Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort
Tiffany Thayer's Prologue, Notes, and Epilogue
THE FORTS OF ALBANY
As nearly as I can piece it together without going to Albany, the founder of this prosperous line was Peter Van Vranken Fort, of Dutch extraction. He may have had a sister, whose name does not appear. She is deduced from two items in Fort's writings, mention of a great-aunt who lived in a hotel in Saratoga, where Charles was taken to visit her as a child. Reference is made to her fondness for gambling. On the other hand, this belle could have been a Hoy, but I rather think not.
Peter married twice, as appears, but his first wife is not named. Whoever she was, she bore him two children, "Lil" and "Will".
According to my correspondent, Lil married John Delehanty, also of Albany, "under very romantic circumstances at the Church of the Madeleine, in Paris. One child resulted from this marriage, Ethel. The marriage ended unhappily, Lil tossed her bonnet over the windmill, and later divorced her husband."
This is probably the same John Delehanty, an attorney, who was named executor of the estate of C.N. Fort, the father of Charles. We have two letters written by Delehanty in 1913.
The same correspondent states that Will Fort married Anna Baillie, of Albany, and died a few years after marriage, survived by his widow and one child, Marian.
Just when is not stated, but Peter Fort was widowed of the mother of Lil and Will, and took a second wife, one Catherine Farrell of Brooklyn. Upon her also Peter Fort fathered two, one Frank and one Charles N.
Frank married Margaret Downey or Dowling - or something similar - of Baltimore. "Two children resulted from this marriage, Mortimer and Pauline. The family lived in New York, on West End Avenue, about forty-five years ago (that is about 1910)." Indeed, we have a letter to our own Charles (Hoy) Fort, dated Nov 20/1910, written at 823 West End Ave., signed "Your ancient unckle (sic) Frank."
Our good correspondent quoted above, one Mrs. Laurence T. Cashman, nee Mary Lowe, who is a grand-niece of Catherine Farrell, was under the impression that her mother's "Aunt Kitty" was the mother of our Charles, but Kitty was in fact his grandmother.
Charles N. Fort was the youngest of Peter's children, but when old Peter V.V., came to die - apparently early in 1896 - Charles N., was running the wholesale grocery.
Charles N. Fort - like his father - also married twice. His first wife was ____________ Hoy. His second is not named.
Charles N., fathered upon his first wife - Charles Hoy, Clarence N., and Raymond V. Fort, in that order, beginning with our Charles, Aug. 6, 1874. Internal evidence indicates that Raymond was an infant - certainly no more than two years old - about 1880, and the same evidence indicates that the mother of those three boys was dead at that time, when Charles Hoy was about six ans. Not a vestige of memory of his mother remains in the documentation. His stepmother is prominently mentioned, well remembered, and tragically, for she lost the sight of both eyes. She is nowhere named.
* * *
As it has been said, these raw materials for a life have been "edited"
- not to say censored - by several other hands before mine, and the most
drastic of all his editors was Fort himself. His first book-length MS -
written by him about 1900, was more than 261 pages long. We know that because
the last torn page of it in our possession is numbered "261",
and it is incomplete. It is a sort of reminiscence covering the years of
about 1880 to 1891, while Fort was growing from ca 6 ans
to the age of 17.
Probably what follows here was first entitled MANY PARTS, taking its
name from that remark of Shakspere which runs: All the world's a stage
--- and one man in his time plays many parts.
We have that source in Fort's own hand, and shall advert to it shortly.
First let us consider the fragmentary MS for its autobiographical value.
Of the (at least) 261 pages, only 76 remain. In other words, the maturer
Fort (or who else?) has extracted 185 pages of MS from the 261: and who
can guess how many pages followed?
We begin with the page numbered "12" because any that ever
preceded that are now missing.
The following notes were included within Thayer's copy of the Many
Parts manuscript. The numbers of the pages numbers given for their
location and by Thayer refer to the original manuscript.
