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THE EDITOR AND HIS PUBLIC *

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1. Robert H. Davis

imagination, which renders it im

possible for him to accept the dictum T is reasonable to assume that one

that a special course of reading is eswho has occupied an editorial chair

sential to his intellectual advancement. for a quarter of a century should know

All the benefit that may accrue from what the public wants. The truth is

selection at the hands of another may that he knows less, if anything, than

be, and frequently is, dissipated by the public he serves.

some unseemly casual volume in which Styles in what we read are as change

reposes a new doctrine, a new style, a able as styles in what we wear. A

new note born in the white heat of mere whim in either case can set new

another imagination. standards.

Writers of fiction who succeed in The whimsical reading public sips its

mastering narrative style gather countentertainment from every flower that

less readers in a lasting embrace. The blooms, not infrequently pausing at

editor who aims high seeks out these some weed in search of pungent cordial.

necromancers; they above all others Adventure ever flies its banner in the

weave the meshes that hold us spellfield of romantic literature. Young bound. Characterization, dialogue, hearts, beauty, heroes and heroines who

suspense, plot, progress, serve only to live happy forever after, march in

beautify the pattern, to give lustre, passing show; grim tragedies of the

color, and vitality to the fabrications underworld, oriental themes, obnoxious

of a writer's imagination. The foundaaromas distilled in foreign gutters,

tion, however, the pedestal upon which come back to us filtered through the

the monument, if it is to remain perscreen of English. The effect is kalei

petual and gain the classic wreath, is doscopic.

erected, is narrative style. Sporadic outbursts of approval and

The instinct to depart from this disapproval, sectional applause and

fundamental requirement in literature bloc protests, leave the readers in an

is strong in both authors and editors. uncertain mind as to what they them

The tendency to make excursions into selves require. A group of critics can

uncharted waters turns these explorers so disturb the public mind that it

into failures and the Copyright Bureau ceases to function rationally.

of the Library of Congress becomes a Our American reader is cursed, or

vast Lloyd's Register of those lost at blessed as you will, with the gift of

Editing is not only a grave responsi*The essays here printed are among those prepared to accompany a series of photo- bility but a dangerous occupation - an graphs of editors taken by Mrs. Doris enterprise equal in peril to that enUlman, to be published next autumn in book form as "A Portrait Gallery of

countered by one who walks a desert American Editors".

only to be lured from the right path by

sea.

an inviting mirage that suddenly ap- 2. John O'Hara Cosgrave
pears on the distant horizon. Be not
deceived by these intangible allures.

HAT do people who buy the milThere is nothing more elusive than

lions of periodicals and the bilthe mental limitations of the mass of

lions of newspapers produced on the readers. Profound indeed is the editor

American continent do with them? who knows these boundaries. I do not

Attention is limited by time. There presume to phrase a definition as to are but twenty four hours in the day what constitutes good fiction any more

and one must sleep, eat, and work. than I am able to define just what the

The minor balance of minutes free public wants.

thereafter must be devoted to sustainBorn on the Nebraska prairies, I ing the newer industries such as golf, drifted west to the Pacific where I spent health, motoring, the movies, phonomy youth in newspaper work. From graphs, player pianos, and radio. When that frontier of the covered wagon I

one's debt to a mechanical civilization crossed the continent to the Atlantic,

has been discharged, there are bridge making a survey of the space between.

and the theatre — but what span reDuring a period of twenty odd years

mains for reading? while I was serving as fiction editor of A paradox lurks here. It is conceded the Munsey publications, thousands that no one has leisure to read, but on upon thousands of good, bad, and all sides one hears of leaping and utterly hopeless manuscripts passed bounding circulations. Nowadays, pethrough my hands. Millions of words riodicals that sell less than a million were accepted, billions rejected. It is copies are derelicts. Authors are adinconceivable that any one individual vertised like breakfast foods and are could have secured all that was best in worried over their investments. Ilthis endless flood of contributions. Ilustrators preside over baronial piles take some consolation out of the fact and moor fleets of motors in their that in that mass of material I found garages. Guides point out the yachts the earliest efforts of 0. Henry, Mary and mansions of publishers to reverent Roberts Rinehart, Fannie Hurst,

subscribers. All this in the face of the Montague Glass, Dorothy Canfield, phenomenal growth of golf links, the Ben Ames Williams, Zane Grey, James multiplication of motion picture theaOliver Curwood, Edgar Rice Burroughs, tres, Henry Ford's millions, Good Donn Byrne, Nalbro Bartley, Frank

