Part 3 out of 5
in the cash drawer, ere Field stood before him once more, pleading
_in forma pauperis_ for "another X." He was asked what had become
of the ten he had just received.
"Just my luck, Fred," Field replied. "As I was leaving the office whom
should I meet but one of my old printer boys, dead broke. The X was all
I had, and he told me he had to have it, and he had to." It is needless
to say that Field got the second advance and succeeded in dodging all
impecunious "old boys" on the way home.
I have said that Denver at that time was the centre of all the railway
interests of Colorado and the far West. Being also the capital, it was
the place where legislators and railway agents wrestled with problems
of regulating tariffs and granting privileges to what may be called
their mutual benefit. It was from his experience in Denver that Field
learned that two-thirds of the business of a western legislature
consisted in causing legislative hold-ups, of which the transportation
companies were the victims, and the most vociferously impeccable
statesmen the chief beneficiaries. The secret service funds of the
railway companies doing business in Colorado paid out a hundred dollars
for protection from notorious sandbagging bills and resolutions to
every dollar they spent for special favors in grants and franchises.
This by way of preface to a story in which Eugene Field and a railway
official, who, as I write, holds a high position in the transportation
world, figure. This official was at that time the superintendent of the
Southwestern Division of the Pullman system, with head-quarters at St.
Louis. In those days every session of the Colorado legislature saw its
anti-Pullman rate reduction bill, which Wickersham, as I shall call
him, because that is not his name, was commissioned to checkmate,
strangle, or make away with in committee by the aid of annual passes,
champagne, and the mysterious potency of the national bank-note. As was
remarked by E.D. Cowen, to whose notes I am indebted for refreshing my
memory of Field's tales, Wickersham never failed in generalship,
principally because he was bold in his methods and picturesquely lavish
with his munitions of war. The Pullman Company did not then enjoy the
royalty and defensive alliance which now protects it against rate
legislation throughout the West, and so Wickersham was kept continually
on the go, making alliances and friendships among legislators and
journalists against the days of reckoning.
Field, as the managing editor of the Tribune, was a special favorite
with Wickersham, as he was of every professional and commercial visitor
having an axe to grind at the capital of the state. Pullman's
representative had the wit to appreciate Field, both for his personal
qualities and the assistance he could render through the columns of the
newspaper. Field reciprocated the personal friendship, but, so far as
the Tribune was concerned, took a grim satisfaction in giving
Wickersham to understand that though he could use its freedom he could
not abuse it or count upon its aid beyond what was strictly legitimate.
Field's stereotyped introduction of Wickersham--one calculated to put
him on a pleasant business footing with every practical politician, was
"He's a good fellow and a thoroughbred." So his coming was invariably
celebrated by a general round-up of all the good fellows in Denver, and
his departure left the aching heads and parched recollections that from
the days of Noah have distinguished the morning after.
After one of Wickersham's calls, Field determined that the sobriety and
severe morality of Denver were being scandalized by these periodical
visitations, and he issued orders to the Tribune staff that when next
the "good fellow and thoroughbred" appeared on the scene he should be
given a wide berth, or, as Field put it, should be left to "play a lone
hand in his game." So when Wickersham next swung around the legislative
circle to Denver, not a man about the editorial rooms would go out with
him, listen to his stories, accept a cigar at his hands, or associate
with him in any of the ways that had been their cheerful wont. The
coldness and loneliness of the situation excited Wickersham's thirst
for revenge and also for what is known as the wine of Kentucky. Having
succeeded in getting up a full head of steam, he started out for an
explanation or a counter demonstration. Arriving at the Tribune office,
when the desks were vacated at the evening dinner-hour, he interpreted
it as a further affront and challenge, which he proceeded to answer by
destroying every last scrap of copy in sight for the morrow's paper. He
then converted himself into a small cyclone, and went through every
desk, strewed their litter on the floor, broke all the pens and
pencils, and, in the language of an eye-witness, "ended by toning the
picture of editorial desolation with the violet contents of all the ink
bottles he could find."
Then he retired in hilarious satisfaction from the scene of devastation
he had made. Consternation reigned in that office until Field returned,
when he quickly dispelled the gloom with a promise of revenge, and set
the staff at work to patch up the ruin the envious Wickersham had made.
But they were not permitted to do this in peace, for their enemy,
returning in the dark of night, bombarded the windows of the editorial
rooms with the staves of old ash-barrels he had found conveniently by.
While Wickersham was engaged in this second assault, with windows
smashing to right of them and to left of them, with glass falling all
around them, and the staves of old ash-barrels playing a devil's tattoo
about them, the devoted band of editors, reporters, and copy-readers
worked nobly on. They had confidence in their leader that their hour
would come. Their first duty was to get out the paper. After that they
looked for the deluge.
When Wickersham had expended his last stave and fiercest epithet on the
shattered windows he retired in bad order to his apartments at the St.
Now began Field's revenge, planned with due deliberation and executed
with malicious thoroughness. He first sent for "'Possum Jim," an aged
and very serious colored man, who worshipped "Mistah Fiel'" because of
the sympathy Eugene never withheld from the dark-skinned children of
the race. "'Possum Jim" spent most of his existence on the same street
corner, waiting for a job, which invariably had to come to him. His
outfit consisted of an express wagon strung together with telegraph
wire, and a nondescript four-footed creature that once bore the
similitude of a horse. Whenever Field had an odd job to be done about
his household he would go out of his way to let "old 'Possum Jim" earn
the quarter--partly to do an act of kindness to "Jim," but chiefly to
tease Mrs. Field by the appearance of the broken-down equipage
lingering in front of their dwelling.
Just before the Tribune went to press, a sergeant of police called on
Field in response to a summons by telephone. After a whispered
conference he left, with a broad smile struggling under his curling
mustache. In company with a number of his staff Field next made the
round of the all-night haunts and gathered to his aid as fine a
collection of bohemian "thoroughbreds" as ever made the revels of Mardi
Gras look like a Sunday-school convention. He installed them at the
resort of a Kentucky gentleman named Jones, opposite the St. James. As
one who was there reports, "The amber milk of the Blue-grass cow flowed
in plenty." Bidding his associates await his return, Field, armed with
a single bottle, crossed the street to the hotel in search of the
For half, an hour they waited, in growing fear that Wickersham had
retired for the night, with orders the night clerk dared not disobey,
that he was not to be disturbed, even if the hotel was on fire. Just as
expectation had grown heavy-eyed, Field appeared crossing the street
with Wickersham on his arm, very happy, more of a good fellow than ever
and more than ever ready for red-eyed anarchy of any sort.
"After a swift hour"--I quote from one who was there and whose account
tallies with Field's own--"and as the morning opened out Field insisted
on breaking for sunlight and fresh air. Wickersham was always a leader,
even in the matter of making a noise. He sang; everyone else applauded.
He shrieked and shouted; all approved. Windows went up across the way
in the hotel, and night-capped heads protruded to investigate. The
frantic din of the electric-bells could be heard. The clerk appeared to
protest." What attention might have been paid to his protest will never
be known, for just then "'Possum Jim's" gothic steed and rattletrap
cart rounded the corner.
"I say, old man," shouted Field, "we want your rig for an hour; what's
Jim played his part slyly, and the bargain was finally struck for
$2.50, the owner to present no claim for possible damages. Wickersham
was so delighted with the shrewdness of the deal that he insisted on
paying the bill. The horse, which could scarcely stand on his four
corners, was quickly unharnessed and hitched to a telegraph pole, and
before he realized what the madcaps were about, Wickersham was himself
harnessed into the shafts. The novelty of his position suited his mood.
He pranced and snorted, and pawed the ground and whinnied, and played
horse in fine fettle until the word go. Field, with a companion beside
him, held the reins and cracked the whip. The others helped the
thoroughbred in harness the best they could by pushing.
In this manner, and all yelling like Comanche Indians, twice they made
the circuit of the block. All the guests in front of the big hotel were
leaning out of the windows, when the police sergeant popped in sight
with a squad of four men. Field, who had been duly apprised of their
approach, gave the signal, and the crowd, making good their retreat to
Jones's, abandoned Wickersham to his fate. He was quickly, but roughly,
disentangled from the intricacies of "'Possum Jim's" rope-yarn harness.
The more he protested and expostulated, the more inexorable became the
five big custodians of the outraged peace, until the last word of
remonstrance and explanation died upon his well-nigh breathless lips.
Then he tried cajoling and "connudling" and those silent, persuasive
arts so often efficacious in legislative lobbies; but there were too
many witnesses to his crime, and bribes were not in order.
When at last Wickersham, from sheer despair and physical exhaustion,
sank limp in the arms of his captors, the sergeant, on the pretext of
seeking the aiders and abettors in the riot, half carried, half led the
prisoner into Jones's resort.
A quarter of an hour later the police squad made its exit by the back
door, and less than an hour afterward Wickersham's special was bearing
him southward toward Texas.
But Field's revenge was not fully sated yet. He caused a $2 Pullman
rate-bill, making a sixty per cent. reduction, to be prepared in the
Tribune office, and secured its introduction in the legislature by the
chairman of the House committee on railways. The news was immediately
flashed East, and Wickersham came posting back to Denver with the worst
case of monopoly fright he had ever experienced. The day after his
arrival the Tribune had something to say in every department of his
nefarious mission, and every reference to him bristled with biting
irony and downright accusation. Never was a "good fellow and a
thoroughbred" so mercilessly scarified.
For the remaining six weeks of the session Wickersham did not leave
Denver, nor did he dare look at the Tribune until after breakfast.
Every member of the legislature received a Pullman annual. Champagne
flowed, not by the bottle, but by the dray-load. Wickersham begged for
quarter, but his appeals fell like music on ears that heard but heeded
not. Nor did he find out that the whole affair was a put-up job until
the bill was finally lost in the Senate committee.
One of the familiar stories of Field's rollicking life in Denver was at
the expense of Oscar Wilde, then on his widely advertised visit to
America. As the reader may remember, this was when the aesthetic craze
and the burlesques inseparable from it were at their height.
Anticipating Wilde's appearance in Denver by one day, and making
shrewdly worded announcements through the Tribune in keeping with his
project, Field secured the finest landau in town and was driven through
the streets in a caricature verisimilitude of the poet of the sunflower
and the flowing hair.
The impersonation of Wilde a la Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan's
opera, "Patience," was well calculated to deceive all who were not in
the secret. Field's talent as a farceur and a mimic enabled him to
assume and carry out the expression of bored listlessness which was the
popular idea of the leader of aesthetes. Nobody in the curious,
whooping, yelling crowd assembled along the well-advertised route
suspected the delusion, and after an hour's parade Field succeeded in
making his exit from public gaze without betraying his identity.
When Wilde turned up the next day he was not a little mystified to
learn that he had created a sensation driving around Denver in the
raiments of Bunthorne, while in reality travelling over the prairie in
a palace-car. It was Field himself who relieved his curiosity with a
highly amusing narrative of the experience of the joker lounging in the
seat of honor in the landau.
Wilde, it is related, saw nothing funny in the affair, nor was he
provoked at it. His only comment was, "What a splendid advertisement
for my lecture."
