The Contributors' Column

Gamaliel Bradford, during a dozen years the most frequent of all Atlantic contributors,— witness forty-four papers of his which we have published to our satisfaction, — has never, we think, drawn a portrait more interesting than this for the American public to gaze upon. ▵ Responsibility for the education of some thousands of young women renders this judgment which President Neilson passes upon the value and danger of censorship of exceptional importance. Edward Weeks is a member of the Atlantic staff who has made a close study of the machinery of censorship.

For years Jay Zarado swung in jubilant safety from the top of the Big Tent. She did somersaults and flip-flops at any height . But a motor on the highroad unhappily cut short her career of thrills and applause. Merle Colby is a Boston bookman. Dr. Irvine is in a London hospital recovering, we are happy to say, from a dangerous illness. William A. Croffut was, during the generation of the Civil War, an all-knowing correspondent at the Capital. Rosalie Hickler is the author of a number of lyric verses which have appeared in the Atlantic. Mrs. Risley lives in the heart of Arkansas — if Arkansas has a heart. H. D. Hill has been studying government in a number of European capitals. Ralph Adams Cram is the famous architect of many Gothic churches. Owen Laltimore, author of The Desert Road to Turkestan, is now on his way to new explorations in China. André Siegfried, student of peoples and governments, is at present on a new American tour. William L. Sullivan is a minister of the Gospel, living in Pennsylvania. Bradford K. Daniels, known to us by a remarkable autobiographical paper entitled ‘Pagan,’ which we shall shortly publish, sends his ‘Gotterdammerung’ from the State of Washington. Edgar Lawrence Smith published in 1924 a volume on Common Stocks as Long Term Investments which had a widespread influence. Unfortunately, many who followed his judicious theories to injudicious extremes neglected his chapter entitled ‘The Time Hazard in the Purchase of Common Stocks,’ in which stress is laid upon maintaining a ‘liquid position’ in times of high prices. Mr. Smith is at present President of the Irving Investors Management Company, the successor to Investment Managers Company, which he was instrumental in organizing in 1924. ▵ Captain Owen Tweedy’s paper announced for this issue is postponed to make room for the Shelley letters. Arnold J. Toynbee, long a professor at London University and an acknowledged expert on Eastern affairs, is now attending the Pacific Relations Conference.

The recent contributor to the Club who suggested collections for the indigent hardly knew what he was in for. More collectors than ever robbed a bird’s nest have sprung into the predatory ranks. But collecting is n’t the only fun. You must prove the items in your rival’s collection spurious. Among the curios offered by our contributor is this explanation of ‘the bitter end.’ In describing a terrific storm at Yarmouth Roads, Robinson Crusoe wrote: ‘We rode with two anchors ahead, and the cables veered out to the better end.’ ‘Better,’ the writer holds, was corrupted to ‘bitter.’ But Mr. Henry C. Lahee, who was once a sailor and still knows a bitt when he sees one, remarks that in the days of Crusoe there were no chain cables and the anchor was ‘bent’ to a hawser which was veered out over the bitts and made fast to them when a sufficient number of fathoms had been paid out. Defoe probably wrote —or meant — the ‘bitted’ end.

Our collector makes a graceful attribution of his ‘P’s and Q’s’ to the ancient injunction of the dancing school, ‘Gardez vos pieds et queues.’ Other collectors pounce on this exhibit, and label it (we ourselves should have done so) as derived from the landlord’s score board where the pints and quarts of our granddaddies were chalked up fatefully against them. A more erudite explanation is sent us from Paris by Mr. George Ladd Munn, who states that in the manuscripts of the mediæval period the letter P with one or more dots or other marks indicated the particular Latin preposition beginning with the letter P which was to be supplied (per, pro, etc.), while the letter Q in similar fashion was made to represent the desired form of the pronoun (quis, quid, etc.).

The tavern, it seems, has left its mark on our language as well as on our predilections. Professor Gaehr, of Wells College, sends this entertaining specimen for our collection — ‘I took him down a peg,’ so current in familiar speech. ‘In England it was a custom, in the alehouses, to serve the drink in large wooden tankards, which were passed round the table. Each man would drink as much as he could without stopping for breath. Now down the tankard, probably on the inside, there was a series of holes into which a peg could be inserted. It was therefore possible to gauge a man’s ability at a long draught. If you could drink three pegs and I four, then I took you down a peg.’

