Recently, a gentleman from Japan reached out to me regarding the pronunciation of “De Casseres.” He was writing an essay about Albert Stieglitz’ early 20th century photographic arts magazine, Camera Work, to which Benjamin De Casseres had contributed a number of articles from 1911 – 1913, and he needed to know the pronunciation in order to properly translate De Casseres’ name.
I almost responded off the cuff with how I had always pronounced it, with “Casseres” being three syllables: Cass-er-es. It seems an obvious pronunciation to me, but as I thought about it, I seemed to recall seeing something about the pronunciation of his name in the many digital files I have acquired of his work over the past couple years.
Digging through my various news and article clippings, I came upon two separate columns written by Charles R. Driscoll, a colleague and friend of De Casseres’, that mention the pronunciation of his name. The first was from Nov. 1943, in which Driscoll writes:
DeCasseres (pronounced de-kass-erz, accent on the kass) is one of Manhattan’s most erudite writing gentlemen. He is an authority on at least a dozen important philosophers. He knows more about economics and history than any of the people who are trying to turn the world into a long-haired red paradise.
In the same column, Driscoll notes that he has known De Casseres for 18 years, which puts their meeting at sometime in 1925. During their acquaintance, Driscoll wrote a regular column on life in New York, which was syndicated to a number of papers, and occasionally referenced something De Casseres did, said or wrote.
The second reference from Driscoll came in 1946, a couple months after De Casseres’ death on Dec. 7, 1945. This time, he writes:
Benjamin De Casseres (he pronounced it dee-cass-ers), who passed on recently, was one of the most brilliant conversationalists among the writing world in New York. He was the most scholarly man among my early acquaintances in the city, and I was surprised to learn that he was altogether self-educated, never having gone to school after he was 13 years old.
Given these two references by someone who knew De Casseres pretty well, it’s obvious my initial instinct was wrong.
In my search, I also found one other reference to the pronunciation of “Casseres.” This was from Dow Richardson’s column, “Up and Down Main Street.” In 1929, he quotes from The American Mercury:
BENJAMIN DECASSERES is the author of numerous books. (Casseres has the accent on the first syllable, which is pronounced exactly like Mass.—The American Mercury.
His spelling it with a “c” is what throws everybody off.
I haven’t been able to find the original mention in The American Mercury. De Casseres wrote a number of articles in that magazine in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but the citation does not seem to reference any of those. At any rate, it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t put stress on the first syllable, or how using a “c” would throw anybody off…