previous next

Chapter 28: day and night in the Tribune office.

  • The streets before daybreak—--waking the newsboys
  • -- morning scene in the press-room -- the compositor's room-the four Phalanxes -- the Tribune Directory -- a lull in the Tribune office -- a glance at the paper -- the advertisements -- telegraphic marvels -- Marine Intelligence -- New publications -- letters from the people -- editorial articles -- the editorial rooms -- the sanctum sanctorum -- Solon Robinson -- Bayard Taylor -- William Henry Fry -- George Ripley -- Charles A. Dana -- F. J. Ottarson -- George M. Snow -- enter Horace Greeley -- his preliminary botheration -- the composing-room in the evening -- the editors at work -- Mr. Greeley's manner of writing -- midnight -- three o'clock in the morning -- the carriers.

We are in the streets, walking from the regions where money is spent towards those narrow and crooked places wherein it is earned. The day is about to dawn, but the street lights are still burning, and the greater part of the million people who live within sight of the City Hall's illuminated dial, are lying horizontal and unconscious, in the morning's last slumber. The streets are neither silent nor deserted—the streets of New York never are. The earliest milkmen have begun their morning crow, squeak, whoop, and yell. The first omnibus has not yet come down town, but the butcher's carts, heaped with horrid flesh, with men sitting upon it reeking with a night's carnage, are rattling along Broadway at the furious pace for which the butcher's carts of all nations are noted. The earliest workmen are abroad, dinner-kettle in hand; carriers with their bundles of newspapers slung across their backs by a strap, are emerging from Nassau street, and making their way across the Park—towards all the ferries—up Broadway—up Chatham street—to wherever their district of distribution begins. The hotels have just opened their doors and lighted up their offices; and drowsy waiters are perambulating the interminable passages, knocking up passengers for the early trains, and waking up everybody else. In unnumbered kitchens the breakfast fire is kindling, but not yet, in any except the market restaurants, is a cup of coffee attainable. The very groggeries—strange to see—are closed. Apparently, the [392] last drunkard has toppled home, and the last debauchee has skulked like a thieving hound to his own bed; for the wickedness of the night has been done, and the work of the day is beginning. There is something in the aspect of the city at this hour—the stars glittering over-head—the long lines of gas-lights that stretch away in every direction — the few wayfarers stealing in and out among them in silence, like spirits—the myriad sign-boards so staring now, and useless—the houses all magnified in the imperfect light—so many evidences of intense life around, and yet so little of life visibly present—which, to one who sees it for the first time (and few of us have ever seen it), is strangely impressive.

The Tribune building is before us. It looks as we never saw it look before. The office is closed, and a gas-light dimly burning shows that no one is in it. The dismal inky aperture in Spruce street by which the upper regions of the Tribune den are usually reached is shut, and the door is locked. That glare of light which on all previous nocturnal walks we have seen illuminating the windows of the third and fourth stories, revealing the bobbing compositor in his paper cap, and the bustling night-editor making up his news, shines not at this hour; and those windows are undistinguished from the lustreless ones of the houses adjacent. Coiled up on the steps, stretched out on the pavement, are half a dozen sleeping newsboys. Two or three others are awake and up, of whom one is devising and putting into practice various modes of suddenly waking the sleepers. He rolls one off the step to the pavement, the shock of which is very effectual. He deals another who lies temptingly exposed, a “loud-resounding” slap, which brings the slumberer to his feet, and to his fists, in an instant. Into the ear of a third he yells the magic word Fire, a word which the New York newsboy never hears with indifference; the sleeper starts up, but perceiving the trick, growls a curse or two, and addresses himself again to sleep. In a few minutes all the boys are awake, and taking their morning exercise of scuffling. The basement of the building, we observe, is all a-glow with light, though the clanking of the press is silent. The carrier's entrance is open, and we descend into the fiery bowels of the street.

We are in the Tribune's press-room. It is a large, low, ceilar-like apartment, unceiled, white-washed, inky, and unclean, with a vast [393] folding table in the middle, tall heaps of dampened paper all about, a quietly-running steam engine of nine-horse power on one side, twenty-five inky men and boys variously employed, and the whole brilliantly lighted up by jets of gas, numerous and flaring. On one side is a kind of desk or pulpit, with a table before it, and the whole separated from the rest of the apartment by a rail. In the pulpit, the night-clerk stands, counts and serves out the papers, with a nonchalant and graceful rapidity, that must be seen to be appreciated. The regular carriers were all served an hour ago; they have folded their papers and gone their several ways; and early risers, two miles off, have already read the news of the day. The later newsboys, now, keep dropping in, singly, or in squads of three or four, each with his money ready in his hand. Usually, no words pass between them and the clerk; he either knows how many papers they have come for, or they show him by exhibiting their money; and in three seconds after his eye lights upon a newly-arrived dirty face, he has counted the requisite number of papers, counted the money for them, and thrown the papers in a heap into the boy's arms, who slings them over his shoulder and hurries off for his supply of Times and Heralds. Occasionally a woman comes in for a few papers, or a little girl, or a boy so small that he cannot see over the low rail in front of the clerk, and is obliged to announce his presence and his desires by holding above it his little cash capital in his little black paw. In another part of the pressroom, a dozen or fifteen boys are folding papers for the early mails, and folding them at the average rate of thirty a minute. A boy has folded sixty papers a minute in that press-room. Each paper has to be folded six times, and then laid evenly on the pile; and the velocity of movement required for the performance of such a minute's work, the reader can have no idea of till he sees it done. As a feat, nothing known to the sporting world approaches it. The huge presses, that shed six printed leaves at a stroke, are in deep vaults adjoining the press-room. They are motionless now, but the gas that has lighted them during their morning's work still spurts out in flame all over them, and men with blue shirts and black faces are hoisting out the ‘forms’ that have stamped their story on thirty thousand sheets. The vaults are oily, inky, and warm. Let us ascend. [394]

