History of Oregon Newspapers/Harvey Scott, the Leader
SCOTT AND THE OREGONIAN
Thus Harvey Scott came to the Oregonian as a part-time editorial writer, collecting $15 a week for his work as editor and librarian. After the first of the year, Clarke left the paper, and young Scott's contributions became regular.
It is pretty clearly established that Mr. Scott became editor of the Oregonian in May, 1865, though in an article written for the semi-centennial of the Oregonian, December 4, 1900, close to 40 years after the founding of the daily, H. L. Pittock, publisher of the paper, says in so many words:
Mr. Scott became editor of the Oregonian in 1864. I was led to invite him to the editorship largely through the offices of the late Judge Shattuck.
In the same anniversary issue, on the same page, Mr. Scott, in a signed article, wrote:
His [Simeon Francis'] successor [in 1862] was Amory Holbrook, an able man but an irregular worker. After him, John F. Damon, now of Seattle, and Samuel A. Clarke of Salem were editors. In May, 1865, Mr. Clarke resigned, and Harvey W. Scott succeeded him.
Mr. Scott's version agrees with the description of the situation given by George H. Himes and other contemporaries.
Of his educational equipment for his editorial work, probably no one was better fitted to speak than Dr. Charles H. Chapman, second president of the University of Oregon (1893-99), who for six years (1904-10) was an editorial writer under Mr. Scott. Chapman credited the editor's vigorous English style to his Latin reading (5). While in Pacific University he had acquired a mastery of Latin and a fair command of Greek, and his library was filled with Latin originals.
He wrote (said Dr. Chapman, himself a master of style) with all the precision of the classical authors and often with more than their incisiveness. His Latin taught him to shun that diffusive wordiness which is the bane of so much common writing and gave him the model for those condensed and forceful sentences which never failed to go straight to the mark, and pierce it when they struck.
In Dr. Chapman's opinion Mr. Scott's classical studies sharpened up a mind "admirably adapted" to their use.
Of Mr. Scott's wide reading, all his contemporaries have spoken. Dr. Chapman (6) notes Gibbon, modern Egyptologists, Milton, Hooker, Locke, Carlyle, Bishop Berkeley, William James, but above all, Shakespeare and the Bible. His knowledge of the Bible was constantly shown in his writings, to which the scriptures contributed more than any other source, even the classics. Current best-sellers had no place in his reading, but he did read the best novels. Of poetry he was especially fond, and his memory was a treasurehouse of poetical quotations. Paradise Lost, Burns, Goethe's Faust, Tennyson he could quote interminably.
His library was one of the largest in the West. His marvelous memory (Chapman says, indeed, "He seldom forgot a passage") was buttressed by his great store of books in his own library, ready at hand. "To one who understands and loves books Mr. Scott's library gives a better account of his life and thought than any biographer could write," Dr. Chapman concludes.
Others have paid similar tribute to Mr. Scott's writing strength, drawn from a developing facility in written expression, the rugged individuality of the pioneer applied to his thinking, and a constantly increasing stock of information and ideas, built up through study on the job and off. As a foundation for the discussion of his editorial career, let us here reproduce the outline of his life given in the June, 1913, edition of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, then edited by Professor F. G. Young of the University of Oregon:
Born near Peoria, Illinois, February 1, 1838, son of John Tucker Scott and Anne Roelofson Scott.
Crossed the plains to Oregon, arriving in Oregon City, October 2, 1852.
Went to Puget Sound, spring of 1854, working there in the woods.
Served in Indian wars, Puget Sound, 1855-56.
Returned to Oregon City, September, 1856.
Attended Pacific University, preparatory department, December, 1856-April, 1857.
Attended academy, Oregon City, winter of 1858-59.
Returned to Pacific University, fall of 1859.
Graduated Pacific University, only member of first graduating class, 1863.
Librarian Portland Library, 1864-65.
Admitted to Oregon Bar, September 7, 1865.
Married Elizabeth A. Nicklin, Salem, October 31, 1865.
Editor Oregonian, April 17, 1865-September 11, 1872; April 1, 1877-August 7, 1910.
