The Portrait of an Editor
JOSEPH PULITZER was tall, — six feet two and a half inches in height, — but of a presence so commanding as to make his stature seem even greater. His hair was black and his beard a reddish brown. A forehead that well bespoke the intellect behind it shaded a nose of the sort Napoleon admired; his chin was small but powerful and of the nutcracker variety, such as the portrait of Mr. Punch affects. To conceal this he always went bearded after he was thirty. His complexion was as delicate and beautiful as that of a tender child. His hands were those of genius, with long, slender fingers, full of warmth and magnetism. The eyes before they became clouded were of a grayish blue. Always weak, they never lent much expression to the face, yet his visage was animated and attractive. Temperamentally, his was the type of the poet and musician; yet, while adoring music, he professed to care little for verse and rarely read it. However, he appreciated the singers in his native tongue and, I have often thought, really repressed his poetic instinct for fear it might be considered a weakness.
The nose vexed him. If there had been any way of modifying its prominence, he would have greatly rejoiced. But it was the delight of cartoonists, chief of whom was his friend, Joseph Keppler. When idling together in the cafés of St. Louis, Keppler would rack his brains for an idea and, failing to find one, would remark: ‘Well, Joey, there’s only one thing left to do. I ‘ll go back to the office and draw your nose’ —which he invariably did to the great disgust of the subject.
His days after his withdrawal from active work were monotonously regular: morning hours spent with his secretaries over the papers and mail, a drive before luncheon, then an hour of reading and repose, after which he rode in a carriage or on horseback, saw visitors from five o’clock to six, went to bed for a brief rest, dressed for a seven-thirty dinner, left the table about nine, listened to a little music, and was read to sleep by one of his secretaries.
Just as old King Frederick William of Prussia, father of Frederick the Great, was always hunting Europe over for tall men to recruit his Potsdam Grenadiers, Mr. Pulitzer, who resembled his Majesty in many ways, was forever hunting readers and secretaries. Ballard Smith, while London correspondent, and after him Frederick A. Duneka, David Graham Phillips, and James M. Tuohy, all English representatives in the order named, were on perpetual assignment. The secretaries in office were frequently set to finding other secretaries, and George Ledlie, his general and personal representative, had a permanent commission to find ‘the right man.’ Alfred Butes, a clever young Englishman, came closest to filling all the requirements. He had been in Africa with General Francis de Winton, was an accomplished stenographer, wrote an excellent hand and, above all, was most discreet. He penetrated more deeply in his employer’s confidence than any of the other young gentlemen; indeed, he was destined to become a trustee of the vast estate and to receive a handsome legacy, although he forfeited these honors in 1907 to join Lord Northcliffe in a secretarial capacity.
The duties of the secretaries were very exacting, and the position was irksome except to men of sympathetic temperament and to lovers of good living. Most of the secretaries were English, although occasional Americans served with individual success. But the life palled on these lighter temperaments and they required frequent furloughs.
Mealtimes were play hours. At the table, liberty of speech was the rule and the guests and secretaries had full freedom to express themselves without regard to the feelings of the host. Sometimes the fire became pretty hot and Mr. Pulitzer would retreat to have his dessert and coffee alone. Violent disputes about music, literature, politics, history, and art were the rule, with not infrequent assaults upon his own opinion and the ways of the World, tempered by anecdotes and good stories. He loved table-talk of this sort. ‘Tell me a good story’ was his most frequent greeting to a guest. It was hard to set him to ‘reminiscing’; but when he did venture back over the traveled road, the tale was worth hearing.
He was always interesting, seldom companionable, taking all he could from the minds of others, but rarely giving much back, his method being to dispute and to reap the benefits of an aroused defense. Thus he became a great hunter for facts. Often at luncheon or dinner, w hen a free-for-all conversation took place, some remark would arouse a dispute over accuracy of statement. If the question could not be settled by someone at the board, he would command a charge on all the reference books at hand and there was no rest until the doubt was cleared up. The waiters were often prohibited from serving more food until this happened. The facts found, he would listen intently to their reading and they remained in his mind forever. The best of dinners would be much improved for him if there had been added a satisfying fact-hunt. He would puff his cigar, pat the pile of reference books lovingly with his graceful hands, and smile in deep content.