The day has dawned. As we approach the stairs that lead to the upper stories, we get a peep into a small, paved yard, where a group of pressmen, blue-overailed, ink-smeared, and pale, are washing themselves and the ink-rollers; and looking, in the dim light of the morning, like writhing devils. The stairs of the Tribune building are supposed to be the dirtiest in the world. By their assistance, however, we wind our upward way, past the editorial rooms in the third story, which are locked, to the composing-room in the fourth, which are open, and in which the labor of transposing the news of the morning to the form of the weekly paper is in progress. Only two men are present, the foreman, Mr. Rooker, and one of his assistants. Neither of them wish to be spoken to, as their minds are occupied with a task that requires care; but we are at liberty to look around.

The composing-room of the Tribune is, I believe, the most convenient, complete, and agreeable one in the country. It is very spacious, nearly square, lighted by windows on two sides, and by sky-lights from above. It presents an ample expanse of type-fonts, gas-jets with large brown-paper shades above them, long tables covered with columns of bright, copper-faced type, either “dead” or waiting its turn for publication; and whatever else appertains to the printing of a newspaper. Stuffed into corners and interstices are aprons and slippers in curious variety. Pasted on the walls, lamp-shades, and doors, we observe a number of printed notices, from the perusal of which, aided by an occasional word from the obliging foreman, we are enabled to penetrate the mystery, and comprehend the routine, of the place.

Here, for example, near the middle of the apartment, are a row of hooks, labelled respectively, “Leaded Brevier;” “Solid Brevier;” “Minion;” Proofs to revise; “ ” Compositors' Proofs—let no profane hand touch them except Smith's; “ Bogus minion—when there is no other copy to be given out, then take from this hook.” Upon these hooks, the foreman hangs the “copy” as he receives it from below, and the men take it in turn, requiring no further direction as to the kind of type into which it is to be set. The I “bogus-minion” hook contains matter not intended to be used; it is designed merely to keep the men constantly employed, so as to obviate the necessity of their making petty charges for lost time, and thus complicating [395] their accounts. Below the “bogus-hook,” there appears this “Particular notice:” “This copy must be set, and the Takes emptied, with the same care as the rest.” From which we may infer, that a man is inclined to slight work that he knows to be useless, even though it be paid for at the usual price per thousand.

Another printed paper lets us into another secret. It is a list of the compositors employed in the office, divided into four ‘Phalanxes’ of about ten men each, a highly advantageous arrangement, devised by Mr. Rooker. At night, when the copy begins to ‘slack up,’ i. e. when the work of the night approaches completion, one phalanx is dismissed; then another; then another; then the last; and the phalanx which leaves first at night comes first in the morning, and so on. The men who left work at eleven o'clock at night must be again in the office at nine, to distribute type and set up news for the evening edition of the paper. The second phalanx begins work at two, the third at five; and at seven the whole company must be at their posts; for, at seven, the business of the night begins in earnest. Printers will have their joke—as appears from this list. It is set in double columns, and as the number of men happened to be an uneven one, one name was obliged to occupy a line by itself, and it appears thus—‘Baker, (the teat-pig.)’

The following notice deserves attention from the word with which it begins: ‘Gentlemen desiring to wash and soak their distributing matter will please use hereafter the metal galleys I had cast for the purpose, as it is ruinous to galleys having wooden sides to keep wet type in them locked up. Thos. N. Rooker.’ It took the world an unknown number of thousand years to arrive at that word “Gen-Tlemen.” Indeed, the world has not arrived at it; but there it is, in the composing-room of the New York Tribune, legible to all visitors.

Passing by other notices, such as ‘Attend to the gas-meter on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and to the clock on Monday morning,’ we may spend a minute or two in looking over a long printed catalogue, posted on the door, entitled, ‘Tribune Directory. Corrected May 10, 1854. A list of Editors, Reporters, Publishers, Clerks, Compositors, Proof-Readers, Pressmen, &c., employed on the New York Tribune.’

