Two famous writers meet in Washington Square

Imagine two celebrities today greeting each other on a Greenwich Village street, then sitting on a park bench together just shooting the breeze, apparently unrecognized.

That’s what happened one day in September 1887, when Mark Twain took the train from his Connecticut home to New York to meet Robert Louis Stevenson, the popular writer of Treasure Island.

“The Scottish-born Stevenson was staying near the square at a hotel on Tenth Street and University Place,” writes Emily Kies Folpe in the wonderful It Happened in Washington Square.

Stevenson, suffering from tuberculosis, was passing through the city on his way to an upstate sanitarium.

“The two famous writers strolled down to the park and, following Stevenson’s doctor’s orders to take in the sun every day, settled down on a sunny bench to enjoy a good talk.”

So what did they discuss? According to the website of the Hotel Albert (now a co-op), where Stevenson likely stayed on 10th Street:

“The two men settled comfortably into a sunny part of the northwest corner of the park and spent the next five hours telling stories to one another, ‘regardless of wives, lunch and doctors, from 10 a.m….until 3 in the afternoon.'”

Twain moved to the Village in 1900 and spend the rest of his life as a New Yorker. Stevenson died at 44, seven years after his park meetup with Twain.

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10 Responses to “Two famous writers meet in Washington Square”

  1. Lynn Says:

    I have to comment on what a beautifully done rendering of the two of them this is. Thank you for posting this.

  2. T.J. Connick Says:

    From the recently published Autobiography of Mark Twain, whose editors fix the park bench meeting during Stevenson’s April 19-26, 1888 stay in the city, Twain speaks of their chat in the park:

    His long face and lank hair and dark complexion and musing and melancholy expression seemed to fit these details justly and harmoniously, and the altogether of it seemed especially planned to gather the rays of your observation and focalize them upon Stevenson’s special distinction and commanding feature, his splendid eyes. They burned with a smouldering rich fire under the pent-house of his brows, and they made him beautiful.

    Stevenson, at a later date, and far away, took a bit of sun, and described a scene so very different from a day with Twain in New York. From In the South Seas:

    The tide being out, we waded for some quarter of a mile in tepid shallows, and stepped ashore at last into a flagrant stagnancy of sun and heat. The lee side of a line island after noon is indeed a breathless place; on the ocean beach the trade will still be blowing, boisterous and cool; out in the lagoon it will be blowing also, speeding the canoes; but the screen of bush completely intercepts it from the shore, and sleep and silence and companies of mosquitos brood upon the towns.

  3. liucong Says:

    Thank you for sharing to us.
    Well written, hope to have more articles
    Come on, hard.

  4. Simon Says:

    I will keep this in mind next time I’m in Washington Square Park.

  5. Seen and Heard Around the Village 6.26.11 – 7.2.11, West Edition Says:

    […] Pie in the Sky (Village Voice) Historic Districts Council Announces its 2011 Landmark Lion (HDC) Two Famous Writers Meet in Washington Square (Ephemeral New […]

  6. Mrs. E. Martin Says:

    The park bench meeting WAS in April 1888 after Stevenson’s stay in Saranac Lake.

  7. A Village hotel, a suicide, and a haunting painting | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Robert Louis Stevenson booked a room in this lovely Victorian Gothic building, receiving Augustus St. Gaudens as a […]

  8. Mark Steeds - Bristol, England Says:

    I love the article, but my sources say that they met on a different day – Fred Kaplan says April 1888 in his ‘The Singular Mark Twain’ biography, and Nicholas Rankin says Spring 1888 in his ‘Dead Man’s Chest’. I was hoping it would be 23rd April as that was an important date for both Shakespeare and Cervantes!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! It’s one of my favorite posts, actually. I went by what the website of the hotel said, which was September. I don’t know where they got that information, but it certainly could be wrong and Kaplan or Rankin is correct.

  9. Seen and Heard Around the Village 6.26.11 – 7.2.11, West Edition – Village Preservation Says:

    […] Pie in the Sky (Village Voice) Historic Districts Council Announces its 2011 Landmark Lion (HDC) Two Famous Writers Meet in Washington Square (Ephemeral New […]

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