Franklin Inn Club
Hidden in a back alley near the theaters, this little club is the center of the City's literary circle. It enjoys outstanding food in surroundings which suggest Samuel Johnson's club in London.
An address by Arthur Hobson Quinn at the J. William White Dinner on January 17,1952, commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the Franklin Inn Club.
Edward W. Bok, Cyrus Townsend Brady,
Edward Brooks, Charles Heber Clark,
Henry T. Coates, John Hornor Coates,
John Habberton, Alfred C. Lambdin,
Craige Lippincott, J. Bertram Lippincott,
John Luther Long, Lisle De Vaux Matthewman,
John K. Mitchell, S. Weir Mitchell,
Harrison S. Morris, Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer,
Arthur Hobson Quinn, Joseph G. Rosengarten,
Charles C. Shoemaker, Solomon Solis-Cohen,
Frederick William Unger, Francis Chruchhill Willams,
Francis Howard Williams
It is a somewhat lonely eminence in which I find myself. That I am the only living founder of the Inn is due simply to the accolade of chronology -I have been able to survive the others! May I take this opportunity to thank the Inn for creating me the first honorary member? My association with it has been purely one of enjoyment; I have never held an Office, and except for membership on Entertainment Committee, I have done little to serve the Inn. It has not been because of any lack of affection.
The founding of the Inn was due to some intangible and some concrete impulses. The turn of the century was responsible for many new movements and it is heartbreaking now, to those of us who were young at the time, to remember how we welcomed the dawn of what we were sure would be better days.
Centering in Philadelphia, there were at that time an unusual number of men of distinction as creators of literature. Weir Mitchell had written in Hugh Wynnethe greatest novel of the Revolution, and in his Characteristics had created the novel of psychology. Horace Howard Furness, Senior, had won eminence with his Variorum Shakespeare. Henry Charles Lea was producing his histories of the institutions of the Middle Ages. John Bach McMaster had just published the fifth volume of his great History of the People of the United States. John Luther Long had just created the Character of Madame Butterfly, to become a world figure. Langdon Mitchell had won a triumph with his play of Becky Sharp. Owen Wister had scored a popular success with The Virginian, a romance with a theatrical flavor appropriate to the grandson of Fanny Kemble, and while Charles Heber Clark was trying to forget that as Max Adeler he had delighted thousands with his humor, Out of the Hurly-Burly was not forgotten . I can still remember the day when he remarked dryly, "I can not bring myself to read these books written by other people."
It should be a matter of pride to us that it was in this creative atmosphere that the Inn was born. All the writers I have mentioned were members of the Inn, and although their participation in our activities varied, their fellowship was an inspiration. I owe to Karl Miller's great statistical ability and keen interest in the Inn some figures which show that of the fifty-one members who joined in 1902, forty-four were then of later listed in Who's Who in America. It was a noteworthy group.
As long as I have been selected as the "authority" on the foundation, here is the result of my memories and my research, aided greatly by the labors of the Secretary, William Shepard.
For the record, then, the concrete sources were follows:
On February 19, 1902, ten men meet at the University Club, drew up a preliminary draft of a constitution and signed a Call for the formation of an "Authors' Club." In our printed booklet of 1950, the statement is made that Dr. Mitchell was present. I see no evidence that he was there, for he did not sign the Call. The account is in the handwriting of Francis Churchill Williams, the first secretary, and it is clear that Dr. Mitchell was elected President in his absence. It is interesting that of the ten signers of the call, J. Bertram Lippincott, John Luther Long, William J. Nicolls, Harrison Morris, and Craige Lippincott remained members of the Inn until their death; that Francis Howard Williams became Vice-President and Churchill Williams was the most active force in the actual organization of the Inn.
While Weir Mitchell was not the actual founder, he became the inspiration, the creator of the spirit of the Inn. While he did not belong to any organized preliminary group, his home was the center of gatherings which met there on Saturday evenings after nine o'clock to listen to what he truly described as "the best talk in Philadelphia," and these gatherings were certainly one of the indirect sources of the Inn. Many of his guests joined the Inn, and while I was a guest only after the Inn was founded, I am sure there must have been discussion of such a club.
Another concrete source was the Write about Club, a small group of men founded in 1897 and still in existence, who met weekly and read stories and verse for the criticism of their fellows. Among this group were Churchy Williams, who joined it with the idea of turning it into a club such as the Inn became, but found this impracticable; Charles C. Shoemaker, a publisher, for thirty-four years Treasurer of the Inn, needed the money ; Edward Robins, a short story writer; Edward W. Mumford, who became president of the Inn and did great service at the time of temporary low water; Rupert Holland, a director, and still a member of the Inn, and Lawrence Dudley, for many years the active chairman of the Entertainment Committee. The relations of these two clubs were mutual, Dudley and John Haney were first members of the Inn and later joined the Write about Club. Robins, Williams, Shoemaker, and I were first members of the Write about Club and were elected members of the Inn at its foundations.
