IN THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS OF HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY MR. MCCLURE TOLD OF HIS EARLY CHILDHOOD IN IRELAND, THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER, AND HIS VOYAGE TO AMERCIA, WHEN HE WAS NINE YEARS OLD, WITH HIS MOTHER AND YOUNGER BROTHERS; OF THE FAMILY'S STRUGGLE FOR A LIVELIHOOD IN THE NEW COUNTRY; AND OF HIS OWN EFFORTS TO GET AN EDUCATION. WHEN HE WAS SEVENTEEN HE WENT TO KNOX COLLEGE, IN ILLINOIS, AND ENTERED THE PREPARATORY COURSE. HE HAD NO MONEY, BUT HE BELIEVED THAT HE WOULD BE ABLE TO WORK HIS WAY THROUGH THE SEVEN YEARS OF PREPARATORY AND UNDERGRADUATE WORK.
I GOT through the winter of my freshman year at Knox College without serious privations. One reason for this was that I paid more attention to my way of living than I had the winter before. I was not much distracted, and became more systematic in my way of providing for myself. I did not earn much more money than I had the winter before, but I made good use of what I got. I lived in a room in the Bricks, and prepared my own food, as before; and that winter I bought soft coal at three dollars a ton, and had heat the winter through. This also enabled me to have hot food, which was a great advantage.
I became a fairly good cook that winter, and I learned the last word in cheap living. I got sixteen bread tickets for a dollar, and each ticket was good for one loaf of fresh bread or two loaves of stale bread. As I usually bought stale bread, I got thirty-two ten-cent loaves for a dollar; this was getting a value for my money that it would be hard to beat. I used to go to the butcher shop and get for nothing the ribs and other bones that the butcher had cut out of the meat and thrown under the counter. These, boiled in water, with a little beef tallow, made a soup that was palatable, if not very nourishing.
Potatoes I bought for twenty-five cents a bushel. After giving them a rough wash, I used to slice them very thin and fry them in hot tallow. I believe the best hotels now follow that method, frying potatoes raw instead of boiling them first. Sometimes my food did not cost me more than eighteen cents a week. Then, again, I would get reckless, and would live high, spending as much as seventy-four cents a week.
I came out at the end of my freshman year in good spirits and in fairly good condition, and began to look about me for some way of making money during the summer. In most occupations, except farming, fewer hands were needed in summer than in winter. Farmhands were paid only twenty dollars a month then, and the work was heavy for a boy of slight build who had never been overly well nourished. Besides, to get worked down during the summer, and come back to college in the fall thin and tired, a I had been when I entered the Valparaiso High School, seemed bad economy. My desire to find a new kind of work plunged me into a series of adventures and experiences that were all wholly unexpected and unforeseen; one thing simply lead to another.
The story of that summer's adventures begins with Mr. Bangs, the man who took care of me the year before, when I had absent-mindedly starved myself weak.
Mr. Bangs had the misfortune to seem funny to every boy in school. He was a small, neat little man, somewhere between fifty and sixty, with very correct manners and a very exact way of speaking. His wife was principal of the Girl's Seminary, and he lived there because his wife did. He had no position, no salary, and, though he used to help his wife, whatever he did was regarded as officious, for he had no right to do anything. He attended to the kitchen and dining-room for his wife. In the dining-room of the Seminary some of the students were boarded, boys as well as girls. At certain seasons of the year he used to give the students rhubarb sauce every day for weeks together. That was thought to be just like Bangs, and I remember that one night the boys covered the front steps of the Seminary with pie-plant leaves. Mr. Bangs invented a coffee-pot, that, too, seemed in character.
While I was staying at the Seminary when I was ill, I had got to think better of Mr. Bangs. As my freshman vacation approached, it occurred to me that it would be a good thing to travel about the country and sell Mr. Bangs' coffee-pot. My brother John was then in Galesburg, attending the preparatory school, and I decided to take him with me on this venture. He was staying with Professor Willard, and I remember that the Willards expressed their displeasure that my younger brother had been drawn into my restless and disintegrating orbit.
About the middle of June, John and I set off, headed toward Chicago. The coffee-pot was a very simple affair, so constructed that the coffee could be kept or boiled any length of time without losing its aroma. We carried with us a sample pot, with which we demonstrated. We took orders and then had the coffee-pots made up at the nearest hardware shop. I had a little metal die with which I hammered on each the word "Patented" before delivering them.