End of page 13:
Perhaps Charles is as old as 8 or 9 at the opening above. If so, the
year is 1882 or 1883, Observe, however, that "the little kid"
is still in a baby carriage, and that is Raymond Fort, only 4 years young[er]
than Charles. The character called "the other kid" is Clarence
N. Fort, of an age between Charles and Ray.
End of page 28:
That is the end of Chapter Three, on p. 28. The grandfather referred
to is Peter Van Vranken Fort, and "They" is the term invariably
applied to the writer's father, Charles N. Fort.
End of page 30:
In the margins of this MS, Fort has made a few pencil marks at a much
later date, mostly to identify the characters. Against the above mentions
of his grandfather he has twice written "P.V." in the margin.
Observe also the beginnings of Fort's interest in the Arctic and the aurora.
End of page 41:
In the margin just above, opposite "They", meaning his father, Fort has written "C.N." three times.
The observations upon numerousness of the soldiers, and the practice
of marking them for honors for their inanimate achievements, are echoed
in Fort's later years by his invention of Super-checkers and his practice
of so marking the "men" in that game. I shall advert to this
at an appropriate time.
End of page 51:
One wonders if the word "Fell", above in the direct quote
of the grandfather, indicates that P.V. spoke with a Dutch accent. Probably
not. More likely it is Fort's typographical error.
End of page 66:
The above mention of "Nick" arouses the question if the father of the three boys may not have been named Charles Nicholas Fort, and the "Nick" adopted as our Charles grew up.
The "other grandfather" mentioned in the last line above is
At the start of page 79:
In the margin Fort has written "Saratoga".
End of page 82:
Above is the first mention of the second wife of Charles N. Fort, the stepmother of the boys. One estimates that Charles Hoy was about 13 at the time of her coming, the year about 1887.
Apparently the lady came on the scene willing and trying to make friends
with her young charges, but it is significant that the next seven pages
of MS - 83 to 89 incl. - are missing.
End of page 95:
P. 96 is missing - with its details of this Nineteenth Century rumble
End of page 104:
That is the end of p. 104. Probably the altercation between Charles N. and Charles Hoy was described earlier, on pages now missing. Here, however, we observe that enmity between father and son has been growing.
In the third paragraph above, we probably have our first glimpse of
Anna Filan who became Fort's wife. She has said she met him when he was
13, so this maiden in the blue sash is very likely she.
End of page 133:
Reader's of Fort's Wild Talents will recall that in this relabelling
process, described above, he pasted peach labels on other fruits and vegetables,
"like a scientist".
End of page 137:
The year must be 1889.
End of page 148:
"The little kid" - that is Raymond Fort - is sent away, and
one would like to know why, but we are not likely to learn. All three brothers
- indeed all these principals - are long since dead.
End of page 182:
Observe, above, Fort's early awareness of his bent for humor, here stated
with regret. He wished to record genuine emotion in his diary but ended
up recounting practical jokes.
End of page 189:
That is the end of p. 189, and Fort has begun to foreshadow himself. At age 15 or so, already bookstruck and trying to write, the first famous author he asks for an autograph is Jules Verne.
One wonders what became of that precious letter. It is not here. Probably
Fort sold it one stony day.
End of page 211:
That is the end of p. 211. It verifies the use of "Nick" as
a nickname for Charles N., and we see that Fort's first job on a newspaper
- the Albany Democrat - was obtained by his father's pull, not by
the writer's compulsive energies of by any specific triumph.
End of page 216:
Some examples of Fort's handwriting clearly demonstrated the temporary
effect of the editorial regimen mentioned above. Alas, the effect was all
N.B. Select examples for facsimile reproduction.
End of page 244:
There ends p. 244, and it is slightly confusing. "Our other grandfather" was J. Hoy, whom I have assumed to be Fort's maternal grandfather. Perhaps this old man's eagerness to have "all his children" with him applied equally to his son-in-law, Nick.
We have just one fragment of a letter signed by J. Hoy, and since it is undated and unrelated to any other event known to me, I insert it here as possibly apropo to the above.