Collector of Customs, Portland, October 1, 1870-May 31, 1876.
Married Margaret McChesney, Latrobe, Pa., June 28, 1876.
President Oregon Historical Society, 1898-1901.
President Lewis and Clark Exposition, 1903-4.
Director Associated Press, 1900-1910.
Died at Baltimore, Md., August 7, 1910.
Scott was a pioneer of pioneers. In the journey across the plains the family were compelled to leave behind them in shallow prairie graves the mother (Anne Roelofson Scott) and a little brother 4 years old. The graves themselves were hidden, to protect the bodies from desecration by the savages who beset the westward caravans Not to go exhaustively into the family's historical background, let it simply be said that the father, John Tucker Scott, of rugged Scotch ancestry, had been the first settler in Groveland township, Illinois, where he had journeyed from Kentucky in 1824. There Harvey Scott was born 14 years later.
Two sisters, Abigail Jane (Mrs. Catherine Amanda (Mrs. Coburn), also in the covered-wagon, became probably Oregon's two greatest women journalists.) and
After little more than a year in the new home, the family moved to a claim near Shelton, Wash., northwest of Olympia. There in the spring of 1854 the young Scott worked as a woodsman in the big Washington timber.
These were days of Indian troubles in Oregon and Washington and Scott served in the Indian wars on Puget Sound in 1855 and 1856.
In the fall of 1856, returning to Oregon to attend school while living with relatives, he walked all the way except where it was necessary to cross rivers. He crossed the Willamette in a skiff to the foot of Stark street, Portland, on the morning of October 4, 1856. The place where few feet of the place where, less than nine years later, he was to have his desk as editor of the Oregonian. He walked that day to a point near Butte Creek, 36 miles from Portland, arriving there at 6 p. m.
After a year in the academy at Oregon City, Scott, then 21 years old, entered the collegiate department of Pacific University, where he had been a preparatory student, and there completed his formal education, grounding himself firmly in the classics—a foundation ample for his developing career as editor and as student of history and of contemporary problems. He was graduated in 1863.
Going to Portland he undertook the study of law, as already told. His admission to the bar came in September, several months after he had taken charge as editor of the Oregonian. The next month he married Elizabeth A. Nicklin at Salem.
Contemporaries and historians have united in crediting Harvey Whitefield Scott with editorial leadership in Oregon during half a century. This does not mean, however, that at 27 young Harvey Scott was a rounded-out editor. It was a new field for him, and he had to "learn his metier." One of his earliest bits of work on the Oregonianr, written soon before he became recognized as editor of the paper, was an editorial on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps it will serve to show that Scott still had to climb before he reached the heights he attained as thinker and writer. Plenty of verbal strength is shown, plenty of fire, but this is not the Harvey Scott of 1900. Here is the last paragraph of the editorial:
It happens that we can place alongside this product of his editorial childhood another, the product of his mellowed maturity. Compare with the paragraph just quoted the following, taken from his last year's work, published April 14, 1910 (Scott died in August); note what the years of work and study and thought had done for Scott as editorial writer:
Upon this fiendish spirit of murder which has been sedulously propagated and inflamed by the disloyal men and the disloyal press of the North, there must be meted out the fullest retribution. Thousands on thousands have fallen as sacrifices to the truculent spirit of revenge and hate by which this conflict was begun; but of all these martyrs, the blood of none calls so loudly for vengeance, as that of the murdered Abraham Lincoln. Loyal men of the North! You know now the demoniacal intent of your enemies. Mildness and magnanimity will not disarm them. Let all who mourn the death of noble Abraham Lincoln resolve that the fell spirit which caused it shall be eradicated utterly, even if the whole race of traitors and assassins must, for that purpose, be destroyed.
On this night, April 14, forty-five years ago, Abraham Lincoln was shot by an assassin; a crime as foolish as horrible. It changed (not for the better) the whole course of political life, from that day to this, and it may be American doubted whether we shall ever escape from the consequences of that mad and criminal act.
The irrational division of political parties today is a consequence of this crime, and no man can see far enough in the future to imagine when the course of our history, set awry by this act of an assassin, will resume a rational or normal line of action.