Then, of course, there is Dick’s hatband. As letters all the way from Yorkshire to Honan assure us, ‘It went round seven times, and would not turn in at the end.’ This seems queer enough, but it is queerer when one remembers that Dick was Richard Cromwell, and his hat the sorry substitute for a crown.

An amusing item in our contributor’s collection disclosed how the weak went to the wall. On this Mr. S. V. M. Ray, a lawyer at Miami, contributes an equally entertaining gloss. It was the custom, he tells us, of the Lombard merchants, or rather of their indignant creditors, to break the benches or counters of those who failed to pay their debts. (Italian banca, rotta: Latin rupta.) The bankrupt, with counter smashed, certainly went to the wall.

Doubtless, as many readers remind us, ‘to a T’ comes from the accuracy of a T-square, but whether ‘coming down to brass tacks’ alludes to the yard marks tacked to the counters in the ‘general stores’ of our youth, or is borrowed from the vocabulary of the sailor, who scoured his ship down to the last brass tack, is apparently for every man to decide for himself.

‘Calling a spade a spade’ presents some difficulties. Spado was the sword which served as the precursor of the spade on early decks of cards, but a sword is rather a rough and ready weapon to be spoken of so gingerly. An ingenious correspondent, the Reverend Daniel McGurk, opines that the overnice were reluctant to refer to a spayed bitch. However this may be, the delicacy enveloping a spade Was of ancient origin. Erasmus, as Udall renders him, was aware of it: ‘Philippus aunswered, that the Macedonians wer feloes of no fvne Witte in their termes, but altogether grosse, elubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.’

This seems, does it not, to put the boot on the other foot, where we will leave it. But, before turning to pastures new, may we ask someone to inform us why the etymologists are so fond of picking on the dog? With them it is ‘a dirty dog’ and ‘a dog’s life.’ They ‘dog-ear’ our pages, and tell us we ‘blush like a dog’ wdien we have n’t the grace to blush at all. It is natural enough to ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ but why ‘try it on the dog’ or ‘lead a dog’s life’?

Have n’t any of you a word to throw at a dog? _

How different and how appealing is this understanding tribute from a lover of dogs.


Little toy dog, curl and lie —
Apple of milady’s eye —
Curl and cuddle in her lap
For a quiet canine nap.
Einstein will not worry you
With his lambda and his mu:
Silly philosophic schemes
Cannot curdle in your dreams.
God is someone you can see,
Silken femininity,
Exquisite in flesh and bone,
Warmer than a god of stone.
You have no unholy yen
For the pallid sins of men:
All the old Mosaic laws
Cannot manacle your paws.
Sex is neither wrong nor right,
Just a simple appetite,
Never troubled you a bit.
Men have complicated it.
Run or bark or make a fuss,
That is not enough for us,
We need radios to live,
And the talkies, God forgive!
We, the silly jackanapes,
Bending over ticker tapes,
Following a put and call,
Watching Anaconda fall:
Sweating in our petty shops,
Figuring the curve of crops,
Aching over overhead,
Marking losses in the red:
Guessing what the end will be
Out beyond eternity:
Sipping on our anodyne,
Immortality or wine.
You are wiser as you are
Following a canine star:
Dream your dainty little dream
Of a saucer and some cream.

The Editor would gladly fill this Column with the delightful correspondence of his friend, Mr. Charles D. Stewart, but must content himself with a single example. An Atlantic, reader, Mr. Charles W, Collins of Pittsburgh, inquired why Mr. Stewart had planned war upon sparrows while he contented himself with merely treading the dandelion underfoot. Mr. Stewart replies:

I might have known that, while I was preoccupied with sparrows, others would be equally interested in dandelions. I never did get rid of them, either by single combat or chemical warfare. I found it easier to change my attitude

toward dandelions, and to ask myself what my real objections are against them, anyway.
As for sparrows, they would not let me sleep to a reasonable hour in the morning. A sparrow always ‘takes off’ with a chattering, scolding noise; his leap into space is accompanied with a noise like a small airplane and an impudent whirr of his electric horn. Consequently their habit of using the bedroom window sill as a perching place every morning interfered with my own rights in what I had supposed was my own house. I kept on till I fixed them permanently. And then when I turned my attention to the dandelions again it occurred to me that they had not really ‘done me anything.’ In Peter Henderson’s catalogue, too, I noted that they had nice dandelion seed for sale — that some people cultivate them carefully in their gardens; a fact that made them look a little different to me. As I could not kill them even by cutting them off below the crowns, I decided to change my mind about them; and that was the end of the whole trouble between me and them!
It is the same with snakes. My house is built of glacial granite bowlders of such size that the walls are two feet thick. Above ground the crevices between these undressed stones are well filled with mortar; but just at the ground line, where the soil has sunk a little, there are cracks and openings leading deep into the thick wall; and this state of affairs exactly suits the purposes of a snake. It is an avenue of escape; it holds the heat and keeps him warm on chilly nights; and in winter it offers the poor snake a place in which he may go to sleep and not freeze to death. It seemed that whenever I went to water the vines or trim the grass by the wall I was always meeting a snake who was in a great hurry. I would act more rapidly and often kill one. But as years went on there was no change in the snake situation; and in the meantime I had had a snake’s problems, and his way of locomotion, repeatedly brought to my attention. I saw more and more that a snake is mysterious and beautiful; and I began to think them out. On my study window sill (two feet wide, as I have explained) are two deep cages of fine wire netting containing snakes, Jimmy and Pete. They eat angleworms at mealtimes, and are always doing things that are interesting. My wife has become interested in them and their ways and refers to them by name. I would love to write about snakes; but, unlike trees and evolution, snakes have not had a good press. You know that Ellery Sedgwick, some while back, alluded to the fact that evolution had had a good press.
I have mentioned Jimmy and Pete by way of illustrating what may be done by the simple process of changing one’s mind. It is the only way I can think of to get the best of a dandelion. Yellow is really a beautiful color.

A correspondent of this Column announced the other day that the casual adventurer is grown as rare as the stowaway on a Zeppelin. To which a presentday adventurer takes exception. The tribe, he says, is not extinct, but merely inarticulate, and goes on to tell of his own wanderings in ‘antres vast and deserts idle.’


DEAR ATLANTIC, — I have just returned from a five months’ trip through the wilds of Southern Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa. I carried a pack, had no money, shot meat for food, and lived like a native, on the country. I was attacked by one crocodile, four baboons, and a herd of buffalo. The trip commenced when, as a sailor, my ship, the Western Knight, was wrecked on April 8, 1929, at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. On August 21, I was arrested in Umtali, Southern Rhodesia, and deported to Cape Town. On September 24, I was signed on as mess boy on the S.S. Eastern Glen and made to work my way to New York, landing on November 2, 1929. The total cost of my trip, including rifle and equipment, was $130—and I still owe $60 for the rifle.
With pack and rifle, often penniless, I have made my way from Canada through every country on the way to Venezuela. I have joined three revolutions in Mexico and was with Sacasa in Nicaragua in 1926. I have known illness, fever, cold, hunger, heat; floundered through swamps; crossed deserts. I’ve been outlawed and had a price on my head, dead or alive. I’ve chased men; been chased by men, and have bullet scars. I’ve never had, in my life, a job at more than $4.50 per day, except as a revolutionist. I’ve hoboed my way over the United States and sailed on many ships. In the last five years I have never had as much as $150 at a time. In Philadelphia, in October 1927, I was penniless and had nothing to eat for six days. And in my wanderings I have met many, many more of my own kind.
It is a hard life the wanderer leads. Yet the fascination of the unknown lying over the horizon’s edge draws him on. For, as I look back, there comes to me the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in the moonlight; the Owens Lake vista; the savannas of Honduras; the rearing peaks of the Andes in the morning sun as I saw them from where I crouched in the lee of a stone for shelter, at 17,000 feet altitude; the rush of great beasts through the bush, and their hair-raising appearance in charge when, on the Lundi River of Southern Rhodesia, I tackled a herd of buffalo; the Waianae Mountains of Oahu in a mist veil; the surge and shiver and upheaval of a ship in a storm, while the waves crash over the bulwark and roar over the deck; the fierce, unconquerable excitement as the blood lust rises when the shrilling machete men leap to the assault.
Yes, the out trails still know them, these men who

See afar a light that is past eye seeing,
Hear the far-off murmur of magic seas,
Reach for a star and follow a phantom fleeing,
Drawn by the beauty of unknown leas.


