Edward Everett Hale.

We, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day online

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York, in Boston, in Philadelphia, or in London,
one thousand times stronger than his ancestor
was in 1802. Do we really mean to sulk off
and eat ice cream and drink soda water ? Do we
mean to satisfy ourselves with playing ping-pong
and tennis ? No, we do not mean any such tom-
foolery. We have four or five great enterprises
before us now, and we mean to take them up and
carry them on.

For us in America the visible, palpable, prac-



tical, matter-of-course thing is to build our four-
track railway from the south end of Hudson's
Bay to the south end of South America. We
have timidly found out that this is our business,
and we have been fiddling about it and fuddling
about it and talking about it since Mr. Elaine's
Pan-American congress in Washington in the
year 1889. The American powers then appoint-
ed the proper commissioners to make the report
on the North and South railroad which should
extend from Canada to Patagonia. This re-
port in many volumes with many maps is now
at last finished, and the questions are frankly
attacked and wisely considered. Our business
now is to take hold and do this thing. This rail-
road is to be built not by Wall Street, not by
watered bonds, not by any kite-flying, balloon
making; it is to be built by the great American
powers the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Chile,
and the Argentine, and the lesser powers will
chip in enough to be able to say in a few centuries
that they had their share in it.

As I said, it will be a four-track railway, laid
with the heaviest metal, in the best way. It
will have the. best equipment possible that is
to say, American equipment, provided with the
best skill of the engineers. The engineers will be
appointed by the different governments, and this



means that very largely they will be chosen from
the accomplished staff of men who have bridged
the great rivers of the world and have built the
great railways of the world.

When this railway is finished Mrs. Welken-
bloumite may tell William to drive her from her
palace uptown to the station; she may go into
her private parlor car with white satin slippers
on, and she may ride to the City of Mexico, to
the city of Guatemala, to Lima, to Rio Janeiro,
or to the city of Buenos Ayres without having
left the car.

Or if Annie Moriarty, who has had that nasty
little cough ever since she caught cold last Sep-
tember, wants to go to the most perfect table-
land in the world, and her father has twenty
dollars to send her, he can send her to the up-
lands of central Mexico. And she will get well
and be a happy woman for the rest of her life.
Or if our Alabama friends of the white persua-
sion are really sick of the company of our other
friends of the black persuasion, our friends of
the black persuasion can pack up their things and
settle themselves in the valley of the Amazon,
which, according to a distinguished English
traveller, is going to be the centre of the civiliza-
tion of the world before a hundred years more
have gone by.




WHOEVER looks at Benjamin Frank-
lin's newspaper, or the Mercurio,
or an early Sentinel, sees at once
that the old newspaper, as it was
called, was as different from the newspaper of
to-day as a pterodactyl monster of diluvian ages

is different from a belle at Mrs. R 's party.

First, what was called news was always old.
Second, the statement was generally wrong.
Third, the newspaper had virtually no effect
whatever upon the course of public opinion.

The truth is that with the telegram we
changed everything. No man can be said now
to live in the city of New York or the city of
London as Peter Stuyvesant lived in New York
or as Daniel DeFoe lived in London. A man
of large affairs is perhaps in closer touch with his
correspondent in St. Petersburg or Calcutta than
he is with his own family uptown. And he is
really not simply a citizen of the city in the old
sense; he is a citizen of the world.

This change has made necessary a change in
the journalism of the world which is certain to
show itself more and more visibly, as we are
proud to say it already shows itself in the world's
leading journals. A New York journal which


governs itself by the traditions or the customs
of 1880 is now simply provincial. The Cran-
berry Centre Gazette may be satisfied with say-
ing that Miss Goodchild gave a doll party in
Lovers' Lane. But the business of an American
journal is, as our readers well know, to tell from
day to day what has happened in the villages
or in the cities of every latitude and longitude.
It is, indeed, almost as easy for the American
Journal to give an account of a fire in the business
part of San Francisco as to describe such a fire
in William Street or Wall Street.

