PERCY did not "fly" for another month, and during that time seldom
a day passed that he did not spend a portion of it with Mrs.
Butler and Dolores.
To the artistic rooms on the Avenue Josephine, where he was made to
feel so perfectly at home, he sometimes brought a friend, and often found
a bevy of bright people when he arrived.
Dolores had formed a choice circle of acquaintances among the artists,
musicians, and scholars, during her prolonged sojourn
It seemed to Percy that he had never in his entire life before, met
so many charming people as he encountered under Dolores's roof in that
one month. There was as great a difference between the conventional society
to which he had been accustomed, and the interesting clique which graced
Dolores's parlors, as there is between a hotel bill of fare, and the menu
prepared for the palate of an epicure. One, monotonous insipid and flavorless;
the other, spiced, appetizing and varied.
Among tho score of people whom Dolores gathered together
under her roof, there was a Mr. Elliott, a young English artist, a clever,
cultured fellow, though something of a cockney; Monsieur Thore, a famed
historian and legislator; Madame Volkenberg, a middle-aged widow of a German
professor, a lady of vast experience and wide culture, whose conversation
overflowed with interesting reminiscences; and Homer Orton, an American
journalist, genius and wit.
Nowhere else, in no other class or profession, can he
found so much talent, and so much wit, as exists among our American journalists,
however they bury the former, and misdirect the latter gift.
With a better understanding of "noblesse oblige,"
with a little more delicacy refining their wit, with a great deal more
reverence for the sacredness of homes and personalities, to what heights
might not these peerless minds elevate American journalism?
''Do you know," said Mr. Elliott, one evening in Percy's
presence, addressing the journalist, "do you know. Mr. Orton, you have
greatly surprised me?"
"Quite likely." responded Homer Orton, soberly gazing
at his English friend. "We American have always been surprising you Englishmen
ever since--but never mind dates. I should really like to know in what
especial manner I have surprised you, Mr. Elliott?"
"Well, in fact--now I beg you will not be offended, but
in the fact that you are such a deuced fine fellow, you know. I had quite
another impression of American newspaper men. I fancied you would not be
admitted to such society as this--that you were all fellows who would sacrifice
your best friends for an item, you know--"
"So we would--that is, most of us," Homer interrupted,
gravely. "I am a rare and beautiful exception."
"And I thought you were hardly the sort of person a lady
like Miss King would want in her home, you know," the Englishman continued.
"But I find you really a delightful fellow, you know, and quite a gentleman."
"Sir, "said Homer, rising with his hand upon his heart,
"language fails me before a compliment like this. It is a new and trying
position for me to hear such words spoken of myself, and I hope you will
excuse me while I walk to another part of the room and unobserved wipe
away a tear of gratitude."
Then, suddenly dropping his tone of levity, the young
man continued :
"But, seriously speaking, you are justified in your opinion
of us as a class, Mr. Elliott, and it is to be regretted. As Mr. Durand
will testify, our American eagle flaps his wings often with too much freedom."
Percy, when appealed to, was glad to express his opinion
upon a subject to which he had recently given much thought.
"It is a question," he said, "which must before many years
be decided--just where the freedom of the press should end and where the
rights of individuals should begin. It seems to me that even our so-called
best newspapers take unnecessary and unlicensed liberties in these days."
"But the public appetite demands such a varied and highly-spiced
diet that we are obliged to gratify it in every legitimate manner possible.
If we do not, our rival sheet will," explained Homer Orton.
"That is all very well when you keep to legitimate
means. But I call the invasion of homes, and the cruel, and often
untruthful, assertions concerning the private life, of unoffending individuals,
illegitimate means of feeding a depraved appetite. The average newspaper
humorist, who utterly disregards the truth, in his anxiety to concoct a
taking item, I.do not consider a necessary feature of high journalism--do
you? If he only succeeds in raising a laugh, he considers
his object iii life attained. He reminds me of the tribe of the Damaras,
who are described as so utterly heartless that they roar with laughter
on beholding one of their number torn to pieces by a wild beast."
"Still it is not so much heartlessness, as insensibility
and thoughtlessness, and a desire to he bright and witty, which causes
a good many of these things to he written," Homer responded.
