The Valley and the Shadow:
EXPERIENCES OF A BLIND EX-EDITOR
Literary Biography, Humorous Autobiographical Sketches,
A Chapter on Iowa Journalism,
Sketches of the West and Western Men.
BY J.M. DIXON,
Late Associate Editor of the Iowa State Register
Russell Bros., Publishers,
Nos. 28,30 & 32 Centre Street.
It is stated that, when
ALEXANDER POPE committed himself to the task of translating
Homer's Iliad, he became so alarmed at this assumption of
responsibility that he wanted some one to hang him, and thereby
deliver him from this difficulties. Since I under took to devote
a chapter of this work to Iowa Journalism, I have been haunted
with a thousand misgivings with reference to the propriety of
such a chapter, and to my ability to do the subject justice.
If I adopt a system of generalization, the subject will not be discussed with any degree of circumstantial thoroughness; and if I descend to individualities, giving my subject the benefit of statements in detail, I will be sure to perpetrate some incautious blunder, and injure feelings where no injury is designed. I hardly know what course to pursue, and shall make a dash at the subject in a sort of hap-hazard, unpremeditated style, having a dismal hope that this enterprise will be accomplished without any act of self-destruction on my part, and without exposing myself to any adverse criticism from my friends. It should be remembered, in my favor, that more than a year has elapsed since I sat on the tripod, in full editorial communication with my brethren; and, in a young State like ours, wherein changes are constantly occurring, a year has more to do with the progress of transition and development than a quarter of a century in older States.
It is not an original idea
which teaches that the size and topographical appearance of a
country have much to do in moulding the intellect and fashioning
the bodies of its inhabitants. If there be truth in this
proposition -- and no intelligent person will dispute it -- Iowa
is eminently favored.
Here is a State occupying parallels of latitude which are common to the most enlightened nations of the globe. It is located midway on the continent, between the two oceans, and has, for its eastern and western boundaries, two of the principal rivers, not only of this hemisphere, but of the whole earth. It contains fifty-six thousand square miles, and its expanse of prairie, stretching away in scenic undulations, until it is lost in the blue mist, far away on the lower verge of the horizon, gives one an idea of vastness, of immensity, and almost of infinitude! A person who has never seen a western prairie may form a thousand pictures in his mind, which are designed to represent reality, but he knows nothing about it. There is grandeur and a picturesqueness in it which so distinctively belongs to itself -- there is such an indefinable beauty in its dreamy, wavy, flowing outlines, that no verbal description, however minute and graphic, will impress its likeness on the mind of a person who has never seen it. I understand, then, that the dimensions and physical appearance of our State tend to enlarge the mind, give amplitude to thought, produce independence and energy of character, give originality to forms of expression, and exhibit noble specimens of masculine and feminine development. It is hardly probable that a State, whose soil is a fathom deep, and full of the principle of fertility, tends to poverty and sterility of mind in persons who turn its surface with their ploughs, and bring from its bosom a wealth of vigorous vegetation.
Twenty-two years ago, Iowa was admitted, as a State,
into the Federal Union.
Since then, and indeed, since the last decade of years began, it
has been bankrupted by a monetary revulsion, and repressed in its
young ambition by the adverse influence of civil war; but,
despite these malevolent agencies, the State has continued to
improve with surprising rapidity, and it now contains a
population of nearly one million. Its sons, and its adopted sons,
to the number of eighty thousand, as the records of our excellent
Adjutant-General show, fought for the nation's life when it was
assailed by armed treason. And I accept the proposition as a good
one, that a people like those of Iowa, whose intelligent
patriotism is sustained by a corresponding courage, occupy a very
high position among the enlightened populations of the world.
A people such as ours, understanding the nature of personal freedom, waging a war of ideas, and, if need be, of the sword also, against the political heresies of the age, and intelligently defending every political right which the charter of our liberties gave in the morn of national existence, will do without newspapers no more than a Christian will do without his Bible. All national despotism, the mission of which is to enslave the masses, and place a sceptre of irresponsible sovereignty in the hands of an emperor or autocrat, hates a newspaper as a convict hates the warrant which authorizes his execution. In proportion, then, as free speech and a free press are tolerated and defended, except in times of extraordinary convulsions, when the hand of Treason is on the throat of Government -- just in that proportion does a nation prosper, under a full comprehension of the rights of citizens. In other words, it is impossible to enslave a people who properly recognize the freedom of thought, and the authority of popular education.
