San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary


ACCORDING to the ablest critics, authors are witnesses. Therefore the press and the reading public must be the lawyers, the judges, and the jury.

This book contains the truth.

It is intended, bear in mind, for persons who possess intelligence enough to think for themselves.

While mainly on the subject of society, it nevertheless touches on travel.

As the book has been written at odd moments, and under a great variety of circumstances, in various parts of the world, it has received a title not inapplicable, I hope, to a record of individual experiences, candid opinions, and rambling observations of all classes of society.

I have kept a diary for more than twelve years, during which time I served a regular apprenticeship in the United States Naval Training Squadron, made a voyage around the world, served four years as an officer in ships of the merchant marine service, and afterward spent considerable time traveling abroad, as well as in the United States, in pursuit of additional knowledge of the ways of the world.

The foolish attempt of certain members of the parvenu element of San Francisco and New York to suppress the book before it was half written, by accusing me of being too personal in my remarks, and writing in a spirit of revenge, only goes to prove that the guilty sometimes call attention to their errors by denying things of which no one has accused them.

In order to show the difference between real respectability and vulgar pretension in high, or alleged high, life, I have indulged in a few personal remarks, and have given some examples that will corroborate the openly expressed opinions of many honorable citizens, who declare that the alleged or self-styled high society is just the reverse of what it claims to be. I have written this for the good of society, and not with a view to injuring anyone.

No person has a higher regard for real respectability than I have, and my destestation for shoddyism, snobbery, and insolence, the three principal strands in the mainstay of the alleged high society, ranks second to that of none.

The compilers of dictionaries evidently never imagined that the parvenus of any American community would ever become so thoroughly un-Americanized as to necessitate the coining of a new word comprehensive enough to express the contempt with which the upstarts of the present day inspire all persons endowed with God's gift to man--common sense.

The word Parvenucracy (pronounce Par´-ven-ôc´-rá-cy), used in this book, has been designed expressly for this subject.

Parvenucracy means those arch-parvenus, and their followers, who imagine that the mere acquisition of a few thousand dollars, coupled with an unlimited supply of insolence and arrogance, is all that they require in order to gain admission to the homes of persons of culture and refinement.

Throughout the book I have endeavored to write in language that is used in ordinary conversation. In order to make the book readable, I have refrained from the perpetration of such "fashionable" absurdities as quotations from alien, unknown, and dead languages.

I have one request to make of the reader, and that is, to bear in mind that in commenting upon the absurdities of certain individuals, whose names I have used, I have not been actuated by any personal dislike. It is entirely a matter of principle. I see no harm in using the names of impostors who hanker after notoriety of the most ridiculous kind, in order to create the impression that they are that which, Heaven knows, they are not. There is no more personal feeling in the contents of these pages than there is in the writings of the humorous reporter, who is assigned by the city editor to supply a few columns of legitimate news for a reliable daily paper, or in the productions of the caricaturists attached to the staffs of Puck, Wasp, and Judge.

If it is wrong to point out certain corruptions; if it is sinful and irreverent to say that those corruptions are hurtful to purity and virtue; if it is wrong to criticise so-called gentlemen for ignoring their marriage vows; if it is unlawful to suggest the setting up of a social standard not to be cursed with the domination of ill-gotten wealth; and last, but not least, if it is wrong to say that the negro ex-slave--the very lowest of all creation resembling man--is unfit to become the husband of the American gentleman's daughter, the flower of our nation, then I sincerely hope that my humble opinions and truthful reminiscences may never reach the intelligent public.


THE author begs to inform the reader that all credit for the good that may result from the publication of his Diary is due to his Friends and the Press.

His friends advised him to write, and the press notified the public that the book was being written.

No better proof that the leading representatives of the American press favor the stamping out of corruption, and the establishment of a higher social standard, is wanted than the fact that they assist with their able pens all authors who write for the public good; and no better example exists at the present time than the liberal, friendly aid extended to the author of this book.

Since the announcement that the work was being prepared for publication, the gratuitous advance press notices, in various parts of the nation, have already amounted to the gigantic sum of over three hundred and ninety thousand words (390,000), besides pictures and caricatures enough to fill dozens of columns of valuable space.

The San Francisco Examiner, the monarch of the Western dailies, for instance, has, up to date, devoted over thirty columns of news space to the assistance of the principles advocated in the book. At the rate of 1200 words to the column, allowing for pictures and display head-lines, the notices of this great people's newspaper alone amount to 36,000 words of news, besides a leading editorial of 1000 words, all commending the object of the book. The New York Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Times-Herald, the St. Louis Republic, and many other leading American dailies, fell in line with the Examiner, and devoted column after column to it. The New York Herald published in its St. Patrick's Day edition an article of about 3500 words on the front page of the supplement. Extracts from this article were telegraphed all the way across the continent and published in many papers. The Wasp, the great cartoon paper of the West, published a caricature of the author in a bullet-proof coat; and the San Francisco Call made sufficient mention of the work to show his recognition of the effort.

The following extracts will show the spirit of the press concerning the book.

The first intimation that the public received of the work was in the following notice, under the head of Sparks, by Mr. Mackay, in the San Francisco News Letter:

"Since William H. Chambliss returned from the Orient he has been busy writing a book, which will soon be published. The most interesting features of the work will be extracts from his Diary, which he has kept since he was a boy. It will contain glimpses of life as Mr. Chambliss found it when he was enrolled in Uncle Sam's Navy, and sketches of his experiences in San Francisco society. There are few men of his age who have seen as much of the world as he has. He entered the navy when he was seventeen, and graduated in 1887, after having circumnavigated the globe in the schoolship Essex. His life as an officer in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was interesting and varied, and he has in his possession many treasures of a world's pilgrimage."

