Confession by a Two-Track Mind

LIKE President Coolidge, I have my Official Spokesman and my Unofficial Observer. The former is a sober, steady-going writer whose highest dream is to write a four-volume work entitled, ‘The Effect of Machinery upon Human Nature and the Social Order.’ If these heavy tomes take their place on library shelves along with Buckle’s History of Civilization and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the Official Spokesman for the firm of I, We and Company will be completely satisfied. Whether many or few read the book is matter of indifference to him, but he has reason to believe it will be a sweet revenge upon undergraduates who get in his way in libraries.

Among the other duties of the Official Spokesman is that of making halting addresses on social and industrial themes to conventions of earnest souls who don’t mind hearing such themes haltingly discussed. But even while the Official Spokesman is speaking I am painfully aware that my Unofficial Observer is sneering at him. The Unofficial Observer renders me thoroughly uncomfortable in such crises, because he makes it so devastatingly clear that in his opinion I am gadding around the country for the sake of showing off before folks. No doubt this is why I uniformly disappoint my hearers; one can hardly sell himself unless he is sure he is worth selling.

The Unofficial Observer is not much of a provider; still he does what he can for the family in a quiet way. He writes anonymous essays and little sketches which help to fill the back pages of magazines. Sometimes the author finds in these more cause for pride than in the reasoned, factual articles shouted at the world by the Official Spokesman. These essays help me to maintain a secret conviction that I might have been a creative literary artist if I had not become a reporter at the tender age of seventeen.

While the Unofficial Observer functions in private, his light shrouded by the bushel of anonymity, still occasionally he hears that he has written this or that. Sometimes the best of wives ‘peaches,’ as wives will. Recently there came one bearing praise, one whose opinion I value, but who remains consistently cold to the Official Spokesman’s mighty efforts. Said he: ‘My dear fellow, I seem to have underestimated you. Thought you were just one more of these confounded analysts who are treading the noble art of letters in the dust. But now I’m told you wrote this. Man alive, it’s worth more than all the stale profundities you put your name to. You must do more of them; they will outlive your routine work twenty years to one. Do that, and you’re made; otherwise an autographed first edition copy of your books will be worth less than fifty cents fifty years from now. There is a reaction coming in favor of quiet writing like this sketch of yours; the world grows weary of jazz, of the persevering analysis of mediocre souls which masquerades under the name of fiction, of highly seasoned sociology and all other literary abominations. Just sit in a chair, watch life slide by, and write simply of those phases of the procession which appeal to you. Why, it’s a call, like any other ministry. ’

I confess I should like to follow this advice. With due allowances for the extravagances of friendship, I think the conclusion is sound. There is an audience for the still, small voice, and it is going to keep on growing in spite of Baal and Babel, Mammon and the Mob. But what becomes, then, of my investment in the Official Spokesman, that pseudo heavyweight who can be depended upon to fill editorial specifications on such themes as ‘The Effect of the Quota Laws upon Piecework Rates’? For the Unofficial Observer is quite unconventional in some of his views; as contrasted with the eternal verities which he finds in Man and the lesser animals, he remains unimpressed by parties, groups, institutions. What he thinks of the sovereign State would make Mr. Kellogg shiver. Actually this essay writer is no more radical than a plug hat, but when the State waxes radical, as it is in the present stage of interference with personal and family rights, it tries to destroy its critics by calling them radical. Smart young State! So I suspect that no nice captain of industry would read one of my books if I were to sign the Unofficial Observer’s stuff. And mirth! What, I ask you, is likely to happen when the Mountain of Social and Industrial Uplift (slight exaggeration for the sake of preserving robust figure of speech) brings forth a flippant mouse? Crash goes the mountain and flat goes the mouse.

So, for the time being at least, I am going to preserve the anonymous status of the Unofficial Observer. (That sentence is in the Official Spokesman’s best style.) I tell myself that the Observer is going to hug the dusk for the good reason that he can do better by dark than by daylight. I tell myself he can gather his material more easily if he walks the world unknown. He discourses frequently, you see, of innocent, naïve persons in a region where innocent, naïve persons are a little touchy on the subject of serving literary purposes. Our neighbors, I fear, would think the Observer was making game of them, whereas he loves them dearly in all their whims and crotchets and seeks to portray them, not as freaks in the national gallery, but as doers, thinkers, and be-ers richly worth recording.

But all the preceding paragraph, acutely considered, is mere rationalizing. The fact is that my neighbors might not object to the literary celebration of their qualities and landscapes; they might even like it and come bearing gifts of material. ‘Here’s one you never heard.’ Those who object could do no more than punch my face, which is nothing compared to the risks the Official Spokesman runs whenever he quotes corporation statistics. No; the real reason I do not pitch the Spokesman overboard with a millstone round his neck and hoist Observer’s flag to the masthead is because I’m afraid. Afraid of the losses, afraid of the explanations, afraid that Observer might fizzle out under the weight of responsibility.

It has always been my conviction that courage is a writer’s best asset. An average high-school graduate can write well enough, from the standpoints of grammar and punctuation, to satisfy any editor. Practically all human beings think interesting thoughts, if they could bring themselves to reveal the secrets of their minds. Courage is therefore the key to the editorial heart. The Official Spokesman started courageously, but has grown, I confess, hackneyed. And yet I dare not make the Unofficial Observer official. This is rank cowardice, no doubt, but what would you?