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A JOURNALISTS NOTE-BOOK ***




Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by the Internet Archive









A JOURNALISTS NOTE-BOOK

By Frank Frankfort Moore

Author of “Forbid the Banns,” “Daireen,’” “A Gray Eye or So,” etc.

London: Hutchins On And Co., Paternoster Row

1894

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CHAPTER I. - PAST AND PRESENT.


_Odd lots of journalism - Respectability and its relation to
journalism - The abuse of the journal - The laudation of the
journalist - Abuse the consequence of popularity - Popularity the
consequence of abuse - Drain-work and grey hairs - “Don’t neglect
your reading for the sake of reviewing” - Reading for pleasure or
to criticise - Literature - Deterioration - The Civil List Pension - In
exchange for a soul._


SOME years ago there was an auction of wine at a country-house in
Scotland, the late owner of which had taken pains to gain a reputation
for judgment in the matter of wine-selecting. He had all his life been
nearly as intemperate as a temperance orator in his denunciation of
whisky as a drink, hoping to inculcate a taste for vintage clarets upon
the Scots; but he that tells the tale - it is not a new one - says that
the man died without seriously jeopardizing the popularity of the
native manufacture. The wines that he had laid down brought good prices,
however; but, at the close of the sale, several odd lots were “put
up,” and all were bought by a local publican. A gentleman who had been
present called upon the publican a few days afterwards, and found
him engaged in mixing into one huge cask all the “lots” that he had
bought - Larose, Johannisberg, Château Coutet.

“Hallo,” said the visitor, “what’s this mixture going to be, Rabbie?”

“Weel, sir,” said the publican, looking with one eye into the cask and
mechanically giving the contents a stir with a bottle of Sauterne which
he had just uncorked - “Weel, sir, I think it should be port, but I’m no
sure.”

These odd lots of journalistic experiences and recollections may be
considered a book, “but I’m no sure.”

*****

After all, “a book’s a book although” - it’s written by a journalist.
Nearly every writer of books nowadays becomes a journalist when he has
written a sufficient number. He is usually encouraged in this direction
by his publishers.

“You’re a literary man, are you not?” a stranger said to a friend of
mine.

“On the contrary, I’m a journalist,” was the reply.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, I’m sure,” said the inquirer, detecting a
certain indignant note in the disclaimer. “I beg your pardon. What a
fool I was to ask you such a question!”

“I hope he wasn’t hurt,” he added in an anxious voice when we were
alone. “It was a foolish question; I might have known that he was a
journalist, _he looked so respectable_.”

We are all respectable nowadays. We belong to a recognised profession.
We may pronounce our opinions on all questions of art, taste, religion,
morals, and even finance, with some degree of diffidence: we are at
present merely practising our scales, so to speak, upon our various
“organs,” but there is every reason to believe that confidence will come
in due time. Are not our ranks being recruited from Oxford? Some years
ago men drifted into journalism; now it is looked on as a vocation.
Journalism is taken seriously. In a word, we are respectable. Have
we not been entertained by the Lord Mayor of London? Have we not
entertained Monsieur Emile Zola?

*****

People have ceased to abuse us as they once did with great freedom: they
merely abuse the journals which support us. This is a healthy sign; for
it may be taken for granted that people will invariably abuse the paper
for which they subscribe. They do not seem to feel that they get the
worth of their subscription unless they do so. It is the same principle
that causes people to sneer at a dinner at which they have been
entertained. If we are not permitted to abuse our host, whom may we
abuse? The one thing that a man abuses more than to-day’s paper is the
negligence of the boy who omits to deliver it some morning. Only in one
town where I lived did I find that a newspaper was popular. (It was
not the one for which I wrote.) The fathers and mothers taught their
children to pray, “God bless papa, mamma, and the editor of the
_Clackmannan Standard_.”

I met that editor some years afterwards. He celebrated a sort of
impromptu Comminution Service against the people amongst whom he
had lived. They had never paid for their subscriptions or their
advertisements, and they had thus lowered the _Standard_ of Clackmannan
and of the editor’s confidence in his fellow-men.