From this Directory one may learn that the Editor of the Tribune is Horace Greeley, the Managing-Editor Charles A. Dana, the Associate-Editors, [396] James S. Pike, William Hi. Fry, George Ripley, George M. Snow, Bayard Taylor, F. J. Ottarson, William Newman, B. Brock way, Solon Robinson, and Donald C. Henderson. We perceive also that Mr. Ottarson is the City Editor, and that his assistants are in number fourteen. One of these keeps an eye on the Police, chronicles arrests, walks the hospitals in search of dreadful accidents, and keeps the public advised of the state of its health. Three report lectures and speeches. Another gathers items of intelligence in Jersey City, Newark, and parts adjacent. Others do the same in Brooklyn and Williamsburgh. One gentleman devotes himself to the reporting of fires, and the movements of the military. Two examine and translate from the New York papers which are published in the German, French, Italian and Spanish languages. Then, there is a Law Reporter, a Police Court Reporter, and a Collector of Marine Intelligence. Proceeding down the formidable catalogue, we discover that the Marine Bureau (in common with the Associated Press) is under the charge of Commodore John T. Hall, who is assisted by twelve agents and reporters. Besides these, the Tribune has a special “Ship news editor.” The “Telegraphic Bureau” (also in common with the Associated Press) employs one general agent and two subordinates, (one at Liverpool and one at Halifax,) and fifty reporters in various parts of the country. The number of regular and paid correspondents is thirty-eight—eighteen foreign, twenty home. The remaining force of the Tribune, as we are informed by the Directory, is, Thos. McElrath, chief of the department of publication, assisted by eight clerks; Thos. N. Rooker, foreman of the composing-room, with eight assistant-foremen (three by day, five by night), thirty-eight regular compositors, and twenty-five substitutes; George Hall, foreman of the press-room, with three assistants, sixteen feeders, twenty-five folders, three wrapper-writers, and three boys. Besides these, there are four proof-readers, and a number of miscellaneous individuals. It thus appears that the whole number of persons employed upon the paper is about two hundred and twenty, of whom about one hundred and thirty devote to it their whole time. The Directory further informs us that the proprietors of the establishment are sixteen in number—namely, seven editors, the publisher, four clerks, the foreman of the composing-room, [397] the foreman of the press-room, one compositor and one press-man.

Except for a few hours on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, the work of a daily paper never entirely ceases; but, at this hour of the day, between six and seven o'clock, it does nearly cease. The editors are still, it is to be hoped, asleep. The compositors have been in bed for two hours or more. The pressmen of the night are going home, and those of the day have not arrived. The carriers have gone their rounds. The youngest clerks have not yet appeared in the office. All but the slowest of the newsboys have got their supply of papers, and are making the streets and ferries vocal, or vociferous, with their well-known names. There is a general lull; and while that lull continues, we shall lose nothing by going to breakfast.

Part of which is the New York Tribune; and we may linger over it a little longer than usual this morning. It does not look like it, but it is a fact, as any one moderately endowed with arithmetic can easily ascertain, that one number of the Tribune, if it were printed in the form of a book, with liberal type and spacing, would make a duodecimo volume of four hundred pages—a volume, in fact, not much less in magnitude than the one which the reader has, at this moment, the singular happiness of perusing. Each number is the result of, at least, two hundred days work, or the work of two hundred men for one day; and it is sold (to carriers and newsboys) for one cent and a half. Lucifer matches, at forty-four cents for a hundred and forty-four boxes, are supposed, and justly, to be a miracle of cheapness. Pins are cheap, considering; and so are steel pens. But the cheapest thing yet realized under the sun is the New York Tribune.

The number for this morning contains six hundred and forty-one separate articles—from two-line advertisements to two-column essays—of which five hundred and ten are advertisements, the remainder, one hundred and thirty-one, belonging to the various departments of reading matter. The reading matter, however, occupies about one half of the whole space—nearly four of the eight broad pages, nearly twenty-four of the forty-eight columns. The articles and paragraphs which must have been written for this number, yesterday, or very recently, in the office or at the editors' residences, [398] fill thirteen columns, equal to a hundred pages of foolscap, or eighty such pages as this. There are five columns of telegraphic intelligence, which is, perhaps, two columns above the average. There are twelve letters from “our own” and voluntary correspondents, of which five are from foreign countries There have been as many as thirty letters in one number of tile Tribune; there are seldom less than ten.

What has the Tribune of this morning to say to us? Let us see. It is often asked, who reads advertisements? and the question is often inconsiderately answered, “Nobody.” But, idle reader, if you were in search of a boarding-house this morning, these two columns of advertisements, headed “Board and rooms,” would be read by you with the liveliest interest; and so, in other circumstances, would those which reveal a hundred and fifty “Wants,” twenty-two places of amusement, twenty-seven new publications, forty-two schools, and thirteen establishments where the best pianos in existence are made. If you had come into the possession of a fortune yesterday, this column of bank-dividend announcements would not be passed by with indifference. And if youth were the middle-aged gentleman who advertises his desire to open a correspondence with a young lady (all communications post-paid and the strictest secresy observed), you might peruse with anxiety these seven advertisements of hair-dye, each of which is either infallible, unapproachable, or the acknowledged best. And the eye of the “young lady” who addresses you a post-paid communication in reply, informing you where an interview may be had, would perhaps rest for a moment upon the description of the new Baby-Walker, with some complacency. If the negotiation were successful, it were difficult to say what column of advertisements would not, in its turn, become of the highest interest to one or the other, or both of you. In truth, every one reads the advertisements which concern them.