Our own country contains a larger number of journals
of all descriptions,
including dailies, weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies, than any
other country -- I had nearly said than all other countries
aggregated; but, from blindness and other causes, the data which
I need to sustain my declaration are just now inaccessible. That
energy which never tires, never hesitates, is never disheartened,
never dismayed, never demoralized through all the year, always
awake, always alert, always vigilant, night and day, evermore
prompt to seize and appropriate every installment of intelligence
for the benefit of the paper and its readers -- that energy, I
repeat, which collects, collates, condenses and amplifies, and
which makes a news journal what it ought to be, a local and
cosmopolitan history -- is displayed in great perfection in the
North-western States, and in none of them, I think, has it
greater strength of root and fibre than in Iowa.
General Ed. WRIGHT, Secretary of State, and his excellent deputy, Wm. H. FLEMING, Esq., have been making up a valuable official record of journalism in Iowa for 1867. From their record it appears that there are one hundred and forty-three newspapers and other periodical publications in the State. Of these, one is devoted to agriculture, two are temperance organs, one is a law journal, one is educational, and one hundred and thirty-eight are political, of which last twenty-seven are exponents of the Democratic faith, and one hundred and eleven are organs of Republicanism.
The Temperance Platform, published in Des Moines, whereof Rev. W.S. PETERSON and his lady are conductors, has no superior in the United States, as an able and consistent champion of prohibitory enactment for suppressing the liquor traffic. Its editor-in-chief, Mr. PETERSON, whom I am glad to call my friend and brother in social and temperance fellowship, became known to the State as a vigor-
ous writer several years
ago, when he was associated with the Post, at Keokuk.
Subsequently, he was editor of the Dubuque Times, and
two years ago he moved to Des Moines, taking with him the Platform,
which began its career in Dubuque. He is, beyond question, a
profound thinker, and his pen has the incisiveness of a two-edged
sword. In him there are no negative elements of character, no
compromises with error, and no sympathy with the prevailing and
fashionable iniquities of the times. As a critic and satirist, he
is severe -- almost pitiless; and in a correct knowledge of the
mechanical structure of versification, and in his wealth of
imagination, he is a poet.
Ten years ago, General WILLIAM DUANE WILSON, a gentleman of considerable prominence, and one of the founders of the Chicago Tribune, transferred his agricultural paper from Mount Pleasant and Fairfield to Des Moines.
Several years since, MARK MILLER, Esq., a gentleman who practically understands agriculture, horticulture, and kindred sciences, started the Homestead in Dubuque, and in 1861 he transferred it to Des Moines. It was completely successful under his management. Early in 1864, he sold the Homestead to H.W. PETIT, Esq., a gentleman of broad humor and infinite sagacity in discovering and reconstructing jokes, bon mots, and anecdotes a hundred years old. Mr. P. was an admirable local editor, and had been occupied in that capacity on the Dubuque Times; but in the conduct of an agricultural paper, he was quite out of place. After his death (1866), MARK MILLER, who had assisted Mr. P. in the management of the Homestead, resumed exclusive editorial control. I believe he has charge of the paper now.
The School Journal, of which F.M. MILLS, of Des Moines, has been one of the publishers from the beginning,
was originally edited by
ANDREW J. STEVENS, late Consul to Leghorn, and now Consul to some
point in British America. He was formerly a banker in Des Moines,
and at one time, through one of those popular delusions which
often lead the world's credulity by the nose, he was rashly
supposed to be a millionaire. Like many other men in the West, he
went down in the crash of 1857; and three years later he
re-appeared on the surface of society in Des Moines as chief
editor of the Commonwealth, a weekly sheet, which,
according to its own profession, was started in the interest of
the Young Men's Republican Party. It was a political fantasy
which induced him to take hold of such a publication, and of
course the enterprise was a failure. As a writer, he was tame and
pointless, always pulling away at some dismal abstraction, or
precipitating some Utopian scheme on his astonished
fellow-citizens. The Commonwealth; after passing through
the hands of Messrs. RUSSEL, W.S. SIMMONS, and J.B. BAUSMAN, was
finally merged into a Democratic paper.
