A Man From Kansas

By David Hinshaw
IT TOOK a saint and a philosopher to make up William Allen White, and it takes a disciple who loved him to tell his story. I think myself that the amalgam was two-thirds sanctity, one-third philosophy, but David Hinshaw, the biographer, holds the balance to be fairly equal. He writes in homespun style in this “Story of William Allen White,” withholding nothing in affection; yet so conscientious is his admiration that in counting millions of honest worth he sets down a pennyworth of faults. The only virtue he fails to find in Will is what seems to me the topmost of his virtues: a complete and beautiful unconsciousness of his own merit.
Mr. Hinshaw brings into relief all the essentials, and chief of them White’s address— The Gazette, Emporia, Kansas, his triple tie to love and fame. An environment must be large enough to nourish a man’s character, small enough to make it definite. When a man has grown to his full stature you can safely give him to the world. But during his plastic stage, life should be reasonably simple and intelligible.
Like other saints, White saw everything in the future. For him the Gazette had seeds of perfection in it. He held it a congeries of ideals and of people bound straight for heaven. For him the drab streets of Emporia shone with the light of virtue; and in Kansas — flat, dreary, uninspiring Kansas, with its right-angled roads and oozy rivers, with its oddities and quixotisms, its flaming enthusiasms and hayseed philosophies, its generosities and human kindnesses in Kansas, the Pixie of the Union, White saw the kindergarten of all the glories.
Had he been a universal man, White would have lost his strength. Many sides he had, but not all. He loved not sport. Apart from sensibility to the loveliness of nature, he had little aesthetic sense. Abroad, on a mission of personal culture, he comes face to face at Munich with Dürer’s marvelous John the Baptist. White is struck to his heart’s core. “Why there,”he exclaims, “there’s old Stubbs!” R. W. Stubbs was Governor of Kansas. It was characteristic. What White was looking at was not a picture but the heart of a man. and the dearest things on earth to him were the hearts of humankind.
Mr. Hinshaw knows journalism, and his quotations from the Gazette prove White a master of the art. As he matures, the swashbuckling style of the pioneer drops away from him, but the old rollick sticks, the drollery, the zest, the love of folks. It was his pungent political skits that were current coin from New York to San Francisco. But in merit they were second to topics closer to his affection. It was a misfortune not to die before White, for his obituaries are memorable and comforting to the family. The words with which he recalls his mother and his daughter Mary are already in most Readers and should be in the rest. And what could be more eloquent than these lines he wrote on the death of Woodrow Wilson: —
God gave him a great vision.
The devil gave him an imperious heart.
The proud heart is still.
The vision still lives.
For forty-nine years White toiled on the Gazette. With admirable fidelity Mr. Hinshaw gives us the story of his labors. Will he not complete another volume taken straight from the files? If he does, he will make a book deserving to be read until the last American journalist writes finis to his editorial art.