Editorial Wild Oats, p.2Mark Twain
Journalism in Tennessee
The editor of the Memphis _Avalanche_ swoops thus mildly down upon a correspondent who posted him as a Radical: "While he was writing the first word, the middle, dotting his i's, crossing his t's, and punching his period, he knew he was concocting a sentence that was saturated with infamy and reeking with falsehood."--_Exchange_.
I was told by the physician that a Southern climate would improvemy health, and so I went down to Tennessee and got a berth on the_Morning-Glory and Johnson County Warwhoop_ as associate editor.When I went on duty I found the chief editor sitting tilted back ina three-legged chair with his feet on a pine table. There wasanother pine table in the room and another afflicted chair, andboth were half buried under newspapers and scraps and sheets ofmanuscript. There was a wooden box of sand, sprinkled withcigar-stubs and "old soldiers," and a stove with a door hanging byits upper hinge. The chief editor had a long-tailed black clothfrock-coat on, and white linen pants. His boots were small andneatly blacked. He wore a ruffled shirt, a large seal ring, astanding collar of obsolete pattern, and a checkered neckerchiefwith the ends hanging down. Date of costume about 1848. He wassmoking a cigar, and trying to think of a word, and in pawing hishair he had rumpled his locks a good deal. He was scowlingfearfully, and I judged that he was concocting a particularlyknotty editorial. He told me to take the exchanges and skim throughthem and write up the "Spirit of the Tennessee Press," condensinginto the article all of their contents that seemed of interest.
I wrote as follows:
"SPIRIT OF THE TENNESSEE PRESS
"The editors of the _Semi-Weekly Earthquake_ evidently labor under a misapprehension with regard to the Ballyhack railroad. It is not the object of the company to leave Buzzardville off to one side. On the contrary, they consider it one of the most important points along the line, and consequently can have no desire to slight it. The gentlemen of the _Earthquake_ will, of course, take pleasure in making the correction.
"John W. Blossom, Esq., the able editor of the Higginsville _Thunderbolt and Battle-Cry of Freedom_, arrived in the city yesterday. He is stopping at the Van Buren House.
"We observe that our contemporary of the Mud Springs _Morning Howl_ has fallen into the error of supposing that the election of Van Werter is not an established fact, but he will have discovered his mistake before this reminder reaches him, no doubt. He was doubtless misled by incomplete election returns.
"It is pleasant to note that the city of Blathersville is endeavoring to contract with some New York gentlemen to pave its wellnigh impassable streets with the Nicholson pavement. The _Daily Hurrah_ urges the measure with ability, and seems confident of ultimate success."
I passed my manuscript over to the chief editor for acceptance,alteration, or destruction. He glanced at it and his face clouded.He ran his eye down the pages, and his countenance grew portentous.It was easy to see that something was wrong. Presently he sprang upand said:
"Thunder and lightning! Do you suppose I am going to speak ofthose cattle that way? Do you suppose my subscribers are going tostand such gruel as that? Give me the pen!"
I never saw a pen scrape and scratch its way so viciously, orplough through another man's verbs and adjectives so relentlessly.While he was in the midst of his work, somebody shot at him throughthe open window, and marred the symmetry of my ear.
"Ah," said he, "that is that scoundrel Smith, of the _MoralVolcano_--he was due yesterday." And he snatched a navy revolverfrom his belt and fired. Smith dropped, shot in the thigh. The shotspoiled Smith's aim, who was just taking a second chance, and hecrippled a stranger. It was me. Merely a finger shot off.
Then the chief editor went on with his erasures andinterlineations. Just as he finished them a hand-grenade came downthe stove-pipe, and the explosion shivered the stove into athousand fragments. However, it did no further damage, except thata vagrant piece knocked a couple of my teeth out.
"That stove is utterly ruined," said the chief editor.
I said I believed it was.
"Well, no matter--don't want it this kind of weather. I know theman that did it. I'll get him. Now, _here_ is the way this stuffought to be written."
I took the manuscript. It was scarred with erasures andinterlineations till its mother wouldn't have known it if it hadhad one. It now read as follows:
"SPIRIT OF THE TENNESSEE PRESS
"The inveterate liars of the _Semi-Weekly Earthquake_ are evidently endeavoring to palm off upon a noble and chivalrous people another of their vile and brutal falsehoods with regard to that most glorious conception of the nineteenth century, the Ballyhack railroad. The idea that Buzzardville was to be left off at one side originated in their own fulsome brains--or rather in the settlings which _they_ regard as brains. They had better swallow this lie if they want to save their abandoned reptile carcasses the cowhiding they so richly deserve.
"That ass, Blossom, of the Higginsville _Thunderbolt and Battle-Cry of Freedom_, is down here again sponging at the Van Buren.
"We observe that the besotted blackguard of the Mud Springs _Morning Howl_ is giving out, with his usual propensity for lying, that Van Werter is not elected. The heaven-born mission of journalism is to disseminate truth: to eradicate error; to educate, refine, and elevate the tone of public morals and manners, and make all men more gentle, more virtuous, more charitable, and in all ways better, and holier, and happier; and yet this black-hearted scoundrel degrades his great office persistently to the dissemination of falsehood, calumny, vituperation, and vulgarity.
"Blathersville wants a Nicholson pavement--it wants a jail and a poor-house more. The idea of a pavement in a one-horse town composed of two gin-mills, a blacksmith-shop, and that mustard-plaster of a newspaper, the _Daily Hurrah_! The crawling insect, Buckner, who edits the _Hurrah_, is braying about this business with his customary imbecility, and imagining that he is talking sense."
