Edgar Saltus: The Dean of Decadence–Part one

Completely Revised 12-31-21

Edgar Saltus, near perfection

New York’s The Evening World reported mid-marriage that Mrs. Aimée Crocker Gillig was taking the Peter Townsend Barlow house at 1 Madison Avenue for the winter and spring of 1894. Her husband Harry was circumnavigating the globe at the time with some pals from the Bohemian Club. The World gossiped that, “during her present sojourn in New York she is receiving much attention from Edgar Saltus, the novelist.”

Aimée wrote of a love affair with Saltus, who was then a brilliant, if menacing, literary star in her 1936 memoirs. It would be the most glowing romance in her recollections:

He was the nearest in perfection to sheer physical beauty I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I do not merely mean sensuously attractive. He was radiant of power and will and dash and excitement and pithy wit and all that women hope to find in the ideal male. I met him…at a dinner party given by Roosevelt Schuyler. It was as though I walked innocently into a spider’s web, and as though the spider were a polished, ironic, master-mind who knew every trick of fascinating women, and who spun around me an invisible web of magic gauze that ensnared me and tangled me up in its very comfortable tissue. We were off, so to speak. For three years I lived and thought and had heartbeat only in the sunshine of Edgar Saltus. He glittered beside me in Paris, in London, in Central Europe, my cavalier, my Lancelot, my Don Juan, my Faustus. I could bore you and please myself with a recollection of Lake Como which is an idyll that only Stendhal… or Saltus… could make worthy of print.

The Edgar Saltus of the 1880s was a one-man avant-garde movement. Author of cantankerous novels, historian of Roman and Russian terror and debauchery and a populizer of “scientific” pessimism, Saltus was the embodiment of American decadence during the fin de siècle. Heavily influenced by Poe and Baudelaire, he wallowed in shocking and taboo topics involving death and debauchery while using elaborate, stylized language. Saltus covered all his exotic erudition and curious interests with jeweled phraseology and glossy linguistic cosmetics to disguise the emptiness and ugliness within. Twenty-first century critic Jason DeBoer calls Edgar Saltus a forgotten genius of American letters who, “possessed some of the decadent florid imagery of Huysmans, the macabre sensibility of Bierce and Poe, the stylistic perfection of Flaubert, and the piercing wit of Wilde.”

Writer Elbert Hubbard once described Edgar Saltus as “the best writer in America — with a few insignificant exceptions.” Henry Miller was such a fan that he included the masterpiece Imperial Purple among the hundred books that most influenced him. Along with Hamsun’s Mysteries and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, Saltus’s Imperial Purple was one of a handful of books that Miller periodically reread.

Edgar Evertson Saltus was born in New York City on the 8th of October, 1855, to parents with a measure of wealth (his grandfather had acquired a vast area of iron-rich land around Lake Placid). His privileges were many. Old Dutch family origins, Yale, Columbia Law, a Grace Church wedding to the daughter of a J.P. Morgan partner.

Brilliant brother Francis Saltus Saltus

Edgar Saltus’s father, Francis Henry Saltus, was an inventor best known for bringing into being the first rifled steel cannon ever made. For this he was decorated by almost all the crowned heads of Europe.

Edgar’s older half-brother, Francis Saltus Saltus, Daddy’s favorite, was a prolific poet who was once praised as an “American Baudelaire.” Longfellow said of Francis, aka Frank, aka “Cupid Jones” that he never knew a young man better equipped for the vocation of poet. According to Edgar, brother Frank could, “scribble an ode to the coloratura Adelina Patti in four languages within an hour. He could write an opera with one hand while composing sonnets with the other.”

The Brothers Saltus adopted the aloof persona of the dandy æsthete — distanced yet entrenched in high society, embroiled and bored by its pretensions. They were leaders of a group of Bohemians in New York, who met at Billy Moulds’ bar in Manhattan’s University Place, drank absinthe and razzle-dazzles and generally had a taste for anything and everything exotic and un-American. Edgar’s third wife Marie wrote in her biography Edgar Saltus, the Man, “Fundamentally, both Edgar and Frank Saltus were alike. They seemed to be oriental souls functioning for a life in occidental bodies, and the clothes pinched.”

