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THE WOODROW WILSON PAPERS
By David Lawrence
No president of the United States
before assuming office
had achieved the literary reputation in America which was held by Woodrow Wilson as he stepped from academic to political life. And few presidents have rivaled the unique style which distinguished his public papers.
Woodrow Wilson's words still are fresh in memory; yet even as close a listener as the writer of these lines found speeches and articles which seemed to breathe a new life on being read in the four volumes just published. And one must confess also that each of the speeches and magazine articles thus printed in sequence and in full seemed to possess added charm.
Only a newspaper man can tell why a collection of the works of any president when put in book form is worthy of possession the great press association wires are limited in the amount of news they can convey to the newspapers of America. Some of the finest speeches ever made by Woodrow Wilson were condensed, paraphrased, and even slashed because they were delivered either late at night or in the crowded hours of the day when more sensational news was "breaking", as described in newspaper parlance.
Turning to the earlier papers, which were either printed in the quality magazines or given scant space in the newspapers because after all Woodrow Wilson was not then a national figure one discovers in them a peculiar newsiness. For instance, in the Wilson analysis of Grover Cleveland,
published originally in "The Atlantic Monthly" of March, 1897, some thoughts are expressed which suggest the later days of the author in the White House. Mr. Wilson wrote of Cleveland:
He had never for a moment called himself anything but a party man. He had not sought personal detachments, and had all along known the weakness that would come with isolation and the absolute rejection of the regular means of party management; and he had dared to make his own choices in cases which seemed too subtle or exceptional for the law. It was unsafe ground often; blunders were made which appeared to defeat the purposes he had in view in making removals and appointments; it looked in the end as if it would have been wiser to make no exceptions at all to the ordinary rules of appointment: but the mistakes were those of a strong nature too strong to strip itself absolutely of such choice as might serve what was to him legitimate party strength. Who shall judge the acts in question who does not know the acts upon which the President proceeded? Not all of government can be crowded into the rules of the law.
At any rate, criticism did not disturb Mr. Cleveland's serenity; and it pleased the fancy of men of all sorts to see the President bear himself so steadfastly and do his work so calmly in the midst of all the talk. Outsiders could not know whether the criticism cut or not; they only knew that the President did not falter or suffer his mind to be shaken. He had an enormous capacity for work, shirked no detail of his busy function, carried the government steadily on his shoulders. There is no antidote for worry to be compared with hard labor and important tasks which keep the mind stretched to large views; and the President looked upon himself as the responsible executive of the nation - not as the arbiter of policies. There is something in such a character that men of quick and ardent thought cannot like or understand. They want all capable men to be thinking, like themselves, along the lines of active advance; they are impatient of
performance which is simply thorough without also being regenerative, and Mr. Cleveland has not commended himself to them. They themselves would probably not make good Presidents. A certain tough and stubborn fibre is necessary which does not easily change, which is unelastically strong.
Did he ever as he wrote those lines imagine that he might be president himself and that the same stubbornness and toughness of fibre might be exhibited in even a larger domain of public affairs than was vouchsafed to his only Democratic predecessor since the Civil War? All the writings of Woodrow Wilson before he attained the presidency are interesting for that very reason - they disclose either an intuition of what might happen or else they describe the very nature of the spirit which twice won the presidency.
But if the earlier papers have a significance, there is an abiding historical value in the collection of all the papers from 1913 forward. No other president of the United States, for instance, had an opportunity to stand before kings, queens, and parliaments and deliver a message of good will from the American people.
Whatever one's politics, there can be no denial that the first visit of an American president to Europe focused the attention of the whole world on the American democracy itself. Then there is the evolution of international idealism as revealed in the restrained sentences of the early correspondence with
What happened after the war - the addresses on the fateful western trip and the correspondence with the Senate was the source of all controversy which still colors political prejudice and party action as well as factional conceptions of foreign policy. Can the documents be ignored in the appraisal of the history of the age in which we are living? Certainly they will be the premise on which contention in the future will rest, for Woodrow Wilson unfolded in his speeches and papers something the world may not yet perceive as the right step but which will ever produce among nations that reflective state of mind which is summed up in the words, an international conscience".
College and State, Educational, Literary and Political Papers (1875-1913). By Woodrow Wilson. Edited by Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd. Two volumes. Harper and Brothers. The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson. With editorial notes, an introduction by Albert Shaw, and an analytical index. Two volumes. George H. Doran Company.
