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Chapter 24: Association in the Tribune office.

  • Accessions to the corps
  • -- the course of the Tribune-Horace Greeley in Ohio -- the Rochester knockings -- the mediums at Mr. Greeley's house -- Jenny Lind goes to see them -- her behavior -- woman's Rights Convention -- the Tribune Association -- the hireling system.

But the Tribune held on its strong, triumphant way. Circulation, ever on the increase; advertisements, from twenty to twenty-six columns daily; supplements, three, four, and five times a week; price increased to a shilling a week without loss of subscribers; Europeon reputation extending; correspondence more and more able and various; editorials more and more elaborate and telling; new ink infused into the Tribune's swelling veins. What with the supplements and the thickness of the paper, the volumes of 1849 and 1850 are of dimensions most huge. We must look through them, notwithstanding, turning over the broad black leaves swiftly, pausing seldom, lingering never.

The letter R. attached to the literary notices apprises us that early in 1849, Mr. George Ripley began to lend the Tribune the aid of his various learning and considerate pen. Bayard Taylor, returned from viewing Europe a-foot, is now one of the Tribune corps, and this year he goes to California, and “opens up” the land of gold to the view of all the world, by writing a series of letters, graphic and glowing. Mr. Dana comes home and resumes his place in the office as manager-general and second-in-command. During [320] the disgraceful period of Re-action, William Henry Fry, now the Tribune's sledge-hammer, and the country's sham-demolisher, then an American in Paris, sent across the Atlantic to the Tribune many a letter of savage protest. Mr. G. G. Foster served up New York in savory ‘slices’ and dainty “items.” Horace Greeley confined himself less to the office than before; but whether he went on a tour of observation, or of lecturing, or of political agitation, he brought all he saw, heard and thought, to bear in enhancing the interest and value of his paper.

In 1849, the Tribune, true to its instinct of giving hospitality to every new or revived idea, afforded Proudhon a full hearing in reviews, essays and biography. His maxim, property is robbery, a maxim felt to be true, and acted upon by the early Christians who had all things in common, furnished a superior text to the conservative papers and pulpits. As usual, the Tribune was accused of uttering those benign words, not of publishing them merely. On the occasion of the Astor-Place riot, the Tribune supported the authorities, and wrote much for law and order. In the Hungarian war, the editors of the Tribune took an intense interest, and Mr. Greeley tried hard to condense some of the prevalent enthusiasm into substantial help for the cause. He thought that embroidered flags and parchment addresses were not exactly the commodities of which Kossuth stood most in need, and he proposed the raising of a patriotic loan for Hungary, in shares of a hundred dollars each. ‘Let each village, each rural town, each club, make up by collections or otherwise, enough to take one share of scrip, and so up to as many as possible; let our men of wealth and income be personally solicited to invest generously, and let us resolve at least to raise one million dollars off-hand. Another million will come much easier matter the first.’ But alas! soon came the news of the catastrophe. For a reformed code, the Tribune contended powerfully during the whole time of the agitation of that subject. It welcomed Father Matthew this year—fought Bishop Hughes—discussed slavery—be— wailed the fall of Rome—denounced Louis Napoleon—had Consul Walsh, the American apologist of despotism, recalled from Paris—helped Mrs. Peabody finish Bowen of the North American Review —explained to workmen the advantages of association in labor— assisted Watson G. Haynes in his crusade against flogging in the [321] navy—went dead against the divorce theories of Henry James and others—and did whatsoever else seemed good in its own eyes. Among other things, it did this: Horace Greeley being accused by the Evening Post of a corrupt compliancy with the slave interest, the Tribune began its reply with these words:

‘You lie, villain wilfully, wickedly, basely lie!’

This observation called forth much remark at the time.

Thrice the editor of the Tribune visited the Great West this year, and he received many private assurances, though, I believe, no public ones, that his course in Congress was approved by the Great West. In Cincinnati he received marked attention, which he gracefully acknowledged in a letter, published May 21st, 1849:— ‘I can hardly close this letter without acknowledging the many acts of personal generosity, the uniform and positive kindness, with which I was treated by the citizens of the stately Queen of the West. I would not so far misconstrue and outrage these hospitalities as to drag the names of those who tendered them before the public gaze; but I may express in these general terms my regret that time was not afforded me to testify more expressly my appreciation of regards which could not fail to gratify, even while they embarrassed one so unfitted for and unambitious of personal attentions. In these, the disappointment caused by the failure of our expected National Temperance Jubilee was quickly forgotten, and only the stern demands of an exacting vocation impelled me to leave so soon a city at once so munificent and so interesting, the majestic outpost of Free Labor and Free Institutions, in whose every street the sound of the builder's hammer and trowel speaks so audibly of a growth and greatness hardly yet begun. Kind friends of Cincinnati and of Southern Ohio! I wave you a grateful farewell!’