Mr. Pulitzer read omnivorously. He was always buying books. One of his great griefs over the fire that destroyed his Fifty-fifth Street mansion was the total loss of his library. He was not a ‘collector’ in any sense, but loved his volumes for what they contained. Like most of us who were fed educationally on Homer in our youth, Mr. Pulitzer reserved the Odyssey as a treasure to be enjoyed in riper years. He had long looked forward to the celebrated episode of the wooden horse. Coming to the event, he found it described in seven rather dull lines. ‘I was so d—d mad,’ he remarked, ‘that I could have kicked Homer!’
His speeches during the Greeley campaign were all made in German, his familiar tongue. When he came to stump for Tilden, he employed English. This was not an easy task, for he thought in German and had to translate as he talked. To facilitate clearness of expression he laboriously wrote out his addresses in English and committed them to memory. When he spoke in later years, after coming to New York, he had acquired the habit of thinking in English, and when asked to make an address in German during the Nicoll campaign, found it very difficult. In his after years of retirement he took up German again and used it faultlessly, cultivating the language, through skilled readers, from the best books in German literature.
He loved art and music, a taste reflected in the great benefactions made in his will to the Philharmonic Society and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. ‘When sight grew dim, as with most blind people, music became a solace. The piano appealed to him especially and he heard great players whenever possible. Now and then Paderewski would pay him a visit and there would be a carnival of piano playing. The strings were next. His winters on the Riviera were made happy by the splendid orchestra maintained atMonte Carlo by the Prince of Monaco. He frequented the opera, but the social noises usually drove him home early. The group of secretaries always included one excellent pianist whose duties were by no means light and whose slightest error in technique met with instant and fierce rebuke.
Like Napoleon his omnivorousness and great curiosity gave him a tremendous appetite. He was most insistent about his meals; ate often and heavily, frequently awakening in the night to satisfy his hunger with an extra meal. He was fond of luxury — always craved and secured the best. This was from no vainglory of extravagance, but was an inborn instinct, which he almost always managed to gratify even when poor. The best vintages came to his table, the finest moselles, champagnes, and burgundies; yet he drank little, rarely more than a single glass. He loved to be warm, to sleep well, to be comfortably housed, and to have at his command good books. In his later years he spent at least twelve hours of the day in bed. His afternoon nap was the trial of his valet and the terror of fellow travelers. Rooms had to be kept vacant above, below, and on either side of him at hotels; and the White Star Line, upon whose steamers he usually made his European voyages, kept his good will for many years by maintaining a huge drugget, made of manila rope, which was spread upon the deck so that the footsteps of the idlers on the promenade deck could not jar his slumbers in the stateroom below.
This desire for silence became almost a mania. The great house, Chatwold, at Bar Harbor, had added to it in 1895 a huge granite pile, called by some of the humorous inmates the ‘Tower of Silence.’ It was provided with specially constructed walls and partitions designed, unsuccessfully, to shut out all noise. The new city mansion, on East Seventy-third Street, New York, built in 1902, failed to provide soundproof quarters in spite of much planning by the architects, McKim, Mead & White. Indeed, his own rooms seemed to be haunted by noises, among them a strange knocking that nearly drove him frantic. After experts had failed, I discovered the trouble. In building the house, a living spring which could not be suppressed was found in the cellar. It was fed into a sump-pit; this in turn was emptied by an automatic pump, operated by electricity, which started when the water reached a certain level. By a rare fatality the pump had been placed so that the drum of the heating system acted as a sounding board and spread the incidental vibrations through the house, centring most loudly in Mr. Pulitzer’s bedroom. The pump was shifted under the sidewalk, but he abandoned the room and built a single story annex in the yard, with double walls packed with mineral wool. The windows were guarded by triple glass; ventilation was by the fireplace chimney. He was sure that the jar of early morning whistles found its way to his ears by this opening. Silk threads were stretched across it to break the sound. Three doors were hung in the short passage from the main house, the floor of which was on ball bearings to prevent vibration. The room was so still as to be uncanny.