The earliest Democratic paper in Des Moines, called the Star, was enlightened by the editorial ability of C. BEN. DARWIN, BARLOW GRANGER, A.Y. HULL, D.O. FINCH, Judge BATES, and other persons whose names have escaped my remembrance. The Star flickered out in consequence of natural causes.
Another organ of the same party, entitled the Statesman, was controlled by WILL TOMLINSON, an individual of no refinement of character or expression, and largely endowed with the rhetoric of Billingsgate and the fish-market. He expected to run a career at the Capital of Iowa, similar to that which was run by SAM MEDARY, of Ohio; but lacking the intellectual momentum and vital force of his exemplar, his paper resulted in a failure. About the time the war for the Union commenced, he returned to his old
associations at Ripley,
Ohio, where he published a campaign sheet, a Republican paper, in
1863, when BROUGH and VALLANDIGHAM were competitors for the first
office in the State. During that year, while engaged on the
street in an affray with a Secessionist, he was fatally stabbed
by the latter, and died in a few hours.
In early times -- I have no data in this sequestered retreat, and am depending on hearsay and personal remembrance for material with which to fill this chapter -- a Whig paper, called the Gazette, with which my estimable fellow citizens, PETER MYERS, Judge W.W.WILLIAMSON, and L.P. SHERMAN (brother of the renowned TECUMSEH), were associated, sprang into lively existence, and then faded away with the grand old party for whose sake it had been launced on the political sea. In 1857, WILL PORTER, a clever and intelligent Democrat, a man of vigorous friendships and undying enmities, with a large supply of worm-wood and gall in his pen, started the Iowa State Journal, a Democratic sheet. In 1860, the paper passed into the hands of STILSON HUTCHINS, who had been publishing the Osage Iowan, a partizan organ, in Mitchell county. Mr. H. was subsequently associated with the Dubuque Herald, and my last intelligence with reference to him placed him on the editorial staff of the St. Louis Times, an organ of Southern interest, Southern prejudices, and Southern habitudes of thought and action. He wielded a pen of extraordinary grace and power; he was quick and bold in conception, with great rapidity and strength in execution. He knew well how to employ the fascinations of healthy rhetoric when they were needed, and he knew just as well how to send a storm of scurrilous and pitiless abuse against political enemies. He was, probably, the strongest political writer of his party in the State.
About the time of the organization of the Republican
party in the State, THOMAS
H. SYPHERD, a native of Virginia, and for years a resident of
Southern Ohio, established a newspaper at Des Moines, called the Citizen.
It was an exponent of the new party, which, in its upward
progress, was just visible above the political horizon. Mr.
SYPHERD was a keen, pungent and irascible writer, whose knowledge
of stinging epithets, coarse and crushing, was simply
inexhaustible. It was during his administration that I became
connected with the Citizen. In February, 1857, ANDREW J.
STEVENS, who was then supposed to be the Rothschild of Iowa, and
who had a controlling interest in the paper, suddenly assumed the
active management of it, and SYPHERD, being unexpectedly thrown
out of his position, and having no means of recovering what
capital -- his all -- he had invested in the enterprise, was
compelled to leave Des Moines in a state of despair. At Mount
Pleasant he joined his wife, who was rendered almost
broken-hearted by the announcement that in one brief day she and
her husband had been reduced from comfort to beggary. But her
husband was too elastic in his nature to remain long inactive. He
went to Kansas City, Missouri, where he prospered, and
accumulated property. At the commencement of the war, he accepted
a clerkship at Washington, and is now in one of the Federal
departments in that City.
