Clubbing, Conversing, and Collaborating: Brander Matthews as Professional Man of Letters

  • Susanna Ashton


Both the friends and enemies of Brander Matthews attested to his sociability. Clayton Hamilton wrote in 1929 that Matthews had a “genius in the gentle art of friendship,” while his ex-student, the formidable cultural critic, Randolph Bourne, complained that Matthews “seems to have known everybody, and to have felt nothing” (Hamilton 86; Bourne 235). Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, observed that Matthews “knew everybody and everybody knew him” and Mark Twain even jokingly inscribed one of his books, “To B. M. From his only friend” (both as qtd. in “Brander Matthews, Educator” 10). Although Matthews counted among his friends many prominent critics, writers, and politicians (especially notable was his intimate friendship with Theodore Roosevelt), his congeniality and relentless socializing was not part of a program of professional networking. For Matthews, the ability to socialize was part of his identity as a specific kind of cultural figure, that of a professional man of letters. As the cultural prestige accorded the romantic and solitary author waned, Matthews came to embody a phenomenon that assigned cultural prestige to the practice of authorship as an activity most suited for men who could “mix.” Through his collaborative fiction, critical essays, indefatigable socializing, and most importantly, his exchanges with other writers and literary figures, Brander Matthews drew together conflicting theories about the practice of writing in order to bolster the vision of romantic authorship for what he saw as the new and resolutely unromantic twentieth-century literary marketplace.


Literary Work Collaborative Writing Collaborative Experience Collaborative Venturis Magic Trick 
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© Susanna Ashton 2003

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  • Susanna Ashton

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