Appreciations of Richard Harding Davis
Various Authors of Some Repute
Charles Dana Gibson
E. L. Burlingame
Irvin S. Cobb
John Fox, Jr
Finley Peter Dunne
John T. McCutcheon
R. H. D.
BY GOUVERNEUR MORRIS
"And they rise to their feet as He passes by, gentlemen unafraid."
He was almost too good to be true. In addition, the
gods loved him, and so he had to die young. Some people think
that a man of fifty-two is middle-aged. But if R. H. D. had
lived to be a hundred, he would never have grown old. It is
not generally known that the name of his other brother was Peter Pan.
Within the year we have played at pirates together, at the
taking of sperm whales; and we have ransacked the Westchester
Hills for gunsites against the Mexican invasion. And we have
made lists of guns, and medicines, and tinned things, in case
we should ever happen to go elephant-shooting in Africa. But
we weren't going to hurt the elephants. Once R. H. D. shot a
hippopotamus and he was always ashamed and sorry. I think he
never killed anything else. He wasn't that kind of a
sportsman. Of hunting, as of many other things, he has said
the last word. Do you remember the Happy Hunting Ground in
"The Bar Sinister"?--"where nobody hunts us, and there is
nothing to hunt."
Experienced persons tell us that a manhunt is the most
exciting of all sports. R. H. D. hunted men in Cuba. He
hunted for wounded men who were out in front of the trenches
and still under fire, and found some of them and brought them
in. The Rough Riders didn't make him an honorary member of
their regiment just because he was charming and a faithful
friend, but largely because they were a lot of daredevils and
he was another.
To hear him talk you wouldn't have thought that he had ever
done a brave thing in his life. He talked a great deal, and
he talked even better than he wrote (at his best he wrote like
an angel), but I have dusted every corner of my memory and
cannot recall any story of his in which he played a heroic or
successful part. Always he was running at top speed, or
hiding behind a tree, or lying face down in a foot of water
(for hours!) so as not to be seen. Always he was getting the
worst of it. But about the other fellows he told the whole
truth with lightning flashes of wit and character building and
admiration or contempt. Until the invention of moving
pictures the world had nothing in the least like his talk.
His eye had photographed, his mind had developed and prepared
the slides, his words sent the light through them, and lo and
behold, they were reproduced on the screen of your own mind,
exact in drawing and color. With the written word or the
spoken word he was the greatest recorder and reporter of
things that he had seen of any man, perhaps, that ever lived.
The history of the last thirty years, its manners and customs
and its leading events and inventions, cannot be written
truthfully without reference to the records which he has left,
to his special articles and to his letters. Read over again
the Queen's Jubilee, the Czar's Coronation, the March of the
Germans through Brussels, and see for yourself if I speak too
zealously, even for a friend, to whom, now that R. H. D. is
dead, the world can never be the same again.
But I did not set out to estimate his genius. That matter
will come in due time before the unerring tribunal of
One secret of Mr. Roosevelt's hold upon those who come into
contact with him is his energy. Retaining enough for his own
use (he uses a good deal, because every day he does the work
of five or six men), he distributes the inexhaustible
remainder among those who most need it. Men go to him tired
and discouraged, he sends them away glad to be alive, still
gladder that he is alive, and ready to fight the devil himself
in a good cause. Upon his friends R. H. D. had the same
effect. And it was not only in proximity that he could
distribute energy, but from afar, by letter and cable. He had
some intuitive way of knowing just when you were slipping into
a slough of laziness and discouragement. And at such times he
either appeared suddenly upon the scene, or there came a boy
on a bicycle, with a yellow envelope and a book to sign, or
the postman in his buggy, or the telephone rang and from the
receiver there poured into you affection and encouragement.
But the great times, of course, were when be came in person,
and the temperature of the house, which a moment before had
been too hot or too cold, became just right, and a sense of
cheerfulness and well-being invaded the hearts of the master
and the mistress and of the servants in the house and in the
yard. And the older daughter ran to him, and the baby, who
had been fretting because nobody would give her a double-
barrelled shotgun, climbed upon his knee and forgot all about
the disappointments of this uncompromising world.
He was touchingly sweet with children. I think he was a
little afraid of them. He was afraid perhaps that they
wouldn't find out how much be loved them. But when they
showed him that they trusted him, and, unsolicited, climbed
upon him and laid their cheeks against his, then the loveliest
expression came over his face, and you knew that the great
heart, which the other day ceased to beat, throbbed with an
exquisite bliss, akin to anguish.
One of the happiest days I remember was when I and mine
received a telegram saying that he had a baby of his own. And
I thank God that little Miss Hope is too young to know what an
appalling loss she has suffered. . . .
Perhaps he stayed to dine. Then perhaps the older daughter
was allowed to sit up an extra half-hour so that she could
wait on the table (and though I say it, that shouldn't, she
could do this beautifully, with dignity and without giggling),
and perhaps the dinner was good, or R. H. D. thought it was,
and in that event he must abandon his place and storm the
kitchen to tell the cook all about it. Perhaps the gardener
was taking life easy on the kitchen porch. He, too, came in
for praise. R. H. D. had never seen our Japanese iris so
beautiful; as for his, they wouldn't grow at all. It wasn't
the iris, it was the man behind the iris. And then back he
would come to us, with a wonderful story of his adventures in
the pantry on his way to the kitchen, and leaving behind him a
cook to whom there had been issued a new lease of life, and a
gardener who blushed and smiled in the darkness under the
It was in our little house at Aiken, in South Carolina, that
he was with us most and we learned to know him best, and that
he and I became dependent upon each other in many ways.
Events, into which I shall not go, had made his life very
difficult and complicated. And he who had given so much
friendship to so many people needed a little friendship in
return, and perhaps, too, he needed for a time to live in a
house whose master and mistress loved each other, and where
there were children. Before he came that first year our house
had no name. Now it is called "Let's Pretend."
Now the chimney in the living-room draws, but in those first
days of the built-over house it didn't. At least, it didn't
draw all the time, but we pretended that it did, and with much
pretense came faith. From the fireplace that smoked to the
serious things of life we extended our pretendings, until real
troubles went down before them--down and out.
It was one of Aiken's very best winters, and the earliest
spring I ever lived anywhere. R. H. D. came shortly after
Christmas. The spiraeas were in bloom, and the monthly roses;
you could always find a sweet violet or two somewhere in the
yard; here and there splotches of deep pink against gray cabin
walls proved that precocious peach-trees were in bloom. It
never rained. At night it was cold enough for fires. In the
middle of the day it was hot. The wind never blew, and every
morning we had a four for tennis and every afternoon we rode
in the woods. And every night we sat in front of the fire
(that didn't smoke because of pretending) and talked until the
next morning. He was one of those rarely gifted men who find
their chiefest pleasure not in looking backward or forward,
but in what is going on at the moment. Weeks did not have to
pass before it was forced upon his knowledge that Tuesday, the
fourteenth (let us say), had been a good Tuesday. He knew it
the moment he waked at 7 A. M. and perceived the Tuesday
sunshine making patterns of bright light upon the floor. The
sunshine rejoiced him and the knowledge that even before
breakfast there was vouchsafed to him a whole hour of life.
That day began with attentions to his physical well-being.
There were exercises, conducted with great vigor and
rejoicing, followed by a tub, artesian cold, and a loud and
joyous singing of ballads.
At fifty R. H. D. might have posed to some Praxiteles and,
copied in marble, gone down the ages as "statue of a young
athlete." He stood six feet and over, straight as a Sioux
chief, a noble and leonine head carried by a splendid torso.
His skin was as fine and clean as a child's. He weighed
nearly two hundred pounds and had no fat on him. He was the
weight-throwing rather than the running type of athlete, but
so tenaciously had he clung to the suppleness of his
adolescent days that he could stand stiff-legged and lay his
hands flat upon the floor.