It was while in Denver that Field had numerous and flattering offers to
leave journalism for the stage, and more than once he was sorely
tempted to make the experiment. In the natural qualifications for the
theatrical profession he was most richly endowed. In the arts of
mimicry he had no superior. He had the adaptable face of a comedian,
was a matchless raconteur, and a fine vocalist. At a banquet or in a
parlor he was an entertainer of truly fascinating parts. During his
life in St. Louis and Kansas City his inclination had led him to seek
the society of the green-room, and in Denver his position enlarged the
circle of his acquaintance with the theatrical profession, until it
embraced almost every prominent actor and actress in America, and was
subsequently extended to include the more celebrated artists of
England. Among his favorites was Madame Bernhardt, whose several visits
to the United States afforded him an opportunity for some of the most
entertaining sketches that ever delighted his Chicago readers. None of
these contained more pith in little than that brief paragraph with
which he opened his column one day, to the effect that "An empty cab
drove up to the stage-door of the Columbia Theatre last night, from
which Madame Bernhardt alighted."
Among the celebrities who visited Denver while Field was in what he
would have called his perihelion was Miss Kate Field, with whose name
he took all the liberties of a brother, although there was no blood
relationship between them thicker than the leaves of a genealogical
compendium. He took especial pains to circulate the report through all
the West that Miss Field had brought a sitz-bath with her to alleviate
the dust and hardships of travel in the "Woolly West," where, as he
represented, she thought running water was a luxury and stationary
bath-tubs were unknown. But he atoned for this by one of the daintiest
pleasantries that ever occurred to his playful mind. When Miss Field
was preparing for her lecture tour in Mormon land she started an
inquisitive correspondence with her namesake, whose Tribune Primer was
then spreading his fame through the exchanges. The two soon discovered
that they were cousins, no matter how many times removed, but near
enough to inspire Field to entrust a letter to Uncle Sam's mail
_A maiden fair of untold age
Seeks to adorn our Western stage;
How foolish of her, yet how nice
To write me, asking my advice!
New York's the city where you'll find
This prodigy of female kind;
Hotel Victoria's the place
Where you'll see her smiling face.
I pray thee, postman, bear away
This missive to her, sans delay.
These lines enclosed are writ by me--
A Field am I, a Field is she.
Two very fertile fields I ween,
In constant bloom, yet never green,
She is my cousin; happy fate
That gave me such a Cousin Kate._
From Denver to New York this pretty conceit carried the epistle just as
safely and directly as if it had borne the most prosaic superscription
the postal authorities could exact, and I venture to say that it was
handled with a smiling solicitude never bestowed on the humdrum
epistles that travel neither faster nor surer for being marked
"important and immediate." This was before Field had formed the habit
of illuminating everything he wrote with colored inks, or the missive
to his Cousin Kate would have expressed his variegated fancies in all
the colors of the rainbow, especially red.
In a short sketch, entitled "Eugene Field in Denver," Wolfe Londoner
speaks of his friend as a "bright ray of laughing sunshine across this
shadowy vale, a mine of sentiment and charity, an avalanche of fun and
happiness," but one who "never in all the run of his merry, joyous
career was known to wake up with a cent." Why?
Here is the explanation given by Mr. Londoner, who was familiar with
every phase of Eugene Field's life in Denver:
"The course of one short day was ever long enough to drain his open
purse, and his boon companions were as welcome to its contents, while
it could stand the strain, as its careless, happy owner. The bright
side of life attracted his laughing fancy, and with stern and
unalterable determination he studiously avoided all seriousness and
shadow. There was no room in his happy composition for aught of sorrow
or sadness, and a quick and merry wit always extricated him from every
embarrassing position or perplexing dilemma."
Mr. Londoner rightly says that an inert Eugene Field was an
impossibility, and at that time he was only supremely happy when
busily engaged in playing some practical joke on his ever-suspecting
but never sufficiently wary friends. Of course Mr. Londoner himself
was victimized, and more than once. During one campaign, as chairman
of the Republican County Central Committee, Mr. Londoner was delegated
to work up enthusiasm among the colored voters of Denver, and in an
unguarded moment he took Field into his confidence and boasted of his
flattering progress. The next morning the following advertisement,
displayed with all the prominence of glaring scare-heads, appeared:
EVERY COLORED MAN IN THE CITY.
To call at Wolfe Londoner's Store.
A Car load of Georgia Watermelons
Just received For a special distribution
Among his Colored Friends.
_Call Early and get Your Melon!!!_
It is needless to say that when Mr. Londoner's store opened in the
morning an ever-increasing cloud of dusky humanity, with teeth that
glistened with the juice of anticipation, gathered about the entrance.
Business in the store was at a standstill and travel on the street was
blocked. No explanation could appease the rising anger of that dark
multitude. It was melons, or a riot. Melons, or that unheard-of
thing--a colored landslide to the democracy. Mr. Londoner was at his
wits' ends. There were no melons in the market, and none expected.
Just as Londoner was preparing to abandon his store to the wrath of
the justly incensed melon-maniacs, a car-load of magnificent melons
dropped into one of the freight sidings, and Londoner and the
Republican party were saved. Nobody ever knew how or whence that
pink-hearted manna came. The price was exorbitant, but that did not
matter. Londoner paid it with the air of a man who had ordered melons
and was indignant that the railway company had disappointed him in not
delivering them the day before. There was not a crack in the solid
black Republican column on election day.
But Field was not through with Mr. Londoner yet. The colored brethren
had to hold their ratification meeting to endorse the Republican
nominations, and more especially to render thanks for the creation of
watermelons, and to the man who paid for them, out of season. Of
course Mr. Londoner was invited to attend, and when it came his turn
to address the meeting the chairman, a colored deacon of the church
where "'Possum Jim" worshipped, by the name of Williams, introduced
him as follows:
"I now take great pleasure in introducing to you our friend and
brother, the Honorable Mistah Wolfe Londoner, who has always been our
true friend and brother, who always advises us to do the right thing,
and stands ready, at all times, to help us in the good fight. Although
he has a white skin, his heart is as black as any of ours. Brothers,
the Honorable Wolfe Londoner."
There was no mistaking the authorship of this felicitous introduction.
Field was never tired of repeating another story at the expense of Mr.
Londoner, in connection with the visit of Charles A. Dana to Denver.
The arrival of "Mr. Dana of the New York Sun" was made the occasion
for one of those receptions by the Press Club which made up in
heartiness what they lacked in conventional ceremony. Mr. Londoner was
the president of the club, and it not only fell to his lot to deliver
the address of welcome to guests of the club, but to look after their
comfort and welfare while they remained in the city, and often to
provide them with the wherewithal to leave it. On Mr. Dana's
presentation he was called on for some remarks, to which Mr. Londoner
listened with the air of a man who had heard the same tale from lips
less entitled to deliver a message of counsel and warning to a group
of newspaper writers. When his guest had finished his remarks, Mr.
Londoner, according to Field's story, walked over to Mr. Dana and
asked him how much he wanted.
Mr. Dana looked at him with a puzzled air, and asked: "How much what?
What do you mean?"
"Why, money," Mr. Londoner is said to have replied. "Every newspaper
man who ever came to this club was introduced the same as you were,
made a speech the same as you did, and then came to me to borrow money
to get out of town with. Now, how much do you want?"
According to Field, he never saw a man so greatly relieved as Mr.
Londoner was when Mr. Dana assured him that his hotel bill was paid
and he had enough money sewed into his waistcoat to carry him back to
New York, where he had a job waiting for him.
On one occasion Field accompanied the Denver Press Club on a pleasure
trip to Manitou, a summer resort that nestles in a canon at the base
of Mount Rosa. Before the party was comfortably settled in the hotel,
Field was approached by a poor woman who had lost her husband, and who
poured into his ear a sad tale of indigence and sorrow. He became
immediately interested, and at once set about devising means for her
relief. As his purse was as lean as her own and his companions were
not overburdened with the means to get back to Denver, he announced a
grand musical and dramatic entertainment, to be given in the parlors
of the hotel that evening, for the benefit of a deserving charity.
Every guest in the hotel was invited, and the members of the Press
Club spread the notices among the citizens of the village. When asked
who would be the performers, Field answered, with the utmost
nonchalance, that the Lord would provide the entertainment if Manitou
would furnish the audience. The evening came, and the parlors were
crowded with guests and villagers, but no performers. After waiting
until expectancy and curiosity had almost toppled over from tiptoe to
disgust and indignation, Field stepped to the piano with preternatural
gravity and attacked it with all the grand airs of a foreign virtuoso.
Critics would have denied that Field was a pianist, and, technically
considered, they would have been right. But his fingers had a fondness
for the ivory keys, and they responded to his touch with the sweet
melody of the forest to the wind. He carried all the favorite airs of
all the operas he had ever heard in his fingers' ends. He knew the
popular songs of the day by heart, and, where memory failed, could
improvise. He had a voice for the soft and deep chords of negro
melodies I have never heard surpassed, and with all, he had a command
of comedy and pathos which, up to this time, was little known beyond
the circle in Denver over which he reigned as the Lord of Misrule.
That night in Manitou those who were present reported that, from the
moment he sat down at the piano until the last note of the good-night
song died away, he held that impromptu audience fascinated by his
impromptu performance. By turns he sang, played, recited poetry,
mimicked actors and well-known Colorado characters, told anecdotes,
and altogether gave such a single-handed entertainment that the
spectators did not know whether to be more astonished at its variety
or delighted with its genius. The result was a generous collection,
which went far to relieve the distress of the woman who had touched
Let it not be understood that nothing more serious than some hilarious
escapade or sardonic bit of humor ever crossed the life of Eugene
Field in Denver. His innate hatred of humbug and sham made the Denver
Tribune a terror to all public characters who considered that suddenly
acquired wealth gave them a free hand to flaunt ostentatious vulgarity
on all public occasions.
COMING TO CHICAGO
What I have written thus far of Eugene Field has been based upon what
the lawyers call hearsay or documentary evidence. It has for the most
part been directly heard or confirmed from his own lips. In the early
days of our acquaintance the stories of his life in Denver were rife
through every newspaper office and green-room in the United States. No
one who had spent any time in Colorado came East without bringing a
fresh budget of tales of the pranks and pasquinades of Eugene Field,
of the Denver Tribune. The clipping vogue of his Primer series had
given him a newspaper reputation wide as the continent. He was far
more quoted, however, for what he said and did than for anything he
wrote. Had his career ended in 1883, before he came to Chicago, there
would have been little or nothing left of literary value to keep his
memory alive, beyond the regretful mention in the obituary columns of
the western press.
And it came near ending, like the candle exposed to the gusts of
March, or a bubble that has danced and glistened its brief moment in
the sun. The boy who was too delicate for continued application to
books in Amherst, who had outgrown his strength so that his entrance
at Williams was postponed a year, whose backwardness at his books
through three colleges had been excused on the plea of ill-health, had
been living a pace too fast for a never strong and always rebellious
stomach. He was not intemperate in eating or drinking. It was not
excess in the first that ruined his digestion, nor intemperance in the
other that caused him to become a total abstainer from all kinds of
intoxicating beverages. He simply became a dyspeptic through a weird
devotion to the pieces and pastries "like Mary French used to make,"
and he became a teetotaler because the doctors mistook the cause of
his digestive distress.
The one thing of which Eugene Field was intemperate in Denver was of
himself. He gave to that delicate machinery we call the body no rest.
