Benjamin De Casseres

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Benjamin De Casseres
Benjamin De Casseres Leslie's Weekly, Oct. 29, 1921
Benjamin De Casseres
Leslie's Weekly, Oct. 29, 1921
Born(1873-04-03)April 3, 1873
Philadelphia, PA, United States
DiedDecember 6, 1945(1945-12-06) (aged 72)
593 Riverside Drive, New York City, NY, United States
Resting placeFerncliff Cemetery, Ardsley, NY
Occupationcolumnist, editorialist, critic, poet
Subjectpolitics, philosophy, drama, movies
Literary movementfin de siècle, Dada
Notable works"Moth-Terror"
SpouseAdele Mary "Bio" Terrill De Casseres (1919-1945)
RelativesBaruch Spinoza (collateral descendant)

Signature"Benjamin DeCasseres"

Benjamin De Casseres (April 3, 1873 – December 7, 1945) (often DeCasseres) was an American journalist, critic, essayist and poet. He was born in Philadelphia and began working at the Philadelphia Press at an early age, but spent most of his professional career in New York City, where he wrote for various newspapers including The New York Times, The Sun and The New York Herald.[1] He was married to author Bio De Casseres, and corresponded with prominent literary figures of his time, including H. L. Mencken,[2] Edgar Lee Masters,[3] and Eugene O'Neill.[4] He was a distant relative of Baruch Spinoza[2] and was of Sephardic descent.[5]

Writing career[edit]

At the age of sixteen, De Casseres started working as an assistant to Charles Emory Smith, editor of the Philadelphia Press, for $4 per week.[6][7] At the Press, De Casseres rose from his position as an assistant to become a "copy boy," editorial paragrapher, dramatic critic, proofreader, and (briefly) city editor.[8][9][10][11] During his ten years at the press, De Casseres had a few publications, including one of his first signed editorials, an article that appeared in Belford's Magazine praising Thomas Brackett Reed.[12]

In 1899, De Casseres moved from Philadelphia to New York, he worked as a proofreader first for The New York Sun until 1903 and then for the New York Herald, where he remained until 1916.[11][13] Although his employment at The Sun lasted for only four years, he continued to have periodic letters, poems, and reviews published in the book review section. He also wrote reviews for The New York Times and The Bookman.[13]

De Casseres' first notable work was an article on "Thomas Hardy's Women," which was published in the October 1902 issue of The Bookman.[14] Upon receiving a copy of the article from De Casseres, Hardy wrote back and thanked him "for writing so sympathetic an article."[15] By 1904, De Casseres was starting to receive notice in newspapers and magazines as having "an aptitude for saying clever aphoristic things."[16] An essay on Hawthorn written in the same year and published in The Critic received a fair amount of attention, with portions of the piece being reprinted in various other publications such as the New York Times Book Review, and was cited in a Hawthorn bibliography published the following year.[17][18][19] In 1922, some of De Casseres's early essays were collected in his book Chameleon: Being the Book of My Selves.

In 1915, De Casseres published his first book, a collection of poetry titled The Shadow-Eater, to mixed reviews. Blanche Shoemaker Wagstaff called the volume "a welcome tribute to individualism and defiance" and the poems themselves "metaphysical meteors, searching, cataclysmic and rich in satire."[20] A review in The New York Times favorably compared De Casseres to Walt Whitman, claiming "if his alien, highly individual genius remains unrecognized, criticism will lie upon the public, not upon him."[21] Others, however, received it less favorably. Clement Wood, writing in the New York Call, mocked both De Casseres' book and Wagstaff's review, writing, "It must be admitted that Mr. De Casseres often uses good rhythms; what they are about is another thing. They are mainly about Nothing, as far as we can gather."[22] By 1923, when the book was reissued by the American Library Service, a reviewer for Poetry wrote that De Casseres had lost "the simple sincerity of utterance which is the birthright of the true prophet."[23]

Starting in 1918, De Casseres reviewed books for The Sun, the editor of which (Grant M. Overton) described him as having "a dramatic gift" as a reviewer.[24][25] During the same period, he reviewed books for The Bookman, which advertised that "the best of Mr. De Casseres's work appears in the Bookman" – to which The Sun responded with the claim that "the most glorious book review ever published on any page was Mr. De Casseres's in Books and the Book World, of Broome Street Straws by Robert Cortes Holliday."[26][27][28] De Casseres also wrote humorous articles and reviews for the New York Herald and The New York Times.[29]


