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- An Adventure With A Genius - 4/21 -
some advice, which discretion checked at his lips.
I felt myself very much under observation, a feeling as though I was a new boy in a boarding school or a new animal at the zoo--interesting to my companions not only on account of my novelty, but because my personal peculiarities would affect the comfort of the community of which I was to become a member.
At seven o'clock my cabin-steward announced the arrival of the automobile, and after a swift run along the plage and up the winding roads on the hillsides of Cap Martin I found myself at the door of Mr. Pulitzer's villa. I was received by the major-domo, ushered into the drawing-room, and informed that Mr. Pulitzer would be down in a few minutes.
MEETING JOSEPH PULITZER
Before I had time to examine my surroundings Mr. Pulitzer entered the room on the arm of the major-domo. My first swift impression was of a very tall man with broad shoulders, the rest of the body tapering away to thinness, with a noble head, bushy reddish beard streaked with gray, black hair, swept back from the forehead and lightly touched here and there with silvery white. One eye was dull and half closed, the other was of a deep, brilliant blue which, so far from suggesting blindness, created the instant effect of a searching, eagle-like glance. The outstretched hand was large, strong, nervous, full of character, ending in well-shaped and immaculately kept nails.
A high-pitched voice, clear, penetrating, and vibrant, gave out the strange challenge: "Well, here you see before you the miserable wreck who is to be your host; you must make the best you can of him. Give me your arm into dinner."
I may complete here a description of Mr. Pulitzer's appearance, founded upon months of close personal association with him. The head was splendidly modeled, the forehead high, the brows prominent and arched; the ears were large, the nose was long and hooked; the mouth, almost concealed by the mustache, was firm and thin-lipped; the jaws showed square and powerful under the beard; the length of the face was much emphasized by the flowing beard and by the way in which the hair was brushed back from the forehead. The skin was of a clear, healthy pink, like a young girl's; but in moments of intense excitement the color would deepen to a dark, ruddy flush, and after a succession of sleepless nights, or under the strain of continued worry, it would turn a dull, lifeless gray.
I have never seen a face which varied so much in expression. Not only was there a marked difference at all times between one side and the other, due partly to the contrast between the two eyes and partly to a loss of flexibility in the muscles of the right side, but almost from moment to moment the general appearance of the face moved between a lively, genial animation, a cruel and wolf-like scowl, and a heavy and hopeless dejection. No face was capable of showing greater tenderness; none could assume a more forbidding expression of anger and contempt.
The Sargent portrait, a masterpiece of vivid character-painting, is a remarkable revelation of the complex nature of its subject. It discloses the deep affection, the keen intelligence, the wide sympathy, the tireless energy, the delicate sensitiveness, the tearing impatience, the cold tyranny, and the flaming scorn by which his character was so erratically dominated. It is a noble and pathetic monument to the suffering which had been imposed for a quarter of a century upon the intense and arbitrary spirit of this extraordinary man.
The account which I am to give of Mr. Pulitzer's daily life during the months immediately preceding his death would be unintelligible to all but the very few who knew him in recent years if it were not prefaced by a brief biographical note.
Joseph Pulitzer was born in the village of Mako, near Buda Pesth in Hungary, on April 10, 1847. His father was a Jew, his mother a Christian. At the age of sixteen he emigrated to the United States. He landed without friends, without money, unable to speak a word of English. He enlisted immediately in the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry Regiment, a regiment chiefly composed of Germans and in which German was the prevailing tongue.
Within a year the Civil War ended, and Pulitzer found himself, in common with hundreds of thousands of others, out of employment at a time when employment was most difficult to secure. At this time he was so poor that he was turned away from French's Hotel for lack of fifty cents with which to pay for his bed. In less than twenty years he bought French's Hotel, pulled it down, and erected in its place the Pulitzer Building, at that time one of the largest business buildings in New York, where he housed The World.
What lay between these two events may be summed up in a few words. At the close of the Civil War Mr. Pulitzer went to St. Louis, and in 1868, after being engaged in various occupations, he became a reporter on the Westliche Post. In less than ten years he was editor and part proprietor. His amazing energy, his passionate interest in politics, his rare gift of terse and forcible expression, and his striking personality carried him over or through all obstacles.
After he had purchased the St. Louis Dispatch, amalgamated it with the Post, and made the Post-Dispatch a profitable business enterprise and a power to be reckoned with in politics, he felt the need of a wider field in which to maneuver the forces of his character and his intellect.
