James Bryce Bryce.

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was, to a degree most unusual among men of real
power, absolutely indifferent, not only to fame, but
to opportunities for exercising power or influence.
The stoicism which he sought to form in his
pupils was inculcated by his own example. It

Edward Bowen 361

was a genial and cheerful stoicism, which checked
neither his affection for them nor his brightness
in society, and which permitted him to draw as
much enjoyment from small things as most
people can from great ones. But if he had
the gaiety of an Irishman, he had a double portion
of English reserve. He never gave expression
in words to his emotions. He never seemed
either elated or depressed. He never lost his
temper and never seemed to be curbing it. His
tastes and way of life were simple to the verge of
austerity ; nor did he appear to desire anything
more than what he had obtained.

It is natural possibly foolish, yet almost
inevitable that those who perceive in a friend
the presence of rare and brilliant gifts should
desire that his gifts should not only be turned
to full account for the world's benefit, but
should become so known and appreciated as
to make others admire and value what they
admire and value. When such a man prefers to
live his life in his own way, and do the plain
duties that lie near him, with no thought of
anything further, they feel, though they may try
to repress, a kind of disappointment, as though
greatness or virtue had missed its mark because
known to few besides themselves. Vet there is
a sense in which that friend is most our own who
has least belonged to the world, who has least
cared for what the world has to offer, who has

362 Biographical Studies

chosen the simplest and purest pleasures, who
has rendered the service that his way of life
required with no longing for any wider theatre
or any applause to be there won. Is there indeed
anything more beautiful than a life of quiet self-
sufficing yet beneficent serenity, such as the
ancient philosophers inculcated, a life which is
now more rarely than ever led by men of shining
gifts, because the inducements to bring such gifts
into the dusty thoroughfares of the world have
grown more numerous ? Bowen had the best
equipment for a philosopher. He knew the things
that gave him pleasure, and sought no others. He
knew what he could do well. He followed his
own bent. His desires were few, and he could
gratify them all. He had made life exactly what
he wished it to be. Intensely as he enjoyed
travel, he never uttered a note of regret when the
beginning of a Harrow school term stopped a
journey at its most interesting point, so dearly
did he love his boys. What more can we desire
for our friends than this that in remembering
them there should be nothing to regret, that all
who came under their influence should feel them-
selves for ever thereafter the better for that in-
fluence, that a happy and peaceful life should be
crowned by a sudden and painless death ?


As with the progress of science new arts emerge
and new occupations and trades are created, so
with the progress of society professions pre-
viously unknown arise, evolve new types of
intellectual excellence, and supply a new theatre
for the display of peculiar and exceptional gifts.
Such a profession, such a type, and the type
which is perhaps most specially characteristic of
our times, is that of the Editor, It scarcely
existed before the French Revolution, and is, as
now fully developed, a product of the last eighty
years. Various are its forms. There is the
Business Editor, who runs his newspaper as a
great commercial undertaking, and may neither
care for politics nor attach himself to any political
party, America still recollects the familiar
example set by James Gordon Bennc-tt, the
founder of the N'civ York Herald. There is
the Selective Editor, who may never pen a line,
but shows his skill in gathering an able staff
round him, and in allotting to each of them the
work he can do best. Such an one was John
Douglas Cook, a man of slender cultivation


364. Biographical Studies

and few intellectual interests, but still remem-
bered in England by those who forty years
ago knew the staff of the Saturday Review,
then in its brilliant prime, as possessed of an
extraordinary instinct for the topics which caught
the public taste, and for the persons capable of
handling those topics. John T. Delane, of the
Times, had the same gift, with talents and
knowledge far surpassing Cook's. A third and
usually more interesting form is found in the
Editor who is himself an able writer, and who
imparts his own individuality to the journal he
directs. Such an one was Horace Greeley,
who, in the days before the War of Secession,
made the New York Tribune a power in
America. Such another, of finer natural quality,
was Michael Katkoff, who in his short career
did much to create and to develop the spirit
of nationality and imperialism in Russia thirty
years ago.