‘Are ordinary people interesting?’ queries a friend, and answers his own question.

Eleanor Risley’s people are. Anybody she might write about would be, for she writes that way. Grandmother Brown is, too. Her daughterin-law has preserved intact the pioneer atmosphere, no slight accomplishment. The mountain folk are, for they are the last bulwark between Elizabethan English and seeming destruction. ‘Stump farm’ people are so naturally.

I sometimes wonder whether I myself might not have been interesting twenty-five years ago.

One rainy Saturday during Christmas week in 1901, my father and I drove all day long over country mud roads in a no-top spring wagon — what the New Englanders call a democrat wagon — to one of the best-known preparatory schools in the South. In the rear of the wagon was my small zinc-covered trunk filled with bedding and books. My wardrobe, practically all on my back, consisted of one black coat and vest, mostly wool; one pair of striped pants, mostly cotton; one pair of brogan shoes, mostly squeak; two shirts, a few collars, and money to match. I deposited the only fifty dollars I had ever had in the local bank and began to check it out twenty-five cents at a time as needed to meet the cash requirements of my first educational venture.

According to the standards I was already educated, particularly in respect to my mother tongue. I spoke Elizabethan American. I had never seen a mountain, though I grew up within fifty miles of the foothills of that enchanted land, ‘clum’ trees, ‘wrapped up’ my toes when I ‘stumped’ them, and ‘holp’ raise the bread and meat on the farm. In ordinary speech I used many of the old forms enumerated by Charles Morrow Wilson in the August Atlantic. I reckon I would be using them yet but for the sharp barbs of my more sophisticated schoolmates. Their ridicule, plus some years in the classics later, a little French, some self-acquired German, and the corrupting influences of the barbarians have spread an imperfect veneer over what might otherwise have remained a picturesque style.

Yet in spite of it all I sometimes even now cause an occasional slight arching of the eyebrows when unawares I ‘’low that sich and sich’ is the case. But my would-be critics are charitable. Those who happen to know that I went to Yale, have a doctor’s degree, and sometimes write for the Atlantic are sure that the slip is nothing but a prostrate pass at wit.

Though in the forties, my early experiences parallel much more nearly those of Grandmother Brown than they do those of my Phi Beta Kappa New England wife who graduated at Smith, third in a class of three hundred and sixty-five.

And so it goes. We Elizabethans break out to study the world; and the world breaks in to study us.

The pleasantest thing about travel is the traveler’s capacity to find unfamiliar interest in a familiar scene. Such a gift is Edward Newton’s. To us fireside travelers he brings the kind of refreshment described in the couplet of ‘a once famous American, now rapidly being forgotten,’ sent us by Mr. W. C. Hawthorne of Chicago; —

If with vision unfurled you leave your abode You may go ’round the world by old Marlboro’ road.

Have you an iconoclast in your family? And if you have, what do you do with him? We have, and our philosophy runs, If you can’t keep him silent let him have his say, asking our friends with quiet earnestness not to hold us responsible.


Is Mr. Bradford’s Coolidge the ‘real’ Coolidge? Alas, it is no easy matter to put a ‘real’ man into a book. It would be a more pertinent question to ask whether there has ever been a ‘real’ Coolidge. Is there a conscientious medical man alive who can gravely certify to his entrance into the world? Is there any adequate evidence that he has ever truly existed? How many of us could ourselves offer such evidence? We have heard a voice over the radio, cracking with a sudden twang that strained and portentous silence that follows the announcer’s balmy intonations. We have accepted the assurance, from persons totally unseen and unknown, that the voice belonged to a ‘real’ Coolidge. We have read speeches in the newspapers, and seen a figure in the moving-picture news reels. But these evidences, looked at with an unprejudiced eye, are singularly inadequate. Even the physical presence which some of us may have observed, while certainly tending toward verisimilitude, is not altogether competent to establish the case. Who knows what could not be done by a little group of bankers or a small board of politicians who understand that the country is not ruled by its laws, but by its fictions?