*****

The only newspaper that is in a hopeless condition is the one which is
neither blessed at all nor cursed at all. Such a newspaper appeals to no
section of the public. It has always seemed to me a matter of question
whether a man is better satisfied with a paper that reflects (so far
as it is possible for a paper to do so) his own views, or with one that
reflects the views that he most abhors. I am inclined to believe that
a man is in a better humour with those of his fellow-men whom he has
thoroughly abused, than with the one whom he greets every morning on the
top of his omnibus.

It is quite a simple matter to abuse a newspaper into popularity. One
of the Georges whose biographies have been so pleasantly and touchingly
written by Thackeray and Mr. Justin M’Carthy, conferred a lasting
popularity upon the man whom he told to get out of his way or he would
kick him out of it.

The moral of this is, that to be insulted by a monarch confers a greater
distinction upon a man living in Clapham or even Brixton than to be
treated courteously by a greengrocer.

*****

But though people continue to abuse the paper for which they subscribe,
and for which they are usually some year or two in arrears in the matter
of payment, still it appears to me that the public are slowly beginning
to comprehend that newspapers are written (mostly) by journalists.
Until recently there was, I think, a notion that journalists sat round
a bar-parlour telling stories and drinking whisky and water while the
newspapers were being produced. The fact is, that most of the surviving
anecdotes of the journalists of a past generation smell of the
bar-parlour. The practical jesters of the fifties and the punsters
of the roaring forties were tap-room journalists. They died hard.
The journalists of to-day do not even smile at those brilliant
sallies - bequeathed by a past generation - about wearing frock-coats and
evening dress, about writing notices of plays without stirring from the
taproom, about the mixing up of criticisms of books with police-court
reports. Such were the humours of journalism thirty or forty years ago.
We have formed different ideas as to the elements of humour in these
days. Whatever we may leave undone it is not our legitimate work.

*****

It was when journalism was in a state of transition that a youth,
waiting on a railway platform, was addressed by a stranger (one of those
men who endeavour to make religious zeal a cloak for impertinence) - “My
dear young friend, are you a Christian?”

“No,” said the youth, “I’m a reporter on the _Camberwell Chronicle_.”

On the other hand, it was a very modern journalist whose room was
invaded by a number of pretty little girls one day, just to keep him
company and chat with him for an hour or so, as it was the day his
paper - a weekly one - went to press. In order to get rid of them, he
presented each of them with a copy of a little book which he had just
published, writing on the flyleaf, “With the author’s compliments.” Just
as the girls were going away, one of them spied a neatly bound Oxford
Bible that was lying on the desk for editorial notice.

“I should so much like that,” she cried, pouncing upon it.

“Then you shall have it, my dear, if you clear off immediately,” said
the editor; and, turning up the flyleaf, he wrote hastily on it, “_With
the author’s compliments_.”

Yes, he was a modern journalist, and took a reasonable view of the
authoritative nature of his calling.

*****

Our position is, I affirm, becoming recognised by the world; but now and
again I am made to feel that such recognition does not invariably extend
to all the members of our profession. Some years ago I was getting my
hair cut in Regent Street, and, as usual, the practitioner remarked in a
friendly way that I was getting very grey.

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve been getting a grey hair or so for some time. I
don’t know how it is. I’m not much over thirty.” (I repeat that the
incident occurred some years ago.)

“No, sir, you’re not what might be called old,” said he indulgently.
“Maybe you’re doing some brain-work?” he suggested, after a pause.

“Brain-work?” said I. “Oh no! I work for a daily paper, and usually
write a column of leading articles every night. I produce a book a year,
and a play every now and again. But brain-work - oh no!”

“Oh, in that case, sir, it must be due to something else. Maybe you
drink a bit, sir.”

I did not buy the bottle which he offered me at four-and-nine. I left
the shop dissatisfied.

This is why I hesitate to affirm that modern journalism is wholly
understanded of the people.

But for that matter it is not wholly understanded of the people who
might be expected to know something about it. The proprietor of a
newspaper on which I worked some years ago made use of me one day to
translate a few lines of Greek which appeared on the back of an old
print in his possession. My powers amazed him. The lines were from an
obscure and little-known poem called the “Odyssey.”

