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- The Letters of Franklin K. Lane - 5/86 -
fun and friendship."
[Illustration with caption: FRANKLIN K. LANE WITH HIS YOUNGER BROTHERS, GEORGE AND FREDERIC]
All the anecdotes of his boyhood show him in action, moving among his fellows, organizing, leading, and administering rough-and- tumble justice.
From grammar school in Napa he went, for a time, to a private school called Oak Mound. In vacation, when he was eleven years old, he was earning money as messenger-boy, and at about that time as general helper to one of the merchants of the little town. He left in his old employer's mind the memory of a boy "exceedingly bright and enterprising." He recalls a fight that he was told about, between Lane "and a boy of about his size," "and Frank licked him," the old merchant exults, "and as he walked away he said, 'If you want any more, you can get it at the same place.'"
It was in Napa--so he could not have been quite twelve years old-- that Lane started to study Spanish, so that he might talk more freely to the ranchers, who drove to town in their rickety little carts, to "trade" at the stores.
In 1876, the family moved from the full sunshine of the valley town, with its roads muffled in pale dust, and its hillsides lifting up the green of riotous vines, to Oakland, cool and cloudy, with a climate to create and sustain vigor. In Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco, Lane entered the High School. Again his schoolmates recall him with gusto. He was muscular in build, "a good short-distance runner." His hands-- always very characteristic of the man--were large and well-made, strong to grasp but not adroit in the smaller crafts of tinkering. "He impressed me," an Oakland schoolmate writes, "as a sturdy youngster who had confidence in himself and would undoubtedly get what he went after. Earnest and straightforward in manner," and always engrossed in the other boys, "when they walked down Twelfth Street, on their way to school, they had their arms around each other's shoulders, discussing subjects of 'vast importance.'"
His capacity for organized association developed rapidly. He had part in school orations, amateur plays, school and Sunday school clubs. Many of these he seems to have initiated, so that, with his school work, his life was full. He says somewhere that by the time he was sixteen he was earning his own way. His great delight in people, and especially in the thrust and parry of controversial talk, held him from the solitary pleasures of fishing and hunting, so keenly relished by his two younger brothers. One of them said of him, "Frank can't even enjoy a view from a mountain-peak without wanting to call some one up to share it with him." He writes of his feeling about solitary nature to his friend George Dorr, in 1917, in connection with improvements for the new National Park, near Bar Harbor, "A wilderness, no matter how impressive or beautiful does not satisfy this soul of mine (if I have that kind of a thing). It is a challenge to man. It says, 'Master me! Put me to use! Make me more than I am!'" About his "need of a world of men," he was equally candid. To his wife he writes, "I am going to dinner, and before I go alone into a lonesome club, I must send a word to you. ... The world is all people to me. I lean upon them. They induce thought and fancy. They give color to my life. Thrown on myself I am a stranded bark."...
His love for cooperation and for action, "dramatic action," some one says, never left him. In his last illness, in apolitical crisis, he rallied the energy of younger men. He wrote of the need of a Democratic program, suggested a group of compelling names, "or any other group," he adds, "put up the plan and ask them what they think of it--tentatively--just a quiet chat, but START!" And about the same matter he wrote, "The time has come. Now strike!"
To a friend wavering over her fitness for a piece of projected work, he said drily, "There is only one way to do a thing, and that is to do it." Late in life, the summation of this creed of action seemed to come when he confessed, "I cannot get over the feeling that we are here as conquerors, not as pacifists."
And words, written and spoken words, were to him, of course, the instrument of conquest. But the search for the fit and shining word for his mark did not become research. In a droll letter, about how he put simpler English into the Department of the Interior, he tells of finding a letter written by one of the lawyers of the Department to an Indian about his title to land, that was "so involved and elaborately braided and beaded and fringed that I could not understand it myself." So he sent the ornate letter back and had it put into "straightaway English."
His own practicable English he believed he had learned through his newspaper training. He first worked in the printing office of the Oakland Times, then became a reporter for that paper. He went campaigning and made speeches for the Prohibition candidate for Governor in 1884--before he was twenty-one. The next year he was reporting for the Alta California, edited by Colonel John P. Irish, himself a fiery orator, of the denunciatory type. Colonel Irish recalls that he was at once impressed with the "copious and excellent vocabulary" of his ambitious reporter, who was, even then, he says, "determined upon a high and useful career." In a letter to Colonel Irish, in 1913, Lane wrote, "That simple little card of yours was a good thing for me. It took me for a minute out of the maelstrom of pressing business and carried me back, about thirty years, to the time when I was a boy working for you--an unbaked, ambitious chap, who did not know where he was going, but was trying to get somewhere."
