Matthew Jarnich Photography: The Catskills and Beyond | Thomas Morris Longstreth, Author of The Catskills (Part 3 of 5)

Thomas Morris Longstreth, Author of The Catskills (Part 3 of 5)

April 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

   Upon graduation from Haverford College T. Morris Longstreth originally intended to pursue music as a career. “Music was then banned by the Quakers and so my intoxication by it grew. I planned to become a composer, Beethoven’s successor, to speak frankly. But my father’s death [in 1912] routed me out of dreamland and I taught school instead.”[1]

               For the future author of over forty books it is interesting he graduated Haverford, “with another solemn admonition from an instructor to beware of writing as a profession. (At Haverford he had written a description of the cane rush for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and some personality sketches for the Haverfordian.

Since Longstreth had in any case decided to study and compose music, he was not unduly perturbed by this advice. . . “Finally a gentleman whose boys I had tutored into St. Paul’s offered to stake me to an education in Vienna (this was in 1912), but when I returned from Europe in order to make arrangements to go back there, I found my father fatally ill and I must earn money.” I think the Germans, without meaning to, stimulated me out of my pleasure-loving existence (for I had had five trips to Europe as tutor) and into serious work. For in 1914, the outbreak of war, with much of the world taken on Germans and Austrians, was somewhat like a sporting event, and stirred my blood. I was in London when it broke out and felt the impact. It made a profound difference to my feeling and thinking. Of course, I soon got over the sporting-event phase as my friends began to get killed in August 1914, but the stimulus remained. This is a unique and not very intelligent entrance into letters, but a true one.”[2] Thankful for all readers, young and old, Longstreth did not follow the advice of his college instructor.

After graduation Longstreth first worked as a travelling tutor from 1908 to 1912, including spending the winter of 1908-1909 in Europe as a private tutor. Based on his father’s illness and the outbreak of World War I, Longstreth changed his career to teaching, working at a variety of positions including as an English teacher at the Blight Preparatory School in Philadelphia; as a camp director at Camp Megunticook in Camden, Maine in the summer of 1911; a teacher in 1912-13 at the De Lancey School in Philadelphia; and a teacher in 1917 at Montgomery Country Day School in Wynnewood, Philadelphia.

Thereafter, realizing that “teaching was fun, but I found writing at night fun, too”,[3] Longstreth became a free-lance author, publishing a wide variety of books, including travelogues, science fiction adventures, many stories of Canada’s mounted police and several biographies, including one on Tad Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s son, and one on Daniel Chester French, a well known sculptor. Longstreth authored over 40 books in his career.  Longstreth was also a prolific contributor to the leading magazines of the day including Harper’s, Century, St. Nicholas, Christian Science Monitor and many others.

Longstreth’s first book titled Reading the Weather was published in 1915. It was dedicated to his grandmother, Mary Gibson Haldeman, “herself responsible for so much sunshine.” The 195 page book observed that [the weather] was at once the commonest topic for conversation and the rarest for thought”, and so Longstreth responded by writing the book stating that “he wanted to see the commoner weather pinned down to facts.” He would later write two other weather books, Knowing the Weather in 1943 and Understanding the Weather in 1953.

In the early years of his post-teaching career Longstreth visited and tramped the famous Adirondacks of northern New York state, which led to the publication in 1917 of his second book titled The Adirondacks. The travelogue was based on Longstreth’s 6 month journey through the region in 1916. After its publication Longstreth received an invitation from Melvil Dewey of the Lake Placid Club, a social and recreation club in the Adirondacks, to be a guest for a year. Dewey, an American librarian and inventor of the Dewey Decimal system of library classification, was the founder of the Lake Placid Club (in 1895). Longstreth accepted Dewey’s invitation and remained in the Adirondacks region for ten years. He was active in local affairs, serving for many years as the Vice President of the Lake Placid Club and keeping detailed weather records. In 1922, Longstreth would author a second Adirondacks book titled The Lake Placid Country Tramper’s Guide, a popular guide book to over 60 trails in the Lake Placid region of the Adirondacks.

Speaking of his early writing and its influences Longstreth wrote in 1920 that “There is only one kind of writer worth considering, the writer who writes in accordance with his desire. That desire may be for money, or to relieve some ardor of the senses, or to edify, or to amuse, or to express the heritage of the past years in durable form. The desire may be wrong or unintelligent, or merely vain, but as long as it is genuine it is worth a hearing.”

