The idea was certainly an original one. It was Bedford Parke who suggested it to Tenafly Paterson, and Tenafly was so pleased with it that he in turn unfolded it in detail to his friend Dobbs Ferry, claiming its inception as his very own. Dobbs was so extremely enthusiastic about it that he invited Tenafly to a luncheon at the Waldoria to talk over the possibilities of putting the plan into practical operation, and so extract from it whatever of excellence it might ultimately be found to contain.
“As yet it is only an idea, you know,” said Dobbs; “and if you have ever had any experience with ideas, Tenny, you are probably aware that, unless reduced to a practical basis, an idea is of no more value than a theory.”
“True,” Tenafly replied. “I can demonstrate that in five minutes at the Waldoria. For instance, you see, Dobbsy, I have an idea that I am as hungry as a bear, but as yet it is only a theory, from which I derive no substantial benefit. Place a portion of whitebait, a filet Bearnaise, and a quart of Sauterne before me, and—”
“I see,” said Dobbsy. “Come along.”
And they went; and the result of that luncheon at the Waldoria was the formation of “The Dreamers: A Club.” The colon was Dobbs Ferry’s suggestion. The objects of the club were literary, and Dobbs, who was an observant young man, had noticed that the use of the colon in these days of unregenerate punctuation was confined almost entirely to the literary contingent and its camp-followers. With small poets particularly was it in vogue, and Dobbs—who, by-the-way, had written some very dainty French poems to the various fiancées with whom his career had been checkered—had a sort of vague idea that if his brokerage business would permit him to take the necessary time for it he might become famous as a small poet himself. The French poems and his passion for the colon, combined with an exquisite chirography which he had assiduously cultivated, all contributed to assure him that it was only lack of time that kept him in the ranks of the mute, inglorious Herricks.
As formulated by Dobbs and Tenafly, then, Bedford Parke’s suggestion that a Dreamers’ Club be formed was amplified into this: Thirteen choice spirits, consisting of Dobbs, Tenafly, Bedford Parke, Greenwich Place, Hudson Rivers of Hastings, Monty St. Vincent, Fulton Streete, Berkeley Hights, Haarlem Bridge, the three Snobbes of Yonkers—Tom, Dick, and Harry—and Billy Jones of the Weekly Oracle, were to form themselves into an association which should endeavor to extract whatever latent literary talent the thirteen members might have within them. It was a generally accepted fact, Bedford Parke had said, that all literature, not even excepting history, was based upon the imagination. Many of the masterpieces of fiction had their basis in actual dreams, and, when they were not founded on such, might in every case be said to be directly attributable to what might properly be called waking dreams. It was the misfortune of the thirteen gentlemen who were expected to join this association that the business and social engagements of all, with the possible exception of Billy Jones of the Weekly Oracle, were such as to prevent their indulgence in these waking dreams, dreams which should tend to lower the colors of Howells before those of Tenafly Paterson, and cause the memory of Hawthorne to wither away before the scorching rays of that rising sun of genius, Tom Snobbe of Yonkers. Snobbe, by-the-way, must have inherited literary ability from his father, who had once edited a church-fair paper which ran through six editions in one week—one edition a day for each day of the fair—adding an unreceipted printer’s bill for eighty-seven dollars to the proceeds to be divided among the heathen of Central Africa.
“It’s a well-known fact,” said Bedford—“a sad fact, but still a fact—that if Poe had not been a hard drinker he never would have amounted to a row of beans as a writer. His dreams were induced—and I say, what’s the matter with our inducing dreams and then putting ’em down?”
That was the scheme in a nutshell—to induce dreams and put them down. The receipt was a simple one. The club was to meet once a month, and eat and drink “such stuff as dreams are made of”; the meeting was then to adjourn, the members going immediately home and to bed; the dreams of each were to be carefully noted in their every detail, and at the following meeting were to be unfolded such soul-harrowing tales as might with propriety be based thereon. An important part of the programme was a stenographer, whose duty it would be to take down the stories as they were told and put them in type-written form, which Dobbs was sure he had heard an editor say was one of the first steps towards a favorable consideration by professional readers of the manuscripts of the ambitious.