Behind the ‘Tower of Silence’ at Chatwold was a little balcony overhanging a rock-lined canyon through which Bear brook went babbling to the sea. This was his favorite resting-place. Here he would sit in the cool of the morning, or in the grateful shade of the afternoon, listening to the surf breaking almost under his feet, and gaining a tranquillity denied him elsewhere in the clatter of life.
The entourage came at times to be skeptical about Mr. Pulitzer’s sensitiveness to noises, but rarely dared to experiment. Once, when the Liberty was in dock at Marseilles, a local carriage was hired by Norman G. Thwaites, then secretary, for a morning’s ride. Mr. Pulitzer joined him with Harold S. Pollard, his reader and companion. Hardly had the equipage reached the park when a wheel began squeaking outrageously. Mr. Thwaites nerved himself for an explosion. None came. Instead Mr. Pulitzer remarked sweetly: ‘There must be a great many birds in this park, Thwaites.’ Thwaites had not seen any but he agreed that it was quite possible as there were plenty of trees.
‘ Tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet,’ went the wretched axle. ‘Really, now,’ said he, ‘can’t you hear them singing? It is very delightful.’
His olfactory nerves, like the nerves of his ears were abnormally sensitive. Perfumes he especially abhorred. On one occasion while at Cap Martin, a luckless British medico, who had come from London to be surgeon of the Liberty, for the first time in his life loaded his pocket handkerchief with patchouly. By mischance a whiff of this reached Mr. Pulitzer before the candidate was presented and roused him to fury. The doctor was taken below by a valet and deodorized before the patient could be examined; but the incident so unsettled the professional man that he declined the berth.
His love of chess was cherished as long as his fading sight made playing possible. He had a special set of chessmen made, of large size, to render them plainer to his fading vision. In time it became impossible to employ even these. During the early days of his exile, when at Beaulieu, Arthur Brisbane sought to allay the tedium by reviving Mr. Pulitzer’s interest in the seductive game of draw poker with a pack of very large cards. All went well until Arthur’s winnings at a sitting ran up to five hundred dollars. Mr. Pulitzer paid up but discontinued the diversion. Long afterward Joseph Junior chanced to remark that he had taken up the game for amusement — carefully adding that the ‘limit’ was always twenty-five cents, and that he found it entertaining. ‘I don’t know about, that, Joseph,’ remarked his father, doubtfully. ‘I am afraid you will find it a rather dangerous accomplishment..’
He loved horses and rode with the grace and freedom of one born to the saddle. Always in good weather, at home or abroad, an afternoon ride was the rule. As he became more blind, the pace was always a sharp trot or a canter but his seat was secure and his mastery of his steed perfect. Good horses were always plentiful before the automobile drove them out of use. At one time the Chatwold stables contained twenty-six animals. He was slow in taking to the motor car, but once converted took to it amazingly. Indeed, he liked speed. To be in motion was his incessant delight. For this reason he made long and seemingly purposeless journeys. Life soon became dreary if he settled down for a time. The thought of moving cheered him up and in motion he was serenely amiable.
He was singularly delicate about being fully clad and could not bear to have any part of his person exposed to the gaze of another. His sensitiveness in this particular developed in an amusing way at Cap Martin in the spring of 1910 when, after much negotiation, the great Rodin was commissioned to execute a bust. Rodin insisted that Mr. Pulitzer in posing should lay bare his shoulders in order that the poise of the head might be correctly revealed. To this Air. Pulitzer objected strenuously. Rodin was obdurate but it was not until he threatened to throw up the commission and return to Paris that his subject surrendered, and then only on condition that none but his immediate attendants should be admitted to the studio. This was agreed to and the work went on, the model proving very petulant, and unruly and refusing to talk to Rodin, who naturally wished to put his sitter at ease and to get at least a glimpse of his mind. The contract was for busts in bronze and in marble. The bronze is a mere head with no attempt to indicate the shoulders. The marble goes further — and here Rodin had his revenge; for he laid a bit of ruching across the chest, playfully suggestive of a chemise!
