AN ADVENTURE WITH A GENIUS
AN ADVENTURE WITH A GENIUS
"DEMOCRACY AND THE HUMAN EQUATION"
BY KIND PERMISSION
WITH SINCERE REGARD
MRS. JOSEPH PULITZER
In the course of my wanderings about the labyrinth of life it has been
my good fortune to find awaiting me around every corner some new
adventure. If these have generally lacked that vividness of action which
to the eye of youth is the very test of adventure they have been rich
in a kind of experience which to a mature and reflective mind has a
value not to be measured in terms of dramatic incident.
My adventures in a word have been chiefly those of personal contact
with the sort of men whose lives are the material around which history
builds its story and from which fiction derives all that lends to it
the air of reality.
I have had friends and acquaintances in a score of countries and in
every station of society--kings and beggars viceroys and ward-
politicians judges and criminals men of brain and men of brawn.
My first outstanding adventure was with a stern and formidable man the
captain of a sailing vessel of whose ship's company I was one in a
voyage across the Pacific; one of my most recent was with a man not less
stern or formidable with the man who is the central figure in the
The tale has been told before in a volume entitled "Joseph Pulitzer:
Reminiscences of a Secretary." The volume has been out of print for some
time but the continued demand for it has called for its re-issue. The
change in title has been made in response to many suggestions that the
character of the material is more aptly described as "An Adventure with
New York 1920.
I. In a Casting Net
II. Meeting Joseph Pulitzer
III. Life at Cap Martin
IV. Yachting in the Mediterranean
V. Getting to Know Mr. Pulitzer
VI. Weisbaden and an Atlantic Voyage
VII. Bar Harbor and the Last Cruise
IN A CASTING NET
A long illness a longer convalescence a positive injunction from my
doctor to leave friends and business associates and to seek some spot
where a comfortable bed and good food could be had in convenient
proximity to varied but mild forms of amusement--and I found myself in
the autumn of the year 1910 free and alone in the delightful city of
All my plans had gone down wind and as I sat at my table in the Cafe
Ziechen whence against the background of the glittering blue of the
Alster I could see the busy life of the Alter Jungfernstieg and the
Alsterdamm my thoughts turned naturally to the future.
It is not the easiest thing in the world to reconstruct at forty years
of age the whole scheme of your life; but my illness and other
happenings of a highly disagreeable character had compelled me to
abandon a career to which I had devoted twenty years of arduous labor;
and the question which pressed for an immediate answer was: What are you
going to do now?
Various alternatives presented themselves. There had been a suggestion
that I should take the editorship of a newspaper in Calcutta; an
important financial house in London had offered me the direction of its
interests in Western Canada; a post in the service of the Government of
India had been mentioned as a possibility by certain persons in
My own inclination the child of a weary spirit and of the lassitude of
ill health swayed me in the direction of a quiet retreat in Barbados
that peaceful island of an eternal summer cooled by the northeast
trades where the rush and turmoil of modern life are unknown and where
a very modest income more than suffices for all the needs of a simple
I shall never know to what issue my reflections upon these matters would
have led me for a circumstance in the last degree trivial intervened
to turn my thoughts into an entirely new channel and to guide me
though I could not know it at the time into the service of Joseph
My waiter was extremely busy serving a large party of artillery officers
at an adjoining table. I glanced through The Times and the Hamburger
Nachrichten looked out for a while upon the crowded street and then
resigning myself to the delay in getting my lunch picked up The Times
again and did what I had never done before in my life--read the
advertisements under the head "Professional Situations."
All except one were of the usual type the kind in which a prospective
employer flatters a prospective employee by classing as "professional"
the services of a typewriter or of a companion to an elderly gentleman
who resides within easy distance of an important provincial town.
One advertisement however stood out from the rest on account of the
peculiar requirements set forth in its terse appeal. It ran something
after this fashion: "Wanted an intelligent man of about middle age
widely read widely traveled a good sailor as companion-secretary to a
gentleman. Must be prepared to live abroad. Good salary. Apply etc."
My curiosity was aroused; and at first sight I appeared to meet the
requirements in a reasonable measure. I had certainly traveled widely
and I was an excellent sailor--excellent to the point of offensiveness.
Upon an unfavorable construction I could claim to be middle-aged at
forty; and I was prepared to live abroad in the unlikely event of any
one fixing upon a country which could be properly called "abroad" from
the standpoint of a man who had not spent twelve consecutive months in
any place since he was fifteen years old.
