The Contributors' Column

IN turning the pages of the one hundred and fifty volumes from which this Diamond Jubilee issue is compiled, the editor sought, not to make his choice from among the most famous contributions, for they arc too well known, but rather to select those which made an impression in their time and which bring to our own a sense of the literary and spiritual continuity of the Atlantic. In a very real sense, as Professor Perry says in his paper, the last number is as the first. An effort has also been made to suggest something of the Atlantic’s habitual variety, though, to the editors regret, it has not been found possible to include examples of the magazine’s constant interest in either politics or economics. Papers on these subjects are by preference timed to the hour, and grow stale with the years.

E. S. (‘Diamond Jubilee’) has been editing the Atlantic for nearly a quarter of a century. ∆ The only living ex-editor is Bliss Perry (‘The Arlington Street Incarnation’), whose turn at the helm covered the decade from 1899 to 1909. Before he retired from the editorship he was appointed a Professor of English Literature at Harvard, and has only lately become Emeritus.

Among that group of distinguished men who, seventy-five years ago, conceived the idea of establishing a new literary and political magazine to serve as the vehicle for the renascent spirit in American letters, Oliver Wendell Holmes held a pivotal position. At the epoch-making dinner at the Parker House in Boston on May 5, 1857, he took a leading part in threshing out the matter with the other guests, — James Bussell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Lothrop Motley, and James Elliot Cabot, — and the idea was adopted by unanimous agreement. At the birth of this venture, the following November, Dr. Holmes again assisted brilliantly by contributing to the opening issue the first installment of The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, who burst upon the world with the offhand introduction, ‘I was just going to say, when I was interrupted ... Finally, to the Doctor fell the honor of naming the new enterprise. Half a century later, Mr. Arthur Gilman related bow the inevitable name was bit upon after many others had been suggested. ‘Dr. Holmes told me,’ wrote Mr. Gilman, That one day after he had retired to “his virtuous couch,” he suddenly roused himself and exclaimed to his wife: “ I have it! It shall be called the Atlantic Monthly Magazine! Soon you’ll hear the hoys crying through the streets, ‘Here’s your Atlantic, ’tlantic, ’tlantic, ’tlantic!’”’

Lowell, the first editor, never showed the instincts of a literary midwife more truly than by insisting, as ‘a condition precedent to accepting the editorship, that Oliver Wendell Holmes should be engaged as the first contributor. Holmes at that time had written but little that gave definite promise of the place his ‘Autocrat’ and the succeeding ‘BreakfastTable’ papers were to give him. Many years later he wrote: ‘I think therefore that the Atlantic came for my fruit just as it was ripe to gathering, but I never knew it was so until afterwards.’

To publish a memorial issue of the Atlantic without giving to Holmes the place of honor in it was unthinkable, so he is represented by ‘My Hunt after “the Captain. His twinkling eyes look out from every line, but the piece is less well known, perhaps, than most of his other work. There is a peculiar appropriateness in reprinting it here, for the Captain of the tale, then a youngster who had just attained his majority, was of course Mr. Justice Holmes, who retired from the bench of the United States Supreme Court last spring in his ninety-first year.

Before Dr. Holmes went in search of his Captain, he had searched for his Lieutenant. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Harvard ’61, wore his Lieutenant’s uniform in action for the first time at Ball’s Bluff. A spent bullet struck him in the stomach. His Colonel, William Raymond Lee, ordered him to the rear, but he was not bidden to stay there, and, getting his Sergeant to help him to his feet, Lieutenant Holmes rejoined his men. I his time I he adventure lasted not quite three minutes. A minié ball entered his left breast, missing the heart by a quarter of an inch. The Sergeant supposed the wound mortal, but it was not. A few days later Dr. Holmes found his Lieutenant and took him home from a Philadelphia hospital. It was not long before the Autocrat was writing to his friend, J. L. Motley, that, the boy was ‘a great pet in his character of young hero with wounds in the heart, and receives visits en grand seigneur. I envy my white Othello with a semi-circle of Desdemonas about him, listening to the oft-told tale which they will have again.’