Frank would die young, aged 39, in 1889, just when his younger brother was finding his groove and a growing audience of infatuated followers. After his death, Edgar’s heartbroken and devoted father fastidiously edited a four-volume edition of Frank’s poems.

If the father preferred the older son, this comparative neglect was more than made up for by Edgar’s mother, to whom he was the whole world.

Between Yale and Columbia Law School, Saltus traveled through Europe and came into contact with a number of leading figures in literature and philosophy. While in Paris studying at the Sorbonne, he fell under the spell of French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac and met writers Victor Hugo and Paul Verlaine. In England, Edgar befriended Oscar Wilde, just as Wilde was building the celebrity that would make him the central figure of the Decadence movement in England. During his wanderjahr at Heidelberg and Munich, Saltus studied under Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann, chief disciple of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Balzac would be the inspiration for his first book, a biography. Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann would inspire several books and the philosophical conundrums that they presented would shape his world view for the rest of his tempestuous life.

Scientific Pessimism

“I wrote The Philosophy of Disenchantment, which is, I think, the gloomiest and worst book ever published. Out of sheer laziness, I then produced a history of atheism, The Anatomy of Negation, which has been honored by international dislike. Need I state that of all my children it is the one that I prefer?” — Edgar Saltus

Though he attained a doctorate of law from Columbia University, it was a career path he never pursued. Money was of little importance to Edgar; to be free of rules and routine was his main goal. A life of a solitary, probing, and belligerent writer better suited him. He began his career, after his penetrating study of Balzac, with a pair of somber and scholarly diatribes The Philosophy of Disenchantment and The Anatomy of Negation which took his readers on a grand tour along the rocky terrain of pessimism.

Two-thirds of The Philosophy of Disenchantment (1885) is allotted to Schopenhauer, with the remainder devoted to an exposition of the teachings of Hartmann and a final essay, “Is Life an Affliction?” Edgar answers in the affirmative. “To him who commiserates with all mankind, and sympathizes with everything that is, life never appears otherwise than as an immense and terrible affliction,” wrote Saltus. The Philosophy of Disenchantment piggybacked on the success of the English translation of Von Hartmann’s widely read three-volume The Philosophy of the Unconscious which was published a year before Saltus’s treatise. (Von Hartmann’s work went on to influence Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung).

Saltus wrote books about Balzac, Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann

The Anatomy of Negation (1886) was a tableau of anti-theistic philosophies that sympathize with the iconoclasts through the centuries from Kapila to Leconte de Lisle. In the chapter entitled, “The Convulsions of the Church,” he presents a brief history of Christianity which cites plagiarized plot points in the gospels and some confused references to Old Testament prophecies. He also describes Jesus as not necessarily innovative, but a mystic anarchist nonetheless and “the most entrancing of nihilists.”

He came to prepare men, not for life, but for death. The virtues which he praised most highly were those of renunciation and abnegation of self. His one thought was centred in the approaching end of the world. It was on this belief that the value of his teaching rested; viewed in any other light, his continual condemnation of labour would be inexplicable; while his prohibition against wealth, his adjuration to forsake all things for his sake, the blow which he struck at the virility of man, his praise of celibacy, his disregard of family ties, his abasement of marriage, and his contempt even of the dead, would be without meaning.

This book ends with a few bodacious paragraphs of summary, some Saltusian verdicts drawn from his diligent study of world religions:

There is no help there, nor is there any elsewhere. The Orient is asleep in the ashes of her gods. The star of Ormuzd has burned out in the skies. On the banks of her sacred seas, Greece, hushed for evermore, rests on the divine limbs of her white immortals. In the sepulcher of the pale Nazarene, humanity guards its last divinity. Every promise is unfulfilled. There is no light save perchance in death. One torture more, one more throb of the heart, and after it nothing. The grave opens, a little flesh falls in, and the weeds of forgetfulness which soon hide the tomb grow eternally above its vanities. And still the voice of the living, of the just and of the unjust, of kings, of felons and of beasts, will be raised unsilenced, until humanity, unsatisfied as before and yet impatient for the peace which life has disturbed, is tossed at last, with its shattered globe and forgotten gods, to fertilize the furrows of space where worlds ferment.

