Thursday, March 28, 2019

Henry S. Wilcox

Henry S. Wilcox (b. Delhi, Iowa, 22 November 1855; d. Chicago, Illinois, 18 May 1924)

Henry S. Wilcox was the second of nine children (seven sons, two daughters)  of Erastus Wilcox, Jr.,  (1817-1914), a farmer, and his wife Matilda Casey (1818-1882).

Henry became a lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, and on 30 May 1878 he married Mary A. Boeye, about six years his junior, in Cerra Gordo, Iowa.  They had at least two children, one son and one daughter.  The family moved to Chicago in the 1890s. Henry self-published, or vanity-published, eight books between 1885 and 1909, including two novels, four books about aspects of the law, and one final collection of poems, Joys of Earth (1909), dedicated to his wife of thirty years.

His first book was a novel, Flaws (1885), as "By a Lawyer." It was republished as A Strange Flaw (1906), under the author's name.  It is a strange book concerned with frauds devised in connection with railroad building. An advertisement for the later version notes: "This novel shows by a thrilling story how small a flaw is likely, under our present system of government, to cause widespread distress and great injustice when used by skillful schemers for the purposes of exploitation. The thread of the narrative introduces scenes in the state legislature, U.S. Circuit Court, U.S. Supreme Court, and the president's mansion, and the interest of the reader is held to the last." But this description fails to show the rather heavy-handed satire (e.g., a newspaper editor is named "A. Lyer"). It exemplifies Wilcox's criticism of inequalities in American society.

His second novel is even stranger, and difficult to describe adequately.  It is called The Great Boo-Boo (Des Moines, Iowa: J.B. Swinburne,1892), described on the title page as "a tale of fun and fancy, replete with love, wit, sentiment and satire." It is one of a small genre of crackpot fantasies that came out in America (usually self-published) from around the 1880s through the early 1900s. Perhaps the most notable of such titles is Etidorpha (1895), by John Uri Lloyd. 

The Great Boo-Boo,  reprinted in 2019 by Ramble House with an introduction by Chris Mikul, has as set-up a ship-wrecked embezzler name Hogg stranded on the island of King Monop, who lives in a palace of crystalised human tears and blood.  The blurb describes the book as "a unique mixture of fantasy and science fiction, social satire and farce, with bonus scenes of torture, blood drinking, nudity, homoeroticism and lesbianism." One aspect this blurb omits is how smooth and readable the witty prose style is. 

Wilcox's other titles include:  The Trials of a Stump-Speaker (1906), about his thankless work in politics; and his four satiric considerations of the law,  Foibles of the Bench (1906), Foibles of the Bar (1906), Frailties of the Jury (1907) and Fallacies of the Law (1907).

Though I found no record of his wife Mary's death, Henry was married again on 27 March 1912, to Eugenie [sometimes spelt Eugenia] Beeman (1865-1941) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Both Henry and his second wife died in Chicago.

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