The Candidate from Yale

“O your college paper, I suppose?”

“No, I never wrote even a letter to the editor.”

“Took prizes for essays?”

“No, I never wrote if I could help it.”

“But you like to write?”

“I’d like to learn to write.”

“You say you are two months out of college–what college?”

“Yale.”

“Hum–I thought Yale men went into something commercial; law or banking or
railroads. ‘Leave hope of fortune behind, ye who enter here’ is over the
door of this profession.”

“I haven’t the money-making instinct.”

“We pay fifteen dollars a week at the start.”

“Couldn’t you make it twenty?”

The Managing Editor of the News-Record turned slowly in his chair
until his broad chest was full-front toward the young candidate for the
staff. He lowered his florid face slowly until his double chin swelled out
over his low “stick-up” collar. Then he gradually raised his eyelids until
his amused blue eyes were looking over the tops of his glasses, straight
into Howard’s eyes.

“Why?” he asked. “Why should we?”

Howard’s grey eyes showed embarrassment and he flushed to the line of his
black hair which was so smoothly parted in the middle. “Well–you see–the
fact is–I need twenty a week. My expenses are arranged on that scale. I’m
not clever at money matters. I’m afraid I’d get in a mess with only
fifteen.”

“My dear young man,” said Mr. King, “I started here at fifteen dollars a
week. And I had a wife; and the first baby was coming.”

“Yes, but your wife was an energetic woman. She stood right beside you and
worked too. Now I have only myself.”

Mr. King raised his eyebrows and became a rosier red. He was evidently
preparing to rebuke this audacious intrusion into his private affairs by a
stranger whose card had been handed to him not ten minutes before. But
Howard’s tone and manner were simple and sincere. And they happened to
bring into Mr. King’s mind a rush of memories of his youth and his wife.
She had married him on faith. They had come to New York fifteen years
before, he to get a place as reporter on the News-Record, she to
start a boarding-house; he doubting and trembling, she with courage and
confidence for two. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and opened
the book of memory at the place where the leaves most easily fell apart:

He is coming home at one in the morning, worn out, sick at heart from the
day’s buffetings. As he puts his key into the latch, the door opens. There
stands a handsome girl; her face is flushed; her eyes are bright; her lips
are held up for him to kiss; she shows no trace of a day that began hours
before his and has been a succession of exasperations and humiliations
against which her sensitive nature, trained in the home of her father, a
distinguished up-the-state Judge, gives her no protection, “Victory,” she
whispers, her arms about his neck and her head upon his coat collar.
“Victory! We are seventy-two cents ahead on the week, and everything paid
up!”

Mr. King opened his eyes–they had been closed less than five seconds.
“Well, let it be twenty–though just why I’m sure I don’t know. And we’ll
give you a four weeks’ trial. When will you begin?”

“Now,” answered the young man, glancing about the room. “And I shall try to
show that I appreciate your consideration, whether I deserve it or not.”

It was a large bare room, low of ceiling. Across one end were five windows
overlooking from a great height the tempest that rages about the City Hall
day and night with few lulls and no pauses. Mr. King’s roll-top desk was at
the first window. Under each of the other windows was a broad flat table
desk–for copy-readers. At the farthest of these sat the City Editor–thin,
precise-looking, with yellow skin, hollow cheeks, ragged grey-brown
moustache, ragged scant grey-brown hair and dark brown eyes. He looked
nervously tired and, because brown was his prevailing shade, dusty. He rose
as Mr. King came with young Howard.

“Here, Mr. Bowring, is a young man from Yale. He wishes you to teach him
how to write. Mr. Howard, Mr. Bowring. I hope you gentlemen will get on
comfortably together.”

Mr. King went back to his desk. Mr. Bowring and Howard looked each at the
other. Mr. Bowring smiled, with good-humour, without cordiality. “Let me
see, where shall we put you?” And his glance wandered along the rows of
sloping table-desks–those nearer the windows lighted by daylight; those
farther away, by electric lamps. Even on that cool, breezy August afternoon
the sunlight and fresh air did not penetrate far into the room.

“Do you see the young man with the beautiful fair moustache,” said Mr.
Bowring, “toiling away in his shirt-sleeves–there?”

“Near the railing at the entrance?”

“Precisely. I think I will put you next him.” Mr. Bowring touched a button
on his desk and presently an office boy–a mop of auburn curls, a pert face
and gangling legs in knickerbockers–hurried up with a “Yes, Sir?”

“Please tell Mr. Kittredge that I would like to speak to him and–please
scrape your feet along the floor as little as possible.”

The boy smiled, walking away less as if he were trying to terrorize park
pedestrians by a rush on roller skates. Kittredge and Howard were made
acquainted and went toward their desks together. “A few moments–if you
will excuse me–and I’m done,” said Kittredge motioning Howard into the
adjoining chair as he sat and at once bent over his work.