“You must read a great deal, my boy,” said he.

I shook my head.

“The fact is,” said I, “I’ve lately had so much reviewing to do that I
haven’t been able to read a single book.”

“That’s too hard on you,” said he gravely. “Get some of the others of
the staff to help you. You mustn’t neglect your reading for the sake of
reviewing.”

I didn’t.

Upon another occasion the son of this gentleman left a message for
me that he had taken a three-volume novel, the name of which he had
forgotten, from a parcel of books that had arrived the previous day,
but that he would like a review of it to appear the next morning, as his
wife said it was a capital story.

He was quite annoyed when the review did not appear.

*****

But there are, I have reason to know, many people who have got no more
modern ideas respecting that branch of journalism known as reviewing.

“Are you reading that book for pleasure or to criticise it?” I was asked
not so long ago by a young woman who ought to have known better. “Oh, I
forgot,” she added, before I could think of anything sharp to say by way
of reply - “I forgot: if you meant to review it you wouldn’t read it.”

I thought of the sharp reply two days later.

So it is, I say, that some of the people who read what we write from
day to day, have still got only the vaguest notions of how our work is
turned out.

Long ago I used to wish that the reviewers would only read the books I
wrote before criticising them; but now my dearest wish is that they will
review them (favourably) without reading them.

*****

I heard some time ago of a Scot who, full of that brave sturdy spirit
of self-reliance which is the precious endowment of the race of North
Britons, came up to London to fight his way in the ranks of literature.
The grand inflexible independence of the man asserted itself with such
obstinacy that he was granted a Civil List Pension; and while in receipt
of this form of out-door relief for poets who cannot sell their poetry,
he began a series of attacks upon literature as a trade, and gave to the
world an autobiography in a sentence, by declaring that literature and
deterioration go hand in hand.

This was surely a very nasty thing for the sturdy Scotchman, who had
attained to the honourable independence of the national almshouse,
to say, just as people were beginning to look on literature as a
profession.

But then he sat down and forthwith reeled off a string of doggerel
verses, headed “The Dismal Throng.” In this fourth-form satirical
jingle he abused some of the ablest of modern literary men for taking a
pessimistic view of life. Now, who on earth can blame literary men for
feeling a trifle dismal if what the independent pensioner says is true,
and success in literature can only be obtained in exchange for a
soul? The man who takes the most pessimistic view of the profession of
literature should be the last to sneer at a literary man looking sadly
on life.




CHAPTER II. - THE OLD SCHOOL.


_The frock-coat and muffler journalist - A doomed race - One of the
specimens - A masterpiece - -“Stilt your friend” - A jaunty emigrant - A
thirsty knave - His one rival - Three crops - His destination - “The
New Grub Street” - A courteous friend - Free lodgings - The foreign
guest - Outside the hall door - The youth who found things - His ring - His
watch - The fruits of modesty - Not to be imitated - A question for
Sherlock Holmes - The liberty of the press - Deadheads._


I HAVE come in contact with many journalists of the old school - the
frock-coat and muffler type. The first of the class whom I met was for
a few months a reporter on a newspaper in Ireland with which I was
connected. He had at one time been a soldier, and had deserted. I tried,
though I was only a boy, to get some information from him that I might
use afterwards, for I recognised his value as the representative of a
race that was, I felt, certain to become extinct. I talked to him as
I talked - with the aid of an interpreter - to a Botjesman in the South
African veldt: I wanted to learn something about the habits of a doomed
type. I succeeded in some measure.

The result of my researches into the nature of both savages was to
convince me that they were born liars. The reporter carried a pair
of stage whiskers and a beard with him when sent to do any work in a
country district; the fact being that the members of the Royal Irish
Constabulary in the country barracks are the most earnest students
of the paper known as _Hue and Cry_, and the man said that, as his
description appeared in every number of that organ, he should most
certainly be identified by a smart country policeman if he did not wear
a disguise. Years afterwards I got a letter from him from one of her
Majesty’s gaols. He wanted the loan of some money and the gift of a hat.

This man wrote shorthand admirably, and an excellent newspaper English.