We sold a few coffee-pots between Galesburg and Chicago, and a few more in Valparaiso, where I was known, but on the whole the thing did not go very well. This was disappointing, as I had expected to make a great deal of money. We went from Valparaiso to Michigan City, Indiana, on the south shore of Lake Michigan in a very sandy country. The sand drifted like snow through the streets of the town, and this sand tract extended for some miles inland. Here the coffee-pot did not go at all.
In demonstrating the merits of Mr. Bangs' invention, however, I had learned to make excellent coffee. John and I took one of the town boys into partnership and opened a restaurant in an empty store building. I made the coffee, and the new boy's mother cooked a roast of beef for us. We sold a roast-beef sandwich and a cup of coffee for eight cents, and we called ourselves the "Enterprise Restaurant." View Image of Page 98 The only trouble was that nobody wanted to buy sandwiches. In a town of about five thousand people everbody lived at home and went home for three meals a day. We ate more sandwiches than we sold, by a good many. After several dull days we had left just thirty-nine cents and our sample coffee-pot, and we felt that it was time to get out.
Where to go, was the next question. We had three uncles living in Tecumseh, Michigan—three of father's brothers who had come over from Ireland and established themselves there in the lumber district. We decided that we had better try to get to them and get work of some sort. But Tecumseh was about a hundred and fifty miles away, and thirty-nine cents would not take two boys very far on the railroad.
Finally we got on the train for New Buffalo, Michigan, eleven miles away. I have not the slightest idea what we expected to do there. We hade not enough money to pay our fare, but we promised the conductor that if he would carry us through, we would make some money and pay him the rest of our fare. I suppose we must have been honest-looking boys, for he took us on through. He seemed surprised, however, when we afterward gave him the money.
We arrived at New Buffalo without a copper. It was a warm summer night, and we alternately sat on the board sidewalk, and walked up and down, talking to the night watchman, until morning. When it began to grow light we felt pretty hungry, so we struck off into the country to a near-by farm-house. Nobody was up there, so we went into the stable, cleaned it out, and began to split wood at the woodpile. When the farmer came out, we showed him what we had done and asked if he could give us some breakfast. He told us to come into the house and sit down until breakfast was ready.
On the sitting-room table were some books, among them a copy of Virgil. I sat down and began to read. When the farmer came in, he asked me why that book interested me, and I told him that I was a student at Knox College. He was very cordial, and said that he was a Knox College man himself. After breakfast he bought our sample coffee-pot for one dollar, and we went back to town.
In town we saw two men selling lamp-wicks and pins and cheap hosiery and handker- View Image of Page 99 chiefs on the street. We bought a dollar's worth of their stock, and went about selling it from house to house until we had sold it for two dollars. Then we went back to the men and bought two dollars' worth of notions. This time they gave us the address of a firm in Chicago that made a business of supplying peddlers. We ordered five dollars' worth of goods to be sent us C. O. D., paid for them, and sold them.
As we went on and were more successful, we grew more ambitious and our orders were larger. In theory, we were still heading for Tecumseh, to reach our uncles; but now that we had found this new and diverting occupation, we were not in any pressing hurry to get there.
For boys there is always a fascination about selling things. Then, there was an element of chance about peddling that was very attractive. Every house we stopped at was a new adventure. It was very exciting to see how much we could sell.
When I was a little boy on the farm, I had always envied the peddlers who came along. Their life had seemed to me a free and easy one,—always going on to some new place,—and the goods they lifted out of their packs had always seemed more interesting and tempting than the goods one saw in the stores. It seemed a little as if the goods themselves might have had adventures.
When we reached Elkhart, Indiana, we found a package of twenty dollars' worth of goods waiting for us at the express office. When we had paid for them we had exactly one cent left. We traded off some of our goods for a night's lodging and breakfast, and left Elkhart at six o'clock the next morning with our packs on our backs. We were in great good View Image of Page 100spirits, and as we crossed the bridge over the St. Joseph River, going out of town, we flipped our remaining penny into the river for luck.
Our packs were pretty heavy that day,—twenty dollars' worth of small notions made a considerable bulk,—and we walked all day long, covering twenty-four miles and selling at most of the places where we stopped. By nightfall we reached the town of White Pigeon, pretty well done out. There we traded for our supper and looked about for a place to sleep. We had money now, of course, but it was our rule never to spend actual money when we could avoid it.
