An Englishman in New York: Philip Burne-Jones (1861-1926) Dollars and Democracy!
Edward Burne-Jones in old age with his son, Philip
Philip Burne-Jones was the first born child of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Georgiana Burne-Jones. He was born in London, England on October 1, 1861. His godparents were John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
His education consisted of Marlborough and later Oxford University but he didn’t finish his course, quitting after just two years. Instead, he agreed to study painting in a studio space arranged at home back in London.
He focused on painting as a career eventually debuting an exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 1886. As well as exhibiting 11 times at the Royal Academy during 1898 and 1918.
Sadly and inevitably, his art work was constantly compared to his father’s which took its toll on his fragile psyche; destroying his self-confidence. He produced about 60 paintings, mostly portraits, landscapes. He painted Rudyard Kipling, Sir Edward Poynter and Henry James. He is best remembered not for one of his portraits, however, but a painting called, ‘The Vampyre' with a woman posed by theatre actress Mrs. Patricia Campbell and a man laying underneath her presumably her victim. A controversial painting exhibited at the New Gallery in London alongside some of his father’s paintings.
When his father died, the baronetcy passed on to him in 1898 at the age of 37. It was Philip who took charge of overseeing the cataloging, photographing and dispersing of his father’s remaining works, finished and unfinished.
In 1902, Philip visited the United States travelling throughout New England (NY, Massachusetts mainly). One of the highlights of his American trip was meeting the then President Theodore Roosevelt at a commencement ceremony at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. It was two years later that he wrote and illustrated a book of his impressions entitled, “Dollars and Democracy.” A year later, in 1905 he published another book, a story of touring through the north of France entitled, “With Amy in Brittany.” They both included his pen and ink illustrations.
His niece, Angela Thirkell, daughter of Philip’s sister, Margaret described her nephew in her book, “Three Houses” in this way, “He could have been a distinguished painter and would have been one under a luckier star, but two things told fatally against him. He never needed to work, and he was cursed with a sense of diffidence and a feeling that whatever he did would be contrasted unfavorably with his father’s work.”
Philip Burne-Jones lived in London the rest of his days, passing away at the age of 63 on June 21, 1926. He was cremated and buried at Golder’s Green Crematorium and Mausoleum, North London.
When I found Philip Burne-Jones book, "Dollars and Democracy" I read it immediately. Not too much is written about the children of Sir Edward Burne-Jones; at least not his son, Phillip. Being a native New Yorker, I am constantly fascinated about the history of my amazing city. I will be including excerpts of Philip's thoughts on the famous hotel, 'The Waldorf Astoria' and Central Park during 1904. I was pleasantly surprised that we both enjoyed feeding the squirrels! I hope you enjoy reading his impressions.
The Waldorf Astoria, NYC, 1904
“The Waldorf-Astoria, plays such an important part in the daily life of New York that any notes on life in America would be incomplete without some reference to it. It is a huge red-brick pile, about fourteen stories high, with the frontage of a complete “block” on Fifth Avenue-a vast caravanserai, through whose doors pass in the course of the day thousands of men and women of every imaginable type and condition. I suppose a more cosmopolitan or motley crowd could be found in no other hotel upon earth.
Front Entrance of The Waldorf Astoria, 1903 photograph. Isn't it just beautiful!
There is a large bar-room, devoted to the sale of cocktails, which is frequented, at certain hours of the day, by swarms of brokers, company promoters, touts, loafers, and men of affairs of every sort and kind; while in rows of chairs, arranged in long corridors the whole length of the building, sit men and women all day long whence coming and whither going who can possibly say?
Close to one of the entrances is a mysterious Moorish Room, dimly lighted by lamps, with settees and ottomans and armchairs, and a vague atmosphere of Oriental luxury about it, differentiating it in a marked way from the more prosaic portions of the hotel without.
I can only guess that this might be 'the moorish room' that Philip described. It is the Red Room or Library at the Waldorf Astoria in 1903. Hotel archives.
Huge dining-saloons, of course, stretch out on all sides, while rows of servants wait about on seats, ready to carry cards to guests through the crowded rooms, bellowing the name of the individual sought through the length and breadth of the building; for finding a friend at the Waldorf is very much like hunting for a needle in a bundle of hay.
