mornings on his all-day fishing excursions, while my mother sat on the sunlit porch and wrote novels and mended the badly rent garments of her very active sons. After a seven-o’clock breakfast at the Curtis House our energies never ceased until night closed in on us and from sheer exhaustion we dropped unconscious into our patch-quilted cots. All day long we swam or rowed, or sailed, or played ball, or camped out, or ate enormous meals–anything so long as our activities were ceaseless and our breathing apparatus given no rest. About a mile up the river there was an island–it’s a very small, prettily wooded, sandy-beached little place, but it seemed big enough in those days. Robert Louis Stevenson made it famous by rechristening it Treasure Island, and writing the new name and his own on a bulkhead that had been built to shore up one of its fast disappearing sandy banks. But that is very modern history and to us it has always been “The Island.” In our day, long before Stevenson had ever heard of the Manasquan, Richard and I had discovered this tight little piece of land, found great treasures there, and, hand in hand, had slept in a six-by-six tent while the lions and tigers growled at us from the surrounding forests.

As I recall these days of my boyhood I find the recollections of our life at Point Pleasant much more distinct than those we spent in Philadelphia. For Richard these days were especially welcome. They meant a respite from the studies which were a constant menace to himself and his parents; and the freedom of the open country, the ocean, the many sports on land and on the river gave his body the constant exercise his constitution seemed to demand, and a broad field for an imagination which was even then very keen, certainly keen enough to make the rest of us his followers.

In an extremely sympathetic appreciation which Irvin S. Cobb wrote about my brother at the time of his death, he says that he doubts if there is such a thing as a born author. Personally it so happened that I never grew up with any one, except my brother, who ever became an author, certainly an author of fiction, and so I cannot speak on the subject with authority. But in the case of Richard, if he was not born an author, certainly no other career was ever considered. So far as I know he never even wanted to go to sea or to be a bareback rider in a circus. A boy, if he loves his father, usually wants to follow in his professional footsteps, and in the case of Richard, he had the double inspiration of following both in the footsteps of his father and in those of his mother. For years before Richard’s birth his father had been a newspaper editor and a well-known writer of stories and his mother a novelist and short-story writer of great distinction. Of those times at Point Pleasant I fear I can remember but a few of our elders. There were George Lambdin, Margaret Ruff, and Milne Ramsay, all painters of some note; a strange couple, Colonel Olcott and the afterward famous Madam Blavatsky, trying to start a Buddhist cult in this country; Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett, with her foot on the first rung of the ladder of fame, who at the time loved much millinery finery. One day my father took her out sailing and, much to the lady’s discomfiture and greatly to Richard’s and my delight, upset the famous authoress. At a later period the Joseph Jeffersons used to visit us; Horace Howard Furness, one of my father’s oldest friends, built a summer home very near us on the river, and Mrs. John Drew and her daughter Georgie Barrymore spent their summers in a near-by hostelry. I can remember Mrs. Barrymore at that time very well—wonderfully handsome and a marvellously cheery manner. Richard and I both loved her greatly, even though it were in secret. Her daughter Ethel I remember best as she appeared on the beach, a sweet, long-legged child in a scarlet bathing-suit running toward the breakers and then dashing madly back to her mother’s open arms. A pretty figure of a child, but much too young for Richard to notice at that time. In after-years the child in the scarlet bathing-suit and he became great pals. Indeed, during the latter half of his life, through the good days and the bad, there were very few friends who held so close a place in his sympathy and his affections as Ethel Barrymore.

Until the summer of 1880 my brother continued on at the Episcopal Academy. For some reason I was sent to a different school, but outside of our supposed hours of learning we were never apart. With less than two years’ difference in our ages our interests were much the same, and I fear our interests of those days were largely limited to out-of-door sports and the theatre. We must have been very young indeed when my father first led us by the hand to see our first play. On Saturday afternoons Richard and I, unattended but not wholly unalarmed, would set forth from our home on this thrilling weekly adventure. Having joined our father at his office, he would invariably take us to a chop-house situated at the end of a blind alley which lay concealed somewhere in the neighborhood of Walnut and Third Streets, and where we ate a most wonderful luncheon of English chops and apple pie. As the luncheon drew to its close I remember how Richard and I used to fret and fume while my father in a most leisurely manner used to finish off his mug of musty ale. But at last the three of us, hand in hand, my father between us, were walking briskly toward our happy destination. At that time there were only a few first-class theatres in Philadelphia–the Arch Street Theatre, owned by Mrs. John Drew; the Chestnut Street, and the Walnut Street–all of which had stock companies, but which on the occasion of a visiting star acted as the supporting company. These were the days of Booth, Jefferson, Adelaide Neilson, Charles Fletcher, Lotta, John McCullough, John Sleeper Clark, and the elder Sothern. And how Richard and I worshipped them all–not only these but every small-bit actor in every stock company in town. Indeed, so many favorites of the stage did my brother and I admire that ordinary frames would not begin to hold them all, and to overcome this defect we had our bedroom entirely redecorated. The new scheme called for a gray wallpaper supported by a maroon dado. At the top of the latter ran two parallel black picture mouldings between which we could easily insert cabinet photographs of the actors and actresses which for the moment we thought most worthy of a place in our collection. As the room was fairly large and as the mouldings ran entirely around it, we had plenty of space for even our very elastic love for the heroes and heroines of the footlights.

Edwin Forrest ended his stage career just before our time, but I know that Richard at least saw him and heard that wonderful voice of thunder. It seems that one day, while my mother and Richard were returning home, they got on a street-car which already held the great tragedian. At the moment Forrest was suffering severely from gout and had his bad leg stretched well out before him. My brother, being very young at the time and never very much of a respecter of persons, promptly fell over the great man’s gouty foot. Whereat (according to my mother, who was always a most truthful narrator) Forrest broke forth in a volcano of oaths and for blocks continued to hurl thunderous broadsides at Richard, which my mother insisted included the curse of Rome and every other famous tirade in the tragedian’s repertory which in any way fitted the occasion. Nearly forty years later my father became the president of the Edwin Forrest Home, the greatest charity ever founded by an actor for actors, and I am sure by his efforts of years on behalf of the institution did much to atone for Richard’s early unhappy meeting with the greatest of all the famous leather-lunged tragedians.

From his youth my father had always been a close student of the classic and modern drama, and throughout his life numbered among his friends many of the celebrated actors and actresses of his time. In those early days Booth used to come to rather formal luncheons, and at all such functions Richard and I ate our luncheon in the pantry, and when the great meal was nearly over in the dining-room we were allowed to come in in time for the ice-cream and to sit, figuratively, at the feet of the honored guest and generally, literally, on his or her knees. Young as I was in those days I can readily recall one of those lunch-parties when the contrast between Booth and Dion Boucicault struck my youthful mind most forcibly. Booth, with his deep-set, big black eyes, shaggy hair, and lank figure, his wonderfully modulated voice, rolled out his theories of acting, while the bald-headed, rotund Boucicault, his twinkling eyes snapping like a fox-terrier’s, interrupted the sonorous speeches of the tragedian with crisp, witty criticisms or “asides” that made the rest of the company laugh and even brought a smile to the heavy, tragic features of Booth himself. But there was nothing formal about our relations with John Sleeper Clark and the Jefferson family. They were real “home folks” and often occupied our spare room, and when they were with us Richard and I were allowed to come to all the meals, and, even if unsolicited, freely express our views on the modern drama.