"Now _that_ is the way to write--peppery and to the point.Mush-and-milk journalism gives me the fan-tods."
About this time a brick came through the window with a splinteringcrash, and gave me a considerable of a jolt in the back. I movedout of range--I began to feel in the way.
The chief said: "That was the Colonel, likely. I've been expectinghim for two days. He will be up now right away."
He was correct. The Colonel appeared in the door a momentafterwards with a dragoon revolver in his hand.
He said: "Sir, have I the honor of addressing the poltroon whoedits this mangy sheet?"
"You have. Be seated, sir. Be careful of the chair, one of its legsis gone. I believe I have the honor of addressing the putrid liar,Colonel Blatherskite Tecumseh?"
"Right, sir. I have a little account to settle with you. If you areat leisure we will begin."
"I have an article on the 'Encouraging Progress of Moral andIntellectual Development in America' to finish, but there is nohurry. Begin."
Both pistols rang out their fierce clamor at the same instant. Thechief lost a lock of his hair, and the Colonel's bullet ended itscareer in the fleshy part of my thigh. The Colonel's left shoulderwas clipped a little. They fired again. Both missed their men thistime, but I got my share, a shot in the arm. At the third fire bothgentlemen were wounded slightly, and I had a knuckle chipped. Ithen said I believed I would go out and take a walk, as this was aprivate matter, and I had a delicacy about participating in itfurther. But both gentlemen begged me to keep my seat, and assuredme that I was not in the way.
They then talked about the elections and the crops while theyreloaded, and I fell to tying up my wounds. But presently theyopened fire again with animation, and every shot took effect--butit is proper to remark that five out of the six fell to my share.The sixth one mortally wounded the Colonel, who remarked, with finehumor, that he would have to say good-morning now, as he hadbusiness up-town. He then inquired the way to the undertaker's andleft.
The chief turned to me and said: "
I winced a little at the idea of attending to the customers, but Iwas too bewildered by the fusillade that was still ringing in myears to think of anything to say.
He continued: "Jones will be here at three--cowhide him. Gillespiewill call earlier, perhaps--throw him out of the window. Fergusonwill be along about four--kill him. That is all for to-day, Ibelieve. If you have any odd time, you may write a blisteringarticle on the police--give the chief inspector rats. The cowhidesare under the table; weapons in the drawer--ammunition there in thecorner--lint and bandages up there in the pigeon-holes. In case ofaccident, go to Lancet, the surgeon, down-stairs. He advertises--wetake it out in trade."
"GILLESPIE HAD CALLED"]
He was gone. I shuddered. At the end of the next three hours Ihad been through perils so awful that all peace of mind and allcheerfulness were gone from me. Gillespie had called and thrown_me_ out of the window. Jones arrived promptly, and when I gotready to do the cowhiding he took the job off my hands. In anencounter with a stranger, not in the bill of fare, I had lost myscalp. Another stranger, by the name of Thompson, left me a merewreck and ruin of chaotic rags. And at last, at bay in the corner,and beset by an infuriated mob of editors, blacklegs, politicians,and desperadoes, who raved and swore and flourished their weaponsabout my head till the air shimmered with glancing flashes ofsteel, I was in the act of resigning my berth on the paper when thechief arrived, and with him a rabble of charmed and enthusiasticfriends. Then ensued a scene of riot and carnage such as no humanpen, or steel one either, could describe. People were shot, probed,dismembered, blown up, thrown out of the window. There was a brieftornado of murky blasphemy, with a confused and frantic war-danceglimmering through it, and then all was over. In five minutes therewas silence, and the gory chief and I sat alone and surveyed thesanguinary ruin that strewed the floor around us.
He said: "You'll like this place when you get used to it."
I said: "I'll have to get you to excuse me; I think maybe Imight write to suit you after a while; as soon as I had had somepractice and learned the language I am confident I could. But, tospeak the plain truth, that sort of energy of expression has itsinconveniences, and a man is liable to interruption. You see thatyourself. Vigorous writing is calculated to elevate the public, nodoubt, but then I do not like to attract so much attention as itcalls forth. I can't write with comfort when I am interrupted somuch as I have been to-day. I like this berth well enough, but Idon't like to be left here to wait on the customers. Theexperiences are novel, I grant you, and entertaining, too, after afashion, but they are not judiciously distributed. A gentlemanshoots at you through the window and cripples _me_; a bomb-shellcomes down the stove-pipe for your gratification and sends thestove-door down _my_ throat; a friend drops in to swap complimentswith you, and freckles _me_ with bullet-holes till my skin won'thold my principles; you go to dinner, and Jones comes with hiscowhide, Gillespie throws me out of the window, Thompson tears allmy clothes off, and an entire stranger takes my scalp with the easyfreedom of an old acquaintance; and in less than five minutes allthe blackguards in the country arrive in their war-paint, andproceed to scare the rest of me to death with their tomahawks. Takeit altogether, I never had such a spirited time in all my life as Ihave had to-day. No; I like you, and I like your calm, unruffledway of explaining things to the customers, but you see I am notused to it. The Southern heart is too impulsive; Southernhospitality is too lavish with the stranger. The paragraphs which Ihave written to-day, and into whose cold sentences your masterlyhand has infused the fervent spirit of Tennessean journalism, willwake up another nest of hornets. All that mob of editors willcome--and they will come hungry, too, and want somebody forbreakfast. I shall have to bid you adieu. I decline to be presentat these festivities. I came South for my health; I will go back onthe same errand, and suddenly. Tennessean journalism is toostirring for me."
After which we parted with mutual regret, and I took apartments atthe hospital.
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