Less than two years after publication of Walter DeCasseres book of poetry, the St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper The Evening Independent reported on January 30th, 1928, that Hans Stengel, the cover artist for The Sublime Boy, committed suicide.
The recent discovery of a package of laundry bills, invoices and paper bags on which were scribbled a great number of poems, brings to light the life and death of the one of the last two descendants of Benedict de Spinoza, the great Dutch philosopher and descendant of Simon De Casseres of London, the famous wealthy merchant who was the close friend of Oliver Cromwell. The poet was Walter DeCasseres, born in Philadelphia in 1881, and who committed suicide by drowning in February 1900. His body was recovered by workmen at the foot of the Arch street wharf in Philadelphia five weeks afterward. He was identified by a library card found in his pocket. DeCasseres committed suicide for purely philosophical reasons. He has been called the “American Thomas Chatterton,” because like the English lad he committed suicide at an early age and also wrote great poetry. When the manuscripts were submitted to Professor Leonard Charles Van Hoppen, formerly Queen Wilhelmina professor of Dutch Literature at Columbia University he declared that the poems of DeCasseres are superior to any poems written by Poe, Keats, Shelley or Blake at that age. The rediscovered poems, which are published today by Seven Arts, under he title of “The Sublime Boy,” reveal similarities to the mournful mysticism of Edgar Allan Poe and the world weariness of the old testament poet who cried “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Whereas Thomas Chatterron committed suicide for physical reasons–because he was starving–Walter DeCasseres was a spiritual suicide, who had a contempt for life and a horror of what se saw on this planet, although he was in perfect physical health, had a home, a loving family, and a good position in the proofroom of the Philadelphia Press, where he was a copyholder. DeCasseres’ poems were written between his sixteenth year and the time of his death at 18 years and nearly siz months. They were only recently found by his brother, Benjmin DeCasseeres. Many of them were only deciphered with the greatest trouble and after the lapse of considerable time. They were scribbled — sometimes in ink, sometimes in pencil–very carelessly on the first pieces of paper that come to hand–sugar bags, backs of bills and torn bits of white paper.