It was to this third form of the editorial pro-
fession that Mr. Godkin belonged. He is the
most remarkable example of it that has appeared
in our time^ perhaps, indeed, in any time since
the profession rose to importance ; and all the
more remarkable because he was never, like
Greeley or Katkoff, the exponent of any wide-
spread sentiment or potent movement, but was
frequently in opposition to the feeling for the
moment dominant.

E. L, Godkin 365

Edwin Lawrence Godkin, the son of a Pro-
testant clergyman and author, was born in the
county of Wicklow, in Ireland, in 1S31. Me
was educated at Queen's Collei^e, Belfast, read
for a short time for the Eno:lish bar, but drifted
into journalism by accepting the post of corre-
spondent to the London Daily News during the
Crimean War in 1853-54. The horror of war which
he retained through his life was due to the glimpse
of it he had in the Crimea. Soon afterwards he
went to America, was admitted to the bar in New
York, but never practised, spent some months in
travelling through the Southern States on horse-
back, learning thereby what slavery was, and
what its economic and social consequences, was
for two or three years a writer on the New York
Times, and ultimately, in 1865, established in
New York a weekly journal called the N^atioii.
This he continued to edit, writing most of it
himself, till 1881, when he accepted the editor-
ship of the Nezu York Eveninq- Post, an old and
respectable paper, but with no very large circula-
tion. The Nation continued to a[)pear, but be-
came practically a weekly edition ot the Ji^voii}!^
Post, or rather, as some one said, the Pveni)ig
Post became a daily edition of the N^ at ion, \.ox
the tone and spirit that had characterised the
iVf?/z'(??^ now pervaded the Post. In 1900 failing
health compelled him to retire from active work,
and in May 1902 he died in I^ngland. Journalism

366 Biographical Studies

left him little leisure for any other kind of literary
production ; but he wrote in early life a short
history of Hungary ; and a number of articles
which he had in later years contributed to the
Nation or to magazines were collected and pub-
lished in three volumes between 1895 and 1900.
They are clear and v/ise articles, specially in-
structive where they deal with the most recent
aspects of democracy. But as they convey a less
than adequate impression of the peculiar qualities
which established his fame, I pass on to the work
by which he will be remembered, his work as a
weekly and daily public writer.

He was well equipped for this career by
considerable experience of the world, by large
reading, for though not a learned man, he had
assimilated a great deal of knowledge on econo-
mical and historical subjects, and by a stock
of positive principles which he saw clearly and
held coherently. In philosophy and economics
he was a Utilitarian of the school of J. S.
Mill, and in politics what used to be called a
philosophical Radical, a Radical of the less
extreme type, free from sentiment and from
prejudices, but equally free from any desire to
destroy for the sake of destroying. Like the
other Utilitarians of those days, he was a
moderate optimist, expecting the world to grow
better steadily, though not swiftly ; and he went
to America in the belief that he should there find

E. L. Godkin 367

more progress secured, and more of further pro-
gress in prospect, than any European country
could show. It was the land of promise, in
which all the forces making for good on which
the school of Mill relied were to be found at
work, hampered only by the presence of slavery.
I note this fact, because it shows that the pessi-
mism of Mr. Godkin's later years was not due to a
naturally querulous or despondent temperament.

So too was his mind admirably fitted for the
career he had chosen. It was logical, penetrat-
ing, systematic, yet it was also quick and
nimble. His views were definite, not to say
dogmatic, and as they were confidently held,
so too they were confidently expressed. He
never struck a doubtful note. He never slurred
over a difficulty, nor sought, when he knew
himself ignorant, to cover up his ignorance.
Imagination was kept well in hand, for his con-
stant aim was to Q^et at and deal with the vital
facts of every case. If he was not original in the
way of thinking out doctrines distinctivelv his
own, nor in respect of any exuberance of ideas
bubbling up in the course of discussion, there was
fertilit)' as well as freshn(;ss in his application of
principles to current questions, and in th(; illustra-
tions by which he enforced his arguments.