We usually got away from small towns at night and slept at farm-houses; for the country people were more ready to take socks and handkerchiefs and note-paper in exchange for a night's lodging than the town people were. But that night it seemed pretty late to start off into the country, so we thought we would go down to the depot and see if we could catch a ride out of town on a freight. We had had enough walking for that day, and we wanted to try some other method of getting over the country.
When we got to the depot, there stood a train all ready for us, made up, with the engine attached. We selected a clean empty box-car that had been used for carrying lumber, and settled ourselves on the clean strips of bark that littered the floor, chuckling over our good luck. But presently, when the train started, my heart sank. We did not pull out with the proper energy; the engine puffed lazily, not as if she were getting down to business. My misgivings were not mistaken. The engine backed us out on a side-track, left us, and went puffing back.
There was nothing for it but to try a farm-house; so we struck off into the country. But it was getting late by this time—late for country people, anyhow—and we found all the houses dark. The farmers and their families were in bed. I wanted to pound on the door and waken somebody, but John was opposed to this. He begged me to try a haystack instead. We had slept in haystacks before and found them comfortable. We took to the fields, but we found the haystacks as inhospitable as the farm-houses. Every stack in that part of the country, apparently, was on stilts, built up to or three feet from the ground.
By this time we were so tired that our resourcefulness failed us; we had no power of invention left. We did the most obvious thing, which was to walk on all night. When we got into a little town next morning, we had been walking for twenty-four hours at a stretch, carrying our heavy packs, and had covered more than forty miles, not counting deflections from our course. That night we walked like the mechanical toys that are wound up with a key and sold on street corners, stiff-kneed, letting our bodies hang on our skeletons like clothes on a clothes-horse.
That was the most complete experience of bodily fatigue I have ever known. Years afterward I asked Stevenson how he knew so well the feelings of extreme fatigue which he describes in his hero in "Kidnapped." He laughed and said he had been through all that himself.
I have forgotten the name of the town, but we found a temperance hotel there, took a room, and went to bed at about six o'clock in the morning. We tumbled in pretty much any way, not even taking the trouble to open the windows or close the blinds. The room had probably not been aired for weeks. At ten o'clock we were awakened by the intolerable heat and closeness of the room. The sun was blazing in at the windows and shining in our faces. We were both very lame and dusty, our feet were terribly sore, and we had not had much of a rest, after all.
It was impossible to go to sleep again, so I got up and washed, and thought I would see if there was any business to be done in that town. My feet were so sore that I walked carefully and did not make much speed. I carried my big valise the whole length of the longest street in the town, and the only sale I was able to make was to a negro family among the poor scattered houses at the far end of the street. There I sold ten cents' worth. Staying in town always meant expense, so, tired though we were, that afternoon we tramped out into the country.
That penny we threw into the river for luck must have hit the water wrong, for things kept on going badly. We pushed ahead all that afternoon, but at nightfall we were not able to make our usual comfortable arrangement of getting supper and a bed in exchange for some of our goods. On the contrary, we stuck a very disagreeable farmer who made us pay twenty-five cents for a bed, and sleep two in a bed, at that. That was almost unheard of with us, to pay out real money for a bed—and in the country, too, where we had always been able to get along so easily.View Image of Page 101
The only time I ever resembled a financier was when I was a peddler; then I hated to part with real money just as much as a financier does. Ordinarily, fifty cents' worth of goods would support one for twenty-four hours, that is, would give one a lodging and three meals. I seldom had to pay our currency, but lived on my pack as the camel does upon its hump
On good days, when one made plenty of sales, peddling was very agreeable work indeed; one did not get tired or notice the distance one covered. There was something exciting about it. People in little towns and in the country were usually friendly and glad to see a couple of peddler boys come along; we created a distraction. But on bad days, when sales were poor, peddling was very discouraging work. The big black oilcloth valises in which we carried our goods grew very heavy, the roads seemed dusty and hot, and the houses far apart. The morning after we left the house of the disagreeable farmer, we had one of these bad days. We tramped on to Coldwater, Michigan. Accumulated discouragements told on John, and at Coldwater that day he struck, and said he wouldn't peddle another day, another mile—that a peddler's life was not the life for him.
After John announced his resolution, we took the train to Tecumseh, Michigan, where our three uncles were living. Two of them owned a sawmill, and worked at my father's trade, carpentering; the other ran a grocery store. He hired me, and I worked in his store all summer as a clerk. I didn't like it half so well as peddling. Whenever I think of that store, I think of darkness and confinement, of being shut in a narrow, dusky room while there was sunlight outside. I plunged into that store every day as if I were going into prison.