"I heard that very excuse, advanced only the other
day," Percy replied, "and I heard this response made which is quite apropos
now. It has been observed by thoughtful naturalists that often
when a lion or a bull kills a man, the poor beast really has no malice
in his heart, and does not mean any harm. He only intended to play
with his accidental comrade of the moment. But then a lion has only
claws and a bull only horns with which to make their humor felt, and so
they are fatally misunderstood. It would seem to me,
then, that the chief of a large newspaper ought to consider himself as
responsible for those accidents as the keeper of a menagerie."
"But often the chief of a first-class newspaper has no
idea of the really scurrilous items which creep into his paper," explained
Homer. "Like the chief cook in a large hotel, he cannot taste of every
dish prepared by his subordinates, and no managing editor could survive
the strain, you know, of looking over his humorist's column every day.
Our madhouses would overflow, if such a method of journalism were inaugurated."
"Still, it is a lax system which permits such errors (if
we can call them errors) to occur," Percy insisted, "and if guests were
constantly being poisoned or rendered ill through the criminal carelessness
of the hotel cook, I fancy he would be called to account for not knowing
what dishes his subordinates prepared. A newspaper should he the friend
and companion of the people, and a welcome guest in every home. Instead,
it is too often a treacherous spy, a maligner and falsifier. Almost every
day we read statements concerning people, which are absolutely without
foundation, and which result in no end of mischief and trouble."
"You no doubt refer to people in public life--politicians,
authors, actors, and the like--do you not?" asked Homer. "I know they are
considered targets for the shots of our humorists all over the country,
but then you must remember that if a man gives his name voluntarily to
the world, and forces his work or his personality upon the public, that
he cannot expect both the benefits of fame and the seclusion of private
life. It is unreasonable. He has in a measure given himself over to the
public, and he must take the consequences. And, really, the fact that the
busy newspapers of the present day give time and space to discussion or
comments upon any individual ought to be considered highly complimentary."
"That depends entirely upon the nature of the comments,"
answered Percy. "Nor do I refer entirely to public people. Our wealthy
men, and their wives and daughters, are subjected to the same coarse comments.
Their personal defects are ridiculed, and the pitiless and ghastly electric
light of publicity is turned on their most sacred joys or sorrows. Items
devoid of truth and wit, appear every day concerning people who have committed
no offense greater than to succeed in some special calling. They are copied,
enlarged upon, and believed by a majority of the masses. It is a degenerate
system of journalism which permits it. It is high time some manly journalist
began a crusade against it."
"I agree with you, perfectly," Homer Orton answered. "I
would like to have the leading newspapers of the country band together
to protect the people from insult and petty libels in their columns : and
I would like to see the Imaginary Interviewer done away with by every respectable
"What is the Imaginary Interviewer, pray?" queried the
' He is a reporter, who, if he is refused admittance by
any person he wishes to interview, deliberately invents an interview; describes
the personality and manufactures the conversation to suit his own taste.
No one was ever more misused in this respect than your own Oscar Wilde,
unless it was Mrs. Langtry. The most astounding postures and inane remarks
were attributed to them by people who never saw them. It is not, however,
our first-class journals which have permitted this."
"Would you not recommend the abolishing of the interviewer
entirely?" suggested Percy.
"Certainly not," Homer responded, "The newspaper interviewer
is a benefit to the press, to the country, and to all public people who
have a name and a reputation to make. That is, when he is a truthful gentleman,
and does not abuse the hospitality of those who admit him to their homes."
"The school-girl who sends for the autograph of a public
man pays him a graceful compliment, and he should write it for her without
"Just in the same way, the whole public offers a quiet
ovation to the man of reputation when an interviewer presents his card.
The newspaper would never ask for an interview to publish, unless the masses
of its readers desired it. And the interviewer should be met courteously,
and tho public man should realize that this sort of thing is the duty he
pays on fame. If he has positively nothing of interest to say to
the interviewer, or is too busily engaged to be interrupted, he should
tell the caller so in a respectful and polite manner. Many a public
man is badly treated by the reporter in print, because he treated the reporter
badly in his house."
