Man passes away; his name perishes from
record and recollection; his history is as a
tale that is told, and his very monument
becomes a ruin.—WASHINGTON IRVING:
The Sketch Book; Westminster Abbey
Very little biographical information has been found referring to the once popular writer, Newton Mallory Curtis, and even his obituary notice is not very enlightening. In the Ballston (N. Y.) Democrat, February 23, 1849, appeared this brief notice:
DEATH OF NEWTON M. CURTISS [sic]
Mr. Curtiss, the well known author of a number of popular novels, died at his residence in Charlton, in this county, on the 20th inst.,(1) aged about 34 years. Mr. Curtiss formerly resided in this village, where he published and edited a weekly political paper, none of those who were acquainted with him, supposing from his labors in the political field, that he possessed those talents which have made him known throughout the land, and given him a reputation as a writer of fiction which will long survive him. At the time of the explosion of the Canal Bank, Mr. Curtiss had on deposit some hundreds of dollars, earned by his pen, and which was all he possessed, and but a small portion of which it is to be feared will ever be realized by his heirs. He has left a wife and family.
According to this item, he must have been born about 1814 or 1815. He could hardly have been younger than thirty-four(2) at the time of his death, because on January 5, 1836, he was one of nine men who formed, at Charlton, what is believed to be the first "Teachers' Association" in New York state.(3) He thus appears to have been a school teacher, of some learning, in spite of a statement attributed by Sabin(4) to Joel Munsell, the Albany printer, that Curtis was "of limited education, a whisky drinking, tobacco chewing, profane swearing, and squalid specimen of humanity."
As mentioned in the obituary notice above, Curtis had for some time been editor and publisher of a political paper at Ballston, a small village eight miles northeast of Charlton, and about twenty miles from Albany. Perhaps his association with politicians had shown him his ability to write fiction. He reported, at Charlton, March 14, 1843, the trial of Isaac A. Smith(5) for absence from church services, and was writing novels during that year and perhaps earlier. †Many of Curds' novels were first published in serial form in Uncle Sam, 1844 et seq." In a review of "The Doom of the Tory's Guard," published in the Magazine for the Million, February 24, 1844, 48, is the statement that the publishers of this periodical, Burgess, Stringer and Co., of New York, had one day received a large box of books, all by Curtis. It was unaccompanied by letter or instructions, and only the shipping point, Albany, was known. Presuming they were for sale, they were put upon the market. Soon another box of books came, and sales increased. The publishers of the magazine claimed that they knew nothing of the author except that he was a young man who was publishing these novels "on his own hook."
Beadle printed five of Curtis' tales in the years 1870 and 1871—all of them previously published elsewhere—and later reprinted them in other editions. Most of Curtis' stories were of the French and Indian War, the Revolution, or the War with Mexico. Listed in the advertisements of other publishers and elsewhere are the following: "The Bride of the Northern Wilds" (1843), "The Doom of the Tory's Guard" (1843), "The Black-Plumed Riflemen" (1846), "The Prairie Guide" (1847), "The Scout of the Silver Pond" (1847), "The Hunted Chief" (1847), "The Patrol of the Mountain" (1847), "The Ranger of Ravenstream" (1847), "The Foundling of the Mohawk" (1848), "The Marksmen of Monmouth," (1848), "The Vidette; or, The Girl of the Robber's Pass" (1848), "The Black Ranger" (1848), "Byron Blonday," "The Matricide's Daughter," "The Star of the Fallen," "The Maid of Saranac," "The Victim's Revenge," etc.
REFERENCES: Besides the references listed in the footnotes are Magazine for the Million, New York, February 24, 1844, 48; Lyie H. Wright, American Fiction, 1774-1850, San Marino, 1939, 55—57; personal communication from Joseph Gavit of the New York State Library.
American Tales. Nos. 66, 70, 73, 76, 78
Starr's American Novels. Nos. 142, 175, 182, 187
Dime Library. Nos. 120, 254, 1056
SPECIMEN OF NEWTON MALLORY CURTIS' STYLE
"The Texan Spy; or, The Prairie Guide." Dime Library No. 120, p. 18.