While I was working in the store, my grandfather McClure died in Ireland, leaving all the grandchildren who were named after him (of whom I was one) ten pounds apiece. This helped me out of my immediate difficulties, and I went back to Valparaiso to see my mother, who had secured a country school for me a few miles north of Valparaiso.
She was bent upon my taking that school, and I had to admit that my peddling had not got me much ahead in funds for the winter's work at college. So that winter I stayed away from Knox and dropped behind a year. The school I taught was near my old friends; the work was pleasant of its kind, I suppose; and the people were certainly very kind. But there I registered my third and last failure at teaching a country school clear through to the end of the term. I stuck it out until spring. But I could never keep at any job in the spring; so, when the first mild days came, I bolted. I forget what excuse I made, or whether I made any; but I got me a pack and was off on the road again.
It distressed my mother to see how tired and footsore I would return from these peddling tramps, so she bought me a wagon with an oilcloth top, like a grocer's delivery wagon, and a little brown horse. This was a great improvement over peddling on foot. I set off on a long trip with a considerable stock of goods. I particularly liked my little mare. She was great company on a long drive, a most companionable and willing and amiable little beast. After a time I came to a town where Scott, one of my old room-mates at Knox, lived. He asked me to drive round to his house, and introduced me to his people. They all came out and looked my outfit over, remarking that it was a pity that my horse had a contraction on the hoofs that would soon make her useless for the road. I was naturally concerned about this. They said they had a white horse, much larger and stronger than mine, that would serve my purpose much better, and they soon persuaded me to trade. I drove out of town the next day with this big white horse, which was much older than my mare, and of no class. I had not drive very far out of town before it occurred to me that, in persuading me to trade, my friends had not altogether had my interests at heart. I never liked that white horse, and was always a little ashamed of him, besides regretting my brown mare.
It was early in May, 1879, when I left Valparaiso, Indiana, and started off across Illinois, headed for Galesburg. My direction was determined by a rumor that had reached me, to the effect that Miss Hurd either had returned or was to return to Galesburg. It had been two years since I had either seen her or heard from her. If I had been very hopeful of an interview with her, there would have been ways of getting there, certainly. But, in a way, youth is always hopeful, and I naturally went in that direction.
When I started for Galesburg, I took my brother Tom with me part of the way. Business was good, and I usually made from two to two and a half dollars above our expenses.View Image of Page 102
The distance from Valparaiso to Galesburg, by wagon road, is something over two hundred miles. I reached Galesburg in the latter part of May, having been about two weeks on the way. I went almost at once to Professor Hurd's house, for as soon as I reached town I had assured myself that Miss Hurd had really returned to Galesburg. Mrs. Hurd, Harriet's mother, met me at the door, and told me that Harriet was at home but did not wish to see me again. This seemed final enough. I went away, and sent back to Miss Hurd the photograph of herself she had given me, and some other little keepsakes. She sent back my remembrances in like manner.
Since I could not see Miss Hurd, there was not much point in staying in Galesburg any longer. I started back across Illinois again, toward Valparaiso. I have always remembered that trip for its singular beauty. It was in haying season, and I had glorious moonlight most of the way across the State. The weather was perfect haying weather, mild and warm, with no rain at all. I slept out of doors every night of the way. The hay had not been stacked yet, and was drying in little cocks which dotted the fields. I used to take a few armfuls of this fresh hay, carry it to the edge of the field near the road, spread my quilts upon it, and go to sleep beside the wagon, with the horse picketed near by. It was, of course, a rolling prairie country, with soft dirt roads and rail fences—wire fences had not then come into use—and numerous walnut and hickory groves. I usually ate out of doors, too. I used often to buy a good steak in town, some potatoes, and canned peaches, perhaps, and then stop and build a fire in a grove and cook my steak on a green stick. I afterward recounted those peddling experiences very fully to Stevenson, and he attributed some of them to Jim Pinkerton in "The Wrecker."
That summer I crossed Illinois three times in my wagon. Soon after I returned to Valparaiso after my first round trip, I started back toward Galesburg again, and this time I took my mother with me. I had friends all along the road by this time, and they received my mother and me with the greatest friendliness and entertained us like visitors. My mother always had the spare room and the best the house afforded. We always spent the night at a farm-house or in a village, but our dinner we usually cooked and ate in the open, in some attractive spot along the road. My mother had a roving disposition like my own, and she enjoyed that trip immensely. She was pleased by the cordiality of the people along the way.
