Diamond Jubilee: November 1857--November 1932




FOR all the change in children, parents, I dare say, are much the same sort of people they were fifty years ago. At any rate, in that primitive world I never went to bed of a New Year’s Eve without the affectionate monition of my parents that now the New Leaf, in which we all felt such comfortable assurance, was well turned, it would be a simple matter to write the fresh chapter in a glorious round hand without splutter and without blotch. I would I had that simple confidence now and felt as certain that a new bright page of the Atlantic would almost of its own effort turn itself over.

Evil days in our history have not been wanting. Those who carry the honorable scars of 1929 may well remember the band of heroes which survived 1873 and hold in admiring remembrance the veterans of the other catastrophes which have dramatized every decade of our financial history. The Atlantic has come through three quarters of a century unscathed, while all about it magazines have suspended publication or become forever silent.

Seventy-five years, and every year twelve desperate efforts! Excellence is a difficult target, yet many shots have been hits; sometimes the gold has been notched; now and again, not often enough to spoil the sport, the bull’s-eye has been scored, and throughout the contest the aim, I like to think, has been steadily above rather than below the mark. Twelve times seventy-five is nine hundred, and nine hundred Atlantics reach back through the generations. Too long a chain that is to be allowed to break for one weak link, and so, as his eye runs over the 150 ample volumes on the shelf, the editor is very conscious of his obligation to the 151st.

Reader, if you have ever played at battledore, you know the feeling. The shuttlecock has bounced from racquet to racquet, forth and back, plunkplank, plank-plunk, with even flight and exquisitely satisfying resonance. Seven, eight, nine hundred times it flies. Then of a sudden, as if endowed with some deliberate malignity, the shuttlecock flies wide, and the player, lurching to recover the lost rhythm, feels in his spinal marrow the responsibility of the record tottering and almost lost. Thus in Virgilian simile feels the editor; as the poet would say, still stout of heart and keen of eye, but with the age and pain of service heavy upon him.

Copyright 1932, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass, All rights reserved.

Some years ago, in company with a native gentleman, I visited in one of the noble groves of Japan the most holy of Shinto temples. Before the sacred barrier, on the spot where his ancestors had prayed before him for seventeen hundred years, he petitioned the spirits of all who had gone before that the strength of their purpose and devotion should not through failure of his be brought to nothingness. If he failed, then indeed the dead had died in vain. So fervent was his prayer, so oblivious of self, except for the sense of solemn duty laid upon him, that as I stood and looked he seemed to be watching the cloud of witnesses whose spirits he invoked, hovering visibly above him. Their strength was his strength, and he could not fail.

But a good deal more has gone into the editing of the Atlantic than duty and hard work. The responsibility has been great, the struggle has been severe, but there has been joy in the day’s work. What fisherman as he unhooks his shining catch and watches the rainbow fade from the glimmering scales but exults in the memory of the strikes which he has lost? And of all fishermen the editor is the happiest. His flies are of his own making. According to his mood, he fishes quiet pools or swift water. Seldom indeed fishes swim into his net. He is not out to catch gudgeons. It is his business to gain skill in his casting, and lean and wary trout arc his challenge. When he hooks them, it is by no chance cast. When sport is good, the editor dwells in a Heaven of his own, and if it is poor, why, to-morrow is ahead. There is more to adventure than the winning of the prize. There is more to editing than laying hands on a notable and reverberant ‘leader.’

Some such thoughts as these color the editor’s mind as he writes the first words on the new page. How confident was that New England group which in the ’50s dined and talked and hoped that something of their affections, their sympathies, and their tastes should survive in the ‘Maga,’ as they called it, far beyond their term and time, through a long vista of American history, as a rallying point for kindred hearts and minds! And true it is that though editor has given place to editor, Lowell, Fields, Howells, Aldrich, Scudder, Page, and Perry, each in his own way has invited readers of the same sort. Friends of the magazine to-day are Scotch cousins at least to the first circle that bade it welcome.

It is not out of place, then, that this Diamond Jubilee of the Atlantic should be celebrated in a number which in its content is reminiscent of the past, and which in character, in the range of its ideas, in form, style, and quality, should mark not a transition but a continuance, so it be made manifest of all men that the newborn volume, of which this number is the harbinger, will be neither foundling nor stepchild, but, in authentic and honorable descent from the founders, ATLANTIC, Volume 151.

E. S.