Friday, February 13, 2015

"Martí as a Lover" by Cecil Charles

The pseudonymous "Cecil Charles" was José Martí's first English-language translator and the first to translate Martí from Spanish into any other language (previously Charles A. Dana, editor of The New York Sun, had translated Martí from French to English and Adriano Páez from English to Spanish). Appearing in 1898, just three years after Martí's death, Cecil Charles' partial translation of the Versos sencillos (seventeen complete poems and fragments from three others), would remain the only specimen of Martí's writings available in English for more than 50 years (available, specifically, in three places: the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and the Buffalo (N.Y.) Free Public Library). Also adding to its obscurity as well as its fascination her selection of Martí's poetry was published with the suggestive title of Tuya and included a generous selection of her own original verse, which if nothing else clearly delineated the difference between simple and simplistic. There is a great deal more Cecil Charles in this book than José Martí: only the last ten pages of this 75-page volume are devoted to Martí's poetry, though even with those odds Martí is not at a disadvantage. It would be unfair, however, to accuse Cecil Charles of riding on Martí's literary coat tails because those coat tails were not especially long in 1898. Her desire to be associated with Martí had another more personal motivation. She had been friends with Martí (and perhaps something more) since attending his Spanish classes at New York's Central Evening School, where Martí taught from 1890-1892. Her interest in Martí's poetry also dates to that time. With his assent and assistance, she had been engaged in translating his poetry even before the publication of Versos sencillos (1891). In a notation preserved among his miscellaneous papers, Martí recorded an instance of their collaboration. He jotted on a card an improvisation and handed it to her. Immediately, as he noted, she translated the quatrain on the same card and handed it back to him:

Hay una flor más pura que la blanca
Flor de azahar! —
La que perfuma el alma sin quemarla:
La flor de la amistad. —

There is a flower purer than white
Orange-flower: —
Which perfumes the soul without burning it:
Friendship's flower. —

Cecil Charles was an excellent translator when not shackled to rhyme; but, like most people, she did not preen herself on what she did well, but sought to excel where she was challenged — to the point of putting Walt Whitman's free verse into rhyming couplets (was she the first or only one to try?). A respectful review of Tuya appeared in The New York Times grouped with other books about the war in Cuba. The reviewer, Joel Benton, author of Emerson as a Poet, could not have been more ideal. He assumed that the author was a Cuban woman. Of her renderings of Martí's poetry, he diplomatically observed: "It looks as if the delicacy of the Spanish phrases has not been easily put over — if at all in some instances — into our heavier English; but here is an aspiration that meets the sharp test of a burning patriotic fervor." He quoted two more or less credible examples. I prefer to quote two which are decidedly not because they are more representative:

Once I trembled: we stood
At the vineyard gate and a bee
Flew under the dainty hood
Of my little one — ay, ah me!

Once, too, my heart went leaping
With a joy of joys tremendous —
When the jailer read me weeping
The sentence of death stupendous.

Herself an author and protegé of the celebrated poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Cecil Charles no doubt proved fascinating to Martí. She is in fact the only norteamericana that Martí is known to have befriended. When discussing the women in Martí's life, Cecil Charles' name is invariably brought up by his biographers as the only American woman linked romantically to him in the 15 years that he resided in this country, although until now there has been little basis for such a conclusion except for Tuya itself, the joint anthology — or poetical marriage — published under a man's name by Lily Curry Tyner (her almost real name).

Besides her literary affinities, Lily Curry had other attractions which would not have gone unnoticed by someone with Martí's exquisite sensibility to beauty. In a profile of  female authors entitled "Beauty and Brains," this how Lily Curry is described around the time of her association with Martí:

"[She] is said to be 'the prettiest literary woman in New York.' She is young and industrious, but occupies herself chiefly with newspaper work of a critical and editorial character, If half the articles she has written for various newspapers in the past two years had bore her signature she would be famous. She has written some very clever stories besides, which have attracted the attention of high literary authorities... She has large hazel eyes, chestnut hair, and perfectly chiselled features. Her beauty is clearly spirituelle. Like Ella Wheeler Wilcox, she is exceedingly fond of children... The most striking qualities of these two women, it may be remarked, en passant, are their love of truth, loyalty to friends, and absolute freedom from petty jealousies common to their sex."

This character portrait, incidentally, was written by another woman, Fannie Mack Lothrop, who was really free from "petty jealousies common to their sex," and except for its attestation to her physical beauty and industriousness, does not offer an entirely accurate depiction of the far more complicated Curry.