In December appeared the first account of the ‘Rochester Knockings’ in the Tribune, in the form of a letter from that most practical of cities. The letter was received and published quite in the ordinary course of business, and without the slightest suspicion on the part of the editors, that they were doing an act of historical importance. On the contrary, they were disposed to laugh at the mysterious narrative; and, a few days after its publication, in reply to an anxious correspondent, the paper held the following language:— ‘For ourselves, we really cannot see that these singular revelations [322] and experiences have, so far, amounted to much. We have yet to hear of a clairvoyant whose statements concerning facts were reliable, or whose facts were any better than any other person's, or who could discourse rationally without mixing in a proportion of nonsense. And as for these spirits in Western New York or elsewhere, it strikes us they might be better engaged than in going about to give from one to three knocks on the floor in response to successive letters of the alphabet; and we are confident that ghosts who had anything to communicate worth listening to, would hardly stoop to so uninteresting a business as hammering.’

Nor has the Tribune, since, contained one editorial word intimating a belief in the spiritual origin of the “manifestations.” The subject, however, attracted much attention, and, when the Rochester ‘mediums’ came to the city, Horace Greeley, in the hope of elucidating the mystery, invited them to reside at his house, which they did for several weeks. He did not discover, nor has any one discovered, the cause of the singular phenomena, but he very soon arrived at the conclusion, that, whatever their cause might be, they could be of no practical utility, could throw no light on the tortuous and difficult path of human life, nor cast any trustworthy gleams into the future. During the stay of the mediums at his house, they were visited by a host of distinguished persons, and, among others, by Jenny Lind, whose behavior on the occasion was not exactly what the devotees of that vocalist would expect.

At the request of her manager, Mr. Greeley called upon the Nightingale at the Union Hotel, and, in the course of his visit, fell into conversation with gentlemen present on the topic of the day, the Spiritual Manifestations. The Swede approached, listened to the conversation with greedy ears, and expressed a desire to witness some of the marvels which she heard described. Mr. Greeley invited her to his house, and the following Sunday morning was appointed for the visit. She came, and a crowd came with her, filling up the narrow parlor of the house, and rendering anything in the way of calm investigation impossible. Mr. Greeley said as much; but the ‘mediums’ entered, and the rappings struck up with vigor, Jenny sitting on one side of the table and Mr. Greeley on the other.

‘Take your hands from under the table,’ said she to the master of the house, with the air of a new duchess. [323]

It was as though she had said, “I didn't come here to be humbugged, Mr. Pale Face, and you'd better not try it” The insulted gentleman raised his hands into the air, and did not request her to leave the house, nor manifest in any other way his evidently acute sense of her impertinent conduct. As long as we worship a woman on account of a slight peculiarity in the formation of part of her throat, the woman so worshiped will give herself airs. The blame is ours, not hers. The rapping continued, and the party retired, after some hours, sufficiently puzzled, but apparently convinced that there was no collusion between the table and the “mediums.”

The subsequent history of the spiritual movement is well known. It has caused much pain, and harm, and loss. But, like every other Event, its good results, realized and prospective, are greater far than its evil. It has awakened some from the insanity of indifference, to the insanity of an exclusive devotion to things spiritual. But many spiritualists have stopped short of the latter insanity, and are better men, in every respect, than they were—better, happier, and more hopeful. It has delivered many from the degrading fear of death and the future, a fear more prevalent, perhaps, than is supposed; for men are naturally and justly ashamed of their fears, and do not willingly tell them. Spiritualism, moreover, may be among the means by which the way is to be prepared for that general, that earnest, that fearless consideration of our religious systems to which they will, one day, be subjected, and from which the truth in them has nothing to fear, but how much to hope I

It was about the same time that the Tribune rendered another service to the country, by publishing a fair and full report of the first Woman's Convention, accompanying the report with respectful and favorable remarks. ‘It is easy,’ said the Tribune, ‘to be smart, to be droll, to be facetious, in opposition to the demands of these Female Reformers; and, in decrying assumptions so novel and opposed to established habits and usages, a little wit will go a great way. But when a sincere republican is asked to say in sober earnest what adequate reason he can give for refusing the demand of women to an equal participation with men in political rights, he must answer, None at all. True, he may say that he believes it unwise in them to make the demand—he may say the great majority desire no such thing; that they prefer to devote their time to [324] the discharge of home duties and the enjoyment of home delights, leaving the functions of legislators, sheriffs, jurymen, militia, to their fathers, husbands, brothers; yet if, after all, the question recurs, “But suppose the women should generally prefer a complete political equality with men, what would you say to that demand?” —the answer must be, “accede to it. However unwise or mistaken the demand, it is but the assertion of a natural right, and as such must be conceded.” ’

The report of this convention excited much discussion and more ridicule. The ridicule has died away, but the discussion of the subject of woman's rights and wrongs will probably continue until every statute which does wrong to woman is expunged from the laws. And if, before voting goes out of fashion, the ladies should generally desire the happiness, such as it is, of taking part in elections, doubtless that happiness will be conceded them also.

