Word Count-1,463. 09/30/2020.  SC(G)

The Apthorps were both from Social register families in Boston. Mr. “Apthorp was the direct descendant of officers of the British Crown; one of his ancestors had been paymaster of the British Navy during the Revolutionary War. As a boy he was taken by his parents all over Europe to be educated-France, Dresden, Berlin, Rome-and as a result was fluent in many languages… His parents had first dreamed of his becoming a great painter; now they saw him as a budding concert pianist. Apthorp himself realized he wasn’t quite good enough and began a teaching career in the early 1870s; for some years he taught piano, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and theory at New England Conservatory of Music and other Boston colleges, but retired from teaching altogether in 1886, by which time his labors as a writer on music had overtaken all else.” (Grant, 69)

In his history of the Boston Transcript, Apthorp is described as “an accomplished scholar and linguist, speaking all the leading languages of Europe, including Turkish, and being deeply versed in musical and dramatic literature. It was quite impressive, in the outer room, to hear his conversation in German, French, Italian, or Spanish, in meeting musical geniuses from abroad. Now and then, his criticisms may have appeared somewhat too redolent of erudition.” (Chamberlin, 206)

Apthorp married Octavie Loir Iasigi “of Boston, a hospitable, gracious woman and a leader of society. The family resided at 14 Otis Place in Boston and spent their summers at their cottage in Nahant. They had one son, Algernon.“ (Nelson, 280) Octavie was the daughter of Joseph Iasigi who was of Greek origin, and in 1852 was had a house on Louisburg Square which thus made him one of the owners of the park surrounding by the Square. As one of the owners, he “received approval and installed the statue of Aristides,” an ancient Greek judge who was “a prominent leader in the formation of the confederacy of Greek city-states known as the Delian league. The Aristides statue was a significant symbol of the Athens of America” image. (Internet. Celebrate Boston-“Athens of America origin”)


Hughes, editor, “Songs By Thirty Americans,” xiv.

The song composer Clayton Johns describes the musical household kept by the Apthorps. “Among other interesting houses in the Boston of those days let me not forget that of Mr. and Mrs. Apthorp. For many years their Sunday evenings were unique. Many times during the winter they gave little dinners of six or eight people, usually having some ‘high-light’ guest like Paderewski, Melba, Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin, or Salvini. After dinner, special friends were invited to meet the honored guest. Mrs. Gardner and Gericke were always there. Besides, there were members of the younger set-youth and beauty for decoration. Mr. and Mrs. Apthorp were rare entertainers, given to hospitality in its best sense. Later in the evening, beer and cigars lent a Bohemian air to the occasions. Mrs. Apthorp appeared, carrying a large pitcher of beer in one hand, beer mugs hanging from each finger of her other hand. As Blue Laws still obtained, dancing was not allowed until, after midnight, but then it was ‘On with the dance.’” (Johns,  71 and 72) Arthur Foote’s daughter Katharine remembered the Sunday evenings at the Apthorps: “There my parents met many more of the great figures of the world of music, art, literature and the stage, among them Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, Sara Bernhardt, the Kendalls-a husband and wife team who were the Lunts of their day, Eleanora Duse, Melba, and many more that I have forgotten.” (Tara, Foote,  70) “A connoisseur of culinary delights, he was known to don apron and bonnet de chef and whip up some gourmet cuisine.” (Nelson, 282) The Apthorps’s place in the Boston social scene is reflected by the report in the Globe’s “Table Gossip” that “Mr. and Mrs. Wm. F. Apthorp, who will stay abroad some time are now in Dresden, where they will remain a month or two longer.” (Globe (February 3, 1907): 50) “A diligent a worker as he was, his social circle was wide. he was a member of the Harvard Musical Association, the St. Botolph Club, the Tavern Club, and the Papyrus Club, where he served a term as president.” (Nelson, 282)