On this vista the curtain may be drawn. Neither poet nor seer can look beyond. Nature, who is unconscious in her immorality, entrancing in her beauty, savage in her cruelty, imperial in her prodigality, and appalling in her convulsions, is not only deaf, but dumb. There is no answer to any appeal. The best we can do, the best that has ever been done, is to recognize the implacability of the laws that rule the universe, and contemplate as calmly as we can the nothingness from which we are come and into which we shall all disappear. The one consolation we hold, though it is one which may be illusory too, consists in the belief that when death comes, fear and hope are at an end. Then wonder ceases; the insoluble no longer perplexes; space is lost; the infinite is black; the farce is done.

With these two striking works, Saltus established his position as the foremost literary exponent of pessimism in America, and a worthy disciple of Schopenhauer. Broom, an international magazine of the Arts published in New York, London and Rome called The Philosophy of Disenchantment and The Anatomy of Negation, “two compact readable and scholarly resumes of pessimism and of skepticism — perhaps the best handbooks ever published on these subjects.” A critic in The Argus referred to Saltus as “the prose laureate of pessimism.” His pessimism came in part from his literary masters but in part also from a temperament which steadily followed its own impulses and arrived at its own destinations.

The Boston Globe believed Edgar Saltus was a bit too blithe in his melancholy. The reviewer was confused by the “ever-be-happy state of mind” of this “laughing and joking philosopher” who it seemed was more interested in his art than his messages. That the charmed and charming Edgar Saltus could offer up such a deep sense of ennui, such a dire pessimistic world view, didn’t make sense.

At the same time Saltus was grappling with the “scientific” pessimism of Schopenhauer and pow-wowing with Herr von Hartmann in Berlin, he encountered the work of the ultra-American Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, he remarked, performed a cataract operation on him that delivered a new vision of life. “I began to see, and what to me was even more marvelous, I began to think.”

Saltus knelt at the altar of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Schopenhauer and Emerson were both fascinated with Vedic literature and believed in oneness and the unity of being. Emerson marveled and enjoined with the Schopenhauerian belief that “at the bottom of all things, there is only one identical <law> force, always equal, & ever the same, which slumbers in plants, awakens in animals, but finds its consciousness only in man–the Will.”

However, in the interpretation of the essence of this life force, Schopenhauer conceived a blind, nonrational power, while Emerson saw the Will as a moral, divine principle. Schopenhauer claimed (not unlike the Jesus of certain gospels) that asceticism, the denial of worldly desires and absolute chastity were the only remedies for the unavoidable miseries of life. Emerson and the Transcendentalists launched a deliberate confrontation with the atheism and pessimism of Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann creating a philosophy that marshalled theism, individualism, activism, and optimism which together promised a perpetual progress that could in fact make life worth living.

Schopenhauer did offer relief from the pain of it all. He wrote that the Arts could be a helpful analgesic in alleviating inevitable suffering in life. Art became the religion of the pessimists, and artists were seen as priests and prophets guiding Bohemian seekers to an alternate, more beautiful and palpable reality. Von Hartmann believed the advancements of science could also make life more bearable.

Saltus chose to smoke the transgressive “Art for Art’s Sake,” “Carpe Diem” pipes that were being passed around at all the fashionable fin de siècle literary parlors and salons. Instead of Emersonian optimism and self-reliance, he elected to counsel Schopenhauerian pessimism and self-annihilation. Instead of propagating perpetual progress, genteel realism and moral assurances, his lurid writing conveyed artificiality and perversity, nihilism and cynicism… hedonism and decadence. With generous measures of the morbid and macabre to boot. Though Saltus had the soul of a seeker and bowed at the altar of Emerson, he made a name for himself as a pessimist who wrote of darkness, emptiness and treachery… but with glamour, bizarre, grisly humor and a style that, according to one reviewer “wavers between the lurid excess of a romantic poem and the spare, dangerous staccato of a telegram.”

