Page images
PDF
EPUB

among his antipodes: sleeps when others wake, works when others rest, plays when others work; because his very labors have in them all the excitement and chance of a game; because his success, if he is successful, is at once declared—his failure quickly decided; because he makes his own opportunities, may give fullest rein to his enterprise, and has his ambition strung to its highest by the consciousness that each day will bring his reward for the shrewd and faithful service of yesterday. Better even than the sea is this life to an adventurous young man; for here is all the chance of the sailor's life, ten times its opportunities, and none of its monotony. He wakes, not knowing when or where he shall next sleep. He eats wherever hunger may seize him; smokes whenever the humor strikes; may go any where and every where; and has—last and best of all to the fresh tastes of youth—the delicious privilege of reversing that stupid proverb which speaks of "early to bed and early to rise:" for your reporter's maxim is, that nothing happens before half past eleven A.m., and he makes it a point to breakfast in bed at eleven.

To collect facts, in these days of Stoffle's novitiate, seemed to him the very noblest and most delightful employment for the human soul and body. It had all the odd charm of walking along the sea-beach finding shells; only here was not the tiresome uniformity of the shore. A reporter is a kind of roving detective on the seareh for stray information; a Bow Street officer in pursuit of runaway items; a flibustier diligently capturing the rich argosies of news which fall in his way. To gather facts: that is the great aim of his life. No matter what, no matter where, no matter how; for to a reporter a fact is a fact— and I am sorry to say that to some of the craft a fiction (if it only savor of blood and thunder) is also a fact. To him an Item is the one thing worth living for. He looks on the world only as a vast manufactory of Items; on men as the drudges who by painful labors produce Items for him; on the newspaper as the noble repository of the Items he collects. He regards events only from a historical point of view. A murder is an Item. A fire is an Item. A war is a vast and delicious collection of Items. Where the accident is there are the reporters; and when his train is smashed up, or his steamboat bursts her boiler, he emerges from the chaotic ruins pencil in hand, and hails the first passing wagon to bear an Item to "the office."

It is not strange that a young man, fresh from a country college, with the constitution of a horse, the stomach of a jackass (quite capable of digesting the toughest thistles provided by dubious eating-houses), and a healthy love of adventure and variety, becomes an enthusiastic and therefore an expert reporter.

But there is a certain danger in this enthusiasm. A mere collector of facts is a melancholy object. For a fact is not only a stubborn thing; it is a stupid, dead, inanimate, worthless piece of carrion, which lies there, supine, till

some one comes and breathes a soul of meaning into it. Thus I might call a reporter a resurrectionist, prowling about for such corpse-like facts; and the danger is, that this enthusiastic body-snatcher shall by-and-by become a mere ghoul, subsisting contentedly on the dead carrion he resurrects. God does not permit men (nor nations) to stand still; and this man whom I have called detective, flibustier, resurrectionist, must either become an intelligent being, appreciating the value and significance of his facts, and thus prepared to infuse into them the breath of life and reason, or else he becomes a mere vampire, fattening on the gross carrion which he daily disentombs from the grave of events.

If we were all sensible men, with abundant leisure, we might perhaps dispense with the editor, and ourselves digest the crude food of news which makes up the staple of a daily paper. But life is short and dollars are scaree; and as wo necessarily take our facts at second-hand from the reporter, so we are obliged, in most cases, to take their interpretation at second-hand also. For you and I, dear reader—I, who am puzzling my brains all day over my shears and my accounts, and you who perhaps have no brains to puzzle—have not time (not to speak of ability) to work out the problem which the news columns present to us every morning.

Here comes in the editor—the interpreter.

The reporter may be a Gradgrind, but the editor must be a prophet. The reporter need only be an intelligent machine; the editor must be an intelligent mun. In fact, he ought to be the most able and the most honest man in the community. Perhaps he is.

