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writing for one of the Sunday papers. This rather bored middle-aged man knew by name and face, and spoke of by their first name, almost every one whose death would have been worth a fair-sized obituary. If you happened to meet him after a big political shakeup at Washington, he always knew just what the President had privately said to one close to him or the humorous observation that Senator So-andso had made about the affair to the president of the very esoteric Solar Club.
This evening, as not infrequently, the talk had turned upon newspapers. In a rash moment I had said to Richard that I never read them. I quoted with approval Thoreau's dictum that if you read about one murder, you got the principle, and I had implied that newspapers were primarily concerned with murders and that I was n't. Richard sailed into me with something less than his usual deferential courtesy.
"That's the trouble with you academic people," he said. "To you there is hardly any meaning to the contemporary scene. You move in a hermetically sealed realm of ideas. The words thereof are consistent, perhaps, with one another, but they have nothing to do with the world out of which words grow. I remember your telling me once of Hegel, writing within ear-shot of the Battle of Jena, writing away for dear life in that marvelous irrelevant system of his, and inquiring from his servant at dinner where all the noise had come from. It is a pretty parable, Professor; I should think you would have learned a lesson from it. Most people in universities won't wake up to the existence of a contemporary world until it crashes
about their ears. And then, like Hegel, they'll wake up to ask where all the noise came from, if they are not killed before they wake. It's good you see me occasionally, and these friends of mine you like to dismiss as mere journalists; otherwise you might not know that a world exists at all." I was spared from replying by unexpected aid. Sitting beside me was a young poet who occasionally joined Richard's circle. Not the least attractive thing about him was that he looked like a poet, with his wavy brown hair, his lithe figure, and the quiet depths in his large brown eyes.
"The professor is right," the poet said. "Why read newspapers? What could be as dead as last week's newspaper? And it was just as dead last week. The things that absorb a civilized imagination are never found there. The bizarre, the spectacular, the accidental, the unprecedented, the exceptional, the new-all these go to make up the news. They are the riffraff and the refuse of events. quiet, lovely things that are happening in the world, the profound, tragic, and silent forces in nature and in life, these do not get into the front pages or even into the inside columns as far as I can see. All the news of all the world! But whose world? The world of politics, too dirty, mongrel, and mad for a clean and intelligent person to besmear himself with. There is the world of scandal, the enlightening and savory details of which never get into print. There is the world of vulgar and violent crime. The worlds of beauty and of truth that come to stir one through the senses or the passions or the mind, these are never news for the millions, and never will be. Science is not news until it screams in
a death ray or a gland operation for the restoration of youth. Poetry is not news until a poet runs away with a stock-broker's wife. Art is not news until a picture is slashed by a maniac or sold for a million dollars. Philosophy does not break into the public prints until it sponsors infanticide or vegetarianism or throws some oblique speculation on the Holy Ghost.
"I could live ten years without reading a newspaper or caring much whether I ever read one again. Nor would I be missing much. I would be foregoing fourteen hundred and fifty cases of uninteresting half-wits who had killed dull nothings; I should not have found out whether or not they had been found by the police and whether or not they had been sentenced to electrocution. I should be spared the miserable details of their last breakfast in jail. But of what went on actually in their minds and hearts I should know nothing-nothing except the silliness of the sob sisters sent to put tears into the case.
"But what would I have lost that would have been of serious interest, amusement, or importance to an adult imagination? What would I not have gained in peace, in light, and in integrity, if instead I spent my time contemplating those steady beauties and ideas that live on in the noiseless imaginations of the artists and thinkers of the world? I would have been kept alive to the sweet and strong things done and thought by that small group of people who feel and imagine."