Literary Genius

With his razor sharp, polished, diamond and pearl-encrusted dagger, Saltus carved out thirty odd books that range from translation through fiction, “on dit” gossip columns and front page newspaper reporting to philosophical treatises and epic historical panoramas. He was a versatile, far-reaching talent that unbridled and unleashed a bevy of brimstoned blasphemers. At the peak of his popularity in the late 80s and early 90s he was a rock star. In letters that he wrote to a friend he proclaimed, “My works are read with such admiration, that the members are crazy to get a picture of me, of any kind, nature, or description… My fame is spreading like a conflagration, and not in arithmetical ratio either, but in geometric or even cubic.” Saltus marveled that an admirer, “sent his son and nephew here, only that these young people may in their old age be able to boast that they had seen and spoken to me.”

Edgar Allan Poe was Saltus’s nearest literary relative

Saltus’s nearest literary relative is fellow American Edgar Allan Poe. Like the macabre Poe, blood runs across Saltus’s pages. Gore and gush are principal themes. He kills more people than Caligula killed during the whole course of his bloody reign. There are suicides by drowning, hypodermic injections and pistols. There are killings by asphyxiation, duels, abortions, stabbings, and slashed throats. The rare poisons of rafflesia, muscarine, and orsere are introduced. In one book there is a crucifixion. In another the hero is mangled by dogs. While the Dean of Decadence does sometimes produce shudders in his readers, beauty and grandeur struts through the vast horrors and sinister themes with frequent flashes of virtuosity.

Mr. Incoul’s Misadventure (1887) and The Truth About Tristrem Varick (1888), Saltus’s first two novels, are considered the best of his many fictions. Critic for The New York Times, The Sun and The New York Herald Benjamin De Casseres, aka the “American Nietzsche”considered Tristrem Varick, “the greatest novel that ever came from the pen of an American.” These magniloquent novels observe an unmoral code whereby cheating at cards is as heinous as murder, incest and rape. His pessimism appears in comic form when character Lenox Leigh in Misadventure imagines the only terms under which he could possibly wish to go on living: “If I could be a pretty woman up to thirty, a cardinal up to fifty, and after that the Anti-Christ, it might be worthwhile.” In this same novel, Saltus (not surprisingly), tackled the brutality of a bullfight:

There was another blast of the trumpets, the signal for the banderilleros whose office is to plant barbs in the neck of the bull—a delicate operation, for the banderillero must face the bull, and should he trip he is dead. This ceremony is seldom preformed until the bull shows signs of weariness; then the barbs act like a tonic. In this instance the bull seemed as fresh as were he on his native heath, and the spectators were clamorous in their indignation. They called for horses; they accused the management of economy; stood up and shook their fists at the President; it was for him to order out fresh steeds, and, as he sat impassible, pollice verso, as one may say, they shouted, “Fuego al presidente, penode presidente ” — dog of a president; set him on fire. And there were cat-calls and the screech of tin horns, and resounding and noisy insults, until the general attention was diverted by the pose of the banderillas and the leaping and kicking of the bull, seeking to free his neck from the torturing barbs. At last, when he had been punctured eight times, he sought the centre of the ring, and stood there almost motionless, his tufted tail swaying nervously, his tongue lolling from his mouth , a mist of vapour circling from his nostrils, seething about his splendid horns and wrinkled neck, and in his great eyes a look of wonder, as though amazed that men could be crueller than he.

Saltus’s talent for clever phraseology has often been noted. There are no washed out or faded tints in his tapestries. Critic and photographer Carl Van Vechten wrote, “Every word evokes an image, a strange, bizarre image, often a complication of images. He is never afraid of the colloquial, never afraid of slang, and he often weaves lovely patterns with obsolete or technical words.” De Casseres wrote of Saltus in his book Forty Immortals, (which puts him in the company of Shakespeare, William Blake, and Spinoza), “He is a balancer, a juggler, a Houdini of phrases, a Gargantuan Capocomico who balances the Taj Mahal on his nose, the Alhambra and St. Peter’s on his skull and tosses buddhas and bonzes, bibles and sultans in vast circles like eggs, precisely sure of never missing one.”