Mr. Scott had reference, in part, of course, to the vast difference in the "reconstruction" of the South under Johnson from what would have been done under the saner and milder policies of Lincoln, as indicated by the tone of the second inaugural and other utterances, and, no doubt, to the cleavage of parties along sectional lines, which has done so much to obscure legitimate American political issues.
These paragraphs are but an indication of the moderation and lenity of the Oregonian editor's spirit toward the South in the reconstruction. Though he abated nothing of his earlier abomination of state sovereignty and slavery (7), he was never reconciled to Negro suffrage. As late as August 8, 1907, he wrote:
It is not to be denied that the evils of indiscriminate Negro suffrage in our Southern states are too great to be permitted.
Scott was exceptional in that he began his newspaper career on the editorial page and to the end was never anything else but an editor. He was not the news—or managing—editor type of leader, being concerned chiefly with editorial policies rather than news details.
It would take volumes to give adequate consideration to Scott's editorial ideas as developed through more than forty years. Only a few can be mentioned here (8).
By common consent the most conspicuous of many great services rendered the state by Mr. Scott was his steadfast advocacy of the gold standard against tremendous pressures in the free-silver days of the 90's. Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, all went solidly for silver in 1896; California gave Bryan one of its nine electoral votes. Oregon alone in the West gave its solid electoral vote against the silver policy.
This was by no means easy for Scott, who was accused of sitting up there in his isolated tower and paying no attention to what the people felt out in the state. Republican newspaper support was much weakened in that campaign, free-silver papers sprung up all over Oregon, and the Oregonian's editorial thunderings were credited with the final victory, which a few weeks before, had seemed impossible.
Two cardinal principles of Scott's political and economic philosophy were free trade and sound money. In the case of free trade he recognized that the tariff was, more or less, a local issue, and that circumstances might alter policies. This made it possible for him to maintain affiliation with the Republican party, though he never yielded on the fundamental soundness of free trade. In the case of sound money, however, there was no single hint of wavering, no concession to expediency, and he regarded greenbackism and free silver alike as unsound in economics and fundamentally dishonest.
Mr. Scott's feeling on both of these issues probably explains a certain lukewarmness on his part toward William McKinley, whose "bimetallism by international agreement" policy and his extreme high-tariff views left the Oregonian editor equally cold. There wasn't much about McKinley, as a matter of fact, that Scott liked; it was the dislike of a hard, economic thinker for the highly political type of mind. Note his comment in an editorial published in the Oregonian November 9, 1899:
Senator Depew, of New York, says the elections prove that the people are with the president. The elections prove the people are resolved on two things: First, to uphold the gold standard, and second, to maintain the authority of the United States in our distant possessions. The complaint against McKinley is that he has not been vigorous enough in either purpose. He halts, hesitates, waits; he is not a leader, but only a timid follower. He keeps his ear to the ground, trying to attune it to faint whispers or echoes of popular expression, and so, instead of being a leader, he is far in the rearward of actual opinion and judgment. He is a pattern of the meticulous spirit, of the mincing movement, of invertebrate statesmanship. The people are not with him, and he is not with the people. They are far ahead of him, and he lags and loiters along in the rear, warming his fingers and toes at old expiring campfires.
Later (December 10 of the same year) he wrote:
The editor's feeling for Grover Cleveland stands out in distinct contrast to this. He wrote (9):
The president's course has been one of indecision and hesitation. It has been the course of a politician fearful of the effect on his own political fortunes of any open and strong utterance or decided policy.
A man who performed services to his country at a critical time scarcely excelled by more than two or three of our presidents, was Graver Cleveland. He was the man for a crisis, and he had at once the intelligence, the purpose, and the firmness to do the work. . . . No man of clearer vision, in a peculiar crisis, or more resolute to meet the demands of an occasion, has ever appeared in our affairs. His second election was one of the fortunate incidents of the history of the United States. . . .In all its history the act of no statesman has been more completely vindicated by results, and by the recognition of his countrymen, than that of Grover Cleveland in ridding the country of the financial fallacies that at tended the silver fiat money propaganda.