It was winter when he did not see the sun rise several times a week,
and the hours he stole from daylight for sleep were too few and
infrequent to make up for the nights he turned into day for work and
frolic. Thus it came about that in the summer of 1883 Eugene Field had
reached the end of his physical tether, and some change of scene was
necessary to save what was left of an impaired constitution.
From what has been said, it is easy to understand how Field's
abilities were diverted into a new and deeper channel in 1883.
"Stricken by dyspepsia," writes Mr. Cowen, "so severely that he fell
into a state of chronic depression and alarm, he eagerly accepted the
timely offer of Melville E. Stone, then surrounding himself with the
best talent he could procure in the West, of a virtually independent
desk on the Chicago Morning News. There he quickly regained health,
although he never recovered from his ailment."
How Mr. Stone came to be the "Fairy Godmother" to Field at this
turning-point in his life may be briefly related, and partly in Mr.
Stone's own words. He and Victor F. Lawson had made a surprising
success in establishing the Chicago Daily News, in December, 1875, the
first one-cent evening paper in Chicago. It is related that in the
early days of their enterprise they had to import the copper coins for
the use of their patrons--the nickle being up to that time the
smallest coin in use in the West, as the dime, or "short bit," was
until a more recent date on the Pacific coast. The Daily News was more
distinguished for its enterprise in gathering news and getting it out
on the street before the comparative blanket sheets of the early
eighties than for its editorial views or literary features.
In January, 1881, Messrs. Lawson & Stone conceived the idea of
printing a morning edition of their daily, to be called the Morning
News. As it was to be sold for two cents, it was their purpose to make
it better worth the price by a more exacting standard in the manner of
presenting its news and by the employment of special writers for its
editorial page. Just then, however, the crop of unemployed writers of
demonstrated ability or reputation was unusually short, and the
foundation of the Chicago Herald in May of the same year, by half a
dozen energetic journalists of local note, did not tend to overstock
the market with the talent sought for by Messrs. Lawson & Stone. It
was the rivalry between the Morning News (afterwards the Record) and
the Herald, that sent Mr. Stone so far afield as Denver for a man to
assist him in realizing the idea cherished by him and his associate.
An interesting story could be told of that rivalry, which has just
ended by the consolidation of the two papers (March, 1901) into the
Chicago Record-Herald, but only so much of it as affects the life and
movements of Eugene Field concerns us here.
In the early summer of 1883 Mr. Stone, who had been watching with
appreciative newspaper sense the popularity of the Tribune Primer
skits, cast an acquisitive net in the direction of Denver. He had
known Field in St. Louis, and describes their first meeting thus: "I
entered the office of the Dispatch to see Stillson Hutchins, the then
proprietor of that paper. It was in the forenoon, the busy hour for an
afternoon newspaper. A number of people were there, but as to the
proprietor, clerks, and customers, none was engaged in any business,
for, perched on the front counter, telling in a strangely resonant
voice a very funny story, sat Eugene Field. He was a striking figure,
tall, gaunt, almost bald (though little more than twenty years of
age), smooth shaven, and with a remarkable face, which lent itself to
every variety of emotion. In five minutes after our introduction I
knew him. There was no reserve about him. He was of the free,
whole-souled western type--that type which invites your confidence in
return for absolute and unstinted frankness."
Instead of broaching his purpose by letter, Mr. Stone slipped off to
Denver for a personal interview with his intended victim, and, as I
have already intimated, he arrived just in the nick of time to find
Field ready for any move that would take him away from the killing
kindness and exhilarating atmosphere of the Colorado capital. "The
engagement," says Mr. Stone, "was in itself characteristic. Field
wanted to join me. He was tired of Denver and mistrustful of the
limitations upon him there. But if he was to make a change, he must be
assured that it was to be for his permanent good. He was a newspaper
man not from choice, but because in that field he could earn his daily
bread. Behind all he was conscious of great capability--not vain or by
any means self-sufficient, but certain that by study and endeavor he
could take high rank in the literary world and could win a place of
lasting distinction. So he stipulated that he should be given a column
of his own, that he might stand or fall by the excellence of his own
work. Salary was less an object than opportunity."
Mr. Stone gave the necessary assurances, both as to salary--by no
means princely--and opportunity as large as Field had the genius to
fill. As quickly as he could, Field closed up his Denver connections
and prepared for the last move in his newspaper life. How he survived
the round of farewell luncheons, dinners, and midnight suppers given
for and by him was a source of mingled pride and amusement to the
chief sufferer. It was with feelings of genuine regret that he turned
his back on Denver and gave up the jovial and congenial association
with the Tribune and its staff. Although its chief editorial writer,
O.H. Rothacker, had a national reputation, Field was the star of the
company that gave to the Tribune its unique reputation among the
journals of the West, and all classes of citizens felt that something
picturesquely characteristic of the liberty and good-fellowship of
their bustling town was being taken from them. Field's departure meant
the closing of the hobble-de-hoy period in the life of Denver as well
as in his own. His life there had been exactly suited to his
temperament, to the times, and to the environment. It is doubtful if
it would have been possible to repeat such an experience in Denver
five years later, and it is certain that in five years Field had
developed whole leagues of character beyond its repetition.
It was in August, 1883, that Eugene Field, with his family and all his
personal effects, except his father's library, moved to Chicago. That
library was destined to remain safely stored in St. Louis for many
years before he felt financially able to afford it shelter and
quarters commensurate with its intrinsic value and wealth of
associations. So far in his newspaper work Field had little time and
less inclination to learn from books. All stories of his being a close
and omnivorous student of books, previous to his coming to Chicago,
are not consistent with the facts. He was learning all about humanity
by constant attrition with mankind. He was taking in knowledge of the
human passions and emotions at first hand and getting very little
assistance through pouring over the printed observations of others. He
was not a classical scholar in the sense of having acquired any
mastery of or familiarity with the great Latin or Greek writers.
Language, all languages, was a study that was easy to him, and he
acquired facility in translating any foreign tongue, living or dead,
with remarkable readiness by the aid of a dictionary and a nimble wit.
Student in St. Louis, Kansas City, or Denver he was not, any more than
at Williams, Galesburg, or Columbia. But I have no doubt that when
Eugene Field left Denver he had a fixed intention, as suggested in the
words of Mr. Stone, by study and endeavor to take high rank in the
literary world and to "win a place of lasting distinction."
When he came to Chicago his family consisted of Mrs. Field and their
four children, all, happily for him, in vigorous health, and, so far
as the children were concerned, endowed with appetites and a digestion
the envy and despair of their father. "Trotty," the eldest, was by
this time a girl of eight, Melvin a stout sober youth of six, "Pinny"
(Eugene, Jr.) a shrewd little rascal of four, and "Daisy" (Fred), his
mother's boy, a large-eyed, sturdy youngster of nearly three masterful
summers. The family was quickly settled in a small but convenient flat
on Chicago Avenue, three blocks from the Lake, and a little more than
a mile's walk from the office, a distance that never tempted Field to
exercise his legs except on one occasion, when it afforded him a
chance to astonish the natives of North Chicago. It occurred to him
one bleak day in December that it was time the people knew there was a
stranger in town. So he arrayed himself in a long linen duster,
buttoned up from knees to collar, put an old straw hat on his head,
and taking a shabby book under one arm and a palm-leaf fan in his
hand, he marched all the way down Clark Street, past the City Hall, to
the office. Everywhere along the route he was greeted with jeers or
pitying words, as his appearance excited the mirth or commiseration of
the passers-by. When he reached the entrance to the Daily News office
he was followed by a motley crowd of noisy urchins whom he dismissed
with a grimace and the cabalistic gesture with which Nicholas Koorn
perplexed and repulsed Antony Van Corlear from the battlement of the
fortress of Rensellaerstein. Then closing the door in their astonished
faces, he mounted the two flights of stairs to the editorial rooms,
where he recounted, with the glee of the boy he was in such things,
the success of his joke.
Trotty was his favorite child, probably because she was the only girl,
and he was very fond of little girls. Even then she favored her father
in complexion and features more than any of the boys, having the same
large innocent-looking blue eyes. But even she had to serve his
disposition to extract humor from every situation. Before Field had
been in Chicago two months he realized that he had made a serious
miscalculation in impressing Mr. Stone with the thought that salary
was less an object to him than opportunity. Opportunity had not
sufficed to meet Field's bills in Denver, and the promised salary,
that seemed temptingly sufficient at the distance of a thousand miles,
proved distressingly inadequate to feed and clothe three lusty boys
and one growing girl in the bracing atmosphere of Chicago. So it was
not surprising that when Trotty asked her father to give her an
appropriate text to recite in Sunday-school, he schooled her to rise
and declaim with great effect:
"The Lord will provide, my father can't!"
The means Field took to bring the insufficiency of his salary to the
attention of Mr. Stone were as ingenious as they were frequent. I
don't think he would have appreciated an increase of salary that came
without some exercise of his wayward fancy for making mirth out of any
embarrassing financial condition.
It is more than probable that Eugene Field chose Chicago for the place
of his permanent abode after deliberately weighing the advantages and
limitations of its situation with reference to his literary career. He
felt that it was as far east as he could make his home without coming
within the influence of those social and literary conventions that
have squeezed so much of genuine American flavor out of our
literature. He had received many tempting offers from New York
newspapers before coming to Chicago, and after our acquaintance I do
not believe a year went by that Field did not decline an engagement,
personally tendered by Mr. Dana, to go to the New York Sun, at a
salary nearly double that he was receiving here. But, as he told
Julian Ralph on one occasion, he would not live in, or write for, the
East. For, as he put it, there was more liberty and fewer literary
"fellers" out West, and a man had more chance to be judged on his
merits and "grow up with the country."
The Chicago to which Eugene Field came in 1883 was a city of something
over six hundred thousand inhabitants, and pulsing with active
political and commercial life. It had been rebuilt, physically, after
the fire with money borrowed from the East, and was almost too busy
paying interest and principal to have much time to read books, much
less make them, except in the wholly manufacturing sense. It had
already become a great publishing centre, but not of the books that
engage the critical intelligence of the public. The feverish devotion
of its citizens to business during the day-time drove them to bed at
an unseasonably early hour, or to places of amusement, from which they
went so straight home after the performances that there was not a
single fashionable restaurant in the city catering to supper parties
after the play. Whether this condition, making theatre-going less
expensive here than in other large cities, conduced to the result or
not, it was a fact that in the early eighties Chicago was the best
paying city on the continent for theatrical companies of all degrees
of merit. The losses which the best artists and plays almost
invariably reported of New York engagements were frequently recouped
Chicago never took kindly to grand opera, and probably for the same
reason that it patronized the drama. It sought entertainment and
amusement, and grand opera is a serious business. As Field said of
himself, Chicago liked music "limited"; and its liking was generally
limited to light or comic opera and the entertainments of the Apollo
Club, until Theodore Thomas, with admirable perseverance, aided by the
pocket-books of public-spirited citizens rather than by enthusiastic
music-lovers, succeeded in cultivating the study and love of music up
to a standard above that of any other American city, with the possible
exception of Boston.
I have referred to the theatrical and musical conditions in Chicago in
1883, because it was in them that Eugene Field found his most
congenial atmosphere and associations when he came hither that year.