He was married in 1876 to Octavie Loir Iasigi. “He died in Vevey, Switzerland [1913], whither he had gone in 1903 after giving up active work.” (Dic. Am. Biog., 336) Grant stated that the reason for Apthorp’s retirement was that he was “going blind from all these toils,”-the toils being his BSO program notes, the books that he had written. (Grant, 69) “Their spacious apartment, situated high in a hotel of that resort town, overlooked Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps. It was their intention to return to Boston someday, as they maintained their Boston ties and even left some furniture. When his Boston friends visited they were distressed at his worsening health. He suffered from cataracts, which were successfully corrected with surgery. He was long afflicted with a bronchial cough, which weakened his heart. Apthorp died in Vevey, 19 February 1913, and was buried there.” (Nelson, 281 and 282)

A newspaper in Beverly, MA reported on Mrs. Apthorp’s social work in Bar Harbor, ME. “Mrs. William F. Apthorp who has become known as one of the most indefatigable social workers at Bar Harbor, and to whom so much of the success of the recent dress ball was due, was before her marriage a Miss Iasigi of Boston, and a sister of the Misses Iasigi, who have a very handsome cottage at Bar Harbor, says Town Topics. All the Iasigi girls are clever, and they have always been great social pets in Boston. Their father, the late Joseph Iasigi, was one of Boston’s oldest and most respected merchants. He was by birth a Smyrniot Greek. He left an immense fortune, which all the children shared alike, including a son. Mrs. Apthorp resides in the winter with her husband in a pretty artistic house in Otis Place, just off Beacon Street, overlooking the Charles River, where they entertain very delightfully. Mr. Apthorp is one of the cleverest musical critics in Boston, as well as a cultivated musician himself.” (Saturday Morning Citizen, Beverly, MA (September 3, 1887): 3)

On February 15, 1897 The New York Times published a story about Octavie’s brother, Joseph A. Iasigi, the Turkish Consul General in Boston, who had been arrested in New York City on “suspicion of misappropriating a considerable portion of a trust fund of $250,000 committed to his care…The exact charge against Mr. Iasigi is that he refuses to or cannot account for certain securities confided to him as a part of a trust fund valued at more than a quarter of a million dollars. Mr. Iasigi inherited the trust fund as he did the office of Consul General for Turkey in Boston, from his father…Mr. Iasigi is well known in the social and business world of Boston. His father was a wealthy merchant, and his sisters, Mrs. W. F. Apthorp, Mrs. Thomas Dwight, wife of Dr. Dwight of Harvard Medical School, and the Misses Mary V. and E. M. Iasigi are society leaders. He is a member of the Somerset, Algonquin, and other clubs, and until recently there was never any idea that he was financially embarrassed. His father left him a comfortable fortune, and he lived a life of leisure with his wife and family on Beacon Street, in the aristocratic Back Bay.” (New York Times, February 15, 1897)

In December 1900 The New York Times printed a story about Mrs. Apthorp:” “WEARS HER HAT IN THEATRES-Mrs. Apthorp of Boston Refuses to Comply with City Ordinance. BOSTON, Dec. 11. Mrs. William F. Apthorp, wife of the musical critic, and sister of Joseph A. Iasigi the former Turkish Consul at this port, who is now at the Massachusetts State prison, is evidently out on a crusade against the theatre hat ordinance, which has been in force in Boston for three years. Mrs. Apthorp is hardly second to Mrs. ”Jack” Gardner as the social queen of Boston and is very elaborately dressed when she goes out in public. Last evening, with her husband, she occupied an orchestra stall at the Hollis Street Theatre and did not remove her bonnet when the curtain rose. An usher requested her to do so, but Mrs. Apthorp declined to comply. The management was appealed to and the lady was informed that she must either remove her hat or leave the theatre. She chose the latter alternative and went home and wrote a letter about it to The Evening Transcript. This evening Mrs. Apthorp went to the Boston Museum and again refused to remove her bonnet. This time she fared a little differently, Manager Field taking her to his box behind the curtain, while Mr. Apthorp remained in his seat.” (Internet archive source: The New York Times, December 12, 1900)