Ball’s Bluff was fought in October ’61; Antietam in September ’62. There young Holmes, now a Captain, was hit twice. The first bullet struck away the buckle of his knapsack, the second pierced his neck. It is the rest of Ibis story that Dr. Holmes tells.

Teacher and humanist, Edward Rowland Sill (‘The Fool’s Prayer’) was perhaps the most selective of American poets. He was at one time Professor of English Literature at the University of California, but retired from teaching to devote himself to writing. He died in 1887. John Burroughs (‘Expression’) was but twenty-three when be sent this first contribution to the Atlantic. So natively was it. impregnated with Concord philosophy, it is on record that the editor ran through the works of Emerson to make quite certain that the essay was not plagiarized from some early lecture. Long before his life drew to a close, in 1921, his spiritual kinship to Thoreau had become even more strikingly manifest. Dallas Lore Sharp’s famous paper, ‘Turtle Eggs for Agassiz,’ has been reprinted many times, but still reads as freshly as the day it was written. The eager joy of the amateur naturalist has never found a better expression. Beginning his career as a Methodist minister, Mr. Sharp later joined the faculty of Boston University, and held the chair of English from 1909 until his death twenty years later. In that period it was a rare twelvemonth that did not bring from his pen some noteworthy book compact with the surprises and delights lie found in riding his hobby. ∆ With Katherine Peabody Girling (‘When Hannah Var Eight Yar Old’), writing has been an avocation, sparingly but painstakingly indulged in the leisure hours of her full life at Glencoe, Illinois. This true story, a masterpiece of cameo-like precision, struck home the moment it was published. It. was afterwards reprinted in a tiny volume by Frederick A. Stokes. Woodrow Wilson was rounding out his fortieth year when he sent ‘On Being Human’ to the Atlantic. He was then teaching jurisprudence at Princeton, and had a professor s future before him. Those were the days when Wordsworth was more to him than politics.

‘A Conversation with Cornelia’ was not the firsl article Stuart P. Sherman wrote lor the Atlantic, but it is probably his best. As you read it, you are listening to the perfect teacher. Together with other kindred papers that had appeared in the Altantic, it was later issued a book, My Dear Cornelia. A canoe accident in the summer of 1927 brought his brilliant career to a tragic end. ∆ The name of William Beebe was known to only a small audience when ‘A Yard of Jungle’ first came out, but the essay was a complete exposition of his scientific methods and his prismatic prose. At that time his Arcturus adventure was still ten years in the future. ∆ A specialist in advertising methods, Lorin F. Deland made the habits of the human mind his constant study; flashes of insight sparkled through his conversation like the dots and dashes of the Morse code. His discussion of ‘Imagination in Business’ was the man himself. He was the husband of Margaret Deland, the novelist. Margaret Prescott Montague has been well known to an appreciative public ever since her first book came from the presses in 1905. It was not until some years after ‘Twenty Minutes of Reality’ appeared in the Atlantic that she disclosed to the public her authorship of it. During a term which has covered nearly a quarter of a century, the editor does not recall a contribution which brought forth expressions of wider or of deeper feeling. Arthur Russell Taylor was a Pennsylvania rector who wrote sparsely enough in the intervals between his parish duties. ‘Mr. Squem was his first attempt at fiction. ∆ Beloved priest and poet, John B. Tabb (‘The Ring’) was Virginiahorn. Only sixteen when the Civil War began, he fought as a Rebel should, and afterward studied music, taught school, and was ordained. Compactest of American poets and among the most ingenious, he loved the quatrain above all other verse forms; to cram it with thought and suggestion was his favorite avocation. He died in 1909. ∆ Until her death a short time ago, Cornelia A. P. Comer was numbered among the Atlantic s nearest and most constant friends. A philosopher in her own right, with definite convictions and a background both broad and thorough, she was invited by the editor to mount the Atlantic’s pulpit and preach there the sermon contained in ‘A Letter to the Rising Generation.’ Everywhere her paper was read, and in the colleges it was the discussion of the hour. At Columbia, Professor Woodbridge lectured on it to his students and required of them a philosophic answer. So it was that when he sent in the reply of Randolph S. Bourne (‘The Two Generations’), it was the first of that gifted youth’s Atlantic papers which were to give him a recognized leadership among his contemporaries. He joined the staff of the New Republic at its inception, but his promise was cut off by premature death in 1918. ∆ The ‘Two Sonnets’ by John Masefield show the imaginativeness and vigor of his maturing powers fifteen years before he became Poet Laureate. ∆ Africa is still the continent of mystery, and can be understood best by intuition. Perhaps that is why, out of all the books that have been written on the Dark Continent, the most understanding have been by women — Mary Henrietta Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa, and Jean Kenyon Mackenzie’sBlack Sheep, An African Trail, The Trader’s Wife, and half a dozen more. ‘Exile and Postman’ is, of course, the personal expression of a nostalgic mood. The stillness of the forest is there, and the estranging sense of distance. Miss Mackenzie was educated at the University of California and the University of Paris, and has given her life without stint to the labor of love of a missionary in the French Cameroon. Where she gained the secret of her exquisite prose we cannot say. but her father’s Bible, which he read in the broad Scotch of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night,’ was a memorable teacher.

