There are a few editor men with whom I am privi-
leged to come in contact. It has not been long since
it was their habit to come in contact with me. There
is a difference.
They tell me that with a large number of the
manuscripts that are submitted to them come advices
(in the way of a boost) from the author asseverating
that the incidents in the story are true. The des-
tination of such contributions depends wholly upon
the question of the enclosure of stamps. Some are
returned, the rest are thrown on the floor in a corner
on top of a pair of gum shoes, an overturned statu-
ette of the Winged Victory, and a pile of old maga-
zines containing a picture of the editor in the act
of reading the latest copy of Le Petit Journal, right
side up - you can tell by the illustrations. It is
only a legend that there are waste baskets in editors'
Thus is truth held in disrepute. But in time truth
and science and nature will adapt themselves to art.
Things will happen logically, and the villain be dis-
comfited instead of being elected to the board of
directors. But in the meantime fiction must not only
be divorced from fact, but must pay alimony and be
awarded custody of the press despatches.
This preamble is to warn you off the grade cross-
ing of a true story. Being that, it shall be told sim-
ply, with conjunctions substituted for adjectives
wherever possible, and whatever evidences of style
may appear in it shall be due to the linotype man.
It is a story of the literary life in a great city, and
it should be of interest to every author within a 20-
mile radius of Gosport, Ind., whose desk holds a MS.
story beginning thus: "While the cheers following
his nomination were still ringing through the old
courthouse, Harwood broke away from the congrat-
ulating handclasps of his henchmen and hurried to
Judge Creswell's house to find Ida."
Pettit came up out of Alabama to write fiction.
The Southern papers had printed eight of his stories
under an editorial caption identifying the author as
the son of "the gallant Major Pettingill Pettit, our
former County Attorney and hero of the battle of
Pettit was a rugged fellow, with a kind of shame-
faced culture, and my good friend. His father kept
a general store in a little town called Hosea. Pettit
had been raised in the pine-woods and broom-sedge
fields adjacent thereto. He had in his gripsack two
manuscript novels of the adventures in Picardy of
one Gaston Laboulaye, Vicompte de Montrepos, in
the year 1329. That's nothing. We all do that.
And some day when we make a hit with the little
sketch about a newsy and his lame dog, the editor
prints the other one for us -- or "on us," as the say-
ing is -- and then -- and then we have to get a big
valise and peddle those patent air-draft gas burners.
At $1.25 everybody should have 'em.
I took Pettit to the red-brick house which was to
appear in an article entitled "Literary Landmarks
of Old New York," some day when we got through
with it. He engaged a room there, drawing on the
general store for his expenses. I showed New York
to him, and he did not mention how much narrower
Broadway is than Lee Avenue in Hosea. This
seemed a good sign, so I put the final test.
"Suppose you try your band at a descriptive arti-
cle," I suggested, "giving your impressions of New
York as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. The fresh
point of view, the -- "
"Don't be a fool," said Pettit. "Let's go have
some beer. On the whole I rather like the city."
We discovered and enjoyed the only true Bohemia.
Every day and night we repaired to one of those
palaces of marble and glass and tilework, where goes
on a tremendous and sounding epic of life. Valhalla
itself could not be more glorious and sonorous. The
classic marble on which we ate, the great, light-
flooded, vitreous front, adorned with snow-white
scrolls; the grand Wagnerian din of clanking cups
and bowls the flashing staccato of brandishing cut-
lery, the piercing recitative of the white-aproned
grub-maidens at the morgue-like banquet tables; the
recurrent lied-motif of the cash-register -- it was a
gigantic, triumphant welding of art and sound, a
deafening, soul-uplifting pageant of heroic and em-
blematic life. And the beans were only ten cents.
We wondered why our fellow-artists cared to dine at
sad little tables in their so-called Bohemian restau-
rants; and we shuddered lest they should seek out our
resorts and make them conspicuous with their pres-
Pettit wrote many stories, which the editors re-
turned to him. He wrote love stories, a thing I have
always kept free from, holding the belief that the
well-known and popular sentiment is not properly a
matter for publication, but something to be privately
handled by the alienists and florists. But the editors
had told him that they wanted love stories, because
they said the women read them.
Now, the editors are wrong about that, of course.
Women do not read the love stories in the magazines.
They read the poker-game stories and the recipes
for cucumber lotion. The love stories are read by
fat cigar drummers and little ten-year-old girls. I
am not criticising the judgment of editors. They
are mostly very fine men, but a man can be but one
man, with individual opinions and tastes. I knew
two associate editors of a magazine who were won-
derfully alike in almost everything. And yet one
of them was very fond of Flaubert, while the other
Pettit brought me his returned manuscripts, and
we looked them over together to find out why they
were not accepted. They seemed to me pretty fair
stories, written in a good style, and ended, as they
should, at the bottom of the last page.
They were well constructed and the events were
marshalled in orderly and logical sequence. But I
thought I detected a lack of living substance -- it
was much as if I gazed at a symmetrical array of
presentable clamshells from which the succulent and
vital inhabitants had been removed. I intimated that
the author might do well to get better acquainted with
"You sold a story last week," said Pettit, "about
a gun fight in an Arizona mining town in which the
hero drew his Colt's .45 and shot seven bandits as
fast as they came in the door. Now, if a six-shooter
could -- "
"Oh, well," said I, "that's different. Arizona is
a long way from New York. I could have a man
stabbed with a lariat or chased by a pair of chap-
arreras if I wanted to, and it wouldn't be noticed
until the usual error-sharp from around McAdams
Junction isolates the erratum and writes in to the pa-
pers about it. But you are up against another
proposition. This thing they call love is as common
around New York as it is in Sheboygan during the
young onion season. It may be mixed here with a
little commercialism -- they read Byron, but they
look up Bradstreet's, too, while they're among the
B's, and Brigham also if they have time -- but it's
pretty much the same old internal disturbance every-
where. You can fool an editor with a fake picture of
a cowboy mounting a pony with his left hand on the
saddle horn, but you can't put him up a tree with a
love story. So, you've got to fall in love and then
write the real thing."