Roads movements, loud spaakers, R. Adams, Konrad Bercovici, Octavus dance halls, and mah jong. Roy Cohen, and many others sufficient The mystery deepens. A small atin all to make up a noble company. tention capital, already overextended,

The formula through which I reached expands automatically to meet incesmy decisions is simple indeed, to wit: If santly increasing drafts upon it. Lima manuscript interested me I bought itation without limits. The miracle and printed it. Indecision culminated of the loaves and fishes diminishes in in rejection. The business of selection comparison. There must be an exis not reducible to an exact science. planation since this is a scientific age. Probably when the world's greatest A few observers think daylight saving editor is discovered it will be revealed accountable, but this is superficial. An that he thinks like the people instead authority on physiology suggests that of for them.

the discovery of the ductless glands

may bear on the problem. Sun spots, zines that issue, in uncounted millions, says an astrologer. Personally I prefer from the busy presses of the nation, the solution offered by a newer and were not perused to the last page, how better Einstein who has confided to me account for the greater variety of the a theory that is at least adequate, American complexion, the wider difthough I am bound to admit no learned fusion of smart dress models, washsociety has yet sanctioned it. Since ing machines, and vacuum cleaners? the beginning of the twentieth century, Throughout the length and breadth of he says, time has changed. Like the our fair land, the belching chimneys of German mark, it has been inflated. In innumerable stately and hygienic facsome inscrutable fashion, the seconds tories offer tangible evidence of the of which the hours are composed have deep influence of periodical literature had their duration doubled, so that on living. while the day contains only the old Having thus triumphantly refuted twenty four hours, in reality -- that is, those witch burners, the Intelligence attention space

- it has been aug- Testers, whose gratification is in demented to forty eight.

ploring the intellectual inferiority of The calculations on which this en- our people, let us consider the editorial gaging suggestion is based have been function, as practised among us by the carried by my friend far beyond forty Masters of the Craft. five decimals and have brought grey Unlike poets, editors are both born hairs to the revered heads of six of the and made. They are either the sons or twelve mathematicians, capable of appointees of publishers. Certain miunderstanding relativity, who are now nor exceptions achieved their own checking the figures. At first glance, greatness; but as every chicken prethe idea seems fantastic, but so are the supposes an egg, somewhere in the circumstances under consideration. We background of the lives of even these know that our national debt is some men, a publisher must lurk. It is the twenty times greater than it was in obligation of an editor to generate the 1914, and that we have in the United literary mortar which binds together States treasury more than half the the bricks of advertising on which our world's gold. Why may not our time periodical edifices are reared. Behave expanded in proportion with our tween him and the brick maker there is resources?

perpetual conflict, since he is disposed Until mankind is adjusted to this to rank his service as loftier than that beneficial enlargement, it will continue of his fellow craftsman. To the merits to be obsessed with the delusion that it of this contention the subscriber seems cannot do its daily dozen and read the indifferent, but has been heard to demorning paper, whereas, as the declin- clare that there is often more inspiraing death rate clearly shows, everyone tion in the advertising pages of a publimanages to perform his exercises and cation than in the literary text which eat leisurely breakfast.

fringes them. The rich development of the great Comparisons are invidious, as ever, motion picture industry and the over- but success at editing is only another night growth of radio afford indis- expression of the talent for entertaining, putable proof that more people are interesting, or inspiring people. It is a taking their newspapers seriously than phase of the same capacity through ever before in history. If the maga- which a theatrical manager or a vaude

sues

ville impresario attracts thousands However grandiose the approach, the nightly to his show. Power of the same initial problem of the editor is to gain order as that which gathers a large an audience. It is soon made plain to audience for a magazine or a newspaper him that the public issues no franchises is exhibited by a popular orator, a for its instruction but lends a willing spectacular preacher, or the chief of a ear to entertainment. Yet if he takes great department store.