When the house was still, the maiden equipped herself in a suit of male attire, that exactly suited her person. The dark, glossy locks were secured under a close velvet cap, and her delicate hands were covered with stout gloves. Then she thrust into the bosom of her vest a long, keen dirk, placed a small pair of pistols in her pocket, and with a step as noiseless as could be, she left the rancho, and gained the green fields beyond, without being detected. She then drew a long breath, and congratulated herself upon her extraordinary good fortune.
She quickly traversed the path that led to the little grove. She threw herself upon one of the rude seats, and, with a heart filled with tumultuous feeling— sometimes fearful and doubting, and sometimes bright with hope and anticipation,—she awaited the arrival of the Chieftain, who had promised to meet her.
Heavily and solemnly, the bell of the distant Cathedral tolled the passing hours. Midnight was finally struck, and the maiden arose from her hard couch, with an expression of impatience upon her face.
"Will he disappoint me?" she asked, in a half whisper.
A deep and solemn voice at her side answered:
"He is here!"
The maiden started, like a frightened fawn; but a glance showed her that Guevilla was beside her.
"True to your word!" she exclaimed, seizing his huge hand, in the excess of her satisfaction; "but where are your followers? You surely have not come alone!"
"They are near the prison. But come, we have no time to lose. The village was all still, ere I left it."
"Are there any extra sentinels?"
"So far we are favored."
Then they left the grove, and swiftly pursued the path that led toward the village.
They gained a position in front of the plaza, unheard by the solitary sentinel, who was pasing his round, occasionally halting long enough to vociferate in a stentorian voice:
"Now," whispered Guevilla, "you have nothing to do, but observe. All our plans are arranged. This sentinel must first be secured. If he attempts to make alarm, a poniard will enter his heart. If he does not resist, he is safe."
Then the chief uttered a low sound, something like the mournful note of a night bird. Suddenly, the shadows of his men darkened the greensward, near the sentinel's path, and then the men themselves came into view, and seized the sentinel by the arms. At the same time, the blade of a poniard glittered in the moonbeams, and a determined voice exclaimed: "Utter the least alarm, and you are dead. At regular intervals you must continue your cry; but anything different from that, and you die! If you are discreet, your life will be spared!"
The terrified sentinel promised the strictest compliance, gave up his musket, and as an earnest of his intentions, shouted:
The chief and the maiden then emerged from their cover. The former approached his confederate, and asked:
"Has any one gone for the jailer?"
"Ay! he will be here in a few moments."
Scarcely were the words uttered, when two more of the Indians entered the plaza, having between them the shrinking and trembling form of Minon's turnkey.
"Did he make any alarm?"
"It is well. Now, sir, conduct us at once to the cell of the young man condemned to die."
"Go on, senors! go on. Lead me to the prison steps. You shall be admitted; only, for God's sake, spare my life."
"No more whining, but lead on, we have no time to lose;" and the Chieftain and the jailer stood before the door of the prison. The bolts were shoved, and they entered the long corridor.
The jailer halted before the door of the Guide's cell. He selected one from a bunch of keys, and placing it in the lock, he turned it and said: "He is in there! enter."
With the quickness of thought, Isabella sprung against the door, and in a moment was in her lover's arms.
"Holy Virgin be praised! he is safe!" she cried.
"This is no time for words," said the Chieftain. "Follow me. Ere the daylight, we must be many miles away."
"I am bound," said the Guide, "and cannot go."
As quick as the lightning, Isabella drew her dirk, and with its keen edge, cut the hateful bonds. The Guide clasped her with transport to his heart.
"Where are the horses?" asked Isabella, as they emerged into the plaza.
"Close at hand," replied the chief. "Follow."
He led them to the margin of the river, behind the Cathedral. Here stood the horses for the party, in charge of a lad. The men had followed with the sentinel and jailer, for whom horses were also provided; and all but Isabella were mounted in a few moments.
"Do we part?" asked the Guide.
"For a short time," said Isabella, the pang that she experienced at the separation quieted by the thought that it was essential to her lover's safety. "Fear not for me, we shall meet again."
"Farewell, then; but rest assured that we shall again behold each other, where sorrow and death do not interrupt us."