On his retirement from Des Moines, the chief editorial management of the Citizen, so far as the world had knowledge, fell into the hands of Dr. W.H. FARNER, with myself as assistant. It is hardly possible that any such non-descript as FARNER was ever visible on the earth, from the beginning down to the date of his birth; nor will any being like him be visible henceforth through all the ages of coming time. He was considerably below the average height of men, and was as destitute of muscle as a picture of Famine. His head was a curious piece of mechanism;
small, broken into ridges,
a group of indefinable angles, altogether mis-shapen, as though
it had once been compressed to the thinness of paste-board, and
was trying, under difficulties, to expand into its original
proportions. His forehead was low and retreating, and his blue
eyes had in them an expression of impatient desire, such as
becomes chronic in an old toper, without money, who is constantly
speculating on his chances for the next glass of whisky. His
mouth was very large, his cheeks sunken, his lips were thin and
bloodless, and his garments were of the most slovenly and dirty
character. When on the street, he was always seen with three or
four hunting dogs at his heels, for which he provided more
liberally than for his six children and his patient,
broken-hearted wife, who were suffering in a dreary shanty for
the necessaries of existence. He was a prodigious consumer of
whisky. He drank early in the morning, and drank often; he drank
after breakfast, and drank frequently; he drank before dinner,
and drank untiringly; he drank after dinner, and drank
persistently; he drank before tea, and drank inveterately; he
drank after tea, and drank tremendously; continuing to drink on
in that way when in congenial company, until every other man was
under the table; and yet this little fellow, so fragile and
bloodless in appearance, so destitute of muscular development, so
wan, cadaverous and ghost-like, was never known to be unsteady in
his gait, nor maudlin in his conversation.
He was a good writer, but he was always too indolent to indite a paragraph for his paper. He was a fine speaker, leading off without preparation in a bold, dashing, impromptu style, always supported by a native impudence, which was never known to be abashed in any presence, nor on any occasion. He was the most remarkably sober drunkard with whom I was ever acquainted. A sense of
personal obligation never
startled his conscience. He was without sympathy, and without
affection, and without any grace which has its abode in the human
heart; and yet he was hypocrite enough to seem to have them all
in profusion. In 1857 he was Chairman of the Republican State
Central Commitee; and in 1861 he was surgeon of a rebel regiment
in New Mexico!
Late in the summer of the same year, J.C. SAVERY, Esq., became proprietor of the Citizen. FARNER retired from the paper in a demoralized condition, and I was installed as sole editor, with the direct stipulation that I should take entire supervision of the interests of the office, and keep the paper from suspension until its waning fortunes could be propped up by some plethoric purchaser. JOHN TEESDALE, Esq., formerly of the Ohio State Journal, more recently of the Iowa City Republican, public printer for the State, a gentleman of much editorial skill and celebrity, took possession of the Citizen in December, 1857, with myself as associate. In 1860, F.W. PALMER, of the Dubuque Times, was elected State printer, and early in the following year the Citizen, having changed its name to State Register, went into the hands of Mr. PALMER, and Mr. TEESDALE went into the Des Moines Post-Office, to find some compensation for the surrender of a magnificent position. In November, 1866, J.W. and F.M. MILLS purchased the good will and office fixtures of the Register, with the understanding that the editorial management would not be changed. It was a necessity to secure the editorial services of Mr. PALMER; for no other man in the State, nor in the country, could, under the circumstances, have supplied his place at the head of the paper with whose interests he was so throughly familiar. Meantime, my eyes had gone out while working on the Register, and although the place was left vacant for me, through the
generosity of the new
proprietors, my editorial labors were finished for all time to
come. These sightless eyes will never again glance through the
columns of a newspaper, or book, or magizine; my old round table
is occupied by another person; my scissors have been thrown aside
by me, never to be used again; the pencil wherewith I was wont to
mark my proof in months gone by has left the familiar pocket from
which it was taken so many times in the days of its usefulness,
and in my blindness I cannot find it; and my pen, with which I
wrote day after day, in the enthusiasm of my profession, until I
came to regard it as a loved child, obedient to my will,
ministering to my thoughts, waiting for the signal of inspiration
to start it on its pilgrimage along the highway of manuscript,
has been given to her to whom my faith was plighted at the altar,
and I shall use it no more forever!