The movement after the war to pay its cost with greenbacks was fought by the Oregonian. In an editorial published February 18, 1878, Scott said:
This (the plan to print enough greenbacks to take up the national debt) would be a thorough and logical method of carrying out the greenback scheme. It would simply be repudiation of the entire debt, for there would be no hope that so great an amount of greenbacks would be redeemed; no time for redemption would or could be specified, and as holders would receive no interest the greenbacks would not possess a single quality of value.
Scott never wavered in his ideas on fiat money. Near the end of his career he wrote (10):
There is a fundamental error in our monetary system. It is the parent of all other errors that beset the system. This error is the fiat notion of money. . . . But these notes are not money. They are merely substitutes for money whose value depends on their redeemability in gold or the prospect of it.
He favored establishment of a central bank and branches, modeled after the United States bank founded by Hamilton in 1791 and after the government banks of Europe.
Our people (he wrote) believing they can regulate, by their votes, the value of money, and calling notes issued by authority of the government, money, will not permit any rational currency or rational banking system to be established in the United States. ... It is useless, therefore, to attempt a remedy now for the defects of our banking and currency system. We shall be compelled to blunder along with the system as it is, and to accept the consequences of such financial collapses as it will, at intervals, necessarily produce. Sometime we may become wise enough to have a great central bank, with branches all over the country, like the Bank of France, whose strength was so great that even the commune of Paris, in the ascendant in 1871, dared not touch it.
Another important policy of Scott's was his advocacy of an isthmian canal, treated in frequent editorials from 1897 on. He commended President Theodore Roosevelt for seeing that the waterway became an American enterprise.
Scott was decidedly a Hamiltonian in his conception of government-an attitude that came out early in his career, in editorials taking issue with the extreme Jeffersonianism of Beriah Brown, editor of the Portland Herald. In an editorial published November 1, 1869, the Oregonian assailed Jefferson as the "architect of state sovereign y." This view persisted throughout Scott's life. Note this editorial expression of forty years later (11):
Jefferson was the man who, after the formation of the constitution and the making of the nation under it, for partisan purposes set up the claim that there was, in fact, no nation, but only a league of states that might be abandoned or broken at will. This was the Great Rebellion. This was the Civil War. He was the evil genius of our national and political life.
If there seems to be a bit of inconsistency between Scott the pioneer and individualist, the believer in self-reliance, and Scott the Hamiltonian, with his opposition to Jefferson's belief that the least government was the best government, we can let it pass without a qualm. Great men have never bothered about "consistency." Classic example of this is the Louisiana purchase by Jefferson, the advocate of "strict construction" of the constitution. Scott was like Jefferson in this one respect, at least, that he'd rather be right than be consistent.
In an earlier editorial (12) Scott showed himself as strongly pro-Hamilton as he had pronounced himself anti-Jefferson on many occasions. He wrote:
To Hamilton the country is chiefly indebted . . . more than to all others-for the creation of a national government with sufficient power to maintain the national authority. He it was who, foreseeing the conflict between pretensions of state supremacy and the necessary powers of national authority, succeeded, in spite of tremendous opposition, in putting into the constitution the vital forces which have sustained it. Appomattox was his victory. . . . The glory of Hamilton is the greatness of America.
Religion and theology, in their many phases, were, it is fairly generally agreed, Mr. Scott's favorite subject of thought and writing. (13).
This study, apparently, was not only an intellectual hobby but an outlet for the expression of his deeply religious nature. His first few years on the Oregonian's editorial tripod did not produce any great volume of this type of matter; but from 1875, when he was a fairly regular contributor to the Pacific Christian Advocate and the New Northwest, and 1877, when he resumed editorship of the Oregonian, after a five-year hiatus, and began his long series of many hundred editorials on matters of religious and theological thought, right through to 1910, when he laid down his pen, this type of matter loomed large in his thinking and writing.
Contrary to the attitude of the majority of editors, Mr. Scott believed matters of religion were fit subjects for discussion in the newspapers.
