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The Land of Bohemia

Notwithstanding the fact that Webster gives no recognition to the land of Bohemia nor to the inhabitants thereof, the land exists, perhaps not in a material way but certainly in some minds. Some have not the perception to see it; some know not the language that permits entrance, some may pass it by every day without understanding it. Yet it as truly exists as any of the lands told of in our childhood fairy tales and fables.

The old definition of “Bohemian” was “a wayfarer, a vagabond.” Possibly that definition may, to a certain extent, be true of the present day Bohemian, for he is a mental vagabond and wayfarer.

Bohemian, possibly, comes from the French “bon Homme,” for surely our Bohemian is a good man, or at least a good fellow.

Whatever may be the derivation, the fact remains that not to all is given the perception to understand, nor the eyes to see, and sometimes if you seek bohemia you are apt to be disappointed, for you may have to create your own Bohemia.

There are many definitions of the idea of Bohemian and the following from “Bohemian San Francisco” gives about the best so far submitted:

“Bohemia! What vulgarities are committed in thy name! How abused is the word! Because of the misconception of an idea it has suffered more than any other in the English language. It has done duty in describing almost every form of license and licentiousness. It has been the cloak of debauchery and the excuse for sex degradation. It has been so misused as to bring the very word into disrepute.

“To us Bohemianism means the naturalness of refined people.

“That is may be protected from vulgarians, society prescribes conventional rules and regulations which, like morals, change with environment.

“Bohemianism is the protest of naturalism against the too rigid and, oft-times absurd, restrictions established by society.

“The true Bohemian requires no prescribed rules, for his or her innate gentility prevents those things society guards against. In Bohemia men and women mingle in good fellowship and comraderie without finding the sex question a necessary topic of conversation. They do not find it necessary to push exhilaration to intoxication; to increase their animation to boisterousness. Their lack of conventionality does not tend to boorishness.

“Some of the most enjoyable Bohemian affairs we have known have been full dress gatherings, carefully planned and delightfully carried out; others have been impromptu, neither time, nor place, nor the dress being taken into consideration.

“The unrefined get everywhere, even into the drawing rooms of royalty, consequently we must expect to meet them in Bohemia. But the true bohemian has a way of forgetting to meet obnoxious personages and, as a rule, is more choice in the selection of associates than the vaunted “400.” With the bohemian but one thing counts: Fitness, Money, position, personal appearance, and even brains are of no avail if there be the bar sinister—unfit.

“In a restaurant, one evening, a number of men and women were seated conspicuously at a table in the center of the room. Flowing neckties, such as are affected by Parisian art students, were worn by the men; all were coarse, loud and much in evidence. They not only attracted attention by their outré appearances and loudness, but they called notice by pelting other diners with missiles of bread. To us they were the last word in vulgarity, but to a young woman who had come to the place because she had heard it was ‘so Bohemian’ they were ideal, and she remarked to our companion:

“ ‘I do so like to associate with real Bohemians like these. Can’t we get acquainted with them?’

“ ‘Sure, was the response.' All we have to do is to buy them a drink.’

“In San Francisco there are Bohemians and near-Bohemians and if you are like the young woman mentioned you are apt to miss the real and take the imitation
for the genuine article.

“We mean no derogation to San Francisco’s restaurants when we say that San Francisco’s highest form of Bohemianism is rarely in evidence in restaurants. We have enjoyed wonderful Bohemian dinners in restaurants, but the other diners were not aware of it. Some far more interesting gatherings have been in the rooms of Bohemian friends. Not always is it the artistic combination of famous chef that brings greatest delight, for we have frequently had pleasure over a supper of some simple dish in the attic room of a good friend.

“This bring us to the crux of Bohemianism. It depends so little on environment that it means nothing at all, and so much on companionship that it means all.”

The Wasp
December 15, 1917