Biography of a Hasheesh Eater
by Dave Gross
Regularly Ludlow's fictional stories follow (or occasionally precede) with fair accuracy the events of his life. One can, therefore, with confidence suppose that the child-like eighteen-year-old with brown hair and eyes and "a complexion, marble struck through with rose flush" (who "sometimes blow[s] bubbles too - though you mustn't tell anyone") and who falls for the narrator of "Our Queer Papa," a young magazine sub-editor described as a "good-looking gentleman with brains, who had published" is the fictionalized Rosalie Osborne, who follows that description, and whom he would marry the year after the story's publication.
Rosalie was eighteen when she married, not very young at all by the standards of the day, but young enough in character that it would later be remembered that "she was... but a little girl when she was married." Memoirs written by members of the New York literary circle in which the Ludlows were an active part universally paint Rosalie as both very beautiful and very flirtatious.
The wife of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, for instance, remembered Mrs. Ludlow as "the Dulcinea who had entangled [Mr. Aldrich] in the meshes of her brown hair" and recalls a party at Albert Bierstadt's studio where "Mr. Aldrich's look of quick surprise was not without a certain triumph... On this evening Mrs. Ludlow was without her cavalier."
Rosalie's mother, evidently a little worried at the prospect of her daughter marrying America's first famous dope fiend, wrote to Union College president Nott for reassurance. Nott wrote back that although "I have had little personal intercourse with him since he left the Institution... I have frequently inquired after him and been gratified to learn, that the stand taken by him in New York was such as to justify... the hope that he was destined to make a distinguished professional or literary man."
Fitz Hugh's father seemed pleased by the match, but used the congratulatory letter to the couple to lecture Rosalie on "the most rigid economy [and] the most punctilious payment of what you owe when you owe" -- perhaps anticipating the financial hardship of Fitz Hugh's chosen profession as a literary man. Still, Fitz Hugh may have felt the healing of a long-open wound in his father when he read in the letter that "Rose is my daughter & comes in my little Mary's place to fill up the vacant place in my heart."
The couple spent the first half of 1859 vacationing in Florida, where Fitz Hugh wrote a series of articles, called "Due South Sketches" describing what he later recalled as "the climate of Utopia, the scenery of Paradise, and the social system of Hell."
He noted that while apologists for slavery condemned abolitionists for condoning miscegenation, "[t]he most open relations of concubinage existed between white chevaliers and black servants in the town of Jacksonville. I was not surprised at the fact, but was surprised at its openness.... not even the pious shrugged their shoulders or seemed to care." The political differences which would soon rip apart the country were the subject of lively conversations in the household where the Ludlows were staying in Jacksonville. Rosalie wrote to her mother:When it comes to politics we have fine times. Mr. Hart roars like a revolutionary cannon, beats the poor table with his fat, red fist until the dishes dance and with his other hand hurls thunder bolts on all the world in general but particularly on Southern democrats - he himself is a whig - who buckle to the North. Judge Pierson who is a democrat and has fought duels! rises on such occasions, with carving knife in hand and vows vengeance on Mr. Hart and everybody who dares to disagree with him. He is a Fire-Eater, a Disunionist... and much to his own satisfaction - an Ex-Judge of the Supreme Court!From Florida, the couple moved to New York City, staying in a boarding house and diving rapidly back into the literary social life.
Mr. Dew worships Buchanan... as much as Mr. Hart hates [him], has promised however to vote for Mr. Ludlow when he is nominated for the presidency.
Mr. Shuniway - in these discussions - "Gets mad" - to use his own expression - but his voice is too weak to enable him to argue so he can only mutter his favorite expletive "By George" and leave Mr. Ludlow to defend, as well as he can, the interests of the North.
Fitz Hugh does this by laughingly parrying their thrusts and occasionally giving sharp retorts. He has already made a compact with Judge Pierson to the effect that when the Union is dissolved they shall provide one another with sugar-cane and ice.
|IV. Entering the New York literary scene||Table of Contents||VI. The Heart of the Continent|
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