Howard watched him with interest, admiration and envy. The reporter was
perhaps twenty-five years old–fair of hair, fair of skin, goodlooking in a
pretty way. His expression was keen and experienced yet too self-complacent
to be highly intelligent. He was rapidly covering sheet after sheet of soft
white paper with bold, loose hand-writing. Howard noticed that at the end
of each sentence he made a little cross with a circle about it, and that he
began each paragraph with a paragraph sign. Presently he scrawled a big
double cross in the centre of the sheet under the last line of writing and
gathered up his sheets in the numbered order. “Done, thank God,” he said.
“And I hope they won’t butcher it.”

“Do you send it to be put in type?” asked Howard.

“No,” Kittredge answered with a faint smile. “I hand it in to Mr.
Bowring–the City Editor, you know. And when the copyreaders come at six,
it will be turned over to one of them. He reads it, cuts it down if
necessary, and writes headlines for it. Then it goes upstairs to the
composing room–see the box, the little dumb-waiter, over there in the
wall?–well, it goes up by that to the floor above where they set the type
and make up the forms.”

“I’m a complete ignoramus,” said Howard, “I hope you’ll not mind my trying
to find out things. I hope I shall not bore you.”

“Glad to help you, I’m sure. I had to go through this two years ago when I
came here from Princeton.”

Kittredge “turned in” his copy and returned to his seat beside Howard.

“What were you writing about, if I may ask?” inquired Howard.

“About some snakes that came this morning in a ‘tramp’ from South America.
One of them, a boa constrictor, got loose and coiled around a windlass. The
cook was passing and it caught him. He fainted with fright and the beast
squeezed him to death. It’s a fine story–lots of amusing and dramatic
details. I wrote it for a column and I think they won’t cut it. I hope not,
anyhow. I need the money.”

“You are paid by the column?”

“Yes. I’m on space–what they call a space writer. If a man is of any
account here they gradually raise him to twenty-five dollars a week and
then put him on space. That means that he will make anywhere from forty to
a hundred a week, or perhaps more at times. The average for the best is
about eighty.”

“Eighty dollars a week,” thought Howard. “Fifty-two times eighty is
forty-one hundred and sixty. Four thousand a year, counting out two weeks
for vacation.” To Howard it seemed wealth at the limit of imagination. If
he could make so much as that!–he who had grave doubts whether, no matter
how hard he worked, he would ever wrench a living from the world.

Just then a seedy young man with red hair and a red beard came through the
gate in the railing, nodded to Kittredge and went to a desk well up toward
the daylight end of the room.

“That’s the best of ’em all,” said Kittredge in a low tone. “His name is
Sewell. He’s a Harvard man–Harvard and Heidelberg. But drink! Ye gods, how
he does drink! His wife died last Christmas–practically starvation. Sewell
disappeared–frightful bust. A month afterward they found him under an
assumed name over on Blackwell’s Island, doing three months for disorderly
conduct. He wrote a Christmas carol while his wife was dying. It began
“Merrily over the Snow” and went on about light hearts and youth and joy
and all that–you know, the usual thing. When he got the money, she didn’t
need it or anything else in her nice quiet grave over in Long Island City.
So he ‘blew in’ the money on a wake.”

Sewell was coming toward them. Kittredge called out: “Was it a good story,
Sam?”

“Simply great! You ought to have seen the room. Only the bed and the
cook-stove and a few dishes on a shelf–everything else gone to the
pawnshop. The man must have killed the children first. They lay side by
side on the bed, each with its hands folded on its chest–suppose the
mother did that; and each little throat was cut from ear to ear–suppose
the father did that. Then he dipped his paint brush in the blood and daubed
on the wall in big scrawling letters: ‘There is no God!’ Then he took his
wife in his arms, stabbed her to the heart and cut his own throat. And
there they lay, his arms about her, his cheek against hers, dead. It was
murder as a fine art. Gad, I wish I could write.”

Kittredge introduced Howard–“a Yale man–just came on the paper.”

“Entering the profession? Well, they say of the other professions that
there is always room at the top. Journalism is just the reverse. The room
is all at the bottom–easy to enter, hard to achieve, impossible to leave.
It is all bottom, no top.” Sewell nodded, smiled attractively in spite of
his swollen face and his unsightly teeth, and went back to his work.

“He’s sober,” said Kittredge when he was out of hearing, “so his story is
pretty sure to be the talk of Park Row tomorrow.”

Howard was astonished at the cheerful, businesslike point of view of these
two educated and apparently civilised young men as to the tragedies of
life. He had shuddered at Kittredge’s story of the man squeezed to death by
the snake. Sewell’s story, so graphically outlined, filled him with horror,
made it a struggle for him to conceal his feelings.

“I suppose you must see a lot of frightful things,” he suggested.