As for intelligence I reflected that for ninety-nine people out of a
hundred intelligence in others means no more than the discovery of a
person who is in intellectual acquiescence with themselves and that if
the necessity arose I could probably affect an acquiescence which would
serve all the purposes of a fundamental identity of convictions.
Two things however suggested possible difficulties the questions of
what interpretations the advertiser placed upon the terms "widely read"
and "good salary." I could not claim to be widely read in any
conventional sense for I was not a university graduate and the very
extensive reading I had done in my special line of study--the control
and development of tropical dependencies--though it might entitle me to
some consideration as a student in that field had left me woefully
ignorant of general literature. Would the ability to discuss with
intelligence the Bengal Regulation of 1818 or the British Guiana
Immigration Ordinance of 1891 be welcomed as a set-off to a complete
unfamiliarity with Milton's "Comus" and Gladstone's essay on the
epithets of motion in Homer?
On the subject of what constituted a "good salary" experience had taught
me to expect a very wide divergence of view not only along the natural
line of cleavage between the person paying and the person receiving the
salary but also between one employer and another and between one
employee and another; and I recalled a story told me in my infancy in
which a certain British laboring man had been heard to remark that he
would not be the Czar of Russia no not for thirty shillings a week.
But that element in the situation might I reflected very well be left
to take care of itself.
I finished my lunch and then replied to the advertisement giving my
English address. My letter a composition bred of the conflicting
influences of pride modesty prudence and curiosity brought forth in
due course a brief reply in which I was bidden to an interview in that
part of London where fashion and business prosperity seek to ape each
Upon presenting myself at the appointed hour I was confronted by a
gentleman whose severity of manner I learned later to recognize as the
useful mask to a singularly genial and kindly nature.
Our interview was long and to me at any rate rather embarrassing
since it resolved itself into a searching cross-examination by a past-
master in the art. Who were my parents? When and where had I been born?
Where had I been educated? What were my means of livelihood? What
positions had I filled since I went out into the world? What countries
had I visited? What books had I read? What books had I written? To what
magazines and reviews had I contributed? Who were my friends? Was I fond
of music of painting of the drama? Had I a sense of humor? Had I a
good temper or a good control of a bad one? What languages could I speak
or read? Did I enjoy good health? Was I of a nervous disposition? Had I
tact and discretion? Was I a good horseman a good sailor a good
talker a good reader?
When it came to asking me whether I was a good horseman AND a good
sailor I realized that anyone who expected to find these two qualities
combined in one man was quite capable of demanding that his companion-
secretary should be able to knit woollen socks write devotional verse
and compute the phases of the moon.
I remember chuckling to myself over this quaint conceit; I was to learn
later that it came unpleasantly near the truth.
Under this close examination I felt that I had made rather a poor
showing. This was due in some measure no doubt to the fact that my
questioner abruptly left any topic as soon as he discovered that I knew
something about it and began to angle around with disturbing success
to find the things I did not know about.
At one point however I scored a hit. After I had been put through my
paces a process which seemed to me to end only at the exact point where
my questioner could no longer remember the name of anything in the
universe about which he could frame an interrogation it was my turn to
Was the person I was addressing the gentleman who needed the companion?
No he was merely his agent. As a matter of fact the person on whose
behalf he was acting was an American.
I nodded in a non-committal way.
He was also a millionaire.
I bowed the kind of bow that a Frenchman makes when he says Mais
Furthermore he was totally blind.
"Joseph Pulitzer" I said.
"How in the world did you guess that?" asked my companion.
"That wasn't a guess" I replied. "You advertised for an intelligent
man; and this is simply where my intelligence commences to show itself.
An intelligent man couldn't live as long as I have in the United States
without hearing a good deal about Joseph Pulitzer; and after all the
country isn't absolutely overrun with blind millionaires."
At the close of the interview I was told that I would be reported upon.
In the meantime would I kindly send in a written account of the
interview in the fullest possible detail as a test of my memory sense
of accuracy and literary style.
Nor was this all. As I prepared to take my departure I was handed the
address of another gentleman who would also examine me and make a
report. Before I got out of the room my inquisitor said "It may
interest you to know that we have had more than six hundred applications
for the post and that it may therefore take some time before the
matter is definitely settled."
