Biographical information for Caxton Brown (1879-1952)
(still under construction)
A MEMOIR PREPARED BY CAXTON BROWN IN OCTOBER, 1923
For some time past I have experienced a growing conviction that I should derive a certain amount of pleasure in idle moments, if I attempted to chronicle the events of my life, at least up to this period when I am approaching 45 years of age and hence I am about to engage upon that task.
I am not one of those who has a passion for delving into the past and digging up the history of my remote ancestors, since having reached an age when I have some understanding of the strength and frailties of human nature. I have no doubt that one who delves in ancestral history brings to light much that is unfavorable -- perhaps in the same degree to that which is favorable. But I do believe that almost everyone at some time wants to know something about his progenitors and especially is interested in obtaining some rather intimate picture of contemporary affairs and opinions during some particular period; and as I have found that my choice of literature consists of good biographies chiefly because of the insight into the environment of the authors, it has occurred to me that at some distant time my successors may derive some pleasure or interest in a recital of my life and the times in which I live, notwithstanding that the events of my individual experience have nothing to lift them out of the plane of the ordinary.
This, then, is my motive and excuse for setting down the following remarks, which because of their probable limited perusal will be written freely without any thought of literary convention or perfection.
I was born on March 13, 1879 in a small but comfortable house located on Sterling Place, between Flatbush and Ninth Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. The street number does not matter as the house has long since been razed to make room for larger and more commodious structures. I am the elder of two children, both sons, born to my parents Edwin Henry Brown and Eugenie Marguerite Brown (nee' Konvalinka). Until my brother Stanley Brown was born on the 8th of November 1880 we lived in Sterling Place and then moved to a more commodious and more pretentious semi-detached house located at 225 Lincoln Place, Brooklyn, where we remained until 1894.
Those early days are difficult to recall with any consecutive clarity, so that I shall confine myself to describing a few of the impressions that remain most distinct. Conspicuous among these are the pictures of my grand parents. My mother's parents were John Konvalinka, born in Prague [actually Chrast, Bohemia] and probably a Czech by origin, who had come to this country early in life practically penniless, but who had by dint of hard work persistently built up a business as a furrier in Maiden Lane, New York and had achieved a splendid reputation for honesty and integrity and as a result amassed what was a position of distinct affluence for those days.
With his wife, Eliza Konvalinka, a very devout, affectionate and kindly Irishwoman, he lived in a very large house on Park Place, Brooklyn, the spacious gardens of the house extending back to Sterling Place. The Konvalinka family was large -- the children in order of birth being Maria, Eugenie (my mother), John, Elizabeth and Emily. All were married except Elizabeth and through this side of the family I obtained 13 first cousins.
The Konvalinka family were all of the Catholic faith and were very religious in an unostentatious manner. It was customary for all grandchildren to gather at their house, normally after church on Sunday mornings, when my grandfather would joke and play with them and generally give each one a quarter (25 cents) at the time of parting. This was a large sum for children in those days and naturally the event was looked forward to each week; but while I can often recall visiting my Konvalinka grandparents, I seem to retain the impression that they were home bodies and rarely visited us, even though [their] home was not more than half a mile from us.
My grandmother's maiden name was Eliza McDermott but I know nothing about my great grandparents or any of their ancestors on this side of the family.
My grandparents on my father's side of the family were Henry Thomas Brown, an intelligent, high grade Englishman who had also come to this country early in life, and who after a somewhat literary career devoted to technical work in the publication of a scientific magazine entitled "The American Artisan" had become a patent solicitor and had accumulated a satisfactory yet moderate fortune and was thus enabled to [live] in comfort. His wife Priscilla Saunders Brown (nee' Priscilla Saunders) was also a high type of English woman of whom I was particularly fond. Indeed, although I liked all my grandparents, more than I believe the average child cares for those so much older, I was especially fond of my grandmother Brown and my grandfather Konvalinka. Perhaps that was because they showed me more attention and favor than the others.
