I doubt that Arthur Moss’s name will arouse much of a response unless you’re interested in the history of Greenwich Village, Paris in the 1920s, little magazines, and forgotten poets. They all seem to me worthwhile subjects to explore, which is why I’m taking a short look at Arthur Moss’s life and work. And I have a belief that the minor figures in the literary world often deserve more than to be forgotten. What they did was often of value.
Arthur Harold Moss was born in Greenwich Village in 1889. His parents were Polish-Jewish, though some accounts suggest that they were German-Jewish and Turkish immigrants. Moss served in the American army at some point, and then enrolled at Cornell University but dropped out before gaining a degree. In 1917 he helped launch a publication called The Quill: A Magazine of Greenwich Village which he seems to have edited between that year and 1921 when he moved to Paris. In 1918 he also edited and published an anthology, the Greenwich Village Anthology of Verse: Being a Compilation of the First Year’s Issues of The Quill, a Magazine of Greenwich Village.
A much-later reprint enables us to see that few, if any, of the poets were writing beyond the ordinary, though a couple of their names stand out for other reasons. Harry Kemp (“the hobo who reads Homer”) was something of a romantic figure at the time, his wanderings and adventures hoboing across America leading to him being called “The Tramp Poet”. Pierre Loving was a journalist, novelist, and translator. He was associated with the Provincetown Players and his short play, The Stick-Up, was staged by them. He seems to have been fascinated by the French poet Baudelaire and wrote several books about him.
Once he was settled in Paris Moss edited a magazine called Gargoyle which was scheduled to appear monthly and survived for just over a year. It was far more adventurousthan The Quill and published work by Hart Crane, Malcolm Cowley, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, H.D., and Robert Coates. The latter, a young American in Paris, wrote a curious Dada-influenced novel, The Eater of Darkness, which was published by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press in 1926. Later, he was art critic for the New Yorker, had dozens of stories published in the same magazine, and wrote a number of novels. Gargoyle also featured art work by Isaac Grunewald and Georges Bracque.
Moss had married Millia Davenport but they soon separated and he was married for a second time to Florence Gilliam who accompanied him to Paris. Moss worked for various newspapers and when he returned to New York in 1927 started a magazine called The Boulevardier. It wasn’t a little magazine aimed at a select group of avant-garde writers, painters, and their supporters. It took its style from the New Yorker, the aim being to reach a similar sophisticated readership who would appreciate a mixture of short stories, articles on a variety of topics, cartoons, and reviews. It may give an idea of how it differed from The Quill and Gargoyle if I mention a few of its contributors such as Michael Arlen, Noël Coward, Louis Bromfield, and Sinclair Lewis, all fairly well-established figures at the time. It didn’t have the staying power of The New Yorker, however, and came to an end in 1931. It was the year Moss’s marriage to Florence Gilliam broke up. In 1932 he married Evalyn Marvel.
It’s difficult to track Moss’s movements after the mid-1930s. I can only assume that he carried on making a living as a journalist. A note on one of his books refers to him having been a reporter, ad-man, columnist, and Foreign Correspondent. What he did during the Second World War isn’t recorded in any of the notes on his book jackets. He died in 1969 in Neuilly-sur-Marne, by which time he was married to Doreen Vidal, “an English publicist active in the One World Movement”.
Moss had written a book about the history of clowns and their craft, and a biography of the composer Jacques Offenbach, but perhaps of more interest was The Legend of the Latin Quarter: Henry Mürger and the Birth of Bohemia, written with Evalyn Marvel and published in 1946. It’s a lively read and, along with Robert Baldick’s The First Bohemian: The Life of Henry Murger, one of the few English-language sources for a detailed account of those early days when the pattern for what we commonly think of as bohemianism was being established. The realities of those often poverty-stricken times – the struggling writers, artists, and others associated with Mürger’s bohemia were known as the “water drinkers” because they frequently couldn’t afford anything else – were later transformed into something almost romantic when Puccini’s opera La Bohème became popular.
Moss also wrote poetry and had at least two small collections to his name. One I have to hand is Tale of Twelve Cities and Other Poems, published in Paris in 1963. The poems in it reach back to his time in Greenwich Village and his involvement with The Quill, and they’re also acknowledged as having been published in Gargoyle and The Boulevardier. But some do have references to the Aldermaston marches and Dharma Bums in San Francisco, This would suggest that Moss was what is usually referred to as an “occasional poet”. They’re humorous poems on the whole, and probably what might be called “light verse”. And none the worse for that as they mildly mock Gertrude Stein (“A primrose is not a rose/Not a rose/Nor shad roes/Sturgeon roes/Yeas and noes”), comment on some national characteristics, and record sights seen here and there.
Arthur Moss was not a major writer, but with his activities as an editor, a historian of bohemia, and a writer of good-humoured verse, he deserves to be remembered.
Arthur Moss and Evalyn Marvel: The Legend of the Latin Quarter: Henry Mürger and the Birth of Bohemia, The Beechhurst Press, New York, 1946.
Arthur Moss: Tale of Two Cities and Other Poems, Two Cities Editions, Paris, 1963.
Arthur Moss editor: Greenwich Village Anthology of Verse: Being a Compilation of Poetry from the Pages of the First Year’s Issues of The Quill, a Magazine of Greenwich Village, Arthur H. Moss, New York, 1918. Reprinted by Kissinger Legacy Reprints, n.d.
Robert Baldick: The First Bohemian: The Life of Henry Murger, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1961.
Albert Parry: Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America, Covici-Friede, New York, 1933. Reprinted by Dover Publications, New York, 1960.
Robert M. Coates: The Eater of Darkness, Contact Editions, Paris, 1926. Reprinted by Capricorn Books, New York, 1959.
Frederick J.Hoffman et al: The Little Magazine in America: A History and a Bibliography, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1946.
Barbara Ozieblo editor: The Provincetown Players : A Choice of the Shorter Works, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1994. Pierre Loving’s The Stick-Up is included.