These were the chief reminders of the life he had left behind when he
turned his back on Denver, and I need scarcely say that they continued
to afford him the keenest pleasure and the most unalloyed recreation
to the end.
Architecturally, Chicago was no more beautiful and far less impressive
than it is now. It could not boast half a dozen buildings, public or
private, worthy of a second glance. Its tallest skyscraper stopped at
nine stories, and that towered a good two stories over its nearest
rival. The bridges across the river connecting the three divisions of
the city were turned slowly and laboriously by hand, and the joke was
current that a Chicagoan of those days could never hear a bell ring
without starting on a run to avoid being bridged. The cable-car was an
experiment on one line, and all the other street-cars were operated
with horses and stopped operation at 12.20 A.M., as Field often
learned to his infinite disgust, for he hated walking worse than he
did horses or horse-cars. In many ways Chicago reminded Field of
Denver, and in no respect more than in its primitive ways, its assumed
airs of importance, and its township politics. Despite its forty odd
years of incorporated life, Chicago, the third city of the United
States, was still a village, and Field insisted on regarding it as
Transplanted from the higher altitude at the foot of the Rockies to
the level of Lake Michigan, I think nothing about Chicago struck him
more forcibly than the harshness of its variable summer climate.
Scarcely a week went by that his column did not contain some reference
in paragraph or verse to its fickle alarming changes. He had not
enough warm blood back of that large gray face to rejoice when the
mercury dropped in an hour, as it often did, from 88 or 90 degrees to
56 or 60 degrees. Such changes, which came with the whirl of the
weather vane, as the wind shifted from its long sweep over the
prairies, all aquiver with the heat, to a strong blow over hundreds of
miles of water whose temperature in dog days never rose above 60
degrees, provoked from him verses such as these, written in the
respective months they celebrate in the year 1884:
_CHICAGO IN JULY
The white-capp'd waves of Michigan break
On the beach where the jacksnipes croon--
The breeze sweeps in from the purple lake
And tempers the heat of noon:
In yonder bush, where the berries grow,
The Peewee tunefully sings,
While hither and thither the people go,
Attending to matters and things.
There is cool for all in the busy town--
For the girls in their sealskin sacques--
For the dainty dudes idling up and down,
With overcoats on their backs;
And the horse-cars lurch and the people run
And the bell at the bridgeway rings--
But never perspires a single one,
Attending to matters and things.
What though the shivering mercury wanes--
What though the air be chill?
The beauteous Chloe never complains
As she roams by the purpling rill;
And the torn-tit coos to its gentle mate,
As Chloe industriously swings
With Daphnis, her beau, on the old front gate,
Attending to matters and things.
When the moon comes up, and her cold, pale light
Coquettes with the freezing streams,
What care these twain for the wintry night,
Since Chloe is wrapt in dreams,
And Daphnis utters no plaint of woe
O'er his fair jack full on kings,
But smiles that fortune should bless him so,
Attending to matters and things.
CHICAGO IN AUGUST
When Cynthia's father homeward brought
An India mull for her to wear,
How were her handsome features fraught
With radiant smiles beyond compare!
And to her bosom Cynthia strained
Her pa with many a fond caress--
And ere another week had waned
That mull was made into a dress.
And Cynthia blooming like a rose
Which any swain might joy to cull,
Cried "How I'll paralyze the beaux
When I put on my India mull!"
Now let the heat of August day
Be what it may--I'll not complain--
I'll wear the mull, and put away
This old and faded-out delaine!
Despite her prayers the heated spell
Descended not on mead and wold--
Instead of turning hot as--well,
The weather turned severely cold,
The Lake dashed up its icy spray
And breathed its chill o'er all the plain--
Cynthia stays at home all day
And wears the faded-out delaine!
So is Chicago at this time--
She stands where icy billows roll--
She wears her beauteous head sublime,
While cooling zephyrs thrill her soul.
But were she tempted to complain,
Methinks she'd bid the zephyrs lull,
That she might doff her old delaine
And don her charming India mull!_
But there was another feature of Chicago that from the day of his
arrival to the day of his departure to that land where dust troubleth
not and soot and filth are unknown, filled his New England soul and
nostrils with ineffable disgust. He never became reconciled to a
condition in which the motto _in hoc signo vinces_ on a bar of
soap had no power to inspire a ray of hope. He had not been here a
month before his muse began to wield the "knotted lash of sarcasm"
above the strenuous but dirty back of Chicago after this fashion:
_Brown, a Chicago youth, did woo
A beauteous Detroit belle,
And for a month--or, maybe, two--
He wooed the lovely lady well.
But, oh! one day--one fatal day--
As mused the belle with naught to do,
A local paper came her way
And, drat the luck! she read it through.
She read of alleys black with mire--
A river with a putrid breath--
Streets reeking with malarial ire--
Inviting foul disease and death.
Then, with a livid snort she called
Her trembling lover to her side--
"How dare you, wretched youth," she bawled,
"Ask me to be your blushing bride?
Go back unto your filthy town,
And never by my side be seen,
Nor hope to make me Mrs. Brown,
Until you've got your city clean!"_
Eugene Field made his first appearance in the column of the Morning
News August 15th, 1883, in the most modest way, with a scant column of
paragraphs such as he had contributed to the Denver Tribune, headed
"Current Gossip" instead of "Odds and Ends." The heading was only a
makeshift until a more distinctive one could be chosen in its stead.
On August 31st, 1883, the title "Sharps and Flats" was hoisted to the
top of Field's column, and there it remained over everything he wrote
for more than a dozen years.
There have been many versions of how Field came to hit upon this
title, so appropriate to what appeared under it. The most ingenious of
these was that evolved by John B. Livingstone in "An Appreciation" of
Eugene Field, published in the Interior shortly after his death. In
what, on the whole, is probably the best analysis of Field's genius
and work extant, Mr. Livingstone goes on to say:
"What Virgil was to Tennyson, Horace was to Field in one aspect at
least of the Venusian's character. He could say of his affection for
the protege of Maecenas, as the laureate said of his for the 'poet of
the happy Tityrus,' 'I that loved thee since my day began.' It has
been suggested that he owed to a clever farce-comedy of the early
eighties the caption of the widely-read column of journalistic epigram
and persiflage, which he filled with machine-like regularity and the
versatility of the brightest French journalism for ten years. I prefer
to think that he took it, or his cue for it, from a line of Dr.
Phillips Francis's translation of the eighth of the first book of
_Not to be tedious or repeat
How Flats and Sharps in concert meet._
"Field's knowledge of Horace and of his translators was complete,
probably not equalled by that of any other member of his craft. He
made a specialty of the study, a hobby of it. And it is more likely,
as it is more gratifying, to believe that he caught his famous caption
(Sharps and Flats) from a paraphrase of his favorite classic poet than
from the play bill of a modern and ephemeral farce."
Unfortunately for this pretty bit of speculation, which Field would
have enjoyed as another evidence of his skill in imposing upon the
elect of criticism, it has no foundation in fact, and its premises of
Field's intimate knowledge and devotion to Horace anticipates the
period of his Horatian "hobby," as Mr. Livingstone so well styles it,
by at least five years. It was not until the winter of 1888-89 that
paraphrases of Horace began to stud his column with the first-fruits
of his tardy wandering and philandering with Dr. Frank W. Reilly
through the groves and meadows of the Sabine farm. But that is another
According to M.E. Stone, the title of the column which Field established
when he came to the Chicago Morning News was borrowed from the name of
a play, "Sharps and Flats," written by Clay M. Greene and myself, and
played with considerable success throughout the United States by
Messrs. Robson and Crane.
[Illustration: Robson. Crane.--Crane. Robson.
ROBSON AND CRANE IN THE PLAY "SHARPS AND FLATS"]
It may be set down here as well as elsewhere, and still quoting Mr.
Stone, that not only did Field write nearly every line that ever
appeared in the "Sharps and Flats" column, but that practically
everything that he ever wrote, after 1883, appeared at one time or
another in that column.
To which it may be added that it has been the custom of those writing
of Eugene Field to surround and endow him throughout his career with
the acquirement of scholarship, and pecuniary independence, which he
never possessed before the last six years of his life.
Practically all Field's scholarship and mental equipment, so far as
they were obtained from books, were acquired after he came to Chicago,
and he was never lifted above the ragged edge of impecuniosity until
he began to receive royalties from the popular edition of "A Little
Book of Western Verse" and "A Little Book of Profitable Tales." His
domestic life was spent in flats or rented houses until less than five
months before his death. The photographs taken a few months before his
death of Eugene Field's home and the beautiful library in which he
wrote are ghastly travesties on the nomadic character of his domestic
arrangements for many years before June, 1895--dreams for which he
longed, but only lived to realize for four brief months. All the best
Field wrote previous to 1890--and it includes the best he ever wrote,
except "The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac"--was written in a room to
which many a box stall is palatial, and his sole library was a
dilapidated edition of Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations," Cruden's
"Concordance of the Bible," and a well-thumbed copy of the King James
version of the Bible. He detested the revised version. The genius of
this man at this time did not depend on scholarship or surroundings,
but on the companionship of his fellows and the unconventionality of
his home life.
It was in the month of September, after Field's coming to the Morning
News, that a managerial convulsion in the office of the Chicago Herald
threw the majority of its editorial corps and special writers across
Fifth Avenue into the employ of Messrs. Lawson & Stone. They were at
first distributed between the morning and evening editions of the
News, my first work being for the latter, to which I contributed
editorial paragraphs for one week, when Mr. Stone concluded to make me
his chief editorial writer on the Morning News. This brought me into
immediate personal and professional relations with Field. Our rooms
adjoined, being separated by a board partition that did not reach to
the ceiling and over which for four years I was constantly bombarded
with missives and missiles from my ever-restless neighbor. Among the
other recruits from the Herald at that time was John F. Ballantyne,
who, from being the managing editor of that paper, was transferred to
the position of chief executive of the Morning News under Mr. Stone.
One of the first duties of his position was to read Field's copy very
closely, to guard against the publication of such bitter innuendoes
and scandalous personalities as had kept the Denver Tribune in
constant hot water between warlike descents upon the editor and costly
appeals to the courts. Mr. Stone wanted all the racy wit that had
distinguished Field's contributions to the Tribune without the
attendant crop of libel suits, and he relied on Ballantyne's Scotch
caution to put a query mark against every paragraph that squinted at a
breach of propriety or a breach of the peace, or that invited a libel
suit. There was no power of final rejection in Ballantyne's blue
pencil. That was left for Mr. Stone's own decision. It was well that
it was so, for Mr. Ballantyne's appreciation of humor was so rigid
that, had it been the arbiter as to which of Field's paragraphs should
be printed, I greatly fear me there would often have been a dearth of
gayety in the "Sharps and Flats." The relations in which Ballantyne
and I found ourselves to Field can best be told in the language of Mr.
Cowen, whose own intimate relations with Field antedated ours and
continued to the end:
"Coming immediately under the influence of John Ballantyne and Slason
Thompson, respectively managing editor and chief editorial writer of
the News--the one possessed of Scotch gravity and the other of fine
literary taste and discrimination--the character of Field's work
quickly modified, and his free and easy, irregular habits succumbed to
studious application and methodical labors. Ballantyne used the blue
pencil tenderly, first attacking Field's trick fabrications and
suppressing the levity which found vent in preceding years in such
pictures of domestic felicity as:
_Baby and I the weary night
Are taking a walk for his delight,
I drowsily stumble o'er stool and chair
And clasp the babe with grim despair,
For he's got the colic
Don't seem to ease my squalling heir.