When we got to Galesburg, I remained there and went on with my work at Knox College. That sophomore year was easier in every way than the preceding ones had been, and, like happy nations, it had no history. Whenever View Image of Page 103 I ran short of funds, I shouldered my pack and went away into the country for a few days, and returned with money enough to go on for a while. I had at last found a vocation exactly suited to my nature and to my needs, that could be taken up and dropped again at will: a means of making money that was easy, pleasant, nomadic, and especially adapted to broken time.
Before my sophomore year was over, a manual on shorthand came into my possession, and I decided to learn shorthand. As soon as the term closed, I went to Chicago and entered a business college where shorthand was taught. There were two shorthand systems in vogue then, the Munson system and that devised by Ben Pitman. I lived in a boarding-house on Michigan Avenue, and, either at the boarding-house or at the business college, I met a young fellow, about my own age, who had been in the Pinkerton detective service, but who was now studying shorthand. We became good friends, and I soon infected him with the peddling fever. I was hungering for the open fields again, and I persuaded him that we could take a stock of goods out into the country, sell enough to supply our immediate necessities, and teach each other shorthand as we wandered along. He agreed that this would be much better than a hot summer in Chicago. I had money enough to buy a stock,—he may have put in some money, too; I do not remember,—and we set off on the road again.
I remember that summer as one of the happiest of my life; a green summer, with delightful companionship and no cares. We peddled only incidentally. Our main business was practicing shorthand.
We spent about six weeks wandering through a most beautiful country—the northern part of Indiana, immediately south of Lake Michigan. We lived in the open, in the woods and groves, near the little towns in which we peddled and traded and bought our food. When we tired of one neighborhood, we would board a convenient freight-care and go on. We used to lie on the grass in a good green wood all day long, giving each other diction.
I have even forgotten my comrade's name, but I have often wished that I could hear from him again. If he should chance to read this narrative, I hope he will make himself known to me. I don't think he ever told me anything about his past life or about his family. He was very uncommunicative, and yet perfectly frank and open. I think he must have made a good detective. I do remember distinctly that, in that whole summer that we spent together, there was no friction or misunderstanding of any kind. He had none of the petty selfishness that spoils everything when two people travel together. He never grumbled at anything, or wished that we had done something different. He took good and bad luck with the same equanimity. He had a curious easiness of mind and body, was exceptionally well poised View Image of Page 104 and well muscled, and an expert boxer. We frequently went into saloons of a Saturday night to sell goods, often in the mining regions where there was a rough crowd assembled, but nobody ever took any liberties with that young fellow. He was the sort of boy who could elbow his way through a quarrelsome crowd without giving offense and without losing his coolness. I have no recollection of where or how we parted. Boys take such friendships lightly.
The next summer I had an equally delightful companion in Albert Brady; but that was a friendship which was to last and to be of great importance to both of us. Albert later assisted Mr. Phillips and me in founding McClure's Magazine, and became Advertising Manager. He was associated with me in that capacity until his death in Rome in 1900.
I well remember Albert as he looked when he first came to Knox, in my sophomore year. He was a slim youth, with dark eyes and a thoughtful, candid expression. I think he must have grown several inches during his first year at college; indeed, it seems to me that he grew that much within a month or two. His trousers were always too short for him that first year. Our friendship grew our of our mutual interest in mathematics. Albert used to come to my room, and we would often work all night over a problem. There were then certain historical "test problems" that were given out to the classes year after year, and upon which we were all expected to fail. Once Albert and I worked at such a problem for eighteen hours at a sitting—from six o'clock Saturday night until Sunday afternoon.
Albert lived at a good boarding-house, and his mother used to send him boxes of supplies which were very useful. I remember that I once ate a whole roast chicken in his room. He came to room with me before the year was over, and we roomed together most of the time during my last three years in college. Albert, too, was a fellow who could accept any little miscarriage of one's plans without any squealing. During the first winter that we roomed together he got a heavy cold and was confined to his bed for several days. I decided that what he needed was an outing—and I knew I needed one. We each took a valise full of goods and went down to the C., B. & Q. station, found a brakeman whom we knew, and arranged to beat our way on a freight train to a crossing where the Rock Island tracks ran under those of the Q.