It is admitted, on all hands, I presume, that in the publishing department, simply, outside of any special connection with newspapers, Messrs. MILLS & Co. occupy the most commanding position in the State. Colonel N.W. MILLS, formerly of the firm, a practical printer and an exemplary gentleman, as well as a brave and efficient officer in the Union army, was fatally wounded in the last battle of Corinth, and died several days afterward. As he himself said, in view of his approaching dissolution, he preferred to die as a soldier of his country; and that patriotic and sublime preference was granted to him long before he reached the point of middle age. After his death, one of his surviving brothers, FRANK M. MILLS, a gentleman of fine business judgment and great energy, gave to the establishment his untiring supervision. He displayed rare excellence in book printing and binding, as Mr. WITHROW's Law Reports, Captain STEWART's History of Iowa Colonels and Regiments, and several other works, are sufficient evi-
dence. In the latter part
of 1866, J.W. MILLS, of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, previously
Superintendent of the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad, went
to Des Moines, and associated himself with his brother in the
purchase of the Iowa State Register. I take this
occasion to say that he and his brother have placed me under many
obligations for numerous personal favors, both in the Register
and out of it.
In the several spheres of printer, publisher and political journalist, F.W. PALMER, Esq., late owner of the Register, and now editor of it is a representative man. As a writer he is methodical, concise, and as clear and sharp as an atmosphere of frost in December. He has a cool, crystallized judgment, always taking time to think, and is never forced into an uncomfortable position by any impulsive folly. He uses no redundancy of expletives, but drives at once into the midst of his subject, taking the shortest routes, whether the trees be blazed, or the roads be macadamized or not, stopping briefly here and there, where he has business, and then moving forward with all expedition until the point of final destination is attained. He has very considerable imagination, and is never entangled by one of those literary difficulties which grow out of a misapplication or a misapprehension of figures of speech. Although he does not, himslef, indulge to any large extent in the conceits of fun and humor, he abundantly appreciates those qualities in other persons. No feeling of literary envy, nor any other form of envy of which I have knowledge, ever had a place in his heart. He loves his profession devotedly, and his eminently clear judgment, his knowledge of human nature, his extensive experience, and his marked literary abilities, give him a distinguished place in the fraternity. In its local department, the Register is sustained by the wit,
vivacity and imagination of
J.S. CLARKSON, Esq. This gentleman is a son of Hon. C.F.
CLARKSON, of Grundy county, who became a veteran editor in
Indiana, while presiding over the fortunes of the Brookville
American. In father and son, or sons, rather, there is an
extraordinary development of those faculties which are
indispensable in editors and publishers. The father, withal, is a
newspaper antiquarian, having in his possession some specimens of
typography which have come down to him through the fluctuations
and revolutions of many generations.
In 1852, WILLIAM H. MERRITT, a gentleman of florid complexion, and somewhat inclined to fulness of stomach and diaphragm, edited a democratic paper at Dubuque, called the Miner's Express. Years afterward, when the fever of a hot revolution was firing the "Southern heart," and when an army was sumoned, by national authority, to defend the capital at Washington, Mr. MERRITT was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the first Iowa Infantry. He displayed great coolness and curage in the battle of Wilson's Creek, in Missouri, while at the head of his regiment. In the same year he accepted the nomination for governor, at the hands of the democracy, and was defeated. In 1863 he assumed control of a daily and weekly newspaper at Des Moines, in the interest of the democratic party; but he failed to meet the expectations of his friends. He was too tranquil of nature and too indolent for the requirements of a partisan organ at the State capital. I have heard recently that he has retired from editorial life; but of the successor to his mantle, which was never worn by any of the Elijahs of this generation, I have vainly tried to obtain any definite information.
At one time -- and such I believe is the case now -- the Dubuque Herald displayed greater sagacity and energy than any other paper of like political faith in Iowa.
Transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall, for Iowa Old Press , from an original copy of The Valley & the Shadow, chapter 3, Iowa Journalism, pages 52-88.
-this transcription © Iowa Old Press, February
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