WILLIAM HENRY HURLBERT was born (1895); Is it the soil? Is it the climate? The American South has produced not only a disproportionate number of Miss Americas, but an equally disproportionate number of beautiful young men, many of whom, by way of Princeton University, wander up North, where they settle as innocents, both charming and tantalizing, until middle age hits them like Italian madonnas, if the bottle doesn’t get them first.
William Hurlbert (né Hurlbut) was one such beauty who drove several rather stolid men wild. The minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who confessed that “I never loved but one male friend with a passion,” found the beautiful Hurlburt “like some fascinating girl” and modeled the hero of his novel Malbone (1869) on him. Upon viewing his portrait, one can only respond chacun à son goût!
Mrs. Higginson, who took a somewhat dim view of this “romantic friendship,” complained after her husband’s death that the letters he exchanged with Hurlbert were “more like those between man and woman, than between two men.” Apparently, at least two other novelists used the handsome Southerner as a lead character in their books, one of these characters a man who, at the end of the novel, turns out to be a woman!
Hurlbert, a writer himself, became the editor-in-chief of The New York World and famously penned The Diary of a Public Man, It claimed to offer verbatim accounts of secret conversations between a long-time Washington insider and Stephen A. Douglas, William H. Seward, and Abraham Lincoln himself—among others—in the desperate weeks just before the start of the Civil War. Whether he was merely an innocent bag of gold, or actually gay himself, is difficult to say. The record says only that several distinguished men couldn’t help falling in love with him.