Will you pardon me, he wrote a Portland pastor (14), when I say that I do not think that the pulpit has the sole right to present religious or theological opinions to the public? You must be aware of the tendency of modern critical thought, which studies religion from the standpoint of the universal history of man, and regards Christianity, not as the exclusive and absolute religion, nor as the final form and ultimate expression of all religious truth, but simply as one of the many religions of the world. Again, since this religion does not contain all truth for all men, still less can any one of the innumerable "doxies" into which it is subdivided.
As a general newspaper, taking note of the movement of the thought of the world, the Oregonian cannot ignore a subject which has so large a part of the progressive world's attention. . . .
In Christianity as a "revealed" religion he did not believe, yet he was steadfast in his advocacy of Christian ethics and principles. To him Christianity was not the religion but one of the religions. Religion to him was greater than Christianity—each great religion filling the particular need of its own time and race.
For materialism, irreligion, and scoffing he expressed deep dislike. This editor recognized the Roman Catholic church as probably the most comfortable church home for those who do not want to think about their religion but wish rather to "repose on authority."
As early as 1876 (February 8) Scott had expressed himself in terms unfavorable to Thomas Paine, the idol of so many so-called free thinkers in religion. In an article in the New Northwest, edited by his sister Abigail Scott Duniway, Scott on that day referred to Paine as "irreverent, flippant, irrational." Nearly 20 years later (February 6, 1895) the editor expressed himself as follows on Paine:
Every few years a rage of admiration for Thomas Paine breaks out, and has its run among a number of our people. Paine's celebrity is due chiefly to the fact that his manner is rough, startling, violent. Many persons are delighted to find furious attacks on old opinions and old institutions. Paine does this work well. But it is a kind of work that has little effect upon the world. Moral insight Paine had none; of the institutions of society as the growth of ages, which might be slowly and safely modified, but could not be upset at once and tumbled into chaos without producing the greatest catastrophes for mankind, he had no conception. The notice he gets from our clergymen is often out of proportion to his weight in history, and is usually provoked by the popular meetings held at intervals by those who, in their hero-worship, reflect or flatter themselves. It is, perhaps, needless to say that it is not because Paine was what is called an "unbeliever" that the Oregonian does not join in this excessive admiration of him.
In such a condensed discussion as this there is real danger of doing violence to the beliefs and significance of Mr. Scott in a field so full of subtleties and controversies as the various phases of religion, theology, and morals. It is even difficult to select from this editor's writings, clear and strong though they are, any quotations within the space limits of this volume which will not perhaps, do him injustice. It must be remembered, too, that Mr. Scott regarded himself as a defender of true religion. He found it possible to affiliate throughout his life with the Congregational church and was on terms of friendly understanding with many of Portland's best-known clergymen in several denominations.
With all this in mind, the following excerpt, published in the Oregonian as an editorial November 19, 1889, under the heading "Rationalism Not 'Decay" of Religion" is offered as probably a fair expression of what Mr. Scott was trying to accomplish in his many unorthodox editorials:
Men, in increasing numbers, perceive that Christianity is not the absolute religion, but merely one of the forms through which the moral and spiritual consciousness of the race is undergoing development. They begin to understand that religion is greater than any form under which it has appeared among men, and they question the claims of any form of it to an exclusive and supernatural character.The rationalism on which this attitude is founded is not irreligious. In its best sense it is deeply religious. In its estimate of Christianity, it finds that the life and work of the founder of this great religion were contained within purely human conditions. It therefore rejects all supernatural pretensions made in his behalf, and receives him as one of the great moral and spiritual teachers of the world. In this direction the tendency of the thought of mankind is irresistible. It is supported by an induction gathered from the widest range of history and experience, by study of the processes and steps of the spiritual and moral development of the race, by accumulating facts in every department of culture and know ledge. Churchmen should not mistake this tendency, which is not irreligious, for a sign of general falling away from that sense of duty to God and regard for man which is the true basis of the religious character and religious life. The best and surest hold that religion possesses is in reconcilement of the intellectual with the spiritual nature of man. This process or result some call "infidelity," and, seeing it, they bewail the supposed decay of religion. Men of the Church will be wiser in the next ages.
Mr. Scott's study of the Bible, it appears, was motivated not merely by his interest in theology but by his feeling for the greatness of its literary style.