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a great friend of the Lang family. She gave money to the Boston Public Library in B. J.’s name to acquire books, and a special bookmark was created for the new acquisitions. It was she who arranged the flowers at B. J.’s funeral, and for many summers she was a visitor at the Lang farm in New Boston. She was unique:                                “Mrs. Jack Gardner is one of the seven wonders of Boston. There is nobody like her in any city in this country. She is a millionaire Bohemienne. She is the leader of the smart set, but she often leads where none dare follow…She imitates nobody; everything she does is novel and original.” (A Boston Reporter, Museum Site, “An Unconventional Life”)

“On April 10, 1864, her fourth wedding anniversary, Mrs. Gardner was confirmed at Emmanuel Church by Dr. Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts. This was the devout expression of her gratitude to God for the gift of a son.” (Fenway Court, 25) John Lowell Gardner, 3rd. only lived until March 15, 1865, and Isabella knew she could not have another child. For the next two years, she was depressed and ill, and in the spring of 1867, on her doctor’s orders, she and John went to Europe for a “Change of scene.” The change “had greatly improved” her health, and on her return “her nature was too buoyant” to remain in seclusion, and she entered into Boston society with reckless abandon. (Ibid, 28,29)

Looking back on the 1870s, “Boston society [was] delightful because it was so small that everyone really knew everyone else; its inability to forgive” Isabella’s “escapades only amused her.” (Ibid, 29) There were regular dances held at the Horticultural Hall or at Papanti’s on Tremont Street. She would arrive quite late, with the many bouquets sent by her admirers. She and another young matron became rivals in this custom with wagers being made on who would bring the most. At the next ball, the other matron arrived laden with more than ever before, but a few minutes later, Belle arrived, but, without a single flower. (Ibid, 29, 30)

One of her favorite quotes was: “Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth.” (Ibid, 31)

On one occasion when Belle had been invited to music after, but not the dinner itself, and the two lady hostesses had placed the guest of honor firmly between themselves, when Belle arrived, she “took in the situation at once,” and seating herself somewhat apart, coughed enough to attract attention, which forced the hostesses to send the guest of honor to see what Belle’s problem was. “He went, but never came back to report; Mrs. Gardner carried him off in her carriage for a quiet evening a deax.” (Ibid, 32) Such victories the ladies could not forgive.

When Mrs. Gardner was asked for a subscription to the Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary, she replied that she did not think that there was a charitable eye or ear in Boston.” (Ibid, 33)

Through thick and thin Mr. Gardnerr stood by his wife; he had unfaltering faith in her and enjoyed the admiration that other men gave her. In the gaiety that she always created, he shared. (Ibid, 34)

“Every incident in life was an adventure” for Belle. She and John had missed the train to a party on the North Shore-her solution, hire a locomotive to take them there. “The rest of the party…were suddenly startled by the screeching of an engine coming down the trach, and thrilled to see the immaculate Mrs. Jack, in a white Paris gown, descend from the cab, followed by Mr. Jack, hugely pleased with the success of his wife’s idea.” (Ibid, 34)

The Gardners bought the first string of pearls in London 1874, and then, beginning in 1884, every other year another set was bought until Belle had seven. Pearls were to play an important part in Sargent’s painting.

“In the early eighties Boston was truly a provincial city, and life was simple. Boston’s jaw dropped, Boston’s eyes bulged” when the Gardners employed not only a butler but two footmen. When they went out, there were
two men in livery on the box.” In social circles “the Gardner dinners were the best in Boston, rivaled only by those given by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Brimmer. Mrs. Gardner’s dresses were more beautiful than anyone else’s, her jewels more dazzling, and her turnouts smarter; her carriages were made by Binder in Paris; her horses, small but swift, were always driven at top speed; and she was mistress of a house undeniably more fascinating than anyone else’s.” They had bought the house next door, 150 Beacon Street, in order to have a music room. (Ibid, 52)

Belle knew everyone, or everyone knew Belle. Coming back from suburban Boston, her

“Museum Courtyard at Night.” Johnston Collection


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