ON THE NEED OF A SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO PRESIDENTS

BY'

GEORGE FITCH

AUTHOR OF "SEEING ROOSEVELT," ETC.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY GORDON ROSS

"AHANKS to an enterprising press, the President of the United States lives always in full sight of his ninety million constituents. It is the first duty of the newspapers of the country, after his inauguration, to detail his existence to the public. He rises at seven. A correspondent on the other side of the door makes a note of it. He draws on his trousers. This is good material for the press. The New York Sun once spent half a column in describing Grover Cleveland's Brobdingnagian pants. He shaves himself to the tune of a quarter of a column in the special correspondence. He descends to breakfast, the menu of which was published the Sunday before in the women's section of our leading papers. He exercises after breakfast, while four favored correspondents describe his back muscles, and a photographer is shooed off just in time. He goes to work in his office and breathes flashlight powder all

[graphic]

"HE EXERCISES AFTER BREAK. EAST, WHILE FOUR FAVORED CORRESPONDENTS DESCRIBE HIS BACK MUSCLES"

of his wife the first time he saw her.

Luncheon is ordinarily a time for pleasure and repose. Not so with the president. He may love green corn on the ear, but does he care to disclose himself to nineteen million newspaper readers eating corn with his napkin tied about his neck?

Afternoon brings to the badgered president a parody on recreation. The ordinary golfer thinks he is in hard luck when a gallery of two friends and a caddy watch his mistakes. How would he like to top his drive in every newspaper in the land while a half dozen staff photographers brought out pitilessly in syndicate illustrations the fact that he swings his club like an old woman spanking hens with a barrel-stave, and looks like a fat Bacchus in trousers and a negligee shirt?

We pass hurriedly over the minor details of living. Not that the newspapers do, however. For several months the American press once

morning, while between state papers he talks fought over the question whether President

with the Amalgamated Correspondents' Union of Washington, the Sunday editor of a New York paper who wants his opinion on pie as a national curse, and a woman writer who wants him to tell the public what he thought

Cleveland buttoned his collar after he put it on or put it on over his head already buttoned. The tariff was entirely forgotten, so fiercely did this debate rage. All through his administration President Cleveland suffered tremendously from the frankness of the press, which caught his fish for him, spanked his children for him, and measured his waistband forty times a year with vociferous interest.

The president entertains at night. When a common citizen does or doesn't take a drink of something or water at dinner, the fact is mentioned only at afternoon teas. But the president's irrigatory preference precedes the reports of cabinet meetings in importance. Nor can he expect to wear a last year's dinner coat which fits a trifle wall-papery in the back without having the fact commented on in the full leased wire reports that go from Maine to California. Wearied from a day's exertions, he escapes his guests, dodges the reporters, dismisses the special correspondents, and goes to bed to be troubled in his dreams. And if he snores, ten to one an enterprising space writer is waiting outside the door with a phonograph.

Thus a president struggles through his four years of third degree publicity. A mother discussing her young son with another mother would not be more blandly frank concerning the boy than the press is about a president. It embalms his cuss words in history and revises

his household expenses for him with kindly interest. Should he marry in the White House, as did Cleveland, there rises up a Eugene Field to dress him for the wedding in successive and uproarious verse. Should he fail to marry, as did Buchanan, the comment is even more proprietary. Should he stand in suspense some momentous morning before a door, behind which a crisis is passing that will make of him either a father or a widower, the press stands with him.

Every man's personal appearance is his own concern — butjt doesn't work with a president. Is a president thin?—he becomes eight feet high and invisible when stood edgewise, according to the press. Does he have prominent teeth ?—by a gradual process of exaggeration he becomes in the newspapers all teeth, with a little rim of executive, struggling to enclose the display. Does he wear whiskers?—to criticize the whiskers of a private citizen is an insult, yet every writer feels free to suggest ways of landscaping a president's whiskers according to his own taste in tonsorial art. Is his hair getting scarce on top?—the press views the fact with thirty-six point concern. Is he fat like certain incumbents?—he becomes simply a race course for editorial imaginations.

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic]

A president's personality is made for him by a thousand writers, each of whom is warped in his mental focus one way or another. The snob describes him as an uncrowned king and describes the breathless homage paid to him. The editor of the religious paper paints him with worn and threadbare knees. The society writers make him the center of a gorgeous effulgence of gold lace and imported dignataries. The uplift writers pin halos to his brow and exaggerate the callouses on his hands. The administration papers make of him a high-minded patriot and patron of honesty. The opposition papers remove this backbone, without anaesthetics, and make him the quivering tool of trusts and villains.

The recent seismic disturbance in the presidential chair was so busy doing up others as they would do up him, that he didn't mind what the press said about him in the least. Yet his case is a striking illustration of the manner in which the press maltreats the chief executive. In a happy moment some years ago, Mr. Roosevelt quoted the old Irish saying, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." The press was delighted. The "big stick" part sounded picturesque. So the "speak softly" part of the sentence was promptly amputated, and for seven years the big stick was waved on the front page, on the editorial page, in the sporting section and the Sunday editions. Thus he suffered during his entire adminis

tration, one set of writers interpreting his policies and another set scoring him for the interpretations. Even after he went to Africa, trying desperately to leave all reporters behind, the press was divided into two camps; one camp writing minutely about his every action and the other criticising him caustically for being written about.

For four years the unhappy president of a supposedly kind-hearted nation endures his daily dissection. Each act of his is of superlative importance to the news hunters. Each move beyond convention is magnified and distorted into grotesqueness in the eagerness for sensation.

