Joseph Pulitzer: His Life and Letters
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1924. Large 8vo. xii+478 pp. $5.00.
MR. SEITZ has enriched the history of American journalism with one of the best of its biographies. His portraiture is of a personality as vivid, as potent, and in many ways as engaging of the imagination, as that of any other of the halfdozen really great editors since the first of them, Benjamin Franklin. With sane discernment and full knowledge there are traced not only the incidents but also the impulses of the most extraordinary career that any chapter of the annals of the profession records.
In this tale of the editor-proprietor who, blind and on the edge of nervous collapse, a fugitive from every disturbing sound of voice or foottread, marked by an incurable malady, nevertheless from thousands of miles away conducted his great paper for years with the minutest attention to detail and with the unflagging interest and incandescent energy of his own youth, the biographer of Joseph Pulitzer has chronicled the triumph unexampled, over deadening conditions, of an indomitable will, persistent to the end.
The only dissenting comment I have to make on the unusually faithful book is that in perhaps too many instances the competent writer has permitted his pages to reflect ephemeral aspects of minor office-politics, personal antagonisms long since cold, the elimbings-up and pullingsdown of satrapies within the establishment. To a certain extent such revelations of domestic jealousies and rivalries throw light upon the trials of the central figure; at times they seem unnecessary, if not inurbane. On a surface almost uniformly brilliant the spot is a small one, possibly not worth the mention, but there is a fine art of forgetting as well as of remembrance.
Surely there is interest enough for everybody along the main threads of such a story, told as this is with great literary skill, independence of judgment, and enthusiasm of friendship tempered by that respect for the verities which the subject himself would have enjoined, at least in his more philosophic moods. Even the reader who cares little about the technics of newspapermaking, and nothing whatever about the persons engaged in the business, will delight in Mr. Seitz’s fine achievement of characterization, which from the very first paragraphs summons back the man who died thirteen years ago, restoring to him by touches that are masterly the distinctness and vigor of life. As the author proceeds to fill the bold outline with circumstantial narrative and documents, largely of frank selfrevelation in letters amounting to autobiography, I think that some who may have been inclined to regard Mr. Pulitzer as a rather acrid intelligence, or as an unscrupulous contender for circulation and profits, or as a pernicious influence for the debasement of journalistic ideals, or, again, as a callous autocrat in his relations with subordinates, will be quick to discover in him something quite different.
It is not the least valuable of Mr. Seitz’s services to the memory of his chief that that remarkable man is made, by exhibit rather than by description, to appear clearly to us — not as the ‘Liberator of Journalism,’ for he was not journalism’s liberator in any sense that I can understand, but as an uncommonly brave human being, genially humorous at times in the recognition of his own limitations, contradictions, and mistakes; delicately considerate of the feelings of those whom he instructed or inspired from afar with a Niagara of communications sharply contrasting with Dana’s systematic policy of laissez faire; intolerant of no failing in his trusted people unless it was professional damfoolishness; and, above all, neither dismayed in spirit nor deterred from large accomplishment by the pathetic extreme of physical misfortune.
EDWARD P. MITCHELL