The Editor and His People

by William Allen White. New York: The Macmillan Company. 12mo. xvi+880 pp. $2.50.
HENRY JAMES listed among the misfortunes of a charming widow the fact that she had been compelled to reside in Northampton, Massachusetts. William Allen White chose to live in a town which, superficially at least, had less to commend it to an ambitious young man and yet he may well account it the good fortune of his career that he preferred Emporia to a more populous city.
William Allen White has grown with the Middle West. He bought a village newspaper in 1895, and fourteen months later became famous with an editorial ‘ What ‘s the Matter with Kansas?’ As Mr. White himself remarks in the volume of his editorials selected and arranged by Helen O. Mahin, and published by the Macmillan company under the title, The Editor and His People, this forceful denunciation of Populist rule represented ‘conservatism in its full and perfect flower.’ The editor of the Emporia Gazette is now a liberal and he is able to see sense in those he once counted wild men, sermons in Bryan, and good in almost everything he denounced in his strait-laced youth.
William Allen White is at once a successful newspaper-owner and an entertaining writer. The fact that he is the owner of the Emporia Gazette is important. Mr. White is his own censor. As a writer, he is free to do anything that as a citizen and a business man he dares attempt. Fortunately, he is also courageous, and his light shines brightly through his paper.
There are disadvantages in this freedom. A small community lacks artistic variety, and it is likely to be wanting in discipline. Mr. White shows some of the bad habits of an unbroken eolt. He runs about in every direction and kicks up his heels. Then he is incurably sentimental at times. Sometimes he tosses words about as aimlessly as a tired child. He has a few lingering parochial prejudices. In a more urbane environment and with the stimulus of sharper competition his literary work might have shown a better finish.
Always he is an entertaining writer. Instinctively, he selected subjects of wide human interest. This explains much of the present attraction in these editorials which might otherwise be as stale as the episodes which evoked them. Mr. White is a chronicler of the significant events in the lives of the people of his village, and because he has the genius of a story-teller, what he writes has lived.
Mr. White’s personal willingness to respond honestly to the facts, and the freedom with which he has written, have given him a unique position in present journalism. His paper circulates among a few thousand subscribers, but his opinions are considered seriously by a great host. During the last twenty-nine years he has commented on nearly all the myriad issues which have attracted public interest. By his own confession, he has often been wrong and bis beliefs have in many respects been modified. But during all these years a fair-minded man has been honestly telling the truth as he saw it, and his telling has made interesting reading.