A Hazard of New Fortunes v1
By William Dean Howells
The following story was the first fruit of my New York life when I began to live it after my quarter of a century in Cambridge and Boston, ending in 1889; and I used my own transition to the commercial metropolis in framing the experience which was wholly that of my supposititious literary adventurer. He was a character whom, with his wife, I have employed in some six or eight other stories, and whom I made as much the hero and heroine of 'Their Wedding Journey' as the slight fable would bear. In venturing out of my adoptive New England, where I had found myself at home with many imaginary friends, I found it natural to ask the company of these familiar acquaintances, but their company was not to be had at once for the asking. When I began speaking of them as Basil and Isabel, in the fashion of 'Their Wedding Journey,' they would not respond with the effect of early middle age which I desired in them. They remained wilfully, not to say woodenly, the young bridal pair of that romance, without the promise of novel functioning. It was not till I tried addressing them as March and Mrs. March that they stirred under my hand with fresh impulse, and set about the work assigned them as people in something more than their second youth.
The scene into which I had invited them to figure filled the largest canvas I had yet allowed myself; and, though 'A Hazard of New Fortunes was not the first story I had written with the printer at my heels, it was the first which took its own time to prescribe its own dimensions. I had the general design well in mind when I began to write it, but as it advanced it compelled into its course incidents, interests, individualities, which I had not known lay near, and it specialized and
amplified at points which I had not always meant to touch, though I should not like to intimate anything mystical in the fact. It became, to my thinking, the most vital of my fictions, through my quickened interest in the life about me, at a moment of great psychological import. We had passed through a period of strong emotioning in the direction of the humaner economics, if I may phrase it so; the rich seemed not so much to despise the poor, the poor did not so hopelessly repine. The solution of the riddle of the painful earth through the dreams of Henry George, through the dreams of Edward Bellamy, through the dreams of all the generous visionaries of the past, seemed not impossibly far off. That shedding of blood which is for the remission of sins had been symbolized by the bombs and scaffolds of Chicago, and the hearts of those who felt the wrongs bound up with our rights, the slavery implicated in our liberty, were thrilling with griefs and hopes hitherto strange to the average American breast. Opportunely for me there was a great street-car strike in New York, and the story began to find itand larger than those of the love-affairs common to fiction. I was in my
fifty-second year when I took it up, and in the prime, such as it was, of my powers. The scene which I had chosen appealed prodigiously to me, and the action passed as nearly without my conscious agency as I ever allow myself to think such things happen.
The opening chapters were written in a fine, old fashioned apartment house which had once been a family house, and in an uppermost room of which I could look from my work across the trees of the little park in Stuyvesant Square to the towers of St. George's Church. Then later in the spring of 1889 the unfinished novel was carried to a country house on the Belmont border of Cambridge. There I must have written very rapidly to have pressed it to conclusion before the summer ended. It came, indeed, so easily from the pen that I had the misgiving which I always have of things which do not cost me great trouble.
There is nothing in the book with which I amused myself more than the house-hunting of the Marches when they were placing themselves in New York; and if the contemporary reader should turn for instruction to the pages in which their experience is detailed I assure him that he may trust their fidelity and accuracy in the article of New York housing as it was early in the last decade of the last century: I mean, the housing of people of such moderate means as the Marches. In my zeal for truth I did not distinguish between reality and actuality in this or other matters--that is, one was as precious to me as the other. But the types here portrayed are as true as ever they were, though the world in which they were finding their habitat is wonderfully, almost incredibly different. Yet it is not wholly different, for a young literary pair now
adventuring in New York might easily parallel the experience of the Marches with their own, if not for so little money; many phases of New York housing are better, but all are dearer. Other aspects of the material city have undergone a transformation much more wonderful. I find that in my book its population is once modestly spoken of as two millions, but now in twenty years it is twice as great, and the grandeur as well as grandiosity of its forms is doubly apparent. The transitional public that then moped about in mildly tinkling horse-cars is now hurried back and forth in clanging trolleys, in honking and whirring motors; the Elevated road which was the last word of speed is undermined by the Subway, shooting its swift shuttles through the subterranean woof of the city's haste. From these feet let the witness infer our whole massive Hercules, a bulk that sprawls and stretches beyond the rivers through the tunnels piercing their beds and that towers into the skies with innumerable tops--a Hercules blent of Briareus and Cerberus, but not so bad a monster as it seemed then to threaten becoming.