As Mr. Pulitzer was troubled with asthma, his yacht, the Liberty, was often set in motion for no other object than to create a breeze which would pour fresh air into his gasping nostrils. ‘Find a breeze’ was his most frequent sailing-order. He was a reckless navigator, defying harbor rules, and often taking great risks from storm and tide. Odd as it may seem, he knew nothing of the latter phenomena and had to be argued with when told it was a factor to be reckoned with when the Liberty had to wait outside a harbor.
Although long blind for all practical purposes, complete loss of sight had apparently come by 1910. One evening while the Liberty lay at anchor in Mentone, the marvelous moon of the Mediterranean came up in its fullest splendor. Mr. Pollard, the companion, thinking Mr. Pulitzer might get a glimpse of its glory, led him to the bow of the yacht and placed him where he could see to the best advantage. Mr. Pulitzer strained his eyes long in the given direction, but said sadly at last: ‘No use, my boy, I can’t make it out.’
Miss Dorothy Whitney, now Mrs. Willard D. Straight, was one of his last memories before his eyes grew dim. ‘You know,’ he once said, ‘before I lost my eyes I used to walk around and talk politics with Whitney. He was so very interesting. This young lady, then a little girl, would climb upon my knees and pull my whiskers. So she stays in my memory as among the last of those whom I could see. I shall always be interested in her.’
As Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth, Mr. Pulitzer was forever seeking the fountain of health. Consuiting doctors became a passion with him. The most distinguished practitioners in Europe passed in review, taking fees and leaving no cures behind. The entourage came to believe that seeing doctors was more of a pastime than a hope, especially after the distinguished von Nordheim, who journeyed from Vienna to Wiesbaden, was turned away with the excuse that his prospective patient, was ‘too ill’ to see him.
The search for the attendant doctor was always on, even with a satisfactory man in the entourage. He always wanted to be sure that another could be had if the incumbent should weary of his job.
This letter to the late James M. Tuohy, the World’s London correspondent, written March 9, 1910, from the Villa Arethuse, Cap Martin, by Mr. Pulitzer’s secretary, Norman G. Thwaites, shows the system: —
MY DEAR MR. TUOHY: — Mr. Pulitzer asks me to write to you at once that it may catch you before you start on your holiday. He has been ill in bed for two weeks with severe bronchial cold, reviving his old whooping cough, and is now amazingly weak and sleepless. As soon as he is able to be moved, he is planning a month’s trip on the yacht, probably into the East and the Red Sea.
The point is this: utterly disregarding all qualifications heretofore specified as to agreeability, conversation, knowledge of history, editorial ability, and so on, can you set in immediate motion a search for a first-rate, practical physician who would be willing to go off immediately for a month on the yacht? Mr. Pulitzer underlines three times the point that you can drop all former requirements as to personal qualifications, concentrating on experienced, reliable, first-class professional ability. The man need not be a specialist so long as he is able to study and diagnose Mr. Pulitzer’s peculiar
history and condition of nervousness, insomnia, and recently recurring complications of whooping cough. You can also dismiss the idea of permanency. Mr. Pulitzer’s present plan is to leave here about March 15, and to be gone till about the first of May, calling very probably at Constantinople, Athens, Egypt, and the Red Sea. The man will have nothing to do except to enjoy himself, and, apart from the study of Mr. Pulitzer’s case, it ought to be an exceedingly pleasant trip for anyone.
Needless to say the man must he seasick-proof!!! Mr. Pulitzer says emphatically he does not wish this matter to interfere with your holiday or to spoil it. It must not interfere with that. You will see that it is quite different from anything he has asked for before in that it distinctly eliminates the point of intellectual companionship, and asks merely for a first-rate doctor. Mr. Pulitzer says he may stutter or be a hunchback, but of course not preferably so. This ought to make the search much easier. Mr. Pulitzer has really been very ill and ought not to go off without a serious-minded, capable physician, in whom he and Mrs. Pulitzer can have some confidence. I am sure you can understand why the present author-physician fails to inspire that feeling. Hoping that someone may be found as soon as possible as it is entirely desirable that Mr. Pulitzer should get away at once, and with best wishes to yourself, Yours sincerely,
NORMAN G. THWAITES.
