An Adventure With A Genius
Part 3 out of 3
I have said that it was J. P.'s custom to seek repose on the yacht when
he was worn out with overwork; but it would be more accurate to say that
rest was the seldom realized object of these short cruises, for nothing
was more difficult for J. P. than to drop his work so long as he had a
vestige of strength left with which he could flog his mind into action.
Starting out with the best intentions, J. P.'s cruises of recuperation
were usually cut short by putting in to Portland, or New London, or
Marblehead to get newspapers and to send telegrams summoning to the
yacht one or another of the higher staff of The World.
It was, however, when we anchored, as we often did, off Greenwich,
Conn., that J. P. indulged himself to his utmost capacity in conferences
with editors and business managers of The World and with one or two
outsiders. We would drop anchor in the afternoon, pick up a visitor,
cruise in the Sound for a night and a morning, drop anchor again, send
the visitor ashore, and pick up another.
Toward the latter part of September, 1911, J. P. left the yacht and
moved into his town house in East 73d Street. It was a large and
beautifully designed mansion, differing in three particulars from the
ordinary run of residences which have been built, furnished, and
decorated with the utmost good taste and without regard to expense.
The room in which J. P. usually took his meals was a small but
beautifully proportioned retreat so placed that it was completely
surrounded by other rooms and had no direct contact with the outside
world. It was in its ground plan an irregular octagon, and it drew its
light and air from a glass dome. The most striking element in the
decorations was a number of slender columns of pale-green Irish marble,
which rose from the floor to the dome.
Another unusual feature of the house was a superb church organ, which
was built into a large recess halfway up the main staircase. J. P. was
an enthusiastic lover of organ music, and heard as much of it as he
could during his brief visits to New York.
There are no doubt other houses which have an octagonal dining-room and
a church organ; but no other house, I am sure, has a bedroom like that
which Mr. Pulitzer occupied. Although it appeared to form part of the
house, it did not, in fact, do so. It stood upon its own foundations and
was connected with the main structure by some ingenious device which
isolated it from all vibrations originating there. It was of the most
solid construction, and had but one window, a very large affair,
consisting of three casements set one inside the other and provided with
heavy plate glass panels. This triple window was never opened when Mr.
Pulitzer was in the room, the ventilation being secured by means of fans
situated in a long masonry shaft whose interior opening was in the
chimney and whose exterior opening was far enough away to forbid the
passage of any sound from the street. At intervals inside this shaft
were placed frames with silk threads drawn across them, for the purpose
of absorbing any faint vibrations which might find their way in. In this
bedroom, with its triple window and its heavy double-door closed, J. P.
enjoyed as near an approach to perfect quietness as it was possible to
attain in New York.
I saw very little of J. P. when he was in New York. He was much occupied
with family affairs; he was in constant touch with the staff of The
World; and the deep interest he took in the prospects of the
presidential election of 1912, which was already being eagerly
discussed, brought an unusual number of visitors to the house.
The extent of my intercourse with J. P. at this time was an occasional
drive in Central Park, during which we talked of little else but
politics, and on that topic of little else but Mr. Woodrow Wilson's
speeches and plans.
It did not take very long before the hard work and the excitement of the
New York life reduced Mr. Pulitzer to a condition in which it was
imperative that he should go to sea again and abandon completely his
contact with the daily events which stimulated rather than nourished his
On October 20, 1911, the Liberty left New York with J. P., his youngest
son, Herbert, and the usual staff. We headed south, with nothing settled
as to our plans except that we might spend some time at Mr. Pulitzer's
house on Jekyll Island, Ga., and might pass part of the winter cruising
in the West Indies.
As soon as we got settled down on board I was delighted to find that J.
P. had apparently satisfied himself in regard to my qualifications and
limitations. He abandoned the searching examinations which had kept me
on the rack for nearly eight months, and our relations became much more
Apart from bearing my share in the routine work of dealing with the news
of the day and with the current magazine literature my principal duty
gradually assumed the form of furnishing humor on demand.
The easiest part of this task was that of reading humorous books to J.
P. When he was in the right mood and would submit to the process, I read
to him the greater part of "Dooley," of Artemus Ward, of Max Adler, and
portions of W. W. Jacobs, of Lorimer's Letters of a Self-made Merchant
to His Son, of Mrs. Anne Warner's Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs.