And why should we not be ruled by a fiction? A fiction, that is, without the bother of a man behind it, for we shall be ruled by fictions in any case. The Cheshire cat, as a cat, was far less effective than its mere floating grin. And so with the President. No ’real’ Coolidge could have had half the success which the fictitious Coolidge enjoyed. If there was a ‘real’ Coolidge, — and the more we think of this hypothesis, the more we are inclined to doubt it, — then it was not he, but the fictitious Coolidge, who ruled the country so greatly to its satisfaction. It was just the virtue of Coolidge to be admirably unreal. A ‘real’ President — we mean one who makes his personal force as an individual existing man unquestionably felt — arouses the enmity and jealousy of the people. Witness the eclipsed Wilson, whose name is never mentioned when statesmen meet to discuss disarmament and peace. It could not be plausibly maintained that Wilson never existed.

But Coolidge was essentially a fiat of the country’s imagination. Endowed with the typical virtues, stamped with every traditional characteristic, his career answers perfectly to the necessities of fiction, from his rustic origin to his retirement, which suggests a delicate classical allusion. Like Cincinnatus, he has come home after the splendors and powers of office to his little country villa. The popular imagination has rounded out the figure of Coolidge, and completed its work with him. Now, like an author who has tired of his early writings, or has outgrown them, it is looking about for a new theme. Hoover offers many possibilities, but there are discouraging signs of reality about him, as there were about Lindbergh, who resisted every attempt to turn him into the national milksop.

It grieves us to utter anything even faintly disparaging to Mr. Bradford, but we cannot help thinking that the best discussion of the ‘real’ Coolidge which we have seen appeared some time ago in the columns of a contemporary. It was a brief notice, reviewing, in the best tone of dramatic criticism, all his appearances on the screen, in the news reels, taking them up as though they were the work of a comedian of exquisite talents, a comedian who preserved an admirable gravity, an air of innocent if somewhat pessimistic wonder, amid all surroundings, whether he were arrayed in the sleekly tailored costume of the official reception or the less formal chaps and sombrero of the Southwest. This notice discussed Coolidge as, essentially, he was: it looked on him as a figure created by the national imagination. And the most eminent example of the country’s creative capacity certainly deserved serious æsthetic consideration.

We approve of Dr. Sullivan’s vigorous application of a logic-poultice to some of the inflammations which the critics of religion have offered as healthy and sincere arguments. Dr. Sullivan makes good sport of the ‘Copernican argument,’ the conclusion that man is debased as the size of the known universe expands. Yet, while Dr. Sullivan goes far toward destroying the logic of the Copernican argument, it was not logic that gave it birth. It sprang from an all but inescapable feeling. Men have been known to fly, sickened, after their first look through a telescope. That is the Copernican argument. Mere size has, no doubt, nothing logically to do with a spiritual judgment; but the knowledge that the earth is not the centre of the celestial system, and that its dimensions are infinitesimal in comparison with innumerable members of the whole, leaves many with little active disposition to believe that man is important to any intelligence but his own. But cosmic humility will not hurt us. It has been said that the meek shall inherit the earth. Perhaps they will also inherit the universe.

That literary censorship should have to be seriously and painstakingly discussed by two busy men as an effort toward relieving the public of a moral oppression shows the dreadful perversion in our notion of what is important and what is n’t. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and has consequently been held up as an example of inattention to the main business in hand. But he could not put the fire out, and something is to be said for the cultivation of a musical ear at any time. Our custodians of the public morals probably cannot be expected to do much, actually, toward mitigating real social evils. Very well then, if they cannot put the fire out, let them fiddle. They will be far better so employed than interfering with numerous custodians of their own morals who wish to read books, even if the books are naughty and reprehensible.

Many things lead to the conviction that Americans are terribly afraid of words and ideas and remarkably callous toward facts. We all know that vices and moral horrors worse than any hitherto described in books exist in every quarter of the land. Knowledge of this fact inspires little action; but expressions of it in books — records of the significant experience of people in their journey through the world — move an influential section of the community to self-righteous indignation that too often finds a legislative outlet. The methods of our police in applying to arrested men the third degree result in horrors that can only be thought of with a shudder. Yet a fact of this kind seems less important to our moral guardians than the danger that a book may advocate a new social theory, or a novel may contain a scene of seduction. Perhaps it is too much to expect those interested in moral causes to deal with real evils; but if this must be so, it seems a pity that there should be so little demand for fiddles.