Baby and I in the morning gray
Are griping and squalling and walking away--
The fire's gone out and I nearly freeze--
There's a smell of peppermint on the breeze.
Then Mamma wakes
And the baby takes
And says, "Now cook the breakfast please."_
"The every-day practical joker and entertaining mimic of Denver
recoiled in Chicago from the reputation of a Merry Andrew, the
prospect of gaining which he disrelished and feared. He preferred to
invent paragraphic pleasantries for the world at large and indulge his
personal humor in the office, at home, or with personal friends.
Gayety was his element. He lived, loved, inspired, and translated it,
in the doing which latter he wrote, without strain or embarrassment,
reams of prose satire, _contes risques_, and Hudibrastic verse."
It is a singular illustration of the irony and mutations of life that
one of the early paragraphs Field wrote for the "Sharps and Flats"
column was inspired by what was supposed to be a fatal assault on his
friend by a notorious political ruffian in Leadville. The paragraph,
which appeared on September 12th, 1883, is interesting as a specimen
of Field's style at that period, and as showing in what esteem he held
Cowen, with whom he had been associated on the Denver Tribune and
whose name recurs in these pages from time to time:
Edward D. Cowen, the city editor of the Leadville Herald, who was
murderously assaulted night before last by a desperado named Joy, was
one of the brightest newspaper men in the West. He came originally
from Massachusetts, and has relatives living in the southern part of
Illinois. He was about thirty years of age. He went to Leadville
about three months ago to work on ex-Senator Tabor's paper, the
Herald, and was doing excellently well. He was a protege, to a
certain extent, of Mrs. Tabor No. 2. She admired his brilliancy, and
volunteered to help him in any possible way. It was speaking of him
that she said: "My life will henceforth be devoted to assisting
worthy young men. In life we must prepare for death, and how can we
better prepare for death than by helping our fellow-creatures? Alas!"
she added with a sad, sad sigh, "alas! death is, after all, what we
live for." Young Cowen had all the social graces men and women
admire; he was bright in intellect, great in heart, and hearty of
manner. The loss of no young man we know of would be more deplored
than his demise.
Cowen never wholly recovered from the effects of his encounter with
Joy, but he survived to joke with Field over the past tense in which
this paragraph is couched, and to afford me valuable assistance in
completing this character-study of our friend.
I have already referred to the "box stall" in which Field sawed his
daily wood, as he was accustomed to call his work. As the day of
thinking that any old pine table, with a candle box for a chair,
crowded off in any sort of a dingy garret, was good enough for the
writers who contributed "copy" for a newspaper, has been succeeded by
an era of quarter-sawed oak desks, swivel chairs, electric light, and
soap and water in editorial quarters throughout the country, let me
attempt to describe the original editorial rooms of the Daily News less
than twenty years ago. The various departments of the paper occupied
what had been three four-story, twenty-five-foot buildings. The floors
of no two of these buildings above the first story were on the same
level. They had evidently been originally built for lodging houses. The
presses and storerooms for the rolls of paper filled the cellars. The
business office occupied one store, which was flanked on either side by
stores that would have been more respectable had they been rented as
saloons, which they were not, because of the conscientious scruples of
Messrs. Lawson & Stone. Parts of two of the buildings were still rented
as lodgings. Up one flight of stairs of the centre building, in the
front, Mr. Stone had his office, which was approached through what
had been a hall bedroom. His room was furnished with black walnut, and
a gloomy and oppressive air of mystery. Mr. Stone had the genius and
the appearance of a chief inquisitor. He was as alert, daring, and
enterprising an editor as the West has ever produced.
The rear of this twenty-five-foot building was given up to the library
and to George E. Plumbe, the editor for many years of the Daily News
Almanac and Political Register. The library consisted of files of
nearly all the Chicago dailies, of Congressional Records and reports,
the leading almanacs, the "Statesman's Year Book," several editions of
"Men of the Times," half a dozen encyclopaedias, the Imperial and
Webster's dictionaries, a few other text books, and about two inches of
genuine Chicago soot which incrusted everything. The theory advanced by
Field's friend, William F. Poole, then of the Public Library and later
of the Newberry Library, that dust is the best preservative of books,
rendered it necessary that the only washstand accessible to the Morning
News should be located in the library. None of us ever came out of that
library as we went in--the one clean roller a day forbade it. Nothing
but the conscientious desire to embellish our "copy" with enough facts
and references to make a showing of erudition ever induced Field or any
of the active members of the editorial staff to borrow the library key
from Ballantyne to break in upon the soporific labors of Mr. Plumbe.
Here the editorial conferences, which Field has illustrated, were held.
[Illustration: DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL COUNCIL OF WAR.
"Now, boys, which point shall we move on?"
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._]
Before quitting the library, which has since grown, in new quarters, to
be one of the most comprehensive newspaper libraries in the country, I
cannot forbear printing one of Field's choice bits at the expense of
the occupants of this floor of the Daily News office. It has no title,
but is supposed to be a soliloquy of Mr. Stone's:
_I wish my men were more like Plumbe
And not so much like me--
I hate to see the paper hum
When it should stupid be.
For when a lot of wit and rhyme
Appears upon our pages,
I know too well my men in time
Will ask a raise in wages.
I love to sit around and chin
With folk of doubtful fame,
But oh, it seems a dreadful sin
When others do the same;
For others gad to get the news
To use in their profession,
But anything I get I use
For purpose of suppression._
Field's poetical license here does injustice to Mr. Stone, whose
inquisitions generally concerned matters of public or political concern
and whose practice of the editorial art of suppression was never
exercised with any other motive than the public good or the sound
discretion of the editor, who knew that the libel suits most to be
feared were those where the truth about some scalawag was printed
without having the affidavits in the vault and a double hitch on the
Up another long, narrow, dark stairway was the office of Mr.
Ballantyne, the managing editor. He occupied what had been a rear hall
bedroom, 7 x 10 feet. He was six feet two tall, and if he had not been
of an orderly nature, there would not have been room in that back
closet, with its one window and flat-topped desk, for his feet and the
retriever, Snip--the only dog Field ever thoroughly detested.
Ballantyne's room was evidently arranged to prevent any private
conferences with the managing editor. It boasted a second chair, but
when the visitor accepted the rare invitation to be seated, his knees
prevented the closing of the door. The remainder of this floor of the
centre building and the whole of the same floor of the next building
south were taken up by the composing room. A door had been cut in the
wall of the building to the north, just by Mr. Ballantyne's room,
through which, and down three steps, was the space devoted to the
editorial and reportorial staff of the Morning News. The front end of
this space was partitioned off into three rooms, 7 x 12 feet each.
Field claimed one of these boxes, the dramatic critic and solitary
artist of the establishment one, and Morgan Bates, the exchange editor,
and I were sandwiched in between them. The rest of the floor was given
up to the city staff. The telegraph editor had a space railed off for
his accommodation in the composing room. If a fire had broken out in
the central building in those days, along about ten P.M., the
subsequent proceedings of Eugene Field and of others then employed on
the Morning News would probably not have been of further interest,
except to the coroner.
Of the three rooms mentioned, Field's was the only one having any
pretensions to decoration. Its floor and portions of the wall were
stained and grained a rich brown with the juice of the tobacco plant.
In one corner Field had a cupboard-shaped pigeon-file, alphabetically
arranged, for the clippings he daily made--almost all relating some bit
of personal gossip about people in the public eye. Scattered about the
floor were dumb-bells, Indian clubs, and other gymnastic apparatus
which Field never touched and which the janitor had orders not to
disturb in their disorder. Above Field's desk for some time hung a
sheet of tin, which he used as a call bell or to drown the noise of the
office boy poking the big globe stove which was the primitive, but
generally effective, way of heating the whole floor in winter. That it
was not always effective, even after steam was introduced, may be
inferred from the following importunate note written by Field to
Collins Shackelford, the cashier, on one occasion when the former had
been frozen almost numb:
DEAR MR. SHACKELFORD: There has been no steam in the third-floor
editorial rooms this afternoon. Somebody must be responsible for this
brutal neglect, which is of so frequent occurrence that forbearance
has ceased to be a virtue. I appeal to you in the hope that you will
be able to correct the outrage. Does it not seem an injustice that
the writers of this paper should be put at the mercy of sub-cellar
hands, who are continually demonstrating their incompetency for the
work which they are supposed to do and for which they are paid?
January 11, 1887.
To those familiar with the internal economy of newspaper offices it
will be no news to learn that death by freezing in the editorial rooms
would be regarded as a matter of small moment compared to a temperature
in the press room that chilled the printing ink in the fountains to the
slow consistency of molasses in January.
To return to the furnishing of the room in which Field did the greater
part of his work for the Morning News. Originally it did not boast a
desk. A pine table with two drawers was considered good enough for the
most brilliant paragrapher in the United States, and, for all he cared,
so it was. He had no special use for a desk, for at that time he
carried his library in his head and wrote on his lap. I am happy in
being able to present in corroboration of this a study of Eugene Field
at work, drawn from life by his friend, J.L. Sclanders, then artist
for the News, and also the copy of a blue print photograph, on the back
of which Field wrote, "And they call this art!"
[Illustration: FIELD AT WORK.
_The Caricature from a Drawing by Sclanders._]
In explanation of these pictures, both true to life when made, it
should be said that, except when there was no steam on, Field almost
invariably wrote in his shirt-sleeves, generally with his waistcoat
unbuttoned and his collar off, and always with his feet crossed across
the corner of the desk or table. One of the first things he did on
coming to the office was to take off his shoes and put on a pair of
slippers with no counters around the heels, so that they slapped along
the floor as he walked and hung from his toes as he wrote.
Why Field always rolled up the bottoms of his trousers on coming into
the office and turned them down when he went out, I do not remember to
have known. Probably it was partly on account of his contradictory
nature, and partly to save the trousers from dragging, for the
unloosening of his "vest" was always attended by the unbuttoning of his
suspenders to permit of his sitting with greater ease upon the curve of
his spine. But why he should have rolled his trousers half way up to
the knee passes my comprehension, as the reason has passed from my
memory, if I ever knew it.
For a long time a rusty old carpenter's saw hung on the wall of his
"boudoir." Beside it were some burglars' implements, and subsequently a
convict's suit hanging to a peg excited the wonder of the curious and
the sarcasm of the ribald.
The table in Field's room, besides serving as a resting place for his
feet, was covered with the exchanges which were passed along to him
after they had passed under the scrutiny and shears of the exchange
editor. When Field had gone through them with his rusty scissors they
were only fit for the floor, where he strewed them with a riotous hand.
If the reader has followed thus far he has a tolerably fair notion of
the unpropitious and eccentric surroundings amid which Field worked
immediately after coming to Chicago. Out of this strange environment
came as variegated a column of satire, wit, and personal persiflage as
ever attracted and fascinated the readers of a daily newspaper.