The change in journalism shows itself as well
in the cosmopolitan character of the opinions
which a great journal expresses. These are no
longer confined to the local politics of Cranberry
Centre or Little Peddlington, of Ispahan, of
Edinburgh, or of London, or of New York.
What men have a right to consider now is the
public opinion of the world, and the newspaper
is to reflect not simply the impression of the two
or three people who may be the "we" of the
London Times as late as 1890. The daily jour-
nal of the twentieth century brings into the con-
versation of breakfast or of dinner the daily
opinion of mankind.

At the time when the late Mr. Allen Thorndike
Rice died, in consequence of a misfortune greatly



to be regretted, he had proposed to himself the
publication of a journal in New York, in San
Francisco, and in Chicago, which should be al-
most alike for every city, so far as news columns
and the columns of instruction and education
were concerned. But the Chicago issue would
contain Chicago advertisements, the New York
issue would contain those of New York, and the
San Francisco issue would contain those of the
Pacific. The news, he said, if properly stated,
was the same for all, a battle at Caracas, a
canal across the isthmus, the fortunes of the
Philippines; the Chicago merchant wanted to
read what the New York merchant wanted to
read, and there was a certain satisfaction to each
reader to know that he was in the same boat with
his brother or his correspondent on the other side
of the world.

As for the expression of opinion, Mr. Rice
would say the readers had a right to the opinion
of the men in whom the country had put confi-
dence. When he made the forecast for his
twentieth century daily, his proposal was that
the senators of the United States should write
the leading articles, or their share of them. In
that way, he said, the reader would know that
he was near the centre of the executive action,
and that he was taken into the confidence of the
leaders of the majority.

[ 102]



THE old-fashioned reader will not know
what the words "space writing" mean.
If he be a very old-fashioned reader,
he will know what the words penny-
a-liner mean.

Space writing makes the world more trouble
than the world at large knows. The newspaper
editors find it a convenience at the moment, but
for the real purpose of journalism and for the
real interest of the readers of daily newspapers
space writing is a great nuisance.

It first appeared in the arrangements of Eng-
lish printing-offices very early after the publica-
tion of newspapers. I suppose that even Daniel
DeFoe had occasion from time to time to furnish
copy which would now be called space writing
in the office of one or another London journal.
I suppose that that mysterious person, Roger
L'Estrange, who is said to have been the first of
editors, may have engaged some of the most
ignorant and some of the most brilliant men of
his time, and permitted them to do space writing
for his journal. But this name is quite modern.
It belongs to the present generation.

A hundred years ago the hangers-on in the
journalistic end of London who furnished the

[ 103]


sort of copy now known as space writing were
called penny-a-liners. Eventually, the price
paid to them was raised to a penny and a half a
line. But the name still continued, and would
have been understood among journalists for the
first three-quarters of the last century. The
penny-a-liner was probably a man who knew
nothing on any subject, and cared less. But he
was able, or thought he was able, to pick up from
day to day something which would at least fill
up the end of a column in a newspaper. Or, if
he had good luck, he might awaken a momen-
tary spasm in the jaded heart of the average
newspaper reader. The penny-a-liner got out
of bed in the morning quite ignorant of what he
was to write upon that day. And if by good
luck, coming through some narrow court or wynd
in some of the out-of-the-way streets, he saw a
French emigrant escaping from his creditor, or
saw a woman lifted out of a window by a fireman
who took her down a ladder, the penny-a-liner
wrote the incident up as well as he could, and
carried it rapidly to the Morning Chronicle or
the London Times or other journal, in the hope
that no one else had seen the incident, and yet
that he had given it importance enough to inter-
est the editor. If he and the editor had drunk
beer together in the same tap-room, this gave
[ 104]


him a sort of claim. If the editor was lazy that
day or he wanted to take his nearest friends to
see the lions, and therefore wanted to fill up his
empty columns as well as he could, that was good
luck. The editor took the penny-a-liner's copy.
As matter of conscience, he scratched out half
of it. The cashier in the counting-room next
took it, counting the number of lines which had
been spared. And the poor creature was paid a
penny originally, and afterward six farthings for
each line that passed criticism.