Longstreth continued, “But the wise writer will seek out what seems the unique in him (though it is not) and add it to the universal, justifying the use of God’s time in his private employ. For each man has had emotions, experiences, visions, which, if uttered truly, resolutely, and with regard to art, must cheer or warn or even inspire others who have dimly felt but cannot realize so fully. I have not yet graduated into this class, for I have not written with the definite object of cheering or warning or inspiring. My writing has sprung, so far, as a reaction to friendships I have had situated amount the inexpressible but ever-inviting-to-be-expressed beauty of nature.”[4]

His third book, like his previous, The Adirondacks, involved an interesting trek through a popular mountain region of New York State, this time in the Catskills. Upon its release in 1918, The Catskills sold for $2.50. The publisher, the Century Company, advertised the book in its catalog: “This is a sort of glorified guidebook, a delightfully written and charmingly illustrated informal handbook on one of the most interesting and accessible of our great national playgrounds. As is well known, the Catskills are a joy to the geologist as well as the naturalist, and they are the scene of many of the most fascinating of the old Dutch legends of the Hudson River region. Mr. Longstreth is a born tramper and camper, intimately familiar with the natural and historical features of the mountains, as well as their villages and country folk. His book will appeal strongly to those who know the beautiful views, the famous climate, and the bracing air of the Catskills, and others will read it for its evocation of a notable America panorama, its breezy aroma of the great outdoors. The 32 full-page illustrations add materially to the charm of the book.”[5]

It is without a doubt one of the best books ever written about the Catskills region and was very positively received at the time by literary critics and in local newspapers:

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LITERARY DIGEST

“To write a book which is at once an appreciation and a guide is an accomplishment. The present author has tramped the Catskills to some purpose; he has not fallen into conventional tracks, but, by use of the unusual phrase and exercise of humor, sketches people and places with vividness. To be a native means often to be blind to the beauty of one's environment. The Catskillers do not even know their legends. "Do you happen to have a Rip Van Winkle handy?" asked Mr. Longstreth of one of them. To which the answer came, "The bar's closed." But this enthusiastic nature-lover, a tramp on an unexpected vacation, knows everything about the Catskills. And, what is more, he understands life and character. There is a chapter on John Burroughs, who is now the vital, wide-awake Rip of the mountains; it is an appreciation of wide sympathy and understanding. We cheerfully recommend the reading of this guide, which leads us, not in the way of guides, by rote, but in the way of appreciators, by grace of manner and expression. The copious illustrations add much to the text.”[6]

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THE OUTLOOK

“This is a pleasantly humorous, agreeably desultory, vividly colorful account of a walking trip through the Catskills. The author feels the atmosphere of the mountains and makes the reader feel it. There are exceptionally good pictures.”[7]

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EVENING PUBLIC LEDGER

“There is no pleasanter companion for fireside travel than T. Morris Longstreth. One can sit in an easy chair and climb mountains or wander along the highways with him and get all the enjoyment of the experience with none of the annoyances. He took his readers to the Adirondacks last year and this year he is taking them to the Catskills. He has made a most delightfully unconventional book. It is a guide to the mountains, if one chooses to regard it as such. But it is much more. It is a study in human nature and an exhibition of the effect of mountain scenery on a youth of the Catskill country who had never wandered about the mountains until Mr. Longstreth took him as a companion. The youth discovers that one gets more than a view over a horizon when he is on a mountain top – his mental horizon widens also. As the youth confessed he had got more ideas in two weeks in the mountains than would last him a year at his work in the valley. Mr. Longstreth succeeds in impressing his readers with the fact that this is what tramping in the country is for. It clears the cobwebs from the brain, freshens the thinking, is a discourager of cynicism and an encourager of wholesomeness of all kinds. His book is illustrated from photographs and contains an excellent map of the Catskill region.”[8]

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THE AMERICAN REVIEW OF REVIEWS

“This informal description of the Catskill region derives a great part of its inspiration and value from the fact that its author has tramped and camped in the mountains for many years, and has made himself familiar not only with the natural features of the Catskills, but with the people the countryside as well. Mr. Longstreth is the author of a similar book on the Adirondacks.”[9]

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THE INDEPENDENT

“For the genuine lover of tramping, with an understanding heart and mind for the joys of the road and the open country. To him who knows the Catskills as only a walker may know them, the book is continuous thrill and satisfaction.”[10]