The singing over, silence reigned. But if you had listened at
his door you must have heard a pen going, swiftly and boldly.
He was hard at work, doing unto others what others had done
unto him. You were a stranger to him; some magazine had
accepted a story that you had written and published it. R. H.
D. had found something to like and admire in that story (very
little perhaps), and it was his duty and pleasure to tell you
so. If he had liked the story very much he would send you
instead of a note a telegram. Or it might be that you had
drawn a picture, or, as a cub reporter, had shown golden
promise in a half-column of unsigned print; R. H. D. would
find you out, and find time to praise you and help you. So it
was that when he emerged from his room at sharp eight o'clock,
he was wide-awake and happy and hungry, and whistled and
double-shuffled with his feet, out of excessive energy, and
carried in his hands a whole sheaf of notes and letters and
Breakfast with him was not the usual American breakfast, a
sullen, dyspeptic gathering of persons who only the night
before had rejoiced in each other's society. With him it was
the time when the mind is, or ought to be, at its best, the
body at its freshest and hungriest. Discussions of the latest
plays and novels, the doings and undoings of statesmen,
laughter and sentiment--to him, at breakfast, these things
were as important as sausages and thick cream.
Breakfast over, there was no dawdling and putting off of the
day's work (else how, at eleven sharp, could tennis be played
with a free conscience?). Loving, as he did, everything
connected with a newspaper, he would now pass by those on the
hall-table with never so much as a wistful glance, and hurry
to his workroom.
He wrote sitting down. He wrote standing up. And, almost
you may say, he wrote walking up and down. Some people,
accustomed to the delicious ease and clarity of his style,
imagine that he wrote very easily. He did and he didn't.
Letters, easy, clear, to the point, and gorgeously human,
flowed from him without let or hindrance. That masterpiece
of corresponding, "The German March through Brussels," was
probably written almost as fast as he could talk (next to
Phillips Brooks he was the fastest talker I ever heard), but
when it came to fiction he had no facility at all. Perhaps I
should say that he held in contempt any facility that he may
have had. It was owing to his incomparable energy and Joblike
patience that he ever gave us any fiction at all. Every
phrase in his fiction was, of all the myriad phrases he could
think of, the fittest in his relentless judgment to survive.
Phrases, paragraphs, pages, whole stories even, were written
over and over again. He worked upon a principle of
elimination. If he wished to describe an automobile turning
in at a gate, he made first a long and elaborate description
from which there was omitted no detail which the most
observant pair of eyes in Christendom had ever noted with
reference to just such a turning. Thereupon he would begin a
process of omitting one by one those details which he had been
at such pains to recall; and after each omission he would ask
himself: "Does the picture remain?" If it did not, he
restored the detail which he had just omitted, and
experimented with the sacrifice of some other, and so on, and
so on, until after Herculean labor there remained for the
reader one of those, swiftly flashed, ice-clear pictures
(complete in every detail) with which his tales and romances
are so delightfully and continuously adorned.
But it is quarter to eleven, and, this being a time of
holiday, R. H. D. emerges from his workroom happy to think
that he has placed one hundred and seven words between himself
and the wolf who hangs about every writer's door. He isn't
satisfied with those hundred and seven words. He never was in
the least satisfied with anything that he wrote, but he has
searched his mind and his conscience and he believes that
under the circumstances they are the very best that he can do.
Anyway, they can stand in their present order until--after
A sign of his youth was the fact that to the day of his death
he had denied himself the luxury and slothfulness of habits.
I have never seen him smoke automatically as most men do. He
had too much respect for his own powers of enjoyment and for
the sensibilities, perhaps, of the best Havana tobacco. At a
time of his own deliberate choosing, often after many hours of
hankering and renunciation, he smoked his cigar. He smoked it
with delight, with a sense of being rewarded, and he used all
the smoke there was in it.
He dearly loved the best food, the best champagne, and
the best Scotch whiskey. But these things were friends to
him, and not enemies. He had toward food and drink the
Continental attitude; namely, that quality is far more
important than quantity; and he got his exhilaration from the
fact that he was drinking champagne and not from the
champagne. Perhaps I shall do well to say that on questions
of right and wrong he had a will of iron. All his life he
moved resolutely in whichever direction his conscience
pointed; and, although that ever present and never obtrusive
conscience of his made mistakes of judgment now and then, as
must all consciences, I think it can never once have tricked
him into any action that was impure or unclean. Some critics
maintain that the heroes and heroines of his books are
impossibly pure and innocent young people. R. H. D. never
called upon his characters for any trait of virtue, or
renunciation, or self-mastery of which his own life could not
Fortunately, he did not have for his friends the same
conscience that he had for himself. His great gift of
eyesight and observation failed him in his judgments upon his
friends. If only you loved him, you could get your biggest
failures of conduct somewhat more than forgiven, without any
trouble at all. And of your molehill virtues he made splendid
mountains. He only interfered with you when he was afraid
that you were going to hurt some one else whom he also loved.
Once I had a telegram from him which urged me for heaven's
sake not to forget that the next day was my wife's birthday.
Whether I had forgotten it or not is my own private affair.
And when I declared that I had read a story which I liked
very, very much and was going to write to the author to tell
him so, he always kept at me till the letter was written.
Have I said that he had no habits? Every day, when he was
away from her, he wrote a letter to his mother, and no swift
scrawl at that, for, no matter how crowded and eventful the
day, he wrote her the best letter that he could write. That
was the only habit he had. He was a slave to it.
Once I saw R. H. D. greet his old mother after an absence.
They threw their arms about each other and rocked to and fro
for a long time. And it hadn't been a long absence at that.
No ocean had been between them; her heart had not been in her
mouth with the thought that he was under fire, or about to
become a victim of jungle fever. He had only been away upon a
little expedition, a mere matter of digging for buried
treasure. We had found the treasure, part of it a chipmunk's
skull and a broken arrowhead, and R. H. D. had been absent
from his mother for nearly two hours and a half.
I set about this article with the knowledge that I must fail
to give more than a few hints of what he was like. There
isn't much more space at my command, and there were so many
sides to him that to touch upon them all would fill a volume.
There were the patriotism and the Americanism, as much a part
of him as the marrow of his bones, and from which sprang all
those brilliant headlong letters to the newspapers: those
trenchant assaults upon evil-doers in public office, those
quixotic efforts to redress wrongs, and those simple and
dexterous exposures of this and that, from an absolutely
unexpected point of view. He was a quickener of the public
conscience. That people are beginning to think tolerantly of
preparedness, that a nation which at one time looked yellow as
a dandelion is beginning to turn Red, White, and Blue is owing
in some measure to him.
R. H. D. thought that war was unspeakably terrible. He
thought that peace at the price which our country has been
forced to pay for it was infinitely worse. And he was one of
those who have gradually taught this country to see the matter
in the same way.
I must come to a close now, and I have hardly scratched the
surface of my subject. And that is a failure which I feel
keenly but which was inevitable. As R. H. D. himself used to
say of those deplorable "personal interviews" which appear in
the newspapers, and in which the important person interviewed
is made by the cub reporter to say things which he never said,
or thought, or dreamed of--"You can't expect a fifteen-dollar-
a-week brain to describe a thousand-dollar-a-week brain."
There is, however, one question which I should attempt to
answer. No two men are alike. In what one salient thing did
R. H. D. differ from other men--differ in his personal
character and in the character of his work? And that question
I can answer off-hand, without taking thought, and be sure
that I am right.
An analysis of his works, a study of that book which the
Recording Angel keeps will show one dominant characteristic to
which even his brilliancy, his clarity of style, his excellent
mechanism as a writer are subordinate; and to which, as a man,
even his sense of duty, his powers of affection, of
forgiveness, of loving-kindness are subordinate, too; and that
characteristic is cleanliness. The biggest force for
cleanliness that was in the world has gone out of the
world--gone to that Happy Hunting Ground where "Nobody hunts
us and there is nothing to hunt."