Sometimes no woman was saved from a win-
dow, sometimes no French emigrant escaped
from his landlord, the heavens were blue above,
the Thames rose to the right point at high tide,
and then the penny-a-liner, if he were to have
any dinner, had to fall back upon his own re-
sources. These were very limited. Old news-
paper men will recollect one or two of the skel-
etons which, from time to time, had fresh skins
put upon them, that they might parade. One
of the jokes of newspaper offices, when I was a
boy, was the reappearance every two years of the
following paragraph :

"It is not generally known why pawnbrokers
have for their signs three golden balls. The
reader will be interested when he learns that
these balls originally represented pills, that the



three gold pills were the cognizance of the house
of Medici, whose connection with pills is indi-
cated by their celebrated name. The business of
pawnbrokers was invented in the palmy days of
Florentine commerce, and with the armorial
bearings of the Medici it has gone over the civil-
ized world. Many a poor fellow, therefore,
receives a shilling for his watch or for his pencil-
case, who never heard of the great Lorenzo or
any other Medici of his time."

According as the office editor was old or
young, this paragraph or something like it,
longer or shorter, would slip into the journals
about once in two years. It is not yet dead. I
have seen it since 1890 in one or other of our
Boston journals. Another of the penny-a-liner's
stock in trade was the question who was the
author of "God tempers the wind to the shorn
lamb." Yet another was the authorship of
Braham's song, "Though Lost to Sight, to Mem-
ory Dear."

Now, unlearned readers do not know what
people connected with the press do know: that,
under a requisition of the printing art, there must
be precisely so many square inches on each page
of each journal. You cannot use more square
inches on the day when London has been burned
down. You cannot use less on a day when Lon-



don has not been burned down. You must pre-
tend every day that that day is as important as
the day before.

As journalism improved in London, which
always struck the keynote for newspapers in the
English language, the race of the old penny-a-
liners died out. In this country, in those earlier
days, he never got any foothold. And, as jour-
nalism came to its best in America, such people
would hardly have been tolerated in a well-con-
ducted office. The theory of a great journal
forty years ago was that it had a competent edi-
tor who could judge of what was important in
the world and what was not important. This
editor had a circle of friends who had his confi-
dence and the confidence of the public, to whom
on each occasion he could refer a subject of
which he was not himself informed. If an
eclipse were to take place on a given morning,
the first astronomer in that region furnished for
that journal the information, curious or essential,
which it was desirable that the readers of the
journal should read. If a new bill were intro-
duced in the legislature, some person who under-
stood that subject was invited to furnish for the
readers of that journal what was necessary for
their opinions. The newspaper was considered
successful or not according as its staff was select-
[ 107]


ed of well-informed persons or no. The writer
naturally and properly took the plural number
in which to speak "We suppose this or that"
instead of volunteering a mere personal opinion.
I am not sure whether I am right ; but I suppose
that the revolution of this business in America
began with the elder Bennett, the inventor and
publisher of the New York Herald. A gentle-
man who met Bennett on the piazza of Congress
Hall, the famous hotel at Saratoga, half a cen-
tury ago, said to him, "What is the secret of a
great newspaper, Mr. Bennett?" To which
Bennett replied with an oath or two, "To make a
great row about something every day." Whether
Bennett originated this custom or not, it is the
custom of to-day. We do not expect any per-
spective in our journals. The editor does not
seek any. The instructions for him are that
that given number of the journal in his reader's
hands shall affect to be the most important in
history. If one crazy woman is suspected of
having put poison in the teacup of another crazy
woman, these two crazy women must be repre-
sented that day as being the most important per-
sons in the world. Readers at a distance must
suppose that the particular street in the particular
suburb where these two crazy women reside is
the most important place in the world. You



must not bother your head about improvement
in science, about advance in discovery unless it
is news unless it is news of that character which
stimulates jaded readers.