The enterprising editor of the Examiner read the News Letter's friendly mention, and at once detailed Mr. C. M. Coe to call for some further information to give to the public.

After looking over the Diary, Mr. Coe picked out some extracts and published them in a two-column article, which attracted the attention of the press of the country.

From the Examiner's first criticism the following is extracted:



"William H. Chambliss, the young society leader, and organizer of the Monday Evening Cotillion Club, is writing a book.

"The scheme of embalming his ideas in literature struck him many months ago, and with him to receive an idea is to act upon it.

"A call was made on him yesterday, when it was found that he had transformed his Palace Hotel suite of rooms into a veritable literary den.

"In his writings, he has not stinted himself in expression. He writes frankly and tells not only what he knows, but also what he thinks. Chambliss' Diary contains a mine of information of a kind not readily to be had."


"Mr. Chambliss, a prominent society man of San Francisco, is writing a book descriptive of society as it really is, and Miss Laura E. Foster, a popular society lady, is illustrating it. The selection of Miss Foster for such a task is a decided compliment to her ability as an artist."-- Alameda Daily Argus.

"The forthcoming work on society, by W. H. Chambliss, will fill a long felt want."-- Sacramento Bee.

"The literary style of the book is peculiarly his own, and there is little doubt that he will create a sensation in society. In fact, it is doubtful if anyone but Mr. Chambliss could have written it."-- Chicago Times-Herald.

"It is a protest against what the author calls the 'Parvenucracy,' which he asserts has society by the throat.

"The word is a new one, and describes a condition of wealth, arrogance, ignorance, bad manners, and immorality which the author says exists in parvenu society.

"He declares that the antics of the Parvenucracy, and the ridiculous make-up of their so-called society, place San Francisco in a bad light with the rest of the country.

"In New York, says Mr. Chambliss, you have the rich vulgarian whose wealth is due to brains, and whose sons stand a chance of inheriting brains, but in San Francisco we have the arch-parvenu, a complete mutton-head, who simply stumbled across a lot of money.

"The author is a Southerner, and he says this leveling of social requirement is degrading, and that a higher social standard should be set up."-- New York Herald.

"Judging from the extended notices given Mr. Chambliss by the New York and Chicago papers, his book will create a social sensation."-- Port Gibson (Miss.) Reveille.

"The author of Society as it Really Is, is far from being a happy man. First he was worried to distraction by ambitious people who wanted to receive mention in the book; and now several persons, whose antics he has commented upon, threaten to quarter him if he mentions them. I would advise Mr. Chambliss to equip himself at once with one of Herr Dowe's bullet-proof coats."-- The Wasp.

"Apropos of art, Miss Laura E. Foster of Alameda is illustrating Mr. Chambliss' society book, which one hears so much about nowadays.

"Miss Foster is very clever with her pen and ink. She won the prize offered by the Examiner for the best design for a lady's bicycle suit."-- Pacific Town Talk.

"No subject has created more interest and speculation in society circles during the past few months than the book to be entitled Chambliss' Diary; or, Society as it Really Is.

"In the dedication the author gives the keynote to the contents of the forthcoming book. It is dedicated to his mother, and declares that, as the chief object of the lives of all true mothers is the improvement of society, concentration of attention on existing evils must result in a general improvement in mankind. The style of the work is straightforward, and no one can doubt the author's sincerity.

"Though caustic and fearless in holding up the absurdities and pretensions of the new-rich as a warning to others, he has nevertheless a dignified purpose and a certain kindliness of treatment which can offend only those whose errors he speaks of."-- San Francisco News Letter.

"A recent announcement that a book would appear entitled Chambliss' Diary has caused more interest, and awakened more curiosity in the public mind, especially among society people, than any work for a number of years.

"The author is well known as a typical representative of honored heredity. His life and career have given him favorable opportunities to see society life as it really is, and the 'Diary' is a truthful narrative of the customs and usages of the best society, and a scathing review of shoddyism, vulgarity, and truckling sycophancy, abundant in the so-called society of parvenus."-- Jared Hoag's California and her Builders.

"The object of the book is to show the difference between the better elements of society and the pretenders who claim social supremacy on account of wealth alone."-- Chicago Tribune.

"Chambliss' Diary will be the most successful book ever issued on society. There is a profound conviction all around that the author is a man who has had the opportunity of studying the human nature he is portraying on paper. He has traveled extensively all over the world, always moving in the best circles of society. He comes from one of the oldest families in Mississippi."-- Miss Jessi Robertson's San Francisco Society.


The high-handed attempt of several members of the Crocker-Huntington-S.P.R.R. faction to suppress the publication of the work has been told in the columns of the press. Mention of same will be found on pages 358 to 363.

The San Francisco Examiner, in commenting upon the absurdity of trying to suppress the truth, made the following remarks in a leading editorial:

"That there should be a considerable dissension from the publication of Mr. Chambliss' Diary, wherein he has unfolded his secrets concerning the personnel of society, is natural; that the dissenters should be persons of prominence in that 'sacred' circle no less so. Whether the author has or has not portrayed 'Society as it really is' would seem to be a matter of minor importance in determining the cause of dissension. Of greater weight is the fact that he has portrayed it as it has pleased him to do. From Mr. Chambliss' tastes in pleasure neither social distinction, nor obscure origin, nor financial worth is adequate protection. Even great military prowess is insufficient to silence him."

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


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