Who reads the tedious columns of twaddle headed "Proceedings in Congress?" Surely no sensible man voluntarily stupefics himself with such stuff, which is not ordinarily fit even to put a man pleasantly to sleep. I know it is a great and glorious piece of enterprise to give three columns of it every morning; but I gladly pay two cents for the Daily Golden Egg because I know that my friend Goose will in three lines give me a full and correct summary of the three columns, while in a quarter of an hour I can know, from his editorial report, what is the sum and sense of all that has happened in ths world for the last twenty-four hours—and am thus able to go to my daily duties in the shop, not only stuffed with news, but bristling with opinions.

This is the use of an editor; and as Stofflo is now to be advanced to this important post of manufacturer of opinions—of judge, in fact, of "what is best"—we come to the fourth division of this biography.

IV.—IN WUICH "BIMON SAYS WIGGLE-
WAGGLE."

Before a man can manufacture opinions he must have a few of his own; just as when my wife wants her hens to lay, she carefully supplies a few nest eggs of finest white chalk. Now whatever our young men get at college, they seldom get opinions. It might be thought that institutions for the training of youth would naturally communicate something of this kind; but opinions, unfortunately, are thought mischievous, and "eminently to be avoided;" and by the time a man gets thoroughly imbued with the great truth that twice two makes four, he is commonly turned out on the world, labeled "graduate." You get (and forget) Latin, and Greek, and mathematies; and when you are done with that you get a sheep-skin; and being thrust out into the world, find that the only really useful part of your training is some such stray accomplishment as short-hand, which you have trifled with in your uncertain hours of ease.

StofHc was some three years an enthusiastic collector of facts before he had a passable knowledge of their value. But when this came about he found himself one day disgusted with his profession.

Most men take to letters from a desire to make a figure in the world; and though the result is, in the majority of cases, only a conspicuous 0, out of every thousand who use the pen one or two also use their brains; and of these a few become able editors. Now when Stoffle's enthusiasm began to cool off—when the Item was beheld in its natural state, and ceased to be in apotheosis—he began to fear that his figure also was to be a small one; and therefore to bestir himself with a healthy discontent. Three years pass very quickly, especially to a man who works hard and likes his work. But at twenty-five the world looks differently than at twenty-two; and at twenty-five Stoffle, who had come to town a simple-hearted country-youth, with no particular hopes, except for a speedy wedding and a plain cottage in the country, beheld himself a man with a career before him—a man with possibilities. Now a dinuer of herbs, with love, is very good; but a stalled ox has its temptations also, to people who are not confirmed vegetarians. And in that middle passage in life, when young men are vibrating between love and ambition, it occurs, not uureasonably, to many a one, why not "better a stalled ox with love?" And if not both, then which?

As StofHe, now rid of reportorial cares, and writing himself Editor, begun to see more and more of those splendid possibilities which men call a career, I am sorry to say the fervor of his affection for poor Lucy Jones declined. At first it was of course impossible to marry; and by the time it became barely possible, it was also become barely possible to Stoffle to put it off. As his life grew larger, and its scope broader, the passion which had absorbed him while at college, and which, like most other young men, he had regarded not only as the noblest, but as the only noble one, began to be overshadowed by others. Love and ambition are to each other as heat and cold.

When Stoffle's fairly roused ambition had once clearly opened his eyes, he saw that the world is only a foolish world, anxious to be ruled; and that it requires no vast wisdom or goodness to rule it, but only a certain strength

of will, a certain thickness of skin, a certain readiness of speech. For this foolish world, like children frightened in the dark, insists on being talked to, and is greatly more particular about the sound than the sense. It is not absolutely necessary that you see the road, to guide your fellows—if only you boldly say that you see it; and if you wont to be a very great statesman or a very able editor, the most useful quality is the unscrupulous shrewdness of a special pleader. Now when Stoffle pereeived all the splendid possibilities in the life of a man who has gained such an insight as this at twenty-five, I do not wonder that the stalled ox quite concealed from his view that diuner of herbs which is the ideal of undergraduate philosophers.