Certain hopes twenty years ago are not less dear, and they are by no means touched with
despair, though they have not yet found the fulfilment which I would then have prophesied for them. Events have not wholly played them false; events have not halted, though they have marched with a slowness that might affect a younger observer as marking time. They who were then mindful of the poor have not forgotten them, and what is better the poor have not often forgotten themselves in violences such as offered me the material of tragedy and pathos in my story. In my quality of artist I could not regret these, and I gratefully realize that they offered me the opportunity of a more strenuous action, a more impressive catastrophe than I could have achieved without them. They tended to give the whole fable dignity and doubtless made for its success as a book. As a serial it had crept a sluggish course before a public apparently so unmindful of it that no rumor of its acceptance or rejection reached the writer during the half year of its publication; but it rose in book form from that failure and stood upon its feet and went its way to greater favor than any book of his had yet enjoyed. I hope that my recognition of the fact will not seem like boasting, but that the reader will regard it as a special confidence from the author and will let it go no farther.
KITTERY POINT, MAINE, July, 1909.
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
"Now, you think this thing over, March, and let me know the last of next week," said Fulkerson. He got up from the chair which he had been sitting astride, with his face to its back, and tilting toward March on its hind-legs, and came and rapped upon his table with his thin bamboo stick. "What you want to do is to get out of the insurance business, anyway. You acknowledge that yourself. You never liked it, and now it makes you sick; in other words, it's killing you. You ain't an insurance man by nature. You're a natural-born literary man, and you've been going against the grain. Now, I offer you a chance to go with the grain. I don't say you're going to make your everlasting fortune, but I'll give you a living salary, and if the thing succeeds you'll share in its success. We'll all share in its success. That's the beauty of it. I tell you, March, this is the greatest idea that has been struck since"--Fulkerson stopped and searched his mind for a fit image--"since the creation of man."
He put his leg up over the corner of March's table and gave himself a sharp cut on the thigh, and leaned forward to get the full effect of his words upon his listener.
March had his hands clasped together behind his head, and he took one of them down long enough to put his inkstand and mucilage-bottle out of Fulkerson's way. After many years' experiment of a mustache and whiskers, he now wore his grizzled beard full, but crohim a certain grimness, corrected by the gentleness of his eyes.
"Some people don't think much of the creation of man nowadays. Why stop at that? Why not say since the morning stars sang together?"
"No, sir; no, sir! I don't want to claim too much, and I draw the line at the creation of man. I'm satisfied with that. But if you want to ring the morning stars into the prospectus all right; I won't go back on you."
"But I don't understand why you've set your mind on me," March said.
"I haven't had, any magazine experience, you know that; and I haven't seriously attempted to do anything in literature since I was married. I gave up smoking and the Muse together. I suppose I could still manage a cigar, but I don't believe I could--"
"Muse worth a cent." Fulkerson took the thought out of his mouth and put it into his own words. "I know. Well, I don't want you to. I don't care if you never write a line for the thing, though you needn't reject anything of yours, if it happens to be good, on that account. And I don't want much experience in my editor; rather not have it. You told me, didn't you, that you used to do some newspaper work before you settled down?"
"Yes; I thought my lines were permanently cast in those places once. It was more an accident than anything else that I got into the insurance business. I suppose I secretly hoped that if I made my living by something utterly different, I could come more freshly to literature proper in my leisure."
"I see; and you found the insurance business too many, for you. Well, anyway, you've always had a hankering for the inkpots; and the fact that you first gave me the idea of this thing shows that you've done more or less thinking about magazines."
"Well, all right. Now don't you be troubled. I know what I want, generally, speaking, and in this particular instance I want you. I might get a man of more experience, but I should probably get a man of more prejudice and self-conceit along with him, and a man with a following of the literary hangers-on that are sure to get round an editor sooner or later. I want to start fair, and I've found out in the syndicate business all the men that are worth having. But they know me, and they don't know you, and that's where we shall have the pull on them. They won't be able to work the thing. Don't you be anxious about the experience. I've got experience enough of my own to run a dozen editors. What I want is an editor who has taste, and you've got it; and conscience, and you've got it; and horse sense, and you've got that. And I like you because you're a Western man, and I'm another. I do cotton to a Western man when I find him off East here, holding his own with the best of 'em, and showing 'em that he's just as much civilized as they are. We both know what it is to have our bright home in the setting sun; heigh?"
"I think we Western men who've come Elittle too objectively and to feel ourselves rather more representative
than we need," March remarked.
Fulkerson was delighted. "You've hit it! We do! We are!"
"And as for holding my own, I'm not very proud of what I've done in that way; it's been very little to hold. But I know what you mean, Fulkerson, and I've felt the same thing myself; it warmed me toward you when we first met. I can't help suffusing a little to any man when I hear that he was born on the other side of the Alleghanies. It's perfectly stupid. I despise the same thing when I see it in Boston people."
