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Confessions Of A "Colyumist"
by [?]

The most painful privilege of the colyumist’s job is the number of people who drop in to see him, usually when he is imprecating his way toward the hour of going to press. This is all a part of the great and salutary human instinct against work. When people see a man toiling, they have an irresistible impulse to crowd round and stop him. They seem to imagine that he has been put there on purpose to help them solve their problems, to find a job for their friend from Harrisburg, or to tell them how to find a publisher for their poems. Unhappily, their victim being merely human, is likely to grow a bit snappish under infliction. Yet now and then he gets a glimpse into a human vexation so sincere, so honest, and so moving that he turns away from the typewriter with a sigh. He wonders how one dare approach the chronicling of this muddled panorama with anything but humility and despair. Frank Harris once said of Oscar Wilde: “If England insists on treating her criminals like this, she doesn’t deserve to have any.” Similarly, if the public insists on bringing its woes to its colyumists, it doesn’t deserve to have any colyumists. Then the battered jester turns again to his machine and ticks off something like this:

We have heard of ladies who have been tempted beyond their strength. We have also seen some who have been strengthened beyond their temptation.

Of course there are good days, too. (This is not one of them.) Days when the whole course of the news seems planned for the benefit of the chaffish and irreverent commentator. When Governor Hobby of Texas issues a call for the state cavalry. When one of your clients drops in, in the goodness of his heart, to give you his own definition of a pessimist–a pessimist, he says, is a man who wears both belt and suspenders. When a big jewellery firm in the city puts out a large ad–

Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company
Watches for Women
Of Superior Design and Perfection
of Movement

all that one needs to do to that is to write over it the caption


and pass on to the next paragraph.

The more a colyumist is out on the streets, making himself the reporter of the moods and oddities of men, the better his stuff will be. It seems to me that his job ought to be good training for a novelist, as it teaches him a habit of human sensitiveness. He becomes filled with an extraordinary curiosity about the motives and purposes of the people he sees. The other afternoon I was very much struck by the unconscious pathos of a little, gentle-eyed old man who was standing on Chestnut Street studying a pocket notebook. His umbrella leaned against a shop-window, on the sill of which he had laid a carefully rolled-up newspaper. By his feet was a neat leather brief-case, plumply filled with contents not discernible. There he stood (a sort of unsuccessful Cyrus Curtis), very diminutive, his gray hair rather long abaft his neck, his yellowish straw hat (with curly brim) tilted backward as though in perplexity, his timid and absorbed blue eyes poring over his memorandum-book which was full of pencilled notes. He had a slightly unkempt, brief beard and whiskers, his cheek-bones pinkish, his linen a little frayed. There was something strangely pathetic about him, and I would have given much to have been able to speak to him. I halted at a window farther down the street and studied him; then returned to pass him again, and watched him patiently. He stood quite absorbed, and was still there when I went on.

That is just one of the thousands of vivid little pictures one sees on the city streets day by day. To catch some hint of the meaning of all this, to present a few scrawled notes of the amazing interest and colour of the city’s life, this is the colyumist’s task as I see it. It is a task not a whit less worthy, less painful, or less baffling than that of the most conscientious novelist. And it is carried on in surroundings of extraordinary stimulation and difficulty. It is heart-racking to struggle day by day, amid incessant interruption and melee, to snatch out of the hurly-burly some shreds of humour or pathos or (dare one say?) beauty, and phrase them intelligibly.