Meantime Lucy, who had unluckily no career open to her, sat at home, like a good, affectionate creature, glorying in the success of her lover, and prizing him the more highly as she became aware that he was like to prove himself a man among men. She, too, was content to wait—almost as content as Stoffle; for she, too, had her ambition—what right-minded woman has not? Only a woman's ambition contains in solution so very little of the acid of selfishness that it does not corrode bcr love.

The difference between reporter and editor is quite as great as that between a pickpocket and a highwayman, or between a resurrectionist and a professor of anatomy. The reporter is a Bohemian, a lounger, a rough stick—tolerated but not recognized by society; admitted officially to write the bulletins of fashion, but ignored personally, or at best consigned to the doubtful company of the awkward squad. But the editor is a man of social and political standing. Lord Palmerston says he is glad to invite him to his house—not as editor, but as gentleman— the dear, blarneying old joker! and the Fifth Avenue, and every other avenue (if there are any others), is open to him, with us. With such a new life necessarily come in new wants, new hopes, new desires, new aims. A caterpillar feeds contentedly on its cabbage-leaf, happy if it has secured the sunuy side of its limited world. But a butterfly! Think of a Prometheus glued to a cabbage-leaf!

It is not wonderful, then, that in this new sphere to which Stoffle was now translated he should desire to shape his life according to the new lights in which he walked; and that, among other changes, the thought of poor country-bred Lucy became presently somewhat distasteful to this enlightened young fellow. Why should a man marry? Was it necessary? Was it best? Especially a young man with a career opening to him? Not only this, but how would the world, his new world, look upon this countrygirl? How fatally ill-matched would this rising young man of society be with a girl who probably could not cross a floor! This alreadyadmired wit, with a wife who had no more conception of a sareasm than a post! What would his friends say? Should he throw his best chances away? Single-handed, he felt it in him to conquer this, his new world. Should he clog his arms and disable himself for a contest in which his whole soul was enlisted?

Oh weary questions, which men ask themselves when they have already decided 1 Oh foolish words, with which men seek to hide what they dare not face!

And yet, plead as you may, face it you must. And after all it is a question not so easy to decide—this one. What shall a man do, finding himself so placed, bound with such bonds, and hoping such hopes? Men grow; hopes, fears, and loves do change. As we advance the horizon widens, and that which but yesterday we thought the utmost boundary and very gate of heaven, seems now but a poor fleeting cloud; and beyond another heaven opens to our longing eyes.

And the cloud?

If you are a determined man, like Stoffle, you sail through it, looking neither to right nor left, but only straight forward. It was wisely written that once in every man's life he is taken into a high mountain, and there tempted. It was not altogether inexcusable in Stoffle, perhaps, if on this occasion he mistook his conscience to be the Devil, and looking the awful shape resolutely in the face, wrote to Miss Jones that "he could not reconcile it to his sense of right to marry without love; and therefore felt it a duty, no less to her than to himself, to own that his feelings toward her had for some time undergone a serious change. While the esteem he had for her character and her virtues was in nowise diminished, he was constrained to confess that his affections were no longer enlisted. He found himself so entirely swallowed up in his business life, and so constrained by its necessities, that involuntarily he had ceased to look fonvard to marriage with that happy anticipation and content which, in his opinion, every one should bring to this, the most important step in life. In fact, it seemed to him that men of his profession should, if possible, avoid marriage. In such a case he felt it would be doing Miss Jones the saddest wrong to ask her to become his wife; and though he felt bound to her by his plighted word, and held himself in readiness to fulfill that word, yet a desire for her happiness, much more than his own, convinced him of the propriety of dissolving those promises to the fulfillment of which he had once looked forward with such true pleasure. If Miss Jones should agree with his views he begged that she would signify it by returning him his letters; and he remained ever her most obedient servant."

And receiving his letters by return of mail, with only "Good-by" written on the little slip of white paper which wrapped them, Stoffle, feeling less elated than he had anticipated, shook himself, and was free.