the easiest way and is content with diThere are almost as many kinds of version merely, he finds himself limited editors as there are trades and profes- to the patronage of the frivolous. But sions. Nowadays every occupation, once the ear of his multitude is caught, cause, institution, and fraternity has he makes the agreeable discovery that its journal, and someone must be de- it is as receptive of fact as it is eager for puted to gather facts and developments fiction, always provided the sterner isarising at the centre and distribute are invested with the airs of them throughout the membership of novelty. As his exploration of the the organism. However humble and minds of his herd proceeds, it becomes unskilled, this service involves exercise clear that they will follow him to midof the faculties of formulation and selec- Africa, the moon, or into the depths of tion which constitute the practice of the fourth dimension, if only he is all editing. There are degrees, of conjurer enough to make the way to course, but the technique of summon- these remote destinations a primrose ing up the ingredients which, set and path. There are no limits to the edipolished, are fused together as "The torial privilege, so long as he who wields Atlantic Monthly”, is the same as that it remembers there is nothing a reader which the editor of “The Grocer's resents more deeply than being given Gazette" must follow in the assemblage information, or enjoys more utterly of his own table of contents. There is than acquiring it without pain or procthis essential difference, however

Nor must he ever introduce a "The Grocer's Gazette" is published new idea save in the disguise of an old for the profit of its readers, whereas friend. The Atlantic” must be baited for An editor is marked by the company their interests. One has a sustaining he gathers at his contents table. If objective; the other is aimed at an in- wise, he will be resigned to the role of visible target which it must hit to live. silent host; since he has furnished the

The editor may be promoter, show- banquet and the subjects, it is better man, artist, or evangelist. In fact, he form to let the guests speak the pieces. should blend all these rôles if he be Even if one be bursting with eloquence, heaven born. As a rule, he carries the anonymity is in order. It is a penalty lighter qualities and spreads them as far of the function one he shares with as his vitality and his publisher permit. the entrepreneur, the playwright, and He is limited by the motive of his in- the composer, who must ever be heard strument, since he must represent the by proxy. purpose of which it is the voice. De- This is not to contend that all the pending on the medium, either he is contents of the hosts of publications conveyed by his subjects or cruises that color the newsstands of the nation under his own power.

Coastbound are solely the fruit of an editor's plantfreight or many cargoes on the Seven ing. A publication type once Seas.

tablished, innumerable contributors

ess.

es

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adjust their themes to its inclination. may carry himself with the air of a For a periodical is also a market for prophet, he is only the child of his writers' wares. The director's crafts- destiny. manship is in the selection and display of exhibits; his art, in blending a group of incongruous stories and articles into a harmonious, individualized entity.

3. George Jean Nathan Every publication is in the image of its maker. Into it, however uncon- CONFINE these remarks to the sciously, he breathes and feeds his own editing of magazines. This editing identity. He can give no more than he seems to me to fall into three groups. sees and feels. If he be idealist, his First, we have purely commercial editbook bespeaks preoccupation with the ing: that is, editing for circulation with betterment of mankind and may halt profit from circulation and from adby the wayside. If his heart beats in vertising as the sole end in view. Secunison with the masses, he will circulate ond, we have so called Messiah editing: in millions and be called great, though that is, editing that has as its aim the he may know no better.

improvement of the condition of manThe prevailing magazine pattern is of kind and the uplifting of the cosmos in the period of the "Follies", rather than one particular or another. And lastly, in the mode of "Hamlet"; nevertheless, we have editing for the pure fun and experience has occasionally demon- exhilaration of the thing, like riding a strated that convictions and knowl- good horse, listening to good music, or edge are not insuperable bars to great drinking good wine. My personal excirculations. There is a definition of perience in editing has been confined to good editing - the identification and the first and last groups. Of the second interpretation of tendencies. An editor I know nothing, have never known may still be trail blazer and road maker. anything, and, please God, shall never Here is a world in flux, awaiting a know anything. revelation. Its atmosphere is charged My adventures in commercial editing with grave and significant issues. A belong to the dim past, along with my deponent energized with sincerity and other youthful adventures. They were vitality can still move the multitude. not without interest to me in a relevant But he must remember always to in- and most acceptable commercial way, vest his message with some flaming but this is not a financial report. I trappings of spectacle. Would Moses shall therefore leave this phase of the ever have persuaded the Children of theme to my more experienced and Israel out of the wilderness save for those doubtless very much wealthier colmiraculous pillars of cloud and fire? leagues. My more mature years have

From all the foregoing, it is clear been devoted to editing for the sport of there are no immutable laws in the the thing — the only kind of editing publishing world. Success, like gold, that interests me in the slightest. A is where it occurs. It is inherent in magazine, to me — and to my asthe individuality of him whose gift it is; sociate, friend, and partner Mencken and if the possessor be an editor, the no less - is a toy, something with law is to follow his inspirations. The which to amuse ourselves and also, product he bears is truly the offspring perhaps, a sufficient number of simiof his own personality, and though he larly minded readers to keep the mech

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