De Casseres was interested in politics from an early age. His first signed editorial, published in 1890 when De Casseres was 18, praised the administrative changes Thomas Brackett Reed had recently made as Speaker of the House.[12]

De Casseres described himself as an individualist anarchist, and as such he was both a strong advocate of capitalism and a frequent critic of socialism. In October 1909, a letter to the editor of The Sun in which De Casseres called socialism the "illusion of the twentieth century" sparked a series of responses in the same publication and others.[30][31][32][33] His frequent comments against socialism peppered the articles that he wrote for popular magazines and journals as well.[34][35] As a Hearst columnist, De Casseres routinely railed against socialism, communism, and other forms of collectivism,[36] and he excoriated those who promoted such political structures, including H. G. Wells,[37] Upton Sinclair,[38] and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[39]

De Casseres was also a staunch opponent of Prohibition. He used his position as a well-known editorialist to criticize, often satirically, prohibition policies.[40][41] In particular, he wrote about the effect of Prohibition on New York City, especially its ineffectiveness of actually preventing drinking.[42][43] De Casseres was widely reported as the first person to take a legal drink after the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, he having previously arranged to receive a "flash" telegram from Utah, the last state to ratify the amendment.[44][45]

At various times De Casseres defended free speech. In 1909, he signed onto a petition calling out the police departments of New York City, Brooklyn, Yonkers and East Orange for their respective activities in preventing anarchist Emma Goldman from speaking in those cities.[46]

Personal life[edit]

De Casseres met Adele Mary Jones (née Terrill) in 1902. They were both staying at the same boarding house and only saw each other a few times before Bio (as she preferred to be called) moved West with her husband Harry O. Jones in early 1903.[47] Over the next 16 years, De Casseres and Bio Jones corresponded frequently, developing a long-distance romantic relationship, until Jones divorced her husband in 1919 and married De Casseres the same year.[48] They remained married until De Casseres' death in 1945.

In 1931, De Casseres published a collection of letters the couple sent each other during their courtship, titled The Love Letters of a Living Poet, which highlights the unusual nature of their relationship. In one of the letters, De Casseres describes a dream in which "after thirty years together we were both cremated and our ashes mixed inextricably" and "cast into the depths of the sea" where eventually they are "returned to the ecstatic hermaphroditic union of a great biological-mystical fable."[49]

After De Casseres' death, Bio De Casseres published his final collection of essays, titled Finis, for which she wrote a brief preface. She also authored several works of her own.

Social influence[edit]

De Casseres held "an aggressively individualist form of anarchist politics derived primarily from a discomfiting reading of Nietzsche."[2] His views on the idea of the Superman were influential on contemporary writers such as Eugene O'Neill, who called De Casseres an "American Nietzsche" in the foreword to Anathema: Litanies of Negation,[50] and Jack London, who wrote that "no man in my own [philosophical] camp stirs me as does Nietzsche or as does De Casseres."[51] In The Mutiny of the Elsinore, London named a character with a nihilistic point of view "De Casseres" based on their mutual admiration for French philosopher Jules de Gaultier.[52]

According to Marie Saltus, writer and philosopher Edgar Saltus would read the newspaper immediately each morning only if it contained a book review or an article by De Casseres, although the two never met.[53]

Artistically, De Casseres has been described as adopting proto-Dada rhetoric as early as 1910.[54]


De Casseres wrote a variety of articles, essays and books on a wide-ranging topics including criticism, international relations and philosophy, as well as drama, fiction and poetry, often adopting a fin de siècle style.[55] De Casseres was "an outspoken foe of communism" and, like fellow journalist H. L. Mencken, he was particularly interested in the writings of Nietzsche, having written several articles and books about the philosopher's ideas, including a foreword to Germans, Jews and France,[56] a compilation of Nietzsche's correspondence.

The poem "Moth-Terror" is perhaps De Casseres' most famous work. It was originally collected in the Second Book of Modern Verse (edited by De Casseres' colleague Jessie Rittenhouse) and has been included in various other anthologies since then.[57]

In 1935, De Casseres self-published a three-volume collection of his work through Blackstone Publishers. Gordon Press reprinted the set in 1976.

Short works[edit]


  • The Shadow-Eater (1915) - poetry
  • Chameleon: Being a Book of My Selves (1922)
  • James Gibbons Huneker (1925)
  • Mirrors of New York (1925)
  • Forty Immortals (1926)
  • The Shadow-Eater (New edition, 1927)
  • Anathema! Litanies of Negation (1928)
  • The Superman in America (1929)
  • Mencken and Shaw (1930)
  • The Love Letters of a Living Poet (1931)
  • Spinoza, Liberator of God and Man (1932)
  • When Huck Finn Went Highbrow (1934)
  • The Muse of Lies (1936)
  • The Works of Benjamin DeCasseres (3 Volumes, Blackstone Publishers, 1939)
  • The Works of Benjamin DeCasseres (3 volumes, Gordon Press, 1976)
  • Anathema! Litanies of Negation (New edition, 2013)
  • IMP: The Poetry of Benjamin DeCasseres (2013)
  • Fantasia Impromptu & Finis (2016)
  • New York is Hell: Thinking and Drinking in the Beautiful Beast (2016)


  • Sex in Inhibitia (?, ?)
  • Clark Ashton Smith (?, 2 pages)
  • I am Private Enterprise (?, ?)
  • What Is a Doodle-Goof? (1926, 4 pages)
  • Robinson Jeffers, Tragic Terror (1928, Privately printed by John S. Mayfield)
  • The Holy Wesleyan Empire (4 pages, 1928)
  • The Hit and Run Thinker (1931, seven 10″x5″ strips of paper, staple at the top)
  • Prelude to DeCasseres’ Magazine (?, 1932)
  • From Olympus to Independence Hall (1935, 4 pages)
  • The Individual against Moloch (1936, 48 pages, Blackstone Publishers)
  • The Communist-Parasite State (1936, 10 pages)
  • Germans, Jews and France by Nietzsche (1935, 31 pages, Rose Publishers)
  • To Hell with DeCasseres! (play, 1937, 16 pages)
  • Don Marquis (1938)
  • Finis (1945, 20 pages)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "De Casseres Dies; Author, Poet", The New York Times, 7 December 1945, retrieved 4 May 2014
  2. ^ a b c Stratton, Matthew (2014). The Politics of Irony in American Modernism. Fordham University Press.
  3. ^ BENJAMIN DE CESSARES. Papers. (PDF) (Rare Books and Manuscripts Division Accession Sheet), Accessioned by Robert Sink, New York Public Library, March 1982, 47 M 52; 63 M 41A; 73 M 47, retrieved 4 May 2014CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Halmann, Ulrich, ed. (1987), Eugene O'Neill: Comments on the Drama and the Theater, Gunter Narr Verlag Tübingen, pp. 71–2, 181–2, 187
  5. ^ Rottenberg, Dan (1996), "Caceres", Finding Our Fathers: A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy, Genealogical Publishing Co., p. 187
  6. ^ Kunitz, Stanley J.; Haycraft, Howard, eds. (1967). Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature. The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 360–361.
  7. ^ "De Casseres, Benjamin". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. February 2000. Retrieved 2016-03-21.
  8. ^ "Benjamin De Casseres, Editorial Writer, Dies". Milwaukee Sentinel. Milwaukee, WI. December 7, 1945. pp. 2–6. Retrieved 2016-03-21. De Casseres, an authority on national and international affairs, rose from a proofreader with the Philadelphia Press in 1892, to an estimable position in the literary and newspaper world.
  9. ^ Stratton, Matthew (2014). The Politics of Irony in American Modernism. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823255450. A prolific writer over four decades, De Casseres's career spanned a wide range of places and positions: he began as a copy boy on a Philadelphia newspaper and, after almost a year in Mexico City starting a newspaper entitled El Diario, he ended as a nationally syndicated Hearst columnist
  10. ^ "DeCasseres Tells How the Movies Get Men to Play City Editor". The Fourth Estate. New York City: Ernest F. Birmingham. November 4, 1922. p. 29. Retrieved 2016-03-21. DeCasseres was a reporter most of his newspaper career being a city editor for about a minute years ago on the old Philadelphia Press.
  11. ^ a b Bergman, Bernard A. (December 12, 1924). "The American Bernard Shaw". The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. Milwaukee, WI. p. 2. Retrieved 2016-03-21. De Casseres was born in Philadelphia, in 1873. When he was 13 he started to work as a cigar salesman. Three years later he graduated to the Philadelphia Press, where he entered upon the exalted duties of office boy. For ten years he was on the Press, as editorial paragrapher, dramatic critic, and finally as proof-reader. In 1899 he came to New York as a proof-reader on the Sun, and in 1903 went over to the Herald in the same capacity.
  12. ^ a b De Casseres, Benjamin (October 1890). "Hon. Thomas B. Reed". Belford's Magazine. Vol. V no. 29. pp. 775–777. Retrieved 2016-03-21.
  13. ^ a b "De Casseres Dies; Author and Poet" (PDF). The New York Sun. New York. December 7, 1945. p. 23. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  14. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (October 1902). "Thomas Hardy's Women". The Bookman. pp. 131–133. Retrieved 2016-03-21.
  15. ^ Hardy, Thomas (1982). Richard Little, Purdy; Millgate, Michael (eds.). The Selected Letters of Thomas Hardy. III: 1920-1908. Oxford University Press. p. 37. ISBN 9780198126201.
  16. ^ "A Week's Dramatic Output". The Sun. New York. 10 April 1904. p. 4, sec. 3. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  17. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (July 1904). "Hawthorne: Emperor of Shadows". The Critic. pp. 37–44.
  18. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (July 9, 1904). "One Idea of Hawthorne". The New York Times. New York. p. 472, sec. Book Review.
  19. ^ Cathcart, Wallace Hugh (1905). A Bibliography of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cleveland: The Rowfant Club. p. 112. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  20. ^ Wagstaff, Blanche Shoemaker (November 1915). "Benjamin De Casseres". The Poetry Journal. Vol. IV no. 3. pp. 103–106. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  21. ^ "The Shadow-Eater". The New York Times Book Review. pp. 111–112. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  22. ^ Wood, Clement (February 7, 1916). "At Large—One Great Anarch" (PDF). The New York Call. Sec. 2, p. 15. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  23. ^ "The Shadow-Eater". Poetry. Vol. 22 no. 5. August 1923. pp. 284–5. JSTOR 20574186.
  24. ^ "Book "Reviewing"". Books and the Book World. The Sun. New York. December 15, 1918. p. 8.
  25. ^ Overton, Grant M. (1919). Why Authors Go Wrong and Other Explanations. New York: Moffat, Yard & Company. p. 52.
  26. ^ "The Gossip Shop". The Bookman. Vol. L no. 6. George H. Doran Company. January 1920. p. 523. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  27. ^ "In Which a Thankless Tooth Is Extracted". Books and the Book World. The Sun. New York. January 18, 1920. p. 5.
  28. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (December 28, 1919). "Mr. Holliday Is Deified". Books and the Book World. The Sun. New York. p. 12.
  29. ^ McIntyre, O. O. (February 3, 1920). "New York City". The Washington Herald. Washington, D.C. p. 4. Retrieved 2016-11-08. Ben De Casseres, an erudite ex-printer and poet, is writing funny articles for the [New York] Herald and Times.
  30. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (1909-10-27). "The Dream of Socialism". The Sun. p. 6. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  31. ^ Passage, W. W. (1909-11-03). "Socialism Not a Dream". The Sun. p. 6. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  32. ^ Ghent, W. J. (1909-10-29). "Socialists Agree on Essential Things". The Sun. p. 6. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  33. ^ Lloyd, W. Llewellyn (December 1909). "Socialism, the Reality". The Dental Scrap Book. Vol. 3 no. 2. p. 14. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  34. ^ "Absorption: A Universal Law". Mind. Vol. XII no. 5. August 1903. pp. 369–374. This is the dream of Socialism. It is founded on the incontrovertible proposition that all things tend toward a common center, no matter how great may appear to be their surface diversity and differentiation from a common standard.
  35. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (1921-01-29). "Dumplings from the Great Word Potpie". Judge. Vol. 80 no. 2048. p. 30. I may be a lost soul among the literati, but the more I study socialism the harder I find it to keep down my capitalistic suppressed desires.
  36. ^ Petersen, Arnold (1943). Karl Marx and Marxian Science. New York: New York Labor News Company. pp. 70–71, 74. Retrieved 2016-05-28. There lie before me two outstanding examples of this type of anti-Marxist gutter criticism. One is from one of the ill-smelling Hearst papers (Milwaukee Sentinel, March 27, 1938), and the other from the foul Coughlin periodical, Social Justice (March 14, 1938). In the former that characteristic representative of bourgeois decadence, Benjamin De Casseres, wields his poison pen, if not artistically, at least effectively and with almost complete disregard of the facts and the truth.
  37. ^ "The Individualist Versus the Collectivist". Santa Ana Register. 1939-09-02. p. 14. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  38. ^ Stratton, Matthew (2014). "The I in Irony: The Case of Benjamin De Casseres". The Politics of Irony in American Modernism. New York: Fordham University Press. Note 105. Retrieved 2016-05-28. Sinclair’s version of Socialism was simply not as hostile to basic notions of the individual as is commonly understood but took a more systemic and economic view of the situation than rhetorical bomb-throwers like De Casseres.
  39. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (1936-01-05). "Candidate Roosevelt Interviews President Roosevelt" (PDF). Albany Times-Union. A-1–A-2. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  40. ^ Kirsch, Adam (2004-03-17). "Always an Advertisement for Itself". The New York Sun. Arts & Letters, p. 20.
  41. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin. "Opinions on Prohibition". The Washington Times. p. 8. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  42. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (1920-07-31). "Intermezzo, Robin, Lulu and William". Judge. Vol. 79 no. 2022. p. 23. Retrieved 2016-05-28. The original idea of my progressive boss in starting “Between Covers” was to give me a job. Prohibition had made terrible inroads into my income, as my ten elixirs a day now cost $7.50 instead of the old $1.50.
  43. ^ De Casseres, Benjamin (1922-04-22). "Fancy Dress Revels: New York's All-Night Balls—How Prohibition Doesn't Prohibit—The Flapper in All Her Pertness and Disguises". The New York Times. Sec. 7, p. 2. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  44. ^ McClain, John (1933-12-06). "On the Sun Deck: Dawn of a New Era at Ship News—Other Repeal Notes" (PDF). The New York Sun. p. 37. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  45. ^ "Author Just Escapes Violating Dry Law" (PDF). Syracuse Journal. 1933-12-06. p. 8. Retrieved 2016-05-28.
  46. ^ The Suppression of Free Speech in New York and in New Jersey. 1909. p. 28. Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  47. ^ The Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pennsylvania, p. 6, 17 April 1931 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  48. ^ Slaughter, Kevin I. (15 January 2014), Short biography of DeC’s love 'Bio', retrieved 4 May 2014
  49. ^ Skinner, Doug (9 July 2012), "Ben Loves Bio", The Ullage Group, retrieved 4 May 2014
  50. ^ Törnqvist, Egil, "Nietzsche and O'Neill: A Study in Affinity", Orbis Litterarum, 23 (2): 99
  51. ^ Harpham, Geoffrey (1975), "Jack London and the Tradition of Superman Socialism", American Studies: 24
  52. ^ "Jack London's Dialectical Philosophy between Nietzsche's Radical Nihilism and Jules de Gaultier's Bovarysme" (PDF), Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, 9 (1): 73, 2011, doi:10.1353/pan.2011.0009
  53. ^ Saltus, Marie (1925), Edgar Saltus: The Man, P. Covici, p. 302
  54. ^ Moffitt, John F., Alchemist of the Avant-Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp, Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 179–80
  55. ^ Hart, James (1995). De Casseres, Benjamin. The Oxford Companion to American Literature (6th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 165.
  56. ^ "Benjamin De Casseres, Editorial Writer, Dies", Milwaukee Sentinel, 7 December 1945, retrieved 4 May 2014
  57. ^ "Impromptu Fantasias: Inside the world of Benjamin De Casseres", Tablet, 26 August 2009, retrieved 4 May 2014

External links[edit]