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Chapter 9: from office to office.

  • Leaves West's
  • -- works on the “evening Post” -- story of Mr. Leggett— “ Commercial advertiser” — “spirit of the Times” -- specimen of his writing at this period -- naturally fond of the drama -- Timothy Wiggins -- works for Mr. Redfield -- the first lift.

Horace Greeley was a journeyman printer in this city for fourteen months. Those months need not detain us long from the more eventful periods of his life.

He worked for Mr. West in Chatham street till about the first of November (1831). Then the business of that office fell off, and he was again a seeker for employment. He obtained a place in the office of the “Evening Post,” whence, it is said, he was soon dismissed by the late Mr. Leggett, on the ground of his sorry appearance. The story current among printers is this: Mr. Leggett came into the printing-office for the purpose of speaking to the man whose place Horace Greeley had taken.

‘Where's Jones?’ asked Mr. Leggett.

‘He's gone away,’ replied one of the men.

‘Who has taken his place, then?’ said the irritable editor.

‘There's the man,’ said some one, pointing to Horace, who was “bobbing” at the case in his peculiar way.

Mr. Leggett looked at “the man,” and said to the foreman, ‘For God's sake discharge him, and let's have decent-looking men in the office, at least.’

Horace was accordingly—so goes the story—discharged at the end of the week.

He worked, also, for a few days upon the “ Commercial Advertiser,” as a “sub,” probably. Then, for two weeks and a half, upon a little paper called “The Amulet,” a weekly journal of literature and art. The “ Amulet” was discontinued, and our hero had to wait ten years for his wages.

His next step can be given in his own words. The following is [134] the beginning of a paragraph in the New Yorker of March 2d, 1839:

Seven years ago, on the first of January last—that being a holiday, and the writer being then a stranger with few social greetings to exchange in New York—he inquired his way into the ill-furnished, chilly, forlorn-looking attic printing-office in which William T. Porter, in company with another very young man, who soon after abandoned the enterprise, had just issued the “Spirit of the Times,” the first weekly journal devoted entirely to sporting intelligence ever attempted in this country. It was a moderate-sized sheet of indifferent paper, with an atrocious wood-cut for the head—about as uncomely a specimen of the ‘fine arts’ as our “native talent” has produced. The paper was about in proportion; for neither of its conductors had fairly attained his majority, and each was destitute of the experience so necessary in such an enterprise, and of the funds and extensive acquaintance which were still more necessary to its success. But one of them possessed a persevering spirit and an ardent enthusiasm for the pursuit to which he had devoted himself.

And, consequently, the Spirit of the Times still exists and flourishes, under the proprietorship of its originator and founder, Colonel Porter. For this paper, our hero, during his short stay in the office, composed a multitude of articles and paragraphs, most of them short and unimportant. As a specimen of his style at this period, I copy from the “Spirit” of May 5th, 1832, the following epistle, which was considered extremely funny in those innocent days:

Hear me you shall, pity me you must, while I proceed to give a short account of the dread calamities which this vile habit of turning the whole city upside down, 'tother side out, and wrong side before, on the First of May, has brought down on my devoted head.

You must know, that having resided but a few months in your city, I was totally ignorant of the existence of said custom. So, on the morning of the eventful, and to me disastrous day, I rose, according to immemorial usage, at the dying away of the last echo of the breakfast bell, and soon found myself seated over my coffee, and my good landlady exercising her powers of volubility (no weak ones) apparently in my behalf; but so deep was the reverie in which my half-awakened brain was then engaged, that I did not catch a single idea from the whole of her discourse. I smiled and said, ‘Yes, ma'am,’ ‘certainly ma'am,’ at each pause; and having speedily dispatched [135] my breakfast, sallied immediately out, and proceeded to attend to the business which engrossed my mind. Dinner-time came, but no time for dinner; and it was late before I was at liberty to wend my way, over wheel-barrows, barrels, and all manner of obstructions, towards my boarding-house. All here was still; but by the help of my night-keys, I soon introduced myself to my chamber, dreaming of nothing but sweet repose; when, horrible to relate! my ears were instantaneously saluted by a most piercing female shriek, proceeding exactly from my own bed, or at least from the place where it should have been; and scarcely had sufficient time elapsed for my hair to bristle on my head, before the shriek was answered by the loud vociferations of a ferocious mastiff in the kitchen beneath, and re-echoed by the outcries of half a dozen inmates of the house, and these again succeeded by the rattle of the watchman; and the next moment, there was a round dozen of them (besides the dog) at my throat, and commanding me to tell them instantly what the devil all this meant.

