FREDERICK PALMER has had an amazing life. A reporter at the age of fifteen, while still in school; two years, and then a position on the staff of the New York Press; two years more, and he is assigned to London as ‘European correspondent’; still two years, and he is sent to report the war between Greece and Turkey. He went to the wars, and he really never came back. He missed the Spanish War in Cuba, but caught it in the Philippines. He went round the world with Dewey, was in the Boxer rebellion and at tbe relief of Peking. He saw the Macedonian insurrection in 1903, then hurried away to the Japanese-Russian War in 19041905. Roosevelt’s world cruise of the fleet took him along, part way at least, and he saw the Turkish revolution of 1909, the Balkan War in 1912, and of course the World War.
Until America got in, he was the only American correspondent the British would accept. When our country entered, Mr. Palmer became chief censor of the newspapermen’s dispatches, and later the Keeper of the War Diary.
All these experiences he has told in a fascinating, irritating book. He has the reporter’s instinct everywhere to see for himself. That made his dispatches good. But now writing ‘in the terms of personal experience and reminiscence,’ he counts up the times he was under fire; he names the generals and admirals who told him that ‘wherever I go you may come’; he sets forth his timely report on conditions in Panama to the anxious President Theodore Roosevelt, and assures him that he can go ahead and dig the canal.
Coming back from the Japanese-Russian War, he submitted to long questioning from President Roosevelt about Japanese history, social life, and mode of thought, and suddenly realized the purpose of the catechism. The President remarked, ‘I know what I’m going to do when the time comes.’
‘You’re going to make peace, said Mr. Palmer.
‘ Yes. But don’t you tell anybody.’
Mr. Palmer was a great help to President Roosevelt.
There are no bounds to the naïveté of the man. He recites one incident that is almost incredible; the only thing more nearly incredible is that lie should write it down.
When winter closed down in 1915, Mr. Palmer says, he came back to his own country and went about lecturing, night after night. In Toronto he gave his usual description of ‘a fresh battalion, deloused, rested, fattened up with liberal rations, surcharged with the war spirit, entering the shambles; then how it came out with half or a third of its numbers, bloodstained, mud-stained shadows of men wondering how it was they were still alive —again to have gaps filled by recruits, to be deloused, rehabilitated, recharged with the war spirit, and be thrust back into the flames.’ These are Mr. Palmer’s own words.
Suddenly he noticed that most of the audience were using their handkerchiefs; that women were being helped up the aisles; that one woman had fainted — and it occurred to him that these Canadian women had sons in France!
Yet his book is fascinating. He has the seeing eye of the true reporter, and paints his scenes and picks his incidents truly. Naturally, hardly any of the stories that make up this memoir were matter for dispatches, and the first wonder is that he can so vividly remember the incidents, the dialogue, of forty active years. The answer is that after each exploit he wrote a book. This one has the essence of his fifteen volumes, faithfully preserved in freshness through all these years.
Oddly enough, the man can tell his stories splendidly, but he cannot write, in the academic sense. It may be that he has become so accustomed to the reliance upon an editor at home that he takes no pains. Certainly the text of this book has not had any help from an editor. There are many sentences whose meaning cannot be surely discovered; there are sentences that do not even ‘hinge.’ There are words not to be found in the dictionaries— though probably ‘legarthy’ must be laid to a sleepy compositor and a proofreader on vacation.
Best of the book is the frequent delineation of famous men as he knew them when they were off duty, and saying things which could not be printed—then.
FRANK P. SIBLEY