As his thinking was exact, so his style was
clear-cut and trenchant. Even when he was
writing most swiftly, it never sank below a high

368 Biographical Studies

level of form and finish. Every word had its
use and every sentence told. There was no
doubt about his meaning, and just as little about
the strength of his convictions. He had a gift
for terse vivacious paragraphs commenting on
some event of the day or summing up the effect of
a speech or a debate. The touch was equally
light and firm. But if the manner was brisk, the
matter was solid : you admired the keenness of
the insight and the weight of the judgment just
as much as the brightness of the style. Much
of the brightness lay in the humour. That is a
plant which blossoms so much more profusely on
Transatlantic soil that English readers of the
Nation had usually a start of surprise when told
that this most humorous of American journalists
was not an American at all but a European,
and indeed a European who never became
thoroughly Americanised. It was humour of
a pungent and sarcastic quality, usually directed
to the detection of tricks or the exposure of
shams, but it was eminently mirth-provoking and
never malicious. Frequently it was ironical, and
the irony sometimes so fine as to be mistaken
for seriousness.

The Nation was from its very first numbers
so full of force, keenness, and knowledge, and so
unusually well written, that it made its way rapidly
amone the educated classes of the Eastern States.
It soon became a power, but a power of a new

E. L. Godkin 369

kind. Mr. Godkin wanted most of the talents
or interests of the ordinary journalist. He
gave no thought to the organisation of the
paper as a business undertaking. He scarcely
heeded circulation, either when his livelihood
depended upon the N'ation of which he was the
chief owner, or when he was associated with
others in the ownership of the Evciiiug Post.
He refused to allow any news he disapproved,
including all scandal and all society gossip, to
appear. He was prepared at any moment to
incur unpopularity from his subscribers, or even
to offend one half of his advertisers. He took
no pains to get news before other journals, and
cared nothing for those "beats" and "scoops" in
which the soul of the normal newspaper man
finds a legitimate source of pride. He was not
there, he would have said, to please either ad-
vertisers or subscribers, but to tell the American
people the truths they needed to hear, and if
those truths were distasteful, so much the more
needful was it to proclaim them. He was abso-
lutely independent not only of all personal but
ot all party ties. A public man was never
either praised or sufiered to escape censure be-
cause he was a private acquaintance. He once
told me that the being obliged to censure those
with whom he stood in personal relations was
the least agreeable feature of his profession.

Whether an act was done by the Republicans

2 r.

370 Biographical Studies

or by the Democrats made no difference to his
judgment, or to the severity with which his
judgment was expressed. His distrust of Mr.
James G. Blaine had led him to support Mr.
Cleveland at the election of 1884, and he con-
tinued to give a general approval to the latter
statesman during both his presidential terms. But
when Mr. Cleveland's Venezuelan message with
its menaces to England appeared in December
1895, Mr. Godkin vehemently denounced it, as
indeed he had frequently before blamed particular
acts of the Cleveland administrations. He some-
times voted for the Republicans, sometimes for
the Democrats, according to the merits of the
transitory issue or the particular candidate, but
after 1884 no one could have called him either a
Republican or a Democrat.

Independence of party is less rare among
American than among European newspapers ;
but courage such as Godkin's is rare every-
where. The editor of a century ago had in most
countries to fear press censorship, or the law of
political libel, or the frowns of the great. The
modern editor, delivered from these risks, is
exposed to the more insidious temptations of
financial influence, of social pressure, of the
fear of injuring the business interests of the
paper, which are now sometimes enormous.
Godkin's conscientiousness and pride made him
equally indifferent to influence and to threats. As

E. L. Godkin 371

some one said, you might as well have tried to
frighten the east wind. Clear, prompt, and self-
confident, judging everything by a high standard
of honour and public spirit, he distributed censure
with no regard either to the official position
or to the party affiliations of politicians. The
"Weekly Day of Judgment" was the title
bestowed upon the Nation by Charles Dudley
Warner, who himself admired it. As Godkin
expected or at least demanded righteousness
from every one, he was more a terror to evil-
doers than a praise to them that do well, and
the fact that, having no private ends to serve,
he thought only of truth and the public interest,
made him all the more stringent. Because
he was, and found it easy to be, fearless and in-
dependent, he scarcely allowed enough for the
timidity of others, and sometimes chastised the
weak as sternly as the wicked. An editor who
smites all the self-seekers and all the time-servers
whom he thinks worth smiting, is sure to be-
come a target for many arrows. But as Godkin
w^as an equally caustic critic of the sentimental
vagaries or economic heresies of well-meaning
men or sections of oj)inion, he incurred hostility
from quarters where the desire for honest adminis-
tration and the purity of public life was hardly
less strong than in the pages of the A^ at ion itself
Though he took no personal part in politics, never
appeared on platforms nor in any way put himself

