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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Fitz-James O’Brien (1828–1862)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OF that company of brilliant if not always prosperous fellows who kept the echoes of “Bohemia” busy with the laughter and the sighs of spendthrift wit in the New York of the decade of ’50, Fitz-James O’Brien was a fascinating and admired comrade. This restless Gaelic spirit was like the Irish river beside which he was born: sometimes turbulent in flashing cascades, beating and bullying the stolid rocks; again spreading under the sun through bright and placid lakes, or dancing gayly by the low and rose-perfumed meadows. In the power of this lad from Shannon side, Thomond’s bardic birthright infused its bold and tender soul into a facile pen, and with drama, song, and story lifted up the weary soul of the workaday world.  1
  O’Brien was of that strangely endowed race which furnished Lever with the heroes of his military novels,—the Englished Irishmen. He was born in the County Limerick, Ireland, about the year 1828. Educated at Dublin University, he went to London, where he amused himself for a time with the easy task of making “ducks and drakes” of a comfortable patrimony. About 1851 he sought relief from the importunities of declining fortune in a sea voyage, which landed him in New York with a few purse-burning shillings and some letters of introduction to distinguished Americans in his pocket. He soon became a favorite with the gay and gifted autocrats of the New World Grub Street, and strolled along the fashionable side of Broadway, and about the nooks of Printing-House Square, with the confidence of vested rights. From 1853 to 1858 O’Brien was one of the most valued contributors to Harper’s Magazine and Harper’s Weekly. He wrote for the stage several pretty comediettas, which are numbered in that exclusive list called the Standard Drama. With his story ‘The Diamond Lens,’ published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1858–9, a new and dashing pace was set in the fiction of the period.  2
  O’Brien was neither prosperous nor thrifty, and lived with splendid and careless irregularity, sometimes in great want and hardship; but keeping always a seemingly exhaustless buoyancy of heart. The Civil War sent him, in April 1861, with the ranks of the New York Seventh Regiment, to the defense of Washington. The war spirit took possession of him; and after his term of enlistment with that regiment had expired, he sought eagerly for a chance to return to the army. He was appointed to the staff of General Lander in January 1862, and immediately thereafter went through a gallant action at Bloomery Gap. In a skirmish on the morning of February 16th, 1862, he was in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter with the Confederate Colonel Ashley, and received a shot in the left shoulder. He rode twenty-four miles with a shattered scapular, and lay two months in battle for life at the house of George A. Thurston, in Cumberland, Maryland. Unskillful surgery, rather than the original wound, was the cause of his death. It was not until the 20th of March, too late, that he came into the charge of an able surgeon. In spite of a successful operation, by which the arm was removed at the shoulder, he succumbed to lockjaw, and died suddenly on the morning of Sunday, the 6th of April, 1862. His ashes were laid in the earth of Greenwood in November 1874. O’Brien’s only real monument is a limited edition, now scarce, of his collected works, edited by William Winter, and published in 1881 at Boston.  3
 
 
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