In later years to our Philadelphia home came Henry Irving and his fellow player Ellen Terry and Augustin Daly and that wonderful quartet, Ada Rehan, Mrs. Gilbert, James Lewis, and our own John Drew. Sir Henry I always recall by the first picture I had of him in our dining-room, sitting far away from the table, his long legs stretched before him, peering curiously at Richard and myself over black-rimmed glasses and then, with equal interest, turning back to the ash of a long cigar and talking drama with the famous jerky, nasal voice but always with a marvellous poise and convincing authority. He took a great liking to Richard in those days, sent him a church-warden’s pipe that he had used as Corporal Brewster, and made much of him later when my brother was in London. Miss Terry was a much less formal and forbidding guest, rushing into the house like a whirlwind and filling the place with the sunshine and happiness that seemed to fairly exude from her beautiful magnetic presence. Augustin Daly usually came with at least three of the stars of his company which I have already mentioned, but even the beautiful Rehan and the nice old Mrs. Gilbert seemed thoroughly awed in the presence of “the Guv’nor.” He was a most crusty, dictatorial party, as I remember him with his searching eyes and raven locks, always dressed in black and always failing to find virtue in any actor or actress not a member of his own company. I remember one particularly acrid discussion between him and my father in regard to Julia Marlowe, who was then making her first bow to the public. Daly contended that in a few years the lady would be absolutely unheard of and backed his opinion by betting a dinner for those present with my father that his judgment would prove correct. However, he was very kind to Richard and myself and frequently allowed us to play about behind the scenes, which was a privilege I imagine he granted to very few of his friends’ children. One night, long after this, when Richard was a reporter in New York, he and Miss Rehan were burlesquing a scene from a play on which the last curtain had just fallen. It was on the stage of Daly’s theatre at Thirtieth Street and Broadway, and from his velvet box at the prompt-entrance Daly stood gloomily watching their fooling. When they had finished the mock scene Richard went over to Daly and said, “How bad do you think I am as an actor, Mr. Daly?” and greatly to my brother’s delight the greatest manager of them all of those days grumbled back at him: “You’re so bad, Richard, that I’ll give you a hundred dollars a week, and you can sign the contract whenever you’re ready.” Although that was much more than my brother was making in his chosen profession at the time, and in spite of the intense interest he had in the theatre, he never considered the offer seriously. As a matter of fact, Richard had many natural qualifications that fitted him for the stage, and in after-years, when he was rehearsing one of his own plays, he could and frequently would go up on the stage and read almost any part better than the actor employed to do it. Of course, he lacked the ease of gesture and the art of timing which can only be attained after sound experience, but his reading of lines and his knowledge of characterization was quite unusual. In proof of this I know of at least two managers who, when Richard wanted to sell them plays, refused to have him read them the manuscript on the ground that his reading gave the dialogue a value it did not really possess.

In the spring of 1880 Richard left the Episcopal Academy, and the following September went to Swarthmore College, situated just outside of Philadelphia. I fear, however, the change was anything but a success. The life of the big coeducational school did not appeal to him at all and, in spite of two or three friendships he made among the girls and boys, he depended for amusement almost wholly on his own resources. In the afternoons and on holidays he took long walks over the country roads and in search of adventure visited many farmhouses. His excuse for these calls was that he was looking for old furniture and china, and he frequently remained long enough to make sketches of such objects as he pretended had struck his artistic fancy. Of these adventures he wrote at great length to his mother and father, and the letters were usually profusely decorated with illustrations of the most striking incidents of the various escapades. Several of these Swarthmore experiences he used afterward in short stories, and both the letters and sketches he sent to his parents at the time he regarded in the light of preparation for his future work. In his studies he was perhaps less successful than he had been at the Episcopal Academy, and although he played football and took part in the track sports he was really but little interested in either. There were half-holidays on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and when my brother did not come to town I went to Swarthmore and we spent the afternoons in first cooking our lunch in a hospitable woods and then playing some games in the open that Richard had devised. But as I recall these outings they were not very joyous occasions, as Richard was extremely unhappy over his failures at school and greatly depressed about the prospects for the future.

He finished the college year at Swarthmore, but so unhappy had he been there that there was no thought in his mind or in that of his parents of his returning. At that time my uncle, H. Wilson Harding, was a professor at Lehigh University, and it was arranged that Richard should go to Bethlehem the following fall, live with his uncle, and continue his studies at Ulrich’s Preparatory School, which made a specialty of preparing boys for Lehigh. My uncle lived in a charming old house on Market Street in Bethlehem, quite near the Moravian settlement and across the river from the university and the iron mills. He was a bachelor, but of a most gregarious and hospitable disposition, and Richard therefore found himself largely his own master, in a big, roomy house which was almost constantly filled with the most charming and cultivated people. There my uncle and Richard, practically of about the same age so far as their viewpoint of life was concerned, kept open house, and if it had not been for the occasional qualms his innate hatred of mathematics caused him, I think my brother would have been completely happy. Even studies no longer worried him particularly and he at once started in to make friendships, many of which lasted throughout his life. As is usual with young men of seventeen, most of these men and women friends were several times Richard’s age, but at the period Richard was a particularly precocious and amusing youth and a difference of a few decades made but little difference–certainly not to Richard. Finley Peter Dunne once wrote of my brother that he “probably knew more waiters, generals, actors, and princes than any man who lived,” and I think it was during the first year of his life at Bethlehem that he began the foundation for the remarkable collection of friends, both as to numbers and variety, of which he died possessed. Although a “prep,” he made many friends among the undergraduates of Lehigh. He made friends with the friends of his uncle and many friends in both of the Bethlehems of which his uncle had probably never heard. Even at that early age he counted among his intimates William W. Thurston, who was president of the Bethlehem Iron Company, and J. Davis Brodhead, one of Pennsylvania’s most conspicuous Democratic congressmen and attorneys. Those who knew him at that time can easily understand why Richard attracted men and women so much older than himself. He was brimming over with physical health and animal spirits and took the keenest interest in every one he met and in everything that was going on about him. And in the broadest sense he saw to it then, as he did throughout his life, that he always did his share.

During those early days at Bethlehem his letters to his family were full of his social activities, with occasional references to his work at school. He was always going to dinners or dances, entertaining members of visiting theatrical companies; and on Friday night my mother usually received a telegram, saying that he would arrive the next day with a party of friends whom he had inadvertently asked to lunch and a matinee. It was after one of these weekly visits that my mother wrote Richard the following:

Monday Night.

You went off in such a hurry that it took my breath at the last. You say coming down helps you. It
certainly does me. It brings a real sunshine to Papa and me. He was saying that to-day. I gave Nolly a sort of holiday after her miseries last night. We went down street and got Papa a present for our wedding day, a picture, after all, and then I took Miss Baker some tickets for a concert. I saw her father who said he “must speak about my noble looking boy.” I always thought him a genius but now I think him a man of penetration as well. Then Nolly and I went over to see the Russians. But they are closely boxed up and not allowed to-day to see visitors. So we came home cross and hungry. All evening I have been writing business letters.

Papa has gone to a reception and Charley is hard at work at his desk.

I answered Mr. Allen’s letter this morning, dear, and told him you would talk to him. When you do, dear, talk freely to him as to me. You will not perhaps agree with all he says. But your own thoughts will be healthier for bringing them–as I might say, out of doors. You saw how it was by coming down here. Love of Christ is not a melancholy nor a morbid thing, dear love, but ought to make one more social and cheerful and alive.

I wish you could come home oftener. Try and get ahead with lessons so that you can come oftener. And when you feel as if prayer was a burden, stop praying and go out and try to put your Christianity into real action by doing some kindness–even speaking in a friendly way to somebody. Bring yourself into contact with new people–not John, Hugh, Uncle and Grandma, and try to act to them as Christ would have you act, and my word for it, you will go home with a new light on your own relations to Him and a new meaning for your prayers. You remember the prayer “give me a great thought to refresh me.” I think you will find some great thoughts in human beings–they will help you to understand yourself and God, when you try to help them God makes you happy my darling.


It was in this year that Richard enjoyed the thrill of seeing in print his first contribution to a periodical. The date of this important event, important, at least, to my brother, was February 1, the fortunate publication was Judge, and the effusion was entitled “The Hat and Its Inmate.” Its purport was an overheard conversation between two young ladies at a matinee and the editors thought so well of it that for the privilege of printing the article they gave Richard a year’s subscription to Judge. His scrap-book of that time shows that in 1884 Life published a short burlesque on George W. Cable’s novel, “Dr. Sevier,” and in the same year The Evening Post paid him $1.05 for an article about “The New Year at Lehigh.” It was also in the spring of 1884 that Richard published his first book, “The Adventures of My Freshman,” a neat little paper-covered volume including half a dozen of the short stories that had already appeared in The Lehigh Burr. In writing in a copy of this book in later years, Richard said: “This is a copy of the first book of mine published. My family paid to have it printed and finding no one else was buying it, bought up the entire edition. Finding the first edition had gone so quickly, I urged them to finance a second one, and when they were unenthusiastic I was hurt. Several years later when I found the entire edition in our attic, I understood their reluctance. The reason the book did not sell is, I think, because some one must have read it.”

