The Literary Shop, and Other Tales
THE LITERARY SHOP
AND OTHER TALES
JAMES L. FORD
AUTHOR of “HYPNOTIC TALES,” “DR. DODD’S SCHOOL,”“THE THIRD ALARM,” ETC.
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION
THE CHELSEA COMPANY
By Geo. H. Richmond & Co.
By The Chelsea Company.
PREFACE TO NEW EDITION.
The Literary Shop was first printed inbook form in the fall of 1894, nearly fiveyears ago. Some of its constituent papershad already appeared in the pages ofTruth and Puck. To the present editionhave been added the sketches thatdeal with life and letters in the McClurevillage of Syndicate. This model literarycommunity was established about fouryears ago, on a convenient and healthfulrise of ground overlooking the Hackensack River,which is navigable at thatpoint. It has a population of severalhundred poets and prose hands, all ofwhom are regularly employed on themagazine and the newspaper syndicatecontrolled by Mr. S. S. McClure. Thesesketches are reprinted by permission fromthe New York Journal and the Criterion.
New York, March 8, 1899.
J. L. F.
Many of these papers are new. Othersare reprinted by permission from Puckand Truth.
THE LITERARY SHOP.
|In an Old Garret||1|
|The “Ledger” Period of Letters||11|
|Something about “Good Bad Stuff”||24|
|The Early Holland Period||34|
|Mendacity during the Holland Period of Letters||47|
|The Dawn of the Johnsonian Period||62|
|CHAPTER VII.[Pg vi]|
|Woman’s Influence in the Johnsonian Period||78|
|Literature—Pawed and Unpawed; and the Crown-Prince Thereof||99|
|Certain Things which a Conscientious Literary Worker may Find in the City of New York||118|
|“He Trun up Bote Hands!”||139|
|The Conclusion of the Whole Matter.||160|
|AND OTHER TALES.|
|The Poets’ Strike||183|
|Ancient Forms of Amusement||194|
|The Sober, Industrious Poet, and How he Fared at Easter-time||199|
|The Two Brothers; or, Plucked from the Burning||208[Pg vii]|
|The Story of the Young Man of Talent||223|
|The Society Reporter’s Christmas||231|
|The Dying Gag||245|
|“Only a Type-writer”||251|
|The Culture Bubble in Ourtown||260|
|Some Thoughts on the Construction and Preservation of Jokes||275|
|McClure’s Model Village for Literary Toilers||299|
|Arrival of the Scotch Authors at McClure’s Literary Colony||307|
|The Canning of Perishable Literature||316|
|Literary Leaves by Manacled Hands||323|
|McClure’s Birthday at Syndicate Village||331|
|Literature by Prison Contract Labor||340|
|Christmas Eve at the Syndicate Village||351|
THE LITERARY SHOP
IN AN OLD GARRET.
I am lying at full length on a broken-downhaircloth sofa that has been placednear the cobwebby window of an old garretin a country farm-house. It is nearthe close of a rainy day, and all the afternoonI have listened to the pattering ofthe heavy drops on the shingled roof,the rustling of the slender locust-treesand the creaking of their branches as thewind moves them.
There are pop-corn ears drying on thefloor of this old garret; its solid rafters[Pg 2]are festooned with dried apples and whiteonions. Odd bits of furniture, and twoor three hair trunks bearing initials madewith brass-headed nails, are scatteredabout the room, and from where I lie Ican see a Franklin stove, a pair of brassandirons, and one of those queer wooden-wheeledclocks that used to be made inConnecticut years ago, and which are afitting monument to the ingenuity of theYankee race.
Every article in the room is carefullytreasured, and none is held in more tenderregard than are certain square, dust-coveredpackages of what might be oldnewspapers that are piled up in big heapsbeside the old chairs and tables. One ofthese bundles lies on the floor beside mysofa, with its string untied and its contentsscattered carelessly about. Lookdown and you will see that it containscopies of the New York Ledger, of a yearthat was one of the early seventies, and[Pg 3]which have been religiously preserved, togetherwith fully twoscore of other similar bundles,by the excellent people whodwell in the house.
The number which I hold in my handcontains instalments of four serials, asmany complete stories, half a dozenpoems, contributions by Henry WardBeecher, James Parton, and Mary KyleDallas, and a number of short editorialsand paragraphs, besides two solid nonpareilcolumns of “Notices to Correspondents.”One of the serials is called “TheHaunted Husband; or, Lady Chetwynde’sSpecter,” and deals exclusively with thatsuperior class of mortals who go to makeup what a great many of the old Ledgerreaders would have called “carriage trade.”Another story, “Unknown; or, The Mysteryof Raven Rocks,” bears the signatureof Mrs. E. D. N. Southworth, a name veneratedin every household in which a red-plushphotograph-album is treasured as[Pg 4]a precious objet d’art. The short storiesare simple and innocuous enough to suitthe most primitive of brain-cells. Thefiction is embellished with three pictures,which are interesting as specimens of asimple and now happily obsolete schoolof art.
The “Notices to Correspondents” area joy forever, and reflect with charmingsimplicity and candor the minds of thethousands of anxious inquirers who werewont to lay all their doubts and troublesat Robert Bonner’s feet.