Grandmother Brown was a very remarkable character and this was especially indicated in my experience by her fortitude and cheerfulness to say nothing of her industry, in the fact of a misfortune that would have taken the life and spirit out of many less hardy people. The misfortune to which I refer was total blindness caused at the age of __ by a simple accidental blow which deprived her of sight until the day of her death at the age of 84.
I can vividly recall frequent visits to my paternal grandparents who lived across the street from us on Lincoln Place and rarely did I call but that some edible delicacy awaited me (this was also true of my other grandmother) but the picture that comes to mind most brilliantly as I write is that of a small, well dressed little lady with gray hair, seated by a cannel coal fire ceaselessly knitting for some worthy charity or other and yet always anxious to talk and joke, being very well informed on almost every topic. And a supplementary picture that is none the less vivid is the life long sacrifice made by my grandfather in being with her at all leisure moments and reading to her and waiting upon her with a spirit of unselfish companionship that I have not since witnessed. And yet withal he was a very human individual in his likes and dislikes and his methods of life.
Whilst my grandmother Brown did not venture out much except to drive with my mother or go to church, her husband visited us regularly on Sundays and my parents dined with them nearly every Sunday night.
The Brown grandparents were also more than ordinarily religious (he being a deacon in St. John's Church, Brooklyn), their faith being Episcopal.
My paternal grandparents had four children who passed the age of infancy. In order of their birth they were Ada, Edwin (my father), Louise, and Jessie. Jessie was the only spinster, whereas Ada who married William Forsyth of London, England had four children, and Louise who married Frank L. Tapscott had five children.
Of course the most distinct recollections of my early childhood surround my parents and my brother, all of whom I am happy to say are still alive.
At the time of their marriage my father was 27 years old and my mother 23. This was April 25, 1878 and the following March I arrived upon the scene.
As I continue with my story I shall of course make many references to my parents but in the paragraphs that follow I shall attempt to describe my earliest impressions of them.
My father was and is an athletic man of splendid physique, about five feet ten inches tall. He is a man for whose happiness work in some form or another is essential and in my childhood days his work or business was very confining and exacted long hours of toil. He was a professional man, a patent lawyer, and having developed one of the largest patent law practices in New York was much sought after. My early recollections are those of seeing him at work until after I had been sent to bed and on the rare occasions when I was taken to the theatre with him, he was certain to take along a package of briefs or other legal papers and work during the intervals between acts or when the play itself bored him.
He was a stern taskmaster to himself and to my brother and myself, starting each morning by having us come into his bedroom and go through gymnastic exercises with him after which when we were about eight years old we were expected to ride horse back and yet have time for breakfast and be punctual for school. This routine took place except on Sundays, a day of recreation for him and one on which he with a few friends would start early for a drive to some nearby shore resort for a substantial breakfast.
Play, as it is known today, was unknown to my father or his associates. His hobbies were with horses.
When I said that he was a stern taskmaster I do not mean that he was unkind. Far from it. But having firm convictions about the development and motivation of his children, he insisted upon a definite routine and found it hard to excuse any departure from it.
At that time it was not the custom for parents to make associates or friends of their children and this I think was a grave mistake because the two spoke a different language and many disciplinary measures thought to be essential would have been much better understood by youngsters if parents had made some effort to explain why they were necessary. Probably it was thought that discipline would be undermined if there was kindliness in admonition but however that may be in our case, I often fiercely resented what I then considered unreasonable severity.
In my later years I have endeavored to practice companionship and to reason with my own children, yet whether, outside of my own peace of mind, this policy has been more successful than that of my father's time, I am not prepared to say.
Perhaps I have done an injustice in dwelling upon my father father's sternness for I was scarcely ever physically chastised and on the other hand my brother and I were more favored than many of our friends that I recall. It was both our parents' decision that we should have healthy bodies and that our mental education should be accompanied by a love for outdoor life and pursuits....
(This is the end of the Memoir.)
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