Authors: Clarence Day, Jr.

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American essayist, poet, and cartoonist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

This Simian World, 1920 (essays)

The Crow’s Nest, 1921 (essays; revised and enlarged as After All, 1936)

God and My Father, 1932

In the Green Mountain Country, 1934 (essays)

Life with Father, 1935

Life with Mother, 1937

Poetry:

Thoughts Without Words, 1928 (includes drawings)

Scenes from the Mesozoic and Other Drawings, 1935 (includes drawings)

Biography

Clarence Shepard Day, Jr., “a thoroughbred New Yorker,” was born on Murray Hill, on November 18, 1874, the son of the owner of the Gwynne and Day stock brokerage firm and the grandson of Benjamin H. Day, the founder of the New York Sun and a weekly humor magazine. Clarence attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and then Yale University, where he was elected secretary of his class in 1896 and editor of the class yearbook. After graduation, he entered his father’s firm and a year later was made a partner. Later, he purchased a seat on the stock exchange. Day enlisted in the Navy in April of 1898 when the Spanish-American War broke out and served as a pay yeoman on the Nahant, the old Civil War monitor still in use at the time.{$I[AN]9810000185}{$I[A]Day, Clarence, Jr.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Day, Clarence, Jr.}{$I[tim]1874;Day, Clarence, Jr.}

A crippling arthritic disease struck Day in 1899; after several futile trips to Arizona and Colorado for his health, he settled down in New York City, a bed-ridden invalid for life. Day was able to hold a pencil between his thumb and third finger and manipulate it by flexing a muscle in his shoulder. Despite these difficulties he wrote several books, drew cartoons, and carried on a large correspondence with Yale classmates and friends.

For a while, he edited the book department of Metropolitan magazine and was a regular contributor to The New Republic. He maintained a mild interest in Wall Street during these years but concentrated most of his efforts on writing. His stories, poems, and cartoons appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Saturday Review of Literature, and The Ladies’ Home Journal. Critics have often compared his cartoons with those of George Thurber. In 1928, he married Katherine Briggs.

Day had always been known and admired by a small, devoted group of readers, but when his book Life with Father appeared in 1935, his fame and reputation spread quickly. More than 110,000 copies of the work were sold during its first year of publication. His work reached an even wider audience when the dramatized version of Life with Father (augmented by parts of God and My Father), by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, appeared on Broadway in 1939. Always modest, Day once said, “I’m not what they call a real writer. I write chiefly to pay the bills, not because of Higher Reasons.” His irony and wit, while always trenchant, were essentially humane and sympathetic, and his satire was always tempered by the personal suffering that he daily experienced. His personal philosophy was a generally optimistic belief that humanity is evolving toward goodness and that democracy will win out over all other political systems. Day’s humor always moderated his views, and his realism tempered his opinion. He died from pneumonia in 1935, the very year in which large groups of readers were beginning to appreciate his gifts for the first time.

BibliographyCanby, Henry S. American Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Includes a brief discussion of Day.Canby, Henry S. “Clarence Day, Jr.” Saturday Review of Literature, August 24, 1935. A piece that appeared shortly before Day’s death.Knopf, Alfred A. “Random Recollections of a Publisher.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 74 (1961). Addresses Knopf’s memories of Day.Laufe, Abe. Anatomy of a Hit: Long Run Plays on Broadway from 1900 to the Present Day. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1966. Contains a brief analysis of Life with Father.Schwartz, Richard Alan. “Clarence Day.” In American Humorists, 1800-1950, edited by Stanley Trachtenberg. Vol. II in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1982. A standard source.Yates, N. W. “Life with Clarence Day.” In The American Humorist: Conscience of the Twentieth Century. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1964. Discusses Day’s wit.
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