One of my favourite ‘forgotten’ authors is Max O’Rell, a travel writer whose books are funny and readable, despite now all being well over 100 years old. His 1889 book, Jonathan and his Continent, tackled the subject of American life and customs, and he described a New Year party spent in a club in New York, the Author’s Club. The club had been founded only recently, in 1882, and attracted some very famous members over the years, including Mark Twain (as mentioned by O’Rell), but also Robert Louis Stevenson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The club was disbanded in 1973.
The hospitality of American clubs is thoughtfully and generously extended to foreigners who visit the States. I had not been a fortnight in America before I was “put up” as honorary member of nearly all the New York clubs. In the other large cities I visited, I met with the same amiability, the same eager expression of cordiality.
A charming little club — but this one has no pretension to luxuriousness — is the Authors’ Club in New York. It has only three rooms very modestly furnished, where one may meet some of America’s most charming writers, playing at Bohemia and chatting over a cigar. Once a fortnight there is a reunion. A simple supper is served at ten o’clock: roast chickens, green peas, and potatoes, cheese and beer. The members are waiting to introduce champagne until Congress has passed the international copyright bill. One hardly thinks of the fare in the company of this aristocracy of American talent and intellect. To those gentlemen I owe many a delightful hour passed in their midst.
A very interesting little ceremony takes place at the Authors’ Club on New Year’s night. On the evening of the 31st of December, the members of the club muster in force at their snug quarters in Twenty-fourth Street. At two or three minutes to twelve, all the lights are put out, and “Auld Lang Syne” is sung in chorus to bid good-by to the year that is passing away. As soon as the clock has struck the midnight hour, the lights are re-lit, all the company strike up, “He’s a jolly good fellow,” and there is a general hand-shaking and wishing of good wishes for the new year. Then every one dives into his memory for an anecdote, a good joke, or an amusing reminiscence, and the evening is prolonged till two or three o’clock. I had the good luck to be present at the last of these merry meetings. Mark Twain presided, and I need not tell you with what spirited and inexhaustible mirth the celebrated humorist did the honors of the evening.
You can read an article about another of Max O’Rell’s books here: Journals 5 – A Frenchman in America. The link will take you to the first part of the article. Others can be found by scrolling from one article to the next using the arrows, or can be easily accessed from the contents page (link under the banner above).