Lathrop, and of some of Stockton's delightful stories. My greatest
triumph was in inducing him to forget for a while his intense aversion
to slang and to listen to the shrewd and genial philosophy of George
The work of the official humorist to J. P. was rendered particularly
arduous because he carried into the field of humor, absolutely unabated,
his passion for facts. To most people a large part of humor consists in
the manner of presentation, in the trick of phrase, in the texture of
the narrative. To J. P. those things meant little or nothing; what
amused him was the situation disclosed, the inherent humor of the action
As I have said, it was not difficult to read humorous material to J. P.
when he deliberately resigned himself to it. What was exceedingly
difficult was to rise to those frequent occasions when, tired, vexed and
out of sorts, he suddenly interrupted your summary of a magazine article
by saying: "Stop! Stop! For God's sake! I've got a frightful headache.
Now tell me some humorous stories--make me laugh."
In order to meet these urgent and embarrassing demands I ransacked the
periodical press of England and America. I procured a year's file of
Pearson's Weekly, of Tit Bits and of Life, and scores of stray copies of
Puck, Judge and Answers.
From these I cut hundreds of short humorous paragraphs, which I kept in
a box in my cabin. Whenever I was summoned to attend upon J. P. I put a
handful of these clippings in my pocket. I am afraid I should make
enemies if I were to tell of the thousands of stories I had to read in
order to get the hundreds which came within range even of my modest
hopes; but I may say that line for line I got more available stories
from the "Newspaper Waifs" on the editorial page of the New York Evening
Post than from any other source.
Even after I had labored long and heroically in the vineyard of
professional humor, grape juice, and not wine, was the commoner product
of my efforts.
It was no unusual experience that after I had told J. P. one of the best
tales in my collection he would say: "Well, go on, go on, come to the
point. For God's sake, isn't there any end to this story?"
On October 25, 1911, we put into the harbor of Charlestown, S. C. There
was the usual business of collecting mail, newspapers, and so on, for J.
P., after five days at sea, was eager to pick up the thread of current
On the following day Mr. Lathan, editor of the Charleston Courier,
lunched on the yacht. He and Mr. Pulitzer had an animated discussion
about the possibilities of a Democratic victory in 1912. I had never
seen J. P. in a more genial mood or in higher spirits.
Whether it was due to the excitement of receiving a visitor whose
conversation was so stimulating I do not know; but on Friday, October
27, J. P. was feeling so much out of sorts that he did not appear on
deck. On Saturday he remained below only because Dunningham, who always
kept the closest watch over his health, persuaded him to have a good
rest before resuming the ordinary routine. J. P. was anxious to take up
some business matters with Thwaites, but Dunningham induced him to give
up the idea.
At three o'clock in the morning of Sunday, October 29, Dunningham came
to my cabin and, without making any explanation, said:
"Mr, Pulitzer wishes you to come and read to him."
I put on a dressing gown, gathered up half a dozen books, and in five
minutes I was sitting by Mr. Pulitzer's bedside. He was evidently
suffering a good deal of pain, for he turned from side to side, and once
or twice got out of bed and sat in an easy chair.
I tried several books, but finally settled down to read Macaulay's Essay
on Hallam. I read steadily until about five o'clock, and J. P. listened
attentively, interrupting me from time to time with a direction to go
back and read over a passage.
About half-past five he began to suffer severely, and he sent for the
yacht's doctor, who did what was possible for him. At a few minutes
after six J. P. said: "Now, Mr. Ireland, you'd better go and get some
sleep; we will finish that this afternoon. Good-bye, I'm much obliged to
you. Ask Mr. Mann to come to me. Go, now, and have a good rest, and
forget all about me."
I slept till noon. When I came on deck I found that everything was going
on much as usual. One of the secretaries was with J. P.; the others were
at work over the day's papers.
At lunch we spoke of J. P. One man said that he seemed a little worse
than usual, another that he had seen him much worse a score of times.
Suddenly the massive door at the forward end of the saloon opened. I
turned in my seat and saw framed in the doorway the towering figure of
the head butler. I faced his impassive glance, and received the full
shock of his calm but incredible announcement: "Mr. Pulitzer is dead."
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