The horses were pawing the earth, arid snuffing the balmy breeze, impatient for a start.
"Is he well mounted for the chase, if one should be given?" asked Isabella, turning to the Chieftain.
"He has the best horse in the tribe. My followers have well named him the steed of the wind. The fawn upon the hill-side has not a lighter tread, or fleeter limb!"
One wave of the hand. Off dashed the impatient animals. Isabella watched them with a throbbing heart, as they sped across the valley. By and by they entered the dark shadow of the mountain, and she could see them no more. She dashed a big tear from her straining eye, and turned, with a lingering tread toward her home.
Up the rugged mountain toiled the steeds of the chief's party. When the summit was gained, they struck into a broad and open path, and at a rattling pace they pursued it tor several miles. Then they came to a thick and tangled forest, and their progress became slow and tedious. They reached a small fountain, that seemed to bubble from the solid rock; and here, after refreshing the panting animals, the party separated. The chief and the Guide remained together, while the remainder, with the sentinel and jailer, pursued the road to the Indian encampment.
"Which way does our path lie?" asked the Guide, as the larger party was lost in the distance.
"Nearly a league from this spot, our journey ends for the present. At a future time, after the excitement of your escape has subsided, I will conduct you further."
They then started, following a direction different from that of their comrades. At every step they proceeded, the way seemed to become more impassable, and the obstacles to increase in size and frequency. The Guide was lost in wonder, at the sagacity and patience evinced by the highly trained steeds they rode.
In a dense thicket, the darkness of which was almost impenetrable, the Chief halted.
"Here we will dismount," said he, "and here we shall find your home for a short period. I have endeavored to make it as comfortable as possible; but, no doubt, you will miss many of the conveniences to which you have been accustomed."
"You greatly mistake me, my excellent friend. I am none of your parlor-haunters. For a long time, I have been accustomed to the rough fare of the forest and the prairie."
"Then you will do well enough," said the Chieftain, as he secured the steeds to a young tree.
After the horses were cared for, he took the Guide by the hand, saying: "Let me lead you, else in the darkness you will miss your way. It will be a sharper eye than Captain Minon's that discovers your abode."
A few feet from the place at which they halted, they came in contact with a huge rock that threw itself boldly out from the mountain. The face of it was covered with a dense growth of wild vine, and creeping tendrils. These the Chief thrust aside, and as they moved on a few paces, the Guide conjectured that they were in the mouth of a cave. The Chief suddenly let go his hand and said: "Wait for a moment, and we will have a light."
The light glare of a torch soon flooded the apartment, for the Guide was right in his conjecture, and after his eyes became accustomed to the rays, he discovered that it was a very comfortable place. It contained a bed, rude, to be sure, but cleanly, an abundant supply of provisions, and close to the entrance, a little spring of the purest water made its appearance through a crevice of the rock. It was, in fact, a snug retreat.
"Here, I must leave you," said the Chief, planting the torch. "Minon will not fail to visit me. To-morrow, and, perhaps, not until the day after, I will visit you."
Before the Guide had time to reply, the Chieftain had left the cavern. At length, drowsiness put fear to flight, and he enjoyed a sleep as refreshing as it was unusual. He arose in the morning, much refreshed.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||Joel Munsell, Everyday Book of History and Chronology, New York, 1858, 77, 117, gives two dates for his death, February 20, 1849, and March 20, 1849. The latter is clearly wrong for the Kallstoti Democrat published his obituary notice in February.|
|2||A transcript from the gravestone, made by Cornelius Durkee, shows that he died February 21, aged 30; but inscriptions on monuments are often cut long after burial, and being based on recollection of some relative, may be incorrect, as shown in the case of the mother of the Adams boys, mentioned in Part II of this book. Perhaps the figures for the age, cut on the stone years ago, represent partly obliterated three and six.|
|3||N. B. Sylvester, History of Saratoga County, New York, Philadelphia, 1878, 318.|
|4||Joseph Sabin, A Dictionary of Books Relating to America, New York, V, 1873, 146.|
|5||The Trial of Isaac A. Smith, Reported by Newton M. Curtis, Saratoga Springs, Wilbur & Corey, Printers, 1843, viii, pp. 3—35.|