And now of the man himself as I first saw him. He was at that time in
his thirty-third year, my junior by a year. If Eugene Field had ever
stood up to his full height he would have measured slightly over six
feet. But he never did and was content to shamble through life,
appearing two inches shorter than he really was. Shamble is perhaps
hardly the word to use. But neither glide nor shuffle fits his gait any
more accurately. It was simply a walk with the least possible waste of
energy. It fitted Dr. Holmes's definition of walking as forward motion
to prevent falling. And yet Field never gave you the impression that he
was about to topple over. His legs always acted as if they were weary
and would like to lean their master up against something. As to what
that something might be, he would probably have answered, "Pie."
Field's arms were long, ending in well-shaped hands, which were
remarkably deft and would have been attractive had he not at some time
spoiled the fingers by the nail-biting habit. His shoulders were broad
and square, and not nearly as much rounded as might have been expected
from his position in writing. It was not the stoop of his shoulders
that detracted from his height, but a certain settling together, if I
may so say, of the couplings of his backbone. He was large-boned
throughout, but without the muscles that should have gone with such a
frame. He would probably have described himself as tall, big, gangling.
He had no personal taste or pride in clothing, and never to my
knowledge came across a tailor who took enough interest in his clothes
to give him the benefit of a good fit or to persuade him to choose a
becoming color. For this reason he looked best-dressed in a dress suit,
which he never wore when there was any possibility of avoiding it. His
favorite coat was a sack, cut straight, and made from some cloth in
which the various shades of yellow, green, and brown struggled for
But it was of little consequence how Field's body was clothed. He wore
a 7 3-8 hat and there was a head and face under it that compelled a
second glance and repaid scrutiny in any company. The photographs of
Field are numerous, and some of them preserve a fair impression of his
remarkable physiognomy. None of the paintings of him that I have seen
do him justice, and the etchings are not much of an improvement on the
paintings. The best photographs only fail because they cannot retain
the peculiar deathlike pallor of the skin and the clear, innocent china
blue of the large eyes. These eyes were deep set under two arching
brows, and yet were so large that their deep setting was not at first
apparent. Field's nose was a good size and well shaped, with an unusual
curve of the nostrils strangely complementary to the curve of the arch
above the eyes. There was a mole on one cheek, which Field always
insisted on turning to the camera and which the photographer very
generally insisted on retouching out in the finishing. Field was wont
to say that no photograph of him was genuine unless that mole was
"blown in on the negative." The photographs all give him a good chin,
in which there was merely the suggestion of that cleft which he held
marred the strength of George William Curtis's lower jaw.
The feature of his face, if such it can be called, where all portraits
failed, was the hair. It was so fine that there would not have been
much of it had it been thick, and as it was quite thin there was only a
shadow between it and baldness. Even its color was elusive--a cross
between brown and dove color. Only those who knew Field before he came
to Chicago have any impression as to the color of the thatch upon that
head which never during our acquaintance stooped to a slouch hat. This
typical head gear of the West had no attraction for him. The formal
black or brown derby for winter and the seasonable straw hat for summer
seemed necessary to tone down the frivolity of his neckties, which were
chosen with a cowboy's gaudy taste. To the day of his death Field
delighted to present neckties, generally of the made-up variety, to his
friends, which, it is needless to say, they never failed to accept and
seldom wore. Often in the afternoon as it neared two o'clock he would
stick his head above the partition between our rooms and say, "Come
along, Nompy" (his familiar address for the writer). "Come along and
I'll buy you a new necktie."
"The dickens take your neckties!" or something like it, would be my
Whereupon, with the philosophy of which he never wearied, Field would
rejoin, "Very well, if you won't let me buy you a necktie, you must buy
me a lunch," and off we would march to Henrici's coffee-house around
the corner on Madison Street, generally gathering Ballantyne and Snip
in our train as we passed the kennel of the managing editor of what was
to be the newspaper with the largest morning circulation in Chicago.
RELATIONS WITH STAGE FOLK
Reference has been made to Field's predilection for the theatrical
profession and to his fondness for the companionship of those who had
attained prominence in it. During his stay in Denver he had established
friendly, and in some instances intimate, relations with the star
actors who included that city in the circuit of their yearly
pilgrimages. The story of how he ingratiated himself into the good
graces of Christine Nilsson, at the expense of a rival newspaper, may
be of interest before taking a final farewell of the episodes connected
with his life in Colorado. When Madame Nilsson was journeying overland
in her special drawing-room car with Henry Abbey, Marcus Meyer, and
Charles Mathews, Field wrote to Omaha, anticipating their arrival
there, to make inquiry as to how the party employed the dull hours of
travel so as to interest the erratic prima donna. It was his intention
to prepare a newspaper sketch of the trip.
The reply was barren of incident, save a casual allusion to certain
sittings at the American game of poker, in which the Swedish songstress
had the advantage of the policy or the luck of her companions. Out of
this inch of cloth Field manufactured something better than the
proverbial ell of very interesting gossip. The reconstructed item
reached San Francisco as soon as Madame Nilsson, and was copied from
the Tribune into the coast papers on the eve of her opening concert.
Now, the madame thought that the American world looked askance at a
woman who gambled, and when the article was kindly brought to her
attention she flew into one of those rages which, report has said, were
the real tragedies of her life. When returning overland to Denver,
Abbey telegraphed ahead to Field, and he, with Cowen, went up to
Cheyenne to meet the party. On entering the drawing-room car the
visitors were hurried into Abbey's compartment with an air of
bewildering mystery, and were there informed in whispers that Madame
Nilsson was furious against the Tribune and would never forgive anybody
attached to it.
"Oh, I'll arrange that," said Field. "Don't announce us, but let us
call on the madame and be introduced."
After some further parley this was done, and this is how he was
"Meestair Field--zee--T-r-ee-bune," Madame Nilsson exclaimed hotly. "I
prefair not zee acquaintance of your joor-nal."
"Excuse me, madam," persisted Field, blandly and with grave
earnestness, "I think from what Mr. Abbey has told us that you are bent
on doing the Tribune and its staff a great injustice. It was not the
Tribune that published the poker story that caused you so much just
annoyance. It was our rival, the Republican, a very disreputable
newspaper, which is edited by persons without the least instinct of
gentlemen and with no consideration for the feelings of a lady of your
At this Madame Nilsson thawed visibly, and promptly appealed to Abbey,
Mathews, and Mayer to learn if she had been misinformed. They, of
course, fell in with Field's story, and upon being assured that she was
in error the madame's anger relaxed, and she was soon holding her sides
from laughter at Field's drolleries. The result was that the innocent
Republican staff could not get within speaking distance of Madame
Nilsson during her stay in Denver. The second night of her visit being
Christmas eve, the madame held her Christmas tree in the Windsor Hotel,
with Field acting the role of Santa Claus and the Tribune staff playing
the parts of good little boys, while their envious rivals of the
Republican were not invited to share in the crumbs that fell from that
"I have been a great theatre-goer," says Field in his "Auto-Analysis."
And it may be doubted if any writer of our time repaid the stage as
generously for the pleasure he received from those who walked its
boards before and behind the footlights. No better analysis of his
relations to the profession has been made than that from the pen of his
"At the very outset of his newspaper career," says he, "Field's
inclinations led him to the society of the green-room. Of western
critics and reviewers he was the first favorite among dramatic people.
Helpful, kind, and enthusiastic, he was rarely severe and never
captious. Though in no sense an analyst, he was an amusing reviewer
and a great advertiser. Once he conceived an attachment for an actor
or actress, his generous mind set about bringing such fortunate person
more conspicuously into public notice. Emma Abbott's baby, which she
never had, and of whose invented existence he wrote at least a bookful
of startling and funny adventures; Francis Wilson's legs; Sol Smith
Russell's Yankee yarns; Billy Crane's droll stories; Modjeska's spicy
witticisms--these and other jocular pufferies, quoted and read
everywhere with relish for years--were among his hobby-horse
performances begun at that time (1881) and continued long after he had
settled down in the must and rust of bibliomania."
For a long time not a week went by that Field did not invent some
marvellous tale respecting Emma Abbott, once the most popular
light-opera prima donna of the American stage--every yarn calculated
to widen the circle of her popularity. Upon an absolutely fictitious
autobiography of Miss Abbott he once exhausted the fertility of his
fancy in the form of a review, which went the rounds of the press
and which, on her death, contributed many a sober paragraph to the
newspaper reviews of her life.
 Vide Appendix.
To the fame of another opera singer of those days he contributed, by
paragraphs of an entirely different flavor from those that extolled
the Puritan virtues and domestic felicities of Miss Abbott (Mrs.
Wetherell), as may be judged from the following "Love Plaint," written
shortly after he came to Chicago:
_The tiny birdlings in the tree
Their tuneful tales of love relate--
Alas, no lover comes to me--
I flock alone, without a mate.
Mine eyes are hot with bitter tears,
My soul disconsolately yearns--
But, ah, no wooing knight appears--
In vain my quenchless passion burns.
Unheeded are my glowing charms--
No heroes claim a moonlight tryst--
All empty are my hungry arms--
My virgin cheeks are all unkissed.
Oh, would some cavalier might haste
To crown me with his manly love,
And, with his arm about my waist,
Feed on my cherry lips above.
Alas, my blush and bloom will fade,
And I shall lose my dulcet notes--
Then I shall die an old, old maid,
And none will mourn Miss Alice Oates._
[Illustration: FRANCIS WILSON.]
Of his friendship with Francis Wilson there is no need to write here,
for is it not fully set forth in that charming little brochure, in
which Mr. Wilson gives to the world a characteristic sketch of the
Eugene Field and bibliomaniac he knew, and in whose work he was so
deeply interested? But Mr. Wilson does not tell how he was pursued and
plagued with the following genial invention which Field printed in his
column in 1884, and which still occasionally turns up in country
"Mr. Francis Wilson, the comedian, is a nephew of Pere Hyacinthe, the
ancient divine. During his recent sojourn in Paris he was the pere's
guest, and finally became deeply interested in the great work of reform
in which the famous preacher is engaged. His intimate acquaintances say
that Mr. Wilson is fully determined to retire from the stage at the
expiration of five years and devote himself to theological pursuits. He
gave Pere Hyacinthe his promise to this effect, and his sincerity is
William Florence, the comedian, was an actor of whom, on and off the
stage, Field never wearied. Night after night would we go to see
"Billy," as he was familiarly and irreverently called, as Bardwell
Slote in the "Mighty Dollar," or as Captain Cuttle in "Dombey and Son."
Although originally an Irish comedian of rollicking and contagious
humor, Florence had played "Bardwell Slote" so constantly and for so
many years that his voice and manner in every-day life had the
ingratiating tone of that typical Washington lobbyist. Before his
death, while touring with Jefferson as Sir Lucius O'Trigger in "The
Rivals," he renewed his earlier triumphs in Irish character, but, even
here the accents of the oily Bardwell gave an additional touch of
blarney to his brogue.
One of the stories that Field delighted to tell of Florence dates back
to 1884, when Monseigneur Capel was in the United States. It related
with the circumspection of verity how Florence and the Monseigneur had
been friends for a number of years. Meeting on the street in Chicago,
the story ran, after a general conversation Florence asked Capel
whether he ever spent an evening at the theatre, intending, in case of
an affirmative reply, to invite him to one of his performances. Capel
shook his head. "No," said he, "it has been twenty-four years since I
attended a theatre, and I cannot conscientiously bring myself to
patronize a place where the devil is preached." Florence protested that
the monseigneur placed a false estimate on the theatrical profession.
