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- An Adventure With A Genius - 20/21 -
test of industry, concentration, and memory than were Mr. Ralph and Mr. Joseph, Jr., while they were at Bar Harbor or on the yacht.
It is a pleasure to bear witness to the affectionate solicitude, the patience, and the good will with which they met the exacting demands of their father. They realized, of course, as every one who worked for J. P. realized it, that the weight of the burden he placed upon you and the strictness of the account to which you were called were the truest measure of his regard.
Next to politics there was nothing which interested J. P. more than molding and developing the people around him; and what was no more than a strong interest when it concerned his employees became a passion when it concerned his sons. His activities in this direction ministered alike to his love of power and to his horror of wasted talents; they gratified his ever-present desire to discover the boundaries of human character and intellect, to explore the mazes of human temperament and emotion.
What you knew and what you were able to do, once you had reached a certain standard, became secondary in his interest to what you could be made to know and what you could be taught to do. He was never content that a man should stand upon his record; growth and development were the chief aims of his discipline.
His method was well illustrated in my own case. One of his earliest injunctions to me was that I should never introduce any subject of conversation connected, in however remote a degree, with my travels or with my studies in relation to the government of tropical dependencies. When, for instance, he happened to need some information about India or the West Indies, he always directed one of the other men to find it for him. This arrangement had, from his standpoint, the double advantage of making the other man learn something of which he was ignorant, and of leaving me free to work at something of which I was ignorant. Thus J. P. killed two intellectual birds with one stone.
It was not only in regard to mental accomplishments, however, that J. P. pursued his plan of educating everybody around him. He insisted, among other things, that I should learn to ride, not because there was any lack of people who could ride with him, but because by means of application I could add a new item to the list of things I could do. After a dozen lessons from a groom I progressed so far that, having acquired the ability to stay more or less in the saddle while the horse trotted, Mr. Pulitzer frequently took me riding with him.
We always rode three abreast--a groom on J. P.'s right and myself on his left; and conversation had to be kept up the whole time. This presented no peculiar difficulties when the horses were walking, but when they trotted I found it no easy task to keep my seat, to preserve the precise distance from J. P. which saved me from touching his stirrup and yet allowed me to speak without raising my voice, and to leave enough of my mind unoccupied to remember my material and to present it without betraying the discomfort of my position.
During these rides, and especially when we were walking our horses along a quiet, shady stretch of road, J. P. sometimes became reminiscent. On one of these occasions he told me the story of how he lost his sight. As I wrote it down as soon as we got back to the house, I can tell it almost in his own words.
We had been discussing the possibility of his writing an autobiography, and he said, throwing his head back and smiling reflectively:
"Well, I sometimes wish it could be done. It would make an interesting book; but I do not think I shall ever do it. My God! I work from morning to night as it is. When would I get the time?" Then suddenly changing his mood: "It won't do any harm for you to make a few notes now and then, and some day, perhaps, we might go through them and see if there is anything worth preserving. Has any one ever told you how I lost my sight? No? Well, it was in November, 1887. The World had been conducting a vigorous campaign against municipal corruption in New York--a campaign which ended in the arrest of a financier who had bought the votes of aldermen in order to get a street railroad franchise."
At this point he paused. His jaws set, and his expression became stern, almost fierce, as he added: "The man died in jail of a broken heart, and I .. and I ..." He took a deep breath and continued as though he were reciting an experience which he had heard related of some stranger.
"I was, of course, violently attacked; and it was a period of terrible strain for me. What with anxiety and overwork I began to suffer from insomnia, and that soon produced a bad condition of my nerves. One morning I went down to The World and called for the editorials which were ready for me to go over. I always read every line of editorial copy. When I picked up the sheets I was astonished to find that I could hardly see the writing, let alone read it. I thought it was probably due to indigestion or to some other temporary cause, and said nothing about it. The next morning on my way downtown I called in at an oculist's. He examined my eyes and then told me to go home and remain in bed in a darkened room for six weeks. At the end of that time he examined me again, said that I had ruptured a blood vessel in one of my eyes, and ordered me to stop work entirely and to take six months' rest in California.
"That was the beginning of the end. Whatever my trouble had been at first, it developed into separation of the retina in both eyes. From the day on which I first consulted the oculist up to the present time, about twenty-four years, I have only been three times in The World building. Most people think I'm dead, or living in Europe in complete retirement. Now go on and give me the morning's news. I've had practically nothing, so you can just run over it briefly, item by item."