The wonders of the telegraph are not novel, and, therefore, they seem wonderful no longer. We glance up and down the columns of telegraphic intelligence, and read without the slightest emotion, dispatches from Michigan, Halifax, Washington, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, New Orleans, and a dozen places nearer the city, some of which give us news of events that had not occurred when we went to bed last night. The telegraphic news of [399] this morning has run along four thousand seven hundred and fifty miles of wire, and its transmission, at the published rates, must have cost between two and three hundred dollars. On one occasion, recently, the steamer arrived at Halifax at half-past 11 in the evening, and the substance of her news was contained in the New York papers the next morning, and probably in the papers of New Orleans. A debate which concludes in Washington at midnight, is read in fiftieth street, New York, six hours after. But these are stale marvels, and they are received by us entirely as a matter of course.

The City department of the paper, conducted with uncommon efficiency by Mr. Ottarson, gives us this morning, in sufficient detail, the proceedings of a “Demonstration” at Tammany Hall—of a meeting of the Bible Union—a session of the committee investigating the affairs of Columbia college—a meeting to devise measures for the improvement of the colored population—a temperance “Demonstration” —a session of the Board of Aldermen—a meeting of the commissioners of emigration—and one of the commissioners of excise. A trial for murder is reported; the particulars of seven fires are stated; the performance of the opera is noticed; the progress of the State fair is chronicled, and there are thirteen “ city items.” And what is most surprising is, that seven-tenths of the city matter must have been prepared in the evening, for most of the events narrated did not occur till after dark.

The Law Intelligence includes brief notices of the transactions of five courts. The Commercial Intelligence gives minute information respecting the demand for, the supply of, the price, and the recent sales, of twenty-one leading articles of trade. The Marine Journal takes note of the sailing and arrival of two hundred and seven vessels, with the name of the captain, owners and consignees. This is, in truth, the most astonishing department of a daily paper. Arranged under the heads of ‘Cleared,’ ‘Arrived,’ ‘Disasters,’ ‘To mariners,’ ‘Spoken,’ ‘Whalers,’ ‘Foreign Ports,’ ‘Domestic Ports,’ ‘Passengers sailed,’ ‘Passengers arrived,’ it presents daily a mass and a variety of facts, which do not astound us, only because we see the wonder daily repeated. Nor is the shipping intelligence a mere catalogue of names, places and figures. Witness these sentences cut almost at random from the dense columns of small type in which the affairs of the sea are printed: [400]

Bark Gen. Jones, (of Boston,) Hodgden, London 47 days, chalk to E. S. Belknap & Sons. Aug. 14, lat. 50° 11′, lon. 9° 20′, spoke ship Merensa, of Boston, 19 days from Eastport for London. Aug. 19, signalized a ship showing Nos. 55, 31, steering E. Aug. 20, signalized ship Isaac Allerton, of New York. Sept. 1, spoke Br. Emerald, and supplied her with some provisions. Sept. 13, lat. 43° 36′, lon. 49° 54′, passed a number of empty barrels and broken pieces of oars. Sept. 13, lat 43°, long 50° 40′, while lying to in a gale, passed a vessel's spars and broken pieces of bulwarks, painted black and white; supposed the spars to be a ship's topmasts. Sept. 19, lat. 41° 14′, lon. 56°, signalized a bark showing a red signal with a white spot in center.

As no one not interested in marine affairs ever bestows a glance upon this part of his daily paper, these condensed tragedies of the sea will be novel to the general reader. To compile the ship-news of this single morning, the log-books of twenty-seven vessels must have been examined, and information obtained by letter, telegraph, or exchange papers, from ninety-three sea-port towns, of which thirty-one are in foreign countries. Copied here, it would fill thirty-five pages, and every line of it was procured yesterday.

The money article of the Tribune, to those who have any money, is highly interesting. It chronicles, to-day, the sales of stocks, the price of exchange and freight, the arrivals and departures of gold, the condition of the sub-treasury, the state of the coal-trade and other mining interests, and ends with gossip and argument about the Schuyler frauds. There is a vast amount of labor condensed in the two columns which the money article usually occupies.

The Tribune, from the beginning of its career, has kept a vigilant eye upon passing literature. Its judgments have great weight with the reading public. They are always pronounced with, at least, an air of deliberation. They are always able, generally just, occasionally cruel, more frequently too kind. In this department, taking into account the quantity of information given—both of home and foreign literature, of books published and of books to be published —and the talent and knowledge displayed in its notices and reviews, the superiority of the Tribune to any existing daily paper is simply undeniable. Articles occasionally appear in the London journals, written after every other paper has expressed its judgment, written at ample leisure and by men pre-eminent in the one branch of letters to which the reviewed book belongs, which are superior to the reviews of the Tribune. It is the literary department of the paper, [401] for which superiority is here asserted. To-day, it happens, that the paper contains nothing literary. In a daily paper, news has the precedence of everything, and a review of an epic greater than Paradise Lost might be crowded out by the report of an election brawl in the Sixth Ward. Thus, a poor author is often kept in trembling suspense for days, or even weeks, waiting for the review which he erroneously thinks will make or mar him.

