People who write for a livelihood get some queer propositions from those who have crude ideas about the operation of the literary machine. There is a prevailing idea among those who have never dabbled in literature very much, that the divine afflatus works a good deal like a corn sheller. This is erroneous.
To put a bushel of words into the hopper and have them come out a poem or a sermon, is a more complicated process than it would seem to the casual observer.
I can hardly be called literary, though I admit that my tastes lie in that direction, and yet I have had some singular experiences in that line. For instance, last year I received flattering overtures from three young men who wanted me to write speeches for them to deliver on the Fourth of July. They could do it themselves, but hadn’t the time. If I would write the speeches they would be willing to revise them. They seemed to think it would be a good idea to write the speeches a little longer than necessary and then the poorer parts of the effort could be cut out. Various prices were set on these efforts, from a dollar to “the kindest regards.” People who have squeezed through one of our adult winters in this latitude, subsisting on kind regards, will please communicate with the writer, stating how they like it.
One gentleman, who was in the confectionery business, wanted a lot of “humorous notices wrote for to put into conversation candy.” It was a big temptation to write something that would be in every lady’s mouth, but I refrained. Writing gum drop epitaphs may properly belong to the domain of literature, but I doubt it. Surely I do not want to be haughty and above my business, but it seems to me that this is irrelevant.
Another man wanted me to write a “piece for his boy to speak,” and if I would do so, I could come to his house some Saturday night and stay over Sunday. He said that the boy was “a perfect little case to carry on and folks didn’t know whether he would develop into a condemb fool or a youmerist.” So he wanted a piece of one of them tomfoolery kind for the little cuss to speak the last day of school.
A coal dealer who had risen to affluence by selling coal to the poor by apothecaries’ weight, wrote to ask me for a design to be used as a family crest and a motto to emblazon on his arms. I told him I had run out of crests, but that “weight for the wagon, we’ll all take a ride,” would be a good motto; or he might use the following: “The fuel and his money are soon parted.” He might emblazon this on his arms, or tattoo it on any other part of his system where he thought it would be becoming to his complexion. I never heard from him again, and I do not know whether he was offended or not.
Two young men in Massachusetts wrote me a letter in which they said they “had a good thing on mother.” They wanted it written up in a facetious vein. They said that their father had been on the coast a few weeks before, engaged in the eeling industry. Being a good man, but partially full, he had mingled himself in the flowing tide and got drowned. Finally, after several days’ search, the neighbors came in sadly and told the old lady thai they had found all that was mortal of James, and there were two eels in the remains. They asked for further instructions as to deceased. The old lady swabbed out her weeping eyes, braced herself against the sink and told the men to “bring in the eels and set him again.”
The boys thought that if this could be properly written up, “it would be a mighty good joke on mother.” I was greatly shocked when I received this letter. It seemed to me heartless for young men to speak lightly of their widowed mother’s great woe. I wrote them how I felt about it, and rebuked them severely for treating their mother’s grief so lightly. Also for trying to impose upon me with an old chestnut.