When John S. Sargent Mas approached to paint Air. Pulitzer’s portrait, in 1909, a shy secretary intimated that Sargent’s specialty lay in divining the innermost weaknesses and powers of his sitters and putting them on canvas. Mr. Pulitzer grimly warned the painter not to spare him. ‘That is what I want,’ he said. ‘I want to be remembered just as I really am, with all my strain and suffering there.’ The picture shows the blind man seated, holding a riding crop in the one hand and resting the other lightly against his cheek — a favorite attitude. The pain and suffering of years shows on his face, blended with high intellect, energy of character, and fierceness of temper.
Mr. Pulitzer’s habits of thought and his later invalidism kept him aloof from affairs. Where a Horace Greeley became personally one of the shapers of a cause, Mr. Pulitzer after the early days of his World ownership was in but slight touch with individuals in politics and affairs. He did not wish to be in intimate touch with or in the confidence of political leaders. I recall once mentioning the visit of an eminent Democrat to the World editorial rooms. His instant comment was: ‘I don’t like that. I don’t want those fellows calling at the office.’
He did not care to have an inside share in moulding matters, wishing all his efforts to appear openly on the editorial pages of his newspapers. He lived most of his life apart from other men, having a feeling that this was the fate of the true journalist, that he must devote — and limit — his interest to his paper.
Discussing some passing matter, I once used the phrase ‘ your friends.’ ‘ My friends,’ interrupted Mr. Pulitzer ironically; ‘I have no friends. You fellows in the office will not let me have any.’
This was in a great measure true. But the ‘fellows in the office’ did not have any either, and he knew it and delighted in the singleness of their devotion to the World. There was no list of ‘sacred cows’ in the place, nor any index expurgatorius. The facts had to warrant the story. That was the only rule.
Mr. Pulitzer cared little for the evening or Sunday editions of the World, beyond expecting them to prosper, which both did amazingly. His interest and affection centred in the six-day morning issue, which he regarded as his paper. The others were mere commercial enterprises, but the morning World contained his soul — and that of the establishment. He lavished money on it, leaving the evening edition to get along with a slender force, though one of much talent. In time it developed almost complete independence of him and his ideas and became what it is to-day.
The World was managed by its managers and edited by its editors. Mr. Pulitzer suggested freely, but ordered little. Final judgment was always with the office. He once advised me, when business manager, that I could do anything on behalf of the paper except hunt for the North Pole, or back the invention of a flying machine, both ideas seeming chimerical to him. Within less than a decade after this adjuration Peary reached the Pole and the Wrights had conquered the air. Mr. Pulitzer was still alive. Indeed, it was the World’s award of $10,000 to Glenn Curtiss for flying from Albany to New York that enabled that aviator and inventor to establish the great business which now bears his name.
His initiative, strange as it may appear, was not extraordinary, and he frequently showed a hesitancy that verged upon timidity in adopting policies urged upon him by the juniors. His strength lay in stimulation. Here he had few superiors. He was a man of enormous impulses curbed by great reactions, who safeguarded himself from the effects of either by carefully warning his aids not to be swept off their feet by any order he might issue; all directions from headquarters were to be tempered by judgment or fuller information which he might not possess. If a very radical ukase came, the office custom was to reply, fixing a delayed day and hour for the execution. Usually a restraining telegram came about five minutes before the appointed moment. Under his policy the virtues of the World were easily his own, while the mistakes and conflicts became readily the property of others. It was his habit always to require two men on the same job and then to let them fight it out, though often to his own discomfiture and despair. The office theory was that he liked competition and sought to gain advantage by the strivings of the one man to outdo the other. If this is correct, it never worked; either hopeless deadlocks followed or the men divided their domain and lived peacefully. There was probably something in the theory, but more in the habit of precaution which he developed early in life. He always wanted to have a second resource in hand if one chanced to fail him, and to avoid being held up by any journalist who might think himself super-valuable.