"But what have you to say of the interviewer who is well
treated, and then repays the hospitality he has received by an article
bristling with ridicule and untruthful misrepresentations of the personality
or conversation of his entertainer? I have known this to occur."
"I do not: believe it occurs very often," Homer answered.
"When it does, there is usually personal malice at the bottom of it, or
a catering to the lowest order of scurrilous journalism. It is a
great pity that the victims in such cases have no dignified redress.
A thorough caning ought to be considered consistent with the situation.
But, I think, as a rule, respectable newspaper men endeavor to do the right
thing by those who have treated them with courtesy in this matter.
The trouble is, journals are not careful enough in the representatives
they send on those commissions. It requires a great deal of delicate tact
to write acceptably of a man's home-life and personality during his life-time.
No thoughtless boy, or sensation-seeking reporter, should be commissioned
with such a task. I positively know a New York journalist, who possesses
a bright mind and wonderful command of language beside an easy and elegant
deportment, who considers it fair play to gain information through private
letters or confidential conversations with his friends, and then to use
such knowledge for press purposes. He boasts of his skill in this respect."
"Impossible!" cried Percy, indignantly. "Quite too possible,"
Homer replied. "His devotion to journalism, and his desire to feed
the public appetite, has destroyed every particle of moral
principle the fellow ever possessed. Of course, such a man reflects
discredit upon the whole profession. That he is an exception to the
rule, I know, but that he is retained at all upon a respectable journal,
is to be regretted."
"There is still another feature of American journalism
to be more regretted and blushed for I think," said Percy. "That is, the
attitude of our so called humorists and paragraphers toward public women.
No where else in the world do women occupy so exhalted and honored a position
as they occupy in America. No other women in the world have accomplished
so much in various public callings. Yet no where else are they subjected
to such insults as they receive from the newspapers throughout the United
States, from the prima donna to the President's wife, sister, or
"Are you not a little extreme in that statement, Mr. Durand?"
asked Homer Orton. "You must recollect that the royal family are discussed
very freely in print, and ladies who have become famous ought to consider
themselves members of the royal family of Genius, and take newspaper criticisms
as a natural consequence."
"It is not newspaper criticisms to which I refer," answered
Percy. "Of course, half the success of an actress, a singer, an author
or a painter depends upon public criticism, and often it happens that the
severer the criticisms the greater the success. But it is the loose familiarity
and the coarse jests of the item-seeker of which I speak. Only last week
I saw a wretched little item, intended to be humorous, but actually brutal,
going the rounds of the press, concerning the advanced years
of a famous opera singer, a woman who has reflected credit on our nation
by her brilliant and stainless career."
"I saw the item to which you refer," Mr. Elliott said,
"and I wondered if it was consistent with the National boast that Americans
are the kindest and most thoughtful men in the world toward
ladies. It seemed to me an uncalled-for and ungentlemanly incivility
toward a noble lady."
"I often wonder," continued Percy, "if the fellows who
perpetrate those things stop and consider that the public women, whose
names they use so freely, are somebody's sisters, wives, or mothers,
and that, in nine cases out of ten, they lead a public life, or first entered
a public career, to earn a living. If the newspaper men of the country
ever do take this view of tho matter, I should think their first impulse
would be to shield and protect and help every self-supporting woman
in the land. At all events, I should think every sensible journalist would
realize that, while it is the province of the newspaper to furnish able
criticism on the voice of the singer, the book of the author, the speech
of the orator, it is not its province to indulge in poor puns, or insulting
comments on the age, the personal defects, or the domestic life of the
singer, author or speaker. These things should he tabooed by respectable
journals, just as they are tabooed in respectable society. Our journalists
should be as careful, in their references to the private matters of individuals
in print, as they are in conversation in their parlors, where scandalous
or impertinent references to the absent would be considered 'bad form.'
Really, I do not understand how any of us who read the daily papers dare
boast of American chivalry."
"The chivalry of the average man," said Dolores, who approached
the group just at this moment, "consists in protecting a woman against
every man save himself. And now, gentlemen, we are to have a recitation
from Madame Volkenberg. Will you join us and listen?"