Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alice I'Anson (1872-1931)

Born January 25, 1872, San Francisco, California
Died June 5, 1931, Mexico City, Mexico

When I first encountered the name Alice I'Anson, I thought the first letter of her last name was a lower case L, as in the contraction of the French article la or le. Then I learned that the first letter is an upper case I. It's a curious surname but apparently not uncommon, and it has nothing to do with French or any other Continental language. In fact, I'Anson is a British or Scottish surname that may derive from "Ian's son" and as such is related to the name Janson. If you go farther in your research, you're bound to discover a website, I'Anson International, which tells all about the name, the inevitable confusion over its spelling, and the many people who have borne it.

Alice I'Anson's story begins in England, the native country of her father, Miles I'Anson. He was born in Middleham, North Yorkshire, and baptized in November 1835. His father was a tailor who may have been widowed by the time of the 1841 English census, which found the family in Middleham. By 1850, Miles I'Anson was in Newark, New Jersey, and working as a porter. Well before that time, there was an I'Anson family already established in New Jersey. Perhaps in leaving England, Miles I'Anson only joined another branch of I'Ansons in the New World.

Miles I'Anson married Elizabeth Flintoft, daughter of John Flintoft of Flintoft and Haines Smelting Works. Elizabeth's mother was Elizabeth I'Anson, presumably a distant or perhaps not so distant cousin to her new husband. The couple had three children, Alice (b. 1872), Beatrice (b. ca. 1875), and Miles (b. 1876). The Christian name Miles ran through the I'Anson family for generations.

Miles I'Anson was a gold prospector, a poet, and a mining engineer (1875-1891) in California. By 1891, he was back in Newark, the city from which he wrote the introduction to his book The Vision of Misery Hill: A Legend of the Sierra Madre and Miscellaneous Verse (New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1891). I don't know what connection if any I'Anson had with the San Francisco literary scene that included Ambrose Bierce and George Sterling, but it's a possibility worth considering. Elizabeth I'Anson died in 1913. Miles I'Anson died in 1917 and was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Newark. The month was November. Presumably, Miles I'Anson was born in and died in the same month of the year.

It's certain that Miles I'Anson, father of Alice I'Anson, was a literary figure with several poems and an illustrated book of verse to his name. He may have been the same Miles I'Anson of Newark who bore back the body of the Anglo-American writer Henry William Herbert (1807-1858) from New York City to its final resting place at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the same place that would one day receive the body of Miles I'Anson. The cemetery adjoined Herbert's home place, called "The Cedars" for its surrounding trees. Like I'Anson, Herbert was a British immigrant. Having arrived in the United States in 1831, he founded the American Monthly Magazine in 1833. A teacher, classical scholar, translator, poet, novelist, historian, and artist, Herbert was well known though not always well liked in American literary circles. He wrote about sports under the pen name Frank Forester. On May 17, 1858, he called his friends to a dinner at the Stevens Hotel in New York City. Only one showed. After dinner, Herbert stood in front of a mirror and put a bullet through his heart. If our Miles I'Anson was the man who accompanied the cortege of Henry William Herbert, he would have been just twenty-two years old at the time.

According to a later document, Alice I'Anson was born on January 25, 1872, in San Francisco, California. (1) She had poems published in Belford's MonthlyCalifornian Illustrated, The International, and Overland Monthly magazines. In 1895 and 1918, she was in Newark and Sussex, New Jersey, where her family lived. By 1930, when her first poem in Weird Tales appeared, Alice was residing in Mexico City. Called "Teotihuacon," the poem concerns the ancient Aztecs and their grisly habits of human sacrifice. Robert E. Howard wrote a letter to "The Eyrie" in appreciation. You can read more at the website REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, here.

Alice I'Anson had five poems published in Weird Tales and one in its companion magazine, Oriental Stories. She also wrote two published letters to "The Eyrie" and one to Oriental Stories. Most of those were published posthumously, as Alice died of heart failure at her Mexico City home on the morning of June 5, 1931. She was just fifty-eight years old. Alice I'Anson was survived by her brother and sister. Her remains were interred at the American Cemetery in Mexico City. They may yet rest there, far from home.

Alice I'Anson's Poems in Weird Tales and Oriental Stories
"Teotihuacon" (Nov. 1930)
"Rondeau Orientale" in Oriental Stories (Feb./Mar. 1931)
"Phantoms" (June/July 1931)
"Jungle Feud" (Nov. 1931)
"Shadows of Chapultepec" (May 1932)
"Kishi, My Cat" (Oct. 1932)

Alice I'Anson's Letters to "The Eyrie" and to Oriental Stories
Oct. 1930
Feb. 1931 (Oriental Stories)
June 1931

(1) "Report of the Death of an American Citizen," American Consular Service, Mexico City, June 9, 1931.

A sixteenth century depiction of human sacrifice among the Aztecs, from the Codex Magliabechiano. Alice I'Anson sang of just such a scene in her poem "Teotihuacon" in Weird Tales, November 1930.

Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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