*****

Another specimen of the race had actually attained to the dizzy eminence
of editor of a fourth-class newspaper in a town of one hundred thousand
inhabitants. In those days Mr. Craven Robertson was the provincial
representative of Captain Hawtree in _Caste_, and upon the Captain
Hawtree of Craven Robertson this “journalist” founded his style. He
wore an eyeglass, a moustache with waxed ends, and a frock coat very
carefully brushed. His hair was thin on the top - but he made the most of
it. He was the sort of man whom one occasionally meets on the Promenade
at Nice, wearing a number of orders on the breast of his coat - the order
of Il Bacio di St. Judæus, the scarlet riband of Ste. Rahab di Jericho,
the Brazen Lyre of SS. Ananias and Sapphira. He was the sort of man whom
one styles “Chevalier” by instinct. He was the most plausible knave in
the world, though how people allowed him to cheat them was a mystery to
me. His masterpiece of impudence I have always considered to be a letter
which he wrote to a brother-editor, from whom he had borrowed a sum of
money, to be repaid on the first of the next month. When the appointed
day came he chanced to meet this editor-creditor in the street, and
asking him, with a smile as if he had been on the lookout for him, to
step into the nearest shop, he called for a sheet of paper and a pen,
and immediately wrote an order to the cashier of his paper to pay Mr. G.
the sum of five pounds.

“There you are, my dear sir,” said he. “Just send a clerk round to our
office and hand that to the cashier. Meantime accept my hearty thanks
for the accommodation.”

Mr. G. lost no time in presenting the order; but, as might have been
expected, it was dishonoured by the cashier, who declared that the
editor was already eight months in advance in drawing his salary. Mr. G.
hastened back to his own office and forthwith wrote a letter of furious
upbraidings, in which I have good reason to suspect he expressed
his views of the conduct of his debtor, and threatened to “take
proceedings,” as the grammar of the law has it, for the recovery of his
money.

The next day Mr. G. received back his own letter unopened, but inside
the cover that enclosed it to him was the following: -

“My dear Mr. G., -

“You may perhaps be surprised to receive your letter with the seal
unbroken, but when you come to reflect calmly over the unfortunate
incident of your sending it to me, I am sure that you will no longer be
surprised. I am persuaded that you wrote it to me on the impulse of
the moment, otherwise it would not contain the strong language which,
I think I may assume, constitutes the major portion of its contents.
Knowing your natural kindness of disposition, and feeling assured that
in after years the consciousness of having written such a letter to me
would cause you many a pang in your secret moments, I am anxious that
you should be spared much self-reproach, and consequently return your
letter unopened. You will, I am certain, perceive that in adopting this
course I am acting for the best. Do not follow the next impulse of your
heart and ask my forgiveness. I have really nothing to forgive, not
having read your letter.

“With kindest regards, I remain

“Still your friend

“A. Swinne Dell.”

If this transaction does not represent the high-water mark of
knavery - if it does not show something akin to genius in an art that has
many exponents, I scarcely know where one should look for evidence in
this direction.

Five years after the disappearance of Mr. A. Swinne Dell from the scene
of this _coup_ of his, I caught a glimpse of him among the steerage
passengers aboard a steamer that called at Madeira when I was spending
a holiday at that lovely island. His frock-coat was giving signs (about
the collar) of wear, and also (under the arms) of tear. I could not see
his boots, but I felt sure that they were down at the heel. Still,
he held his head jauntily as he pointed out to a fellow-passenger the
natural charms of the landscape above Funchal.

Another of the old school who pursued a career of knavery by the light
of the sacred lamp of journalism was, I regret to say, an Irishman. His
powers of absorbing drink were practically unlimited. I never knew but
one rival to him in this way, and that was when I was in South Africa.
We had left our waggon, and were crouching in most uncomfortable
postures behind a mighty cactus on the bank of a river, waiting for the
chance of potting a gemsbok that might come to drink. Instead of the
graceful gemsbok there came down to the water a huge hippopotamus. He
had clearly been having a good time among the native mealies, and had
come for some liquid refreshment before returning to his feast. He did
not plunge into the water, but simply put his head down to it and began
to drink. After five minutes or so we noticed an appreciable fall in the
river. After a quarter of an hour great rocks in the river-bed began to
be disclosed. At the end of twenty minutes the broad stream had dwindled
away to a mere trickle of water among the stones. At the end of half an
hour we began to think that he had had as much as was good for him - we
wanted a kettleful of water for our tea - so I put an elephant cartridge
[‘577) into my rifle and aimed at the brute’s eye. He lifted up his head
out of pure curiosity, and perceiving that men with rifles were handy,
slouched off, grumbling like a professional agitator on being turned out
of a public house.