It was a very cold winter night. We first got into a car of shelled corn. I thought this was lucky enough. I had ridden in cars of shelled corn and oats in summer, and had always found them reservoirs of heat; so I thought we would have a very comfortable passage. But we found the corn almost as cold as pulverized ice. It extracted the heat from our bodies in place of giving us heat. As soon as we could, we changed for an open cattle-car. As Albert had got thoroughly chilled, I took off his shoes and rubbed his feet, working over him for some time. When we reached the crossing, we got out and waited for the train coming along the Rock Island tracks. Early in the morning we arrived in La Salle. Albert spent the day in bed, and I crossed over the river to a little settlement I had often visited, and spent the day peddling. I sold five dollars' worth. The next day was Sunday, and we visited the family of one of our classmates. Sunday night we returned to Galesburg in the same way we View Image of Page 105 had left it. Albert was, on the whole, a good deal better than when we set out, and I had made some money.
Albert Brady and I spent the summer of our junior year traveling around the Great Lakes, selling microscopes. It came about quite by chance. One spring day I was walking down a street in Galesburg, when I saw a man on the street corner selling small microscopes for a dollar apiece. I went up to him, and got into conversation with him. I asked him what the microscopes cost him wholesale, and he told me three dollars a dozen. This seemed to offer opportunities. I talked it over with Albert, and he agreed to go in with me. When the term was over, we went to his home in Davenport, Iowan, from which point we were to set out. Albert's father published a newspaper in Davenport, and he got Albert a pass to St. Paul. I got a deck passage on a Mississippi steamer, the Gem City, and spent two nights lying across three deckchairs. I had put all my money into microscopes, so I subsisted on a bag of crackers I had brought along. Albert and I met unexpectedly in the corridor of a hotel in St. Paul. The next day Albert went to Minneapolis to sell his microscopes, while I remained in St. Paul to sell mine. I also worked in Stillwater, where I one day sold ten dollars' worth.
Our methods of selling were simple. We got a store box, stood it on end on a street corner, spread out our magnifying-glasses, and waited for bites. If any one came up and glanced curiously at our stock, we invited him to take a look. We kept a few bits of quartz which looked very pretty under the glass, some insect wings, flowers, etc. By letting a weed or a flower remain in a glass of water for a day or two we could produce a mass of amoeba, which our customers used to examine under the glass with great interest. I remember that a great many of them used to say that those little animals were the life of the water—that if they were not there human beings would not get any nourishment from the water they drank.
After we got tired of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Albert and I moved on to Brainerd and Duluth. In these places the authorities demanded a license sufficiently large to prevent any possibility of making a profit. Our chief problem, therefore, was to evade this license. In Duluth we rented a vacant lot for fifty cents, set up our dry-goods box, and began to sell goods. A policeman came along and asked to see our license; but we explained to him that we were selling goods on our own rented property, and if were subject to taxation we were ready to pay it at the end of the year. He took us before the city authorities; but they found our position unassailable and did not interfere with us further. A few days later we went on to Cleveland by steamer, and from there worked our way westward again to Michigan City, Chicago, Davenport, and Galesburg. View Image of Page 106 When we got back to college, we had traveled upward of three thousand miles, had made a little money, and were better friends than ever. Then we began upon our senior work at Knox.
Besides building up my health and enabling me to go to school, the peddling experiences of those three summers had given me a very close acquaintance with the people of the small towns and the farming communities, the people who afterward bought McClure's Magazine. I had stayed all night at the homes of many of these people, and had heard all about their own business affairs. In many of the little towns I was known by name in every house in the town. I had found out that, for the most part, all these people were interested in exactly the same things, or the same kind of thing, that interested me. Years later, when I came to edit a popular magazine, I could never believe in that distinction made by some editors that "this or that was very good, but it wouldn't interest the people of the Middle West, or the people in the little towns." My experience had taught me that the people in the little towns were interested in whatever was interesting—that they were just like the people in New York or Boston. I felt myself to be a fairly representative Middle-Westerner. I bought and printed what interested me, and it usually seemed to interest the other Middle-Westerners.
By losing a year at Knox the winter I stayed out to teach school, I graduated with the class of '82, and I have always considered this fortunate. The class of '82 left a mark in Knox College, a reputation for mental initiative and intellectual turbulence. The boys of that class were somewhat difficult to manage because they were so active, adopted ideas, and took sides very vehemently. The boys were not the kind of fellows who express themselves in practical jokes and gaucheries, such as putting a cow in the chapel. When they made a disturbance, it was always because of some new idea they had got hold of, or that had got hold of them.
