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the filth of the streets was swept in to be judged. "Thirty dollars! Thirty days! Thirty days! Thirty days!" Flocks of white, mottled faces, hard, tired, despairing, gay! Again, the girl didn't know what it was all about, but she remembers clearly one incident. A court attendant, with years of gross experience, fat, worldly wise, sat beside her. "They look so tired!" said the girl reporter. "Aw well, they get their money!" he threw back. She swung around at him, looked at him with those great dark eyes, and scarcely knowing why she said it, snapped out, "Well, I guess they earn it!”
Now Miss Ferber read O. Henry and "The Saturday Evening Post". Miriam Michelson's "A Yellow Journalist" was running as a serial. It was the story of a girl reporter.
"I dramatized myself as its heroine", says Miss Ferber. "I hung around the office waiting for assignments. I wrote and wrote night and day!"
Before her, on the "Journal", had been Zona Gale, whose name was whispered as that of a goddess, the beautiful young lady who had gone east to New York and had stormed that stern citadel with success. One day, in pink flounces and a picture hat, Miss Gale came to pay a visit to her old office. Miss Ferber, banging away at her typewriter, did not meet her; but she overheard a conversation at the next desk which had a vital bearing on later events.
"If you want to write, and then want to sell what you've written," asked someone of the successful Miss Gale, "what do you do with it?"
"Send it to an agent", replied Miss Gale, mentioning the name.
Then one day, overstrung in nerve and overreaching in ambition, the girl reporter fainted away. The strain was too much. She went home for a two
weeks' rest and stayed there. Yet even in the midst of a breakdown she could not be idle. She went out, bought herself a second hand typewriter for seventeen dollars, and started writing her first novel.
"I always work from a character", she will tell you now, and it was from her own experiences as a reporter that she fashioned her first novel "Dawn O'Hara". She held it of little importance, but her mother convinced her that it was worth a try. How did one sell a novel? What did one do with a thing when it was written? She remembered Zona Gale. She wrote her. "What was the name of the person to whom one sends things when they are written?" she asked. "It was a funny name, something to do with flowers."
It turned out to be Flora May Holly, and to Miss Holly went the first manuscript, which was promptly sold to Frederick A. Stokes for book publication. Before it appeared, however, she had turned to the short story; and from the start her tales were excellent in form and content. Turn to "Buttered Side Down" and you will find the first one, "The Homely Heroine". It was a good story. It still is! She wrote it in the shed at the side of her home, a shed that she remembers well, with trees brushing against it outside, and spiders, plenty of them, within. Her father had died, and they were selling furniture and household effects preparatory to moving to Chicago.
"How much is this beautiful almost brand new bedstead?"
Rattle-rattle-rattle on the typewriter. "Why, this table cloth is spotless and of very good quality!"
accepted. She remembers seeing her mother coming up the street waving the letter with the check in it. Sixty five dollars! She was grieved. It had been a good story. That wasn't enough. The next one went to "The American Magazine". A hundred dollars. That was better!
From then on, if writing is ever easy, it was easy for Miss Ferber. She discovered Emma McChesney. When she wrote her first story of a woman salesman, she had no idea of the proportions the character would take. This ideal of the modern business woman took the public fancy. All the magazines wanted Emma. For a time many of them had her. Yet the real turning point in Miss Ferber's career was perhaps the moment when she refused to sign a long contract with the "Cosmopolitan" for more and more and more again of Emma. Her whole career has been characterized by this effort not to become artistically stagnant, to do better and better work. She surveys everything she does with a coldly appraising glance, although I know that she loves the things she writes dearly. In each of her collected volumes of stories she has advanced. "The Girls", while in some ways a better book than "So Big", hasn't the deep emotional quality, the peculiarly accurate understanding, that make Selina an unforgetable character.
When she had finished "So Big" she thought it a failure.
She was overcome with a sense of inferiority, so much so that she did not know whether she should publish it at all. Her publishers reassured her, and the critics were not far behind, then the public added its unflagging approval.
How does she write? Since she has moved from Chicago to New York she has taken a studio, where she goes every morning.
"Do you like to have people telephone you at your studio?" I heard a friend ask.
"Do I like to have them?" she laughed, with one of her amazing dramatic gestures. "I sit there longing and longing for someone to call."
Yet that is not really true. She, like all other writers worth their salt, suffers while she writes, wonders, works, wonders again. Is it good? Is it bad? Why do I go on writing when it is so hard? Yet they go on, and it is good, just as long as they feel that way about it and, I think, only that long. When it has become easy, the flame dies.
Miss Ferber works direct on a typewriter. How otherwise, after those six years of newspaper work? A first draft, random collection of notes and incidents centring around a character; a second, nearer story form; and a third with the polishing accomplished.
When I saw her last she was deeply engrossed in the composition of her new novel of Chicago. I have watched many actresses during rehearsal periods; they are nervous, alternately despairing and elated. Likewise Miss Ferber.
These characters of hers, from where do they spring? They are largely intuitive, she will tell you. "I have never known a Selina. I have never been to the Haymarket in Chicago at night. It was one of the things I always intended to do and never did." Yet how real the scene where Selina takes her vegetables to market! Besides, Miss Ferber's a member of the Market Association of America, and that proves the truth of her background, doesn't it? Like many creative artists she has the power of sympathetic and acquisitive imagination. Masefield saw a fox hunt, once, and he has written a poem, "Reynard the Fox", which experts say is the greatest
written account of an age old sport. What to study? What to know? What to write? It is a question, in the end, of being, not of knowing!
