Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor/Remembered Yesterdays


by Henry Holt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923. 8vo. Illustrated. xiv+460pp. $4.00. by Robert Underwood Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1923. 8vo. Illustrated, xxiv+621 pp. $5.00.
MR. HOLT quotes Simon Newcomb on John Fiske: ‘He’s a mere philosopher,’ and Fiske on Newcomb: ‘He’s a mere scientist.’ Certainly no reader of these garrulities — and they are garrulous— could possibly call Mr. Holt a mere publisher, or, for that matter, a mere anything. For besides being a publisher, he is also something of a philosopher, a musician, an expert in friendships, a judge of boots, spelling, clubs, food, and religion, not to mention such matters as bathing-dress for women (in respect to which he is, as usual, a frank and joyous modernist). He often introduces the pleasant fancy that he is also an octogenarian; but of that one becomes more doubtful the further one reads in his book. In youth, to be sure, he did at times show the moderation that one associates with ripe old age: ‘ I never smoked,’ he says, ‘before I was six years old, and thence only at rare intervals until I was nearly eleven.’ But as he grows older he tempers his abstemiousness: he drinks a glass of sauterne and his nerves raise a rumpus. ‘I shall not drink another one,’ he resolves, ‘or any light-colored wine for a week, and probably have no business to drink it at any time, unless, when fun is going on, one loses more than he gains by staying out of it.’
Tobacco and alcohol suggest John Fiske, who wrote his first book, which Mr. Holt published, on that subject. The friendship lasted — though Holt did not publish Fiske’s later books — and the record of it here is full of interest and of affection. So is the part about General Francis Walker, ‘supreme in at least four departments.’ not counting ‘a fifth — the great but perhaps’insufficiently appreciated department of friendship.’ Walker and Fiske are put by Mr. Holt among his ‘four great teachers,’ the other two being Herbert Spencer — of whom it is said, with a little qualification, that he was ‘the first, man to give the world Philosophy’ —and Godkin: ‘the greatest journalist we ever had.’
No one can read what Mr. Holt has to say about these teachers, or about Pumpelly, Waring, and his other friends, without feeling that Mr. Holt shares Walkers mastery of the department of friendship. He is full of reforms, — some of them just a bit crotchety, — but he has the saving realization that ‘it is absurd to yearn over the virtually impossible.’ He says he does n’t know
what to make of the Young People, but immediately goes on (p. 181) to show that he does know exactly what to make of them, if they would only give him a chance, and ends with the ‘suspicion that the fashions of to-day may be healthier than those of ray youth.’ Best of all. he gives us his inmost thoughts on all the most tremendous problems of life without trying to bully anybody into accepting anything. The way these things are put, arid the extraordinary sense one gets of having known Mr. Holt for a long time, press his ideas upon us with great force. For instance: ■—
‘The best solvent for questions of duty that I have been able to find is to consider what would be the result of a given policy if it were followed by everybody under similar circumstances. Think over your last perplexity or temptation, and see how this solution would fit it.’
Life is a Club; Mr. Holt has been a member for quite a while; he comes into the lounge and talks after dinner. Pull up your chair, young man, — and you top, young woman, — and listen to him.
With Mr. Robert Underwood Johnson the reasons for our interest are a little different. He has gone about; seen men and cities; met royalty and John Muir; lobbied—for the best of causes — at Washington and observed the San Remo Conference; played his not quite sufficiently recognized part in promoting the conservation of national parks; seen General Grant almost, at the end of his last fight, He knew the ‘inside story’ of the Kaiser’s famous interview with Hale. and the beginnings of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Perhaps not all of these are matters of supreme importance. But to have helped in showing where Holland, Timothy Cole, and all the rest belong is surely no small service. Indeed, it may fifty years hence be thought a very great service to have chronicled so thoroughly the story of a great magazine, with so many of its projects and contributors sketched in just as this very conscientious and centrally placed observer saw them.
Even at this distance, and in spite of our reaction against books on war, respect mounts toward something close to admiration as one reads of the extraordinary pains taken to prepare the famous War Series of articles in the Century by Civil War generals who had to be taught how to write. The difficulties were enormous, and the result was far more than a mere successful feature. ‘We rightly judged,’ says Mr. Johnson, ‘that articles celebrating the skill and valor of both sides would hasten the elimination of sectional prejudices and contribute toward reuniting the country by the cultivation of mutual respect.’