In the summer of 1882 Richard went to Boston, and in the following letter unhesitatingly expressed his opinion of that city and its people.

BOSTON, Wednesday.

July 1882.

I left Newport last night or rather this morning. I stopped at Beverly and called on Dr. Holmes. He talked a great deal about mama and about a great many other things equally lovely in a very easy, charming way. All I had to do was to listen and I was only too willing to do that. We got along splendidly. He asked me to stay to dinner but I refused with thanks, as I had only come to pay my respects and put off to Dr. Bartol’s. Dr. Holmes accompanied me to the depot and saw me safely off. Of all the lovely men I ever saw Dr. Bartol is the one. He lives in a great, many roomed with as many gables, house. Elizabethan, of course, with immense fireplaces, brass and dark woods, etchings and engravings, with the sea and rocks immediately under the window and the ocean stretching out for miles, lighthouses and more Elizabethan houses half hid on the bank, and ships and small boats pushing by within a hundred rods of the windows. I stayed to dinner there and we had a very jolly time. There were two other young men and another maiden besides Miss Bartol. They talked principally about the stage; that is, the Boston Stock Company, which is their sole thought and knowledge of the drama. The Dr. would strike off now and then to philosophizing and moralizing but his daughter would immediately sit upon him, much to my disgust but to the evident relief of the rest. His wife is as lovely as he is but I can’t give it to you all now. Wait until I get home.

The young lady, the youths and myself came up to Boston together and had as pleasant a ride, as the heat would allow. I left them at the depot and went up to the Parker House and then to the Art Museum. The statuary is plaster, the coins are copies, and by the way, I found one exactly like mine, which, if it is genuine is worth, “well considerable”, as the personage in charge remarked. The pictures were simply vile, only two or three that I recognized and principally Millet and some charcoal sketches of Hunt’s, who is the Apostle of Art here. The china was very fine but they had a collection of old furniture and armor which was better than anything else. Fresh from or rather musty from these antiques, who should I meet but the cheerful Dixey and Powers. We had a very jolly talk and I enjoyed it immensely, not only myself but all the surrounding populace, as Dixey would persist in showing the youthful some new “gag,” and would break into a clog or dialect much to the delectation of the admiring Bostonians. I am stranded here for to night and will push on to Newport to-morrow. I’ll go see the “babes” to night, as there is nothing else in the city that is worth seeing that I haven’t investigated. I left the Newburyportians in grief with regret. I met lots of nice people and every one was so very kind to me, from the authoresses to the serving maids. Good-bye.




In the fall of 1882 Richard entered Lehigh, but the first year of his college life varied very little from the one he had spent in the preparatory school. During that year he had met most of the upper classmen, and the only difference was that he could now take an active instead of a friendly interest in the life and the sports of the college. Also he had formed certain theories which he promptly proceeded to put into practical effect. Perhaps the most conspicuous of these was his belief that cane-rushes and hazing were wholly unnecessary and barbarous customs, and should have no place in the college of his day. Against the former he spoke at college meetings, and wrote long letters to the local papers decrying the custom. His stand against hazing was equally vehement, and he worked hand in hand with the faculty to eradicate it entirely from the college life. That his stand was purely for a principle and not from any fear of personal injury, I think the following letter to his father will show:

BETHLEHEM, February 1882.

You may remember a conversation we had at Squan about hazing in which you said it was a very black-guardly thing and a cowardly thing. I didn’t agree with you, but when I saw how it really was and how silly and undignified it was, besides being brutal, I thought it over and changed my mind completely, agreeing with you in every respect. A large number of our class have been hazed, taking it as a good joke, and have been laughed at by the whole college. I talked to the boys about it, and said what I would do and so on, without much effect. Wednesday a junior came to me, and told me I was to be hazed as I left the Opera House Friday night. After that a great many came to me and advised and warned me as to what I should do. I decided to get about fifty of our class outside and then fight it out; that was before I changed my mind. As soon as I did I regretted it very much, but, as it turned out, the class didn’t come, so I was alone, as I wished to be. You see, I’d not a very good place here; the fellows looked on me as a sort of special object of ridicule, on account of the hat and cane, walk, and so on, though I thought I’d got over that by this time. The Opera House was partly filled with college men, a large number of sophomores and a few upper class men. It was pretty generally known I was going to have a row, and that brought them as much as the show. Poor Ruff was in agony all day. He supposed I’d get into the fight, and he knew he’d get in, too, sooner or later. If he did he’d be held and not be able to do anything, and then the next day be blamed by the whole college for interfering in a class matter. He hadn’t any money to get into the show, and so wandered around outside in the rain in a great deal more excited state than I was. Howe went all over town after putting on his old clothes, in case of personal damage, in search of freshmen who were at home out of the wet. As I left the building a man grabbed me by my arm, and the rest, with the seniors gathered around; the only freshman present, who was half scared to death, clung as near to me as possible. I withdrew my arm and faced them. “If this means hazing,” I said, “I’m not with you. There’s not enough men here to haze me, but there’s enough to thrash me, and I’d rather be thrashed than hazed.” You see, I wanted them to understand exactly how I looked at it, and they wouldn’t think I was simply hotheaded and stubborn. I was very cool about it all. They broke in with all sorts of explanations; hazing was the last thing they had thought of. No, indeed, Davis, old fellow, you’re mistaken. I told them if that was so, all right, I was going home. I saw several of my friends in the crowd waiting for me, but as I didn’t want them to interfere, I said nothing, and they did not recognize me. When among the crowd of sophomores, the poor freshman made a last effort, he pulled me by the coat and begged me to come with him. I said no, I was going home. When I reached the next corner I stopped. “I gave you fair warning, keep off. I tell you I’ll strike the first man, the first one, that touches me.” Then the four who had been appointed to seize me jumped on me, and I only got one good blow in before they had me down in the gutter and were beating me on the face and head. I put my hands across my face, and so did not get any hard blows directly in the face. They slipped back in a moment, and when I was ready I scrambled up pretty wet and muddy, and with my face stinging where they had struck. It had all been done so quickly, and there was such a large crowd coming from the theatre, that, of course, no one saw it. When I got up there was a circle all around me. They hadn’t intended to go so far. The men, except those four who had beaten me, were rather ashamed and wished they were out of it. I turned to Emmerich, a postgraduate, and told him to give me room. “Now,” I said, “you’re not able to haze me, and I can’t thrash twelve of you, but I’ll fight any one man you bring out.” I asked for the man that struck me, and named another, but there was no response.

The upper classmen, who had just arrived, called out that was fair, and they’d see it fair. Goodnough, Purnell and Douglas, who don’t like me much, either. Ruff was beside me by this time.

He hadn’t seen anything of it, and did not get there until he heard me calling for a fair chance and challenging the class for a man. I called out again, the second time, and still no one came, so I took occasion to let them know why I had done as I did in a short speech to the crowd. I said I was a peaceable fellow, thought hazing silly, and as I never intended to haze myself, I didn’t intend any one to haze me. Then I said again, “This is the third time, will one of your men fight this fair? I can’t fight twelve of you.” Just then two officers who had called on some mill-hands, who are always dying for a fight, and a citizen to help them, burst into the crowd of students, shouldering them around like sheep until they got to me, when one of them put his arm around me, and said, “I don’t know anything about this crowd, but I’ll see you’re protected, sir. I’ll give ’em fair play.” One officer got hold of Ruff and pretty near shook him to pieces until I had to interfere and explain. They were for forming a body-guard, and were loud in their denunciations of the college, and declaring they’d see me through if I was a stranger to ’em.

Two or three of the sophomores, when they saw how things were going, set up a yell, but Griffin struck out and sent one of them flying one way and his hat another, so the yells ended. Howe and Murray Stuart took me up to their rooms, and Ruff went off for beefsteak for my eye, and treated the crowd who had come to the rescue, at Dixon’s, to beer. The next day was Saturday, and as there was to be a meeting of the Athletic Association, of course, I wanted to show up. The fellows all looked at my eye pretty hard and said nothing. I felt pretty sure that the sympathy was all with me.

