Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort
In my search for documents relating to Charles Hoy Fort, I found it very difficult to locate a copy of Many Parts; and, once having found it, I scattered a few copies among Forteans, so that it might be read and preserved from obscurity. By its inclusion in the first issue of Fortean Studies and at this web-site, I believe far more readers will have the opportunity to examine this work and learn more about Fort's youth and development as a writer."
The only book referring to Many Parts was Damon Knight's Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained, published by Doubleday & Co. in 1970; but, it was offered only in fragments in a chapter on Fort's childhood. Hoping to examine this autobiography, I sought a copy of it without success after contacting Damon Knight and Aaron Sussman, examining several boxes of the Tiffany Thayer Papers in the New York Public Library, and making numerous queries to other Fortean researchers. The whereabouts of the original copy had been forgotten. Fortunately, I also examined the Damon Knight Papers in the George Arents Research Library at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. On a second visit, in November of 1989, I located a photocopy of Thayer's typescript copy in Box 3 under "Xeroxed articles." With Knight's permission, I obtained a photocopy of this Thayer copy in January of 1990 and copied it again with relatively little editing and the addition of some material to provide some further insights to the reader.
One should keep in mind that Fort's autobiography was written when his family was still alive, and Fort's exercise in autobiography was not considered successful by his own opinion. In a memorandum dated "November 6, 1929," (which apparently was typed out later by Thayer), Fort reviewed several aspects of his work, his health, and finances, in what was undoubtedly a bout of depression. He wrote of his emergence as "a metaphysician from a story writer." This also gives some evidence as to when he was writing Many Parts; for, he writes: "From Sept. 1899 until Sept. 1904, the metaphysician had interfered with and held back the story writer. My book Many Parts was simply the work of an immature metaphysician psychologist, sociologist, etc. trying to express in a story. Also individualism, or stylism, not only interfered and made me not easily readable, but gave me a satisfaction or elation that held back development."
Fort wrote in the plural as "We," and his references to other members of his family were guised in vague terms. "They" was Fort's father Charles Nelson Fort; the "stepmother" was Blanche Fort (nee Whitney); the "other kid" was Raymond Fort; the "little kid" was Clarence Fort; the "grandfather" was Peter Van Vracken Fort; the "other grandfather" was John Hoy; "Nick" would appear to have been a maternal uncle, John S. Hoy. Fort's mother, Agnes Fort (nee Hoy), was the first wife of Charles N. Fort and died shortly after the birth of Clarence Fort; but, she makes no appearance nor is she mentioned in the surviving copy. I would suspect that the "great aunt" in Saratoga (mentioned on page 22 herein), is either a sister of J. Hoy or, more likely, Peter V.V. Fort; and, the "aunt" who saw nothing wrong in gambling may have been a sister to John S. Hoy and Agnes Fort, and may possibly have also been identified herein as "Martha." And, the Democrat, mentioned herein as being the first newspaper for which Fort worked, was undoubtedly the Albany Argus.
Tiffany Thayer made many rash and erroneous identifications regarding these characters; but, I would credit him for recognizing two episodes which illustrated Fort's break from his family in Albany, being: his brother Clarence's stealing cake for him during his visit to the "Industrial Farm," and being denied cake in his Albany home, which was recounted by his wife, Annie Fort, after his death. Thayer apparently never made the journey to Albany to conduct further research into Fort's early life nor finished his attempt at publishing his history of Fort's family and early life.
Fort's childhood home in Many Parts still stands in Albany, but
the memories of places and people from a century ago have nearly faded
away into obscure maps and occasional entries in city directories. The
characters, disguised by false names, have long ago left the stage; the
scenery has been changed as old houses, schools, and stores have been torn
dnded. Fort was not so much concerned with the elements of true biography
as he was in recollecting his own youth in his own literary style. What
follows is an account of the early stages of his youth, written before
his brief career as a short-story writer, his one novel, and the world-renowned
iconoclastic books. Fort's selection of the title may have been taken from
Shakespeare's As You Like It, (Act 2, Scene 7, Line 142): "And
one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages;"
but, I would incorporate the "many parts" of what fragments remain
of Fort's story with other material, to give a fuller understanding of
Fort's early life.
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