THE PAPER Pages 13-19
Mr. Greeley’s day at the office
SEEN EVEN FROM THE REAR, his is the most conspicuous figure in Broadway’s throng as, swaying and rocking at high velocity, the twin tails of his very long, very loose, very worn white coat flying out behind him, he proceeds like a bent hoop, appearing to occupy both sides of the street at the same time. The footwear propelling him is not fashionable. Large, heavy, and coarse, his boots are mud-spattered like the trouser bottoms that have worked their way out of hiding and now bunch atop the boots. At a glance one might take him for an elder rustic, come to the city to sell a load of turnips and cabbage.
Inspected from the front, he is larger and younger than his stoop and gait suggest, but not a whit more stylish. The suit, rumpled beyond redemption, nevertheless reveals itself as untattered, essentially clean, and of good quality. Like its owner’s cravat, it seems to have been donned by inadvertence and almost certainly without reference to a mirror. Standing still and upright, this paragon of disarray would measure an inch or two below six feet and carry perhaps 145 pounds on his long legs. But he has rarely stood still in his entire forty years of life; his stoop is less a product of age than of occupation. For a quarter of a century, he has bent over a printer’s stone or typecase or editor’s desk, and whatever pliancy his backbone may have possessed at birth has long since eroded. There is, too, the weight it has had to bear of that enormous head, covered at the moment with a wilted white hat. The head is twenty-three and one-half inches in circumference, and phrenologists who have studied it say the brain within is very large, and in all the right places. The face this head wears is round and pale, the bottom half rimmed with an absurd fringe of whisker, flaxen once but whitening now like the sprigs of hair that steal out from beneath the hat and straggle down his neck. It is the deep-set blue eyes, though, beaming and beneficent, that lend the countenance its look of youthful good humor. Behind the round, full forehead, rising into a high and stately dome, he contemplates this evening’s principal labor: an editorial that first honors and then dismembers the archbishop for his latest volley on public education.
THE PAPER Pages 13-19
His person is as heavily freighted as his mind. Scraps
fill his pockets, notes to himself after a morning at home with the
newspapers and his correspondence. One arm bears a bundle of material to
dispatch, letters written, books and manuscripts to return, implements to
exchange; the other arm wields a fat umbrella. If Horace Greeley did not most
emphatically exist, Charles Dickens, his almost exact contemporary, would
have had to invent him. Indeed,
The City Hall clock says as he lurches past it across the little park. His
destination is just to the east – a squat, five-story, dry-goods box
occupying the south end of the triangular block bounded by Park Row,
THE PAPER Pages 13-19
He is, by nature, an optimist, so the prospect of
intensified rivalry does not daunt
For all his interest in public sanitation, he is oblivious to the condition of the Tribune’s staircase, rated by connoisseurs of filth as among the dirtiest in creation. The dingy door to the third floor, inscribed “Editorial Rooms of the New York Tribune, H. Greeley,” is no more inviting, but the usual assemblage of unsolicited visitors awaits him within. He navigates the narrow entrance passageway and pauses at the first of the two small closed rooms to his left, from which emerges the soft, rapid sibilance of a proofreading team, one member reciting aloud from the original penned copy to his silently scrutinizing partner. There were two spelling errors in that morning’s edition, The Editor advises, thrusting open the door and filing his charge in a high, soft, but distinctly querulous voice. One of the errors was a misspelled name, and nothing depresses him more than getting a name wrong; it undermines confidence in everything else in the paper. An excuse is tendered – the culprit was a new man, working late, and the offending piece was one of the last to be set. The explanation is not acceptable. The Editor marches on.
