IN THE FIRST SIX CHAPTERS OF HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY MR. MCCLURE TOLD OF HIS EARLY CHILDHOOD IN IRELAND, THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER, AND HIS VOYAGE TO AMERICA, 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 GALESBURG, ILLINOIS, AND WORKED HIS WAY THROUGH KNOX COLLEGE. AFTER HIS GRADUATION HE CAME EAST AND ENGAGED IN MAGAZINE WORK. HE MARRIED, AND NOT LONG AFTERWARD LAUNCHED HIS NEWSPAPER SYNDICATE. AMONG THE YOUNG WRITERS WHO HELPED TO ESTABLISH THE SUCCESS OF THIS NEW ENTERPRISE WERE ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, CONAN DOYLE, RIDER HAGGARD, AND RUDYARD KIPLING
It was about eight years after I had founded my newspaper syndicate business that I first began seriously to consider founding a magazine. The originators of the cheap magazine in the English-speaking world were, I should say, the late Sir George Newnes, editor of the Strand and Country Life, and William T. Stead, whose great career was ended by the Titanic disaster. The success of Newnes' magazines and Stead's Review of Reviews, and the success of the Ladies' Home Journal at ten cents in this country, made me think that a cheap popular magazine would be possible in the United States.
The development of photo-engraving made such a publication then more possible. The impregnability of the older magazines, such as the Century and Harper's, was largely due to the costliness of wood-engraving. Only an established publication with a large working capital could afford illustrations made by that process. The Century Magazine used, when I was working for it, to spend something like five thousand dollars a month on its engraving alone. Not only was the new process vastly cheaper in itself, but it enabled a publisher to make pictures directly from photographs, which were cheap, instead of from drawings, which were expensive.
Early in 1892 Mr. Phillips and I began to plan actively to launch a new fifteen-cent monthly. The name of the new publication bothered me not a little. I thought of calling it the New Magazine, the Galaxy, or Elysium. Finally Edmund Gosse said: "Why not call it McClure's Magazine?" That was the name we decided upon.
Our entire capital at that time was $7300, and of this Mr. Phillips had put in $4500. So, after eight years of the hardest kind of work in the syndicate business, I was only $2800 ahead. I had begun to see that there was not much further growth to be hoped for in the syndicate. We had important rivals by this time, and they cut down our profits. The only practical expansion was in the direction of a magazine. In spite of our small capital, I thought I could make a magazine go. In place of capital, we had a great fund of material to draw from. The magazine at first was to be made entirely of reprints of the most successful stories and articles that had been used in the syndicate. We had then about two thousand short stories in the safe to draw from, and I meant to reprint only the best of them. It was clear to me that for the first year or two the staff of the new magazine would have to live on the profits of the syndicate. If we paid the salaries out of the returns from the syndicate, and cut the cost of the material we printed by using reprint matter almost altogether, I thought the new publication might be made to pay for its own paper and printing. Consequently we had to arrange as big a year as possible for the syndicate.
Early in 1892. I went abroad to get the best material for the syndicate that I could find in England, and Mr. Phillips did the same in this country. We made contracts with writers many times in excess of our entire capital. On my return from London, I crossed the continent to the Pacific, and visited all the important newspapers be-View Image of Page 86 tween the Atlantic and Pacific, placing the new syndicate material.
On my way East, I stopped at Davenport, Iowa, where my old college friend and classmate, Albert Brady, was the publisher of the Davenport Daily Times. I had watched his remarkable work there for some years, and I believed that he was the one man I knew who could become advertising manager of the new magazine. I engaged him at a salary of $5000 for five years, his first year's salary being more than two-thirds of our entire capital at the time.
Just before the first number of McClure's came out, I was in the West, pushing the syndicate for all it was worth. I was sitting in the office of my friend Mr. Nixon, editor of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, one day, when a telegram was handed me. It was from Mr. Phillips, and asked me to collect from Inter-Ocean for last month's syndicate service. I tore the telegram into small bits and dropped them into the waste-paper basket. Later I remarked casually that if it were convenient I should like a check for the last month's service. Mr. Nixon smiled.
"Money? Oh, no! We can't give you any money. Look out there!"
He pointed to the window, and I looked out. Down below I saw a crowd in the street, masses of people seething from curb to curb before a building. The building was a bank. That was the first I saw of the panic of 1893. And the first number of the new magazine was not yet off the presses! Mr. Phillips, in New York, had seen what was coming, and had wired me to get hold of any money I could. But there was none to get. The ordinary sources of money were frozen.