The message is written in pencil on both sides of a piece of "tablet"
paper ruled in light blue.
(p.) 3) It's getting a little too warm already (.) Write to me immediately on receipt of this letter and tell me you're coming (paper torn off at this point...on the reverse side -)
Will you write me and tell me what you are doing, and how you are getting on / Your Grandfather / J. Hoy (could be "I." Hoy).
End of page 257:
So, Charles, at 17, is paying a secret visit to his brother Ray, at an unnamed village upstate. On the way, the passing landscape, as viewed from a seat on the day-coach steps, causes him to write the sexiest line he ever penned as long as he lived. " - - making us think of our latest Madeline, wishing we were wandering through the hills with her."
Obviously our hero is going the way of all newspaper men, drinking, gambling and flirting from Madeline to Madeline. One is pleased to learn that Charles has lost his virginity - perhaps on some of those missing pages - but the intelligence is startling, coming, as it does, so casually. And what has become of Anna in her pretty blue sash?
The year is 1891.
Page 258 is missing: pages 259, 260, and what is left of 261 - torn in half - follow.
End of page 261:
That is all.
Fort rewrote the book, Many Parts, more than once, and we shall follow its career as his stock in trade when that time comes. The portion reprinted above is tendered as so much auto-biography.
Perhaps it was the result of Fort's visit to his brother Ray that caused
him to leave him. Several statements of his indicate that he was living
in New York City in 1892. On the other hand, two years after Fort's death
his widow Annie, told Theodore Dreiser this anecdote which was taken down
by Dreiser's secretary, Evelyn Light, in September, 1933.
A.F.: "Charles was a wild kid, He could not bear to be told he must do anything...They had a stepmother, and lived in a beautiful home in Albany...Charlie came home one night at 10 o'clock, and found he was locked out. The house had a big red glass door, and he took a stone and smashed every bit of the glass. They made him sleep in the basement with the servants, and when he came up, they would not let him have breakfast with the family for a week. The servants were forbidden to pass him anything, but when the cake came around one day, he made a grab for the plate, and the stepmother tried to grab it away from him. Charlie took the cake and threw it at his stepmother. Then there was a fight. Charlie went to his grandfather's, where his father had to pay board for him until he was of age, and then Charlie went abroad. That is how he broke away."
Which grandfather that was is not indicated, and the term "of age" may be used loosely. If 21 ans is indicated, Fort did not attain that majority until 1895, but if 18 ans will suffice, he had barely a year to wait after his visit to Ray which he knew was going to cause a storm.
Later in the same interview Annie told Dreiser that Fort was 18 when he came to New York City.
Annie was not a very reliable witness, but this latter statement is borne out in one of Fort's letters written in 1915, reproduced in full farther along in this volume. Fort's assertion there is that he sold things to a N.Y.C. syndicate "when I was 17 in Albany," and at 18 (1892) was a contributor to "the Brooklyn edition of the World," and at 19 (1893) became "editor" of a new paper, the Woodhaven Independent, published in or near Jamaica, Long Island.
Now, the contributions to the N.Y.C. syndicate and even those to the Brooklyn edition of the World might have been made by mail, but to edit a Long Island newspaper - even a weekly - Fort must have been living in the vicinity.
The earliest acceptance we have is on the stationary of the New York Journal, April 27, 1897, but earlier ones surely have been lost, because Fort was a going concern by that time, and known to have been living in New York City for more than a year. He received mail at 170 East 32nd Street, dated July 21, '96. It is a postcard, which reads: "Fort:- we are at 322 Columbus Ave - Cor 75th. Stay away - Christopher."
I have no idea who Christopher was but suspect he was a kinsman or friend
Chapters One to Three
Chapters Six to Eight
Chapters Nine and Ten
Chapters Eleven and Twelve
Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen and the Remainder
Extracts from Wild Talents
Raymond N. Fort's Recollections of Charles Hoy Fort
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