Four men are elected from the college to be on the athletic committee. They can be nominated by any one, though generally it is done by a man in their own class. We had agreed the day before to vote for Tolman for our class, so when the president announced nominations were in order for the freshmen class, Tolman was instantly nominated. At the same time one of the leading sophomores jumped up and nominated Mr. Davis, and a number of men from the same class seconded it. I knew every one in the college knew of what had happened, and especially the sophomores, so I was, of course, very much surprised. I looked unconscious, though, and waited. One of the seniors asked that the nominees should stand up, as they didn’t know their names only their faces. As each man rose he was hissed and groaned down again. When I stood up the sophomores burst into a yell and clapped and stamped, yelling, “Davis! Davis! vote for D!” until I sat down. As I had already decided to nominate Tolman, I withdrew my name from the nominees, a movement which was received by loud cries of “No! No!” from the sophs. So, you see, Dad, I did as you said, as I thought was right, and came out well indeed. You see, I am now the hero of the hour, every one in town knows it, and every one congratulates me, and, “Well done, me boy,” as Morrow ’83 said, seems to be the idea, one gets taken care of in this world if you do what’s the right thing, if it is only a street fight. In fact, as one of the seniors said, I’ve made five friends where I had one before. The sophs are ashamed and sorry, as their conduct in chapel, which was more marked, than I made it, shows. I’ve nothing to show for it but a red mark under the eye, and so it is the best thing that could possibly have happened. Poor Ruff hugged me all the way home, and I’ve started out well in a good way, I think, though not a very logical one.

Uncle says to tell you that my conduct has his approval throughout.


To which letter my father promptly replied:

PHILADELPHIA. February 25th, 1882.

I’m glad the affair ended so well. I don’t want you to fight, but if you have to fight a cuss like that do it with all your might, and don’t insist that either party shall too strictly observe the Markis O’ Queensbury rules. Hit first and hardest so that thine adversary shall beware of you.


At that time the secret societies played a very important part in the college life at Lehigh, and while I do not believe that Richard shared the theory of some of the students that they were a serious menace to the social fabric, he was quite firm in his belief that it was inadvisable to be a member of any fraternity. In a general way he did not like the idea of secrecy even in its mildest form, and then, as throughout his life, he refused to join any body that would in any way limit his complete independence of word or action. In connection with this phase of his college life I quote from an appreciation which M. A. De W. Howe, one of Richard’s best friends both at college and in after-life, wrote for The Lehigh Burr at the time of my brother’s death:

“To the credit of the perceptive faculty of undergraduates, it ought to be said that the classmates and contemporaries of Richard Harding Davis knew perfectly well, while he and they were young together, that in him Lehigh had a son so marked in his individuality, so endowed with talents and character that he stood quite apart from the other collegians of his day. Prophets were as rare in the eighties as they have always been, before and since, and nobody could have foreseen that the name and work of Dick Davis would long before his untimely death, indeed within a few years from leaving college, be better known throughout the world than those of any other Lehigh man. We who knew him in his college days could not feel the smallest surprise that he won himself quickly a brilliant name, and kept a firm hold upon it to the last.

“What was it that made him so early a marked man? I think it was the spirit of confidence and enthusiasm which turned every enterprise he undertook into an adventure,–the brave and humorous playing of the game of life, the true heart, the wholesome body and soul of my friend and classmate. He did not excel in studies or greatly, in athletics. But in his own field, that of writing, he was so much better than the rest of us that no one of his fellow-editors of the Epitome or Burr needed to be considered in comparison with him. No less, in spite of his voluntary nonmembership in the fraternities of his day, was he a leader in the social activities of the University. The `Arcadian Club’ devoted in its beginnings to the `pipes, books, beer and gingeralia’ of Davis’s song about it and the `Mustard and Cheese’ were his creations. In all his personal relationships he was the most amusing and stimulating of companions. With garb and ways of unique picturesqueness, rarer even in college communities a generation ago than at present, it was inevitable that he sometimes got himself laughed at as well as with. But what did it all matter, even then? To-day it adds a glow of color to what would be in any case a vivid, deeply valued memory.

“It is hard to foresee in youth what will come most sharply and permanently in the long run. After all these years it is good to find that Davis and what his companionship gave one hold their place with the strongest influences of Lehigh.”

But Richard was naturally gregarious and at heart had a great fondness for clubs and social gatherings. Therefore, having refused the offer of several fraternities that did him the honor to ask him to become a member, it was necessary for him to form a few clubs that held meetings, but no secrets. Perhaps the most successful of these were “The Mustard and Cheese,” a dramatic club devoted to the presentation of farces and musical comedies, and The Arcadia Club, to the fortnightly meetings of which he devoted much time and thought. The following letter to his father will give some idea of the scope of the club, which, as in the case of “The Mustard and Cheese,” gained a permanent and important place in the social life of Lehigh.


We have started the best sort of a club up here which I am anxious to tell you of. It consists of a spread, net price of which will be about 30 cents each, every two or three weeks. Only six fellows belong and those the best of the College. Purnell, Haines and myself founded it. I chose Charley, Purnell, Reeves, Haines and Howe. We will meet Saturday nights at 9 so as not to interfere with our work, and sing, read, eat and box until midnight. It is called the “Pipe and Bowl,” and is meant to take the place that The Hasty Pudding, Hammer and Tongs and Mermaid do at other colleges. Two of us are to invite two outsiders in turn each meeting. We will hope to have Dad a member, honorary, of course, when we can persuade him to give us a night off with his company. We want to combine a literary feature and so will have selected readings to provoke discussions after the pipes are lit. The men are very enthusiastic about it and want to invite Mr. Allen and you and every one that they can make an honorary member of immediately.

It was first as an associate editor and afterward as editor-in-chief of the college paper, The Lehigh Burr, that Richard found his greatest pleasure and interest during his three years at Lehigh. In addition to his editorial duties he wrote a very great part of every issue of the paper, and his contributions included short stories, reports of news events, editorials, and numerous poems.

As, after his life at college, Richard dropped verse as a mode of expression, I reprint two of the poems which show him in the lighter vein of those early days.


“I’m a Freshman who has ended his first year, But I’m new;
And I do whate’er the Juniors, whom I fear, Bid me do.
Under sudden showers I thrive; To be bad and bold I strive,
But they ask–`Is it alive?’
So they do.

I’m a Sophomore who has passed off his exams, Let me loose!
With a mark as high as any other man’s, As obtuse
I’m fraternal. I am Jolly.
I am seldom melancholy
And to bone I think is folly,
What’s the use?

I’m a Junior whom exams. have left forlorn, Flunked me dead;
So I’ll keep the town awake ’till early morn; Paint it red.
At class-meetings I’m a kicker, Take no water with my liquor,
And a dumb-bell’s not thicker
Than my head.

I’m a Senior whose diploma’s within reach, Eighty-four.
On Commencement Day you’ll hear my maiden-speech; I will soar!
I got through without condition; I’m a mass of erudition;
Do you know of a position!”


“Our street is still and silent, Grass grows from curb to curb,

No baker’s bells
With jangling knells
Our studious minds disturb. No organ grinders ever call,
No hucksters mar our peace; For traffic shuns our neighborhood
And leaves us to our ease.

But now it lives and brightens,
Assumes a livelier hue;
The pavements wide,
On either side,
Would seem to feel it too. You might not note the difference, The change from grave to gay,
But I can tell, and know full well, Priscilla walks our way.”

Shortly after his return to college Richard celebrated his nineteenth birthday, and received these letters from his father and mother:

April 17th, 1883.

When I was thinking what I could give to you to-morrow, I remembered the story of Herder, who when he was old and weak and they brought him food and wine asked for “a great thought to quicken him.”

So I have written some old sayings for you that have helped me. Maybe, this year, or some other year, when I am not with you, they may give you, sometimes, comfort and strength.

God bless you my son–


who loves you dearly–dearly.

PHILADELPHIA, April 17th, 1883.


You are to be nineteen years old on Wednesday. After two years more you will be a man. You are so manly and good a boy that I could not wish you to change in any serious or great thing. You have made us very happy through being what you have been, what you are. You fill us with hope of your future virtue and usefulness.

To be good is the best thing of all; it counts for more than anything else in the world. We are very grateful that you have even in youth been wise enough to choose the right road. You will find it not easy to keep upon it always, but remember if you do get off struggle back to it. I do not know but I think God loves the effort to do as well as the act done.

I congratulate you my dear son, on your new birthday. I wish you health, happiness and God’s loving care. May he bless you my son forever. I enclose a trifle for your pleasure. My love to you always, but God bless you dear Dick.