That panic was like no other panic of recent years. It was largely a result of the Sherman Act for the compulsory coinage of a fixed amount of silver, which had been passed some years before and had resulted in a general hoarding of gold as against silver money. If you had a great deal of money in the banks, you could draw out only a small portion of it. Wherever money was, there it stuck; the flood of currency was actually congealed. We could not collect from the newspapers that owed us; indeed, we were glad enough to wait for our money, if only we could keep their patronage.
As soon as the newspapers felt the pinch of the panic, they began to cut down expenses, and our syndicate service was one of the first things they could dispense with. One paper after another wrote us to say that View Image of Page 87 they would have to discontinue taking syndicate matter. Every discontinuance meant a net loss to us of from twenty to seventy dollars a week. Before we had got over the shock caused by the loss of one of our best customers, another letter would come saying, "No more syndicate matter until times are better." There was certainly never a more inopportune time to launch a new business.
One of the articles in the first number of the magazine was a popular science article on evolution—"Where Man Got His Ears," by Professor Henry Drummond. Professor Drummond was then in Boston, delivering the Lowell Lectures. I usually forgot my financial anxieties, even when we were in the direst straits, in the pleasure I always got out of the editorial end of my work—hunting new ideas and new writers, and, as it were, introducing them to each other. So, before the first number of the magazine was out, I went to Boston to see Professor Drummond, to arrange with him for further popular science articles for the magazine. I had first met him in the early days of the syndicate, when he had delivered at Columbia a lecture on his explorations in tropical Africa, incidental to his study of the slave trade there. Later we became well acquainted, and I visited him in Glasgow.
When I saw Professor Drummond in Boston, I did not say anything about my own financial anxieties, but we spoke of the panic. He told me that his Lowell Lectures on "The Descent of Man" had been very successful, and that the hall had been so crowded that he had been forced to give each lecture twice. He had therefore received a good deal more than the usual fee. He asked me whether I happened to need any money. I thought he meant for immediate personal expenses, and, thanking him, told him I did not. He went on to say that if $3000 would be of any assistance to me in my business, he could just View Image of Page 88 as well let me have his check from the Lowell Institute, which was for that amount. When I told him that I did indeed need money, he made his check over to me, taking $2000 worth of stock in the new magazine and advancing me the other thousand as a loan. It seemed curious that, when all ordinary springs of money were dry, money should have come from a source that a financier would hardly have thought of.
That $3000 from Professor Drummond enabled me to get out the next two numbers of McClure's Magazine. But the money stringency did not relax. I had to get more funds to get out the fourth and fifth numbers.
I was lucky enough to buy for two hundred and fifty dollars a new serial novel by an unknown writer that went well in the syndicate and helped us along. It was "A Gentleman of France," by Stanley Weyman, and was one of the most successful novels we ever handled, bringing us in about $2000.
We began to issue McClure's Magazine with fixed charges in excess of all possible returns from the syndicate business. The first number came out at the end of May, 1893. We printed 20,000 copies, and of these 12,000 were returned to us. The 8000 that were sold brought us in about $600, while the paper and printing had cost thousands. The newspaper notices of the new publication, however, were exceedingly cordial and friendly. I believed that we could eventually make the thing go, if only we could keep it alive for a few months. But how to keep it alive was the question. Small businesses were being wiped out every day. There were weeks when I used to look in the evening paper every night to see whether we were posted in the list of bankrupts. I used to imagine how six issues of the magazine would look if they were stood up in a row, but I was very doubtful as to whether we could ever publish that many.
I ran up to Boston again, and went to my old friend and employer, Colonel Pope. He gave me a check for $1000, to be taken out in advertising. On his advice, I went to Mr. Hollingsworth, and persuaded him to extend me a month's credit on paper. When I returned to New York I got a month's credit from the printer. Houses that had never extended credit before were forced to do so when money was so scarce.
Another difficulty arose in the shape of unexpected competition. Our June number was our first issue. The next month, the Cosmopolitan, then edited by Mr. John Brisben Walker, cut to 12½ cents, 2½ cents under McClure's. I had thought that it would be a year or two before there was another cheap magazine in the field. Nevertheless, in one way and another, always on the edge of failure, we got through the hard fall and winter of '93-'94. Colonel Pope came to the rescue again at one critical time, and advanced me $5000 on advertising.