Like People, like Priest, says the old maxim; which we may amend by saying, Like Editor, like Correspondent. From these “Letters from the people,” we infer, that when a man has something to say to the public, of a reformatory or humanitary nature, he is prone to indite an epistle “ to the Editor of the New York Tribune,” who, on his part, in tenderness to the public, is exceedingly prone to consign it to the basket of oblivion. A good many of these letters, however, escape into print—to-day, four, on some days a dozen. The London letters of the Tribune are written in London, the Paris letters in Paris, the Timbuctoo letters in Timbuctoo. This is strange, but true.

In its editorial department, the Tribune has two advantages over most of its contemporaries. In the first place, it has an object of attack, the slave power; and secondly, by a long course of warfare, it has won the conceded privilege of being sincere. Any one who has had to do with the press, is aware, that articles in newspapers are of two kinds, namely, those which are written for a purpose not avowed, and those which are written spontaneously, from the impulse and convictions of the writer's own mind. And any one who has written articles of both descriptions is aware, further, that a man who is writing with perfect sincerity, writing with a pure desire to move, interest, or convince, writes better, than when the necessities of his vocation compel him to grind the axe for a party, or an individual. There is more or less of axe-grinding done in every newspaper office in the world; and a perfectly independent newspaper never existed. Take, for example, the London Times, which is claimed to be the most incorruptible of journals. The writers for the Times are trammeled, first, by the immense position of the paper, which give to its leading articles a possible influence upon the affairs of the world. The aim of the writer is to express, not himself, but England; as the Times is, in other countries, the [402] recognized voice of the British Empire; and it is this which renders much of the writing in the Times as safe, as vague, and as pointless, as a diplomatist's dispatch. The Times is further trammeled by the business necessity of keeping on terms with those who have it in their power to give and withhold important intelligence. And, still further, by the fact, that general England, whom it addresses, is not up to the liberality of the age—in which the leading minds alone fully participates. Thus, it happens, that the articles in a paper like The Leader, which reaches only the liberal class, are often more pointed, more vigorous, more interesting, than those of the Times, though the resources of the Leader are extremely limited, and the Times can have its pick of the wit, talent, and learning of the empire. When a man writes with perfect freedom, then, and only then, he writes his best. Without claiming for the Tribune a perfect innocence of axe-grinding, it may with truth be sail, that the power of its leading editorial articles is vastly increased by the fact, that those who write them, do so with as near an approach to perfect freedom, i. e. sincerity, as the nature of newspaper-writing, at present, admits of. What it gains, too, in spirit and interest by having the preposterous inaptitude of the Southern press to ridicule, and the horrors of Southern brutality to denounce, is sufficiently known.

But it is time we returned to the office. It is ten o'clock in the morning. The clerks in the office are at their posts, receiving advertisements, recording them, entering the names of new subscribers received by the morning's mail, of which on some mornings of the year there are hundreds. It is a busy scene.

Up the dismal stairs to a dingy door in the third story, upon which we read, ‘Editorial Rooms of the New York Tribune. H. Greeley.’ We ought not to be allowed to enter, but we are, and we do; no one hinders us, or even notices our entrance. First, a narrow passage, with two small rooms on the left, whence, later in the day, the rapid hum of proof-reading issues unceasingly, one man reading the “copy” aloud, another having his eyes fixed upon the slip of proof. One may insert his visage into the square aperture in the doors of these minute apartments, and gaze upon the performance with persistent impertinence; but the proof-reading goes on, like a machine. At this hour, however, these rooms contain no one. A [403] few steps, and the principal Editorial Room is before us. It is a long, narrow apartment, with desks for the principal editors along the sides, with shelves well-loaded with books and manuscripts, a great heap of exchange papers in the midst, and a file of the Tribune on a broad desk, slanting from the wall. Everything is in real order, but apparent confusion, and the whole is “ blended in a common element of dust.” Nothing particular appears to be going on. Two or three gentlemen are looking over the papers; but the desks are all vacant, and each has upon its lid a pile of letters and papers awaiting the arrival of him to whose department they belong. One desk presents an array of new publications that might well appal the most industrious critic—twenty-four new books, seven magazines, nine pamphlets, and two new papers, all expecting a “first-rate notice.” At the right, we observe another and smaller room, with a green carpet, two desks, a sofa, and a large book-case, filled with books of reference. This is the sanctum sanctorum. The desk near the window, that looks out upon the green Park, the white City Hall in the midst thereof, and the lines of moving life that bound the same, is the desk of the Editor-in-Chief. It presents confusion merely. The shelves are heaped with manuscripts, books, and pamphlets; its lid is covered with clippings from newspapers, each containing something supposed by the assiduous exchange-reader to be of special interest to the Editor; and over all, on the highest shelf, near the ceiling, stands a large bronze bust of Henry Clay, wearing a crown of dust. The other desk, near the door, belongs to the second in command. It is in perfect order. A heap of foreign letters, covered with stamps and post-marks, awaits his coming. The row of huge, musty volumes along the floor against one of the walls of the room, is a complete file of the Tribune, with some odd volumes of the New Yorker and Log Cabin.