"Ah, no," replied Capel, with a sad smile; "you people are sincere
enough; you don't know it, but you preach the devil all the same."
"Well, your grace," inquired Florence, with great urbanity, "which is
worse, preaching the devil from the stage without knowing it, or
preaching Christ crucified from the pulpit without believing it?"
"Both are reprehensible," replied Monseigneur Capel; and, bowing
stiffly, he went his way, while Florence shrugged his shoulders a la
his own fascinating creation of Jules Obenreizer in "No Thoroughfare,"
and walked off in the opposite direction, whistling to himself as he
Florence delighted in companionship and in the good things and good
stories of the table, whether at a noon breakfast which lasted well
through the afternoon or at the midnight supper which knew no hour for
breaking up, and he never came to Chicago that we did not accommodate
our convenience to his late hours for breakfast or supper. Nothing
short of a concealed stenographer could have done these gatherings
justice. Mr. Stone footed the bills, and Field, Florence, Edward J.
McPhelim of the Chicago Tribune, poet and dramatic critic, and three or
four others of the Daily News staff did the rest. The eating was good,
although the dishes were sometimes weird, the company was better, the
stories, anecdotes, reminiscences, songs, and flow of soul beyond
compare. Field, who ate sparingly and touched liquor not at all, unless
it was to pass a connoisseurs judgment upon some novel, strange, and
rare brand, divided the honors of the hour with the entire company.
In acknowledgment of such attentions, Florence always insisted that
before the close of his engagements we should all be his guests at a
regular Italian luncheon of spaghetti at Caproni's, down on Wabash
Avenue. It is needless to say that the spaghetti was merely the central
dish, around which revolved and was devoured every delicacy that
Florence had ever heard of in his Italian itinerary, the whole washed
down with strange wines from the same sunny land. Florence's fondness
for this sort of thing gave zest to a story Field told of his friend's
experience in London, in the summer of 1890. The epicurean actor had
made an excursion up the Thames with a select party of English clubmen.
Two days later Florence was still abed at Morley's, and, as he said,
contemplated staying there forever. Sir Morell Mackenzie was called to
see him. After sounding his lungs, listening to his heart, thumping his
chest and back, looking at his tongue, and testing his breath with
medicated paper, Sir Morell said:
"As near as I can get at it, you are a victim of misplaced confidence.
You have been training with the young bucks when you should have been
ploughing around with the old stags. You must quit it. Otherwise it
will do you up."
"Well now," said Florence, as related by Field, "that was the saddest
day of my life. Just think of shutting down on the boys, after being
one of them for sixty years! But Sir Morell told the truth. The
Garrick Club boys were terribly mad about it; they said Sir Morell was
a quack, and they adopted resolutions declaring a lack of confidence
in his medical skill. But my mind was made up. 'Billy,' says I to
myself, 'you must let up, you've made a record; it's a long one and an
honorable one. Now you must retire. Your life henceforth shall be
reminiscent and its declining years shall be hallowed by the refulgent
rays of retrospection.' To that resolution I have adhered steadily.
People tell me that I am as young as ever; but no, they can't fool me,
I know better."
[Illustration: WILLIAM J. FLORENCE.]
Whereupon, according to Field, "Joe" Jefferson broke in incredulously:
"Just to illustrate the folly of all that talk, I'll tell you what I
saw last night. When I returned to the hotel, after the play, I went
up to Billy's room and found Billy and the President of the
Philadelphia Catnip Club at supper. What do you suppose they had?
Stewed terrapin and frapped champagne!"
"That's all right enough," exclaimed Mr. Florence. "Terrapin and
champagne never hurt anybody; I have had 'em all my life. What I
maintain is that people of my age should not and cannot indulge in
extravagance of diet. The utmost simplicity must be the rule of their
life. If Joe would only eat terrapin and drink champagne he wouldn't
be grunting around with dyspepsia all the time. He lives on boiled
mutton and graham bread, and the public call him 'the reverend veteran
Joseph Jefferson.' I stick to terrapin, green turtle, canvasbacks, and
the like, and every young chap in the land slaps me on the back, calls
me Billy, and regards me as a contemporary. But I ain't; I'm getting
old--not too old, but just old enough!"
A dozen years with the boys had done for Field's digestion what the
robust Florence was dreading after sixty, and to the day of his death,
Field, from the rigid practice of his self-denial, pitied and
sympathized with the unhappy wight who had received the warning given
to Florence, "You must quit training with the boys, otherwise it will
do you up." But he had no more obeyed the warning as to coffee and pie
than Florence did as to the injunction of Sir Morell against terrapin
[Illustration: COMMODORE CRANE.
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._]
Another "Billy," William H. Crane, was one of Field's favorites, and
the one with whose name he took the greatest liberties in his column
of "Sharps and Flats." His waggish mind found no end of humor in
creating a son for Mr. Crane, who was christened after his father's
stage partner, Stuart Robson Crane. This child of Field's sardonic
fancy was gifted with all the roguish attributes that are the delight
and despair of fond parents. Scarcely a month, sometimes hardly a
week, went by that Field did not print some yarn about the sayings or
doings of the obstreperous Stuart Robson Crane. Every anecdote that he
heard he adapted to the years and supposed circumstances of "Master
Crane." The close relations which existed between Field and the
Cranes--for he included Mrs. Crane within the inner circle of his
good-fellowship--may be judged from the following tribute:
_MRS. BILLY CRANE
A woman is a blessing, be she large or be she small,
Be she wee as any midget, or as any cypress tall:
And though I'm free to say I like all women folks the best,
I think I like the little women better than the rest--
And of all the little women I'm in love with I am fain
To sing the praises of the peerless Mrs. Billy Crane.
I met this charming lady--never mind how long ago--
In that prehistoric period I was reckoned quite a beau:
You'd never think it of me if you chanced to see me now,
With my shrunken shanks and dreary eyes and deeply furrowed brow;
But I was young and chipper when I joined that brisk campaign
At Utica to storm the heart of Mrs. Billy Crane.
We called her Ella in those days, as trim a little minx
As ever fascinated man with coquetries, methinks!
I saw her home from singing-school a million times I guess,
And purred around her domicile three winters, more or less,
And brought her lozenges and things--alas: 'twas all in vain--
She was predestined to become a Mrs. Billy Crane!
That Mr. Billy came in smart and handsome, I'll aver,
Yet, with all his brains and beauty, he's not good enough for her:
Now, though I'm somewhat homely and in gumption quite a dolt,
The quality of goodness is my best and strongest holt,
And as goodness is the only human thing that doesn't wane,
I wonder she preferred to wed with Mr. Billy Crane.
Yet heaven has blessed her all these years--she's just as blithe and gay
As when the belle of Utica, and she ain't grown old a day!
Her face is just as pretty and her eyes as bright as then--
Egad! their gracious magic makes me feel a boy again,
And still I court (as still I were a callow, York State swain)
With hecatombs of lozenges that Mrs. Billy Crane!
That she has heaps of faculty her husband can't deny--
Whenever he don't toe the mark she knows the reason why:
She handles all the moneys and receipts, which as a rule
She carries around upon her arm in a famous reticule,
And Billy seldom gets a cent unless he can explain
The wherefores and etceteras to Mrs. Billy Crane!
Yet O ye gracious actors! with uppers on your feet,
And O ye bankrupt critics! athirst for things to eat--
Did you ever leave her presence all unrequited when
In an hour of inspiration you struck her for a ten?
No! never yet an applicant there was did not obtain
A solace for his misery from Mrs. Billy Crane.
Dear little Lady-Ella! (let me call you that once more,
In memory of the happy days in Utica of yore)
If I could have the ordering of blessings here below,
I might keep some small share myself, but most of 'em should go
To you--yes, riches, happiness, and health should surely rain
Upon the temporal estate of Mrs. Billy Crane!
You're coming to Chicago in a week or two and then.
In honor of that grand event, I shall blossom out again
In a brand-new suit of checkered tweed and a low-cut satin vest
I shall be the gaudiest spectacle in all the gorgeous West!
And with a splendid coach and four I'll meet you at the train--
So don't forget the reticule, dear Mrs. Billy Crane!_
And he may doubt, who never knew this master torment, that Field
carried out his threat to appear at Crane's "first night" with that
low-cut satin vest and that speckled tweed suit, which did indeed make
him a gaudy spectacle. But his solemn face gave no sign that his mixed
apparel was making him the cynosure of all curious eyes.
Mr. Crane suffered from the same digestive troubles that confined
Florence to terrapin and champagne and Field to coffee and pies, and
so the state of his health was a constant source of paragraphic
sympathy in "Sharps and Flats." In such paragraphs the actor and
President Cleveland were often represented as fellow-fishermen at
Buzzard's Bay--Crane's summer home being at Cohasset. How they were
associated is illustrated in the following casual item:
Mr. William H. Crane, the actor, is looking unusually robust this
autumn. He seems to have recovered entirely from the malady which
made life a burden to him for several years. He thought there was
something the matter with his liver. Last July he put in a good share
of his time blue-fishing with Grover Cleveland. One day they ran out
"Wonder if they'd bite at liver?" asked Crane.
"They love it," answered Cleveland.
So without further ado Crane out with his penknife, amputated his
liver, and minced it up for bait. He hasn't had a sick day since.
By way of introduction to a few words respecting the close, quizzical,
and always sincere friendship that existed between Field and Helena
Modjeska, the following invention of March 29th, 1884, may serve to
indicate the blithesome spirit with which he tortured facts when
racketting around for something to add to the bewilderment of his
readers and his own relaxation:
A letter from Mr. William H. Crane imparts some interesting gossip
touching the Cincinnati dramatic festival. It says that an agreeable
surprise awaits the patrons of the festival in an interchange of
parts between Madame Modjeska and Mr. Stuart Robson, the comedian;
that is to say, Modjeska will take Mr. Robson's place in the "Two
Dromios," and Robson will take Madame Modjeska's place in the great
emotional play of "Camille." It is well known that Modjeska has a
penchant for masculine roles, and her success as Rosalind and Viola
leaves no room for doubt that she will give great satisfaction in the
"Comedy of Errors." Mr. Robson has never liked female roles, but his
falsetto voice, his slender figure, his smooth, rosy face, and his
graceful, effeminate manners qualify him to a remarkable degree for
the impersonation of feminine characters. Moreover, his long
residence in Paris has given him a thorough appreciation and
elaborate knowledge of those characteristics, which must be
understood ere one can delineate and portray the subtleties of
Camille as they should be given. Those who anticipate a farcical
treatment of Dumas's creation at Mr. Robson's hands will be most
wofully surprised when they come to witness and hear his artistic
presentation of the most remarkable of emotional roles.
Elsewhere I have referred to the roguish pleasure Field took in
ascribing the authorship of "The Wanderer" to Helena Modjeska. That
was before he came to Chicago, and seemed to be the overture to a
friendship that continued to exchange its favors and tokens of
affection to the close of his life. The doings of the Madame and Count
Bozenta, her always vivacious and enjoyable husband, were perennial
subjects for Field's kindliest paragraphs. As he says, he was a great
theatre-goer, but Field became a constant one when "Modjesky" came to
town. Her Camille--a character in which she was not excelled by the
great Bernhardt herself--had a remarkable vogue in the early eighties.