In the spring of 1894, when the magazine had been running nearly a year, I went to London to buy material for the syndicate, without money. We were then owing to English authors about $3500, which we were absolutely unable to pay. Of course, our credit there was suffering seriously, and that was a grave thing for us, as much of our best syndicate fiction came from England. While I was in London that spring, H. J. W. Dam came to me, and told me that he must have the hundred dollars I owed him for an article. He said he was about to be put out of his flat, and before he got through talking he actually cried. I cried too, but I had no money to give him.
When I returned to New York in the early summer of '94, we were running the magazine at a loss of $1000 a month. By cutting the text of the magazine from 96 to 88 pages for several months, and reducing the size of the illustrations, I reduced this loss somewhat; but financially we were not succeeding. As the summer went on, things got worse and worse. Our indebtedness to English authors increased from $3500 to $5000, and I could see no prospect of reducing it. I had gradually exhausted all my sources of capital. I had got as much money as possible from Colonel Pope, as much credit as possible from the paper manufacturer, Mr. Hollingsworth, and from the printer. There was no one left to whom I could turn for further money or credit. Mr. Phillips had already put in as much money as he could raise by inducing his father to mortgage his home in Galesburg. I felt, day after day, as if I were trying to walk into a granite wall.
Mrs. McClure and I were living at Bayshore, Long Island, that summer. One cloudy afternoon, when I was on the train going home from the city, I looked up from the manuscript I was reading, and noticed that the weather had lifted and that the sun View Image of Page 89 was shining. Instantly I felt an unaccountable rise of spirits. The next morning, before hurrying away to catch my train, I told my wife that there was no possible chance for our success unless God helped us. Every human source of help was exhausted, and without help we could not go on. I asked her to pray God to help us. She said that I must pray also; but I told her that she could pray better than I could.
Conan Doyle was at this time lecturing in America. On that day he was staying at the Aldine Club. I had been so weighed down by business cares that I had not seen him since his arrival in the United States, and I had a feeling of having neglected him. Prompted by this feeling, I went that morning directly from the station to the Aldine Club. In apologizing to him for my seeming indifference to his presence in America, I told him that I had been upset by business anxieties, remarking incidentally that I had to finance the magazine as well as edit it. Conan Doyle then said that he would like to put some money into the business himself, if I needed it; that he believed in the magazine and in me. I lunched with him at the club, and after lunch he walked over to the office with me, and wrote out his check for $5000, exactly the sum we were owing to English authors. When that check was written, it put new life into the office staff. Every one in the office felt a new vigor and a new hope.
It was in that critical spring of 1893, also, that I first met Miss Ida M. Tarbell, who afterward played such an important part in the history of McClure's Magazine. One day I noticed on Mr. Phillips' desk a proof of an article signed "Ida M. Tarbell." The article was on "The Paving of the Streets of Paris by M. Alphand." I picked it up and read it. When I had finished it, I said to Mr. Phillips: "This girl can write. I want to get her to do some work for the magazine." The article possessed exactly the qualities I wanted for McClure's.
So, early in the spring of 1893, the year that McClure's Magazine was started, when I was in London buying material, I went over to Paris to see Miss Tarbell. I called upon her at her little apartment on the river, taking with me some newly discovered information about the Brontës upon which I wished to get her judgment. I went to see her, intending to stay twenty minutes, and I stayed three hours. The following year Miss Tarbell wrote several articles for McClure's—one on Professor Janssen and his Observatory on View Image of Page 90 the top of Mont Blanc, and one on the Bertillon system for the identification of criminals, which virtually started the interest in that system in the United States.
As I watched Miss Tarbell's work I saw how much she had benefited by her study of the methods of French historians, then so much in advance of our own. I was at once convinced, too, of the soundness of her judgment. So, desperate as were the financial straits of the magazine, my admiration for her work led me, when I was in London the next spring, to offer her a salaried position on McClure's Magazine. She needed a hundred and fifty dollars to settle up her affairs there and pay her passage to America, and this I somehow managed to advance her.