An hour later. One by one the editors arrive. Solon Robinson, looking, with his flowing white beard and healthy countenance, like a good-humored Prophet Isaiah, or a High Priest in undress, has dropped into his corner, and is compiling, from letters and newspapers, a column of paragraphs touching the effect of the drouth upon the potato crop. Bayard Taylor is reading a paper in the American attitude. His countenance has quite lost the Nubian [404] bronze with which it darkened on the banks of the White Nile, as well as the Japanning which his last excursion gave it. Pale, delicate-featured, with a curling beard and subdued moustache, slight in figure, and dressed with care, he has as little the aspect of an adventurous traveler, and as much the air of a nice young gentleman, as can be imagined. He may read in peace, for he is not now one of the ‘hack-horses’ of the daily press. Tile tall, pale, intense-looking gentleman who is slowly pacing the carpet of the inner sanctum is Mr. William H. Fry, the composer of Leonora. At this moment he is thinking out thunder for to-morrow's Tribune. William Henry Fry is one of the noblest fellows alive—a hater of meanness and wrong, a lover of man and right, with a power of expression equal to the intensity of his hate and the enthusiasm of his love. There is more merit in his little finger than in a whole mass-meeting of Douglass-senators; and from any but a grog-ruled city he would have been sent to Congress long ago; but perhaps, as Othello remarks, “it is better as it is.” Mr. Ripley, who came in a few minutes ago, and sat down before that marshaled array of books and magazines, might be described in the language of Mr. Weller the elder, as “a stout gentleman of eight and forty.” He is in for a long day's work apparently, and has taken off his coat. Luckily for authors, Mr. Ripley is a gentleman of sound digestion and indomitable good humor, who enjoys life and helps others enjoy it, and believes that anger and hatred are seldom proper, and never “pay.” He examines each book, we observe, with care. Without ever being in a hurry, he gets through an amazing quantity of work; and all he does shows the touch and finish of the practical hand. Mr. Dana enters with a quick, decided step, goes straight to his desk in the green-carpeted sanctum sanctorum, and is soon lost in the perusal of “Karl Marx,” or “An American woman in Paris.” In figure, face, and flowing beard, he looks enough like Louis Kossuth to be his cousin, if not his brother. Mr. Dana, as befits his place, is a gentleman of peremptory habits. It is his office to decide; and, as he is called upon to perform the act of decision a hundred times a day, he has acquired the power both of deciding with despatch and of announcing his decision with civil brevity, If you desire a plain answer to a plain question, Charles A. Dana is the gentleman who can accommodate you. He is an [405] able and, in description, a brilliant writer; a good speaker; fond and proud of his profession; indefatigable in the discharge of its duties; when out of harness, agreeable as a companion; in harness, a man not to be interrupted. Mr. Ottarson, the city editor, has not yet made his appearance; he did not leave the office last night till three hours after midnight. Before he left, however, he prepared a list of things to be reported and described to-day, writing opposite each expected occurrence the name of the man whom he wished to attend to it. The reporters come to the office in the morning, and from this list ascertain what special duty is expected of them. Mr. Ottarson rose from the ranks. He has been everything in a newspaper office, from devil to editor. He is one of the busiest of men, and fills the most difficult post in the establishment with great ability. That elegant and rather distingue; gentleman with the small, black, Albert moustache, who is writing at the desk over there in the corner, is the commercial editor, the writer of the money article—Mr. George M. Snow. We should have taken him for anything but a commercial gentlemen. Mr. Pike, the “J. S. P.” of former Washington correspondence, now a writer on political subjects, is not present; nor are other members of the corps.

Between twelve and one, Mr. Greeley comes in, with his pockets full of papers, and a bundle under his arm. His first act is to dispatch his special aid-de-sanctum on various errands, such as to deliver notes, letters and messages, to procure seeds or implements for the farm, et cetera. Then, perhaps, he will comment on the morning's paper, dwelling with pertinacious emphasis upon its defects, hard to be convinced that an alleged fault was unavoidable. After two or three amusing colloquies of this nature, he makes his way to the sanctum, where, usually, several people are waiting to see him. He takes his seat at his desk and begins to examine the heap of notes, letters, newspapers and clippings, with which it is covered, while one after another of his visitors states his business. One is an exile who wants advice, or a loan, or an advertisement inserted gratis; he does not get the loan, for Mr. Greeley long ago shut down the door upon miscellaneous borrowers and beggars. Another visitor has an invention which he wishes paragraphed into celebrity. Another is one of the lecture-committee of a country Lyceum, and wants our editor to “come out and give [406] us a lecture this winter.” Another is a country clergyman who has called to say how much he likes the semi-weekly Tribune, and to gratify his curiosity by speaking with the editor face to face. Gradually the throng diminishes and the pile of papers is reduced. By three or four o'clock, this preliminary botheration is disposed of, and Mr. Greeley goes to dinner.