In 1898, when Tuya was published, it would have been a bold if not reckless act for a woman to imply even in another language an illicit relationship with a married man, especially if that man were dead and his survivors forced to address the accusations. Lily Curry was in fact very bold and reckless — what the Victorians called "a woman with a past" — but she did not want to offend Martí's family or alienate his friends, and she found a way to make her Tuya acceptable to them and the prevailing mores while still laying her claim to belonging to Martí. And she succeeded admirably, even with Gonzalo de Quesada, the appointed custodian of Martí's archives and self-appointed guardian of Martí's good name, who puffed her book as "one that every Cuban patriot should own." How did she do it? Ingeniously, in the introductory poem ("Tuya. A Memory from the Cabañas Prison"), "Cecil Charles" explains that the title refers to the tuya plant (or thuha occidentalis):

In Cuba grows a shrub of spicy scent —
Cedar or what? No botanist am I —
I only know that maidens give it blent [blended]
With bud or blossom to the suitor shy
Or diffident slow sweetheart, and he knows
That he may hope and speak...

Clearly, Martí was not going to speak now. The suggestion is that he never did speak and was, at best, a "suitor shy" or "diffident slow sweetheart." Of course, Martí was neither of these things. He did "hope and speak" but the "maiden" was deaf to all his entreaties. According to her own account (written in the third-person and published anonymously eight weeks after his death), Martí was madly in love with her and she offered fragments from his love letters to prove it. Those letters carry the unmistakable imprint of Martí's style even in English translation and could not have been written by anyone else — that much is certain. As for Tyner's veracity in other respects, it is highly suspect as she appears to have been a Walter Mitty-esque character who routinely turned reality on its head to suit her purposes.


Before entering Martí's life, Lily Curry had been involved in an adulterous relationship with a man named Michael P. Tyner, whose last name she took though they were never legally married. Tyner, the literary editor of The New York World and Joseph Pulitzer's private secretary, met Curry when he was sent to "interview an authoress from the West, who was stopping at a city hotel." The two fell instantly in love and ran away together to Honduras, where Curry later claimed to own gold mines. On his return, Tyner's wife had him arrested for abandonment of her and their two children. Chastened by the public scandal, Tyner quickly reconciled with his wife and returned home, where he fathered a third child before again absconding with Curry, this time to London. On returning six months later to New York, Tyner was again imprisoned for abandonment and his wife sued him for divorce, custody of their three children, and alimony. He contested the alimony.

Contentious divorces (or divorces of any kind) were front-page news in the 19th century and the Tyner divorce in particular was covered by all the New York dailies (including his own) because of the startling defense put forward by the defendant. Tyner claimed that his wife was in fact not his wife because he had previously been married to Curry from whom he had never obtained a divorce. To avoid being charged with bigamy, he said that he married his second wife under the assumption that his first had died. Supposedly, Tyner and Curry had wed as teenagers, but her aunt and guardian, who disapproved of the match, had separated the couple after ten days and taken 13 year-old Lily to live out West, later informing Tyner that she had died. Miraculously, the two found each other again when his paper sent Tyson to interview the "authoress" and she turned out to be his lost child bride. The fact that his first wife was still alive, Tyson contended. meant that his second marriage was not valid nor his putative second wife entitled either to a divorce or to alimony. Lily Curry backed up Tyner's story in several affidavits (or, just as likely, Tyner repeated Curry's story as she dictated it in her affidavits). On scrutiny, however, this tale of a latter-day Romeo and Juliet  fell apart at the seams: neither Tyson nor Curry could produce the marriage certificate; the marriage was not recorded in New Jersey (where they claimed to have been married); and there were no witnesses to the marriage nor anyone with any recollection of it besides themselves. Tyner eventually recanted the story; Curry never did.

In granting the petition for divorce, Judge Donohue took special aim at the "alleged authoress Lily Curry" and "her attempt to impose upon the court," which, if she had prevailed, would have resulted in Tyner's  children being declared illegitimate and wards of the state. Donohue ruled that he was "satisfied, after a full examination of the case, that the affidavits by and on behalf of the defendant are wholly devoid of truth. At the first hearing of the case the evidence on the part of the defendant, who called this alleged first wife as a witness, was that she had no interest or connection with Tyner except an interest in his welfare and a desire to aid both Mr. and Mrs. Tyner in arriving at an understanding. Mrs. Curry's subsequent affidavits entirely ignore this statement without any effort to explain it. There is nothing in Mrs. Curry's statement that is consistent, or on which any reliance can be placed. The story which she tells is full of inconsistencies, and is contradicted by other evidence in the case. It seems to me, therefore, that but one result can be arrived at, and that is, that the effort to make out that she was the first wife of the defendant has wholly failed."  He ordered, moreover, that the evidence of their perjury be sent to the District Attorney in order that they might be prosecuted for their acts.