Extravagant as he was in verbal expression, Mr. Pulitzer valued judgment that waited on facts. In one of the changes of a generation in the office, when the old heads vanished almost altogether, he caused each of the younger moulders of opinion to be given a beautiful set of gilded scales from Tiffany’s — the hint was quite plain.
The new men on the paper were always under scrutiny and the old ones never free from the test. One day at the lunch table at Bar Harbor, in October 1809, the company was discussing the achievements of an able reporter, Charles W. Tyler, who had just done a very good piece of work. Mr. Pulitzer was complimenting Tyler highly. Professor Thomas Davidson, spoke up: ‘I cannot understand why it is, Mr. Pulitzer, that you always speak so kindly of reporters and so severely of all editors.’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I suppose it is because every reporter is a hope, and every editor is a disappointment.’
His blindness caused him to test men severely. He could learn the shape of an article by touch, but the qualities of a man could be ascertained only by intellectual pressure, and this he applied so searehingly as to seem merciless. Yet it can be truthfully recorded that no survivor ever failed at his task.
To one of the young men, who afterward rose to high rank on the World, Mr. Pulitzer remarked: ‘I wish I could take your brain apart and look into it.’
‘I don’t,’ the youngster said; ‘I am afraid you would mix up the parts and never get them in place again.’
Usually each fall, after election, the World’s circulation dropped. Mr. Pulitzer would credit the slump to the errors of the editors during the campaign, and a shake-up almost always followed. One year there was no election, with the same result. Much puzzled, he called on me for a solution of the mystery. I proved that it was due to the shortening of the daylight hours, showing that the paper always grew in the lengthening days. Appeased, he left the staff in peace on this one count at any rate.
‘Forever unsatisfied’ described his temperament. He was forever unsatisfied, not so much with the results as with the thought that if a further effort had been made, a sterner command or greater encouragement given, more would have been accomplished. Curiously enough, he was most pestiferous in his urgings and drivings when all was going at its best. In times of trouble he rested his lash. Men were left unhampered in their responsibilities, seldom chided when they failed, if there was evidence that they had tried to succeed, and richly rewarded if they triumphed.
Another high quality he had: to use poker parlance—he never would ‘call’ anyone. From the same characteristic no one could ‘call’ him. Men who tried it were usually sorry. He had an amazing patience with human frailty and an unfailing belief in the merits of mankind.
All newspapers have periods of ‘flattening out,’ when the entire editorial force needs reinvigorating. During one of these spells on the World, Mr. Pulitzer was sojourning at Lakewood, New Jersey. Much disturbed, he wished to know the cause of the dullness. The business manager thought the boys were track-sore and suggested a ‘shake-up’ — meaning a shifting of jobs, familiar to all pressworkers in the metropolis, invented, it is believed, by the younger James Gordon Bennett, who sometimes made weird transpositions in his endeavors to stimulate the staff. Mr. Pulitzer liked this kind of experiment, but this time it did not appeal to him.
“ I don’t think that’s the reason,’ he said. ‘I think it’s because nobody on the staff gets drunk. Brad (Bradford Merrill, then editorial manager) never gets drunk; Burton (city editor) lives in Flatbush — he never gets drunk; Van Hamm (managing editor) sleeps out in New Jersey — he never gets drunk; Lyman (night managing editor) he’s always sober. You live in Brooklyn and never get drunk. When I was there some of them got drunk, and we made a great paper. Take the next train back to the city, find somebody who gets drunk, and hire him at once.’
Returning on this strange errand, when crossing Park Row’, the business manager ran into a very brilliant writer whom he had long known as a friend of the flowing bowl. He looked down-at-the-heel and depressed.
‘What are you doing?’ he was asked. ‘Nothing,’ was the glum response.
‘I thought you were on the American? What’s the trouble?’
‘Same old thing,’ was the dolorous response. ‘I can’t let the hard stuff alone.’