The old line who read their newspapers every
morning, they can be trusted. But what that
given newspaper on that given day has to do is
to keep up the circulation of the day before, and,
if possible, to enlarge it. The old penny-a-liner,
therefore, has been born again. The class of
men, and, one is sorry to say, of women, who
wake up in the morning ignorant and careless
of all subjects, but who have their living to make
before night, has been created in the larger cities.
The old stager recognizes their work. Once in
two years he sees the three balls come round
again. Once in twenty years he is called upon
to inquire about "Lost to Sight, to Memory
Dear." The general office editor is compara-
tively a young man. He comes to know people
who write a good hand and who do not write a
good hand ; he comes to know people who under-
stand the average taste of the community; he
comes to know what sort of writers get him into
scrapes and what sort of writers do not. And
thus gradually it happens that about the fifth
part of the "matter," happily so called, in the
leading journals, is made up of work of the
[ 109]

"space writer." He starts on the morning as
the old penny-a-liner did. If there is a good
snow-storm, and two cars are blocked, in one
of which he is, possibly, that incident can be writ-
ten up into something as important as the battle
of Waterloo. If he is really a master of his
craft, it is. For this, however, it is best if he
has never heard of the battle of Waterloo.

In fact, the moment the space writer knows
anything on any subject, he is, from the nature
of the case, so far unfitted for the profession
which he has chosen. For his business is not
with yesterday: it is with to-day. He really wants
to say that the speech that he has heard is the
most remarkable speech which was ever deliv-
ered. He does not want to know anything about
Demosthenes or Cicero or Lord Chatham or
Mr. Sumner. So far as his work is concerned,
it is better that he should not. Unfortunately,
it happens that the counting-rooms, which con-
duct the leading journals, have taken the impres-
sion that their journals must talk about every-
thing. There is a class of special journals, of
which the great daily newspaper knows nothing,
and which it is very desirous not to imitate, such
as the Banker's Journal, devoted to the specialty
of banking; such as the Wheelwright's Journal,
devoted to the specialty of wheels; such as the


liquor men's journal or the coal men's journal.
But the theory of the first-class daily is that it
must deal with everything that is "newsy."
This, of course, involves the necessity of employ-
ing a very large number of space writers. The
number is so large that it is really impossible to
pay them more than the money which will keep
them alive from one week to another.

The necessity of the space writer is to know
nothing on any subject, and it happens, unfortu-
nately, that the necessity of the counting-room is
the same. If Mr. Kipling or Mr. Haggard or
Mr. Davis undertook the profession of the space
writer, he would very soon find that he knew
too much for his business. The night editor
does not want to have discussions about the style
of Addison or Steele, he does not care whether
Julius Caesar were a friend of the people or a
friend of the aristocracy. For the space writer
as for the night editor, and for the supposed pub-
lic which buys the journal, it would have been
better had no such persons ever existed as Julius
Caesar and Mr. Steele and Mr. Addison.

It is perhaps not necessary to say all this in
this column; but this column will reach the eye
of a good many humble people who at the end
of a week are stunned, I do not say annoyed,
but troubled, because they find they have read


the newspaper for a week and that at the end of
that time, while they are quite well informed on
a great many important topics, they are not quite
so wise as they were when the week began. In
a weekly journal we can say what I could not
say if I were writing as a space writer on a daily
journal, that the correction of follies, faults, and
failures of the space writer is to be found in the
weekly newspaper. The weekly newspaper has
no excuse whatever for employing him. He
must go with his ephemeral "matter" to the office
of some journal which wishes to be ephemeral
itself. "The newspaper is not history." That
is a very fine remark, because singularly true,
a remark by which one of the great editors of
to-day described the daily journal of to-day.

The real remedy will come when some truly
great journalist corrects the absurd mistake
which leads every daily newspaper to undertake
everything. This great journalist will under-
stand that a staff of only twenty intelligent and
accomplished writers is better than a floating
staff of a hundred boys and girls who are not
intelligent and are not accomplished.