BY BOOTH TARKINGTON
To the college boy of the early nineties Richard Harding Davis
was the "beau ideal of jeunesse doree," a sophisticated
heart of gold. He was of that college boy's own age, but
already an editor--already publishing books! His stalwart
good looks were as familiar to us as were those of our own
football captain; we knew his face as we knew the face of the
President of the United States, but we infinitely preferred
Davis's. When the Waldorf was wondrously completed, and we
cut an exam. in Cuneiform Inscriptions for an excursion to see
the world at lunch in its new magnificence, and Richard
Harding Davis came into the Palm Room--then, oh, then, our day
was radiant! That was the top of our fortune: we could never
have hoped for so much. Of all the great people of every
continent, this was the one we most desired to see.
The boys of those days left college to work, to raise
families, to grow grizzled; but the glamour remained about
Davis; HE never grew grizzled. Youth was his great quality.
All his writing has the liveliness of springtime; it stirs
with an unsuppressible gayety, and it has the attraction which
companionship with him had: there is never enough. He could
be sharp; he could write angrily and witheringly; but even
when he was fiercest he was buoyant, and when his words were
hot they were not scalding but rather of a dry, clean
indignation with things which he believed could, if they
would, be better. He never saw evil but as temporary.
Following him through his books, whether he wrote of home or
carried his kind, stout heart far, far afield, we see an
American writing to Americans. He often told us about things
abroad in terms of New York; and we have all been to New York,
so he made for us the pictures he wished us to see. And when
he did not thus use New York for his colors he found other
means as familiar to us and as suggestive; he always made us
SEE. What claims our thanks in equal measure, he knew our
kind of curiosity so well that he never failed to make us see
what we were most anxious to see. He knew where our dark
spots were, cleared up the field of vision, and left us
unconfused. This discernment of our needs, and this power of
enlightening and pleasuring his reader, sprang from seeds
native in him. They were, as we say, gifts; for he always had
them but did not make them. He was a national figure at
twenty-three. He KNEW HOW, before he began.
Youth called to youth: all ages read him, but the young men
and young women have turned to him ever since his precocious
fame made him their idol. They got many things from him, but
above all they live with a happier bravery because of him.
Reading the man beneath the print, they found their prophet
and gladly perceived that a prophet is not always cowled and
bearded, but may be a gallant young gentleman. This one
called merrily to them in his manly voice; and they followed
him. He bade them see that pain is negligible, that fear is a
joke, and that the world is poignantly interesting, joyously
They will always follow him.
THE FIRST GLIMPSE OF DAVIS
BY CHARLES DANA GIBSON
Dick was twenty-four years old when he came into the smoking-
room of the Victoria Hotel, in London, after midnight one July
night--he was dressed as a Thames boatman.
He had been rowing up and down the river since sundown,
looking for color. He had evidently peopled every dark corner
with a pirate, and every floating object had meant something
to him. He had adventure written all over him. It was the
first time I had ever seen him, and I had never heard of him.
I can't now recall another figure in that smoke-filled room.
I don't remember who introduced us--over twenty-seven years
have passed since that night. But I can see Dick now dressed
in a rough brown suit, a soft hat, with a handkerchief about
his neck, a splendid, healthy, clean-minded, gifted boy at
play. And so he always remained.
His going out of this world seemed like a boy interrupted in a
game he loved. And how well and fairly he played it! Surely
no one deserved success more than Dick. And it is a
consolation to know he had more than fifty years of just what
he wanted. He had health, a great talent, and personal charm.
There never was a more loyal or unselfish friend. There
wasn't an atom of envy in him. He had unbounded mental and
physical courage, and with it all he was sensitive and
sometimes shy. He often tried to conceal these last two
qualities, but never succeeded in doing so from those of us
who were privileged really to know and love him.
His life was filled with just the sort of adventure he liked
the best. No one ever saw more wars in so many different
places or got more out of them. And it took the largest war
in all history to wear out that stout heart.
We shall miss him.
BY E. L. BURLINGAME
One of the most attractive and inspiring things about Richard
Harding Davis was the simple, almost matter-of-course way in
which he put into practice his views of life--in which he
acted, and in fact WAS, what he believed. With most of us,
to have opinions as to what is the right thing to do is at the
best to worry a good deal as to whether we are doing it; at
the worst to be conscious of doubts as to whether it is a
sufficient code, or perhaps whether it isn't beyond us. Davis
seemed to have neither of these wasters of strength. He had
certain simple, clean, manly convictions as to how a man
should act; apparently quite without self-consciousness in
this respect, whatever little mannerisms or points of pride he
may have had in others--fewer than most men of his success and
fastidiousness--he went ahead and did accordingly, untormented
by any alternatives or casuistries, which for him did not seem
to exist. He was so genuinely straightforward that he could
not sophisticate even himself, as almost every man occasionally
does under temptation. He, at least, never needed to be told
"Go put your creed into your deed
Nor speak with double tongue."
It is so impossible not to think first of the man, as the
testimony of every one who knew him shows, that those who have
long had occasion to watch and follow his work, not merely
with enjoyment but somewhat critically, may well look upon any
detailed discussion of it as something to be kept till later.
But there is more to be said than to recall the unfailing zest
of it, the extraordinary freshness of eye, the indomitable
youthfulness and health of spirit--all the qualities that we
associate with Davis himself. It was serious work in a sense
that only the more thoughtful of its critics had begun of late
to comprehend. It had not inspired a body of disciples like
Kipling's, but it had helped to clear the air and to give a
new proof of the vitality of certain ideals--even of a few of
the simpler ones now outmoded in current masterpieces; and it
was at its best far truer in an artistic sense than it was the
fashion of its easy critics to allow. Whether Davis could or
would have written a novel of the higher rank is a useless
question now; he himself, who was a critic of his own work
without illusions or affectation, used to say that he could
not; but it is certain that in the early part of "Captain
Macklin" he displayed a power really Thackerayan in kind.
Of his descriptive writing there need be no fear of speaking
with extravagance; he had made himself, especially in his
later work, through long practice and his inborn instinct for
the significant and the fresh aspect, quite the best of all
contemporary correspondents and reporters; and his rivals in
the past could be easily numbered.
BY AUGUSTUS THOMAS
One spring afternoon in 1889 a member brought into the Lambs
Club house--then on Twenty-sixth Street--as a guest Mr.
Richard Harding Davis. I had not clearly caught the careless
introduction, and, answering my question, Mr. Davis repeated
the surname. He did not pronounce it as would a Middle
Westerner like myself, but more as a citizen of London might.
To spell his pronunciation Dyvis is to burlesque it slightly,
but that is as near as it can be given phonetically. Several
other words containing _a_ long a were sounded by him in the
same way, and to my ear the rest of his speech had a related
eccentricity. I am told that other men educated in certain
Philadelphia schools have a similar diction, but at that time
many of Mr. Davis's new acquaintances thought the manner was
an affectation. I mention the peculiarity, which after years
convinced me was as native to him as was the color of his
eyes, because I am sure that it was a barrier between him and
some persons who met him only casually.
At that time he was a reporter on a Philadelphia newspaper,
and in appearance was what he continued to be until his death,
an unassertive but self-respecting, level-eyed, clean-toothed,
and wholesome athlete.
The reporter developed rapidly into the more serious workman,
and amongst the graver business was that of war correspondent.
I have known fraternally several war correspondents--Dick
Davis, Fred Remington, John Fox, Caspar Whitney, and
others--and it seems to me that, while differing one from
another as average men differ, they had in common a kind of
veteran superiority to trivial surprise, a tolerant world
wisdom that mere newspaper work in other departments does not
bring. At any rate, and however acquired, Dick Davis had the
quality. And with that seasoned calm he kept and cultivated
the reporter sense. He had insight--the faculty of going back
of appearances. He saw the potential salients in occurrences
and easily separated them from the commonplace--and the
commonplace itself when it was informed by a spirit that made
it helpful did not mislead him by its plainness.