THE DOCTOR LOOKS AT BIOGRAPHY
By Joseph Collins
TORIES individuals' lives have
Mr. Firkins's Life of William Dean
the fascination for adults that hairy Howells and Maurice Egan," Recol
stories have for children. Biographies recount successes. Possession, the other name for success, is what we are all after. Men who make failures of their lives rarely write their biographies. It is to be regretted; they would be very helpful. We learn more from our mistakes than from our ten-strikes. Strangely enough, some of our most interesting fiction is the biography of failure: Papini's "L'Uomo Finito" (published in English under the title of "The Failure"), W. B. Maxwell's "In Cotton Wool", W. H. Wright's "The Man of Promise", and Cyril Hume's "Cruel Fellowship", for example.
Biographies engender a variety of emotional states: most of them are pleasurable and consequently beneficial. When we come upon one that excites anger or disgust or anything approaching that, there is no law or convention that compels us to continue reading it. Next to poetry, biography is the most satisfactory reading for all ages: instructive to youth, orienting to maturity, solacing to old age.
We have made greater strides with our biographic than with our fictional literature. During the past year a score and more excellent studies have been published. Biographies, like golfers, may be put in four classes: A, B, C, and the unclassifiable. Mr. Seitz's Life of Joseph Pulitzer, Mr. Beer's Life of Stephen Crane, E. P. Mitchell's "Memoirs of an Editor", and Mark Twain's autobiography are in Class A.
lections of a Happy Life" are in Class B. Mrs. Dorr's "A Woman of Fifty" and Mr. Bok's "Twice Thirty" are in Class C. The unclassifiable are frequently pietistic gestures, lives written on order from a widow profoundly appreciative of her departed husband's virtues and attainments, or from children or colleagues who would have their benefactor's virtues perpetuated. Some of them are definite contributions to personality studies, such as George Herbert Palmer's "Life of Alice Freeman Palmer". Others are permanent historical documents, such as "The Life of Olive Schreiner" by her widower.
In a measure, undoubtedly, it was with some desire to meet an obligation, to discharge a debt, that Mr. Seitz set to work to write the life of his chief, Joseph Pulitzer, whom he calls for some unknown reason the Liberator of Journalism. For many years he was called the Libertine of Journalism, and worse than that. He deserves the one as richly as he deserved the other, no more The biographer, like the witness in court, should state facts, not conclusions. Joseph Pulitzer was an unusual man and he had an extraordinary career. Hungarian emigrant, without background or adventitious aid, he acquired within a quarter of a century power and influence that were felt not only through this country but throughout Europe. Politics was his passion, property his possession, and power his ambition.
He was vouchsafed twenty years of public influence; he molded minds, shaped opinions, conditioned decisions, germinated ideals; and they were twenty years of personal misery and decrepitude. Dying, he perpetuated his name by the establishment of the School of Journalism at Columbia University. It can scarcely fail to be interesting to learn about such a man. Mr. Seitz, with the instinct and experience of the expert journalist, gives the information in the first chapter, which he entitles "Characteristics". He molds the clay, then animates it. As he hurls virtues into the receptive mass, he calls out loudly their names; as the limitations and defects steal in, he whispers or remains silent. Joseph Pulitzer was saturated with belief in liberty, equality, and opportunity; he was generous, indulgent, and just; but he was also vain, arrogant, domineering, verbose, bulimious, unjudicial, self sufficient, personally hypersensitive but insensitive to others' feelings; and he wore a mask that fell off on the slightest encounter. He had acquired a dexterity in regaining it which often prevented adversaries from seeing that it had fallen. The sea of life for him was always turbulent. When he was on the crest of the wave, his speech and conduct were hypomanic; when in the trough, he was taciturn, unapproachable, uncommunicative, inert. He had a firm intellect and an infirm temper; firm energy and an infirm body; a keen æsthetic sense and a contempt for his fellow man because he would not make himself in Joseph Pulitzer's image. "I have no friends", said he to one of his secretaries. "And this was in a great measure true", adds his biographer. He has now, and he will have more in the future; Mr. Seitz's book will make hundreds for him, and the institutions he founded, thousands.
No American under thirty should fail to read the book; no one over fifty who can buy or borrow it will fail to read it.