It is here that the secrets of the maidenheart are laid bare to the gaze of thewhole world. It is here that we read ofthe young man who is “waiting on” ayoung widow and formerly “kept companywith” a lady friend who is the cashierof the laundry which he patronizes.Not knowing which of the two he oughtto marry, he pours out his soul in thisfree-for-all arena of thought and discussion.[Pg 5]“Mary X.” writes from Xenia, O.,to inquire if she is a flirt because she hasa new beau every two weeks, and is solemnlywarned by Mr. Bonner that if shegoes on in that way she “will soon haveno beaux at all.” “L. L. D.” is a younggirl of eighteen, whose parents are addictedto drink. She wishes to know ifit is proper for her to correspond witha young gentleman friend who is a telegraph-operatorin Buffalo and has madeher a present of a backgammon-boardlast Christmas. That these letters aregenuine is proved by their tone of artlesssimplicity, and by the fact that no singlemind or score of minds could invent theextraordinary questions that were propoundedfrom week to week.
Careful perusal of the Ledger lyrics revealsa leaning on the part of the poetsof that period toward such homely themesas “The Children’s Photographs,” “TheMother’s Blessing,” and “Down by the[Pg 6]Old Orchard Wall.” They are all writtenon the same plane of inanity, and are admirablywell suited to the tastes of theadmirers of Mrs. Southworth and SylvanusCobb, Jr.
It is growing dark in the old garret—toodark to read—and I arise from thehorsehair sofa, filled with memories ofthe past which have been awakened byperusal of the yellow sheet of twentyyears ago. As I tie up the bundle andplace it on the dust-covered heap with itsfellows, my eye falls upon a dozen packages,different in shape from these andcontaining copies of the Century Magazinefor the past decade, which are preservedwith the same tender care that was oncebestowed upon the Ledger alone.
But as I slowly descend the staircasemy mind is full of the favorite old story-paper,and of the enormous influencewhich its Scotch proprietor, Robert Bonner,exerted over the literature of his[Pg 7]day and generation—an influence whichis still potent in the offices of the greatmagazines which now supply us with readingmatter. I doubt if there has everbeen, in this country, a better editedpaper than the Ledger was in the dayswhen its destinies were shaped by thehand of its canny proprietor. No editorever understood his audience better, or,knowing his readers, was more successfulin giving them what they wanted, thanwas Robert Bonner, whose dollars accumulatedin his own coffers even as thefiles of his paper accumulated in countrygarrets in all parts of this broad land.
“Well, where do you find evidences ofsuch careful editing in that hotch-potchwhich you describe so carefully?” I hearsome carping critic ask, and as I run myeye over what I have written I realizethat I have utterly failed in my attemptto convey an idea of the glories of thatparticular number of the Ledger. I would[Pg 8]say, however, to my critical friend thatthe paper is well edited because it doesnot contain a line of prose or a stanza ofverse that is not aimed directly at thehearts and minds of the vast army offarmers, midwives, gas-fitters’ daughters,and the blood-relations of janitors whoconstituted its peculiar clientŤle. And Iwould add that if the critical one desiresto get at the very bone and sinew ofLedger literature he should make a carefulstudy of the poems which were an importantfeature of it, and in which maybe found the very essence of the greatprinciples by which the paper was guided.
Indeed, Mr. Bonner used to be moreparticular about his poetry than abouthis prose, and always read himself everyline of verse submitted to him for publication.Some of the poems were writtenby women of simple, serious habits ofthought; but a great many of the highlymoral and instructive effusions that were[Pg 9]an important feature of the paper wereprepared by ungodly and happy-go-luckyBohemians, who were glad to eke out thelivelihood earned by reporting with anoccasional “tenner” from Mr. Bonner’streasury. These poets studied the greateditor’s peculiarities and personal tastesas carefully as the most successful magazinecontributors of to-day study thoseof the various Gilders, Johnsons, Burlingames,and Aldens who dominate Americanletters in the present year. For example,no horses in Ledger poems wereever permitted to trot faster than a milein eight minutes, and it was consideredsagacious to name them Dobbin or OldBess. Poems in praise of stepmothers orlife-insurance were supposed to be distastefulto the great editor, but he wasbelieved to have an absolute passion forlyrics which extolled the charm of countrylife and the homely virtues of rural folk.If a poet wrote more than one rhyme to[Pg 10]the quatrain he was warned by his fellowsnot to ruin the common market.
And now I hear from the carping criticagain: “But you don’t mean to tell methat any good poetry was produced bysuch a process? Why, suppose one ofour great magazines—”
“Who said anything about good poetry?It was good poetry for the Ledgersubscribers to read, and as to the greatmodern magazines—haven’t I told youalready that I stumbled over a heap ofthem just as I was leaving the old garretwhere the pop-corn and the wreaths ofdried apples and the bundles of Ledgersare kept?”
THE “LEDGER” PERIOD OF LETTERS.
A quarter of a century hence, perhaps,one of those arbiters of taste towhom poetastry owes its very existencewill lecture before the intellectual andartistic circles of that period on “The LiteraryRemains of the Bonnerian Period”;and the Ledger school of poetry, longneglected by our critics, will become afashionable cult. I hope, too, that thenames of those writers who, as disciplesof that school, gave an impetus to thosegreat principles which live to-day in thebeautifully printed pages of our leadingperiodicals will be rescued from the[Pg 12]shades of obscurity and accorded thetardy credit that they have fairly won.
These principles have lived because theywere founded on good, sound, logicalcommon sense, for Mr. Bonner possessesone of the most logical minds in theworld. In the days when he was—unconsciously,I am sure—moulding the literatureof future generations of Americans,he was always able to give a reasonfor every one of his official acts; and Idoubt if as much can be said of all themagazine editors of the present day. Itwas this faculty that enabled his contributorsto learn so much of his likes anddislikes, for if he rejected a manuscripthe was always ready to tell