That is another war-correspondent quality. He saw when
adherence to duty approached the heroic. He knew the degree
of pressure that gave it test conditions and he had an
unadulterated, plain, bread-and-water appreciation of it.
I think that fact shows in his stories. He liked
enthusiastically to write of men doing men's work and doing it
man fashion with full-blooded optimism.
At his very best he was in heart and mind a boy grown tall.
He had a boy's undisciplined indifference to great personages
not inconsistent with his admiration of their medals. By
temperament he was impulsive and partisan, and if he was your
friend you were right until you were obviously very wrong.
But he liked "good form," and had adopted the Englishman's
code of "things no fellow could do"--therefore his
impulsiveness was without offense and his partisanship was
In the circumstance of this story of "Soldiers of Fortune" he
could himself have been either Clay or Stuart and he had the
humor of MacWilliams.
In the clash between Clay and Stuart, when Clay asks the
younger man if the poster smirching Stuart's relation to
Madame Alvarez is true, it is Davis talking through both men,
and when, standing alone, Clay lifts his hat and addresses the
statue of General Bolivar, it is Davis at his best.
Modern criticism has driven the soliloquy from the theatre,
but modern criticism in that respect is immature and wrong.
The soliloquy exists. Any one observing the number of
business men who, talking aloud to themselves, walk Fifth
Avenue any evening may prove it. For Davis the soliloquy was
not courageous; it was simply true. And that was a place for
When "Soldiers of Fortune" was printed it had a quick and a
deserved popularity. It was cheerily North American in its
viewpoint of the sub-tropical republics and was very up to
date. The outdoor American girl was not so established at
that time, and the Davis report of her was refreshing. Robert
Clay was unconsciously Dick Davis himself as he would have
tried to do--Captain Stuart was the English officer that Davis
had met the world over, or, closer still, he was the better
side of such men which the attractive wholesomeness of Davis
would draw out. Alice and King were the half-spoiled New
Yorkers as he knew them at the dinner-parties.
At a manager's suggestion Dick made a play of the book. It
was his first attempt for the theatre and lacked somewhat the
skill that he developed later in his admirable "Dictator." I
was called in by the manager as an older carpenter and
craftsman to make another dramatic version. Dick and I were
already friends and he already liked plays that I had done,
but that alone could not account for the heartiness with which
he turned over to me his material and eliminated himself.
Only his unspoiled simplicity and utter absence of envy could
do that. Only native modesty could explain the absence of the
usual author pride and sensitiveness. The play was
immediately successful. It would have been a dull hack,
indeed, who could have spoiled such excellent stage material
as the novel furnished, but his generosity saw genius in the
dramatic extension of the types he had furnished and in the
welding of additions. Even after enthusiasm had had time
enough to cool, he sent me a first copy of the Playgoers'
edition of the novel, printed in 1902, with the inscription:
TO AUGUSTUS THOMAS:
Gratefully, Admiringly, Sincerely.
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
And then, as if feeling the formality of the names, he wrote below:
If you liked this book only one-fifth as much as I like your play,
I would be content to rest on that and spare the public any others.
So for the sake of the public try to like it.
In 1914 a motion-picture company arranged to make a feature
film of the, play, and Dick and I went with their outfit to
Santiago de Cuba, where, twenty years earlier, he had found
the inspiration for his story and out of which city and its
environs he had fashioned his supposititious republic of
Olancho. On that trip he was the idol of the company. With
the men in the smoking-room of the steamer there were the
numberless playful stories, in the rough, of the experiences
on all five continents and seven seas that were the
backgrounds of his published tales.
At Santiago, if an official was to be persuaded to consent to
some unprecedented seizure of the streets, or a diplomat
invoked for the assistance of the Army or the Navy, it was the
experience and good judgment of Dick Davis that controlled the
task. In the field there were his helpful suggestions of work
and make-up to the actors, and on the boat and train and in
hotel and camp the lady members met in him an easy courtesy
and understanding at once fraternal and impersonal.
That picture enterprise he has described in an article,
entitled "Breaking into the Movies," which was printed in
The element that he could not put into the account, and which
is particularly pertinent to this page, is the author of
"Soldiers of Fortune" as he revealed himself to me both with
intention and unconsciously in the presence of the familiar
For three weeks, with the exception of one or two occasions
when some local dignitary captured the revisiting lion, he and
I spent our evenings together at a cafe table over looking
"the great square," which he sketches so deftly in its
atmosphere when Clay and the Langhams and Stuart dine there:
"At one end of the plaza the President's band was playing
native waltzes that came throbbing through the trees and
beating softly above the rustling skirts and clinking spurs of
the senoritas and officers sweeping by in two opposite circles
around the edges of the tessellated pavements. Above the
palms around the square arose the dim, white facade of the
Cathedral, with the bronze statue of Anduella the liberator of
Olancho, who answered with his upraised arm and cocked hat the
cheers of an imaginary populace."
Twenty years had gone by since Dick had received the
impression that wrote those lines, and now sometimes after
dinner half a long cigar would burn out as he mused over the
picture and the dreams that had gone between. From one long
silence he said: "I think I'll come back here this winter and
bring Mrs. Davis with me--stay a couple of months." What a
fine compliment to a wife to have the thought of her and that
plan emerge from that deep and romantic background!
And again, later, apropos of nothing but what one guessed from
the dreamer's expressive face, he said: "I had remembered it
as so much larger"--indicating the square--"until I saw it
again when we came down with the army." A tolerant smile--he
might have explained that it is always so on revisiting scenes
that have impressed us deeply in our earlier days, but he let
the smile do that. One of his charms as companion was that
restful ability not to talk if you knew it, too.
The picture people began their film with a showing of the
"mountains which jutted out into the ocean and suggested
roughly the five knuckles of a giant's hand clenched and lying
flat upon the surface of the water." That formation of the
sea wall is just outside of Santiago. "The waves tunnelled
their way easily enough until they ran up against those five
mountains and then they had to fall back." How natural for
one of us to be unimpressed by such a feature of the
landscape, and yet how characteristic of Dick Davis to see the
elemental fight that it recorded and get the hint for the
whole of the engineering struggle that is so much of his book!
We went over those mountains together, where two decades
before he had planted his banner of romance. We visited the
mines and the railroads, and everywhere found some
superintendent or foreman or engineer who remembered Davis.
He had guessed at nothing. Everywhere he had overlaid the
facts with adventure and with beauty, but he had been on sure
footing all the time. His prototype of MacWilliams was dead.
Together we visited the wooden cross with which the miners had
marked his grave.
One is tempted to go choosing through his book again and rob
its surprises by reminiscence--but I refrain. Yet it is only
justice to point out that for "Soldiers of Fortune," as for
the "Men of Zanzibar," "Three Gringos in Venezuela," "The
King's Jackal," "Ranson's Folly," and his other books, he got
his structure and his color at first hand. He was a writer
and not a rewriter. And another thing we must note in his
writing is his cleanliness. It is safe stuff to give to a
young fellow who likes to take off his hat and dilate his
nostrils and feel the wind in his face. Like water at the
source, it is undefiled.
DAVIS AND THE ROUGH RIDERS
BY THEODORE ROOSEVELT
I knew Richard Harding Davis for many years, and I was among
the number who were immediately drawn to him by the power and
originality of "Gallegher," the story which first made his reputation.
My intimate association with him, however, was while he was
with my regiment in Cuba, He joined us immediately after
landing, and was not merely present at but took part in the
fighting. For example, at the Guasimas fight it was he, I
think, with his field-glasses, who first placed the trench
from which the Spaniards were firing at the right wing of the
regiment, which right wing I, at that time, commanded. We
were then able to make out the trench, opened fire on it, and
drove out the Spaniards.