372 Biographical Studies

forward, his paper was so markedly himself that
people talked of it as him. It was not "the
Nation says " or " the Post says," but " Godkin
says." Even his foreign birth was charged
against him a rare charge in a country so
tolerant and catholic as the United States, where
every office except that of President is open to
newcomers as freely as to the native born.

He was called "un-American," and I have
heard men who admired and read the Nation
nevertheless complain that they did not want
"to be taught by a European how to run this
Republic." True it is that he did not see things
or write about them quite as an American would
have done. But was this altogether a misfortune?
The Italian cities of the Middle Ages used to call
in a man of character and mark from some other
place and make him Podesta just because he stood
outside the family ties and the factions of the
city. Godkin's foreign education gave him de-
tachment and perspective. It never reduced his
ardour to see administration and public life in
America made worthy of the greatness of the
American people.

No journal could have maintained its circula-
tion and extended its influence in the face of so
much hostility except by commanding merits.
The merits of the Nation were incontestable.
It was the best weekly not only in America
but in the world. The editorials were models

E. L. Godkin 373

of style. The book reviews, many of them
in earlier days also written by Godkin himself,
were finished in point of form, and, when not
his own, came from the ablest specialist hands
in the country. The " current notes " of progress
in such subjects as geography, natural history,
and archaeology were instructive and accurate.
So it was that people had to read the iVa/ion
whether they liked it or not. It could not be
ignored. It was a necessity even where it was a

Yet neither the force of his reasoning nor
the brilliance of his style would have secured
Godkin's influence but for two other elements of
strength he possessed. One was the universal
belief in his disinterestedness and sincerity.
He was often charged with prejudice or bitter-
ness, but never with any sinister motive ; enemies
no less than friends resjjected him. The
other was his humour. An austere moralist
who is brimful of fun is rare in any country.
Relishing humour more than does any other
j)eople, the Americans could not be seriously
angry with a man who gave them so abundant a

To trace the course he took in the politics of
the United States since 1S60 would almost be
to outline the history of forty years, for then;
was no great issue in the discussion ot which
he did not bear a part. He was a strong

374 Biographical Studies

supporter of the Northern cause during the War
of Secession, and by his letters to the London
Daily News did something to enlighten English
readers. When the problems of reconstruction
emerged after the war, he suggested lines of
action more moderate than those followed by
the Republican leaders, and during many subse-
quent years denounced the "carpet-baggers," and
advocated the policy of restoring self-govern-
ment to the Southern States and withdrawing
Federal troops. Incensed at the corruption of
some of the men who surrounded President
Grant during his first term, he opposed Grant's
re-election, as did nearly all the reformers of
those days. By this time he had begun to attack
the "spoils system," and to demand a reform of
the civil service, and he had also become engaged
in that campaign against the Tammany organisa-
tion in New York City which he maintained
with unabated eneigy till the end of his editorial
career.^ In 1884 he led the opposition to the
candidacy of Mr. Blaine for President, and it was
mainly the persistency with which the Evening
Post set forth the accusations brought against
that statesman that secured his defeat in New
York State, and therewith his defeat in the
election. It was on this occasion that the nick-

^ The Tammany leaders had him repeatedly arrested, once on a
Sunday morning (that being the day on which it was least easy to tind
bail) for alleged criminal libels upon them. These prosecutions, threatened
in the hope of intimidating him, never went further.