THE Washington people have invented
what may be called a motto for their

They say when a man moves into
Washington with his family, and buys or builds
a handsome house on one of the A, B, C streets
or one of the avenues, the Washington question
is, "What can he do?"

This is their cap to the old joke which pretends
that in Boston we ask of a visitor, "What does
he know?" or in New York we ask, "What is
he worth?" In Philadelphia we ask, "Who
was his grandfather?" and in many cities, alas,
"Where is he going?"

Washington deserves the credit of its own
joke, which gives quite a good idea of the city
and its life. "Who is that man?" "Oh, he is
So-and-so, who makes anvils when he is at home.
Your horse was shod with a shoe that was made
on one of So-and-so's anvils."

"Who is that?" "Oh, he is the man who
ordered his men to breakfast, and when they had
had their mocha and shredded wheat he told
them to sink a Spanish fleet, and they sank it."

"Who is that ?" "Oh, he is the fiftieth paral-
lel man; you know they opened up the Monon-
gahela." [113]


"Well, that man, there, crossing the street?"

"Oh, he corrected the longitude of the world.
There is not a civilized nation but had to correct
its charts by his longitude."

"Who is that man getting into his cab?"

"Oh, he is one of two or three American
members of the French Institute. He will go
there some day on his wings."

People speak as if Washington were a nest of
wire-pullers, trying to get themselves into con-
sulships at Caracas or Sierra Leone. Of course
there are such people; but then, there are a few
flies in the summer dining parlor at Sherry's!

There is another queer superstition about
Washington. It is that members of Congress
have a very soft time and are lazy loafers.

The truth is that almost all of them are among
the hardest worked men in the world. Just
think of it. A member of Congress has on his
conscience, and more or less on his mind, the af-
fairs of a nation extending from ocean to ocean.
He must be in his place at committees, or in the
House or Senate, and vote as he thinks right at
the right moment. This means that he must
somehow make up his mind on this, that, and
another bill. Three thousand, one hundred and
two House Bill was the last that happened to be
sent to me for my opinion.


Besides all this, the poor fellow has to attend
to the letters and the wishes of nearly three hun-
dred thousand people who are in his district. I
do not know that I ever saw my member of Con-
gress. I do know that I have voted against him
when I have had a chance. All the same, when
I need a document which has been printed for my
information and use, if I need it, I write to this
gentleman, and he or one of his clerks answers
my letter.

Now, the people are not fools. Say what the
grumbler pleases, the people do not send three
hundred imbecile rascals as their representatives
in the greatest council in the world. The men
who are sent to Congress are inevitably men of
great ability in one line or another. More than
this, they are men who have been trained to
business and have the promptness and energy
of that training.

The English House of Commons has one
member for every sixty-one thousand inhabitants
of Great Britain and Ireland. The American
House of Representatives has about one member
for every one hundred and seventy-three thou-
sand people. It is fair to say that the responsi-
bilities of each member of the House of Repre-
sentatives is three times as great as that of each
member of the House of Commons.


In fifty years I have never seen any American
Congress which for ability, for the power of put-
ting things through and of putting a great many
things through, was not far in advance of any
House of Commons for the same time.

Here are some of the reasons why Washing-
ton is so attractive a place, whether in the session
of Congress or out of it. "Man is the nobler
growth our realms supply." And it is a very
good thing to go somewhere where you can see
first-rate men.


WARREN BURTON, who was the
author of "The District School
as It Was," was at one time
the chaplain of the Worcester
House of Correction.

He came one day to the meeting of the
Worcester County Association of Ministers, and
called to the attention of all the gentlemen pres-
ent a duty of the first importance. It represented
fifteen or more different parishes of Worcester
County. He wanted us to promise that the next
Monday every man of us should take his horse
and wagon and go on a visitation to the outlying
corners of the township, to the huts or houses


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Online LibraryEdward Everett HaleWe, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day → online text (page 6 of 15)