'Marse Henry,' an Autobiography

by Henry Watterson. New York: George H. Doran Co. 1919. Two volumes, 8vo, 305 and 314 pages. Illustrated. $10.00.
THIS autobiography of a journalist is what it should be in two important respects: it is redolent both of personality and of journalism. These elements, moreover, are inextricably and inevitably blended. Of the three epochs which Mr. Watterson has observed in the American newspaper, — first, that of ‘the thick-and-thin, more or less servile party organ,’and, third, that of ‘ the timorous, corporation, or family-owned billboard of such news as the ever-increasing censorship of a constantly centralizing Federal government will allow,’ — he is the last conspicuous, if not complete, representative of the second epoch, that of ‘the personal, one-man-controlled, rather blatant and would-be independent’ organ.
The personality with which these two volumes reek is definite and engaging. The characteristic frankness of the narrative is illustrated in its earliest pages by an anecdote of ‘Marse Henry’s’ father, a Member of Congress anil boon companion of Franklin Pierce while he represented New Hampshire in Washington: the elder Watterson fell into a canal one night as the two friends were
returning from an ‘excursion,’ and Pierce, after trying in vain to rescue his comrade from the water, exclaimed, ‘ Well, Harvey, I can’t get you out, but I ’ll get in with you’: which he proceeded to do. Strong drink and its effects were taken for granted in the scenes with which Mr. Watterson was most familiar in Washington and elsewhere, and to an extent which amply explains his later attitude toward prohibition. But this was only one of many elements in the atmosphere, local and temporal, which he reproduces.
Were Mr. Watterson any less frank than he is, he would not he revealing himself as a Confederate soldier who sympathized neither with Secession nor with Jefferson Davis, and later as a Democrat in opposition both to Grover Cleveland and to Woodrow Wilson, the only Demoera tic presidents since the struggle which he habitually calls the War of Sections. The frankness with respect to himself has its perfect counterpart in the frankness with which he writes of others, whether in blame or in praise. These are distributed with an equal hand, and the gallery of little portraits of which the two volumes are the frame contains many illuminating touches. An overflowing fund of anecdote, drawn from a retentive memory, constantly colors the pages with personality — the author’s and that of an extraordinary number of his fellow creatures. It is no mere accident chat he seems to have felt a special sympathy with Artemus Ward, Mark Twain, and Joseph Jefferson. But whether the sympathies with others were perfect or imperfect, the sincerity of a genial spirit pervades the book and adds a pleasure to the profit of reading it.
Mr. Watterson makes no scruple of counting himself in ‘the category of the crushed tragicomedians of literature, who inevitably drift into journalism.’ His book accordingly smacks much more of journalism than of literature. It is journalistic in its random arrangement of material, its repetitions, its misprints, even its lack of an index. But taken for what it is, it will be found an entertaining, informing, and suggestive chronicle of events and persons for more than half of the latest half-century in American life — a lively period, in which ‘Marse Henry’ himself appears as one of the liveliest characters.
M. H.