In the fall of 1885, Richard decided to leave Lehigh and go to John Hopkins University, where he took a special course in such studies as would best benefit him in the career which he had now carefully planned. During this year in Baltimore Richard’s letters show that he paid considerable attention to such important subjects as political economy and our own labor problems, but they also show that he did not neglect football or the lighter social diversions. In a short space of time he had made many friends, was very busy going to dinners and dances, and had fallen in love with an entirely new set of maids and matrons. Richard had already begun to send contributions to the magazines, and an occasional acceptance caused him the satisfaction common to all beginners. It was in regard to one of these early contributions that my mother wrote Richard the following letter:


January 1887.

What has become of The Current? It has not come yet. If it has suspended publication be sure and get your article back. You must not destroy a single page you write. You will find every idea of use to you hereafter.

Sometimes I am afraid you think I don’t take interest enough in your immediate success now with the articles you send. But I’ve had thirty years experience and I know how much that sort of success depends on the articles suiting the present needs of the magazine, and also on the mood of the editor when he reads it.

Besides–except for your own disappointment–I know it would be better if you would not publish under your own name for a little while. Dr. Holland–who had lots of literary shrewdness both as writer and publisher–used to say for a young man or woman to rush into print was sure ruin to their lasting fame. They either compromised their reputations by inferior work or they made a great hit and never played up to it, afterwards, in public opinion.

Now my dear old man this sounds like awfully cold comfort. But it is the wisest idea your mother has got. I confess I have GREAT faith in you–and I try to judge you as if you were not my son. I think you are going to take a high place among American authors, but I do not think you are going to do it by articles like that you sent to The Current. The qualities which I think will bring it to you, you don’t seem to value at all. They are your dramatic eye. I mean your quick perception of character and of the way character shows itself in looks, tones, dress, etc., and in your keen sympathy–with all kinds of people–Now, these are the requisites for a novelist. Added to that your humour.

You ought to make a novelist of the first class. But you must not expect to do it this week or next. A lasting, real success takes time, and patient, steady work. Read Boz’s first sketches of “London Life” and compare them with “Sydney Carton” or “David Copperfield” and you will see what time and hard work will do to develop genius.

I suppose you will wonder why I am moved to say all this? It is, I think, because of your saying “the article sent to St. Nicholas was the best you would be able to do for years to come” and I saw you were going to make it a crucial test of your ability. That is, forgive me, nothing but nonsense. Whatever the article may be, you may write one infinitely superior to it next week or month. Just in proportion as you feel more deeply, or notice more keenly, and as you acquire the faculty of expressing your feelings or observations more delicately and powerfully which faculty must come into practice. It is not inspiration–it never was that–without practice, with any writer from Shakespeare down.

me. I don’t say, like Papa, stop writing. God forbid. I would almost as soon say stop breathing, for it is pretty much the same thing. But only to remember that you have not yet conquered your art. You are a journeyman not a master workman, so if you don’t succeed, it does not count. The future is what I look to, for you. I had to stop my work to say all this, so good-bye dear old chum.



If anything worried Richard at all at this period, I think it was his desire to get down to steady newspaper work, or indeed any kind of work that would act as the first step of his career and by which he could pay his own way in the world. It was with this idea uppermost in his mind in the late spring of 1886, and without any particular regret for the ending of his college career, that he left Baltimore and, returning to his home in Philadelphia, determined to accept the first position that presented itself. But instead of going to work at once, he once more changed his plans and decided to sail for Santiago de Cuba with his friend William W. Thurston, who as president of the Bethlehem Steel Company, was deeply interested in the iron mines of that region. Here and then it was that Richard first fell in love with Cuba–a love which in later years became almost an obsession with him. Throughout his life whenever it was possible, and sometimes when it seemed practically impossible, my brother would listen to the call of his beloved tropics and, casting aside all responsibilities, would set sail for Santiago. After all it was quite natural that he should feel as he did about this little Cuban coast town, for apart from its lazy life, spicy smells, waving palms and Spanish cooking, it was here that he found the material for his first novel and greatest monetary success, “Soldiers of Fortune.” Apart from the many purely pleasure trips he made to Santiago, twice he returned there to work–once as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War, and again when he went with Augustus Thomas to assist in the latter’s film version of the play which years before Thomas had made from the novel.


In the late summer of 1886 Richard returned from Cuba and settled down in Philadelphia to write an article about his experiences at Santiago and to look for regular newspaper work. Early in September he wrote his mother:

September, 1886.

I saw the Record people to-day. They said there was not an opening but could give me “chance” work, that is, I was to report each day at one and get what was left over. I said I would take it as I would have my mornings free to write the article and what afternoons I did not have newspaper work besides. This is satisfactory. They are either doing all they can to oblige Dad or else giving me a trial trip before making an opening. The article is progressing but slowly. To paraphrase Talleyrand, what’s done is but little and that little is not good. However, since your last letter full of such excellent “tips” I have rewritten it and think it is much improved. I will write to Thurston concerning the artist to-morrow. He is away from B. at present. On the whole the article is not bad.

Your boy,

Richard’s stay on The Record, however, was short-lived. His excuse for the brevity of the experience was given in an interview some years later. “My City Editor didn’t like me because on cold days I wore gloves.
But he was determined to make me work, and gave me about eighteen assignments a day, and paid me $7. a week. At the end of three months he discharged me as incompetent.”

From The Record Richard went to The Press, which was much more to his liking, and, indeed it was here that he did his first real work and showed his first promise. For nearly three years he did general reporting and during this time gained a great deal more personal success than comes to most members of that usually anonymous profession. His big chance came with the Johnstown flood, and the news stories he wired to his paper showed the first glimpse of his ability as a correspondent. Later on, disguised as a crook, he joined a gang of yeggmen, lived with them in the worst dives of the city, and eventually gained their good opinion to the extent of being allowed to assist in planning a burglary. But before the actual robbery took place, Richard had obtained enough evidence against his crook companions to turn them over to the police and eventually land them in prison. It was during these days that he wrote his first story for a magazine, and the following letter shows that it was something of a milestone in his career.


August, 1888.

The St. Nicholas people sent me a check for $50 for the “pirate” story. It would be insupportable affectation to say that I was not delighted. Jennings Crute and I were waiting for breakfast when I found the letter. I opened it very slowly, for I feared they would bluff me with some letter about illustrations or revision, or offering me a reduced subscription to the magazine. There was a letter inside and a check. I read the letter before I looked at the check, which I supposed would be for $30, as the other story was valued at $20. The note said that a perfect gentleman named Chichester would be pleased if I would find enclosed a check for $50. I looked at Jenny helplessly, and said, “It’s for fifty, Jenny.” Crute had an insane look in his eyes as he murmured “half a hundred dollars, and on your day off, too.” Then I sat down suddenly and wondered what I would buy first, and Crute sat in a dazed condition, and abstractedly took a handful of segars out of the box dear old Dad gave me. As I didn’t say anything, he took another handful, and then sat down and gazed at the check for five minutes in awe. After breakfast I calculated how much I would have after I paid my debts. I still owe say $23, and I have some shoes to pay for and my hair to cut. I had a wild idea of going over to New York and buying some stocks, but I guess I’ll go to Bond’s and Baker’s instead.

I’m going down street now to see if Drexel wants to borrow any ready money-on the way down I will make purchases and pay bills so that my march will be a triumphal procession.

I got a story on the front page this morning about an explosion at Columbia Avenue Station–I went out on it with another man my senior in years and experience, whom Watrous expected to write the story while I hustled for facts. When we got back I had all the facts, and what little he had was incorrect–so I said I would dispense with his services and write the story myself. I did it very politely, but it queered the man before the men, and Watrous grew very sarcastic at his expense. Next time Andy will know better and let me get my own stories alone.

Your Millionaire Son,


I’m still the “same old Dick”; not proud a bit.

This was my mother’s reply:

August 1888.

Your letter has just come and we are all delighted. Well done for old St. Nicholas! I thought they meant to wait till the story was published. It took me back to the day when I got $50. for “Life in the Iron Mills.” I carried the letter half a day before opening it, being so sure that it was a refusal.

I had a great mind to read the letter to Davis and Cecile who were on the porch but was afraid you would not like it.

I did read them an extremely impertinent enclosure which was so like the letter I sent yesterday. That I think you got it before writing this.