I was appalled. Evidently I had been wasting my time for I could have
no doubt that the gallant six hundred would include a sample of every
kind of pundit stationary or vagrant encompassed within the seven
seas; and against such competition I felt my chances to be just
My companion observed my discomfiture. and as he shook hands he said
"Oh that doesn't really mean very much. As a matter of fact we were
able to throw out more than five hundred and fifty applications merely
for self-evident reasons. A number of school teachers and bank clerks
applied and in general these gentlemen said that although they had not
traveled they would have no objection to living abroad and that they
might venture to hope that if they DID go to sea they would prove to be
"Most of them appeared to think that the circumstance of being middle-
aged would off-set their deficiencies in other directions. There are
really only a few gentlemen whom we can consider as being likely to meet
Mr. Pulitzer's requirements and the selection will be made finally by
Mr. Pulitzer himself. It is very probable that you will be asked to go
to Mentone to spend a fortnight or so on Mr. Pulitzer's yacht or at his
villa at Cap Martin as he never engages anybody until he has had the
candidate with him for a short visit.
"And by the way would you mind writing a short narrative of your life
not more than two thousand words? It would interest Mr. Pulitzer and
would help him to reach a decision in your case. You might also send me
copies of some of your writings."
Thus ended my interview with Mr. James M. Tuohy the London
correspondent of the New York World.
My next step was to call upon the second inquisitor Mr. George Ledlie.
I found him comfortably installed at an hotel in the West End. He was an
American very courteous and pleasant but evidently prepared to use a
probe without any consideration for the feelings of the victim.
As my business was to reveal myself I wasted no time and for about an
hour I rambled along on the subject of my American experiences. I do not
know to this day what sort of an impression I created upon this
gentleman but I felt at the time that it ought to have been a favorable
We had many friends in common; I had recently been offered a lectureship
in the university from which he had graduated; some of my books had been
published in America by firms in whose standing he had confidence; I
paraded a slight acquaintance with three Presidents of the United
States and produced from my pocketbook letters from two of them; we
found that we were both respectful admirers of a charming lady who had
recently undergone a surgical operation; he had been a guest at my club
in Boston I had been a guest at his club in New York. When I left him I
thought poorly of the chances of the remnant of the six hundred.
Some weeks passed and I heard nothing more of the matter. During this
time I had leisure to think over what I had heard from time to time
about Joseph Pulitzer and to speculate with the aid of some
imaginative friends upon the probable advantages and disadvantages of
the position for which I was a candidate.
Gathered together my second-hand impressions of Joseph Pulitzer made
little more than a hazy outline. I had heard or read that he had landed
in New York in the early sixties a penniless youth unable to speak a
word of English; that after a remarkable series of adventures he had
become a newspaper proprietor and later a millionaire; that he had
been stricken blind at the height of his career; that his friends and
his enemies agreed in describing him as a man of extraordinary ability
and of remarkable character; that he had been victorious in a bitter
controversy with President Roosevelt; that one of the Rothschilds had
remarked that if Joseph Pulitzer had not lost his eyesight and his
health he Pulitzer would have collected into his hands all the money
there was; that he was the subject of one of the noblest portraits
created by the genius of John Sargent; and that he spent most of his
time on board a magnificent yacht surrounded by a staff of six
This was enough of course to inspire me with a keen desire to meet Mr.
Pulitzer; it was not enough to afford me the slightest idea of what life
would be like in close personal contact with such a man.
The general opinion of my friends was that life with Mr. Pulitzer would
be one long succession of happy care-free days spent along the
languorous shores of the Mediterranean--days of which perhaps two hours
would be devoted to light conversation with my interesting host and the
remainder of my waking moments to the gaities of Monte Carlo to rambles
on the picturesque hillsides of Rapallo and Bordighera or to the genial
companionship of my fellow-secretaries under the snowy awnings of the
We argued the matter out to our entire satisfaction. Mr. Pulitzer in
addition to being blind was a chronic invalid requiring a great deal
of sleep and repose. He could hardly be expected to occupy more than
twelve hours a day with his secretaries. That worked out at two hours
apiece or if the division was made by days about one day a week to
The yacht I had been given to understand cruised for about eight
months in the year over a course bounded by Algiers and the Piraeus by
Mentone and Alexandria with visits to the ports of Italy Sicily
Corsica and Crete. The least imaginative of mortals could make a very
fair and alluring picture of what life would be like under such
circumstances. As the event turned out it was certainly not our
imaginations that were at fault.