An editorial of June 22, 1902, was headed by Mr. Scott "The Bible the Masterpiece of English Prose." This article, emphasizing the importance of the Bible as an English masterpiece, follows, in part:
The English Bible is the masterpiece of our prose, as Shakespeare's work is of our poetry; it beats, not only with the divine impulse of its original, but also with that immense vitality of religious life in the days when to our ancestors religion and life were identical. In this version we have that tremendous reach of emotion, borne on a style majestic and clear, which has been, and will continue to be, one of the great forces in the movement of history. This English Bible is among the greatest of the agencies in spreading the English language throughout the world, and in extending the principles of liberty and of jurisprudence, that go with it and find their expression through it. This view shows that missionary work carried on in the English tongue throughout the world has a field vastly wider than propagation of mere ecclesiastical dogma. It is introductory to, and part of, a greatly wider field of effort and prograss. . . .
Oregon history was another of Mr Scott's favorite subjects. He wrote frequent editorials on historical topics, and he served as the first president of the Oregon Historical Society, organized in 1898.
On his personal side, Scott throughout his career worked so hard, read so much, studied so deeply that he had little time for the lighter things of life. Even in his home, the thing that was singled out for comment by such men as Alfred Holman, his brilliant associate on the Oregonian for many years, and Charles H. Chapman was his extensive library. He cared nothing for sports. And yet there is every indication that his contacts with his fellows—business and professional men, reporters, printers —were smooth. Printers who worked for him never lost a feeling of admiration and personal loyalty. To the men on the Oregonian staff he was "the old man," and this was spoken affectionately. He was capable of explosions on such occasions as when a pat phrase of his would be ruined by a printer and neglect ed by a proofreader. But this did not always cause a blow-up. There was that occasion, related by the late Alan B. Slauson, when, in the early part of a political campaign, Scott had quoted the literary phrase, "We shall meet at Philippi." By the time the printers and proofreaders had finished and the paper had come out, this phrase in Scott's editorial read, "We shall meet at Philadelphia." The proof reader's explanation that, as everybody knew, the convention was to meet in Philadelphia that year was accepted by Scott, who threw up his hands in despair and let it go at that.
Scott, like a true pioneer, cared little for dress. He had to be reminded when he needed a new suit. On one occasion, as Alfred Holman relates (15), he referred to a battered old hat as having "reached a perfect development," since "nothing more can happen it."
Though Harvey Scott was absent from the Oregonian five years (1872-77) and was connected with the Portland Daily Bulletin for part of that period, the Bulletin connection was short, not more than a few months. He did, however, contribute editorials over a period of two years or so. This part of his career is not emphasized by writers on Scott and the Oregonian, who appear to regard this connection as rather incidental and episodic. One editorial credited to Scott (16) appeared in the Bulletin December 10, 1872. It came on the heels of one of those Republican grand slams in national politics, the Grant victory of 1872. Under the heading "Can These Dry Bones Live?" he argued that there was no use trying to revive the Democratic party after the current licking. . . . "Nothing," he wrote, "is more common than the flippant remark that a party is dead because it has been defeated; and often the observation is far from truth and fact. The Democratic party, however, does indeed seem moribund; not because it has been defeated, but because its ideas and theories are totally rejected by the American people. The verdict of the Civil war appears to be accepted by the country as an irrevocable condemnation of the leading ideas of the party and hence the futility of an attempt to make these dry bones live."
This was just four years before the Hayes-Tilden neck-and-neck race of 1876, when the "dry bones" seemed upholstered with considerable meat. The editorial is not here suggested as representative of Scott's beat.
What might be regarded as "dogmatism" on the part of Mr. Scott is defined by Alfred Holman as "a feeling of intense individual responsibility," (17). Mr. Holman cites an incident of the editor's rebuke of "a shallow and pretentious man" who, losing an argument with Mr. Scott on a financial issue, remarked finally, in desperation "Well, Mr. Scott, I have as much right to my opinion as you have to yours." Irritated, Scott replied sharply, as Holman tells it: "You have not. . . . You speak from the standpoint of mere presumption and emotion, without knowledge, without judgment. . .. I speak from the basis of painstaking and laborious study. You have no right to an opinion on this subject; you have not given yourself the labors which alone can justify opinion. You do not even understand the fundamental facts upon which an opinion should be based. You say your opinion is as good as mine. It will be time enough for this boast when you have brought to the subject a teachable mind and when you have mastered some of its elementary facts. ..."