E. L. Godkin 375

name of Mugwump^ was first applied to Mr.
Godkin by the ablest of his antagonists in the
press, Mr. Dana of the New York Sun, a title
before long extended to the Independents whom
the Post led, and who constituted, during the
next ten or twelve years, a section of opinion
important, if not by its numbers, yet by the
intellectual and moral weight of the men who
composed it. When currency questions became
prominent, Mr. Godkin was a strong opponent
of bimetallism and of " silverism " in all its
forms, and a not less strenuous opponent of all
socialistic theories and movements. It need
hardly be added that he had always been an
upholder of the principles ot Free Trade. Like
a sound Cobdenite, he was an advocate of
peace, and disliked territorial extension. He
opposed President Grant's scheme tor the acqui-
sition of San Domingo, as he afterwards opposed
the annexation of Hawaii. His close study of
Irish history, and his old faith in the principle of
nationality, had made him a strenuous acUocate ot
Home Rule for Ireland. But no one was tarther
than he from sharing the feelings of the Ameri-
can Irish towards England. He condemned the
threats addressed in 1S95 to Great Ikitain over
the Venezuela question ; and glad as he was 10

' A Mul;\vuiii[) is in the Al,L;'>n<juia tonL;ut; p.n ni;c'l cl;icl .^r u.^c n'..iii,
and the name was meant to ri.iiculc tlie cv i\-.cki\ii\: manner ascri' d t >
the Evenitii: Post.

376 Biographical Studies

see that question settled by England's accept-
ance of an arbitration which she had previously
denied the right of the United States to
demand, he held that England must beware of
yielding too readily to pressure from the United
States, because such compliance would encourage
that aggressive spirit in the latter whose con-
sequences for both countries he feared. Never,
perhaps, did he incur so much obloquy as in
defending, almost single-handed, the British posi-
tion in the Venezuelan affair. The attacks made
all over the country on the Evening Post were,
he used to say, like storms of hail lashing against
his windows. At the very end of his career, he
resisted the war with Spain and the annexation
of the Philippine Islands, deeming the acquisi-
tion of trans- Oceanic territories, inhabited by
inferior races, a dangerous new departure, opposed
to the traditions of the Fathers of the Republic,
and inconsistent with the principles on which the
Republic was founded. No public writer has left
a more consistent record.

In private life Mr. Godkin was a faithful
friend and a charming companion, genial as well
as witty, considerate of others, and liked no less
than admired by his staff on \}[\& Evening Post, with
a deep-lying vein of sentiment which he seldom
suffered to appear, free from cynicism, and more
indulgent in his views of human nature than might
have been gathered from his public utterances. He

E. L. Godkin 377

never despaired of democratic government, yet his
spirits had been damped by the faint fulfilment
of those hopes for the progress of free nations,
and especially of the United States, which
had illumined his youth. The slow advance
of economic truths, the evils produced by
the increase of wealth, the Qrrowth of what he
called "chromo-civilisation," the indifference of
the rich and educated to politics, the want of
nerve among politicians, the excitability of the
masses, the tenacity with which corruption and
misgovernment held their ground, in spite of
repeated exposures, in cities like New York,
Philadelphia, and Chicago all these things had
so sunk into his soul that it became hard to in-
duce him to look at the other side, and to appre-
ciate the splendid recuperative forces which are
at work in America. Thus his friends were
driven to that melancholy form of comfort which
consists in pointing out that other countries are
no better. They argued that Kngkmd in par-
ticular, to which he had continued to look as the
home of political morality and enlightened State
wisdom, was suffering from evils, not inde(;d the
same as those which in his judgment altlicted
America, but equally serious. They batle him
reniember that moral progress is not continuous,
but subject to ebbs of reaction, and that America
is a country of which one should never despair,
because in it evils have often before worked out

37^ Biographical Studies

their cure. He did regretfully own, after his
latest visits to Europe, that England had sadly-
declined from the England of his earlier days,
and he admitted that the clouds under which his
own path had latterly lain might after a time be
scattered by a burst of sunshine ; but his hopes for
the near future of America were not brightened by
these reflections. Sometimes he seemed to feel
though of his own work he never spoke as
though he had laboured in vain for forty years.

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 22 of 29)