Lily Curry (aka Tyner) found it expedient to leave New York at once and returned to Chicago under an assumed name, "Miss Paul Rochester," an old usage that meant "the unmarried daughter of Paul Rochester." Her alias was soon discovered by the local press when she wrote a series of articles on Honduras and (another) reporter from The New York World was sent to interview her. Although presented with irrefutable evidence of her identity and confronted on the spot by a local reporter who had known her as Lily Curry, "Miss Rochester" refused to admit that she was Curry or that she had ever known a Michael Paul Tyner. When asked if she had not once eloped with him to Honduras, she replied: "Oh, no. What a fool a girl is to elope. I never eloped with anyone. What does all this mean? Who has been telling you stories about me? I am, just as I told you, an orphan girl who went to Honduras for business and pleasure and had some strange experiences there." The more insistent the questioning, the more hysterical Curry became. Her answers indicated that she was either temporarily detached from reality or alienated from the truth on a permanent basis, something which we must consider when evaluating her later claims about Martí.


The article in The World was the last time that a story about Curry appeared on the front page of a New York newspaper till Tyner was re-arrested three years later, in 1891, for non-payment of alimony, when the details of the Tyner divorce were once more brought to the public's attention but not as prominently as before. By then Lily Curry had returned to New York, if not quite in triumph, at least without fear of prosecution, and enrolled in a Spanish language class taught at an adult evening school by a Cuban professor named José Martí, who may or may not have known about Curry's interesting history. In any case, it didn't stop him from falling in love with her as impetuously as Tyner did. If Curry was not the great love of Martí's life, she was the last woman that he loved passionately and pursued unwisely (as even Curry admitted). In this case, however, unlike in the Tyner divorce, Curry was able to produce the "goods" — love letters from Martí that bore witness to the smoke if not the fire.

The article which Curry wrote about Martí's love for her was syndicated in numerous newspapers, including The Burlington Gazette (Iowa). The Globe-Republican (Dodge City, KS) and The Ironwood News Record (Michigan). It  was sensationally headlined "MARTI AS A LOVER." The sub-headlines expanded on the theme: "The Cuban Patriot Loved Unwisely. His Reported Death at the Hands of the Spaniards Occurred on the Same Day on Which the Woman to Whom He Was Devoted Was Married to Another — The Man's Romantic Career." The article was first published on July 18, 1895, or two months after Martí was killed in Cuba. The information it provides on his personal life and career is found in no other article of the hundreds published in the wake of Martí's death in the U.S. press: such as the fact, not known to historians until recently, that Martí had been tipped off by a friend that Spain was going to lodge a formal protest with the governments of Argentina and Uruguay on account of their having the leader of the Cuban insurgents as their diplomatic representative in New York, which led Martí to resign by telegraph his consular positions "before either country had the chance to remove him," thereby denying the Spanish government a complete victory. Also, the author recounts Martí's pride at "his having spoken in public in one of the great Tampa meetings — in English" (fragments of his remarks are preserved in his notebooks and nowhere else).

This unsigned syndicated article echoed a signed one published three months earlier in The New York Sun above the byline "Cecil Charles." In that earlier article, "Leaders of the Cubans" [March 24], she extolled three men of the revolution whom she had known personally — Antonio Maceo, Francisco ("Flor") Crombet, and Martí. The first two she had met in Costa Rica in 1892 when she was sent there as a foreign correspondent (she does not say by which newspaper, but presumably not The Sun). On Martí she dwells the longest, and the first thing that she says about him, after explaining how they met, is that this "remarkable man" had "resigned several important and lucrative South American Consulships rather than desert the Cuban cause," which selfless act she would also highlight in "Martí as a Lover," as we've just seen. She describes Martí as "still young; not tall or strong looking. Pale, with refined features and slightly almond-shaped eyes, he seemed the typical poet-exile from sunnier lands ... sensitive and easily moved as a woman." While "work[ing] feverishly away for hours over a single article" — or perhaps while engaging in other creative acts — "his cheeks would take on a brilliant flush, his eyes would gleam, and his entire frame tremble with excitement." To stare at Martí for hours while he was writing, observing his physical reactions — which appear to mimic coitus — or just to be able to spend hours on end with him at the height of his revolutionary activity when everybody wanted a part of him and nobody got all that they wanted, is itself an admission of singular closeness, not to say intimacy.