Of course the angry reader will say he was a rascnl. I do not intend to argue the point— though I have heard a good deal said on both sides. It is one of those disputed questions in which it is not easy to decide what is best, and

which therefore no Family Magazine ought to discuss.

Nevertheless, have patience, O angry reader! Do not judge too harshly. It is not given to every man to believe in God.

And then, consider: is it exactly fair for the young ladies of a college-town to take snap-judgment on the susceptible hearts of the collegians? what right have they to let themselves be courted and won by men who only think love the best thing because they have as yet no knowledge of any thing but love and Latin, between which 'tis easy enough to choose; who are ambitious to win love, because they know of nothing else they can win? How evidently unfair to take advantage of these inexperienced youth!

£nd again: The desire of reward is one of the noblest and most useful of human instincts. "What shall we do to be saved ?" is the question of most import in the world; and even here the thought of reward vastly overshadows and almost anuihilates any consideration of pleasure in the service. The laborer is worthy of his hire; and when n man, be he editor or stonebreaker, does a fair day's work, it is because he wants a fair day's wages. To bo sure, the old Divines insisted that we should "cultivate a willingness to be damned." But the world has changed since then; and even the good Samaritan nowadays has a price for bis oil, and slips his business card into the vest-pocket of the wounded traveler. Callow youth prates loudly of "disinterestedness" in public men; but I dare say his Excellency the President could tell another story—and, indeed, when you look into the Decalogue, surely the most charming commandments are those "with promise." If you say this is wrong, you make a serious blunder, for even God holds out every where a hope of reward, as where it is written "Honor thy father and mother, that thy dags mag be long in the land." To be sure He did not add, be an able editor or ardent politician that- thy fame may fill the land, and thy pockets empty the treasury. But yet, the greater the wages the better the service; and when you call a man rascal, because he hesitates to give up the only wages he values, and tie down his life to a narrow round of virtuous but prosaic duties, it only shows that you have not yourself had the option. It is only smart fishermen who are tempted to fish on Sundays. Your blockhead, who catches no fish at any time, does not grudge the tedious day which sees his craft anchored in Sabbath rest.

The question which presented itself to Stoffle in this crisis of his life, was whether, for a mere point of honor, he should spoil his career. Floating on that "tide, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune," whether he should run into an obscure wayside bay and permanently beach his vessel. Peering into that future, which has such a glorious brightness at twenty-five, Stofflc saw—or thought ho saw—himself standing at the junction of two roads—one leading to marriage, obscurity, and a life-long struggle for bread and butter; the other leading to fame, power, position, and wealth. On one side was only a weary, never-ceasing strife between duty and inclination, in which duty must ever hare the upper hand; on the other, the best opportunity for the fullest development of his rioblest intellectual powers, and an adequate reward for labors which were a delight in themselves. What is best in such a case as this every man must settle for himself. Being the man he was, Stoffle decided that a scruple should not stand between him and his brightest future. Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.

It is not given to every man to believe in God. It is not in vain that so many commandments are with promise; and perhaps he is wisest who takes God at his word. There is a divinely instituted "division of labor" which far-sighted people are apt to overlook. '' Paul may plant, and A polios water, but God giveth the increase."

Now»StofBe intended to fulfill all these offices himself.

A man's career is like a ship under full sail: the wind drives her unceasingly, and it remains only for the helmsman to elect his course and trim his sails. When once Stoffle saw himself clear of that lee-shore on which he had feared to strand 'his dearest hopes, and with fair winds sailing on the broad sea of editorial life, he did not fail to carry on sail. He was willing to '' pay labor" for power, as Dr. Johnson says of Sir Thomas Browne. Day and night he toiled to fit himself more and more for that position of able editor which seemed to him—as it seemed to the Reverend Doctor Wiseacre—the very highest to which a man might in these days aspire. An editor should be the most intelligent man in the community—and he would be that. And the most honest? Well—yes—but what is honesty? You say what you believe. But suppose you do not believe in any thing? The able editor should be the chiefest statesman of the State. But even statesmen are mortal. And when the question has once occurred to a mortal man, whether it is best to do right, something depends on the answer he gives it. One thing is certain —this question must be categorically answered. Simon may say wiggle waggle, but Fate says, in her sternest tones, "Yes or no, and stick to it." Now, when this able editor had said "No" to poor Lucy, whom he regarded just then as tho inscrutable Fate, there was no return. Ho had burned his ships, and henceforth his course was onward.