Shortly before Miss Tarbell began her work on the magazine, a letter came into the office from a man in Omaha, suggesting that we publish a series of portraits of Napoleon for our "Human Documents" series. That seemed to me a good idea, so I began to look about for portraits of Napoleon. I heard from W. E. Curtis that Mr. Gardiner Hubbard, of Washington, the father-in-law of Professor Alexander Graham Bell, had a remarkable collection of Napoleon pictures; so, returning from a trip on syndicate business, I stopped at Washington. I reached Mr. Hubbard's residence, Twin Oaks, at nine or ten o'clock in the morning. He had been collecting his prints and engravings for eleven years, and in half an hour after he began to show me his collection all the desks and tables and chairs of his library and the adjoining room were covered with pictures of Napoleon, a complete pictorial history of the Emperor's career. Mr. Hubbard was most willing to let me reproduce his collection in the magazine, but he agreed with me that there should be an accompanying text, a brief history of Napoleon.
My first effort to procure this text failed completely. I commissioned a young Englishman to do it, and when his article came in I took it down to Mr. Hubbard. We went over it together, and decided that it would never do. Then I told him about Miss Tarbell—of her work in Paris, and how well she had covered the period preceding Napoleon in her "Life of Madame Roland." Mr. Hubbard was favorably impressed by what I told him, and thought it would be well to give her a trial of this piece of work. I went back to New York, and tele- View Image of Page 91 graphed Miss Tarbell, who was visiting her parents at Titusville, asking her whether she would go to Washington and write a Life of Napoleon. My telegram touched her sense of humor by its very improbability, and she replied that she would.
The year 1894 was a Napoleon year. In November the Century Magazine began its "Life of Napoleon," by Professor Sloan, which they had been preparing for years, and the same month we began our "Life of Napoleon," got up, as it were, overnight. Within a few months our circulation rose from 40,000 to 80,000.
The inception of Miss Tarbell's "Life of Lincoln" was almost as casual. The idea occurred to me of having a series of articles on Lincoln, written by many different men who had known him, and of having Miss Tarbell edit these articles, bring them into scale with one another, and herself write in the portions of Lincoln's life that these articles did not cover. I soon found, however, that this plan would not succeed, and that, if a piece of work is to be well done, one person must do it. In the light of her success with the Napoleon, it was clear that Miss Tarbell was the one to write our "Life of Lincoln" with as much fresh material as she could get. The portraits of Lincoln that were sent into the office were invaluable as clues to the sources of new material. The portraits of Lincoln came from all sorts of obscure sources; people sent them in from all over the country, and in our correspondence about them we formed an intimate personal connection with people in all parts of the country, often with people who had never read magazines before. We published many portraits of Lincoln that had never been published before. One of these, taken in his early youth, caused a great sensation.
This "Life of Lincoln" told on our circulation as nothing ever had before. In August, 1895, our circulation was 120,000; in November, 1895, it had risen to 175,000; in December, 1895, it was 250,000.
In two years and a half from the founding of McClure's Magazine we had reached a circulation far in excess of the Century, Harper's, or Scribner's, and soon to be greater than all three. But we had gained in standing and esteem as well as in circulation, and the years '95-'96 actually put McClure's Magazine on the map. A new sense of hope came to all of us. The uncertainty and dread that we had lived under for so long passed away.View Image of Page 92
In our access of confidence, we overstepped ourselves. For our January number, 1896, we overprinted so far that we had about 60,000 returned copies on our hands. I also launched a McClure Quarterly, the first number containing our collection of Napoleon pictures, and the second containing the first four instalments of Miss Tarbell "Early Life of Lincoln." The Quarterly never got beyond the first two numbers, for on those we lost many thousands of dollars. We were losing money, moreover, on account of our enormous increase in circulation. Most of our advertising contracts were made on a basis of 40,000 to 80,000 circulation. We had taken on an unprecedented body of advertising at a low rate, and now we were printing 250,000 magazines a month, with the enormously increased cost of manufacture which such a large printing entailed, and we were getting no more for our advertising than if we were printing only 80,000 copies a month.
By the first of January, 1896, we decided to have a printing plant of our own. Mr. Hollingsworth agreed to give us fifteen months' credit for paper. He also influenced the manufacturers of printing-presses in our favor, and we got a printing plant on credit. We began the year 1896, then, $287,000 in debt. I was thirty-nine years old, had been out of college fourteen years, and I had never been out of debt.
Throughout the year 1895, with our low-rate advertising contracts and increasing circulation, the magazine was losing $4000 a month. In 1896 it was clearing over $5000 a month. Its prosperity and standing had been established.