She imparted to its impersonation the subtle charm of her own sweet
womanliness, which served to excuse Armand's infatuation and as far as
possible lifted the play out of its unwholesome atmosphere of French
immorality to the plane of romantic devotion and self-sacrifice. Her
Camille seemed a victim of remorseless destiny, a pure soul struggling
amid inexorable circumstances that racked and cajoled a diseased and
suffering body into the maelstrom of sin.
Field was so constituted that, without this saving grace of womanliness,
the presentation of Camille, with all its hectic surroundings, would
have repelled him. He did not care to see Mademoiselle Bernhardt a
second time in the role, and he fled from the powerful and fascinating
portrayal of pulmonary emotion which initiated the audiences of Clara
Morris into the terrors of tubercular disease. Night after night, when
Modjeska played Camille, Field would occupy a front seat or a box.
When so seated that his presence could not be overlooked from the
stage, he was wont to divert Camille from her woes with the by-play of
his mobile features. Wherever he sat, his large, white, solemn visage
had a fascination for Madame Modjeska, and from the time she caught
sight of it until Camille settled back lifeless in the final scene, she
played "at him." He repaid this tribute by distorting his face in agony
when Camille was light-hearted, and by breaking into noiseless
merriment as her woes were causing handkerchiefs to flutter throughout
the audience. When we went to visit her next day, as we often did, she
scarcely ever failed to reproach him in some such fashion as: "Ah,
Meester Fielt, why will you seet in the box and talk with your overcoat
on the chair to make Camille laugh who is dying on the stage? Ah,
Meester Fielt, you are a very bad man, but I lof you, don't we,
Charlie?" And the count always stopped rolling a cigarette long enough
to acknowledge that Field was their dearest friend and that they both
loved him, no matter what he did. Next to his wife, the count was
devoted to politics, which he discusses with all the warmth and
gesticulations of a Frenchman and the intelligence of a Polish-American
[Illustration: FIELD WITNESSING MODJESKA AS CAMILLE.
_From a drawing by Eugene Field._]
If there were any other visitors present, Modjeska always insisted on
Field's giving his imitation of herself in Camille, in which he
rendered her lines with exaggerated theatrical sentiment and with the
broken-English accent, such as Modjeska permitted herself in the
freedom of private life. She would give him Armand's cues for
particular speeches and his impassioned "Armo, I lof, I lof you!"
never failed to convulse her, while his pulmonary cough was so deep
and sepulchral that it rang through the hotel corridors, making other
guests think that Modjeska herself was in the last stages of a disease
she simulated unto death nightly. After Field had added colored inks
to his stock in trade, these fits of coughing were succeeded by a
handkerchief act, in which the dying Camille appeared to spit blood in
carmine splotches. No burlesque that I have seen of a play frequently
burlesqued ever approached the side-splitting absurdity of these
rehearsals for the benefit of the heroine of "Modjesky as Cameel."
_An', while Modjesky stated we wuz somewhat off our base,
I half opined she liked it by the look upon her face,
I rekollect that Hoover regretted he done wrong
In throwin' that there actor through a vista ten miles long._
When Field went to California in search of health, in the winter of
1893-94, Madame Modjeska placed her ranch, located ten miles from the
railway, half-way between San Diego and Los Angeles, at his disposal.
The ranch contained about a thousand acres, and he was given carte
blanche to treat it as his own during his stay--a privilege he would
have hastened to invite all his friends to share had his health been
equal to the opportunity to indulge in merry-making.
[Illustration: TWO PROFILES OF EUGENE FIELD.
_The upper one drawn in pencil by Field himself; the lower one by
Modjeska. Reproduced from a fly-leaf of Mrs. Thompson's volume of
At a breakfast given to Modjeska at Kinsley's, April 22d, 1886, Field
read the following poem in honor of the guest:
_TO HELENA MODJESKA
In thy sweet self, dear lady guest, we find
Juliet's dark face, Viola's gentle mien,
The dignity of Scotland's martyr'd queen--
The beauty and the wit of Rosalind.
What wonder, then, that we who mop our eyes
And sob and gush when we should criticise--
Charmed by the graces of your mien and mind--
What wonder we should hasten to proclaim
The art that has secured thy deathless fame?
And this we swear: We will endorse no name
But thine alone to old Melpomene,
Nor will revolve, since rising sons are we,
Round any orb, save, dear Modjeska, thee
Who art our Pole star, and will ever be._
As originally written by Field, the rhymes in the first four lines of
this tribute fell alternately, the lines being transposed so that they
ran in order first, third, fourth, and second of the poem as it
appears above. For the fifth and sixth lines of his first version
_What wonder, then, that we who mop our eyes
When we are hired to rail and criticise?_
It is a question the reader can decide for himself whether his second
thought was an improvement. His original intention contemplated a
longer poem, but after he had written a fourteenth line that read:
_The radiant Pole star of the mimic stage--_
Field concluded to wind it up with the fourteenth line, as in the
Upon the back of the original manuscript of these lines to Madame
Modjeska I find this Sapphic fragment under the line--suggestive of
its subject, "The Things of Life":
_A little sour, a little sweet,
Fill out our brief and human hour,
He never filled out the blank or gave a clue as to what further
reflections on the springs of life were in his mind.
I never knew Field to be as infatuated with any stage production as
with the first performance of the pirated edition of "The Mikado" in
Chicago, in the summer of 1885. The cast was indeed a memorable one,
including Roland Reed as Koko, Alice Harrison as Yum-Yum, Belle Archer
as Pitti-Sing, Frederick Archer as Pooh-Bah, George Broderick as the
Mikado, and Mrs. Broderick as Katisha. The Brodericks had rich
church-choir voices, Belle Archer was a beauty of that fresh, innocent
type that did one's eyes good simply to look upon, and she was just
emerging into a career that grew in popularity until her untimely
death. Archer was a stilted English comedian who seemed built to be
"insulted" as Pooh-Bah, while Roland Reed and Miss Harrison were two
comedians of the first rank. As a singing soubrette, daring,
versatile, and popular, Miss Harrison had no superiors in her day. The
entire company was saturated with the spirit and "go" of Gilbert, and
fairly tingled with the joyous music of Sullivan. The fact that the
production was of a pirated version, untrammelled by the oversight of
D'Oyley Carte, added zest to the performance and enlisted Field's
partisan sympathy and co-operation from the start. He enjoyed each
night's performance with all the relish of a boy eating the apples of
pleasure from a forbidden orchard. When the season came to an end, as
all good things must, Field, Ballantyne, and I went to Milwaukee to
see that our friends had a fair start there. We got back to Chicago on
the early morning milk train, and in "Sharps and Flats" the next day
Field recorded the definitive judgment that "Miss Alice Harrison, in
her performance of Yum-Yum in Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera of 'The
Mikado,' has set the standard of that interesting role, and it is a
high one. In fact, we doubt whether it will ever be approached by any
other artist on the American stage."
It never has been approached, nor has the opera, so far as my
information goes, ever been given with the same Gilbertian verve and
swing. The subsequent performance of "The Mikado" by the authorized
company, seen throughout the United States, seemed by comparison "like
water after wine."
On the operatic stage Madame Sembrich was by all odds Field's favorite
prima donna. He was one of the earliest writers on the press to
recognize the wonderful beauty of the singer's voice and the
perfection of her method. He easily distinguished between her trained
faculty and the bird-like notes of Patti, but the personality of the
former won him, where he remained unmoved when Patti's wonderful voice
rippled through the most difficult, florid music like crystal running
water over the smooth stones of a mountain brook. Field's admiration
for Sembrich often found expression in more conventional phrases, but
never in a form that better illustrated how she attracted him than in
the following amusing comment on her appearance in Chicago, January
24th, 1884, in Lucia:
It is not at all surprising that Madame Sembrich caught on so grandly
night before last. She is the most comfortable-looking prima donna
that has ever visited Chicago. She is one of your square-built,
stout-rigged little ladies with a bright, honest face and bouncing
manners. Her arms are long but shapely, and in the last act of Lucia
her luxurious black hair tumbles down and envelopes her like a
mosquito net. Her audience night before last was a coldly critical
one, of course, and it sat like a bump on a log until Sembrich made
her appearance in the mad scene, where Lucheer gives her vocal circus
in the presence of twenty-five Scotch ladies in red, white, and green
dresses, and twenty-five supposititious Scotch gentlemen in costumes
of the Court of Louis XIV. Instead of sending for a doctor to assist
Lucheer in her trouble, these fantastically attired ladies and
gentlemen stand around and look dreary while Lucheer does ground and
lofty tumbling, and executes pirouettes and trapeze performances in
the vocal art.
Then the audience began to wake up. The comfortable-looking little
prima donna gathered herself together and let loose the cyclone of
her genius and accomplishments. It was a whirlwind of appoggiaturas,
semi-quavers, accenturas, rinforzandos, moderatos, prestos, trills,
sforzandos, fortes, rallentandos, supertonics, salterellos, sonatas,
ensembles, pianissimos, staccatos, accellerandos, quasi-innocents,
cadenzas, symphones, cavatinas, arias, counter-points, fiorituras,
tonics, sub-medicants, allegrissimos, chromatics, concertos,
andantes, etudes, larghettos, adagios, and every variety of turilural
and dingus known to the minstrel art. The audience was paralyzed.
When she finally struck up high F sharp in the descending fourth of D
in alt, one gentleman from the South Side who had hired a dress-coat
for the occasion broke forth in a hearty "Brava!" This encouraged a
resident of the North Side to shout "Bravissimo," and then several
dudes from the Blue Island district raised the cry of "Bong," "Tray
beang," and "Brava!"
The applause became universal--it spread like wild-fire. The vast
audience seemed crazed with delight and enthusiasm. And it argues
volumes for the culture of our enterprising and fair city that not
one word of English was heard among the encouraging and approving
shouts that were hurled at the smiling prima donna. Even the pork
merchants and the grain dealers in the family circle vied with each
other in hoarsely wafting Italian words of cheer at the triumphant
Sembrich. French was hardly good enough, although it was utilized by
a few large manufacturers and butterine merchants who sat in the
parquet, and one man was put out by the ushers because he so far
forgot himself and the eclat of the occasion as to shout in vehement
German: "Mein Gott in himmel--das ist ver tampt goot!" It was an
ovation, but it was no more than Sembrich deserved--bless her fat
Remember, this was nearly twenty years ago. It argues much for the
saneness of Field's enthusiasm, as well as for the perfection of
Madame Sembrich's methods, that she is still able to arouse a like
enthusiasm in audiences where true dramatic instinct and high vocal
art are valued as the rarest combination on the operatic stage.
Two manuscript poems in my scrap-book testify that another songster,
early in Field's Chicago life, enjoyed his friendship and inspired his
pen along a line it was to travel many a tuneful metre. The first,
with frequent erasures and interlineations, bears date May 25th, 1894,
and was inscribed, "To Mrs. Will J. Davis." It runs as follows:
_A HUSHABY SONG
The stars are twinkling in the skies,
The earth is lost in slumber deep--
So hush, my sweet, and close your eyes
And let me lull your soul to sleep;
Compose thy dimpled hands to rest,
And like a little birdling lie
Secure within thy cosy nest
Upon my mother breast
And slumber to my lullaby;
So hushaby, oh, hushaby.
The moon is singing to the star