He came to New York in 1883 and purchased The World from Jay Gould. At that time The World had a circulation of less than twelve thousand copies a day, and was practically bankrupt. From this time forward Mr. Pulitzer concentrated his every faculty on building up The World. He was scoffed at, ridiculed, and abused by the most powerful editors of the old school. They were to learn, not without bitterness and wounds, that opposition was the one fuel of all others which best fed the triple flame of his courage, his tenacity, and his resourcefulness.
Four years of unremitting toil produced two results. The World reached a circulation of two hundred thousand copies a day and took its place in the front rank of the American press as a journal of force and ability, and Joseph Pulitzer left New York, a complete nervous wreck, to face in solitude the knowledge that he would never read print again and that within a few years he would be totally blind.
Joseph Pulitzer, as I knew him twenty-four years after he had been driven from active life by the sudden and final collapse of his health, was a man who could be judged by no common standards, for his feelings, his temper, and his point of view had been warped by years of suffering.
Had his spirit been broken by his trials, had his intellectual power weakened under the load of his affliction, had his burning interest in affairs cooled to a point where he could have been content to turn his back upon life's conflict, he might have found some happiness, or at least some measure of repose akin to that with which age consoles us for the loss of youth. But his greatest misfortune was that all the active forces of his personality survived to the last in their full vigor, inflicting upon him the curse of an impatience which nothing could appease, of a discontent which knew no amelioration.
My first meeting with Mr. Pulitzer is indelibly fixed in my memory. As we entered the dining-room the butler motioned to me to take a seat on Mr. Pulitzer's right hand, and as I did so I glanced up and down the table to find myself in the presence of half-a-dozen gentlemen in evening dress, who bowed in a very friendly manner as Mr. Pulitzer said, with a broad sweep of his hand, "Gentlemen, this is Mr. Alleyne Ireland; you will be able to inform him later of my fads and crotchets; well, don't be ungenerous with me, don't paint the devil as black as he is."
This was spoken in a tone of banter, and was cut short by a curious, prolonged chuckle, which differed from laughter in the feeling it produced in the hearer that the mirth did not spring from the open, obvious humor of the situation, but from some whimsical thought which was the more relished because its nature was concealed from us. I felt that, instead of my host's amusement having been produced by his peculiar introduction, he had made his eccentric address merely as an excuse to chuckle over some notion which had formed itself in his mind from material entirely foreign to his immediate surroundings.
I mention this because I found later that one of Mr. Pulitzer's most embarrassing peculiarities was the sudden revelation from time to time of a mental state entirely at odds with the occupation of the moment. In the middle of an account of a play, when I was doing my best to reproduce some scene from memory, with appropriate changes of voice to represent the different characters, Mr. Pulitzer would suddenly break in, "Did we ever get a reply to that letter about Laurier's speech on reciprocity? No? Well, all right, go on, go on."
Or it might be when I was reading from the daily papers an account of a murder or a railroad wreck that Mr. Pulitzer would break out into a peal of his peculiar chuckling laughter. I would immediately stop reading, when he would pat me on the arm, and say, "Go on, boy, go on, don't mind me. I wasn't laughing at you. I was thinking of something else. What was it? Oh, a railroad wreck, well, don't stop, go on reading."
As soon as we were seated Mr. Pulitzer turned to me and began to question me about my reading. Had I read any recent fiction? No? Well, what had I read within the past month?
I named several books which I had been re-reading--Macaulay's Essays, Meredith Townsend's Asia and Europe, and Lowes Dickinson's Modern Symposium.
"Well, tell me something about Asia and Europe" he said.
I left my dinner untasted, and for a quarter of an hour held forth on the life of Mohammed, on the courage of the Arabians, on the charm of Asia for Asiatics, and on other matters taken from Mr. Townsend's fascinating book. Suddenly Mr. Pulitzer interrupted me.
"My God! You don't mean to tell me that anyone is interested in that sort of rubbish. Everybody knows about Mohammed, and about the bravery of the Arabs, and, for God's sake, why shouldn't Asia be attractive to the Asiatics! Try something else. Do you remember any plays?"
Yes, I remembered several pretty well. Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra for instance.
"Go on, then, try and tell me about that."
My prospects of getting any dinner faded away as I began my new effort. Fortunately I knew the play very well, and remembered a number of passages almost word for word. I soon saw that Mr. Pulitzer was interested and pleased, not with the play as anything new to him, for he
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