November 20, 2007
Eugene Field Supports the Writer's Strike!
...in about 1885, that is.
The news of the Hollywood writer's strike made me think of a humorous entry by Eugene Field(1850-1895). No, I don't find the strike humorous, so please, no accusatory comments. I do, however, find Field extremely amusing, and his gibes toward newspapermen translate well to the present day.
The following entry was published in: CULTURE'S GARLAND: Being Memoranda of THE GRADUAL RISE OF LITERATURE, ART, MUSIC AND SOCIETY IN CHICAGO, AND OTHER WESTERN GANGLIA By EUGENE FIELD; With an Introduction By Julian Hawthorne. Printed in 1887. Catchy title, huh.
The little book was a compilation of Field's Chicago Daily News column, "Sharps & Flats," "a bubbling-forth of delightful badinage and michievous raillery, directed at some of the foibles and pretensions of his enterprising fellow-townsmen," as Hawthorn describes in the preface. It was the late 19th century version of any contemporary goings-on-about-town newspaper column with a heavy dollop of People Magazine thrown in. And, in the late 1880s, it was all the rage. The little book has provided me with hours of fun researching the people and events included in his columns. This entry is one of my favorites...
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"An Editorial Schedule
It has occurred to us that there could be no better time than the present for a combined strike among newspaper-men for less work and more pay. The employees of the press throughout the country have been painfully aware for a long time that their services are not remunerated as they should be, - that too little pay is doled out to them for too much work. While train-movers and butcher-boys and dirt-shovellers in divers parts of the republic are demanding compensation commensurate with their toil, why should not the meek and lowly journalist turn like the trodden worm, and sting the iron heel that is grinding him in the dust of starvation and obscurity? We are told that a secret order is now being organized among editors and reporters, and that, within a short time, this continent will be convulsed with the most prodigious uprising that has ever taken place between the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific. The object of this secret, modest, but puissant organization is to better the condition of the practical journalist, and thus directly benefit the universal cause of literature; and we are confidently informed that upon next Fourth of July, - being the hundred and tenth anniversary of this nation’s independence, - the following schedule of weekly wages to be paid editors and reporters will be submitted to the proprietors of American newspapers: - -
To editorial writers who “used to know Thurlow Weed and Horace Greely,” and who wear long beards and no neckties, and who write essays beginning with “We opine,” or with “Albeit”---$30
To editorial writers who read “The Nation,” and The Scientific American”---$40
To editorial writers who would like to spend their declining years at the head of an established country weekly---$25
To editorial writers who receive mail addressed to “The Hon.,” and who covet a foreign mission---$20
To reporters who "know Dana, and have worked on 'The New-York Sun'"---$8
To reporters who say"Yes, sir," and "No, sir," to the city editor---$12
To critics who discuss "the rendition," "the mise en scene," "the floritures, bravuras," etc.---$15
To poets of the "Hope," "Eternity," "Spring," "Banana," "Stovepipe," and "Bob-tail-Flush" kind---$18
To female reporters who seek to demonstrate that a female can do a man's work---$10
For "society" drivel---$8
To ex-lawyers, ex-preachers, ex-statesmen, and ex-tradesmen who have been starved into journalism---$15
To editorial writers who have held a clerkship in Washington one winter, and are thoroughly acquainted with national politics and the tariff question---$20
But we can violate this confidence no further. Suffice it to say, that, when once the grasping monopolists who now hold the journalistic intelect of our country by the throat are compelled to accede to the just demands of brain-labor, pale faces and haggard forms will be banished from our newpaper offices, and affluence will reign where the twin vultures, starvation and penury, now brood in hideous silence."
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Any of it sound applicable to some of today's newspaper journalists?
Note: While I think of Eugene Field as a light-hearted essayist, many people know him as the "Children's Poet." He had begun publishing poetry in 1879, and his verse is still popular today. He is the author of the classic, "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," among many others. Amherst University has a wonderful collection of his verse and Project Gutenberg has a selection of all his writings.