"Like most poets," said Richard, "you are something of a fool. Any serious imagination finds its food in the life about it, and in newspapers, imperfect though they be, you can, with a little patience and intelligence,
keep your eye on the major movements of events, and catch the heart-beats of the environment in which you live. Milton, if I remember, did not find his spirit curbed, but winged, by the stimulation of political passions and conflicts. It was from the French Revolution that came some of the provocation that issued in the poetry of Wordsworth and Shelley. You poets have ceased to write the poetry of actual events and common human passions; you are writing rhetoric about literary passions and verbal acts. You move in the thin little verbalism of your intellectual circles. You never so much as guess what is going on about you, or sense the history that is living and current in your own generation. If events become old enough, they are historical and quaint for you, and you like to dress up in times not your own. close your eyes to that passionate stream of political and social conflict that makes the note, the thrill, the adventure of our generation. The seeds of war are sown under your eye without your even noticing them. The ruins of our civilization smolder in the news of a new chemical device or a new muffled clash between two powers in the Near East. The future glory of the race whispers in a paragraph about a new educational method or a new eugenic idea. You sneer, unseeing great fortunes, great institutions, and great careers making in the head-lines under your eyes. You live in a little back-water of petty words and thin thoughts and embroidered feelings. You don't have any sense of the geography of your own life or the setting of the lives of all your fellow-beings in the world. There is drama and poetry enough for any
alert and eager vision in any front page any day in any week. But because it is in a head-line and because it is dated to-day, you have n't the imagination to see what it means or the intelligence to piece it together into a meaning and significance. You are not better puttering over your verses and your objets d'art and your bibelots than a narrow-minded housewife who uses the newspapers only to line her cake-pans, and sees no further than her pot roast and her desserts. An intelligent reading of newspapers is daily education in the meaning, glamour, and prospects of civilization. Don't read them, and you are a soliloquist in a void. Newspapers give you a pair of eyes to see further than across the street and around the world. With their cables and their telegrams they extend your nervous system to sensitiveness to the whole planet."
"Nonsense!" broke in Major Weldon, the banker-author who was the nay-sayer of all Richard's parties. "Since when have you become a social press agent for the Newspaper Publishers' Association, Richard? Nobody gets out of newspapers that unity, coherence, and picture of life that you so glowingly paint. You are talking about newspapers that are not printed and newspaper-readers who have never lived. Newspaperreading is simply a sober form of drunkenness. It's the worst possible way of getting a coherent picture of the life of our time. It's a crazyquilt, a jazz symphony, madness shouting in loud type. To run your eye over the front page of a modern newspaper is a nightmare just off the press. 'Count Proved Father; Child
Labor Amendment Defeated; Denies Complicity in Murder; Jewels Stolen from Hotel Bedroom; Plan for Vehicular Tunnel under Hudson; Merger of Two Western Railroads; College Professor Weds Follies Dancer; Prince Goes to India; Hylan Will Win.' It's a constant rat-tat-tat of irrelevance and mumble-jumble against your ears. It does make your nervous system sensitive to the planet all right, but it does not sustain a single steady emotion or provoke a single clear thought. The mind of a newspaper-reader, if it could be photographed after ten minutes' reading, would be not a map, but an explosion.
"What's more, the real concerns of human beings are hardly ever broached and certainly never plumbed in front pages. The newspaper-reader is always trained to deal with the surface facts of events, always the least interesting features of them. Every time I read an obituary I realize that news is, even with the best intentions, falsifying. A true obituary would be a psychological novel, not a column of facts. of facts. The things that would really throw light on American lives and the American scene hardly ever get into a good, conscientious American newspaper. From the point of view of the city desk, all that as private citizens really interests us in the lives of our fellow-men is flub-dub and fol-de-rol.
"The yellow dailies come much nearer to it than the respectable whitened sepulchers. They, at least, though wildly, try to move among the passions, motives, and thoughts that animate the common mortal being. They do not try to record life in terms of names, addresses, chronologies, and statistics. The sobs and shouts of the yellows are much nearer to life than the prim pre
cisions of the whites. The best way to learn about your age is from novels and from the gossip of your neighbors, not from news of bank mergers, interviews with senators, and the façades of experience that get into courts, public meetings, and congressional inquiries. It is the psychological backgrounds, the fine nuances of motive, the curious adjustments of circumstances, that really serve to illuminate, humanize, and explain events. They are never found out and seldom recognized by a reporter; they almost never get beyond the blue pencil of the copy-desk.