The president takes his successor to the Capitol and helps swear him in. For a few merciful months he drops millions of fathoms out of sight while the press is finding out the size of the new president's collar and the number of his own teeth that he is wearing, to say nothing of counting the store puffs in his daughter's back hair. In fact, for several years he may exist with only desultory annoyance from magazine writers and Sunday editors. But suddenly, in a dull moment, a few newspapers decide that it is time for the ex-president to die. They may wait five or ten years, but sooner or later the decision is made. He ought to be dying. Maybe he is.

A hundred reporters rush to the ex-president's home. Is he dying? "No." Is he sick? "No, he is perfectly well." Upon which every paper in the land denies that the president is dying and declares that, while he is naturally suffering from a general breakdown, due to old age and disappointed ambition, his health is as good as a man with one foot in the grave and the other on slippery ground could expect.

At frequent intervals reporters rush out to record the ex-president's death. They return disappointed but hopeful. Finally they do not return. They rent tents and houses and sit around, vulture-like, waiting. The grand old man is failing. Yesterday he only smoked two cigars. Quietly a few correspondents call at the house and get lengthy obituaries—for use in the future, of course. A yellow paper breaks out with bulletins on the condition of the distinguished patient. An interview from a prominent physician conveys the information that symptoms such as possessed by the expresident killed Napoleon, Gladstone and Peter the Great. His picture appears in every paper once more. His condition is announced in double column headlines. His portrait, his last words, his past record and the general sorrow are ready to rush to the make-up room.

What man could resist this kindly invitation on the part of his country? Gradually the victim fades away. The reportorial guards are

doubled. They peer at every window. A nervous reporter goes up in the air and his paper kills the patient two days in advance. Finally the deed is really done. The writers wipe their dripping pens—uncannily suggestive of Brutus and his gang—and rush back to the cities where, sad to say, the ex-president has made a number of enemies by his demise—for he could only accommodate half the papers in the country by dying "on their time."

The grief of the nation is turned over to the newspapers and one must confess that they make a good job of it. It is almost worth being killed to accomplish such an end.

This is a plain and simple recital of the suffering which an unthinking nation inflicts upon its idol. That the president needs protection is evident. After all, he is only rented by the public for four years, and at that during business hours. Cannot the vice-president be made useful in protecting the president? Let the president do the work and let the press write about the vice-president, his salary being increased to $100,000 a year in compensation. In this way he would be made useful and would suffer no more than he does now through the cruel neglect of this same newspaper fraternity. Dr. William H. Welch

[graphic]
[graphic][table]

~~T is interesting to study the factors which go to make a character of wide and commanding influence. Significators (to use an astrological term) are not always easy to find. It is not alone the man—the country is full of "mute, inglorious Miltons," and of "guiltless Cromwells." Environment, the blows of circumstance, sometimes the "skirts of happy chance" furnish the complement. But even then how rarely does the combination work! Elements of birth and breeding may hinder rather than favor the production of these masters of men. In practical life only a few react in such a way as year by year to command an ever widening control over the thoughts and actions of their fellows. It is a power slowly, silently, unconsciously evolved, and it may be quite suddenly, as in some great emergency, that we find such or such an individual counts as a dominant factor in the community, and that his counsel is sought to solve the difficult situations. Looking closely at the constitution of men of this stamp, the outstanding impression is of liberal souls, lavish of themselves, unselfish to a degree, and of single-minded purpose.

A splendid incarnation of this type is William Henry Welch, Professor of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University. Born in Norfolk, Connecticut, in 1850, a member of an old New England family, he graduated from Yale in 1870, after a distinguished undergraduate career. Belonging to a family of physicians and his father a doctor of unusual attainments, it was natural that he should study medicine, which he did at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, where he graduated in 1875. Going to Europe he studied with von Recklinghausen, at Strassbourg, afterwards with Cohnheim at Breslau,

and in Berlin and Leipzig. His greatest inspiration was no doubt from von Recklinghausen and Cohnheim, both of whom approached the subject of pathology from the wide biological and experimental standpoints. Returning to New York, Dr. Welch at once became connected with Bellevue Hospital Medical College, and in 1879 was appointed Professor of Pathological Anatomy and General Pathology. He was closely associated with the late Austin Flint, who, appreciating his merits as an investigator and colleague, asked him to be his collaborator in the last edition of his important work, "The Practice of Medicine." In 1884, when the Johns Hopkins Hospital was approaching completion, the trustees asked Dr. Welch to take the chair of Pathology. He went abroad for nearly two years, and made himself thoroughly master of the rapidly developing subject of bacteriology. On his return to Baltimore the pathological laboratory of the hospital was opened, and for three years work went on before a patient was admitted to the wards. During this period Dr. Welch collected about him a group of ardent students, who have subsequently taken leading positions in the country, among whom may be mentioned Dr. Councilman of Harvard, Dr. Abbott of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Herter and Dr. Hiss of Columbia, Dr. Nuttall of Cambridge, England, Dr. Halsted and Dr. Booker of the Johns Hopkins University.

In the growth of the Johns Hopkins Hospital a factor of the very first importance was the recognition from the start of the scientific side of its work. In the plan of organization and in the early days of its management Dr. Welch took the chief part; and a few years later, when a medical school was opened, as the Dean he became its leading spirit. It was largely through his influence that the group of

« PreviousContinue »