. . . Well I am glad about that cheque! Have you done anything on Gallagher? That is by far the best work you’ve done–oh, by far–Send that to Gilder. In old times The Century would not print the word “brandy.” But those days are over.

Two more days–dear boy–


In addition to his work on The Press, Richard also found time to assist his friend, Morton McMichael, 3d, in the editing of a weekly publication called The Stage. In fact with the exception of the services of an office boy, McMichael and Richard were The Stage. Between them they wrote the editorials, criticisms, the London and Paris special correspondence, solicited the advertisements, and frequently assisted in the wrapping and mailing of the copies sent to their extremely limited list of subscribers. During this time, however, Richard was establishing himself as a star reporter on The Press, and was already known as a clever news-gatherer and interviewer. It was in reply to a letter that Richard wrote to Robert Louis Stevenson enclosing an interview he had had with Walt Whitman, that Stevenson wrote the following letter–which my brother always regarded as one of his greatest treasures:

Why, thank you so much for your frank, agreeable and natural letter. It is certainly very pleasant that all you young fellows should enjoy my work and get some good out of it and it was very kind in you to write and tell me so. The tale of the suicide is excellently droll, and your letter, you may be sure, will be preserved. If you are to escape unhurt out of your present business you must be very careful, and you must find in your heart much constancy. The swiftly done work of the journalist and the cheap finish and ready made methods to which it leads, you must try to counteract in private by writing with the most considerate slowness and on the most ambitious models. And when I say “writing”–O, believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in mind. If you will do this I hope to hear of you some day.

Please excuse this sermon from

Your obliged


In the spring of 1889 Richard as the correspondent of the Philadelphia Telegraph, accompanied a team of Philadelphia cricketers on a tour of Ireland and England, but as it was necessary for him to spend most of his time reporting the matches played in small university towns, he saw only enough of London to give him a great longing to return as soon as the chance offered. Late that summer he resumed his work on The Press, but Richard was not at all satisfied with his journalistic progress, and for long his eyes had been turned toward New York. There he knew that there was not only a broader field for such talent as he might possess, but that the chance for adventure was much greater, and it was this hope and love of adventure that kept Richard moving on all of his life.

On a morning late in September, 1889, he started for New York to look for a position as reporter on one of the metropolitan newspapers. I do not know whether he carried with him any letters or that he had any acquaintances in the journalistic world on whose influence he counted, but, in any case, he visited a number of offices without any success whatever. Indeed, he had given up the day as wasted, and was on his way to take the train back to Philadelphia. Tired and discouraged, he sat down on a bench in City Hall Park, and mentally shook his fist at the newspaper offices on Park Row that had given him so cold a reception. At this all-important moment along came Arthur Brisbane, whom Richard had met in London when the former was the English correspondent of The Sun. Brisbane had recently been appointed editor of The Evening Sun, and had already met with a rather spectacular success. On hearing the object of Richard’s visit to New York, he promptly offered him a position on his staff and Richard as promptly accepted. I remember that the joyous telegram he sent to my mother, telling of his success, and demanding that the fatted calf be killed for dinner that night was not received with unalloyed happiness. To my mother and father it meant that their first-born was leaving home to seek his fortune, and that without Richard’s love and sympathy the home could never be quite the same. But the fatted calf was killed, every one pretended to be just as elated as Richard was over his good fortune, and in two days he left us for his first adventure.

The following note to his mother Richard scribbled off in pencil at the railway-station on his way to New York:

I am not surprised that you were sad if you thought I was going away for good. I could not think of it myself. I am only going to make a little reputation and to learn enough of the business to enable me to live at home in the centre of the universe with you. That is truth. God bless you.




Of the many completely happy periods of Richard’s life there were few more joyous than the first years he spent as a reporter in New York. For the first time he was completely his own master and paying his own way–a condition which afforded him infinite satisfaction. He was greatly attached to Brisbane and as devoted to the interests of The Evening Sun as if he had been the editor and publisher. In return Brisbane gave him a free rein and allowed him to write very much what and as he chose. The two men were constantly together, in and out of office hours, and planned many of the leading features of the paper which on account of the brilliancy of its news stories and special articles was at that time attracting an extraordinary amount of attention. Richard divided his working hours between reporting important news events, writing specials (principally about theatrical people), and the Van Bibber stories, nearly all of which were published for the first time in The Evening Sun. These short tales of New York life soon made a distinct hit, and, while they appeared anonymously, it was generally known that Richard was their author. In addition to his newspaper work my brother was also working on short stories for the magazines, and in 1890 scored his first real success in this field, with “Gallegher,” which appeared in Scribner’s. This was shortly followed by “The Other Woman,” “Miss Catherwaite’s Understudy,” “A Walk up the Avenue,” “My Disreputable Friend, Mr. Raegen,” “An Unfinished Story,” and other stories that soon gave him an established reputation as a writer of fiction. But while Richard’s success was attained in a remarkably short space of time and at an extremely early age, it was not accomplished without an enormous amount of hard work and considerable privation. When he first went to New York his salary was but thirty dollars a week, and while he remained on The Evening Sun never over fifty dollars, and the prices he received for his first short stories were extremely meagre. During the early days on The Evening Sun he had a room in a little house at 108 Waverly Place, and took his meals in the neighborhood where he happened to find himself and where they were cheapest. He usually spent his week-ends in Philadelphia, but his greatest pleasure was when he could induce some member of his family to visit him in New York. I fear I was the one who most often accepted his hospitality, and wonderful visits they were, certainly to me, and I think to Richard as well. The great event was our Saturday-night dinner, when we always went to a little restaurant on Sixth Avenue. I do not imagine the fifty-cent table d’hote (vin compris) the genial Mr. Jauss served us was any better than most fifty-cent table-d’hote dinners, but the place was quaint and redolent of strange smells of cooking as well as of a true bohemian atmosphere. Those were the days when the Broadway Theatre was given over to the comic operas in which Francis Wilson and De Wolfe Hopper were the stars, and as both of the comedians were firm friends of Richard, we invariably ended our evening at the Broadway. Sometimes we occupied a box as the guests of the management, and at other times we went behind the scenes and sat in the star’s dressing-room. I think I liked it best when Hopper was playing, because during Wilson’s regime the big dressing-room was a rather solemn sort of place, but when Hopper ruled, the room was filled with pretty girls and he treated us to fine cigars and champagne.

Halcyon nights those, and then on Sunday morning we always breakfasted at old Martin’s on University Place eggs a la Martin and that wonderful coffee and pain de menage. And what a wrench it was when I tore myself away from the delights of the great city and scurried back to my desk in sleepy Philadelphia. Had I been a prince royal Richard could not have planned more carefully than he did for these visits, and to meet the expense was no easy matter for him. Indeed, I know that to pay for all our gayeties he usually had to carry his guitar to a neighboring pawn-broker where the instrument was always good for an eight-dollar loan. But from the time Richard first began to make his own living one of the great pleasures of his life was to celebrate, or as he called it, to “have a party.” Whenever he had finished a short story he had a party, and when the story had been accepted there was another party, and, of course, the real party was when he received the check. And so it was throughout his life, giving a party to some one whom a party would help, buying a picture for which he had no use to help a struggling artist, sending a few tons of coal to an old lady who was not quite warm enough, always writing a letter or a check for some one of his own craft who had been less fortunate than he–giving to every beggar that he met, fearing that among all the thousand fakers he might refuse one worthy case. I think this habit of giving Richard must have inherited from his father, who gave out of all proportion to his means, and with never too close a scrutiny to the worthiness of the cause. Both men were too intensely human to do that, but if this great desire on the part of my father and brother to help others gave the recipients pleasure I’m sure that it caused in the hearts of the givers an even greater happiness. The following letters were chosen from a great number which Richard wrote to his family, telling of his first days on The Evening Sun, and of his life in New York.