Mr. Scott's "feeling of intense individual responsibility" was regarded as "arrogance" by some fellow editors of lesser attainments; for instance, one to whom Mr. Holman refers (18) as being told by Scott, through a friend, "that it is not for me (Scott) to judge of his merits or of his title to speak, but say to him for me that when he shall have borne the burden and carried such honors as are attached to the leadership of journalism in this country for forty years, I will be disposed to concede to him a certain equality of privilege!"
The thought occurs, in passing, that this attitude, if accurately quoted, is an expression of a contempt for the "young upstart," an impatience of anything like youthful inspiration-a source of achievement to which even the heavier philosophizing of the more mature must sometimes yield recognition.
But such a conclusion about Scott would not stand the test. His disposition to let other writers on his own paper express themselves was proverbial, sometimes leading to curious inconsistencies of utterance which failed to ruffle the editor. There was, too, the occasion described by David F. Morrison (19) when the great editor stood the acid test of tolerance. Morrison was writing editorials on the old Portland Telegram, then owned by the Oregonian publishers. He was warned by C. J. Owen, the Telegram's managing editor, that he was running counter to Mr. Scott's published opinions.
"Don't you read the editorials in the Morning Oregonian?" asked Mr. Owen.
"Never," said Morrison, "until I have finished my own work, because I don't care to be influenced in any manner by the Oregonian editorials."
Then said Mr. Owen (as Morrison tells it):
"Well, I think you had better read them once in a while. Do you know that on this tax matter, Mr. Scott has a leading editorial in this morning's Oregonian, most emphatically opposing the entire proposition?"
Morrison said: "No, sir, but what of it? I am not writing Mr. Scott's mind, and I don't think Mr. Scott would want me to do that."
"Do you want to take this up to Mr. Scott and thresh it out with him?
So Mr. Morrison went to the Oregonian editor's office, stated the case to him, and handed him a copy of the editorial. He read it slowly and carefully, and then, "looking at me," said Mr. Morrison, over his spectacles with that wonderfully steady, penetrating gaze of his, he said:
"Do you believe that?"
"I most certainly do."
"Well, then, by God, print it!"
"There," commented Mr. Morrison, "is the greatest editorial writer in the state of Oregon attesting, in opposition to his own views, to the value of sincerity in editorial utterances."
While editing the Oregonian in 1876 W. Lair Hill came to the defense of his predecessor and successor, Harvey W. Scott, who was then collector of customs. The Salem Mercury had published a news story to the effect that a Wasco county man would soon be chosen to succeed Scott as collector. The Mountain Sentinel, of Union, commenting, had said, "The removal of Scott and the rending asunder of the Portland custom house ring . . . for years reeking and festering with corruption, was a move party leaders were to be compelled to make."
Hill's comment in the Oregonian (Friday, February 25, 1876) follows:
The idea that the party leaders, by which is meant, of course, in this case, those who control the Federal appointments in the state-would assist in the "rending asunder of the Portland custom house ring" is both original and fresh. The only complaint made against Scott is made by the ring, and is based entirely on their allegations that he refuses to do the bidding of those who insist on maintaining, through said ring, a dictatorship over the party. The paragraph above quoted shows how completely the political situation in Portland is misapprehended in some other quarters.
Scott's own idea on political activity by office-holders was expressed a year later, after his return to the Oregonian editorial desk. He said:
President Hayes is plainly a traitor. He has now delivered the most terrible blow the party has yet received. An order is issued commanding the office-holder to withdraw from the management of party affairs. If this order be enforced, the people will be at once deprived of their natural leaders. No body will know what to do. Who will fix up primaries, or ganize caucuses, and control conventions?
After a half column more of this ironic regret, he suggests that there is no help for it but for the job-holders to resign from the committee and let the president's policy have full course.