“I am told,” said he, “that many a truly meritorious production has gone unpublished for years because the labor of deciphering the author’s handwriting proved too much for the reader’s endurance—and it is very natural that it should be so. A professional reader is, after all, only human, and when to the responsibilities of his office is added the wearisome task of wading through a Spencerian morass after the will-o’-wisp of an idea, I don’t blame him for getting impatient. Why, I saw the original manuscript of one of Charles Dickens’s novels once, and I don’t see how any one knew it was good enough to publish until it got into print!”
“That’s simply a proof of what I’ve always said,” observed one of the Snobbe boys. “If Charles Dickens’s works had been written by me, no one would ever have published them.”
“I haven’t a doubt of it,” returned Billy Jones of the Oracle, dryly. “Why, Snobbey, my boy, I believe if you had written the plays of Shakespeare they’d have been forgotten ages ago!”
“So do I,” returned Snobbe, innocently. “This is a queer world.”
“The stenographer will save us a great deal of trouble,” said Bedford. “The hard part of literary work is, after all, the labor of production in a manual sense. These real geniuses don’t have to think. Their ideas come to them, and they let ’em develop themselves. In realistic writing, as I understand it, the author sits down with his pen in his hand and his characters in his mind’s eye, and they simply run along, and he does the private-detective act—follows after them and jots down all they do. In imaginative writing it’s done the same way. The characters of these ridiculous beings we read of are quite as real to the imaginative writer as the characters of the realist are to the latter, and they do supernatural things naturally. So you see these things require very little intellectual labor. It’s merely the drudgery of chasing a commonplace or supernatural set of characters about the world in order to get 400 pages full of reading-matter about ’em that makes the literary profession a laborious one. Our stenographer will enable us to avoid all this. There isn’t a man of us but can talk as easily as he can fall off a log, and a tale once told at our dinners becomes in the telling a bit of writing.”
“But, my dear Parke,” said Billy Jones of the Oracle, who had been a “literary journalist,” as his fond grandmother called it, for some years, “a story told is hardly likely to be in the form calculated to become literature.”
“That’s just what we want you for, Billy,” Bedford replied. “You know how to give a thing that last finishing-touch which will make it go, where otherwise it might forever remain a fixture in the author’s pigeon-hole. When our stories are told and type-written, we want you to go over them, correct the type-writer’s spelling, and make whatever alterations you may think, after consulting with us, to be necessary. Then, if the tales are ever published as a collection, you can have your name on the title-page as editor.”
“Thanks,” answered Billy, gratefully. “I shall be charmed.”
And then he hurried back to his apartments, and threw himself on his bed in a paroxysm of laughter which seemed never-ending, but which in reality did not last more than three hours at the most.
Hudson Rivers of Hastings, when the idea was suggested to him, was the most enthusiastic of all—so enthusiastic that the Snobbe boys thought that, in their own parlance, he ought to be “called down.”
“It’s bad form to go crazy over an idea,” they said. “If Huddy’s going to behave this way about it, he ought to be kept out altogether. It is all very well to experience emotions, but no well-bred person ever shows them—that is, not in Yonkers.”
“Ah, but you don’t understand Huddy,” said Tenafly Paterson. “Huddy has two great ambitions in this life. One is to get into the Authors’ Club, and the other is to marry a certain young woman whose home is in Boston and whose ambitions are Bostonian. To appear before the world as a writer, which the Dreamers will give him a chance to do at small expense, will help him on to the realization of his most cherished hopes; in fact, Huddy told me that he thought we ought to publish the proceedings of the club at least four times a year, so establishing a quarterly magazine, to which we shall all be regular contributors. He thinks it will pay for itself, and knows it will make us all famous, because Billy Jones is certain to see that everything that goes out is first chop, and I’m inclined to believe Huddy is right. The continual drip, drip, drip of a drop of water on a stone will gradually wear away the stone, and, by Jove! before we know it, by constant hammering away at this dream scheme of ours we’ll gain a position that won’t be altogether unenviable.”