‘You do well to ask that,’ said I, as soon as I could speak, ‘after falling upon me in this fashion in my own chamber.’

‘O take him off,’ said the one who assumed to be the master of the house; ‘perhaps he's not a thief after all; but, being too tipsy for starlight, he has made a mistake in trying to find his lodgings,’—and in spite of all my remonstrances, I was forthwith marched off to the watch-house, to pass the remainder of the night. In the morning, I narrowly escaped commitment on the charge of “burglary with intent to steal” (I verily believe it would have gone hard with me if the witnesses could have been got there at that unseasonable hour), and I was finally discharged with a solemn admonition to guard for the future against intoxication (think of that, sir, for a member of the Cold Water Society!)

I spent the next day in unraveling the mystery; and found that my landlord had removed his goods and chattels to another part of the city, on the established day, supposing me to be previously acquainted and satisfied with his intention of so doing; and another family had immediately taken his place; of which changes, my absence of mind and absence from dinner had kept me ignorant; and thus had I been led blindfold into a “Comedy” (or rather tragedy) of Errors. Your unfortunate,

His connection with the office of a sporting paper procured him occasionally an order for admission to a theatre, which he used. He appeared to have had a natural liking for the drama; all intelligent persons have when they are young; and one of his companions of that day remembers well the intense interest with which he once witnessed the performance of Richard III., at the old Chatham [136] theatre. At the close of the play, he said there was another of Shakespeare's tragedies which he had long wished to see, and that was Hamlet.

Soon after writing his letter, the luckless Wiggins, tempted by the prospect of better wages, left the Spirit of the Times, and went back to West's, and worked for some weeks on Prof. Bush's Notes on Genesis, “the worst manuscript ever seen in a printing-office.” That finished, he returned to the Spirit of the Times, and remained till October, when he went to visit his relatives in New Hampshire. He reached his uncle's farm in Londonderry in the apple-gathering season, and going at once to the orchard found his cousins engaged in that pleasing exercise. Horace jumped over the fence, saluted them in the hearty and unornamental Scotch-Irish style, sprang into a tree, and assisted them till their task for the day was done, and then all the party went frolicking into the woods on a grape-hunt. Horace was a welcome guest. He was full of fun in those days, and kept the boys roaring with his stories, or agape with descriptions of city scenes.

Back to the city again early in November, in time and on purpose to vote at the fall elections.

He went to work, soon after, for Mr. J. S. Redfield, now an eminent publisher of this city, then a stereotyper. Mr. Redfield favors me with the following note of his connection with Horace Greeley:—‘My recollections of Mr. Greeley extend from about the time he first came to the city to work as a compositor. I was carrying on the stereotyping business in William street, and having occasion one day for more compositors, one of the hands brought in Greeley, remarking ‘sotto voce’ as he introduced him, that he was a ‘boyish and rather odd looking genius,’ (to which remark I had no difficulty in assenting,) ‘but he had understood that he was a good workman.’ Being much in want of help at the time, Greeley was set to work, and I was not a little surprised to find on Saturday night, at his bills were much larger than those of any other compositor in the office, and oftentimes nearly double those at work by the side of him on the same work. He would accomplish this, too, and talk all the time! The same untiring industry, and the same fearlessness and independence, which have characterized his [137] course as Editor of the New York Tribune, were the distinguishing features of his character as a journeyman.’

He remained in the office of Mr. Redfield till late in December, when the circumstance occurred which gave him his first Lift in the world. There is a tide, it is said, in the affairs of every man, once in his life, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.

Horace Greeley's First Lift happened to take place in connection with an event of great, world-wide and lasting consequence; yet one which has never been narrated to the public. It shall, therefore, have in this work a short chapter to itself.

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