We were not a lawless class, but we did not accept traditions. We departed from some of the established customs. We went at things fresh, and did not do certain things simply because other seniors had done them. Like the Athenians, we were always discussing. Some of the professors have told me since that there never was such a class for talking, and that whenever they opened a window they could hear some of us arguing on the campus. Among the boys of this class were some very strong personalities, notably Robert Mather, John Phillips, and Albert Brady. These boys were all singularly mature for their age, forceful and well balanced even as lads.
John S. Phillips, who afterward assisted me to found McClure's Magazine, and who is now editor of the American Magazine, was a Galesburg boy, and had entered Knox College the year I was out teaching school. He was recognizing as a boy of unusual ability. Phillips and Brady and I generally worked together in class fights and college affairs.
Robert Mather later became president of the Rock Island Railway Company, and at the time of his death in the fall of 1911 he was chairman of the Westinghouse Electrical Companies. At the time he attended Knox College, his father was working in the Q. shops in Galesburg as a mechanic. Robert worked there in a clerical capacity and made his own expenses. He was a firm, cool-headed boy, who always seemed to know exactly where he was going and what he was going to do. He struck one at once as mature and resourceful, and thoroughly the master of himself. There was plenty of fun in him, and he was companionable. He took an active part in college politics, and felt very strongly about student matters that he had become interested in. Mather thought he had been unfairly treated in an essay contest in his sophomore year, and the vigor with which he retaliated resulted in a class fight such as had never been seen at Knox before, and involved the whole college.
One of the results of this fight was that, early in their senior year, Mather and his faction secured control of the Knox College Student. The paper had never belonged to any one; the editors were not regularly elected, but the senior class usually conducted the paper in some informal manner. This time, however, Mather and his supporters had not consulted the rest of the class at all, but had simply taken possession. Very soon after they got control, the office of the paper was entered one night and the subscription list and the books were removed. To this day I do not know who took them, nor did I at the time imagine that it had been done for our benefit. But the books soon came into our hands, and Albert Brady, John Phillips, a classmate named Evans, and I took hold of the Knox Student and had it legally incorporated in Springfield.
There were twenty-six of us in the group that opposed Mather, and we each held two shares of stock in the paper. I was made Editor in Chief, Phillips Literary Editor, and Albert Brady Business Manager. Albert at once hadView Image of Page 107 some contract blanks printed, and went around to the business men of Galesburg and got them to sign up for a year's advertising. Meanwhile, because of our high-handedness, public sympathy in the college had swung the other way, and when Mather came out with a new publication, the Coup d'État, the lower classmen were all with him, and his new paper really was more representative of the student body than was the Knox Student. When Mather's people went about to get advertising for the new paper, however, they found that all the merchants had signed contracts with us and they refused to give out any more advertising to college publications.
We put out a very good college paper. John Phillips was easily the best read student in the college, a boy with a great natural aptitude for letters; and Albert Brady showed then the same unusual business ability that he afterward showed as Business Manager of McClure's Magazine. It was curious how, after we left college, the three of us held together. It does not often happen that three boys, united in a college enterprise, keep in touch with one another and a few years after their graduation form a business partnership that lasts through a large part of their lives. Robert Mather, too, during the latter years of his life was associated with our enterprises, and at the time of his death was vice-president of the board of directors of the S. S. McClure Company.
In editing the Knox Student I followed exactly the same principles of editing that I afterward followed in editing McClure's Magazine. Whatever I know about editing I knew in the beginning. We had, after the manner of college papers, a long staff of contributing editors, an Exchange Editor, a Society Editor, etc. I remember that at first some of them were very indignant at the way in which I cut and modified their copy. There was especial indignation because I cut all such items as: "Charley Brown was seen walking across the campus with a vision in white last Friday afternoon. What about it, Charley?" Phillips and I had undertaken to make the paper lively and interesting, and we didn't consider this form of humor either one or the other.
I had never in any way distinguished myself in my English classes, and some of our contributors who had written prize essays were naturally indignant at the liberties I took in cutting and condensing their copy. Some of the disgruntled boys had a meetings of the stockholders called, at which they intended to make a motion to depose me. They introduced some minor motion first to test the strength of their following, and when Albert Brady got up and announced that he had been empowered to vote twenty-six proxies, the meeting went no further.
In looking over the exchanges from other colleges, one day, it occurred to me that it would be a good thing to write a history of the college papers of Western colleges. I talked this over with Mr. Phillips, and he seemed to think it would be interesting. I suppose we were somewhat influenced by a desire to set forth modestly our own triumphs in college journalism. I corresponded with a number of colleges, and got up and printed a pamphlet which I called "The History of Western College Journalism." After the book was written, I went to the public library and looked over the advertising in all the big magazines. I made a note of such houses as I thought might advertise with profit in college publications, wrote to them, and got advertising enough to make a small sum of money on my pamphlet. This was the first touch of any kind that I had ever had with the advertising department of big business concerns. One of these advertisements, the one I secured from the Pope Manufacturing Company, was to have a very important influence on my future.