YORK Evening Sun–1890

Today is as lovely and fresh as the morning, a real spring day, and I feel good in consequence. I have just come from a couple of raids, where we had a very lively time, and some of them had to pull their guns. I found it necessary to punch a few sports myself. The old sergeant from headquarters treats me like a son and takes the greatest pride in whatever I do or write. He regularly assigns me now to certain doors, and I always obey orders like the little gentleman that I am. Instead of making me unpopular, I find it helps me with the sports, though it hurts my chances professionally, as so many of them know me now that I am no use in some districts. For instance, in Mott and Pell streets, or in the Bowery, I am as safe as any precinct detective. I tell you this to keep you from worrying. They won’t touch a man whom they think is an agent or an officer. Only it spoils my chances of doing reportorial-detective work. For instance, the captain of the Bowery district refused me a detective the other morning to take the Shippens around the Chinese and the tougher quarters because he said they were as safe with me as with any of the other men whose faces are as well known. To-night I am going to take a party to the headquarters of the fire department, where I have a cinch on the captain, a very nice fellow, who is unusually grateful for something I wrote about him and his men. They are going to do the Still Alarm act for me.

These clippings all came out in to-day’s paper. The ladies in the Tombs were the Shippens, of course; and Mamie Blake is a real girl, and the story is true from start to finish. I think it is a pathetic little history.

Give my love to all. I will bring on the story I have finished and get you to make some suggestions. It is quite short. Since Scribner’s have been so civil, I think I will give them a chance at the great prize. I am writing a comic guide book and a history of the Haymarket for the paper; both are rich in opportunities. This weather makes me feel like another person. I will be so glad to get home. With lots of love and kisses for you and Nora.


NEW YORK–1890.

Brisbane has suggested to me that the Bradley story would lead anyone to suppose that my evenings were spent in the boudoirs of the horizontales of 34th Street and has scared me somewhat in consequence. If it strikes you and Dad the same way don’t show it to Mother. Dad made one mistake by thinking I wrote a gambling story which has made me nervous. It is hardly the fair thing to suppose that a man must have an intimate acquaintance with whatever he writes of intimately. A lot of hunting people, for instance, would not believe that I had written the “Traver’s Only Ride” story because they knew I did not hunt. Don’t either you or Dad make any mistake about this.


As a matter of fact they would not let me in the room, and I don’t know whether it abounded in signed etchings or Bougereau’s nymphs.

NEW YORK–1890.

Today has been more or less feverish. In the morning’s mail I received a letter from Berlin asking permission to translate “Gallegher” into German, and a proof of a paragraph from The Critic on my burlesque of Rudyard Kipling, which was meant to please but which bored me. Then the “Raegen” story came in, making nine pages of the Scribner’s, which at ten dollars a page ought to be $90. Pretty good pay for three weeks’ work, and it is a good story. Then at twelve a young man came bustling into the office, stuck his card down on the desk and said, “I am S. S. McClure. I have sent my London representative to Berlin and my New York man to London. Will you take charge of my New York end?”

If he thought to rattle me he was very much out of it, for I said in his same tone and manner, “Bring your New York representative back and send me to London, and I’ll consider it. As long as I am in New York I will not leave The Evening Sun.”

“Edmund Gosse is my London representative,” he said; “you can have the same work here. Come out and take lunch.” I said, “Thank you, I can’t; I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

“All right,” he said. “I’ll come for you. Think of what I say. I’ll make your fortune. Bradford Merrill told me to get you. You won’t have anything to do but ask people to write novels and edit them. I’ll send you abroad later if you don’t like New York. Can you write any children’s stories for me?”

“No,” I said, “see you Tuesday.”

This is a verbal report of all and everything that was said. I consider it a curious interview. It will raise my salary here or I go. What do YOU think?

NEW YORK–1890.

The more I thought of the McClure offer the less I thought of it. So I told him last night I was satisfied where I was, and that the $75 he offered me was no inducement. Brisbane says I will get $50 about the first of October, which is plenty and enough for a young man who intends to be good to his folks. I cannot do better than stay where I am, for it is understood between Brisbane and Laffan that in the event of the former’s going into politics I shall take his place, which will suit very well until something better turns up. Then there is the chance of White’s coming back and my going to Lunnon, which would please me now more for what I think I could make of it than what I think others have made of it. If I had gone to McClure I would have been shelved and side-tracked, and I am still in the running, and learning every day. Brisbane and I have had our first serious difficulty over Mrs. R—-, who is staying with Mrs. “Bill.” There is at present the most desperate rivalry, and we discuss each other’s chances with great anger. He counts on his transcontinental knowledge, but my short stories hit very hard, and he is not in it when I sing “Thy Face Will Lead Me On” and “When Kerrigan Struck High C.” She has a fatal fondness for Sullivan, which is most unfortunate, as Brisbane can and does tell her about him by the half hour. Yesterday we both tried to impress her by riding down in front of the porch and showing off the horses and ourselves. Brisbane came off best, though I came off quickest, for my horse put his foot in a hole and went down on his knees, while I went over his head like the White Knight in “Alice.” I would think nothing of sliding off a roof now. But I made up for this mishap by coming back in my grey suit and having it compared with the picture in The Century. It is a very close fight, and, while Brisbane is chasing over town for photographs of Sullivan, I am buying books of verses of which she seems to be fond. As soon as she gets her divorce one of us is going to marry her. We don’t know which. She is about as beautiful a woman as I ever saw, and very witty and well-informed, but it would cost a good deal to keep her in diamonds. She wears some the Queen gave her, but she wants more.


NEW YORK–1890.

I am well and with lots to do. I went up to see Hopper the other night, which was the first time in three months that I have been back of a theater, and it was like going home. There is a smell about the painty and gassy and dusty place that I love as much as fresh earth and newly cut hay, and the girls look so pretty and bold lying around on the sets, and the men so out of focus and with such startling cheeks and lips. They were very glad to see me and made a great fuss. Then I’ve been to see Carmencita dance, which I enjoyed remarkably, and I have been reading Rudyard Kipling’s short stories, and I think it is disgusting that a boy like that should write such stories. He hasn’t left himself anything to do when he gets old. He reminds me of Bret Harte and not a bit of Stevenson, to whom some of them compare him.

I am very glad you liked the lady in mid-air story so much, but it wasn’t a bit necessary to add the MORAL from a MOTHER. I saw it coming up before I had read two lines; and a very good moral it is, too, with which I agree heartily. But, of course, you know it is not a new idea to me. Anything as good and true as that moral cannot be new at this late date. I went to the Brooklyn Handicap race yesterday. It is one of the three biggest races of the year, and a man stood in front of me in the paddock in a white hat. Another man asked him what he was “playing.”

“Well,” he said, “I fancy Fides myself.”

“Fides!” said his friend, “why, she ain’t in it. She won’t see home. Raceland’s the horse for your money; she’s favorite, and there isn’t any second choice. But Fides! Why, she’s simply impossible. Raceland beat HER last Suburban.”

“Yes, I remember,” said the man in the white hat, “but I fancy Fides.”

Then another chap said to him, “Fides is all good enough on a dust track on a sunny, pleasant day, but she can’t ran in the mud. She hasn’t got the staying powers. She’s a pretty one to look at, but she’s just a `grandstand’ ladies’ choice. She ain’t in it with Raceland or Erica. The horse YOU want is not a pretty, dainty flyer, but a stayer, that is sure and that brings in good money, not big odds, but good money. Why, I can name you a dozen better’n Fides.”

“Still, somehow, I like Fides best,” said the obstinate man in the white hat.

“But Fides will take the bit in her mouth and run away, or throw the jock or break into the fence. She isn’t steady. She’s all right to have a little bet on, just enough for a flyer, but she’s not the horse to plunge on. If you’re a millionaire with money to throw away, why, you might put some of it up on her, but, as it is, you want to put your money where it will be sure of a `place,’ anyway. Now, let me mark your card for you?”

“No,” said the man, “what you all say is reasonable, I see that; but, somehow, I rather fancy Fides best.”

I’ve forgotten now whether Fides won or not, and whether she landed the man who just fancied her without knowing why a winner or sent him home broke. But, in any event, that is quite immaterial, the story simply shows how obstinate some men are as regards horses and–other uncertain critters. I have no doubt but that the Methodist minister’s daughter would have made Hiram happy if he had loved her, but he didn’t. No doubt Anne —-, Nan —-, Katy —- and Maude —- would have made me happy if they would have consented to have me and I had happened to love them, but I fancied Fides.

But now since I have scared you sufficiently, let me add for your peace of mind that I’ve not enough
money to back any horses just at present, and before I put any money up on any one of them for the Matrimonial stakes, I will ask you first to look over the card and give me a few pointers. I mayn’t follow them, you know, but I’ll give you a fair warning, at any rate.