To return to actual meetings of the Inn. Dr. Mitchell did preside at the meeting held at the Art Club on March 4, 1902, when the scope and purpose of the Club were definitely settled. Thirty-two or Thirty-three men were present. The Name of the Club was the subject of heated discussion. Dr. Mitchell objected to the proposed name "Authors' Club." He remarked that the "Authors' Club." in New York was one of the dullest place he has ever visited, and some years later, I was able to confirm his opinion. Another heated discussion as to qualifications was crystallized by the decision that the Club should be founded upon "the book, its creator, its illustrators and its publisher," who made the book available. The undated minutes of the next meeting tells us that the name "Franklin Head" and three for "Authors' Club." I have among my own memorabilia a notice which reads, "A first meeting of the Franklin Inn Club will be held at the Club House, 1218 Chancellor St., at eight, Wednesday evening June 4, 1902." I also find in my scrapbook an invitation reading, "The President of the Franklin Inn Club desires to say that the dinner you have done him the honor to accept will be at the Club House at seven, punctually, on January 6, 1903."
It will be noticed that although some of us have made it a point to say "Franklin Inn" without the "Club," the earliest notices were inclusive of that word. The names of the diners are recorded in a framed manuscript, hung on the wall in an inconspicuous place; it should have a more dignified position, for it was the first of these dinners, of which this is the fiftieth. Thirty-six names are immortalized there, signifying the Club's willingness to accept an invitation to good dinner. Dr. Mitchell's presiding was, of course, the feature of any dinner. When he died in 1914 it was impossible to replace him, the resulting election for president tore the Inn in two.
I wish to take this opportunity to pay a tribute not only to the first president of the Inn but to the man himself and to the great novelist. He was always willing to help younger writers and great novelist. He was willing to help younger writers, and I owe to his friendship introductions to men like William Dean Howells and others which aided me greatly in my work in American Literature. He was a patrician, as George Meredith recognized when he, in commenting on Dr. Mitchell's Roland Blake, Which he had read three times said, "It has a kind of nobility about it." He imparted this quality to his characters from Hugh Wynne down to Francois, the thief of the French Revolution they too are patricians. They do not argue about caste like the people in the novels of Henry James, who saw his countrymen through a haze of social hopeless. From whatever time or place they come, they are natural gentlefolk, who have seen the best of other civilization, and remained content with their own inheritances of culture.
Like all men of spirit, Weir Mitchell had a large capacity for scorn. In his fiction and poetry, this revealed itself in his artistic reticence, springing from the innate refinement of his soul. He knew death in its most horrible forms; he knew life in its most terrible aspects. He had read human minds in the grim emptiness of decay or the frantic activity of the possessed. With his great descriptive power, he could have painted marvelous portraits of the human race in its moments of disgrace. But with a restraint which puts to shame those who today in the name of realism are prostituting their art and exploiting the base or the banal in our national life, the first great neurologist knew the difference between pathology and literature. The scientist knew how bitter life would be for in Roland Blake he said, "if memory were perfect, life unendurable. " But the artist knew that the highest function of literature is to record those lofty moments which make endurable the rest of life.
May I appeal with a message from the founders to keep our ideals clear; they would wish me, I know, to remind you that it is not just another club of gentlemen interested in literature. Our Constitution provides for a limited number of distinguished public citizens. But unless the Inn is built around the "Book," it has not kept the spirit and intention of the founders. I realized this is not always easy. Great writers and painters come in clusters. They have come three times to Philadelphia first in the late eighteenth century, when Franklin, Francis Hopkinson, Thomas Godfrey, and Benjamin West established in America the art of the essay, poetry, drama, and painting; second, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when Robert Montgomery Bird and George Henry Baker for the first time challenged the playwrights of England with The Gladiator and Francesca da Rimini, and when Poe spent his six greatest years in Philadelphia; Third, in other group of our founders. Another cluster will arise in Philadelphia and, when that day dawns, may the Franklin Inn keep the light burning to attract them to its fellowship. I believe that ed can be helped by celebrations of the pioneers. I have tried to pay a tribute to them in a bit of verse-.
Those days are done. Around the hall
You see the portraits on the wall
Of those who played the founder's part
In this, our friendly home of art,
Whose triumphs we tonight recall.
Time runs-He never stoops to crawl-
The veil of memory partly pall
The splendors which the years impart-
Those days are done!
Yet when across this evening fall
Clear voices from the past call
The quick blood back along the heart,
We know, by every pulse's start,
That Never, Till the end of all,
Those days are done!
-- by: Arthur Hobson Quinn, January 17, 1952
Originally published: Thursday, January 10, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2019