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THE CENTURY ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY MAGAZINE

“T. Morris Longstreth in his new book, “The Catskills,” which is a delectable combination of guide-book and the spirited and enthusiastic travel-book, recalls to New Yorkers and the East generally, the too little recognized fact that the Catskill region, in spite of its nearness, is far from tame and is beautiful with a quality of its own. “Time was when the Catskills were about the only mountain country available for the fortnight vacation,” Mr. Longstreth writes in his book. “The White Mountains were a little far away, and the Adirondacks an unexplored wilderness. The West was unknown. Now it is but a day from Broadway to Montreal. A trip to be talked about means at least Australia or the Ural Mountains. Therefore the Catskills are passed by. They are actually getting wilder. There are more deer in them than ever before, as many bear. Fewer people put up at the big hotels than when Queen Victoria was planning her Jubilee. Consequently a man with a map in his hand can plunge into as wild a wild as most men want in four or five hours after he has left his taxicab in New York.”[11]

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BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE

 “The Adirondacks : The Catskills. Two Delightful Books That Picture The Wildwood and Lakes of This State. By T. Morris Longstreth.

WHOEVER can read "The Adirondacks" or "The Catskills," by Mr. Longstreth without immediately longing to go a tramping through the delightful trails and lakes and mountain fastnesses therein described, must be cold-blooded indeed.

Here is a writer who can make us see the beauties of Wild Nature; the depths of woodland that he has discovered within a few hours journey of the great city.

To many his books will be a revelation of our New York State mountains that will stir vacation thoughts; to all they will provide a pleasant picturing of the natural loveliness of the territory described.”[12]

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BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE

 “John Burroughs says the author “sees straight and writes vividly and convincingly.” “The Catskills” is at once a sort of glorified guide book and an evocation of a notable American panorama. And it is a beautiful book.”[13]

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With the success of both The Adirondacks and The Catskills, Longstreth, “a confirmed open-air man,”[14] authored several more travelogues over the years. Destinations included the Laurentian Mountains, which are located north of the Canadian city of Quebec (1922); the Lake Superior region (1924); the Canadian cities of Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa 1933); and the Nova Scotia region of Canada (1935). Each of them was well received by readers and critics.

By virtue of his travelogues and his extensive time in the Adirondacks and the mountains of Canada, it is easy to sense Longstreth’s love of the outdoors. At the age of 73, Longstreth wrote a newspaper article about man’s inner child when vacationing in the outdoors “Astronomers have discovered a strange thing: the universe harbors an obscure desire to return to its origins. So do we. The city-dweller dreams of a place in the country. Then, when he gets it, he hikes off to the wilds for vacation. And once there, let it rain, let it buzz, let him burn his fingers, he keeps saying “This is the life!” And so it is, the immemorial life of breathing pure air, drinking pure water, soaking in the sunshine on all sides, and using every muscle in his body. Everything he does is play. For a few heavenly weeks he is once more a child, the boy he had forgotten.”[15]

 

 

 

 

[1] Fuller, Muriel. More Junior Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1963. Pages 145-146.

[2] Rothe, Anna. Current Biography. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1951. Pages 349-350.

[3] Fuller, Muriel. More Junior Authors. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1963. Page 145.

[4] “Mac of Placid.” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. New Series: Vol. LXXVIII. May to October 1920. New York: The Century Co., 1920.

[5] Publications of The Century Co. New York: The Century Co., Autumn of 1918.  Page 5.

[6] The Literary Digest. December 7, 1918. Page 49.

[7] The Outlook. November 6, 1918. Page 384.

[8] “Longstreth on the Catskills.” Evening Public Ledger. Philadelphia. December 21, 1918.

[9] The American Review of Reviews. New York: The Review of Reviews Company, July-December 1918. Page 662.

[10] The Independent. June 11, 1921. Page 626.

[11] The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. New York: The Century Co., November, 1918, to April, 1919. Page 8.

[12] “The Adirondacks : The Catskills.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York. January 22, 1919.

[13] “The Catskills.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York. December 7, 1918. 

[14] The Publisher’s Weekly. Vol. CI, No. 13. New York. April 1, 1922.

[15] Longstreth, T. Morris. “A Summer to Grown On.” Cazenovia Republican. June 25, 1959. Page 18.


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