There are thirteen hundred bedrooms alone, and in the season a staff of fifteen hundred servants, with an average of fourteen hundred guests. With the daily floating crowd of visitors, loafers, etc., the inhabitants must amount to considerably over three thousand souls the population of a village.
A gallery in a gigantic billiard-room is entirely devoted to ping-pong, a game which has had a phenomenal vogue in America during the past year.
There is one long gallery on the ground-floor, where people sit in the afternoon, patiently waiting one cannot guess what for, and scanning one another with critical interest. It is commonly called “Peacock Row,” or “Rubber Neck Row” a “rubber neck” being an eager, craning, busy sort of neck, which is supposed to be possessed to a noticeable extent by the occupants of these chairs.
This is a photograph of Waldorf Astoria's 'Peacock Row,' 1903. I'm guessing it might be the one Philip described so aptly. Waldorf Astoria archives.
Of course, there is an orchestra playing at intervals in different places in the building all day long. “
What was the transportation system like in New York City around 1904? According to Philip Burne-Jones, “Another convenience for the traveling public is the “transfers” which the tram-car companies give you from one line of cars to another. Thus for the same fare, five cents (about 2d.), you can change into several different cars, and so accomplish a devious and complicated journey without additional cost.” I can attest to the fact that our transportation system, here in New York City in 2013, still uses the ‘transfer’ letting you connect to another bus or train for free continuing you on your journey to your destination!
A photograph of Central Park, NYC, 1904, the main park entrance at the time
“Central Park is a wonderful example of American enterprise in overcoming natural difficulties that must at first have seemed almost insuperable, for it is entirely artificial. Thirty-five years ago (in 1869) the ground which it now occupies was nothing but swamp and rock. To-day (1904) it is perhaps the most beautiful park in the world.
How often I have ridden and driven round this enchanting demesne, and how I learned to love it in all the changing seasons of the year from winter, when the snow lay white upon the sleeping earth and the frost-bound paths crackled invigoratingly beneath one’s horses’ hoofs, to spring and summer, when cool lakes and waterways gleamed refreshingly among green leaves, and gray squirrels drifted like shadows among the arbours of purple wisteria!
These little fellows the squirrels make their homes by thousands in the shrubberies and trees of Central Park. No one dreams of hurting them, they are quite tame and will almost feed out of one’s hand. The children to whom Central Park stands in the same relation that Kensington Gardens does to us love them, and I expect they find life extremely agreeable.
The actual area of the park must be small some two and a half miles long by half a mile wide but owing to the skill with which it has been designed and laid out, it appears immense and I mean always to think of it as being so. To compare our own Zoological Gardens produces a similar impression upon me to this day. As a child I used to wander among the cages and beast houses, along little mysterious paths that led one didn’t know wither, through the slightly alarming tunnel, across the little bridge that spans the canal, to the wonderful unknown land beyond, near the parrot house and to one’s childish imagination it all appeared illimitable. I now know that it can cover only a few acres; but I have taken good care in later years never to explore or become unduly familiar with that enchanted ground, and I still think of it as a garden of boundless possibilities and unexpected delights.
The Angel Fountain in Central Park photographed in 1903. Today, the lake and the boathouse are within walking distance and that angel fountain remains intact; very much the same!
And so it is with Central Park. The world would be the duller the day one had investigated the hidden glories of all its winding foot-paths and sylvan glades, and I left it as I found it-a beautiful mystery.” I can attest to the year-long beauty of Central Park and those sometimes friendly squirrels who will indeed come up to you and wait for you to throw food to them! Feeding the squirrels is one of my favorite childhood memories and what a wonderful surprise to read Phillip Burne-Jones description of the squirrels in Central Park!
Of course, the entire time I read "Dollars and Democracy," I couldn't help but hear one song playing away in my mind. Englishman in New York by Sting. A favorite of mine. I kept thinking how appropriate Sting's lyrics and perspective on what it was like being an Englishman in New York to Philip Burne-Jones's experience in 1904. So, William Morris was right when he said, "The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make."
Englishman in New York by Sting (Vevo)