“That’s our business. You soon get used to it, just as a doctor does. You
learn to look at life from the purely professional standpoint. Of course
you must feel in order to write. But you must not feel so keenly that you
can’t write. You have to remember always that you’re not there to cheer or
sympathise or have emotions, but only to report, to record. You tell what
your eyes see. You’ll soon get so that you can and will make good stories
out of your own calamaties.”

“Is that a portrait of the editor?” asked Howard, pointing to a grimed
oil-painting, the only relief to the stretch of cracked and streaked white
wall except a few ragged maps.

“That–oh, that is old man Stone–the ‘great condenser.’ He’s there for a
double purpose, as an example of what a journalist should be and as a
warning of what a journalist comes to. After twenty years of fine work at
crowding more news in good English into one column than any other editor
could get in bad English into four columns, he was discharged for
drunkenness. Soon afterwards he walked off the end of a dock one night in a
fog. At least it was said that there was a fog and that he was drunk. I
have my doubts.”

“Cheerful! I have not been in the profession an hour but I have already
learned something very valuable.”

“What’s that?” asked Kittredge, “that it’s a good profession to get out
of?”

“No. But that bad habits will not help a man to a career in journalism any
more than in any other profession.”

Link to the rest at The Great God Success (1901) by John Graham (David Graham Phillips)

In part, the author of The Great God Success, intended his book to be a critical treatment of the crass and shallow world of newspaper publishing in New York City (and elsewhere) and its two great competing publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

Phillips spent his career in this business. There was no pretense of objectivity or printing anything like both sides of political disagreements in that era’s newspapers. Papers owned by Pulitzer and Hearst (and papers owned by many others) were blatantly biased in their coverage of political issues and personalities.

From Wikipedia:

[David Graham] Phillips worked as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving on to New York City where he was employed as a reporter for The Sun from 1890 to 1893, then columnist and editor with the New York World until 1902. In his spare time, he wrote a novel, The Great God Success, that was published in 1901. The royalty income enabled him to work as a freelance journalist while continuing to write fiction. Writing articles for various prominent magazines, he began to develop a reputation as a competent investigative journalist. Phillips’ novels often commented on social issues of the day and frequently chronicled events based on his real-life journalistic experiences. He was considered a Progressive and for exposing corruption in the Senate he was labelled a muckraker.

Phillips wrote an article in Cosmopolitan in March 1906, called “The Treason of the Senate,” exposing campaign contributors being rewarded by certain members of the U. S. Senate. The story launched a scathing attack on Rhode Island senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and brought Phillips a great deal of national exposure. This and other similar articles helped lead to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, initiating popular instead of state-legislature election of U. S. senators.

David Graham Phillips is known for producing one of the most important investigations exposing details of the corruption by big businesses of the Senate, in particular, by the Standard Oil Company. He was among a few other writers during that time that helped prompt President Theodore Roosevelt to use the term “Muckrakers”.

The article inspired journalist Charles Edward Russell to insist to his boss William Randolph Hearst, who had just recently purchased the Cosmopolitan magazine, that he push his journalists to explore the Senate corruption as well. Philips was offered the position to explore more information about the corruption and bring it into the public’s eye. Philips’ brother Harrison and Gustavus Myers were hired as research assistants for Philips. Hearst commented to his readers about Philips starting a series that would reveal the Senate corruption so much, that most Senators would resign. This held true for some of the Senators, such as New York Senators Chauncey M. Depew and Thomas Collier Platt. Philips exposed Depew as receiving more than $50,000 from several companies. He also helped educate the public on how the senators were selected and that it was held in the hands of a few bosses in a tight circle, helping increase the corruption level. As a result of these articles, only four of the twenty-one senators that Philips wrote about were still in office. Philips also had some of the greatest success as a muckraker, because he helped change the U.S. Constitution, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, creating popular election for senators.

His talent for writing was not the only thing that helped him stand out in the newsroom. Philips was known to dress in a white suit with a large chrysanthemum in his lapel.

Phillips’ reputation cost him his life in January 1911, when he was shot outside the Princeton Club at Gramercy Park in New York City. The killer was a Harvard-educated musician named Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra who came from a prominent Maryland family. Goldsborough believed that Phillips’s novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig had cast literary aspersions on his family. To be more precise, Phillips was shot and killed by a paranoid who levied the false accusation that Phillips had used the paranoid’s sister “as a model for the complaisant heroine” of the novel. When confronting Phillips, Goldsborough yelled, “Here you go!” After Phillips collapsed, he yelled something akin to “And here I go!”, shooting himself in the head. He died as a result of his injuries. Admitted to Bellevue Hospital, Phillips died a day later. A 1992 novel by Daniel D. Victor, The Seventh Bullet, imagines a Sherlock Holmes investigation into Phillips’s murder.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

2 thoughts on “The Candidate from Yale”

Comments are closed.