We had accomplished a greater success than it would have seemed reasonable to expect. During the first summer of the magazine's existence, in the panic year of '93, I was staying with Professor Henry Drummond at Northfield, where he was visiting Moody's school. We took long walks together; and one day, when we were off in the country, sitting on the grass, I told Drummond that I did not see how I could possibly put through the task I had undertaken—that I did not feel strong enough to do it, and that I always seemed to be undertaking more than I could do. I have never forgotten his reply. He said: "Unless a man undertakes to do more than he possibly can do, he will never do all that he can do."
The editorial history of McClure's Magazine, in the early chapters, was certainly more cheering than its financial history. From the first number, the press and the public received it warmly. My old newspaper friends throughout the country were exceedingly generous in their notices and reviews of the publication. It was recognized from the first as a new note in journalism, individual and distinctive. Among the contributors to our first number were H. H. Boyesen, Gilbert Parker, Sarah Orne Jewett, Professor Henry Drummond, Joel Chandler Harris, Gertrude Hall, and Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson. One of the distinctive features begun in the first number was a series of "Real Conversations," carefully prepared interviews with noted men about their life and work. The first of these was an interview with William Dean Howells, by H. H. Boyesen. Later came interviews with Eugene Field, Frank R. Stockton, Jules Verne, Alphonse Daudet, Professor Alexander Graham Bell, and many others.
The "Human Document" series, begun in the first number of McClure's, was another feature, so successful that we would have kept it up forever if the supply of great men had held out. This series was christened by Alphonse Daudet. When Mr. Jaccaci, art editor of the magazine, was in Paris, he explained to Daudet our intention of publishing in each number a series of photographs of some noted man, from his youth up.
"Veritables documents humaines!" exclaimed Daudet; and we adopted that title for the series.
We made, I think, a more serious effort in the direction of popular science articles than had been made by any magazine before us. McClure's was the first popular journal to announce Marconi's discovery of wireless telegraphy, and when that article appeared it was generally regarded with utter incredulity. I remember, a professor of Clark University wrote on that occasion and urged us to avoid announcing such absurdities and thereby making the magazine ridiculous. As late as 1908, when we published the first authentic article on the Wright Brothers' flying-machine, then unknown to the world, people merely thought we had been imposed upon. It is sometimes as useless, from a news point of view, to announce a thing too early as to announce it after every other magazine has had it.
The "Human Documents" series led to many interesting personal contacts. In 1895 I went to Germany to get a series of the best View Image of Page 93portraits of Bismarck, and I spent two days with his son, Count Bismarck, at his great farming estate, Schaffhausen, not far from Magdeburg.
Count Herbert Bismarck, at the time I visited him, was a man in middle life. He was, I should say, typical of great men's sons—a man of some force, but overshadowed by his father. He took me to a little building on the estate which was used as a museum in which were kept all the presents sent to his father from all over the world. I saw a great many curious and interesting things, but the thing I best remember was a cabinet photograph of the present Emperor, taken when he was a boy, and sent by him to Bismarck while his grandfather was still on the throne and his father was an apparently sound man with the prospect of a long reign before him. On this photograph was written, in young William hand, "Cave adsum."
Count Herbert called my attention to this photograph, but neither by word nor manner did he comment upon it. When I asked him what his father had said when he received this picture, Count Herbert replied imperturbably: "My father said nothing that it would have been unbecoming to say of his future Emperor."
The first distinguished series of short stories we published in McClure's Magazine were "The Heart of the Princess Osra" stories, by Anthony Hope. When I was in London on one occasion, Robert Barr, who often gave me valuable advice, told me that I would make a mistake if I left England without seeing Anthony Hope Hawkins, a new man who was doing remarkably interesting work. The day before I sailed for New York, Mr. Hawkins presented himself at my London office with a black valise full of his manuscripts and published works. I was in a hurry, and I told him I wouldn't bother about the manuscripts then, but that I would gladly take his books along and read them on the steamer.
I read "The Prisoner of Zenda" on my way across the Atlantic, and as soon as I got to New York I cabled Hawkins to send me all the manuscripts he had. The next time I was in London, Hawkins sent me the eight "Princess Osra" stories in a bunch. Mrs. McClure and I were staying with Mr. and Mrs. Robert Barr then. I took the manuscripts to his house, and after dinner in the evening Mr. and Mrs. Barr and my wife and I sat down in the library, and each of us took a "Princess Osra" story to read. Very soon some one exclaimed, and then some one else exclaimed. Each of us declared that the story that had fallen to his lot must be the best of the collection. We each of us read the whole set that night, and we agreed that they were all real stories.