He was indomitably cheerful under hardships and difficulties
and entirely indifferent to his own personal safety or
comfort. He so won the esteem and regard of the regiment that
he was one of the three men we made honorary members of the
regiment's association. We gave him the same medal worn by
our own members.
He was as good an American as ever lived and his heart flamed
against cruelty and injustice. His writings form a text-book
of Americanism which all our people would do well to read at
the present time.
BY IRVIN S. COBB
Almost the first letter I received after I undertook to make a
living by writing for magazines was signed with the name of
Richard Harding Davis. I barely knew him; practically we were
strangers; but if he had been my own brother he could not have
written more generously or more kindly than he did write in
that letter. He, a famous writer, had gone out of his way to
speak words of encouragement to me, an unknown writer; had
taken the time and the pains out of a busy life to cheer a
beginner in the field where he had had so great a measure of
When I came to know him better, I found out that such acts as
these were characteristic of Richard Harding Davis. The world
knew him as one of the most vivid and versatile and
picturesque writers that our country has produced in the last
half-century, but his friends knew him as one of the kindest
and gentlest and most honest and most unselfish of men--a real
human being, firm in his convictions, steadfast in his
affections, loyal to the ideals by which he held, but tolerant
always in his estimates of others.
He may or may not have been a born writer; sometimes I doubt
whether there is such a thing as a born writer. But this much
I do know--he was a born gentleman if ever there was one.
As a writer his place is assured. But always I shall think of
him as he was in his private life--a typical American, a
lovable companion, and a man to the tips of his fingers.
BY JOHN FOX, JR.
During the twenty years that I knew him Richard Harding Davis
was always going to some far-off land. He was just back from
a trip somewhere when I first saw him in his rooms in New
York, rifle in hand, in his sock feet and with his traps in
confusion about him. He was youth incarnate--ruddy, joyous,
vigorous, adventurous, self-confident youth--and, in all the
years since, that first picture of him has suffered no change
with me. He was so intensely alive that I cannot think of him
as dead--and I do not. He is just away on another of those
trips and it really seems queer that I shall not hear him tell
We were together as correspondents in the Spanish War and in
the Russo-Japanese War we were together again; and so there is
hardly any angle from which I have not had the chance to know
him. No man was ever more misunderstood by those who did not
know him or better understood by those who knew him well, for
he carried nothing in the back of his head--no card that was
not face up on the table. Every thought, idea, purpose,
principle within him was for the world to read and to those
who could not know how rigidly he matched his inner and outer
life he was almost unbelievable. He was exacting in
friendship because his standard was high and because he gave
what he asked; and if he told you of a fault he told you first
of a virtue that made the fault seem small indeed. But he
told you and expected you to tell him.
Naturally, the indirection of the Japanese was
incomprehensible to him. He was not good at picking up
strange tongues, and the Japanese equivalent for the Saxon
monosyllable for what the Japanese was to him he never
learned. For only one other word did he have more use and I
believe it was the only one he knew, "hyaku--hurry!" Over
there I was in constant fear for him because of his knight-
errantry and his candor. Once he came near being involved in
a duel because of his quixotic championship of a woman whom he
barely knew, and disliked, and whose absent husband he did not
know at all. And more than once I looked for a Japanese to
draw his two-handed ancestral sword when Dick bluntly demanded
a reconciliation of his yea of yesterday with his nay of to-
day. Nine months passed and we never heard the whistle of
bullet or shell. Dick called himself a "cherry-blossom
correspondent," and when our ship left those shores each knew
that the other went to his state-room and in bitter chagrin
and disappointment wept quite childishly.
Of course, he was courageous--absurdly so--and, in spite of
his high-strung temperament, always calm and cool. At El Paso
hill, the day after the fight, the rest of us scurried for
tree-trunks when a few bullets whistled near; but Dick stalked
out in the open and with his field-glasses searched for the
supposed sharpshooters in the trees. Lying under a bomb-proof
when the Fourth of July bombardment started, I saw Dick going
unhurriedly down the hill for his glasses, which he had left
in Colonel Roosevelt's tent, and unhurriedly going back up to
the trenches again. Under the circumstances I should have
been content with my naked eye. A bullet thudded close to
where Dick lay with a soldier.
"That hit you?" asked Dick. The soldier grunted "No," looked
sidewise at Dick, and muttered an oath of surprise. Dick had
not taken his glasses from his eyes. I saw him writhing on
the ground with sciatica during that campaign, like a snake,
but pulling his twisted figure straight and his tortured face
into a smile if a soldier or stranger passed.
He was easily the first reporter of his time--perhaps of all
time. Out of any incident or situation he could pick the most
details that would interest the most people and put them in a
way that was pleasing to the most people; and always, it
seemed, he had the extraordinary good judgment or the
extraordinary good luck to be just where the most interesting
thing was taking place. Gouverneur Morris has written the
last word about Richard Harding Davis, and he, as every one
must, laid final stress on the clean body, clean heart, and
clean mind of the man. R. H. D. never wrote a line that
cannot be given to his little daughter when she is old enough
to read, and I never heard a word pass his lips that his own
mother could not hear. There are many women in the world like
the women in his books. There are a few men like the men, and
of these Dick himself was one.
BY FINLEY PETER DUNNE
In the articles about Mr. Davis that have appeared since his
death, the personality of the man seems to overshadow the
merit of the author. In dealing with the individual the
writers overlook the fact that we have lost one of the best of
our story-tellers. This is but natural. He was a very vivid
kind of person. He had thousands of friends in all parts of
the world, and a properly proportionate number of enemies, and
those who knew him were less interested in the books than in
the man himself--the generous, romantic, sensitive individual
whose character and characteristics made him a conspicuous
figure everywhere he went--and he went everywhere. His books
were sold in great numbers, but it might be said in terms of
the trade that his personality had a larger circulation than
his literature. He probably knew more waiters, generals,
actors, and princes than any man who ever lived, and the
people he knew best are not the people who read books. They
write them or are a part of them. Besides, if you knew
Richard Davis you knew his books. He translated himself
literally, and no expurgation was needed to make the
translation suitable for the most innocent eyes. He was the
identical chivalrous young American or Englishman who strides
through his pages in battalions to romantic death or romantic
marriage. Every one speaks of the extraordinary youthfulness
of his mind, which was still fresh at an age when most men
find avarice or golf a substitute for former pastimes. He not
only refused to grow old himself, he refused to write about
old age. There are a few elderly people in his books, but
they are vague and shadowy. They serve to emphasize the
brightness of youth, and are quickly blown away when the time
for action arrives. But if he numbered his friends and
acquaintances by the thousands there are other thousands in
this country who have read his books, and they know, even
better than those who were acquainted with him personally, how
good a friend they have lost. I happened to read again the
other day the little collection of stories--his first, I
think--which commences with "Gallegher" and includes "The
Other Woman" and one or more of the Van Bibber tales. His
first stories were not his best. He increased in skill and
was stronger at the finish than at the start. But "Gallegher"
is a fine story, and is written in that eager, breathless
manner which was all his own, and which always reminds me of a
boy who has hurried home to tell of some wonderful thing he
has seen. Of course it is improbable. Most good stories are
and practically all readable books of history. No old
newspaper man can believe that there ever existed such a "copy
boy" as Gallegher, or that a murderer with a finger missing
from one hand could escape detection even in a remote country
village. Greed would have urged the constable to haul to the
calaboose every stranger who wore gloves. But he managed to
attach so many accurate details of description to the romance
that it leaves as definite an impression of realism as any of
Mr. Howells's purposely realistic stories. The scene in the
newspaper office, the picture of the prize-fight, the mixture
of toughs and swells, the spectators in their short gray
overcoats with pearl buttons (like most good story-tellers he
was strong on the tailoring touch), the talk of cabmen and
policemen, the swiftness of the way the story is told, as if
he were in a hurry to let his reader know something he had
actually seen--create such an impression of truth that when
the reader finishes he finds himself picturing Gallegher on
the witness-stand at the murder trial receiving the thanks of
the judge. And he wonders what became of this precocious
infant, and whether he was rewarded in time by receiving the
hand of the sister of the sporting editor in marriage.