If was an old Atlantic custom, ardently championed by Emerson, to print all contributions without divulging the names of their authors — which gave rise to intense speculation every time a new issue came out, each reader trying to outguess his neighbor in the game of identifying the writers. This quaint pastime ceased in 1870, when the present usage of signing the articles was begun. The old custom, however, was carried over into the Contributors’ Club, which continued a safe harbor for anonymity until last year. Even now. some readers admit a preference for the unsigned piece, but the majority, we dare say, are somewhat like a splendid young scholar of our acquaintance who, though he speaks live languages, has no French, and invariably asks the waiter in a restaurant to translate the menu for him, always adding his lit tie joke that the food tastes better when he knows what, he is eating.

Whatever one may think of the old system, — and it had very real advantages, — there can be no question that il has made infinitely more difficult the task of anyone who undertakes to chronicle the early years of the Atlantic. This was again brought home to the editor as he thumbed through the yellowed pages searching for items to reprint in the Contributors’ Club of the Diamond Jubilee number. The authorship of some of the papers is susceptible to varying degrees of doubt. Each editor, in his day, knew who the writers were, and that was enough; when he passed his blue pencil, shears, and pot of paste along to other hands, he walked out of the office carrying his memories with him, and now there are disputed points about which one man’s guess is as good as another’s. Still, it may be amusing to attempt to trace to their sources the few Club papers reproduced here.

Fortunately, the poet who turned the lines on ‘Pan in Wall Street’ is well remembered. He was Edmund Clarence Stedman. Shortly after writing it, fittingly enough, he entered business in New York. The origin of the three essays, ‘Out They Go,’ ‘A MiddleAged Young Person,’ and ‘A Discussion in Ethics,’ can be ascribed with less certainty. The first two bear unmistakable evidence of having flowed from the same ink bottle, and I heir brand of whimsicality gives the editor reason to believe that he knows whose property the bottle was. ‘A Discussion in Ethics’ is. as the subject would imply, clouded in greater obscurity. Any one of several might have stood sponsor for it, but. here again the editor thinks he can identify the author beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead of spoiling the fun, however, perhaps it would be better to revive, for a moment, the old guessing game and let readers sharpen their wits upon the problem. The editor will be glad to bear from anyone who thinks he has clues to the correct answers. When we come down to the more recent years, the clouds vanish, for the record is clear. ‘A Defense of Whistling was the work of Robert Haven Schauffler. ‘Asking for a Raise’ was by Harry I. Shumway, and ‘In Memoriam’ by Margaret Sherwood.