The next summer, 1894, Kipling's verse and "Jungle Book" stories began to take an important place in the magazine. Kipling had several years before returned from India by way of the United States, writing, on his way, a series of letters ("American Notes") for the Allahabad Pioneer, the paper in India on which he had worked as reporter. The great body of Kipling's wonderful early work had then already been done. All the stories that go to make up "Plain Tales from the Hills," "Soldiers Three," "Mine Own People," "The Phantom Rickshaw," and "The story of the Gadsbys" had already been published in Indian newspapers and afterward printed in paper-covered books. These were the products of that prodigal period of early youth when the only thing that holds a genius back is that there are not hours enough in the day for him to write down the stories that are boiling in him. And yet, he was as obscure to the world in general as any other young man who might have come out of the East with a bag of manuscripts. Nobody had any idea that he was to be one of the great figures in English literature.
On his way to England, Kipling stopped a few days in New York, and submitted his entire early output, the books I have mentioned and others, to Harper Brothers. They turned down the whole mass of it, not accepting a single story. I think he tried no other American publishing house, but took his stories and went on to England. When I first met him, soon after his arrival in London, he was writing "The Light that Failed," for which Lippincotts paid him $800, and which I afterward syndicated.
He was still writing with the free pen of the unknown man; he had achieved, as yet, only a succès d' estime. Indeed, so far as the market was concerned, Kipling went slowly. For a long while his prices remained very moderate. He returned to England, and began to be talked about there in 1889; but, as late as 1893, I was offered one of the "Jungle Book" stories for $125. Five years later I paid $25,000 for the serial rights of "Kim." We also serialized "Captains Courageous" in McClure's Magazine.View Image of Page 94
There was even a feeling of resentment on the part of some of the older writers, who wrote about the usual kind of thing that these young men hailing from foreign ports and out-of-the-way places of the world should be attracting so much attention. Their vogue was merely because their material was exotic, some critics said. There was a rhyme going about among self-satisfied people:When the Rudyards cease from Kipling, And the Haggards Ride no more.
I have never seen the perverse side of Mr. Kipling that the American press at one time exploited. I doubt whether any one but the reporter has ever seen that side. He has always resented newspaper interviews. He has always refused to take himself as a public man, and has therefore felt that he ought to be exempt from interviews. His brusqueness with reporters is really an expression of his modesty. I have always found him cordial and tolerant of other people's interests. I remember he once told me, in London, that when I went to see him in Vermont I had "talked McClure's Magazine to him for eight solid hours." And he bore it! He used to say to me: "McClure, your business is dealing in brain futures."
Once, when I went to see him at Lakewood, he asked me whether I had read "David Harum." I replied: "No. He's dead."
Kipling laughed and said: "That's right, McClure. The mark of genius is to eliminate the unnecessary."
I first went to see George Meredith in 1890, and arranged to publish several of his novelettes in my syndicate. Shortly before that I had read all of Meredith's published novels in rapid succession. I had always heard of Meredith as a man very difficult to read; his novels were spoken of as quite unattainable to the man of average intelligence. I had imagined that to read one of his novels would be something like reading a very obscure work on philosophy and psychology in one. Stevenson was the first man I ever heard speak of them as if they were interesting as well as profound. Once, when I was on the road, I bought a cheap copy of "The Egoist," and read it with the most intense interest. Then I read "Richard Feverel," after which I bought the set of eleven volumes in a box, and went straight through them. I was living then on Sixty-first Street. I read them on the elevated—before breakfast—while I was eating my lunch at the Astor House. I went through them in about six weeks, and had never read any novels with more interest or delight. I resolved to see Meredith the next time I was in London.
Sidney Colvin gave me a letter to Meredith, and Meredith wrote me, asking me to come out to Box Hill and spend the night. I went down on New Year's day of 1890, got off at the station in the afternoon, and went up the lane toward Meredith's house, approaching the gate with a good deal of shyness. Meredith himself met me. He walked slowly, even then, because of his nervous malady. I remember particularly his clear, ringing voice. His daughter was staying with him, and at dinner she sat at the end of the table opposite him, and a good deal of the conversation was directed to her. She did not attempt to answer his sallies in kind, but occasionally exclaimed indulgently, "Oh, papa!" His conversation was very like the dialogue in his novels; one had the feeling, when he talked, that there were swords flashing in the air.