It is a question which embarrasses men more the higher they stand, this one whether it is best to do right. There seems to me very little doubt that honesty is the best policy for my porter and clerks. But for me? Think of a tailor without cabbage! And a fashionable tailor too—that unfortunate who has to lose many a heavy bill to gain the countenance of the fine world; and who must somehow make it up, you know—for even a tailor must live (and if ho is given to scribbling, as I am, so much the worse the chance).

Stoffle was no fool; but a man of large intel

lect, of broad views, and growing culture. What knowledge, bore on his part in life he diligently acquired. History, polities, finance, geography, commeree, were things so faithfully studied that no event could turn up but he had a precedent at his pen's point; no strange complication but he found its solution in a stranger of other days. But what avails all history, all knowledge, if it yet remains an open question, "What is best?" The life of an able editor is surely the greatest that is lived in these days. Queens, Emperors, and Presidents affect the destinies of nations; but this editor has his voice in every struggle that goes on in the world, and sets his pen to every question that agitates our planet. And must he, too, ask "What is bost?" And vainly ask? That question which his traditional million of readers put to him every morning over their coffee, how has he struggled with it by gas-light in his dingy editorial box ten hours ago?

Of course the right is best, the simple-hearted Doctor Wiseacre would say. But the one lesson which Stoffle's lifo had hitherto taught him, was that in certain cases the right is not best.

And what then? Why, then comes in statesmanship. Given, that there is no God—given, that this " right" is an orphan going about the world tolerably helpless, and then you have a logical necessity for Statesmen, Diplomatists, Napoleons, and Editors.

And every body knows that the right is not always best.

Whereby men have gained to themselves immortal fame as skillful tinkers, and being lucky, have died on some such lonely shelf as St. Helena, muttering querulous complaints about Grouchy, who did not come up in time.

As though Grouchy ever came up in time.

It is a secret which shrewd men soon learn in our metropolis, that the difference between prosperity and poverty is just the difference between employing and being employed. There came a day when Stoffle, being now an able editor, might exchange his liberal but stated salary, and become proprietor as well as editor. But to do this money was necessary; and for the present he had much fame, but little money. In this crisis of his affairs, when, for a second time, there appeared a serious obstacle in the way to his advancement on that career he had chosen for himself, there came to his aid one of the best and most ingenious inventions of a commereial age. Some enthusiastic writers have labored to prove that women rule in every society; but I aver on the contrary that they have been the sport of every stage of human progress, from barbarism to civilization. In Africa you buy your wife; in Middle-aged Europe you had to fight for her—whereby the number of bachelors was greatly increased; and now Stoffle bartered his reputation and social position for a certain fortune, and was lucky enough to get into the bargain a very pretty wife, whom, if the exigencies of his career had permitted it, he might in a short time have grown to love sincerely and perhaps devotedly.

And now, Stoffle being fortunately married, which every one must acknowledge to be the best thing he could do under the cireumstances, we come to another part of this history.

Y.—IN WHICH "SIMON SAyS VOWS."