To give the appearance of truth to the truth is the despair of
writers, but Mr. Davis had the faculty of giving the appearance
of the truth to situations that in human experience could
hardly exist. The same quality that showed in his tales made
him the most readable of war correspondents. He went to all
the wars of his youth and middle age filled with visions of
glorious action. Where other correspondents saw and reported
evil-smelling camps, ghastly wounds, unthinkable suffering,
blunders, good luck and bad luck, or treated the subject with
a mathematical precision that would have given Clausewitz a
headache, Davis saw and reported it first of all as a romance,
and then filled in the story with human details, so that the
reader came away with an impression that all these heroic
deeds were performed by people just like the reader himself,
which was exactly the truth.
It is a pity that the brutality of the German staff officers
and the stupidity of the French and English prevented him from
seeing the actual fighting in Flanders and Picardy. The scene
is an ugly one, a wallow of blood and mire. But so probably
were Agincourt and Crecy when you come to think of it, and
Davis, you may be sure, would have illuminated the foul
battle-field with a reflection of the glory which must exist
in the breasts of the soldiers.
The fact is, he was the owner of a most enviable pair of eyes,
which reported to him only what was pleasant and encouraging.
A man is blessed or cursed by what his eyes see. To some
people the world of men is a confused and undecipherable
puzzle. To Mr. Davis it was a simple and pleasant
pattern--good and bad, honest and dishonest, kind and cruel,
with the good, the honest, and the kind rewarded; the bad, the
dishonest, and the cruel punished; where the heroes are
modest, the brave generous, the women lovely, the bus-drivers
humorous; where the Prodigal returns to dine in a borrowed
dinner-jacket at Delmonico's with his father, and where always
the Young Man marries the Girl. And this is the world as much
as Balzac's is the world, if it is the world as you see it.
BY WINSTON CHURCHHILL
On that day when I read of Mr. Davis's sudden death there came
back to me a vivid memory of another day, some eighteen years
ago, when I first met him, shortly after the publication of my
first novel. I was paying an over-Sunday visit to Marion,
that quaint waterside resort where Mr. Davis lived for many
years, and with which his name is associated. On the Monday
morning, as the stage started out for the station, a young man
came running after it, caught it, and sat down in the only
empty place--beside me. He was Richard Harding Davis. I
recognized him, nor shall I forget that peculiar thrill I
experienced at finding myself in actual, physical contact with
an author. And that this author should be none other than the
creator of Gallegher, prepossessing, vigorous, rather than a
dry and elderly recluse, made my excitement the keener. It
happened also, after entering the smoking-car, that the
remaining vacant seat was at my side, and here Mr. Davis
established himself. He looked at me, he asked if my name was
Winston Churchill, he said he had read my book. How he
guessed my identity I did not discover. But the recollection
of our talk, the strong impression I then received of Mr.
Davis's vitality and personality, the liking I conceived for
him--these have neither changed nor faded with the years, and
I recall with gratitude to-day the kindliness, the sense of
fellowship always so strong in him that impelled him to speak
as he did. A month before he died, when I met him on the
train going to Mt. Kisco, he had not changed. His
enthusiasms, his vigor, his fine passions, his fondness for
his friends, these, nor the joy he found in the pursuit of his
profession, had not faded. And there come to me now, as I
think of him filled with life, flashes from his writings that
have moved me, and move me indescribably still. "Le Style,"
as Rolland remarks, "c'est l'ame." It was so in Mr. Davis's
case. He had the rare faculty of stirring by a phrase the
imaginations of men, of including in a phrase a picture, an
event--a cataclysm. Such a phrase was that in which he
described the entry of German hosts into Brussels. He was not
a man, when enlisted in a cause, to count the cost to himself.
Many causes will miss him, and many friends, and many admirers,
yet his personality remains with us forever, in his work.
BY LEONARD WOOD
The death of Richard Harding Davis was a real loss to the
movement for preparedness. Mr. Davis had an extensive
experience as a military observer, and thoroughly appreciated
the need of a general training system like that of Australia
or Switzerland and of thorough organization of our industrial
resources in order to establish a condition of reasonable
preparedness in this country. A few days before his death he
came to Governor's Island for the purpose of ascertaining in
what line of work he could be most useful in building up sound
public opinion in favor of such preparedness as would give us
a real peace-insurance. His mind was bent on devoting his
energies and abilities to the work of public education on this
vitally important subject, and few men were better qualified
to do so, for he had served as a military observer in many
Throughout the Cuban campaign he was attached to the
headquarters of my regiment in Cuba as a military observer.
He was with the advanced party at the opening of the fight at
Las Guasimas, and was distinguished throughout the fight by
coolness and good conduct. He also participated in the battle
of San Juan and the siege of Santiago, and as an observer was
always where duty called him. He was a delightful companion,
cheerful, resourceful, and thoughtful of the interests and
wishes of others. His reports of the campaign were valuable
and among the best and most accurate.
The Plattsburg movement took very strong hold of him. He saw
in this a great instrument for building up a sound knowledge
concerning our military history and policy, also a very
practical way of training men for the duties of junior
officers. He realized fully that we should need in case of
war tens of thousands of officers with our newly raised
troops, and that it would be utterly impossible to prepare
them in the hurry and confusion of the onrush of modern war.
His heart was filled with a desire to serve his country to the
best of his ability. His recent experience in Europe pointed
out to him the absolute madness of longer disregarding the
need of doing those things which reasonable preparedness
dictates, the things which cannot be accomplished after
trouble is upon us. He had in mind at the time of his death a
series of articles to be written especially to build up
interest in universal military training through conveying to
our people an understanding of what organization as it exists
to-day means, and how vitally important it is for our people
to do in time of peace those things which modern war does not
permit done once it is under way.
Davis was a loyal friend, a thoroughgoing American devoted to
the best interests of his country, courageous, sympathetic,
and true. His loss has been a very real one to all of us who
knew and appreciated him, and in his death the cause of
preparedness has lost an able worker and the country a devoted
and loyal citizen.
WITH DAVIS IN VERA CRUZ, BRUSSELS, AND SALONIKA
BY JOHN T. McCRUTCHEON
In common with many others who have been with Richard Harding
Davis as correspondents, I find it difficult to realize that
he has covered his last story and that he will not be seen
again with the men who follow the war game, rushing to distant
places upon which the spotlight of news interest suddenly
It seems a sort of bitter irony that he who had covered so
many big events of world importance in the past twenty years
should be abruptly torn away in the midst of the greatest
event of them all, while the story is still unfinished and its
outcome undetermined. If there is a compensating thought, it
ties in the reflection that he had a life of almost
unparalleled fulness, crowded to the brim, up to the last
moment, with those experiences and achievements which he
particularly aspired to have. He left while the tide was at
its flood, and while he still held supreme his place as the
best reporter in his country. He escaped the bitterness of
seeing the ebb set in, when the youth to which he clung had
slipped away, and when he would have to sit impatient in the
audience, while younger men were in the thick of great, world-
stirring dramas on the stage.
This would have been a real tragedy in "Dick" Davis's case,
for, while his body would have aged, it is doubtful if his
spirit ever would have lost its youthful freshness or boyish
It was my privilege to see a good deal of Davis in the last
He arrived in Vera Cruz among the first of the sixty or
seventy correspondents who flocked to that news centre when
the situation was so full of sensational possibilities. It
was a time when the American newspaper-reading public was
eager for thrills, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of
the correspondents in Vera Cruz were tried to the uttermost to
supply the demand.