Pettit did. I never knew whether he was taking
my advice or whether be fell an accidental victim.
There was a girl be had met at one of these studio
contrivances - a glorious, impudent, lucid, open-
minded girl with hair the color of Culmbacher, and a
good-natured way of despising you. She was a New
Well (as the narrative style permits us to say in-
frequently), Pettit went to pieces. All those pains,
those lover's doubts, those heart-burnings and
tremors of which be had written so unconvincingly
were his. Talk about Shylock's pound of flesh!
Twenty-five pounds Cupid got from Pettit. Which
is the usurer?
One night Pettit came to my room exalted. Pale
and haggard but exalted. She had given him a
"Old Hoss," said he, with a new smile flickering
around his mouth, "I believe I could write that story
to-night -- the one, you know, that is to win out.
"I can feel it. I don't know whether it will come out
or not, but I can feel it."
I pushed him out of my door. "Go to your room
and write it," I ordered. "Else I can see your fin-
ish. I told you this must come first. Write it to-
night and put it under my door when it is done. Put
it under my door to-night when it is finished --
don't keep it until to-morrow."
I was reading my bully old pal Montaigne at two
o'clock when I beard the sheets rustle under my door.
I gathered them up and read the story.
The hissing of geese, the languishing cooing of
doves, the braying of donkeys, the chatter of irre-
sponsible sparrows - these were in my mind's ear as
I read. "Suffering Sappho!" I exclaimed to myself.
"Is this the divine fire that is supposed to ignite
genius and make it practicable and wage-earning?"
The story was sentimental drivel, full of whim-
pering softheartedness and gushing egoism. All
the art that Pettit had acquired was gone. A pe-
rusal of its buttery phrases would have made a cynic
of a sighing chambermaid.
In the morning Pettit came to my room. I read
him his doom mercilessly. He laughed idiotically.
"All right, Old Hoss," he said, cheerily, "make
cigar-lighters of it. What's the difference? I'm
going to take her to lunch at Claremont to-day."
There was about a month of it. And then Pettit
came to me bearing an invisible mitten, with the forti-
tude of a dish-rag. He talked of the grave and
South America and prussic acid; and I lost an after-
noon getting him straight. I took him out and saw
that large and curative doses of whiskey were ad-
ministered to him. I warned you this was a true
story -- 'ware your white ribbons if only follow this
tale. For two weeks I fed him whiskey and Omar,
and read to him regularly every evening the column
in the evening paper that reveals the secrets of fe-
male beauty. I recommend the treatment.
After Pettit was cured be wrote more stories. He
recovered his old-time facility and did work just
short of good enough. Then the curtain rose on
the third act.
A little, dark-eyed, silent girl from New Hamp-
shire, who was studying applied design, fell deeply
in love with him. She was the intense sort, but ex-
ternally glace, such as New England sometimes fools
us with. Pettit liked her mildly, and took her about
a good deal. She worshipped him, and now and then
There came a climax when she tried to jump out
of a window, and he had to save her by some perfunc-
tary, unmeant wooing. Even I was shaken by the
depths of the absorbing affection she showed. Home,
friends, traditions, creeds went up like thistle-down
in the scale against her love. It was really discom-
One night again Pettit sauntered in, yawning. As
he had told me before, he said he felt that he could
do a great story, and as before I hunted him to his
room and saw him open his inkstand. At one o'clock
the sheets of paper slid under my door.
I read that story, and I jumped up, late as it was,
with a whoop of joy. Old Pettit had done it. Just
as though it lay there, red and bleeding, a woman's
heart was written into the lines. You couldn't see
the joining, but art, exquisite art, and pulsing na-
ture had been combined into a love story that took
you by the throat like the quinsy. I broke into
Pettit's room and beat him on the back and called
him name -- names high up in the galaxy of the im-
mortals that we admired. And Pettit yawned and
begged to be allowed to sleep.
On the morrow, I dragged him to an editor. The
great man read, and, rising, gave Pettit his hand.
That was a decoration, a wreath of bay, and a guar-
antee of rent.
And then old Pettit smiled slowly. I call him Gen-
tleman Pettit now to myself. It's a miserable name
to give a man, but it sounds better than it looks in
"I see," said old Pettit, as he took up his story
and began tearing it into small strips. "I see the
game now. You can't write with ink, and you can't
write with your own heart's blood, but you can write
with the heart's blood of some one else. You have
to be a cad before you can be an artist. Well, I am
for old Alabam and the Major's store. Have you
got a light, Old Hoss?"
I went with Pettit to the depot and died hard.
"Shakespeare's sonnets?" I blurted, making a last
stand. "How about him?"
"A cad," said Pettit. "They give it to you, and
you sell it -- love, you know. I'd rather sell ploughs
"But," I protested, " you are reversing the de-
cision of the world's greatest -- "
"Good-by, Old Hoss," said Pettit.
"Critics," I continued. " But -- say -- if the
Major can use a fairly good salesman and book-
keeper down there in the store, let me know, will