Certainly, there is not much of a leap from "Leaders of the Cubans" to "Martí as a Lover." The anonymous article — no less than the pseudonymous one — was clearly written by someone with a profound knowledge of José Martí such as could only have been acquired from a close acquaintance with him. It references specifically the two years that Martí worked as a New York City schoolteacher and purports that it was in his classroom that he met the "woman he loved passionately but hopelessly," supposedly a well-connected orphan of Spanish descent and high artistic attainments (a "musician" and "songwriter" as opposed to author and poet) identified as "Marie Dezquez" (there is no one of that name in  the historical record). This student of "Spanish descent" with a French name who enrolled in Marti's evening class to learn or hone up on her Spanish was, along with Mrs. Lily Curry "Tyner" and "Miss Paul Rochester," another alter ego of the woman remembered today (if at all) as "Cecil Charles." Disguised as "Marie Dezquez," Curry related the history of her relationship with Martí and everything she says about it rings true. She omitted, of course, the fact that she had translated a score of Martí's poems, because that would have made her too recognizable when she published them, as she intended to do, three years later. She did, however, translate extracts from Martí's personal letters to her, which, as has been already noted, cannot be attributed to anyone but Martí. Besides the shared style there are other identifying markers which have been ably pointed out by Jorge Camacho in ¿Otra amante de Martí? Professor Camacho has also re-translated Martí's letters back into Spanish and I will not duplicate his admirable efforts. It is interesting that, without solving the mystery of who wrote "Martí as a Lover," Camacho was convinced of the authenticity of the letters attributed to Martí in the article on the strength of the letters themselves. If it were proven that Cecil Charles was not the author of the article, I, too, would persist in the belief that Martí was the author of the letters.

Curry's translations of Martí's love letters are magisterial and one wishes that she had devoted herself to rendering into English his prose rather than his poetry. Fluency in Spanish was not common in 19th-century American newsrooms as evidenced by the fact that Martí was obliged to write for The Sun in French in order for his articles to be translated into English. Whoever provided Martí's letters for publication would also have had to furnish the English translations of them, and that is something which only "Cecil Charles" could have done or would have been inclined to do. In both her translations of  Martí's poems and his letters she uses the antiquated (or artificially distressed) pronouns and conjunctions of Shakespearean English as imitated in the 19th century, such as "thou," "thee," "thy," "thyself," "shalt," "mayst," and the "est" ending attached to verbs, etc. Obviously, for Curry, this episode in her life was another re-enactment of a Bardic tragedy.

Did it really matter to Curry if she were found out? Does not the mere existence of this article (or confession) indicate a desire on her part that the truth (or her truth, anyway) be known some day? If she had written nothing about Martí her secret would have been safe for all time. There are messages that are sent into the world in glass bottles, leaving to chance or providence whether their contents are ever known. The process of releasing them on the currents of history is itself an unburdening. Perhaps that was enough for Lily Curry. If, however, she secretly desired (as I believe she did) that the real identity of Martí's last love be discovered and revealed to the world, she left enough clues to make that possible.

So much for the factual and verifiable elements of Curry's account. Then there is her contention that Martí was killed in Cuba on the very same day — if she were writing at the height of the Romantic era rather than in its waning days, she would have said "at the very moment" — when Curry herself was being married to "the man (Tyner) who caused [her] so much pain," as Martí had predicted. That marriage certificate, also, has never been located.

Before we judge Cecil Charles harshly for anonymously publishing an ephemeral third-person article on "Martí as a Lover," containing personal letters from Martí that had become her property (the letters and their contents) upon Martí's demise, let us remember that Martí himself had, at different times, projected writing memoirs of his sexual adventures, variously titled "Mis Mujeres," "Mis Conquistas," "Memorias amorosas de un hombre sincero" (I kid you not), and, finally, "Las catorce aventuras amorosas de Hipólito Martínez," which he, too, intended to write under a pseudonym. The worst that Cecil Charles may have done is to anticipate her own chapter.


Occurred on the Same Day on Which the Woman to Whom He Was Devoted Was Married to Another — The Man's Romantic Career.