So he was still eligible. ‘Good!’ cried the business manager. ‘I have a life job for you.’
With that he dragged him into the office and nailed him to the pay roll. Supplementing this the Flatbush city editor was given two weeks’ board at the Waldorf-Astoria—to get some acquaintance with New York. Curiously enough, the paper responded to the prescription and became lively again.
While severely critical of the World and its makers, Mr. Pulitzer could not brook the least disapproval of either from others. One day at Bar Harbor, after a period of very acrimonious faultfinding, he wound up with this blanket condemnation of the shop: ‘It has no head, no sense, no brains.’
This passed in silence, but later in the day he broached a suggestion to which I replied that the idea had been tried by the Herald without success.
‘Why do you mention the Herald?* he interrupted sharply. ‘They have no head, no sense, no brains!’
‘Neither have we,’ I replied.
He reached his long arm forward and, grasping my throat, choked it vigorously and remarked reprovingly:
‘Stop that! You are altogether too critical and unjust to the office!’
To compress cables and telegrams a considerable code was developed through the years, which included the names of men in the office, rivals in the profession, and others who had to do with business or politics. For himself he selected the cipher word ‘Andes,’ modestly taking the name of the second highest altitude on the earth’s surface. He commonly went by the code name in office conversation. Mr. William H. Merrill, his chief editorial writer, was ‘Cantabo’; his treasurer, J. Angus Shaw, was ‘Solid’ — a neat compliment; S. S. Carvalho was designated by a single syllabie, ‘Los’; John Norris became ‘Anfracto’; C. M. Van Hamm, ‘Gyrate,’ illustrating perhaps the vicissitudes of a managing editor; Florence D. White was ‘Volema’ on the wire. I was honored with three stage-names — ‘Gulch,’ ‘Mastodon,’ and ‘Quixotic’; Dumont Clarke, his vice-president, was ‘Coin,’ a commodity with which he had much to do; Colonel George B. M. Harvey was ‘Sawpit’; James Gordon Bennett came over the cable as ‘Gaiter,’ and William R. Hearst as ‘Gush.’ For William J. Bryan, two code designations were used: ‘Guilder’ and ‘Maxilla,’ the latter possibly a delicate reference to jaw. Pomeroy Burton became ‘Gumbo,’ perhaps as he himself said because he was ‘so often in the soup.’ The code amused Mr. Pulitzer and he was forever tinkering it.
His telegrams and cables usually came unsigned save for a final word — ‘Sedentary’ — which meant that a prompt reply was required. This usually went back in a single word — ‘ Semaphore ‘ — meaning ‘ message received and understood.’ When in good humor and pleased he would sign personal messages ‘J.P.,’ but when his wrath was high they came signed ‘Joseph Pulitzer.’ That meant trouble. In my eighteen years of association I received three bearing the ominous full signature!
Like most successful men, he had his superstitions, and one of these wras a reverence for the figure ten. He was born on the tenth of April, reached St. Louis on the tenth of October, consolidated the Post with the Dispatch on the tenth of December, 1878, and bought the World on the tenth of May, 1883. He made t he superstition something of a fad and used the numerals always when he could. In buying his first New York house, he selected No. 10 East. Fifty-fifth Street — the two fives adding another ten. Lastly he cut the price of his morning newspaper from two cents to one, on February 10, 1896, and began the interesting duel with the millions of the Hearst estate. The result of the latter experiment was not to his liking and he lost interest in the superstition in his later years. But the dates remain milestones to be remembered in considering his extraordinary career.
Perhaps his birth on the eve of the great revolutionary period of 1848, had something to do with the fact that all his life he was a passionate devotee of Liberty — liberty of action, of opinion, of government. He opposed all sumptuary legislation, all tax-law inequities, all political bossism, whether of the party or its leaders, and above all war!