After dinner we went up a steep hillside to his châlet. There were two settles there on either side of a roaring fire, and we sat down and talked about his novels until two o'clock in the morning, going from book to book and from character to character. During this talk I asked him how, in the light of his own experience, he would define genius. As nearly as I can remember, he said:
"It is an extraordinary activity of mind in which all conscious and subconscious knowledge mass themselves without any effort of the will, and become effective. It manifests itself in three ways—in producing, in organizing, and in rapidity of thought."
Before we went to bed that night, Meredith read me some chapters of an unfinished novel which he had begun seventeen years before and laid aside.
A year or so later I went to see Meredith again, this time taking Mrs. McClure. We were shown into a reception-room which I had not seen before. Over the mantel hung a painting of a beautiful girl. I said at once to my wife, "That was Lucy Feverel." I do not know whether it was Meredith's wife or not. At that time Meredith was very much interested in a translation of Homer that View Image of Page 95 he was making, and he recited long passages of the Iliad in Greek.
When I got back to London after my first visit to Meredith, I told Mr. Frank Doubleday, who was then with Charles Scribner's, about this unfinished novel, and told him I believed that Meredith was on the verge of a wide popularity in the United States. Doubleday went down to see Meredith, and later Scribner's commissioned Meredith to finish the novel for Scribner's Magazine, where it was serialized under the title "The Amazing Marriage." Scribner's also took over the publication of all Meredith's novels from Roberts Brothers, a Boston house that published Stevenson and Meredith when they were unknown in this country, as well as introducing many of the great French and Russian writers into this country.
When I founded McClure's Magazine without money, my real capital was my wide acquaintance with writers and with what they could produce. My qualifications for being an editor were that I was open-minded, naturally enthusiastic, and not afraid to experiment with a new man. The men I tried did not always make good; but when they failed it never hurt anybody, and when they succeeded it helped every one concerned. A new writer gets to the people quickly enough, if he can once get by the editor. I was always easy to get by. If I believed in a man, I could give him a large audience at once; I could give him that gaze of the public which is the breath of life to a writer. Just as Niagara Falls was soundless until a human ear heard it, a writer does not exist until he is read. Kipling did not exist for New York when he first came through on his way back from the East, although he had a great part of his best work with him and actually in print. When we began to publish that first wonderful Kipling stuff, it seemed as if there would never be an end to it. I remember going from Lovell's to my own office with my arms full of Kipling galleys.
I could give a new writer such an instrument of publicity as had probably never been built up before. Through my newspaper syndicate I could place him at once before a million families, the representative people who read the leading dailies in all parts of the country. The test of a writer's market value is, how many people will read him? I could give a new writer that test at once. The magazine and syndicate combined were the machinery I offered to get the young men in whom I believed to the people. The experience of those years taught me to say to young writers who brought me manuscripts and told me what this or that critic had said of his work: "The only critic worth listening to is the publisher—the critic who backs his judgment with his money."
That was an extraordinary group of young writers with whom I had to deal, but I did not realize it then. I needed good writers in my business, and it did not occur to me that they would not go on forever. I supposed that every ten years or so a new crop of such men came along.
Is the supply continuous? People often ask me whether I think there are unknown Kiplings and Stevensons working in obscurity. That I can not answer. But of one thing I am sure, and that is, if they are here, they do not at all resemble Kipling or Stevenson. Emerson said: "When a great man dies, the world looks for his successor. He has no successor." No more has a great writer. A group of great writers, like those of whom I have spoken, seem to exhaust the air for a time. It is usually fifteen or twenty years before a new man comes along who has really anything to say; and there must be a new race of critics and editors, too, who will permit him to say something new. The men of small talent unconsciously imitate the last great successes, and editors are looking for something like Stevenson or like Kipling, that will meet with the same success.
Kipling once said to me: "It takes the young man to find the young man." And that is true. The new talent is usually discovered by the editor who faces the future without predilections and without a gallery of past successes. No man's judgment retains that openness for very many years. His successes become his limitations. He is influenced by the development of his own tastes, by the memory of past pleasures, by the great personalities who have made the most interesting chapters of his life. His eyes are fixed on things behind him and soon become blind to the new man.