"As for those larger movements of men and happenings that Richard thinks you get from newspapers, you don't. One good article in a journal of economics or political science will tell me more about what is going on in the world than three months' steady reading of all the newspapers in the country. If you 'll pardon me the old metaphor, the average newspaperreader reading the average newspaper is like a chameleon walking across a Scotch plaid. There is no stability in his judgment and no constancy in the materials he reads. It is a crazyquilt mind reading a crazy-quilt world. The events that make the most noise shout audibly to him in head-lines; a crime that is dead in a day takes a column; a scientific discovery that may in a hundred years change the face of civilization is recorded unintelligibly on an inside page. Things near, intimate, and human are n't important enough to print; things farreaching and important, when they are printed, come in scrambled and hysterical doses. A good newspaper would have to be written by men who had the imagination and sympathy of novelists and the information and method of
scientists. scientists. They cannot be produced by the promiscuous ignorant bipeds who at present write and edit them."
Simon Flint, the newspaper man, had for the last ten minutes been puffing at his pipe in a silence that was a mixture of boredom, amusement, and impatience.
"I don't rate at all with all you highbrows," he said; "I don't even pretend to be a journalist; I am a newspaper man. For twenty years I have been writing articles all over the country and for all kinds of newspapers. I know better than anybody here the haste, superficiality, and unblushing impudence with which newspaper writers and newspaper editors sail into and deal with themes, ideas, men, and facts that it would take a lifetime of study and devotion to deal with at all.
"I have made a three-thousandword article out of an hour's conversation with a psychiatrist, Bronson here, who had spent thirty years trying to clear up the mists in thousands of tortured and aberrant minds. week later, I have done an article on prison reform on the basis of a half day's reading and a day's wandering through a penitentiary with a liberal warden. I have interviewed within a fortnight a professor with a possible cure for tuberculosis, a banker with a new national-credit system, the head of a farmer's league, a visiting English poet, and a millionaire murderer. I have wandered over the seven seas of human experience, always making sure to keep on the crest of the wave. I have had time to know nothing well and nothing intimately. I have had to confine my attention to what was new, noisily portentous, quaint, or absurd. I know perfectly well the faked and forced drama that must dress up
the facts in a feature article. I know how complicated ideas must be simplified or omitted because my readers or my editor or I do not understand them. I know how the relative importance of facts for me, my paper, and my readers is in their dramatic or news value. I know all this, and yet I feel with Richard here that in many ways newspapers are the chief source of the education of our time, and that they do, all things considered, a stunning job.
"The major has accused newspapers of being written by promiscuous ignorant bipeds. I sometimes have the impression that more conscience and scholarship go into the making of a Sunday newspaper than into the making of many books and certainly of most poems. This emphasis on names, chronologies, and statistics that the major has ridiculed, what is it, after all, but the scientist's respect for and precision as to facts? A cub reporter would be fired for permitting himself some of the airy generalizations delivered with pompous and fatuous certainty in our learned economic and political journals. The professor here, I doubt not, permits himself many a dogma about the soul and immortality that no editorial writer and certainly no reporter would dare to indulge in.
"Our poet friend has complained of the fact that newspapers are interested only in the new and spectacular. Why should n't they be? What is that but the same sense that a poet has for the freshness and glamour of things? What makes a poem on the ancient theme of love different, magic, and distinguished? It is a fresh variation, news. If somebody tries a new experiment in domestic relationships, that is news, too, the fresh and resilient poetry and plasticity of life. The newspaper man has
the spirit of perpetual youth; his eye is open to the fresh, untarnished edges of the future. To open a newspaper is to be rescued from the sense of the vanity, staleness, and unprofitableness of life. The newspaper man has his eye on the perpetually happening dawns of things, of dynasties and revolutions, of arts and careers. He can never fall into that routine which is the canker of most careers and most philosophies. He is constantly rousing others to the eager observation of new things under the sun. Because he writes only about the moment, nevertheless, like a poet, he lives in that moment completely. Like the best of the Epicureans, he crowds the instant with intensity and meaning. For the general populace, he is the true and universal minnesinger; he is the freshener and vivifier of the moments as they pass in the marketplaces and tumults of the world. He is writing the daily epic of his generation, though, like all other epic poets, he is absorbingly concerned with one episode at a time.
"You tell us we write about science only when it becomes deadly, in an explosion of poison gas, and about literature only when it becomes scandal. If we do, it is because death and sex are not especially dear to newspaper men, but to mankind. On the other hand, the amount of space that the newspapers of this country devote to science, literature, art, and education is evidently unnoticed by the denizens of those industries.
"For the millions of people, moreover, who do not live with books and bookish people, or who have never been in a library, we are the instrument that staves off barbarism. Except for us, there would be as great a cleft