Our Philadelphia/Chapter 10
CHAPTER X: THE MIRACLE OF WORK
IN the story of my life in Philadelphia, and my love for the town which grew with my knowledge of it, my beginning to work was more than an awakening: it was an important crisis. For work first made me know Philadelphia as it is under the surface of calm and the beauty of age, first made me realize how much it offers besides the social adventure.
Personally, the Centennial had left me where it found me. It had amused me vastly, but it had inspired me with no desire to make active use of the information and hints of which it had been so prodigal. My interest had been stimulated, awakened, but I did not know Philadelphia any the better for it, I did not love Philadelphia any the better. I had got no further than I was in my scheme of existence, into which work, or research, or interest, on my part had not yet entered, but I had reached a point where that aimless scheme was an insufferable bore. From the moment I began to work, I began to see everything from the standpoint of work, and it is wonderful what a fresh and invigorating standpoint it is. I began to see that everything was not all of course and matter of fact, that everything was worth thinking about. Work is sometimes said to help people to put things out of their minds, but it helps them more when it puts things into their minds, and this is what it did for me. Through work I discovered Philadelphia and myself together.
STATE HOUSE YARD
that he could not have written had he not felt for the town an affection strong enough to withstand that town's easy indifference. But during the few years he spent in Philadelphia after his return he was uncommonly successful in hiding his affection, a fact which did not add to his popularity.
From his talk, I might have been expected to borrow nothing save dislike for Philadelphia. But his influence did not begin and end with his talk. There never was a man—except J.—who had such a contempt for idleness and such a talent for work. He could not endure people about him who did not work and, as I was anxious to enjoy as much of his company as I could, for I had found nobody in Philadelphia so entertaining, and as by work I might earn the money to pay for the independence I wanted above all things, I found myself working before I knew it.
I had my doubts when he set me to drawing but, my time being wholly my own and frequently hanging drearily on my hands, my ineffectual attempts to make spirals and curves with a pencil on a piece of paper, attempts that could not by the wildest stretch of imagination be supposed to have either an artistic or a financial value, did not strike me as a disproportionate price for the pleasure and stimulus of his companionship. Besides, he held the comfortable belief that anybody who willed to do it, could do anything—accomplishment, talent, genius reduced by him to a question of will. His will and mine combined, however, could not make a decorative artist of me, but he was so kind as not to throw me over for ruthlessly shattering his favourite theory. He insisted that I should write if I could not draw.
I had my doubts about writing too. I have confessed that I was not given to thinking and therefore I had nothing in particular to say, nor were words to say it in at my ready disposal, for, there being one or two masters of talk in the immediate home circle, I had cultivated to the utmost my natural gift of silence. Nor could I forget two literary ventures made immediately upon my leaving the Convent, before the blatant conceit of the prize scholar had been knocked out of me—one, an essay on François Villon, my choice of a maiden theme giving the measure of my intelligence, the second a short story re-echoing the last love tale I had read—both MSS., neatly tied with brown ribbon to vouch for a masculine mind above feminine pinks and blues, confidently sent to Harper's and as confidently sent back with the Editor's thanks and no delay. But my Uncle would not let me off. I must stick at my task of writing or cease to be his companion, and so relapse into my old Desert of Sahara, thrown back into the colourless life of a Philadelphia girl who did not go out and who had waited to marry longer than her parents thought considerate or correct. Of all my sins, of none was I more guiltily conscious than my failure to oblige my family in this respect, for of none was I more frequently and uncomfortably reminded by my family. I scarcely ever went to see my Grandmother at this period that from her favourite pereh on the landing outside the dining-room, she did not look at me anxiously and reproachfully and ask, "Any news for me, my dear?" and she did not have to tell me there was but one piece of news she cared to hear.
Luckily, writing, my substitute for marriage, was an occupation I was free to take up if I chose, as the work it involved met with no objection from my Father. It was only when work took a girl where the world could not help seeing her at it, that the Philadelphia father objected. To write in the privacy of a third-story front bedroom, or of a back parlour, seemed a ladylike way of wasting hours that might more profitably have been spent in paying calls and going to receptions. If this waste met with financial return, it could be hushed up and the world be none the wiser. The way in which my friends used to greet me after I was fairly launched is characteristic of the Philadelphia attitude in the matter—"always scribbling away, I suppose?" they would say with amiable condescension.
I could not dismiss my scribbling so jauntily. The record of my struggles day by day might help to keep out of the profession of journalism and book-making many a young aspirant as ardent as I was, and with as little to say and as few words to say it in. Experience has taught me to feel, much as Gissing felt, about the "heavy-laden who sit down to the cursed travail of the pen," but nobody could have made me feel that way then, and I am not sure I should care to have missed my struggles, exhausting and heart-rending as they were. During my apprenticeship when nothing, not so much as a newspaper paragraph, came from my mountain of labour, the Philadelphia surface of calm told gloomily on my nerves. Ready to lay the blame anywhere save on my sluggish brain, and moved by my Uncle's vehement denunciations, I vowed to myself a hundred times that a sleepy place, a dead place, like Philadelphia did not give anybody the chance to do anything. I changed my point of view when at last my "scribbling away" got into print.
My first appearance was with a chapter out of a larger work upon which I had been engaged for months. My Uncle, whose ideas were big, had insisted that I must begin straight off with a book, something monumental, a magnum opus; no writer was known who had not written a book; and to be known was half the battle. I was in the state of mind when I would have agreed to publish a masterpiece in hieroglyphics had he suggested it, and I arranged with him to set to work upon my book then and there, though I was decidedly puzzled to know with what it was to deal. I think he was too, my literary resources and tendencies not being of the kind that revealed themselves at a glance. But he declared that there was not a subject upon which a book could not be written if one only went about it in the right way, and in a moment of inspiration, seeking the particular subject suitable to my particular needs, he suddenly, and to me to this day altogether incomprehensibly, hit upon Mischief. There, now, was a subject to make one's reputation on, none could be more original, no author had touched it—what did I think of Mischief?
What did I think? Had I been truthful, I should have said that I thought Mischief was the special attribute of the naughty child who was spanked well for it if he got his deserts. But I was not truthful. I said it was the subject of subjects, as I inclined to believe it was before I was done with it, by which time I had persuaded myself to see in it the one force that made the world go round—the incentive to evolution, the root of the philosophies of the ages, the clue to the mystery of life.
My days were devoted to the study of Mischief and, for the purpose, more carefully divided up and regulated than they ever had been at the Convent. Hours were set aside for research—I see myself and my sympathetic Uncle overhauling dusty dictionaries and encyclopædias at the long table in the balcony of the dusty Mercantile Library where nobody dreamed of disturbing us; I see him at my side during shorter visits to the Philadelphia Library where we were forever running up against people we knew who did disturb us most unconscionably; I see him tramping with me down South Broad Street to the Ridgway Library, that fine mausoleum of the great collections of James Logan and Dr. Rush, where our coming awoke the attendants and exposed their awkwardness in waiting upon unexpected readers, and brought Mr. Lloyd Smith out of his private room, excited and delighted actually to see somebody in the huge and well-appointed building besides himself and his staff. Hours were reserved for reading at home, for it turned out that I could not possibly arrive at the definition of Mischief without a stupendous amount of reading in a stupendous variety of books of any and all kinds from Mother Goose to the Vedas and the Koran, from Darwin to Eliphas Levi. Hours, and they were the longest, were consecrated to my writing-table, putting the results of research and reading into words, defining Mischief in its all-embracing, universe-covering aspect, hewing the phrases from my unwilling brain as the blocks of marble are hewn out of the quarry. As I write, my old MSS. rises before me like a ghost, a disorderly ghost, erased, rewritten, pieces added in, pieces cut out, every scratched and blotted line bearing testimony to the toil that produced it. I can see now that I would have done better to begin with a more obvious theme, coming more within my limited knowledge and vocabulary. My task was too laborious for the fine frenzy, or the inspired flights, reputed to be the reward of the literary life. It was all downright hard labour, and so coloured my whole idea of the business of writing, that I have never yet managed to sit down to my day's work without the feeling which I imagine must be the navvy's as he starts out for his day's digging in the streets.
In the course of time order grew out of the chaos. A chapter of my monumental work on Mischief was finished. It was made ready in a neat copy with hardly an erasure and, having an air of completeness in itself, was sent as a separate article to Lippincott's Magazine, for I decided magnanimously that, as I was a Philadelphian, Philadelphia should have the first chance. I had no doubts of it as a prophetic utterance, as a world-convulsing message, but the Editor of Lippincott's had. He refused it.
How it hurt, that prompt refusal! All my literary hopes came toppling over and I saw myself condemned to the old idleness and dependence. But our spirits when we are young go up as quickly as they go down. I recalled stories I had heard of great men hawking about their MSS. from publisher to publisher. Carlyle, I said to myself, had suffered and almost every writer of note—it was a sign of genius to be refused. Therefore,—the logic of it was clear and convincing—the refusal proved me a genius! A more substantial reassurance was the publication of the same article, done over and patched up and with the fine title of Mischief in the Middle Ages, in the Atlantic Monthly a very few months later. And when, on top of this, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, the Editor of the Atlantic, wrote and told me he would be pleased to have further articles from me; when, in answer to a letter my Uncle had insisted on my writing, Oliver Wendell Holmes promised me his interest in Mischief as I proposed to define it, I saw the world at my feet where, to my sorrow, I have never seen it since that first fine moment of elation.
The spectacle of myself in print set Philadelphia dancing before my eyes and turned the world a bit unsteady. But it did not relieve the labour of writing. Within the next year or two seven or eight chapters did get done and were published as articles in the Atlantic, but the world is still the poorer for the magnum opus that was to bring me fame. The fact was that in the making, it brought me mighty little money. My first cheque only whetted my appetite, but, in fairness to myself I must explain, through no more sordid motive than my desire to become my own bread-winner. The newspapers offered a wider scope at less expense of time and labour, and my Uncle not only relaxed so far as to allow me intervals from the bigger undertaking for simpler tasks, but gave me the benefit of his experience as a newspaper man. In the old days, before he had gone to live in London, he had had the run of almost every newspaper office in town, and he opened their doors for me. Thanks to his introduction, Philadelphia, at this stage of my progress, conspired to put work into my hands, and writing for Philadelphia papers taught me in a winter more about Philadelphia than I had learned in all the years I had already spent there. I marvelled that I could have thought it dead when it was so alive. I seemed to feel it quiver under my feet at every step, shaking me into speed, and filling me with pity for the sedate pace at which my Father and the Philadelphians of his generation walked through its pulsating streets.
My first newspaper commissions came from the Press and adventure accompanied them—the adventure of business letters in my morning's mail, of proofs, of visits to the office—adventures that far too soon became the commonplaces of my busy days as journalist. But my outlook upon life in Philadelphia had, up till then, been bounded by the brick walls of a Spruce Street house, and the editorial office, that holds no surprise for me now, held nothing save surprise when I was first summoned to it. I was bewildered by the disorder, stunned by the noise—boys coming and going, letters and telegrams pouring in, piles of proofs mounting up on the desk, baskets overflowing with MSS., floors strewn with papers, machinery throbbing close by, a heavy smell of tobacco over everything, and in the midst of the confusion—lounging, working, answering questions, tearing open letters and telegrams, correcting proof, and yet managing to talk with me,—Moses P. Handy, the editor, a red man in my memory of him, red hair, red beard, red cheeks, whose cordiality I could not flatter myself was due to his eagerness for my contributions, so engrossed was he in talking of the Eastern Shore of Maryland from which he came and in which my family had made their prolonged stay on the way from Virginia to Philadelphia. The Eastern Shore may be a good place to come away from, but the native never forgets that he did come from it and he never fails to hail his fellow exile as brother.
My next commission I owed to the Evening Telegraph, for which I made a remarkable journey to Atlantic City: a voyage of discovery, though the report of it did not paralyse the Philadelphia public. I was deeply impressed by my exercise of my faculty of observation thus tested on familiar ground, but I am afraid it left the Editor indifferent, and, as in his case the Eastern Shore was not a friendly link between us, he expressed no desire for a second article or for a second visit. I have regretted it since, the Editor being Clarke Davis, whom not to know was, I believe, not to have arrived so far in Philadelphia journalism as I liked to think I had.A more remarkable journey followed to New York for I wish I could remember what paper; or perhaps it is just as well I cannot, the adventure adding to the reputation neither of the paper nor of myself. The object was to attend the press view of an important exhibition of paintings, and at that stage of my education I doubt if I could have told a Rembrandt from a Rubens, much less a Kenyon Cox from a Church, a Chase from a Blum, which was more immediately to the point. I had my punishment on the spot, for my hours in the Gallery may be counted the most humiliating of my life. My ignorance would not let me lose sight of it for one little second. J. had gone with me—how I came to know him I mean to tell further on—but he had no press ticket, a stern man at the door refused to admit him without one, and I was alone in my
incompetency to wrestle with it as I could. Had he not returned with me to Philadelphia in the afternoon and devoted the interval in the train to throwing light upon my obscure and agonised notes, my copy could not have been delivered that evening as agreed. I know now that the paper would have come out all the same the next morning, but in my misery it did not seem possible that it could, and besides I was from the first, as through my many years of journalism, scrupulous to be on time with my copy and to keep to my agreements. That was my first experience in art criticism. I have tried to atone for it by years of conscientious work, but few Philadelphia papers can say as much for themselves. In those I see from time to time, the art criticism usually reads as if Philadelphia editors had lost nothing of their old amiability in handing it over to young ladies to get their journalistic training on.
I was given also my chance in two newspaper ventures Philadelphia made in the early Eighteen-Eighties. One was the American, a weekly on the lines of the New York Nation. Mr. Howard Jenkins, the editor, sent me books for review, and not the first baby, not the first baby's first tooth, could be as extraordinary a phenomenon as the first book sent for the purpose from the editorial office. Mine, as I have never forgotten, as I never could forget, was Howard Pyle's Robin Hood, and when Mr. Jenkins wrote me that "Mr. Pyle's folks" were pleased with what I had written, I thought I had got to the very top of the tree of journalism. That I had got no further than a step from the bottom, and upon that had none too secure a foothold, I was reminded when the second book for review lay open before me.
The other venture was Our Continent, also a weekly, but illustrated, edited by Judge Tourgee. Of my contributions, I remember chiefly an article on Shop Windows, which suggests that I was busy with what I might call a more pretentious kind of reporting. My subjects and my manner of treating them may have been what they were,—of no special value to anybody but myself. But to myself I cannot exaggerate their value. I was learning from them all the time.It was an education just to learn what a newspaper was. Heretofore I had accepted it as a thing that came of itself, arriving in the morning with the milk and the rolls for breakfast. I knew as little of its origin as the town boy knew of where the milk comes from in the Punch story that I do not doubt was old when Punch was young. Milk he had always seen poured from a can, our newspaper we had always had from the nearest news-agent. It was very simple. A newspaper appeared on the breakfast-table of a well-regulated Philadelphia house just as the water ran when the tap was turned on in the bath-room, or the gas burned when lit by a match. But after one article, after one visit to a newspaper office, after one journey to Atlantic City or New York, the newspaper did not seem so simple. I began to understand that it would not have
ON THE READING AT SIXTEENTH STREET
got as far as Spruce Street had it not been for an army of people writing, printing, correcting proof, tearing from one end of the town—of the world—to the other; without colossal machinery throbbing night and day, without an immeasurable consumption of tobacco. I began to understand the organization required to bring the army of people and the colossal machines into such perfect harmony that the daily miracle of the newspaper on the breakfast-table might be worked—to understand too that the miracle-working organization had not been created in a day, that behind the daily paper was not merely the toiling of its staff and its machines but a long history of striving, experiment, development.
I cannot say I went profoundly into the history, I was too engrossed in contributing my delightful share to the newspaper as it was, but to go superficially sufficed to show me in Philadelphia a spirit of enterprise altogether new to me. I had discovered only shortly before Philadelphia as the scene of the first Colonial Congress, and the Declaration of Independence, and the first big International Exposition in America, and now I added to these other discoveries the fact that Philadelphia had been the first American town to publish a daily paper, the last discovery bringing me face to face with Benjamin Franklin who, it appeared, besides flying that tiresome kite and being the ancestor of Mrs. Gillespie, was the first printer and publisher of the paper that set an example for all America. Tranquil the Philadelphian was by repute, but he rolled up his sleeves and pitched in when the moment came. Philadelphia's famous calm was but skin deep over its seething mass of workers, its energy, its toiling, its triumph. When I reflected on what was going on at night in every newspaper office in town, it seemed to me as unbelievable that, on the verge of this volcano of work, Philadelphians could keep on dancing at parties, at the Dancing Class, at the Assembly, as that men and women should have danced at Brussels on the eve of Waterloo. And newspaper-making was one only of Philadelphia's innumerable industries. That thought gave me the scale of the labour that goes to keep the machinery of life running.
LOCUST STREET EAST FROM BROAD STREET
themselves in words, he lost no time in persuading the Board of Education to put this particular one to a practical test. Doubts of their methods had assailed the Board, but no way out of the difficulty had been suggested until he came and said, "Set your children, your boys and girls, who are forgetting how to use their hands, to work at the Minor Arts." It struck them as a suggestion that warranted the experiment anyway, especially as the cost would be comparatively small. My Uncle had been back in Philadelphia not much more than a year when classes were put in his charge and a schoolroom—the schoolhouse at Broad and Locust—at his disposal, and he inaugurated the study of the Arts and Crafts in Philadelphia with the Industrial Art School, as he had in London with the Home Arts. His sole payment was the pleasure of the experiment, a pleasure which few theorists succeed in securing. I, however, was paid by the City in solid dollars and cents for the fine amateurish inefficiency with which I helped him to manage the classes, recommended by him, whose consideration was as practical for my pockets which the Atlantic, backed by newspapers, had not filled to repletion.
This is not the place for the history of his experiment. It is known. The school has passed from the experimental stage into a permanent institution, though in the passing my Uncle has been virtually forgotten,—often the fate of the man who sets a ball of reform rolling. Of all this I have elsewhere made the record. I am at present concerned with the influence the school had upon me and the unexpected extent to which it widened my knowledge of Philadelphia and Philadelphia activities.
How Philadelphia was educated was not a question that had kept me awake at nights. The Philadelphia girl of my acquaintance, if a day scholar, went naturally to Miss Irwin's or to Miss Annabel's in town; if a boarder perhaps to Miss Chapman's at Holmesburg or Mrs. Comegys at Chestnut Hill; unless her parents were converts or Catholics by birth when she went instead to the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Torresdale or in Walnut Street. The Philadelphia boy began with the Episcopal Academy and finished with the University of Pennsylvania. Friends went to the Friends' School in Germantown, and to Swarthmore and Haverford. What others did, did not matter. I had heard there were public or free schools where children could go for nothing, but nobody to my knowledge went to them. With what insolence we each of us, in our own little fraction of the world, think everybody outside of it nobody! But up in the top story rooms of the school-house at Broad and Locust, where my work took me two afternoons in the week, I found myself the centre of a vast network of schools! High Schools, Grammar Schools, Primary Schools, Scholarships, more divisions and subdivisions than I could count; with teachers—for there was a class for teachers—and pupils coming from every ward and suburb, every street and alley of the town; a School Board keeping a watchful eye upon schools and teachers, not leaving me out; and all about me a vast population without one idea or interest except the education of Philadelphia. And this implied, like the newspaper, a perfect organization of its own to keep the whole thing going—an organization that never could have been born in a day. The education of Philadelphia had absorbed a vast population since Philadelphia was: the first Philadelphia children hardly escaping from their cave dwellings before they were hurried into school to have their poor little minds trained and disciplined. Really, in my first days of work, life was a succession of startling discoveries about Philadelphia.
I could not get paid for my afternoons at the school, which I ought to have paid for considering the education they were to me, without making another discovery. The pay came monthly from the City in the form of a warrant, or so I believe it is called. As I have explained that I had never been possessed of money of my own, some allowance will be made for my stupidity in thinking it necessary to cash the warrant in person. It never occurred to me to open a bank account or to ask my Father to exchange the warrant for money. I went myself to the office in the big, new, unfinished City Hall—how well I remember, when I was kept waiting which was always, my conscientiousness in jotting down elaborate notes of windows and doors and upholstery and decoration: Zola in France and Howells at home having made Realism the literary fashion, and Realism, I gathered, being achieved only by way of jotting down endless notes in every situation in which I found myself; especially as J. had brought back from Italy exemplary and inspiring tales of Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) and Mary Robinson (Mme. Duclaux), with whom he had worked and travelled, filling blank books with memoranda collected from the windows of every train they took and every hotel in which they stayed.
I am glad I was stupid, such a good thing for me was this going in person, such a suggestive lesson in City Government which I learned was as little of an automatic arrangement as education and the newspaper, and not necessarily something that all decent people should be ashamed of being mixed up with, the way my Father and the old-fashioned Philadelphian of his type looked upon it and every other variety of Government. It was just another huge, busy, striving, toiling organization, so huge as to fit with difficulty into the enormous ugly new buildings, then recently set down for it in Penn Square with complete indifference to Penn's plan for his green country town, or to get its work done in the maze of courts and passages and offices by the hordes of big and little officials no less preoccupied in City Government than journalists in their newspaper, or teachers in their school, or—outrageous as it may sound—society in the Assembly and Dancing Class and the things which I had been brought up to believe the beginning and end of existence on this earth.
BROAD STREET, LOOKING SOUTH FROM ABOVE ARCH STREET
My new knowledge of Philadelphia was widened in various other directions as time went on. My Uncle's experiment, when it took practical shape, attracted attention and he was asked to lecture on it in places like the Franklin Institute—there was no keeping away very long from Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia once I got to know anything about Philadelphia—and to visit institutions like Moyamensing Prison or Kirkbride's Insane Asylum that he might consider the advisability of introducing his scheme of manual work for the benefit of the insane and the criminal. I usually accompanied him on these occasions, and before he had got through his rounds I had seen a number of different phases of Philadelphia activity and enterprise and power of organization. I had been given some idea of the armies of doctors and nurses and scientists who had made Kirkbride's a model throughout the land, while Dr. Albert Smith had helped me to an additional insight into the hospitals that set as excellent an example. I had been given an idea of the armies of judges and juries and police and governors and warders and visiting inspectors,—of whom my Father was one, with a special tenderness for murderers whom he used to take his family to visit—at Moyamensing. And from the combination of all my new experiences I had gained further knowledge of the energies at work beyond the limits of "Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce and Pine" to make Philadelphia what it was.
I ought to have needed no guide to the knowledge and appreciation of these things, it may be said. I admit it. But the happy mortals who are born observant do not picture to themselves the tortures gone through by those who must have observation thrust upon them before they begin to use their eyes. I had not been born to observe, I had not been trained to observe, and to become observant I had to go through the sort of practical course Mr. Squeers set to his boys. His method, denounce it as you will, has its merits. The students of Dotheboys Hall could never have forgotten what a window is or what it means to clean it. I had grown up to accept life as a pageant for me to look on at, with no part to play in it. After my initiation into work, I could never forget, in the quietest, emptiest sections of the town, not even in placid little backwaters like Clinton Street and De Lancey Place, the machinery forever crashing and grinding and roaring to produce the pageant, to weave for Philadelphia the beautiful serenity it wore like a garment. I could never forget that, insignificant as my share in the machinery might be, all the same I was contributing something to make it go. I could never be sure that everybody I met, however calm in appearance, might not be as mixed up in the great machine of work as I was beginning to be.I had to work to learn that Philadelphia had worked, and still worked, and worked so well as to be the first to
CLINTON STREET, WITH THE PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL AT ITS END
have given America much that is best and most vital in the country—the first to show the right way with its schools and hospitals and libraries and newspapers and galleries and museums, the leader in the fight for liberty of conscience, the scene of the first Colonial Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Centennial Exposition to commemorate it, a pioneer in science and industry and manufacture—a town upon which all the others in the land could not do better than model themselves—while all the time it maintained its fine air of calm that perplexes the stranger and misleads the native. But I had found it out, found out its greatness, before age had dimmed my perceptions and dulled my power of appreciation; and to find Philadelphia out is to love it.