On the day that Jose Marti, the Cuban revolutionist, is said to have fallen with a gaping wound in his throat, the woman he had loved passionately but hopelessly was married to another. He had first met her in New York City, where she had been one of his pupils. She was of Spanish descent, an orphan, well connected, a clever musician and an amateur song writer. Marti had been recently appointed Consul for Argentine and Uruguay in New York, but he continued to teach Spanish history and art. A widowed mother and several sisters in Cuba were dependent upon him. and he was compelled to employ every means to secure a sufficient income. Scarcely had he familiarized himself with the duties of his Consulship when the agitation for Cuban revolution broke out. Clubs were formed, meetings were held and Marti, plunging into the movement, became almost immediately its recognized head and front. Then came a demand from Spain that the South American republics which had given Marti his Consular post should have as their representative some one other than an agitator and leader of Cuban Insurrectionists. Marti, warned secretly by a friend, sent in his resignation before either country had the chance to remove him. "I no longer represent any country," he said; "I am henceforth only a Cuban patriot."

At that time Marie Desquez, the young woman in question, of Spanish descent though she was, showed Marti a sympathy which won his heart. It was a hopeless passion from the start, and he must have recognized it as such. He had a wife and child in Cuba, but although he had been estranged from them for years, the young woman, aware that he was not free, possessed too fine a sense of honor to respond to his love, had she felt an equivalent affection for him. This she did not feel. A previous attachment to a man from whom she had been temporarily estranged and whom she afterwards married, controlled her throughout her associations with Marti. Whatever may have been the attitude of the revolutionist towards her, she consistently assured him that she could never consider him more to her than a friend. A day came when she was led to believe that some sorrow might come to their continuing to see each other, and when he called on her one afternoon she bade the servant say that she had gone away. Then she stood and watched from behind the curtain with tearful eyes. She did not see him again until two years after, when they met by chance in a public place, and he spoke to her of his life work and of his having spoken in public in one of the great Tampa meetings — in English. He did not know, he said, how much power had come to him, but he believed it was because he had been thinking of her. "Yo te quiero — ;yo te quiero!" he exclaimed, and then they parted for the last time. But in those months of their acquaintance Marti wrote many beautiful letters to the young woman, letters which, even in the translation, bear many characteristics of his refined and poetic nature. In one of them he said:

["]In the shadowy corners of my room there seems to whisper, as if softly disputing with the empty air, a little voice that troubles me. Within me, like a song, I hear a voice that now I never shall cease to hear. I know, alas, the realities of life and the terrible impossibilities of arranging it to meet the desires of a noble soul; and a compassionate man may live to my years without being burdened with slaveries and anguishes. But I know also that life is impossible — and more frightful than any death could be — if one must live with the soul in solitude — with the great and tender soul in solitude, and with every hope shattered and falling to the earth like a flag rent in pieces. I know that if one would live out one's life with dignity to the end. although one may not know the greatest happiness, it needs that another soul come in the hour of agony and of despair to console and strengthen and to give new life to our own. I would never be an instant at thy side if I believed I wrought thee any harm. I feel that I could bear thee as a little wounded bird in the palms of my hand. And again I see thee as when we last parted —walking slowly, slowly, as if reluctant to leave me, and each step of thine is as a kiss. For after knowing me thou shalt suffer less; never even in thy greatest loneliness shalt thou feel thyself alone. Thou shalt turn to me and live day and night in my heart — as a bird in its nest. I have seen the birds in their happy nests in the depths of our mountains, and thou recallest them to me. The happiest life that is possible in the world is that of love and of work. This life as natural as the sunlight: would that it might have been ours! But still one may know sufficient of it to sustain and give courage for the rest of one's life. Thy desire to see me today, thy pious and eloquent desire, reveals to me that between thee and me is that strange and divine power born only of the exchange and union of two suffering souls. Thy face is before me, and I seem to feel myself filled with the light of thine eyes. And here, with soul newly kindled, here I sit in my empty room. ["]

Worldly wise — in other words, filled full to the lips with principle and the decorous ideas of the world — the young lady felt that she could not afford to give this great man any affection that might at any time be turned to reflect unpleasantly upon her. She had had her own romance, and was somewhat cynical and incredulous. She was capable of bitter remarks at times, even to Marti, for whom she had a profound reverence. She would never marry; she would believe in no man as a lover. And with an increasing sense of right and conventionality on her part and of hopefulness and of misery on his, the romance of Jose Marti dragged to an end. In his last letter to her he said: "It may be that you will love some one; it may even be that you will be reconciled to the lover who caused you such pain before we met. It may be that you will believe in him again, and consent to unite yourself to him for life. And when that time comes remember I have told you this — I shall be lying dead with a bullet of the enemy in my suffering heart. And so I shall not grieve; and thou mayst be happy."

1 comment:

  1. Manuel:

    There's one thing I'm curious about, her birthday, have you any idea? Dying to know her astrological sign! She was quite advanced for her time, I'm leaning toward a Aquarius, like the Apostle.