Charles Warren Stoddard was an American writer who began his writing career amidst the fledging San Francisco literary scene. He did this at first in a clandestine way, keeping the knowledge of his writing from those who knew him. He also flirted briefly but unsuccessfully with a career on the stage.
Stoddard came into the world on August 7th 1843 in New York’s Rochester area. When he was a small child the family moved first into New York and then in 1855 to San Francisco, which is where he found his true calling. He loved everything about San Francisco and took inspiration from it as he started writing poetry quite young. His first work that was published appeared under the name Pip Pepperpod in The Golden Era, a San Francisco based newspaper which also featured contributions from Mark Twain and other literary luminaries of the time. Although his writing was well regarded, despite his refusal to at first put his own name to them, he did not pursue further education at college because, it is said, of his poor health. Instead, he went to work in a local bookstore.
In 1864 Stoddard made the first of his travels around the South Sea Islands where he wrote several books. His first, South Sea Idylls, published in 1873, were actually a collection of missives he sent to his friend who then had the foresight to collect and publish them. These were a mostly humorous account of his personal experiences whilst travelling around the islands together with accounts of the ways and customs of the people he met there. One missive entitled Chumming With a Savage is a poignant story of Stoddard’s friendship with a ‘barbarian’ called Kána-aná who found that civilisation was not what he thought it would be. The other letters from this era were
He looked on the Polynesian islands as home, a place where he could be himself and where he took great delight in describing the “bubbling good spirits” of the islands and their peoples. One of his poems is entitled Tamalpais. Here are the first two verses:
Stoddard visited the island of Molokai where he made the acquaintance of Father Damien who cared for to the island’s leper colony. Stoddard was moved to write
which chronicled Father Damien’s work and raised his profile among the wider public. Stoddard converted to Catholicism in 1867 but his homosexuality proved incompatible with the tenets of Catholicism and led to him resigning from prestigious literary positions at least twice.
It was in the South Sea Islands that he was able to fully indulge and celebrate his love for relationships with other males, particularly much younger males. Indeed, he went on to publish the first openly gay novel For The Pleasure of His Company in 1903. Stoddard described the novel as “his confessions” in that he had written it in a biographical way.
By 1903 his health was failing and he returned to Monterey, California where he died on April 23rd 1909.