On September 15 of my senior year I saw Harriet Hurd for the first time in nearly five years. I was walking through the public park adjoining the college campus, when I saw her walking some distance ahead of me. I overtook her and after some hesitation spoke to her, saying that I was afraid that she was under some misapprehension about me. She turned View Image of Page 108 in a pleasant, friendly way, as if she had seen me only the day before, and said that she did not feel that there was any misunderstanding, and that she felt that things had never changed between us. I talked with her for a moment then, and arranged to see her that evening. I called accordingly, and I remember that evening as distinctly the happiest of my life. We met again as if we had not been separated for nearly five years, with complete sympathy and understanding. I stayed until the cuckoo clock chirped ten—which was the latest hour that any boy could, on any pretext, stay in Professor Hurd's house.
After that I saw Miss Hurd nearly every day until she left Galesburg in March. Her father was anxious to have her go away, chiefly because I was there. She had an opportunity to teach in the University of Nebraska, at Lincoln, and another position was offered her at the Abbot Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. Professor Hurd thought it would be too easy for a young man just out of college to locate in Lincoln, but that in Andover a boy from the West would have a pretty hard time to get along; so he insisted that Harriet should go to Andover. After she went to Andover in the spring, Miss Hurd and I corresponded, and she gave me permission to visit her in the summer, when she would be staying with friends near Utica, New York.
My commencement oration was on "Enthusiasm," and it lasted exactly five minutes. It stated about as much as I have ever had to say on that subject: that the men who start the great new movements in the world are enthusiasts whose eyes are fixed upon the end they wish to bring about—that to them the future becomes the present. It was when they believed in what seemed impossible that the Abolitionists did most good, that they created the sentiment which finally did accomplish the impossible. The enthusiast, I argued, must always be considered impractical, because he ignores those difficulties of execution which make most men conservative; and his impracticality is his strength. It is not the critical, judicial type of mind, but the Garibaldi type of mind, that generates the great popular ideas by which humanity rights itself.
When I wrote my oration I had a clear picture in mind, though I did not use this figure at all in the oration. It was that of a man out in the open on a dark night, and before him, on a hilltop, a light shining. Between this man and that light there were woods and brambles and sloughs and marshes and deep rivers. But the man who so unconscious of all this that it seemed to him he could already put out his hand and touch the light. This kind of man, I felt, would in some fashion get what he started out for.
My graduation was one of the greatest disappointments I have ever been through. I had done well enough in my studies, and graduated third in a class of thirty—Mather was first and Nils Anderson, a Swede, second. But I had expected to be a very different fellow when I got through college from the fellow I had always been. When I found that I was still just the same boy, a feeling of discouragement weighed me down. I had looked forward for eight years to graduating, and I had always thought that when I graduated I would be tall, that I would know a great deal, and that I would have all the plans made for my life. Here I was, no taller, no wiser, and with no plans at all. The future was an absolute blank ahead of me. I could not see a step in advance. I talked with other boys, and found that most of them had arranged for the immediate future. One classmate was going into his father's law office; another was going to enter his uncle's store; several were going to teach in high schools or small colleges, etc. As I talked things over with them, it occurred to me that they were tying themselves up pretty early, and that, though it was uncomfortable not to have any plans, I did not want to tie myself up, as they were doing. I figured that when so many boys from so many colleges were going into regular lines of work that year, there might be room for one irregular—that it couldn't hurt anybody but myself if I took a plunge into space.
In the week of my commencement Miss Hurd's letters ceased coming. I wrote repeatedly, but could not get a reply from her. She had been, when I last heard from her, with her friends near Utica. There was evidently some misunderstanding. I waited about Galesburg for several days after commencement, but no letter came from Miss Hurd. One night, when John Phillips and I were sitting on the steps of the High School building, I talked the situations over with him, and he agreed with me that I had better go East and find out what was the trouble.
The next day I packed my valise. Besides my clothes, I put in a small stock of notions. Peddling had become second nature to me by this time. I still had some of the money I had made on my "History of Western College Journalism," but that would not last long, and I thought that if I failed to find work in the East I could fall back on my pack temporarily.