Meanwhile, all the departments of the establishment have beep in a state of activity. It is Thursday, the day of the Weekly Tribune, the inside of which began to be printed at seven in the morning. Before the day closes, the whole edition, one hundred and sixteen thousand, forty-eight cart-loads, will have been printed, folded, wrapped, bundled, bagged, and carried to the post-office. The press-room on Thursdays does its utmost, and presents a scene of bustle and movement “easier imagined than described.” No small amount of work, too, is done in the office of publication. To-day, as we ascertain, two hundred and thirteen business letters were received, containing, among other things less interesting, eleven hundred and seventy-two dollars, and four hundred and ten new or renewed subscriptions, each of which has been recorded and placed upon the wrapper-writer's books. The largest sum ever received by one mail was eighteen hundred dollars. The weekly expenditures of the concern average about six thousand two hundred dollars, of which sum four thousand is for paper. During the six dull months of the year, the receipts and expenditures are about equal; in the active months the receipts exceed the expenditures.

It is nine o'clock in the evening. Gas has resumed. The clank of the press has ceased, and the basement is dimly lighted. The clerks, who have been so busy all day, have gone home, and the night-clerk, whom we saw this morning in his press-room pulpit, is now behind the counter of the office receiving advertisements. Night-work agrees with him, apparently, for he is robust, ruddy and smiling. Aloft in the composing room, thirty-eight men are setting type, silently and fast. No sound is heard but the click of the type, or the voice, now and then, of a foreman, or the noise of of the copy-box rattling up the wooden pipe from the editor's room below, or a muffled grunt from the tin tube by which the different rooms hold converse with one another, or the bell which calls for [407] the application of an ear to the mouth of that tube. The place is warm, close, light, and still. Whether it is necessarily detrimental to a compositor's health to work from eight to ten hours every night in such an atmosphere, in such a light, is still, it appears, a question. Mr. Greeley thinks it is not. The compositors think it is, and seldom feel able to work more than four nights a week, filling their places on the other nights from the list of substitutes, or in printer's language “subs.” Compositors say, that sleep in the day time is a very different thing from sleep at night, particularly in summer, when to create an artificial night is to exclude the needful air. They say that they never get perfectly used to the reversion of nature's order; and often, after a night of drowsiness so extreme that they would give the world if they could sink down upon the floor and sleep, they go to bed at length, and find that offended Morpheus has taken his flight, and left their eye-lids glued to their brows; and they cannot close them before the inexorable hour arrives that summons them to work again. In the middle of the room the principal night-foreman is already “making up” the outside forms of to-morrow's paper, four in number, each a section of a cylinder, with rims of polished iron, and type of copper face. It is slow work, and a moment's inattention might produce results more ridiculous than cross-readings.

The editorial rooms, too, have become intense. Seven desks are occupied with silent writers, most of them in the Tribune uniform—shirt-sleeves and moustache. The night-reader is looking over the papers last arrived, with scissors ready for any paragraph of news that catches his eye. An editor occasionally goes to the copy-box, places in it a page or two of the article he is writing, and rings the bell; the box slides up to the composing-room, and the pages are in type and corrected before the article is finished. Such articles are those which are prompted by the event of the hour; others are more deliberately written; some are weeks in preparation; and of some the keel is laid months before they are launched upon the public mind. The Editor-in-Chief is at his desk writing in a singular attitude, the desk on a level with his nose, and the writer sitting bolt upright. He writes rapidly, with scarcely a pause for thought, and not once in a page makes an erasure. The foolscap leaves fly firm under his pen at the rate of one in fifteen minutes. He does [408] most of the thinking before he begins to write, and produces matter about as fast as a swift copyist can copy. Yet he leaves nothing for the compositor to guess at, and if he makes an alteration in the proof, he is careful to do it in such a way that the printer loses no time in “overrunning;” that is, he inserts as many words as he erases. Not unfrequently he bounds up into the composing-room, and makes a correction or adds a sentence with his own hand. He is not patient under the infliction of an error; and he expects men to understand his wishes by intuition; and when they do not, but interpret his half-expressed orders in a way exactly contrary to his intention, a scene is likely to ensue.

And so they write and read in the editorial rooms of the Tribune for some hours. Occasionally a City Reporter comes in with his budget of intelligence, or his short-hand notes, and sits down at a desk to arrange or write them out. Telegraphic messages arrive from the agent of the Associated Press, or from “our own correspondent.” Mr. Dana glances over them, sends them aloft, and, if they are important, indites a paragraph calling attention to the fact. That omnipresent creature, the down-town apple-woman, whom no labyrinth puzzles, no extent of stairs fatigues, no presence overawes, enters, and thrusts her basket in deliberate succession under each editorial nose. Some of the corps, deep in the affairs of the nation, pause in their writing, gaze at the woman in utter abstraction, slowly come to a sense of her errand, shake their heads, and resume their work. Others hurriedly buy an apple, and taking one prodigious bite, lay it aside and forget it. A band of music is heard in the street; it is a target-excursion returning late from Hoboken; it passes the office and gives it three cheers; the city men go to the windows; the rest write on unconscious of the honor that has been done them; the Tribune returns the salute by a paragraph.