That hippopotamus was the only rival I ever knew to the old-school
journalist whose ways I can recall - only he was never known to taste
water. Like the man in one of H. J. Byron’s plays, he could absorb any
“given” - I use the word advisedly - any given quantity of liquor.

“Are you ever sober, my man?” I asked of him one day.

“I’m sober three times a day,” he replied huskily. “I’m sober now. This
is one of the times,” he added mournfully.

“You were blind drunk this morning - I can swear to that,” said I.

“Oh, yes,” he replied promptly. “But what’se good of raking up the past,
sir? Let the dead past burits dead.” He took a step or two toward the
door, and then returned. He carefully brushed a speck of dust off the
rim of his hat. All such men wear the tallest of silk hats, and seem to
feel that they would be scandalised by the appearance of a speck of dust
on the nap. “D’ye know that I can take three crops out of myself in the
day?” he inquired blandly.

“Three crops?”

“Three crops - I said so, of drunk. I rise in morn’n, - drunk before
twelve; sleep it off by two, and drunk again by five; sleep it off by
eight - do my work and go to bed drunk at two a.m. You haven’t such a
thing as half-a-crown about you, sir? I left my purse on the grand piano
before I came out.”

I was under the impression that this particular man was dead years ago;
and I was thus greatly surprised when, on jumping on a tramcar in a
manufacturing town in Yorkshire quite recently, I recognised my old
friend in a man who had just awakened in a corner, and was endeavouring
to attract the attention of the conductor. When, after much incipient
whistling and waving of his arms, he succeeded in drawing the conductor
to his side, he inquired if the car was anywhere near the Wilfrid Lawson
Temperance Hotel.

“I’ll let you down when we come to it,” said the conductor.

“Do,” said the other in his old husky tones.

“Lemme down at the Wellfed Laws Tenpence Otell.”

In another minute he was fast asleep as before.

*****

At present no penal consequences follow any one who calls himself a
literary man. It is taken for granted, I suppose, that the crime brings
its own punishment.

One of the most depressing books that any one straying through the
King’s Highway of literature could read is Mr. George Gissing’s “The New
Grub Street.” What makes it all the more depressing is the fact of its
carrying conviction with it to all readers. Every one must feel that
the squalor described in this book has a real existence. The only
consolation that any one engaged in a branch of literature can have on
reading “The New Grub Street,” comes from the reflection that not one of
the poor wretches described in its pages had the least aptitude for the
business.

In a town of moderate size in which I lived, there were forty men and
women who described themselves for directory purposes as “novelists.”
Not one of them had ever published a volume; but still they all
believed themselves to be novelists. There are thousands of men who
call themselves journalists even now, but who are utterly incapable of
writing a decent “par.” I have known many such men. The most incompetent
invariably become dissatisfied with life in the provinces, and hurry
off to London, having previously borrowed their train fare. I constantly
stumble upon provincial failures in London. Sometimes on the Embankment
I literally stumble upon them, for I have found them lying in shady
nooks there trying to forget the world’s neglect in sleep.

Why on earth such men take to journalism has always been a mystery to
me. If they had the least aptitude for it they would be earning money by
journalism instead of trying to borrow half-crowns as journalists.

*****

I knew of one who, several years ago, migrated to London. For a long
time I heard nothing about him; but one night a friend of mine mentioned
his name, and asked me if I had ever known him.

“The fact is,” said he, “I had rather a curious experience of him a few
months ago.”

“You were by no means an exception to the general run of people who have
ever come in contact with him,” said I. “What was your experience?”

“Well,” replied he, “I came across him casually one night, and as he


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