Uncompromising as Scott was in argument where his principles or opinions were concerned, there doesn't seem to be much evidence of any personal bitterness.
Perhaps the story that is told (20) of his physical combat with James O'Meara gives a bit of a line on his essential mercifulness, his tendency to "temper the wind to the shorn lamb." In their earlier associations, O'Meara, whom he succeeded as editor of the Bulletin, was unfriendly, and one day O'Meara attacked him with his fists. Scott, with his towering physique, had no trouble getting the smaller O'Meara down and holding him on the floor. "Now that I have you down," he is reported to have said, "I don't know what to do with you." O'Meara is reported to have replied, "Well, if the situation were reversed, I know what I would do with you." This may illustrate a difference between the two men. There were other differences. In later years the two editors became good personal friends.
Scott's attitude toward Senator Mitchell, whom he had always fought, usually losing, is another example. When Mitchell won his final election to the senate from the legislature of 1901 Mr. Scott took the result in the best of humor and told the then Governor Geer that he was through fighting Mitchell. The senator's last days, when he was forced out of office during the land-fraud prosecutions, were free from any unfriendliness on Scott's part. This editor was no exponent of the old scurrilous "Oregon style" of editorial denunciation.
In dealing with journalism in Oregon it is difficult to avoid superlatives and excessive emphasis on Scott., Oregon newspaper man, railroader, and historian, who from training and inclination gave a journalistic slant to his historical writing, summed up Scott's achievements in his History of Oregon (21):
The schoolmaster of the press of Oregon—the one great comprehensive mind of the two generations of men since the Spectator made its editorial bow—was Harvey Whitefield Scott. Scott was . . . a voracious absorber and consumer of all other men's thoughts, writings, and works. He was equipped by nature to do a great work. He read all history, poetry, commentary, and philosophy, embodied it in his own mental resources and freely gave it out, modified to suit the hour and promote his own purpose. [Which appears to be a good working definition of a true journalist.]
Positive, impatient, energetic, indefatigable, and aggressive, he pushed his ideas of political economy, social responsibility and public policy with a vigor and ability which has given the Oregonian (22) all the reputation it has;—and that is nationwide, and equal to any other newspaper in the 48 states of the union. . . . His service as an educator (against the free coinage of silver and issues of legal tender currency) was the great achievement of his career.
H. K. Hines, another Oregon historian, wrote in similar vein (23). Noting the beginning of Scott's education at Pacific University, Hines said that he had reared on it "a superstructure of culture and erudition that in breadth and strength has no superior, if it has an equal, on the Northwest coast. The qualities of Mr. Scott's mind are capaciousness, strength, and clearness. . . . The logical faculty dominates his thinking. . . . Men who think profoundly and deeply always questions their own opinions if they find them counter to his. Still Mr. Scott is not what is called a brilliant man. He is not an orator. His speech is . . . even hesitating. . . .
"Mr. Scott is an independent journalist."
In the opinion of Alfred Holman (24) Scott's literary style lost something by his exclusion of the light touch, the "whimsical slang" which lent color to his conversation. The scholar in him was dominant; he was scrupulous of his phrasing, and his passion for exactness of statement reduced, for the average reader, the attractiveness of what he wrote.
For Mr. Scott the purpose of writing was to express thought; his phrase "feeble elegance" Mr. Holman says was used with reference to "easy, graceful, purposeless work."
The work of selecting, years afterward, the editorials written by Scott was complicated somewhat, perhaps, by the versatility of an Oregonian columnist and editorial writer in the early years of the twentieth century—Wexford Jones, a clever writer who, on some subjects, old-timers say, was able to imitate the Scott style so closely as to deceive almost anyone but Scott himself.
"Solidity" is perhaps the word to apply to Mr. Scott's writing. Oddly enough, when thinking out an expression, he would write again and again on another sheet of paper this word "solidity". Mr. Holman (25) tells of having come upon sheets of paper covered with this one word in the unmistakable script of the editor. He wrote his associate estimates, millions of times—an unexplained habit.
But "solidity" tells the story of Scott—strong, substantial, sound—"the schoolmaster of the press of Oregon."