In the face of the fiercest competition it fell to Davis's lot
to land the biggest story of those days of marking time. The
story "broke" when it became known that Davis, Medill
McCormick, and Frederick Palmer had gone through the Mexican
lines in an effort to reach Mexico City. Davis and McCormick,
with letters to the Brazilian and British ministers, got
through and reached the capital on the strength of those
letters, but Palmer, having only an American passport, was
After an ominous silence, which furnished American newspapers
with a lively period of suspense, the two men returned safely
with wonderful stories of their experiences while under arrest
in the hands of the Mexican authorities. McCormick, in
recently speaking of Davis at that time, said that, "as a
correspondent in difficult and dangerous situations, he was
incomparable--cheerful, ingenious, and undiscouraged. When
the time came to choose between safety and leaving his
companion he stuck by his fellow captive even though, as they
both said, a firing-squad and a blank wall were by no means a
remote possibility." This Mexico City adventure was a
spectacular achievement which gave Davis and McCormick a
distinction which no other correspondents of all the ambitious
and able corps had managed to attain.
Davis usually "hunted" alone. He depended entirely upon his
own ingenuity and wonderful instinct for news situations. He
had the energy and enthusiasm of a beginner, with the
experience and training of a veteran. His interest in things
remained as keen as though he had not been years at a game
which often leaves a man jaded and blase. His
acquaintanceship in the American army and navy was wide, and
for this reason, as well as for the prestige which his fame
and position as a national character gave him, he found it
easy to establish valuable connections in the channels from
which news emanates. And yet, in spite of the fact that he
was "on his own" instead of having a working partnership with
other men, he was generous in helping at times when he was
able to do so. Davis was a conspicuous figure in Vera Cruz,
as he inevitably had been in all such situations. Wherever he
went he was pointed out. His distinction of appearance,
together with a distinction in dress, which, whether from
habit or policy, was a valuable asset in his work, made him a
marked man. He dressed and looked the "war correspondent,"
such a one as he would describe in one of his stories. He
fulfilled the popular ideal of what a member of that
fascinating profession should look like. His code of life and
habits was as fixed as that of the Briton who takes his habits
and customs and games and tea wherever he goes, no matter how
benighted or remote the spot may be.
He was just as loyal to his code as is the Briton. He carried
his bath-tub, his immaculate linen, his evening clothes, his
war equipment--in which he had the pride of a
connoisseur--wherever he went, and, what is more, he had the
courage to use the evening clothes at times when their use was
conspicuous. He was the only man who wore a dinner coat in
Vera Cruz, and each night, at his particular table in the
crowded "Portales," at the Hotel Diligencia, he was to be
seen, as fresh and clean as though he were in a New York or
Each day he was up early to take the train out to the "gap,"
across which came arrivals from Mexico City. Sometimes a good
"story" would come down, as when the long-heralded and long-
expected arrival of Consul Silliman gave a first-page
"feature" to all the American papers.
In the afternoon he would play water polo over at the navy
aviation camp, and always at a certain time of the day his
"striker" would bring him his horse and for an hour or more he
would ride out along the beach roads within the American
After the first few days it was difficult to extract real
thrills from the Vera Cruz situation, but we used to ride out
to El Tejar with the cavalry patrol and imagine that we might
be fired on at some point in the long ride through unoccupied
territory; or else go out to the "front," at Legarto, where a
little American force occupied a sun-baked row of freight-
cars, surrounded by malarial swamps. From the top of the
railroad water-tank we could look across to the Mexican
outposts a mile or so away. It was not very exciting, and
what thrills we got lay chiefly in our imagination.
Before my acquaintanceship with Davis at Vera Cruz I had not
known him well. Our trails didn't cross while I was in Japan
in the Japanese-Russian War, and in the Transvaal I missed him
by a few days, but in Vera Cruz I had many enjoyable
opportunities of becoming well acquainted with him.
The privilege was a pleasant one, for it served to dispel a
preconceived and not an entirely favorable impression of his
character. For years I had heard stories about Richard
Harding Davis--stories which emphasized an egotism and self-
assertiveness which, if they ever existed, had happily ceased
to be obtrusive by the time I got to know him.
He was a different Davis from the Davis whom I had expected to
find; and I can imagine no more charming and delightful
companion than he was in Vera Cruz. There was no evidence of
those qualities which I feared to find, and his attitude was
one of unfailing kindness, considerateness, and generosity.
In the many talks I had with him I was always struck by his
evident devotion to a fixed code of personal conduct. In his
writings he was the interpreter of chivalrous, well-bred
youth, and his heroes were young, clean-thinking college men,
heroic big-game hunters, war correspondents, and idealized men
about town, who always did the noble thing, disdaining the
unworthy in act or motive. It seemed to me that he was
modelling his own life, perhaps unconsciously, after the
favored types which his imagination had created for his
stories. In a certain sense he was living a life of make
believe, wherein he was the hero of the story, and in which he
was bound by his ideals always to act as he would have the
hero of his story act. It was a quality which only one could
have who had preserved a fresh youthfulness of outlook in
spite of the hardening processes of maturity.
His power of observation was extraordinarily keen, and he not
only had the rare gift of sensing the vital elements of a
situation, but also had, to an unrivalled degree, the ability
to describe them vividly. I don't know how many of those men
at Vera Cruz tried to describe the kaleidoscopic life of the
city during the American occupation, but I know that Davis's
story was far and away the most faithful and satisfying
picture. The story was photographic, even to the sounds and
The last I saw of him in Vera Cruz was when, on the Utah, he
steamed past the flagship Wyoming, upon which I was
quartered, and started for New York. The Battenberg cup race
had just been rowed, and the Utah and Florida crews had
tied. As the Utah was sailing immediately after the race,
there was no time in which to row off the tie. So it was
decided that the names of both ships should be engraved on the
cup, and that the Florida crew should defend the title
against a challenging crew from the British Admiral Craddock's
By the end of June, the public interest in Vera Cruz had
waned, and the corps of correspondents dwindled until there
were only a few left.
Frederick Palmer and I went up to join Carranza and Villa, and
on the 26th of July we were in Monterey waiting to start with
the triumphal march of Carranza's army toward Mexico City.
There was no sign of serious trouble, abroad. That night
ominous telegrams came, and at ten o'clock on the following
morning we were on a train headed for the States.
Palmer and Davis caught the Lusitania, sailing August 4 from
New York, and I followed on the Saint Paul, leaving three
days later. On the 17th of August I reached Brussels, and it
seemed the most natural thing in the world to find Davis
already there. He was at the Palace Hotel, where a number of
American and English correspondents were quartered.
Things moved quickly. On the 19th Irvin Cobb, Will Irwin,
Arno Dosch, and I were caught between the Belgian and German
lines in Louvain; our retreat to Brussels was cut, and for
three days, while the vast German army moved through the city,
we were detained. Then, the army having passed, we were
allowed to go back to the capital.
In the meantime Davis was in Brussels. The Germans reached
the outskirts of the city on the morning of the 20th, and the
correspondents who had remained in Brussels were feverishly
writing despatches describing the imminent fall of the city.
One of them, Harry Hansen, of the Chicago Daily News, tells
the following story, which I give in his words: "While we
were writing," says Hansen, "Richard Harding Davis walked into
the writing-room of the Palace Hotel with a bunch of
manuscript in his hand. With an amused expression he surveyed
the three correspondents filling white paper.
"`I say, men,' said Davis, `do you know when the next train
"`There is one at three o'clock,' said a correspondent,
"`That looks like our only chance to get a story out,' said
Davis. `Well, we'll trust to that.'
"The story was the German invasion of Brussels, and the train
mentioned was considered the forlorn hope of the correspondents
to connect with the outside world--that is, every
correspondent thought it to be the OTHER man's hope.