When I read Mr. Mitchell's "Memoirs of an Editor" every page made firmer the conviction that I was companioning a great mind and a kindly heart. I recalled something that Mark Twain said of Anson Burlingame: "His outlook upon the world and its affairs was as wide as the horizon, and his speech was of a dignity and eloquence proper to it. It dealt in no commonplaces, for he had no commonplace thoughts. He was a kindly man, and most lovable. He wrought for justice and humanity. All his ways were clean; all his motives were high and fine." That is Edward P. Mitchell if I may estimate him from his autobiography. If he has any fault, it is that he is too affable. He is a tiny bit too polite. There have been proprietors of the New York "Sun" within the memory of man who did not have all the virtues, but no one would suspect it from Mr. Mitchell's book. The "Sun" that he writes about most entertainingly and instructively is the "Sun" for which Charles A. Dana got all the credit. Mr. Mitchell does not hint that the credit was unjustly allotted, but no one can read the chapters "How I Went to the Sun" and "The Newspaperman's Newspaper" without being convinced that it was. The "Sun" could not have been what it was in the days of its ascendancy: a beacon light of newspaperdom, a stimulus and a joy to thousands, a scourge to scores, had it not been for Francis P. Church, Fitz Henry Warren, and William D. Bartlett.
But it is not the story of the "Sun" that Mr. Mitchell set out to write. His colleague Frank M. O'Brien did that, and anyone who believes he could
improve on it would be as daring or demented as the artist who believes he can improve on the "Mona Lisa". It reflected the spirit of the newspaper as that portrait reflected the soul of her who reminded Pater of Leda. However, Mr. Mitchell for a half century was devoted to the "Sun" and he could scarcely tell us of himself without telling its story too.
The volume is replete with personality studies of sages and cranks, philosophers and buffoons, experts and amateurs. Anyone interested in the spirit of the Puritan, the pioneer, the pathfinder; anyone who is intrigued by guessing at the truth, will be helped by reading the pages on Goldwin Smith. Anyone who would like to clarify his hazy notions of paranoia will be aided by perusal of the pages on George Francis Train; anyone who would make the acquaintance of a critic of letters to whom his countrymen should have accorded the esteem that the French accorded Remy de Gourmont and the British George Saintsbury, should read what Mr. Mitchell says of Mayo W. Hazeltine; anyone who would learn of the forces that did more than anything else to deliver us as a nation from the spirit of parochialism should read his pages on Bunan-Varilla, the French engineer who made possible the Panama Canal.
It is a book for a rainy day and a starry night; a book to be read in Watchapey and Washington; to accompany one on Lake Louise or the Atlantic. The author's wish has come true. It was that here and there some kind friends unknown might find in his book something as interesting for them to read as it was for him to remember. If he had as much pleasure in writing it as they have had reading it, Edward P. Mitchell is a giant joy-creator.
William Dean Howells said that
Mark Twain was the Lincoln of literature. That is the apogee of praise. The more facets of his personality we see, the more richly does he seem to deserve it.
The immortality of Poe, Whitman, and Mark Twain would seem to be assured. Other names have been on the roster long enough to make it fairly certain that they also will be chosen, but Hawthorne's reputation wanes as Melville's enhances. Edwin Robinson a generation hence may have greater renown than Longfellow, and William James may be quoted when Emerson is forgotten.
We long for a great emotional writer as the Jews long for a Messiah, and the fact that Mark Twain was vouchsafed us encourages me to believe that our chances are greater than those of the Jews. We have never had a really great poet unless Whitman was one, and not even an approach to a satirist, and Mark Twain is our signal contribution to humor. He had also the capacity to convey it, and an unawareness of the supremacy of either gift. it all he was a philosopher, a man of culture, and fundamentally a poet.
His was the antithesis of the Messianic complex. He had a simple heart, and an intricate soul. None of his writings reveals it as does his autobiography. It is as unlike the customary autobiography as Mark Twain was unlike the average man. It does not begin with a tedious narrative of his forebears, and tiresome descriptions of their environment. Nor does it dwell upon his mental prodigiousness and moral sufficiency, followed by the enumeration of the obstacles he surmounted owing to his health, holiness, habit, and his unusual possession. It does not end with a verbal portrait provocative of memories of Dr. Munyon and his warnings.