Fulkerson pulled first one of his blond whiskers and then the other, and twisted the end of each into a point, which he left to untwine itself. He fixed March with his little eyes, which had a curious innocence in their cunning, and tapped the desk immediately in front of him. "What I like about you is that you're broad in your sympathies. The first time I saw you, that night on the Quebec boat, I said to myself : 'There's a man I want to know. There's a human being.' I was a little afraid of Mrs. March and the children, but I felt at home with you--thoroughly domesticated--before I passed a word with you; and when you spoke first, and opened up with a joke over that fellow's tableful of light literature and Indian moccasins and birch-bark toy canoes and stereoscopic views, I knew that we were brothers-spiritual twins. I recognized the Western style of fun, and I thought, when you said you were from Boston, that it was some of the same. But I see now that its being a cold fact, as far as the last fifteen or twenty years count, is just so much gain. You know both sections, and you can make this thing go, from ocean to ocean."
"We might ring that into the prospectus, too," March suggested, with a smile. "You might call the thing 'From Sea to Sea.' By-the-way, what are you going to call it?"
"I haven't decided yet; that's one of the things I wanted to talk with you about. I had thought of 'The Syndicate'; but it sounds kind of dry, and doesn't seem to cover the ground exactly. I should like something that would express the co-operative character of the thing, but I don't know as I can get it."
"Might call it 'The Mutual'."
"They'd think it was an insurance paper. No, that won't do. But Mutual comes pretty near the idea. If we could get something like that, it
would pique curiosity; and then if we could get paragraphs afloat explaining that the contributors were to be paid according to the sales, it would be a first-rate ad."
He bent a wide, anxious, inquiring smile upon March, who suggested, lazily: "You might call it 'The Round-Robin'. That would express the central idea of irresponsibility. As I understand, everybody is to share the profits and be exempt from the losses. Or, if I'm wrong, and the reverse is true, you might call it 'The Army of Martyrs'. Come, that soThat would forestall the criticism that there are too many literary periodicals already. Or, if you want to put forward the idea of complete independence, you could call it 'The Free Lance'; or--"
"Or 'The Hog on Ice'--either stand up or fall down, you know," Fulkerson broke in coarsely. "But we'll leave the name of the magazine till we get the editor. I see the poison's beginning to work in you, March; and if I had time I'd leave the result to time. But I haven't. I've got to know inside of the next week. To come down to business with you, March, I sha'n't start this thing unless I can get you to take hold of it."
He seemed to expect some acknowledgment, and March said, "Well, that's very nice of you, Fulkerson."
"No, sir; no, sir! I've always liked you and wanted you ever since we met that first night. I had this thing inchoately in my mind then, when I was telling you about the newspaper syndicate business--beautiful vision of a lot of literary fellows breaking loose from the bondage of publishers and playing it alone--"
"You might call it 'The Lone Hand'; that would be attractive," March interrupted. "The whole West would know what you meant."
Fulkerson was talking seriously, and March was listening seriously; but they both broke off and laughed. Fulkerson got down off the table and made some turns about the room. It was growing late; the October sun had left the top of the tall windows; it was still clear day, but it would soon be twilight; they had been talking a long time. Fulkerson came and stood with his little feet wide apart, and bent his little lean, square face on March. "See here! How much do you get out of this thing here, anyway?"
"The insurance business?" March hesitated a moment and then said, with a certain effort of reserve, "At present about three thousand." He looked up at Fulkerson with a glance, as if he had a mind to enlarge upon the
fact, and then dropped his eyes without saying more.
Whether Fulkerson had not thought it so much or not, he said: "Well, I'll give you thirty-five hundred. Come! And your chances in the success."
"We won't count the chances in the success. And I don't believe thirty-five hundred would go any further in New York than three thousand in Boston."
"But you don't live on three thousand here?"
"No; my wife has a little property."
"Well, she won't lose the income if you go to New York. I suppose you pay ten or twelve hundred a year for your house here. You can get plenty of flats in New York for the same money; and I understand you can get all sorts of provisions for less than you pay now--three or four cents on the pound. Come!"
This was by no means the first talk they had had about the matter; every three or four months during the past two years the syndicate man had dropped in upon March to air the scheme and to get his impressions of it.This had happened so often that it had come to be a sort of joke between them. But now Fulkerson clearly meant business, and March had a struggle to maintain himself in a firm poise of refusal.
"I dare say it wouldn't--or it needn't-cost so very much more, but I don't want to go to New York; or my wife doesn't. It's the same thing."