It is interesting to notice that in youth he did not suffer from the usual phases of revolt from early teachings. His father was a Prohibitionist, and Lane's first campaign was for a Prohibition candidate for Governor; his father had been a preacher and Lane, when very young, thought seriously of becoming a minister, so seriously that he came before an examining board of the Presbyterian church. After two hours of grilling, he was, though found wanting, not rejected, but put upon a six months' probation --the elders probably dreaded to lose so persuasive a tongue for the sake of a little "insufficiency of damnation" in his creed. One of his inquisitors, a Presbyterian minister, went from the ordeal with Lane, and continued to try to convert him to the tenets of Presbyterianism. Then suddenly, at some turn of the talk, the clergyman abandoned his position and said carelessly, "Well, Lane, why not become a Unitarian preacher?"
The boy who had been walking the floor at night in the struggle to reconcile the teachings of the church with his own doubts--knowing that Eternal Damnation was held to be the reward for doubt of Christ's divinity--was so horrified by the casuistry of the man who could be an orthodox minister and yet speak of preaching as just one way to make a living, that he swung sharply from any wish to enter the church.
The strictness of the orthodoxy of his home had not served to alienate his sympathies, but he was chilled to the heart by this indifference. He remembered the episode all his life with emotion, but he was not embittered by it. He was young, a great lover, greatly in love with life.
[Illustration with caption: FRANKLIN K. LANE AT EIGHTEEN]
In 1884, when he entered the University of California, it was as a special not as a regular student. "I put myself through college," he writes to a boy seeking advice on education, "by working during vacation and after hours, and I am very glad I did it." He seems to have arranged all his college courses for the mornings and carried his reporting and printing-office work the last half of the day.
College at once offered a great forum for debate, and a richer comradeship with men of strong mental fiber. Lane's eagerness in discussion and love of large and sounding words made the students call him "Demosthenes Lane." In his letters it is easy to trace the gradual evolution from his early oratorical style into a final form of free, imaginative expression of great simplicity. Meanwhile, as he debated, he gathered to himself men who were to be friends for the rest of his life. The "Sid" of the earliest letters that we have is Dr. Sidney E. Mezes, now President of the College of the City of New York, to whom one of his last letters was addressed. His friendship for Dr. Wigmore, Dean of Law at the Northwestern University, in Chicago, dates almost as far back.
In college, Lane seized what he most wanted in courses on Philosophy and Economics. "His was a mind of many facets and hospitable in its interest," says his college and lifelong friend, Adolph C. Miller, "but his years at Berkeley were devoted mainly to the study of Philosophy and Government, and kindred subjects. He was a leading figure in the Political Science Club, and intent in his pursuit of philosophy. Often he could be seen walking back and forth in a room in the old Bacon library, set apart for the more serious-minded students, with some philosophical book in hand; every line of his face expressing deep concentration, the occasional light in his eye clearly betraying the moment when he was feeling the joy of understanding."
In two years, not waiting for formal graduation, Lane was back in the world of public affairs that he had scarcely left. In the same short-cut way he took his Hastings Law School work, and passed his Supreme Court examination in 1888, in much less than the time usually allowed for the work.
By the time he left the law school, "a full fledged, but not a flying attorney," his desire for aggressive citizenship was fully formed. In fact, the whole active campaign, that was his life, was made by the light of early ideals, enlarged and reinterpreted as his climb to power brought under his survey wider horizons.
The sketchiest summary of his early and late activities brings out the singleness of the central purpose moving through his life. His first fight, in 1888, for Ballot Reform was made that the will of the people of the State might be honestly interpreted; later, in Tacoma, Washington, he sided with his printers, against his interest as owner, in their fight to maintain union wages; once more in San Francisco, he took, without a retaining fee, the case of the blackmailed householders whose titles were threatened by the pretensions of the Noe claimants, and with his brother, cleared title to all of their small homes; he joined, with his friend, Arthur McEwen, in an editorial campaign against the Southern Pacific, in the day of its tyrannous power over all the shippers of California; later he drafted into the charter of San Francisco new provisions to improve the wages of all city employees; as its young city and county attorney, he aggressively protected the city against street railway encroachments, successfully enforcing the law against infractions; as Interstate
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