On another occasion he told me an amusing story of an experience he had had out in Missouri just after the end of the Civil War. He had spent some weeks riding from county-seat to county-seat securing registration for a deed making title for a railroad. One evening he was nearly drowned through his horse stumbling in the middle of a ford. When he dragged himself up the bank on the other side, drenched to the skin and worried by the prospect of having to catch his mount, which had started off on a cross-country gallop, he saw an elderly farmer sitting on a tree stump, and watching him with intense interest and perfect seriousness.
This man put J. P. up for the night. They got along famously for a while, but presently all was changed.
"The first thing he did," said J. P., "was to take me to the farmhouse and hand me a tumbler three parts full of whisky. When I refused this he looked at me as though he thought I was mad. 'Yer mean ter tell me yer don't drink?' he said. (It was one of the rare occasions when I heard Mr. Pulitzer try to imitate any one's peculiarities of speech.) When I told him no, I didn't, he said nothing, but brought me food.
"After I had eaten he pulled out a plug of tobacco, bit off a large piece, and offered the plug to me. I thanked him, but declined. It took him some time to get over that, but at last he said: 'Yer mean ter tell me yer don't chew?' I said no, I didn't. He dropped the subject, and for an hour or so we talked about the war and the crops and the proposed railroad.
"That man was a gentleman. He didn't take another drink or another chew of tobacco all that time. The only sign he gave of his embarrassment was that every now and then during a pause in the conversation he fell to shaking his head in a puzzled sort of way. Finally, before he went to bed, he produced a pipe, filled it, and handed the tobacco to me; but I failed him again, and he put his own pipe back in his pocket, firmly but sorrowfully.
"Well, my God! it was nearly half an hour before he spoke again, and I was beginning to think that I had really wounded his feelings by declining his hospitable offers, when he came over and stood in front of me and looked down on me with an expression of profound pity. I shall never forget his words. 'Young feller,' he said, 'you seem to be right smart and able for a furriner, but let me tell YOU, you'll never make a successful American until yer learn to drink, and chew, and smoke.'"
Chatwold being within telephone distance of New York, J. P. was constantly subjected to the temptation of ringing up The World in order to discuss editorial or business matters. He yielded too often, and the additional excitement and work incident to these conversations (which were always carried on through a third person) were a severe strain on his vitality. When he was absolutely worn out he would take refuge on the yacht and steam out to sea for the purpose of enjoying a few days of comparative rest.
There is a matter which I may mention in connection with J. P.'s life on the yacht which, trivial as it seems when told at this distance of time, never failed to make a profound impression upon me. Of all the trying moments which were inseparable from attendance upon a blind man with a will of iron and a nervous system of gossamer, no moment was quite so full of uneasiness as that in which J. P. used the gangway in boarding or in leaving the yacht.
Take the case of his going ashore. The yacht lies at anchor in a gentle swell; the launch comes up to the gangway; two or three men with boat- hooks occupy themselves in trying to keep it steady. First over the side goes Dunningham, backward, then Mr. Pulitzer facing forward, one hand on the gang-rail, the other on Dunningham's shoulder; then an officer and one of the secretaries, close behind J. P. and ready to clutch him if he slipped.
Dunningham reaches the grating at the foot of the gangway, then J. P., then there is a pause while the latter is placed in the exact position where one step forward will carry him into the launch, where the officer in charge is ready to receive him.
In the meantime the launch is bobbing up and down, its gunwale at one instant level with the gangway-grating, at another, two or three feet below it. At the precise moment when the launch is almost at the top of its rise Dunningham says: "Now, step, please, Mr. Pulitzer." But J. P. waits just long enough to allow the launch to drop a couple of feet, and then suddenly makes up his mind and tries to step off onto nothing. Dunningham, the officer and the secretary seize him as he cries: "My God! What's the matter? You told me to step."
Then follows a long argument as to what Dunningham had meant precisely when he said "Step!" This whole process might be repeated several times before he actually found himself in the launch.
The whole thing inspired me with a morbid curiosity; and whenever J. P. was going up or down the gangway I always found myself, in common, I may add, with a considerable proportion of the ship's company, leaning over the side watching this nerve-racking exhibition.
I have said that it was J. P.'s custom to seek repose on the yacht when he was worn out with overwork; but it would be more accurate to say that rest was the seldom realized object of these short cruises, for nothing was more difficult for J. P. than to drop his work so long as he had a vestige of strength left with which he could flog his mind into action.
Starting out with the best intentions, J. P.'s cruises of recuperation
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