Saltus explained his approach:

It may be noted that in literature only three things count, style, style polished, style repolished; of these imagination and the art of transition aid, but do not enhance. As for style, it may be defined as the sorcery of syllables, the fall of sentences, the use of the exact term, the pursuit of a repetition even unto the thirtieth and fortieth line. Grammar is an adjunct but not an obligation. No grammarian ever wrote a thing that was fit to read.

Saltus once said that “to do good work, work that will endure, style must be a divinity, a very jealous one too, one that permits no other worship, one that forces you to shut in every passion, inclination and desire.”

Nearly all of Saltus’s early fiction centered on New York society and had melodramatic and often bizarre, far flung plots. Stylistic elegance were usually sacrificed to florid overwriting and lurid detail. He was sometimes criticized for not fleshing out the characters, focusing on the depraved and hollow idle rich, and giving them all his own voice. “One will search in vain through these books for one single character which stands out, for one single phrase which combines pith and elegance, for one single idea which bears the stamp of reflection,” wrote one such critic. Editor and advocate Charles Honce countered, “he illumined everything he touched; he dealt in glamour. It is not so much the subject matter which charms, but rather the witchery of words, the cadence of phrases, the mighty roll of sentences that mount step by step, lightly yet irresistibly, to a star-spangled climax, the apogee of syntax.”

De Casseres summed up the Decadent writer with the assessment, “Saltus is so great that he is unpleasant. He is as unwholesome as truth. He sees so far that his brain cells must be made up of telescopes that gods in the Fourth Dimension use to study the humans in the Fifth Dimension. He is as uncanny as the thought of immortality.”

Oscar Wilde

Friend and literary companion Oscar Wilde

Saltus first met Oscar Wilde at Delmonico’s in New York, shortly after he told local Customs that he had nothing to declare but his genius. In 1890 they met again at a gathering at the home of Lord Francis Hope, owner of the famous Hope diamond. When Oscar admired a painting of Salomé, Princess of Judæa, as she appeared in Flaubert’s Hérodias, he vowed to write a masterpiece about the biblical temptress who demanded the head of John the Baptist. Saltus in turn abandoned plans to write a history of Byzantium to write about would-be trollup Mary Magdalen. “We will pursue the wantons together,” he retorted. Edgar dressed up the traditional courtesan, in the splendors of purple and gold and perfumed her with many quaint dangerous essences considerably more exciting than her later career.

When Mary Magdalen: A Chronicle appeared in 1891, Oscar hailed it as “… a strange book, so pessimistic, so poisonous and so perfect.” Saltus claimed that Wilde’s Salomé, “awoke a tempest that blew through artistic Europe…” He went to a reading before it was squelched by censors in petticoats at the Metropolitan Opera House and declared it a masterwork of wit and humor. “It is not art merely, it is unique, a thing apart,” Edgar wrote. He assured Oscar that the last line in Salomé made him shudder.

Saltus wrote about Wilde in the essay Oscar Wilde: An Idler’s Impression (1917). Wilde and Saltus, with a few congenial men, spent many an evening at the popular Café Royal on Regent Street in Piccadilly, London. “There was much in the mental companionship of Saltus and Wilde which sharpened and stimulated each, making their conversation a battle-ground of aphorisms and epigrams,” according to his third wife Marie. Saltus did think that the Irish æsthete was somewhat overpraised as a writer. Edgar referred to Wilde as a three decanter man who, “was a third rate poet who occasionally rose to the second class but not once to the first.” He further thought Wilde was rather sloppy in prose.

As a conversationalist, however, Wilde had no peers according to Saltus. “He talked infinitely better than he wrote… He exuded wit and waded in it with a serenity that was disconcerting… in his talk he was lord and more — sultan, pontifex maximus… In talk he blinded and it is the subsiding wonder of it that his plays contain.” Saltus revealed that his conversation though always immaculate, was respectable almost conventional. Vulgarity sickened Wilde. Vice had to be perfumed, pagan, and private to intrigue him. He later wrote, “…in the man was a mind, and in that mind a mine of gems more brilliant than any which the world has seen since the dazzling days of Aristophanes…”

An autographed picture from Wilde to his friend Edgar Saltus wrote, “Friendship is more tragic than love. It lasts longer.” As a friend he wrote in memoriam that everything Wilde wrote for the stage, “is inimitable and to be inimitable is the crown of genius, the crown invisible, invisible — but how real! — that swings above his abandoned grave.”

Imperial Purple

Imperial Purple (1892), the high-tide of Saltus’s peculiar genius, drew heavily from the histories of Suetonius and Tacitus to create a modern portrait of the bloody pageantry of Rome, from the majestic Julius Caesar to Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, the wicked Agrippina, Claudius and Nero, down to the freakish Heliogabalus. Nearly thirty years later, Saltus tackled the decadence of Royal Russia in The Imperial Orgy.

Les Romains de la Décadence by Thomas Couture

Saltus reserved his most outrageous material for history rather than fiction. Under the guise of historical documentation it was possible to discuss matters still too delicate for fictional handling. Saltus defended his subject matter, “The lives of all of them are horrible, yet analyze the horrible and you find sublime.”

In writing these impressionistic histories of the Caesars and the Tsars, Saltus displays a consummate ability to reduce whole libraries of yawns into two hundred pages of compact excitement. He worked best not covering the trifling hypocrisies of Manhattan society but on the broad canvas of world history. He reveled in the dark side of bygone years and was lyrically triumphant when he brought the violence and eroticism of the past back to life. “Give him the centuries to manoeuvre in, the empires for his brushes, the catalogues of human vilenesses and superstitious tyrannies for colors, and he would paint like Goya a series of nightmares in black and white,” wrote an admiring critic.

In one passage Saltus compared Rome to the red-light districts of London:

In the Subura, where at night women sat in high chairs, ogling the passer with painted eyes, there was still plenty of brick; tall tenements, soiled linen, the odor of Whitechapel and St. Giles. The streets were noisy with match-peddlers, with vendors of cake and tripe and coke; there were touts there too, altars to unimportant divinities, lying Jews who dealt in old clothes, in obscene pictures and unmentionable wares; at the crossings there were thimbleriggers, clowns and jugglers, who made glass balls appear and disappear surprisingly; there were doorways decorated with curious invitations, gossipy barber shops, where, through the liberality of politicians, the scum of a great city was shaved, curled and painted free; and there were public houses, where vagabond slaves and sexless priests drank the mulled wine of Crete, supped on the flesh of beasts slaughtered in the arena, or watched the Syrian women twist to the click of castanets.

Saltus yearned for the great age of decadence represented by Rome in her decline as an alternative to the modernity of the late 19th century. He wrote, “To have passed down again through a world still young — a world beautiful, ornate, unutilitarian; a world to which trams, advertisements and telegraph poles had not yet come; a world that still had illusions, myths and mysteries; one in which religion and poetry went hand in hand — a world without newspapers, hypocrisy and cant.”

Saltus later admitted, “I may fairly lay claim to be haunted by antiquity. If I was not at the siege of Troy, no one will convince me that I did not ride in wide chariots over the white roads of Greece, that I did not eat the clitoris of tigresses with Caligula, and assist with Heliogabalus at the wedding of the Sun and Moon.”

On the night before the election of 1920, future President Warren Harding sat up until after midnight to read Imperial Purple for the fourth time.

The Pocket Apollo

Helen of Troy from the frontispiece of volume one of Lovers of the World compiled by Edgar Saltus

Publisher P.F. Collier hired historian Edgar Saltus to compile and edit the sumptuous, perverse three-volume collection Lovers of the World which Saltus subtitled: A chronicle of the sensational dramas, enchanting romances, tragical histories, pathetic trials, fierce passions and pure hearts of all who have lived and loved from the earliest times to the present day with faithful descriptions of the virtues and charms which inspired them and the joys and disasters which they caused. Compiled from the best authorities.

Saltus was certainly an authority, or at least a cunning connoisseur, when it came to the politics of love and lust. In his personal life Edgar developed a reputation for being a Casanova/Don Juan and was fond of calling himself a scoundrel. Women dubbed him “the Pocket Apollo.” Startlingly handsome, he was embroiled in various love affairs with girls who fought for his favor. Those relationships were often volatile in nature due to Edgar’s irritable, self-centered personality, which he blamed on his being a Libra. “No normal woman could live with him for a week without friction,” wrote Marie, his third wife in her Saltus biography. He boasted that every novel he had written had been dug from a woman’s heart.