“That’s so,” said Billy. “I wouldn’t wonder if with the constant drip, drip, drip of your drops of ink and inspiration you could wear the public out in a very little while. The only troublesome thing will be in getting a publisher for your quarterly.”
“I haven’t any idea that we want a publisher,” said Bedford Parke. “We’ve got capital enough among ourselves to bring the thing out, and so I say, what’s the use of letting anybody else in on the profits? A publisher wouldn’t give us more than ten per cent. in royalties. If we publish it ourselves we’ll get the whole thing.”
“Yes,” assented Tom Snobbe, “and, what’s more, it will have a higher tone to it if we can say on the title-page ‘Privately printed,’ eh? That’ll make everybody in society want one for his library, and everybody not in society will be crazy to get it because it’s aristocratic all through.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Billy Jones. “I’ve no doubt you are right, only I’d think you’d sell more copies if you’d also put on the title-page ‘For circulation among the élite only.’ Then every man, woman, or child who happened to get a copy would take pride in showing it to others, who would immediately send for it, because not having it would seem to indicate that one was not in the swim.”
Nor were the others to whom the proposition was advanced any less desirous to take part. They saw, one and all, opportunities for a very desirable distinction through the medium of the Dreamers, and within two weeks of the original formation of the plan the club was definitely organized. Physicians were consulted by the various members as to what edibles contained the properties most likely to produce dreams of the nature desired, and at the organization meeting all but Billy Jones were well stocked with suggestions for the inauguration dinner. Hudson Rivers was of the opinion that there should be six courses at that dinner, each one of Welsh-rabbit, but varying in form, such as Welsh-rabbit purée, for instance, in which the cheese should have the consistency of pea-soup rather than of leather; such as Welsh-rabbit pâté, in which the cheese should rest within walls of pastry instead of lying quiescent and inviting like a yellow mantle upon a piece of toast; then a Welsh-rabbit roast; and so on all through the banquet, rabbit upon rabbit, the whole washed down with the accepted wines of the ordinary banquet, which experience had taught them were likely in themselves to assist in the work of dream-making.
Monty St. Vincent observed that he had no doubt that the Welsh-rabbit dinner would work wonders, but he confessed his inability to see any reason why the club should begin its labors by committing suicide. He added that, for his part, he would not eat six Welsh rabbits at one sitting if he was sure of Shakespeare’s immortality as his reward, because, however attractive immortality was, he preferred mortality in the flesh to the other in the abstract. If the gentlemen would begin the meal with a grilled lobster apiece, he suggested, going thence by an easy stage to a devilled bird, rounding up with a “slip-on”—which, in brief, is a piece of mince-pie smothered in a blanket of molten cheese—he was ready to take the plunge, but further than this he would not go. The other members were disposed to agree with Monty. They thought the idea of eating six Welsh rabbits in a single evening was preposterous, and that in making such a suggestion Huddy was inspired by one of but two possible motives—that he wished to leap to the foremost position in imaginative literature at one bound, or else was prompted, by jealousy of what the others might do, to wish to kill the club at its very start. Huddy denied these aspersions upon his motives with vociferous indignation, and to show his sincerity readily acquiesced in the adoption of Monty St. Vincent’s menu as already outlined.
The date of the dinner was set, Billy Jones was made master of ceremonies, the dinner was ordered, and eaten amid scenes of such revelry as was possible in the presence of the Snobbe boys, to whom anything in the way of unrestrained enjoyment was a bore and bad form, and at its conclusion the revellers went straight home to bed and to dream.
Two weeks later they met again over viands of a more digestible nature than those which lent interest to the first dinner, and told the tales which follow. And I desire to add here that my report of this dinner and the literature there produced is based entirely upon the stenographer’s notes, coupled with additional information of an interesting kind furnished me by my friend William Jones, Esq., Third Assistant Exchange Editor of The Weekly Oracle, a Journal of To-day, Yesterday, and To-morrow.