Midnight. The strain is off. Mr. Greeley finished his work about eleven, chatted a while with Mr. Dana, and went home. Mr. Dana has received from the foreman the list of the articles in type, the articles now in hand, and the articles expected; he has designated those which must go in; those which it is highly desirable should go in, and those which will “keep.” He has also marked the order in which the articles are to appear; and, having performed this last duty, he returns the list to the compositor, puts on his coat and departs. [409] Mr. Fry is on the last page of his critique of this evening's Grisi, which he executes with steam-engine rapidity, and sends up without reading. He lingers awhile, and then strolls off up town. Mr. Ottarson is still busy, as reporters continually arrive with items of news, which he hastily examines, and consigns either to the basket under his desk, or to the copy-box. The first phalanx of compositors is dismissed, and they come thundering down the dark stairs, putting on their coats as they descend. The foreman is absorbed in making up the inside forms, as he has just sent those of the outside below, and the distant clanking of the press announces that they have begun to be printed. We descend, and find the sheets coming off the press at the rate of a hundred and sixty a minute. The engine-man is commodiously seated on an inverted basket, under a gas-jet, reading the outside of the morning's paper, and the chief of the press-room is scanning a sheet to see if the impression is perfect. The gigantic press has six mouths, and six men are feeding him with white paper, slipping in the sheets with the easy knack acquired by long practice. It looks a simple matter, this feeding; but if a new hand were to attempt it, the iron maw of the monster would be instantly choked, and his whole system disarranged. For he is as delicate as he is strong; the little finger of a child can start and stop him, moderate his pace, or quicken it to the snapping of his sinews.

Three o'clock in the morning. Mr. Ottarson is in trouble. The outside of the paper is printed, the inside forms are ready to be lowered away to the basement, and the press-men are impatiently waiting the signal to receive it. The pulpit of the night clerk is ready for his reception, the spacious folding-table is cleared, and two carriers have already arrived. All the compositors except the last phalanx have gone home; and they have corrected the last proof, and desire nothing so much as to be allowed to depart. But an English steamer is overdue, and a telegraphic dispatch from the agent of the Associated Press at Sandy Hook, who has been all night in his yacht cruising for the news, is anxiously expected. It does not come. The steamer (as we afterwards ascertain) has arrived, but the captain churlishly refused to throw on board the yacht the customary newspaper. Mr. Ottarson fancies he hears a gun. A moment after he is positive he hears another. He has five men of [410] his corps within call, and he sends them flying! One goes to the Astor House to see if they have heard of the steamer's arrival; another to the offices of the Times and Herald, on the same errand; others to Jersey City, to be ready in case the steamer reaches her wharf in time. It is ascertained, about half-past 3, that the steamer is coming up the bay, and that her news cannot possibly be procured before five; and so, Mr. Ottarson, having first ascertained that the other morning papers have given up the hope of the news for their first editions, goes to press in despair, and home in ill humor. In a few minutes, the forms are lowered to the basement, wheeled to the side of the press, and hoisted to their places on the press by a crank. The feeders take their stands, the foreman causes the press to make one revolution, examines a sheet, pronounces it all right, sets the press in motion at a rattling rate, and nothing remains to be done except to print off thirty thousand copies and distribute them.

The last scene of all is a busy one indeed. The press-room is all alive with carriers, news-men and folding-boys, each of whom is in a fever of hurry. Four or five boys are carrying the papers in backloads from the press to the clerk, and to the mailing tables. The carriers receive their papers in the order of the comparative distance of their districts from the office. No money passes between them and the clerk. They come to the office every afternoon, examine the book of subscribers, note the changes ordered in their respective routes, pay for the number of papers they will require on the following morning, and receive a ticket entitling them to receive the designated number. The number of papers distributed by one carrier varies from two hundred and fifty to five hundred. Some of the carriers, however, are assisted by boys As a carrier gains a weekly profit of three cents on each subscriber, one who delivers five hundred papers has an income of fifteen dollars a week; and it is well earned. Most of the small news-men in town, country, and railroad-car, are supplied with their papers by a wholesale firm, who deliver them at a slight increase of price over the first cost. The firm alluded to purchases from four to five thousand copies of the Tribune every morning.

By five o'clock, usually, the morning edition has been printed off, the carriers supplied, the early mail dispatched, and the bundles [411] for adjacent towns made up. Again there is a lull in the activity of the Tribune building, and, sleepily, we bend our steps homeward.

There is something extremely pleasing in the spectacle afforded by a large number of strong men co-operating in cheerful activity, by which they at once secure their own career, and render an important service to the public. Such a spectacle the Tribune building presents. At present men show to best advantage when they are at work; we have not yet learned to sport with grace and unmixed benefit; and still farther are we from that stage of development where work and play become one. But the Tribune building is a very cheerful place. No one is oppressed or degraded; and, by the minute subdivision of labor in all departments, there is seldom any occasion for hurry or excessive exertion. The distinctions which there exist between one man and another, are not artificial, but natural and necessary; foreman and editor, office-boy and head clerk, if they converse together at all, converse as friends and equals; and the posts of honor are posts of honor, only because they are posts of difficulty. In a word, the republicanism of the Continent has come to a focus at the corner of Nassau and Spruce-streets. There it has its nearest approach to practical realization;

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 13th (2)
May 10th, 1854 AD (1)
September 19th (1)
September 1st (1)
August 20th (1)
August 19th (1)
August 14th (1)
6th (1)
4th (1)
3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: