Mary Mark Ockerbloom (merrigold) wrote,

The Mysterious Author, or Who Really Wrote "Pantaletta"?

Sometimes, as I consider adding works to the Celebration of Women Writers, the question arises, "Who was that mysterious masked author?"

In a recent case, with a little digging both on and offline, I was able to find an answer! History Detectives look out!

In 1882, a dystopian novel entitled "Pantaletta: A Romance of Hesheland" was published in New York by American News Co. "Pantaletta" is a ludicrous tale of cross-dressing role reversal. The narrator, an American named Icarus Byron Gullible, invents an aircraft and sets out for the North Pole. Instead, he discovers a beautiful Hollow Earth "garden". He is taken prisoner by Pantaletta, captain of the army of the Republic of Petticotia. In Petticotia, women rule and wear the pants, and men, or "heshes", are relegated to powerless pantlessness. The book was credited to "Mrs. J. Wood", but its broad satire and anti-feminist content raised suspicion as to the identity and gender of its author.

Using google search, I was able to find some traces of "Pantaletta". The most significant was a snippet view of the "Centennial History of Rochester, New York Volume III." edited by Foreman, Edward R. (Edward Reuben). Rochester (N.Y.): John P. Smith, 1933. What I read was the following:

'Knowing Mrs. Parker's conservative views, I gave her some information at a time, as I remember, when she was writing a paper on "Rochester in Literature." In confidence I told her about the authorship of Pantaletta: .... '

Frustratingly, the snippet view showed neither WHO was sharing the confidence, nor WHAT Mrs. Parker was told! Interlibrary loan found me a copy of the History, and I discovered that the quote was from a chapter entitled "Random Recollections: Suggested by the Indexes of the Centennial History", by William Mill Butler, b. 1857. But who was William Mill Butler?

Edward Foreman gives the following information about William Mill Butler at the beginning of the chapter (p. 95) :

... "William Mill Butler, long the historian of the Society of the Genesee, was at one time a prominent newspaper editor of Rochester, and was compiler and editor of the Semi-Centennial Souvenir (1884). At first a reporter on the Post-Express, he became its city editor, and later, editor-in-chief, 1884-1886. He also served a year as city editor of the Democrat & Chronicle, and, later, was an associate editor of this daily, for a time. He started the Pythian Knight, a monthly, and the Jury, a weekly humourous journal; and was editor of the Casket, a monthly trade journal. In the early 1890's, he removed from Rochester to carry on his magazine and literary life in Binghampton, Philadelphia and New York. Five books of his, in fiction, whist history, and poetry, are in the New York Public Library, and he is now (1933) completing others dealing with American history."

Butler, then, was a reasonably creditable source, familiar with the current literary/political scene, who might well have had "insider" knowledge of the authorship of "Pantaletta".

With considerable interest, I looked for the quoted section. "I told her about the authorship of Pantaletta..." Would Butler repeat what he had told Mrs. Parker? Would it be more than an unsubstantiated rumour?

I found more than I had hoped for. On page 101, Butler wrote:

"JENNY MARSH PARKER: Wife of a well-known lawyer, and author of a popular work, published in 1884 under the title, Rochester: A Story Historical. She also wrote many articles and papers relating to our city, and was a firm friend of SARAH ADAMSON DOLLEY, the second woman to receive the degree of doctor of medicine in the United States, and to whom she dedicated her book. Mrs. Parker believed in the advancement of woman, but not after the manner of SUSAN B. ANTHONY, who herself when a teacher in the Academy of Canajoharie "laughed heartily at the novelty and presumption" of the first Woman's Rights Convention in Rochester. Later, she became a convert and a fiery one. Knowing Mrs. Parker's conservative views, I gave her some information at a time, as I remember, when she was writing a paper on "Rochester in Literature." In confidence I told her about the authorship of Pantaletta: A Romance of Sheheland, which had made quite a stir, being directed chiefly against Miss Anthony and her followers. Daily papers in our foremost cities praised it as a production after the manner of Dean Swift and Jules Verne, and some asked the author to uncover his name, but he did not do so. He was city editor of the Post-Express. So far as the woman suffrage question was concerned, the author, like Miss Anthony herself, turned from a scoffer to a consistent supporter. JOSEPH H. GILMORE, professor of logic, rhetoric, and English literature in the University of Rochester, a recognized authority, with whom I became well acquainted while reporting his public lectures, took a great interest in this my first book, assisting with counsel and advice; and he wrote an endorsement which he allowed me to print on the back page of the cover."

"This my first book"! Butler was claiming, not just to KNOW who had written the book, but to have WRITTEN IT HIMSELF! I checked a microform copy of "Pantaletta", and confirmed the presence of the endorsement in question. It read:

'What Professor Gilmore says of "Pantaletta."

'Joseph H. Gilmore, A. M., Professor of Logic, Rhetoric and English Literature
in the University of Rochester; a recognized authority upon literary matters,
writes as follows concerning "Pantaletta."

'The public will find in 'Pantaletta,' under the thin disguise of fiction,
a vigorous and effective satire on the Woman's Rights Movement; and, if I mistake not, will be interested in the adventures of General Gullible, and in the pen-picture of the state of things which would naturally exist where the true relation of the sexes had been subverted. The Republic of Petticotia is but a humorous exaggeration of what any civilized country might become, in which the rights of woman (in the sense which is too often attached to that much-abused phrase) were assured.'



Butler therefore refers to himself (somewhat coyly) when he says of the author of Pantaletta, "He was city editor of the Post-Express". The presence of Gilmore's endorsement on the back confirms that "Pantaletta", not some other title, is the one being referred to as "my first book".

Evidence from several sources corroborates that William Mill Butler was city editor of an early incarnation of the "Post-Express" newspaper, when it was still referred to as the "Evening Express". He took on the position around 1879, and was in that position in 1880. "Pantaletta" was published in 1882, the same year that the "Evening Express" became the "Post-Express". The paper was bought on April 18, 1882, and published its first issue under the new name on May 4, 1882. I did not find any mention of Butler's position at the time of the reorganization, but in 1884 he succeeded Isaac Hill Bromley as editor-in-chief of the "Post-Express."

In the "Centennial History of Rochester, New York" Volume III, p. 110, William Mill Butler describes his beginning at the Post-Express:

"It was in Bausch & Dransfield's optical store, in 1879, that the senior partner fitted me with my first pair of glasses, which I needed because, having learned typesetting and printing during spare hours while editing a weekly paper in Canada, I now obtained a temporary position as compositor on the Evening Express until an an opportunity to get on the reporters' staff should occur. Typesettng thus enabled me to break into Rochester journalism, but the work was trying to the eyes. It was the kind-natured editor of the paper, FRANCIS S. REW, who gave me my chance. ... In a month or two a reporter named Clark left for the West and I was given his place."

On page 115: "Mr. Esson, with William H. Lewis, was on my staff when I was city editor of the Evening Express, and I left him in charge when I went to Union Springs in November 1880, to marry the loveliest girl in the world."

And, on page 113: "ISAAC H. BROMLEY: My predecessor on the Post-Express, was a scholarly and able man, trained in metropolitan journalism, and enjoyed a national reputation on the New York Tribune. He was afterwards assistant to the president of the Union Pacific Railroad. He had succeeded GEORGE T. LANIGAN on our paper, and Mr. Lanigan was the successor of GEORGE H. ELLWANGER, son of GEORGE ELLWANGER, head of the famous nursery firm of Ellwanger & Barry, and chairman of our board of directors."

John Devoy lists some of the editors of the Post-Express in "Rochester and the Post express : a history of the city of Rochester from the earliest times : the pioneers and their predecessors, frontier life in the Genesee country, biographical sketches : with a record of the Post express", Rochester, N.Y. : Post Express Print. Co., 1895. Devoy writes:

"Charles W. Hebard laid the foundation on which his successors built The Post-Express. In 1859 he began the publication of ... The Evening Express ... In 1860 Francis S. Rew took editorial charge and had as associate editors William J. Fowler and S. H. Lowe; Henry C. Daniels was city editor. In 1874 the paper passed into control of a stock company ... Mr. Rew [continued] as editor. George H. Ellwanger became the managing editor and William C. Crum associate editor. John M. Brooks was the city editor.

"On April 18, 1882, George Ellwanger and E. K. Hart bought the paper and organized The Post Express Printing Company, the stockholders being E. K. Hart, George Ellwanger, William D. Ellwanger, Joseph M. Cornell and Daniel T. Hunt. George Ellwanger became editor-in-chief and D. T. Hunt business manager. The old name [The Evening Express] was dropped, and the first number of the Post-Express was issued May 4, 1882. ... On May 11, 1883, Mr. Ellwanger resigned as editor and was succeeded by George T. Lanigan, of the New York World. The late Philip H. Welch, a famous American humorist, was also on the editorial staff at this time. Mr. Lanigan resigned editorial charge in 1884, and Isaac M. Bromley, of the New York Tribune, became the editor. When Mr. Bromley retired, to become the assistant of the president of the Union Pacific Railroad, William Mill Butler succeeded to the editorial department."

The Obituary Record of the Graduates of Yale University, Yale University Alumni Association, June 1899, enables us to date Butler's appointment as Editor-in-Chief. "After a series of brief editorial engagements with the Commercial Advertiser and the Evening Telegram of New York, and the Rochester Post-Express, he [Isaac Hill Bromley] became in 1884 Assistant to the President of the Union Pacific Railroad."

What about Butler's publication history? Are the dates of his acknowledged works consistent with the claim that "Pantaletta" was his first, pseudonymous, work? Examining the Library of Congress catalogs online, Worldcat, and some other sites, I found that William Mill Butler published a somewhat haphazard collection of works under his own name. All of those titles post-date "Pantaletta".

Given the evidence above, I am convinced that "Pantaletta" can be reasonably attributed to William Mill Butler of Rochester, New York.

"Pantaletta: A Romance of Hesheland"
by Wood, J., Mrs. [aka Butler, William Mill, b. 1857]
New York: American News Co., 1882.

Ironically, Butler himself says that his opinions on woman suffrage changed; some time after marrying "the loveliest girl in the world" (1880), and publishing "Pantaletta" (1882), he "turned from a scoffer to a consistent supporter" of women's suffrage. Whether he regretted penning the satire we do not know, but he does not appear to have published further works of satire or science fiction.


Later publications by William Mill Butler:

"The semi-centennial souvenir. An account of the great celebration, June 9th and 10th, 1884. Together with a chronological history of Rochester, N.Y.", by William Mill Butler and George S. Crittenden. Rochester, N.Y., Post-Express Printing Co., 1884.
"Ancient and modern versions of the story of Damon and Pythias", Rochester, N.Y., The Pythian knight printing house, 1888.
"Official proceedings of the International commercial congress; a conference of all nations for the extension of commercial intercourse. Held under the auspices of the Philadelphia commercial museum in the city of Philadelphia, October 12 to November 1, 1899." [Philadelphia] Press of the Philadelphia commercial museum, 1899.
"The whist reference book wherein information is presented concerning the noble game, in all its aspects, after the manner of a cyclopedia, dictionary, and digest all combined in one", by William Mill Butler. Philadelphia, The J. C. Yorston publishing company, 1899.
"Yerba maté tea: the history of its early discovery in Paraguay", Philadelphia, The Yerba maté tea co., 1900.
"Paraguay: a country of vast natural resources, delightful climate, law-abiding people, and stable government, rightly called the paradise of South America." By William Mill Butler. Philadelphia, The Paraguay Development Company, 1901.
"The Commercial travelers' home magazine", Syracuse, N.Y., 1893-95;
"Beachwood days" [a poem]. New York, N.Y., The Blanchard press, 1918.
"Democracy and other poems", Boston, R. G. Badger [c1920]
"Beachwood borough directory", New York, The Blanchard press, inc., 1924-
Comments for this post were disabled by the author