As time passed without bringing any further sign from Mr. Tuohy my hopes
gradually died out and I fixed in my mind a date upon which I would
abandon all expectations of securing the appointment. Scarcely had I
reached this determination when I received a telegram from Mr. Tuohy
asking me to lunch with him the next day at the Cafe Royal in order to
meet Mr. Ralph Pulitzer who was passing through London on his way back
to America after a visit to his father.
I leave my readers to imagine what sort of a lunch I had in the company
of two gentlemen whose duty it was to struggle with the problem of
discovering the real character and attainments of a guest who knew he
was under inspection.
I found Mr. Ralph Pulitzer to be a slender clean-cut pale gentleman of
an extremely quiet and self-possessed manner. He was very agreeable and
he listened to my torrent of words with an interest which if it were
real reflected great credit on me and which if it were feigned
reflected not less credit on him.
As we parted he said "I shall write to my father to-day and tell him of
our meeting. Of course as you know the decision in this matter rests
entirely with him."
After this incident there was another long silence and I again fixed
upon a day beyond which I would not allow my hopes to flourish. The day
arrived nothing happened and the next morning I went down to the
offices of the West India Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and made
inquiries about the boats for Barbados. I spent the afternoon at my club
making out a list of things to be taken out as aids to comfortable
housekeeping in a semi-tropical country--a list which swelled amazingly
as I turned over the fascinating pages of the Army and Navy Stores
By dinner time I had become more than reconciled to the new turn of
affairs and when I reached my flat at midnight I found myself impatient
of the necessary delay before I could settle down to a life of easy
literary activity in one of the most delightful climates in the world
and in the neighborhood of a large circle of charming friends and
On the table in the hall I found a telegram from Mr. Tuohy instructing
me to start next morning for Mentone where Mr. Pulitzer would entertain
me as his guest for a fortnight either at his villa or aboard his yacht
Liberty and informing me that I would find at my club early in the
morning an envelope containing a ticket to Mentone with sleeper and
parlor-car accommodation and a check to cover incidental expenses.
The tickets and the check were accompanied by a letter in which I was
told that I was to consider this two weeks' visit as a trial that
during that time all my expenses would be paid that I would receive an
honorarium of so much a day from the time I left London until I was
engaged by Mr. Pulitzer or had arrived back in London after rejection by
him and that everything depended upon the impression I made on my host.
I left London cold damp and foggy; and in less than twenty-four hours
I was in the train between Marseilles and Mentone watching the surf
playing among the rocks in the brilliant sunshine of the Cote d'Azur. In
the tiny harbor of Mentone I found anchored stern-on to the quay the
steam yacht Liberty--a miracle of snowy decks and gleaming brass-work--
tonnage 1607 length over all 316 feet beam 35.6 feet crew 60 all
A message from Mr. Pulitzer awaited me. Would I dine at his villa at Cap
Martin? An automobile would call for me at seven o'clock.
I spent the day in looking over the yacht and in trying to pick up some
information as to the general lay of the land by observing every detail
of my new surroundings.
The yacht itself claimed my first attention. Everything was new and
fascinating to me for although I had had my share of experiences in
barques and brigs and full-rigged ships in mail boats and tramp
steamers only once before had I had an opportunity to examine closely a
large private yacht. Ten years before I had spent some time cruising
along the northern coast of Borneo in the yacht of His Highness Sir
Charles Brooke Raja of Sarawak; but with that single exception yachting
was for me an unknown phase of sea life.
The Liberty--or as the secretarial staff for reasons which will become
apparent later called her the Liberty Ha! Ha!--was designed and built
on the Clyde. I have never seen a vessel of more beautiful lines.
Sailors would find I think but one fault in her appearance and one
peculiarity. With a white-painted hull her bridge and the whole of her
upper structure except the masts and funnel were also white giving to
her general features a certain flatness which masked her fine
proportions. Her bridge instead of being well forward was placed so
far aft that it was only a few feet from the funnel. The object of this
departure from custom was to prevent any walking over Mr. Pulitzer's
head when he sat in his library which was situated under the spot
where the bridge would have been in most vessels.
The boat was specially designed to meet Mr. Pulitzer's peculiar
requirements. She had a flush deck from the bows to the stern broken
only for perhaps twenty feet by a well between the forecastle head and
the fore part of the bridge.