Meanwhile, an important movement was going on in the office of the Tribune. Since the time when Mr. Greeley practically gave up Fourierism, he had taken a deep interest in the subject of Associated Labor, and in 1848, 1849, and 1850, the Tribune published countless articles, showing workingmen how to become their own employers, and share among themselves the profits of their work, instead of letting them go to swell the gains of a “Boss.” It was but natural that workingmen should reply, as they often did,— “If Association is the right principle on which to conduct business, if it is best, safest, and most just to all concerned, why not try it yourself, O Tribune of the People!” That was precisely what the Tribune of the People had long meditated, and, in the year 1849, he and his partner resolved to make the experiment. They were both, at the time, in the enjoyment of incomes superfluously large, and the contemplated change in their business was, therefore, not induced by any business exigency. It was the result of a pure, disinterested attachment to principle; a desire to add practice to preaching.

The establishment was valued by competent judges at a hundred thousand dollars, a low valuation; for its annual profits amounted to more than thirty thousand dollars. But newspaper property differs from all other. It is won with difficulty, but it is precarious. An unlucky paragraph may depreciate it one-half; a perverse editor, [325] destroy it altogether. It is tangible, and yet intangible. It is a body and it is a soul. Horace Greeley might have said, The Tribune—it is I, with more truth than the French King could boast, when he made a similar remark touching himself and the State. And Mr. McElrath, glancing round at the types, the subscription books, the iron chest, the mighty heaps of paper, and listening to the thunder of the press in the vaults below, might have been pardoned if he had said, The Tribune—these are the Tribune.

The property was divided into a hundred shares of a thousand dollars each, and a few of them were offered for sale to the leading men in each department, the foremen of the composing and pressrooms, the chief clerks and bookkeepers, the most prominent editors. In all, about twelve shares were thus disposed of, each of the original partners selling six. In some cases, the purchasers paid only a part of the price in cash, and were allowed to pay the remainder out of the income of their share. Each share entitled its possessor to one vote in the decisions of the company. In the course of time, further sales of shares took place, until the original proprietors were owners of not more than two-thirds of the concern. Practically, the power, the controlling voice, belonged still to Messrs. Greeley and McElrath; but the dignity and advantage of ownership were conferred on all those who exercised authority in the several departments. And this was the great good of the new system.

That there is something in being a hired servant which is naturally and deeply abhorrent to men is shown by the intense desire that every hireling manifests to escape from that condition. Many are the ties by which man has been bound in industry to his fellow man; but, of them all, that seems to be one of the most unfraternal, unsafe, unfair, and demoralizing. The slave, degraded and defrauded as he is, is safe; the hireling holds his life at the caprice of another man; for, says Shylock, he takes my life who takes from me my means of living. ‘How is business?’ said one employer to another, a few days ago. ‘Dull,’ was the reply. ‘I hold on merely to keep the hands in work.’ Think of that. Merely to keep the hands in work. Merely! As if there could be a better reason for “holding on;” as if all other reasons combined were not infinitely inferior in weight to this one of keeping men in work; [326] keeping men in heart, keeping men in happiness, keeping men in use! But universal hirelingislm is quite inevitable at present, when the governments and institutions most admired may be defined as Organized Distrusts. When we are better, and truer, and wiser, we shall labor together on very different terms than are known to Wayland's Political Economy. Till then, we must live in pitiful estrangement from one another, and strive in sorry competition for triumphs which bless not when they are gained.

The experiment of association in the office of the Tribune, has, to all appearance, worked well. The paper has improved steadily and rapidly. It has lost none of its independence, none of its vivacity, and has gained in weight, wisdom, and influence. A vast amount of work of various kinds is done in the office, but it is done harmoniously and easily. And of all the proprietors, there is not one, whether he be editor, printer, or clerk, who does not live in a more stylish house, fare more sumptuously, and dress more expensively, than the Editor in Chief. The experiment, however, is incomplete. Nine-tenths of those who assist in the work of the Tribune are connected with it solely by the tie of wages, which change not, whether the profits of the establishment fall to zero or rise to the highest notch upon the scale.

More of association in the next chapter, where our hero appears, for the first time, in the character of author.

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