“You’re my sweetheart, I’m your beau.” DICK.

NEW YORK, May 29, 1890.

This is just a little good night note to say how I wish I was with you down at that dear old place and how much I love you and Nora who is getting lovelier and sweeter and prettier everyday and I know a pretty girl when I see ’em, Fides, for instance. But I won’t tease you about that any more.

I finished a short silly story to night which I am in doubt whether to send off or not. I think I will keep it until I read it to you and learn what you think.

Mr. Gilder has asked me to stay with them at Marion, and to go to Cambridge with Mrs. Gilder and dear Mrs. Cleveland and Grover Cleveland, when he reads the poem before D. K. E.

I have bought a book on decorations, colored, and I am choosing what I want, like a boy with a new pair of boots.

Good-night, my dearest Mama.


In addition to his regular work on The Evening Sun, my brother, as I have already said, was devoting a great part, of his leisure moments to the writing of short stories, and had made a tentative agreement with a well-known magazine to do a series of short sketches of New York types. Evidently fearful that Richard was writing too much and with a view to pecuniary gain, my mother wrote the following note of warning:


I wouldn’t undertake the “types.” For one thing, you will lose prestige writing for —-‘s paper. For another, I dread beyond everything your beginning to do hack work for money. It is the beginning of decadence both in work and reputation for you. I know by my own and a thousand other people. Begin to write because it “is a lot of money” and you stop doing your best work. You make your work common and your prices will soon go down. George Lewes managed George Eliot wisely.

He stopped her hack work. Kept her at writing novels and soon one each year brought her $40,000. I am taking a purely mercenary view of the thing. There is another which you understand better than I– Mind your Mother’s advice to you–now and all the time is “do only your best work–even if you starve doing it.” But you won’t starve. You’ll get your dinner at Martin’s instead of Delmonico’s, which won’t hurt you in the long run. Anyhow, $1000. for 12,500 words is not a great price.

That was a fine tea you gave. I should like to have heard the good talk. It was like the regiment of brigadier generals with no privates.



This is a letter written by my father after the publication of Richard’s story “A Walk up the Avenue.” Richard frequently spoke of his father as his “kindest and severest critic.”

PHILADELPHIA, July 22nd, 1890.

10.30 P. M.

You can do it; you have done it; it is all right. I have read A Walk up the Avenue. It is far and away the best thing you have ever done–Full of fine subtle thought, of rare, manly feeling.

I am not afraid of Dick the author. He’s all right. I shall only be afraid–when I am afraid–that Dick the man will not live up to the other fellow, that he may forget how much the good Lord has given him, and how responsible to the good Lord and to himself he is and will be for it. A man entrusted with such talent should carry himself straighter than others to whom it is denied. He has great duties to do; he owes tribute to the giver.

Don’t let the world’s temptations in any of its forms come between you and your work. Make your life worthy of your talent, and humbly by day and by night ask God to help you to do it.

I am very proud of this work. It is good work, with brain, bone, nerve, muscle in it. It is human, with healthy pulse and heartsome glow in it. Remember, hereafter, you have by it put on the bars against yourself preventing you doing any work less good. You have yourself made your record, you can’t lower it. You can only beat it.


In the latter part of December, 1890, Richard left The Evening Sun to become the managing editor of Harper’s Weekly. George William Curtis was then its editor, and at this time no periodical had a broader or greater influence for the welfare of the country. As Richard was then but twenty-six, his appointment to his new editorial duties came as a distinct honor. The two years that Richard had spent on The Evening Sun had been probably the happiest he had ever known. He really loved New York, and at this time Paris and London held no such place in his affections as they did in later years. And indeed there was small reason why these should not have been happy years for any young man. At twenty-six Richard had already accomplished much, and his name had become a familiar one not only to New Yorkers but throughout the country. Youth and health he had, and many friends, and a talent that promised to carry him far in the profession he loved. His new position paid him a salary considerably larger than he had received heretofore, and he now demanded and received much higher terms for his stories. All of which was well for Richard because as his income grew so grew his tastes. I have known few men who cared less for money than did my brother, and I have known few who cared more for what it could buy for his friends and for himself. Money to him, and, during his life he made very large sums of it, he always chose to regard as income but never capital. A bond or a share of stock meant to him what it would bring that day on the Stock Exchange. The rainy day which is the bugaboo for the most of us, never seemed to show on his horizon. For a man whose livelihood depended on the lasting quality of his creative faculties he had an infinite faith in the future, and indeed his own experience seemed to show that he was justified in this belief. It could not have been very long after his start as a fiction writer that he received as high a price for his work as any of his contemporaries; and just previous to his death, more than twenty years later, he signed a contract to write six stories at a figure which, so far as I know, was the highest ever offered an American author. In any case, money or the lack of it certainly never caused Richard any worriment during the early days of which I write. For what he made he worked extremely hard, but the reputation and the spending of the money that this same hard work brought him caused him infinite happiness. He enjoyed the reputation he had won and the friends that such a reputation helped him to make; he enjoyed entertaining and being entertained, and he enjoyed pretty much all of the good things of life. And all of this he enjoyed with the naive, almost boyish enthusiasm that only one could to whom it had all been made possible at twenty-six. Of these happy days Booth Tarkington wrote at the time of my brother’s death:

“To the college boy of the early nineties Richard Harding Davis was the `beau ideal of jeunesse doree,’ a sophisticated heart of gold. He was of that college boy’s own age, but already an editor–already publishing books! His stalwart good looks were as familiar to us as were those of our own football captain; we knew his face as we knew the face of the President of the United States, but we infinitely preferred Davis’s. When the Waldorf was wondrously completed, and we cut an exam. in Cuneiform Inscriptions for an excursion to see the world at lunch in its new magnificence, and Richard Harding Davis came into the Palm Room–then, oh, then, our day was radiant! That was the top of our fortune; we could never have hoped for so much. Of all the great people of every continent, this was the one we most desired to see.”

Richard’s intimate friends of these days were Charles Dana Gibson, who illustrated a number of my brother’s stories, Robert Howard Russell, Albert La Montagne, Helen Benedict, now Mrs. Thomas Hastings, Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams, E. H. Sothern, his brother, Sam, and Arthur Brisbane. None of this little circle was married at the time, its various members were seldom apart, and they extracted an enormous amount of fun out of life. I had recently settled in New York, and we had rooms at 10 East Twenty-eighth Street, where we lived very comfortably for many years. Indeed Richard did not leave them until his marriage in the summer of 1899. They were very pleasant, sunny rooms, and in the sitting-room, which Richard had made quite attractive, we gave many teas and supper-parties. But of all the happy incidents I can recall at the Twenty-eighth Street house, the one I remember most distinctly took place in the hallway the night that Richard received the first statement and check for his first book of short stories, and before the money had begun to come in as fast as it did afterward. We were on our way to dinner at some modest resort when we saw and at once recognized the long envelope on the mantel. Richard guessed it would be for one hundred and ninety dollars, but with a rather doubting heart I raised my guess to three hundred. And when, with trembling fingers, Richard had finally torn open the envelope and found a check for nine hundred and odd dollars, what a wild dance we did about the hall-table, and what a dinner we had that night! Not at the modest restaurant as originally intended, but at Delmonico’s! It was during these days that Seymour Hicks and his lovely wife Ellaline Terriss first visited America, and they and Richard formed a mutual attachment that lasted until his death.

Richard had always taken an intense interest in the drama, and at the time he was managing editor of Harper’s Weekly had made his first efforts as a playwright. Robert Hilliard did a one-act version of Richard’s short story, “Her First Appearance,” which under the title of “The Littlest Girl” he played in vaudeville for many years. E. H. Sothern and Richard had many schemes for writing a play together, but the only actual result they ever attained was a one-act version Sothern did at the old Lyceum of my brother’s story, “The Disreputable Mr. Raegen.” It was an extremely tense and absorbing drama, and Sothern was very fine in the part of Raegen, but for the forty-five minutes the playlet lasted Sothern had to hold the stage continuously alone, and as it preceded a play of the regulation length, the effort proved too much for the actor’s strength, and after a few performances it was taken off. Although it was several years after this that my brother’s first long play was produced he never lost interest in the craft of playwriting, and only waited for the time and means to really devote himself to it.

BOSTON, January 22nd, 1891.