"A good deal samer," Fulkerson admitted.
March did not quite like his candor, and he went on with dignity. "It's very natural she shouldn't. She has always lived in Boston; she's attached to the place. Now, if you were going to start 'The Fifth Wheel' in Boston--"
Fulkerson slowly and sadly shook his head, but decidedly. "Wouldn't do. You might as well say St. Louis or Cincinnati. There's only one city that belongs to the whole country, and that's New York."
"Yes, I know," sighed March; "and Boston belongs to the Bostonians, but they like you to make yourself at home while you're visiting."
"If you'll agree to make phrases like that, right along, and get them
into 'The Round-Robin' somehow, I'll say four thousand," said Fulkerson. "You think it over now, March. You talk it over with Mrs. March; I know you will, anyway; and I might as well make a virtue of advising you to do it. Tell her I advised you to do it, and you let me know before next Saturday what you've decided."
March shut down the rolling top of his desk in the corner of the room, and walked Fulkerson out before him. It was so late that the last of the chore-women who washed down the marble halls and stairs of the great building had wrung out her floor-cloth and departed, leaving spotless stone and a clean, damp smell in the darkening corridors behind her.
"Couldn't offer you such swell quarters in New York, March," Fulkerson said, as he went tack-tacking down the steps with his small boot-heels. "But I've got my eye on a little house round in West Eleventh Street that I'm going to fit up for my bachelor's hall in the third story, and adapt for 'The Lone Hand' in the first and second, if this thing goes through; and I guess we'll be pretty comfortable. It's right on the Sand Strip --no malaria of any kind."
"I don't know that I'm going to share its salubrity with you yet," March sighed, in an obvious travail which gave Fulkerson hopes.
"Oh yes, you are," he coaxed. "Now, you talk it over with your wife. You give her a fair, unprejudiced chance at the thing on its merits, and I'm very much mistaken in Mrs. March if she doesn't tell you to go in and win. We're bound to win!"
They stood on the outside steps of the vast edifice beetling like a granite crag above them, with the stone groups of an allegory of life-insurance foreshortened in the bas-relief overhead. March absently lifted his eyes to it. It was suddenly strange after so many years' familiarity, and so was the well-known street in its Saturday-evening solitude. He asked himself, with prophetic homesickness, if it were omen of what was to be. But he only said, musingly: "A fortnightly. You know that didn't work in England. The fortnightly is published once a month now."
"It works in France," Fulkerson retorted. "The 'Revue des Deux Mondes' is still published twice a month. I guess we can make it work in America--with illustrations."
"Going to have illustrations?"
"My dear boy! What are you giving me? Do I look like the sort of lunatic who would start a thing in the twilight of the nineteenth century without illustrations? Come off!"
"Ah, that complicates it! I don't know anything about art." March's look of discouragement confessed the hold the scheme had taken upon him.
"I don't want you to!" Fulkerson retorted. "Don't you suppose I shall have an art man?"
"And will they--the artists--work at a reduced rate, too, like the writers, with the hopes of a share in the success?"
"Of course they will! And if I want any particular man, for a card, I'll pay him big money besides. But I can get plenty of first-rate sketches on my own terms. You'll see! They'll pour in!"
"Look here, Fulkerson," said March, "you'd better call this fortnightly of yours 'The Madness o f the Half-Moon'; or 'Bedlam Broke Loose' wouldn't be bad! Why do you throw away all your hard earnings on such a crazy venture? Don't do it!" The kindness which March had always felt, in spite of his wife's first misgivings and reservations, for the merry, hopeful, slangy, energetic little creature trembled in his voice. They had both formed a friendship for Fulkerson during the week they were together in Quebec. When he was not working the newspapers there, he went about with them over the familiar ground they were showing their children, and was simply grateful for the chance, as well as very entertaining about it all. The children liked him, too; when they got the clew to his intention, and found that he was not quite serious in many of the things he said, they thought he was great fun. They were always glad when their father brought him home on the occasion of Fulkerson's visits to Boston; and Mrs. March, though of a charier hospitality, welcomed Fulkerson with a grateful sense of his admiration for her husband. He had a way of treating March with deference, as an older and abler man, and of qualifying the freedom he used toward every one with an implication that March tolerated it voluntarily, which she thought very sweet and even refined.
"Ah, now you're talking like a man and a brother," said Fulkerson. "Why, March, old man, do you suppose I'd come on here and try to talk you into this thing if I wasn't morally, if I wasn't perfectly, sure of success? There isn't any if or and about it. I know my ground, every inch; and I don't stand alone on it," he added, with a significance which did not escape March. "When you've made up your mind I can give you the proof;