When some new delight came his way, he liked to pass it on to those he wished to reward or encourage. Coming from the mild and humid central Mississippi Valley, he found the New York winter chill and took to a furlined overcoat for protection. This was before the days of heated street cars or comfortable subways, and the heavy garment gave him great content. Soon the men of mark on the World were garbed in fur with the compliments of the owner. When his eyes grew troublesome, he secured needed shade from the flexible brim of a Panama hat. Presto, all the favorites were likewise bedecked. He had great regard for the tall silk hat and always wore one on occasions that seemed important. When the World passed its 100,000 mark every employee received a silk hat with Mr. Pulitzer’s best wishes. He usually closed all arguments with a bet when the talk grew too strenuous, and the wager took the form of a hat—frequently five hats. I had a controversy once that lasted five months over the ‘return’ rules ol the New York American. He refused to believe my statements, but finally incontestable proof of their accuracy found him at Corfu. He cabled me to buy the hats, but stipulated that one of them must be a ‘crush’ for the opera, knowing that I detested both. This and other winnings kept me hi headgear for about twenty years at Mr. Pulitzer’s expense.
The considerable fortune left by Mr. Pulitzer was enhanced by the profitable outcome of wise investments in American securities listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They were not made primarily with this intent, but to protect the World. When the paper began piling up money, with his customary caution he looked ahead for lean years. He wished to be securely beyond the need of borrowing from banks. So he picked out what appeared to be the soundest easily marketed securities on the list. The paper never needed his aid and the investments grew with the years and the increasing prosperity of the country. When his property was listed, but one worthless item was found, a twenty-share certificate in some longforgotten effort to build a railroad in Missouri. Every other item had held or increased its value. Some had repaid him more than three-hundred fold!
He bought stocks in large lots — 2000, 3000, and 5000 shares, always in even numbers so that the holdings might easily be carried in his memory. Some of these vast blocks were made up of Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, Lake Shore, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and like gilt-edges. They were bought at the instance of the late Dumont Clarke, president of the American Exchange National Bank, and long vice-president of the Press Publishing Company, though having no relation to the production of the World. To Mr. Clarke’s sound judgment Mr. Pulitzer added his own with highly satisfactory results. Mr. Pulitzer had himself a fear of the influence of his growing wealth upon his views and their consequent reflection in the paper. In 1907 he sent for Frank I. Cobb, his chief editorial writer. It was during the tremors that preceded the ‘Roosevelt’ panic. The editor was addressed in this wise: ‘Boy, I am, as you probably know’, a large owner ol stocks. Some of them are bound to be affected by public actions. I am not sure of myself w hen I see my interests in danger. I might give way some day to such a feeling and send you an order that would mean a change in the paper’s policy. I want you to make me a promise. If I ever do such a tiling swear you will ignore my wishes.’
The promise was made, but no such order ever came. It would have passed unheeded had it come, so thorough was the singleness of purpose wrhich characterized the paper. Once in a while the traffic manager of the Western Union would claim a large share of words because the owner of the World was one of its chief stockholders. Such visits usually increased the trade of its Postal rival. Mr. Pulitzer never mentioned his holding in the concern to anyone in the shop.
He never embarked in any enterprise for making money, confining himself entirely to the investment of earnings from his newspapers in sound securities. Yet of his talents in a financial way, Lord Rothschild once said, ‘If Pulitzer would devote himself entirely to finance, he could be the richest man on the globe.’
His personal expenditures were enormous, probably exceeding, outside of royalty, those of any man of his time. The Liberty was always in commission and her operating cost, with repairs, ran close to $200,000 a year. In addition to this he maintained costly residences at Bar Harbor, Jekyl Island, Georgia, and in New York, to which was added the finest villa to be had at Cap Martin. Probably the bill totaled $350,000 a year, but it barely dented the great income from newspapers and investments. There was always a large annual surplus.
Although one of the masters of the art of attracting attention, he was singularly shy himself. He did not like to be pointed out publicly, or to be made personally a centre of interest. Once at Bar Harbor I had told Mrs. Pulitzer a merry tale about him, the joke of which was on the other fellow. She repeated it to her husband. ‘What’s this story you have been telling Mrs. Pulitzer?’ he queried at luncheon. I replied that it was a good one. He was silent for a moment, then said gently: ‘Don’t tell stories about me. Keep them until I am dead.’