"Isn't it a pity", said Miss Ferber, who is after all one of the youngest of our very successful women writers, "that, after we reach old age and are just beginning to know a craft, just able to write of life fully, we must be cut off? It would be so wonderful if we could begin over again, learn another craft; say, 'I have been a writer, now I will learn to act!""
Her plays have not really satisfied her longing for the theatre, although both "Our Mrs. McChesney", written with George V. Hobart, and "Minick", written with George S. Kaufman, have been successful. She is still the girl who dreams of being an actress. After an evening in which she has told you of how she learned to write, or as she will undoubtedly put it is learning, she still says, "I have always wanted to be an actress. I am no writer at all!"
And she would have been a fine actress, just as she is a fine writer.
ON THE TRAIL OF MR. TRAIN
By George W. Alger
HAVE been asked to reply to Arthur Train's valedictory to the Bar. In the first place, he may rest assured that the 14,999 lawyers more or less remaining in practice in the City of New York have no heart burning over his announced abandonment of our profession. Even the disappearance of so gifted a person as Mr. Train will make no appreciable change in the great City. I am rather afraid that clients must have hesitated to bring to him legal problems having no exciting human interest and with no literary possibilities. It might well be that the average litigant or client in trouble over a lease might prefer a non-literary lawyer.
The fact that he has left us, therefore, is not distressing, for one lawyer more or less makes relatively little difference. His reasons for retiring to the pursuit of literature are, however, more interesting.
I disregard the frequent Biblical quotations with which his jeremiad upon law as a profession is profusely entwined. I do not infer that he has "got religion". I assume that these apt quotations are due not to penitence but rather to the chance possession of Cruden's "Concordance of the Holy Scriptures", and that his agile and versatile mind has found a use for all the citations in the good book under the word "Law" which seem to cast a slur upon law as a form of bondage of the spirit. It would, however, be equally easy for me to fill my paper from the same source with quotations which might make him repent his valedictory.
The good book says somewhere, for example, that "the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul", or something to that effect. The main trouble with Mr. Train is that he apparently became interested in the wrong law.
Let us take up, therefore, the various charges he makes against law as a profession. His principal grievance, I take it, is that he thinks it has cramped his style. Those of us who read his law stories with pleasure could fairly enter a general denial and set up a counter claim of gross ingratitude. The law has furnished his literary material and the bread of his living for twenty five years. On it he has thrived as a writer of engaging legal yarns. Why bite the hand which has fed him?
When he declares that the law makes its practitioners tautological he is perhaps right, for his paper contains at least one gross illustration of this vice. He says: "But at length like Saul and at about the same age I saw a great light and I gave up persecuting the innocent people who had been the victims of my cupidity, egotism, verbosity, and bad manners. Thereafter, as the prophet Jeremiah remarks, 'they that handle the law knew me not.'
This I take it is a long way of saying that he lost his job as assistant district attorney in New York City. These things will happen. Administrations change. It happened, moreover, a great many years ago when Mr. Train was known as one of Jerome's brilliant young men and a member of perhaps the most gifted staff the district attor
ney's office ever had. These were the days when he was quietly laying in his literary material from a daily professional study of bad men in the endless panorama of human life at its worst. All of which reminds me to say a word about the present New York District, Attorney, who bears the fine Biblical name of Joab H. Banton. Mr. Banton enjoys the distinction of being the most noiseless person who was ever elected to that office. Not only does he not write, but he does not even spend his time talking to the newspapers or telling the world the exciting story of what he is going to do with some person who perhaps is about to be indicted. A district attorney without a brass band is a novelty in New York and unheard of in Chicago. Mr. Banton's cruel theory seems to be that his assistants should likewise keep out of the newspapers and spend all their time in accommodating criminals to early trials. I am giving this short advertisement to him, since he is the first New York district attorney I have ever known who failed fully to advertise himself. This in passing. Train is a graduate of the old brass band school, and his former chief was quite orthodox on this important point.
To dwell on the matter of style for a moment. If there is any one thing a good lawyer should be able to do, it is to express himself clearly. If he draws a will or a contract so that it can mean two or three things instead of only one, he is likely to get into trouble. He may make litigation but he is almost sure to lose clients; and clients in the long run are better than an occasional law suit. Exactness is the contribution the law makes to style. The best judicial opinions, for example, are often written in a style to use the word in its strictly literary sense-which the professional writer can scarcely im
prove upon. I never read one of Judge Cardozo's opinions in our New York Court of Appeals without a sense of admiration for the condensed clarity of its English.
The complaint of verbosity and of antique terminology which Mr. Train makes should have been limited to the oldest, most conservative, most technical, and most unprogressive branch of jurisprudence real estate law. The only way in which the waste of words for example on deeds and mortgages has been overcome, at least with us in New York, is by a statute commanding short forms and making you pay extra for recording the long old ones. My partner, who not only practises but by some mysterious providence of God seems to enjoy this branch of legal work, occasionally places on my desk one of those long term "ground leases" which take forty pages to say that the tenant has no rights in the demised premises except to keep at his risk a papier-mâché gold fish, provided he removes it at his expense at or before the termination of the term. It is all very solemn and probably necessary but it is not very thrilling. As for style, conveyancers hate it, as involving unnecessary risks whereas old precedents avoid them. Clients are unreasonable enough to prefer to avoid risks instead of encouraging style on the part of their lawyers. The objection should be laid to the door of the client and not to the lawyers.
All the other reasons which Mr. Train enumerates for leaving the profession seem to me good reasons for staying in it. Our experiences, apparently, have been quite different. complains that:
I had a burden, and a grievous one, which was my inability as a lawyer to express my own mind, and the fact that I was rapidly