When a man has written about Europe and its affairs for some years, it is surely best that he should see with his own eyes some of the people and countries he has so long exereised his pen about. It might be best even, to see Europe before you begin to write about it; but the best thing is not always practicable, as every body knows; and one thing is certain—that if Stoffle had foolishly kept his faith with Lucy he might have deluded a credulous public with opinions about European affairs for half a century, and even then not seen with his eyes the nations he had judged. Thus it appears that Lucy was in reality sacrificed for the public benefit, which, if duly explained to her, would doubtless have greatly assuaged her grief. But Lucy was a sensible girl, who did not need this satisfaction to dry up her tears. I am afraid the angry reader will be angrier still when I tell him that while Stoffle MacGurdigan, Esquire, was traveling over Europe, getting new and improved views of " what is best," Lucy was being courted by a worthy professor of the college whence her former lover had set out on his career; and when Stoffle and his bride were on their homeward passage Lucy became the happy and honored wife of Professor White. It is a disagreeable thing to state, and caleulated to destroy all one's preconceived and beautiful ideas of female fidelity and the power of true love, and all that—this marriage of Lucy's; but it is a fact which could not well be concealed by a faithful historian, and after all, I have known a number of other young ladies do just as Lucy did, and with—I must own—the happiest consequences. Men, of course, never do so; and if Mrs. Betsey had jilted me—a very unlikely thing, as I was thought a very good match even before I knew her—I am sure I should have been a happy bachelor to this day. But that is neither here nor there.

Stoffle came home from Europe—as most of us do—with a batch of new nud improved ideas of " what is best." It is a curious fact that the only Americans who are troubled with serious doubts about the success of our great and glorious experiment of a government, are those who have'' run through" Europe. These experienced men of the world, who set out on their travels with a large spread-eagle next to their hearts, almost invariably return with a poor opinion of Democratic Institutions, and tell you, confidentially, with a French shrug, and a countenance of dolorous certainty, that "it's of no use, you know; Republies may last for a generation or two—but your only steady wear is a good monarehy." And if you could see a little farther into this Jeremiah's thought, you would find behind the "good monarehy" a comfortable aris

tocracy, to divide among them the large slices of fat which prosperous monarehies so abound in. You must not blame these drivelers and doubters too much. A run through Europe is not calculated to sharpen the intelligence of every man; and really, to men who live in a chronic hurry, the speedy ways of an Imperial Dictator can not fail to recommend themselves; while it is difficult to imagine a more disheartening spectacle to an ambitious man of intellect, who feels that his knowledge ought to be both power and wealth, than the shabby Swiss confederacy, surrounded as it is by such splendid kingdoms and empires. Stoffle had an uneasy feeling that such laborers as he were worthy of a greater hire than is provided for with us; and I admit freely that to a laborer who looks only to his hire our greatest prizes even must seem not only very little, but very hard to get at—which is precisely what the fox, had he been honest, would have said of the grapes.

Stoffle came back from Europe, convinced that there are many animals in the world more splendid to look upon, more useful, and perhaps longer lived, than that spread-eagle of which he had in his grass-days been a rather blind worshiper. Till you have seen a king or an emperor, it is not uunatural to think highly of the President. But when you have once been permitted to look at the ways, and thoughts, and means of European statesmen, our own polities look so petty, our best men seem so ridiculously —what shall I say, virtuous 1—that a man who has the soul of a statesman and whose mind can comprehend nud delight in the task of keeping the world balanced, can not help a little regret that he was born to no greater work than voting for (or being voted) Member of Congress—and being opposed perhaps by a hotel keeper, or a corner grocery man. Did you ever hear one of these returned Americans utter the word canailkf It is true, they do not often pronounce it any thing else than canael—but the air with which they mispronounce it is absolutely perfect. It shows that the heart is all right, though the tongue may halt.

Stoffle—who had as contemptuous an opinion of the American eagle as an enlightened traveler need have—was not, however, the man to quarrel with that beloved und somewhat vindictive bird. Like a wise man he made the best of his fate. He was now in the prime and strength of his powers. Long practice had given him a splendid facility in writing, by which his stores of facts were brought to bear upon the various questions of the day with an ability which was undeniable. He had wit; he had logic; he had knowledge; he had experience; he had tact. He was untiring, energetie, pertinacious, and ready. And he had one vast advantage over other men—his readers—that he did not believe in any thing but his career. Thus it is not matter for surprise that ho was successful. When an able man sets all his powers to one object, he is not likely to be foiled—much less if that object is his ow n advancement.

« PreviousContinue »