A Book of Hospitalities and a Record of Guests

Book of Hospitalities cover
Cover of “A Book of Hospitalities”

Guest books aren’t seen much today except at weddings and funerals. It seems they were more popular in the early 1900s, as Paul Elder published four guest books between 1904 and 1910.

Arthur Guiterman’s Book of Hospitalities And a Record of Guests (1910) was intended to be placed in the parlor, living room, or perhaps the guest bedroom. The first section (“A Book of Hospitalities”) contains a selection of sayings and epigrams for the house, and the second half (“A Record of Guests”) contains blank areas for the guests to write in. Guiterman was also involved in two other Elder publications: the 1908 guest book entitled (appropriately enough) Guest Book, and the 1907 humor book Betel Nuts, Or What They Say In Hindustan.

Book of Hospitalities title
Title page of “A Book of Hospitalities”

Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) was born in Vienna to American parents and graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1891. He was the author of a dozen books, primarily poetry. He was also editor of Women’s Home Companion and Literary Digest. In 1910, he co-founded the Poetry Society of America (which still exists and celebrated its centennial in 2010), and served as president in 1925.

I am particularly fond of Guiterman’s poem entitled “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”

The tusks which clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.
The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.
The grizzly bear, whose potent hug,
Was feared by all, is now a rug.
Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself.

If you happen to own a copy of my 2004 Checklist of the Publications of Paul Elder, 2nd edition, you will see that the page borders are taken from Book of Hospitalities.

Book of Hospitalities frontispiece
Frontispiece of “A Book of Hospitalities”
Book of Hospitalities foreword
Foreword of “A Book of Hospitalities”


Book of Hospitalities main text
Text of “A Book of Hospitalities”


Arthur Guiterman
Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)



Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum

Love Sonnets Hoodlum cover
Rear (L) and front covers of Wallace Irwin’s “Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum”

Question: of the 400+ books that Paul Elder published, which one sold the most copies?

The surprising answer is Wallace Irwin’s Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum. First published in 1901, this slim volume of jaunty verse remained in print at least through 1907. Fellow San Francisco humorist Gelett Burgess (of “Purple Cow” fame) added a mock scholarly introduction.

Love Sonnets Hoodlum title
Title page of “Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum”

Wallace Irwin (1875-1959) was a well-known humorist in the early 1900s. He attended Stanford University where he edited two humor magazines, but was expelled for writing satirical poetry about the faculty. Soon after, Irwin was hired as a writer by the Hearst Corporation. (Getting kicked out of a university seems to have been a requirement for local humorists: Gelett Burgess was fired by UC Berkeley after pulling down a statue of Henry Cogswell. Burgess clearly saw a kindred soul in Irwin.)

Irwin’s humor has not aged well. In Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum, our hoodlum hero fancies a lady and attempts to win her favor, but neither Irwin’s slang nor his references will be familiar to today’s readers.

Love Sonnets Hoodlum prologue
Prologue to “Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum”

Most disturbing to modern sensibilities, however, is Irwin’s racial humor. In Sonnet II below, he caricatures both Italians (“Dago”) and Jews (“Cohenstein”). More was to come: in 1907 Irwin began a long serial for Colliers magazine purporting to be the letters of a 35-year-old Japanese “boy,” going so far as to call the fourth volume Yellow Peril, and posing for the cover photograph himself in yellow makeup.

Love Sonnets Hoodlum i
Sonnets I and II

Irwin wrote many other works, including the 1935 novel The Julius Caesar Murder Case, which is generally credited as the first mystery novel set in antiquity.

Love Sonnets Hoodlum xxi
Sonnets XXI and XXII