“Girls took to him on sight, wrote to him, sent him locks of their hair, and suggested meeting him,” reported Mrs. Saltus.

Scandalous newspaper stories about the end of his first marriage to heiress Helen Read exploited his reputation as an erotic novelist, dogged his literary success and tainted Edgar in the court of public opinion. A fictionalized version of the marriage’s deterioration appeared in Madam Sapphira in 1893. Saltus wrote several books and essays about girls from prominent families including “Our Foreign Princesses,” “The Heiress” and Daughters of the Rich, no doubt drawing inspiration not only from his marriage to Helen Read, but from his three-year relationship with Amy Crocker.

The Crocker-Saltus affair occurred during her marriage to second husband Henry Mansfield Gillig and while Edgar was engaged to marry Elsie Welch Smith, a talented, charming and high-bred girl belonging to one of the oldest New York families. Marie, in her tribute to Saltus, characterized Mrs. Gillig as the instigator of the affair claiming she “turned the trick” on Saltus by “some sort of guile, subterfuge or bribe.” Edgar accepted an invitation to go abroad with Amy and her lively entourage one season and then voyage to Cuba the next, all while keeping his fiancée at bay. While writing the biography, Marie discovered “oozing” love letters written to Saltus by Amy that she described as decidedly “passionate and paralyzing.”

After Elsie married Edgar, she too found an Amy Crocker love letter. Marie claimed that Elsie’s discovery was not only the death knell of that relationship, but also initiated the downfall of Edgar’s once remarkable career. “This act, at the pinnacle of his popularity and fame, may in the region behind effects have set in motion forces which tore the peplum of popularity from him,” she wrote. To be fair when Helen got her divorce decree on the grounds of adultery, Elsie Smith was named as a co-respondent…


Part Two: The Awakening, Coming Soon


Selective Sources:

Aimée Crocker, And I’d Do It Again, (New York: Coward-McCann), 1936.

Benjamin De Casseres, Forty Immortals, (New York: Joseph Lawren), 1926.

Benjamin De Casseres, “The Resurrection of Edgar Saltus, ” The New York Sun, December 1, 1918, p 15.

Carl Van Vechten, “The Stylist Who Created a Mythology of Manhattan,” Current Opinion, October 1918 pp. 254-255

Claire Sprague, Edgar Saltus, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968).

David Weir, Decadent Culture in the United States, (SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 21-37.

Edgar Saltus, Oscar Wilde: An Idler’s Impression, (Chicago: Brothers of the Book), 1917.

Edgar Saltus, “Our Note Book,” Collier’s Weekly, October 8, 1896, p 3.

Eric McKitrick, “Edgar Saltus of the Obsolete,” American Quarterly, Spring, 1951, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 22-35.

G.F. Monkshood, Wit & Wisdom from Edgar Saltus, (London: Greening & Co.), 1903.

Jason DeBoer, The Philosophical Writings of Edgar Saltus, Foreword by Chip Smith, Underworld Amusements, 2014.

John Carter, “Saltus is Saltus After All: Three Things Count in Literature,” New York Times, June 14, 1925; p BR1.

Marie Saltus, Edgar Saltus: The Man, (Chicago: Pascal Covici), 1925.

“Saltus is Single Again,” The Daily American, July 14, 1891, p 4.

“The challenge of German pessimism: the reception of Schopenhauer in transcendentalism and pragmatism..” The Free Library. 2009 Nineteenth-Century Prose, Retrieved December 24, 2021 https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+challenge+of+German+pessimism%3a+the+reception+of+Schopenhauer+in…-a0209104462

“The Literary World,” The Boston Globe, January 24, 1887, p 3.

The Plays of Oscar Wilde, Introduction by Edgar Saltus, (New York: The Modern Library), 1934.

“Three Charming and Wealthy Matrons Here from California,” New York Evening World, February 12, 1894, p 1.

Edgar Saltus books (click images for link to free pdf)