The main editorial room, a long but skinny apartment, is
lightly inhabited at this hour. Only the shipping news editor and his staff
are astir, compiling tomorrow’s list of two hundred sailings and arrivals, to
be supplemented by excerpts from no fewer than two dozen ships’ logs. Over
there at his desk against the wall is the round, imperturbable Ripley, whom
The Editor greets with a nod and a “Ripley” – Greeley, the consummate
democrat, is not much of one for “Mistering.” He has just approved raising
Ripley’s salary to twenty-five a week, not much, some would say, for drudging
through the mountain of new books, journals, and miscellaneous literary fare
from both sides of the
THE PAPER Pages 13-19
The Editor’s carpeted private office just off the main room is anything but; it is not even his alone. Within, a vast bookshelf filled with reference works serves as the paper’s library, open to the staff day and night. Of the two desks, his is plainly the unoccupied one near the window with its splendid view of City Hall. Its green felt surface, shelving, drawers, and cubbyholes might appear to a stranger as a monument to confusion; but in the spillage of manuscripts, proof sheets, exchange papers, books, journals, letters, circulars, scraps bearing messages, and a pair of scissors tied to a strap so it will not be swallowed up forever in the rummage, Greeley sees only genial disorder: the very aspect he himself presents to the world. Atop the highest shelf of all sits a bronze bust, garlanded in dust, of Henry Clay, the noblest politician of his time, in The Editor’s estimate. In addition to all the paper summonses, he is awaited by the usual assortment of callers without appointment. He will see and dispose of them all in his fashion, some attentively, some with a yawn, some while studying his mail and messages. Among them are an inventor wishing publicity for a device he has lately perfected; a Cincinnati litterateur wishing him to appear at the lecture series there on his tour next winter (for the usual share of the house); an upstate minister wishing to make his acquaintance and to seek his advice on their mutual crusade for temperance; a councilman wishing to take issue with him on the matter of awarding streetcar franchises; an admirer wishing to borrow money (and unaware that Greeley’s days as the softest touch in town are long past); a scholar with a suggestion for improving The Whig Almanac, shortly to be renamed The Tribune Almanac, nonpartisanship being thought likely to improve its salability.
Across the room sits the Tribune’s second-in-command, his desk in perfect order, conducting real business in brisk, marginally civil tones; Charles A. Dana is a managing editor who manages. His flowing beard adds massiveness to his authoritative manner. In the interstices of the afternoon, he edits the foreign correspondence. Just now he is examining the latest offering from the new London correspondent, a chap Dana himself has recruited; with magisterial contempt, Karl Marx, an exiled German editor opposed to the Prussian regime, writes of the benightedness of tsarist Russia and the hardly less lamentable imperialism of Her Majesty’s government in Parliament. A witness to and sympathizer with the crushed continental revolutions of ‘48, Dana reads with approval. Mr. Marx will remain more or less a Tribune regular for the rest of the decade.
THE PAPER Pages 13-19
The Editor has dealt with the preliminaries of the day and disappears for a
vegetarian dinner at Windust’s, a few doors away from the Tribune building. By the time he
returns, the editorial rooms are bathed in gaslight and the pace of activity
has noticeably quickened. His is a nocturnal business: 70 percent of the
paper’s contents will be set between nightfall and . Seven reporters, all shirtsleeved
and mustached, scribble away at their little desks, fifty or so words to a
page, and penmanship counts. All are paid at space rates, so the editors must
guard against a tendency to windiness. This fellow here writes of the day’s
session of the Common Council, that one on a gathering of the Tammany
sachems, that one over there on a lecture about the great adventure unfolding
Bolt upright at his desk, his nearsighted eyes augmented
by thick spectacles, The Editor composes the lead editorial. Filled with his
sprawling scrawl, all but undecipherable outside the office, leaves of
foolscap fly from beneath his beautifully shaped hand, so remarkably white
that the ink staining his thumb, index, and middle fingers has become nearly
indelible. He writes without pause, seemingly without thought – for he has
done all his thinking long before the act of composition. Archbishop Hughes
has issued a letter unfavorable to the efficacy of public education upon the
souls of Catholic children.
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. . . He would have Religion form a part of every child’s education. Very good – we concur in that view. But it is one thing to assume that each child should be taught Religion, and quite another to maintain that Religious dogmas should be taught in common schools. We desire and intend that our own children shall be taught Religion; we do not desire that it shall be taught them in Common Schools. For this we shall take them to Church, to Sunday School, to Bible Class, or wherever else they may be taught by those who we believe will teach them Divine Truth in its purity.
Intermittently he bounds up the stairs, two at a time when inspiration prods, to make a change or insertion; when the latter, he takes pains to remove as many words as he adds so that an entire section will not have to be laboriously reset to indulge him.
He reads the completed essay. It will do. He titles it “The Archbishop’s Letter” and at the extreme right of the not quite full last line adds “H.G.” In rural areas and settlements along the great western lakes where the weekly edition is the only regularly read newspaper, some folks think “H.G.” authors the Tribune in its entirety. He does not go to great lengths to disabuse them of this notion.
The City Hall clock, illuminated now, shows . Dana will linger
till the paper locks up at ;
Ottarson, till three, awaiting any late news and preparing the reporters’
assignments for the morrow.
Homeward, his perpetual bundle in place with fresh
contents sifted from the desk-top debris for his pre-office attention in the