Secretly each had prepared to outwit the other, and secretly
Davis had already sent his story to Ostend. He meant to
emulate Archibald Forbes, who despatched a courier with his
real manuscript, and next day publicly dropped a bulky package
in the mail-bag. "Davis had sensed the news in the occupation
of Brussels long before it happened. With dawn he went out to
the Louvain road, where the German army stood, prepared to
smash the capital if negotiations failed. His observant eye
took in all the details. Before noon he had written a
comprehensive sketch of the occupation, and when word was
received that it was under way, he trusted his copy to an old
Flemish woman, who spoke not a word of English, and saw her
safely on board the train that pulled out under Belgian
auspices for Ostend."
With passes which the German commandant in Brussels gave us
the correspondents immediately started out to see how far
those passes would carry us. A number of us left on the
afternoon of August 23 for Waterloo, where it was expected
that the great clash between the German and the Anglo-French
forces would occur. We had planned to be back the same
evening, and went prepared only for an afternoon's drive in a
couple of hired street carriages. It was seven weeks before
we again saw Brussels. On the following day (August 24) Davis
started for Mons. He wore the khaki uniform which he had worn
in many campaigns. Across his breast was a narrow bar of silk
ribbon indicating the campaigns in which he had served as a
correspondent. He so much resembled a British officer that he
was arrested as a British derelict and was informed that he
would be shot at once.
He escaped only by offering to walk to Brand Whitlock, in
Brussels, reporting to each officer he met on the way. His
plan was approved, and as a hostage on parole he appeared
before the American minister, who quickly established his
identity as an American of good standing, to the satisfaction
of the Germans.
In the following few months our trails were widely separated.
I read of his arrest by German officers on the road to Mons;
later I read the story of his departure from Brussels by train
to Holland--a trip which carried him through Louvain while the
town still was burning; and still later I read that he was
with the few lucky men who were in Rheims during one of the
early bombardments that damaged the cathedral. By amazing
luck, combined with a natural news sense which drew him
instinctively to critical places at the psychological moment,
he had been a witness of the two most widely featured stories
of the early weeks of the war.
Arrested by the Germans in Belgium, and later by the French in
France, he was convinced that the restrictions on correspondents
were too great to permit of good work.
So he left the European war zone with the widely quoted
remark: "The day of the war correspondent is over."
And yet I was not surprised when, one evening, late in
November of last year, he suddenly walked into the room in
Salonika where William G. Shepherd, of the United Press,
"Jimmy Hare," the veteran war photographer, and I had
established ourselves several weeks before.
The hotel was jammed, and the city, with a normal capacity of
about one hundred and seventy-five thousand, was struggling to
accommodate at least a hundred thousand more. There was not a
room to be had in any of the better hotels, and for several
days we lodged Davis in our room, a vast chamber which
formerly had been the main dining-room of the establishment,
and which now was converted into a bedroom. There was room
for a dozen men, if necessary, and whenever stranded Americans
arrived and could find no hotel accommodations we simply
rigged up emergency cots for their temporary use.
The weather in Salonika at this time, late November, was
penetratingly cold. In the mornings the steam coils struggled
feebly to dispel the chill in the room.
Early in the morning after Davis had arrived, we were aroused
by the sound of violent splashing, accompanied by shuddering
gasps, and we looked out from the snug warmth of our beds to
see Davis standing in his portable bath-tub and drenching
himself with ice-cold water. As an exhibition of courageous
devotion to an established custom of life it was admirable,
but I'm not sure that it was prudent.
For some reason, perhaps a defective circulation or a weakened
heart, his system failed to react from these cold-water baths.
All through the days he complained of feeling chilled. He
never seemed to get thoroughly warmed, and of us all he was
the one who suffered most keenly from the cold. It was all
the more surprising, for his appearance was always that of a
man in the pink of athletic fitness--ruddy-faced, clear-eyed,
and full of tireless energy.
On one occasion we returned from the French front in Serbia to
Salonika in a box car lighted only by candles, bitterly cold,
and frightfully exhausting. We were seven hours in travelling
fifty-five miles, and we arrived at our destination at three
o'clock in the morning. Several of the men contracted
desperate colds, which clung to them for weeks. Davis was
chilled through, and said that of all the cold he had ever
experienced that which swept across the Maeedonian plain from
the Balkan highlands was the most penetrating. Even his heavy
clothing could not afford him adequate protection.
When he was settled in his own room in our hotel he installed
an oil-stove which burned beside him as he sat at his desk and
wrote his stories. The room was like an oven, but even then
he still complained of the cold.
When he left he gave us the stove, and when we left, some time
later, it was presented to one of our doctor friends out in a
British hospital, where I'm sure it is doing its best to thaw
the Balkan chill out of sick and wounded soldiers.
Davis was always up early, and his energy and interest were as
keen as a boy's. We had our meals together, sometimes in the
crowded and rather smart Bastasini's, but more often in the
maelstrom of humanity that nightly packed the Olympos Palace
restaurant. Davis, Shepherd, Hare, and I, with sometimes Mr.
and Mrs. John Bass, made up these parties, which, for a period
of about two weeks or so, were the most enjoyable daily events
of our lives.
Under the glaring lights of the restaurant, and surrounded by
British, French, Greek, and Serbian officers, German,
Austrian, and Bulgarian civilians, with a sprinkling of
American, English, and Scotch nurses and doctors, packed so
solidly in the huge, high-ceilinged room that the waiters
could barely pick their way among the tables, we hung for
hours over our dinners, and left only when the landlord and
his Austrian wife counted the day's receipts and paid the
waiters at the end of the evening.
One could not imagine a more charming and delightful companion
than Davis during these days. While he always asserted that
he could not make a speech, and was terrified at the thought
of standing up at a banquet-table, yet, sitting at a dinner-
table with a few friends who were only too eager to listen
rather than to talk, his stories, covering personal
experiences in all parts of the world, were intensely vivid,
with that remarkable "holding" quality of description which
characterizes his writings.
He brought his own bread--a coarse, brown sort, which he
preferred to the better white bread--and with it he ate great
quantities of butter. As we sat down at the table his first
demand was for "Mastika," a peculiar Greek drink distilled
from mastic gum, and his second demand invariably was "Du
beurre!" with the "r's" as silent as the stars; and if it
failed to come at once the waiter was made to feel the
enormity of his tardiness.
The reminiscences ranged from his early newspaper days in
Philadelphia, and skipping from Manchuria to Cuba and Central
America, to his early Sun days under Arthur Brisbane; they
ranged through an endless variety of personal experiences
which very nearly covered the whole course of American history
in the past twenty years.
Perhaps to him it was pleasant to go over his remarkable
adventures, but it could not have been half as pleasant as it
was to hear them, told as they were with a keenness of
description and brilliancy of humorous comment that made them
gems of narrative.
At times, in our work, we all tried our hands at describing
the Salonika of those early days of the Allied occupation, for
it was really what one widely travelled British officer called
it--"the most amazingly interesting situation I've ever
seen"--but Davis's description was far and away the best, just
as his description of Vera Cruz was the best, and his
wonderful story of the entry of the German army into Brussels
was matchless as one of the great pieces of reporting in the
In thinking of Davis, I shall always remember him for the
delightful qualities which he showed in Salonika. He was
unfailingly considerate and thoughtful. Through his
narratives one could see the pride which he took in the width
and breadth of his personal relation to the great events of
the past twenty years. His vast scope of experiences and
equally wide acquaintanceship with the big figures of our
time, were amazing, and it was equally amazing that one of
such a rich and interesting history could tell his stories in
such a simple way that the personal element was never obtrusive.
When he left Salonika he endeavored to obtain permission from
the British staff to visit Moudros, but, failing in this, he
booked his passage on a crowded little Greek steamer, where
the only obtainable accommodation was a lounge in the dining-
saloon. We gave him a farewell dinner, at which the American
consul and his family, with all the other Americans then in
Salonika, were present, and after the dinner we rowed out to
his ship and saw him very uncomfortably installed for his voyage.
He came down the sea ladder and waved his hand as we rowed away.
That was the last I saw of Richard Harding Davis.
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