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Tales From a Rolltop Desk



A Letter of Dedication: TO Frank Nelson Doubleday

Dear Effendi: I take the liberty of dedicating these little stories to you, with affection and respect. They have all grown, in one mood or another, out of the various life of Grub Street, suggested by adventures with publishers, booksellers, magazine editors, newspaper men, theatrical producers, commuters, and poets major and minor. If they have any appeal at all, it must be as an honest (though perhaps sometimes too jocular) picture of the excitements that gratify the career of young men who embark upon the ocean of ink, and (let us not forget) those much-enduring Titanias who consent to share their vicissitudes. You have been the best of friends and counsellors to many such young men, and I assure you that they look back upon the time spent under your shrewd and humorous magistracy with special loyalty and regard. You will understand that in these irresponsible stories no personal identifications are to be presumed.

I think you remember—I know you do, because you have often charitably chuckled over the incident—that rather too eager young man who came to call on you one day in September, 1913, saying that he simply must have a job. And how you, in your inimitable way, said “Well, what kind of a job would you like best to have around this place?” And he cried “Yours!” And you justly punctured the creature by saying “All right, go to work and get it.” (There was more youthful palpitation than intended impertinence in the young man’s outcry, so he has assured me.) And then, still tremulous with ambition, this misguided freshman pulled out of his pocket a bulky memorandum on which he had inscribed his pet scheme for the regeneration and stimulus of the publishing business, and laid it before you. How hospitably you considered his programme, and how tenderly you must have smiled, inwardly, at his odd mixture of earnestness and excitement! At any rate, you set him to work that afternoon, with the assurance that he might have your job as soon as he could qualify. Well, he did not get it; nor will he ever, for he knows (by this time) what a rare complex of instincts and sagacities is needed in the head of a great publishing house; and his own ambition has proved to be a little different. But he can never be enough grateful for the patience and humorous tolerance with which you brooded upon his various antics, condoned his many absurdities, welcomed and encouraged his enthusiasms. In nearly four years in your “shop” he learned (so he insists) more than any college could ever teach: and how much he had to unlearn, too! And the surprising part of it was, it was all such extraordinarily good fun. The greatest moments of all, I suppose, were when this young man was invited by one of your partners (on occasions that seemed so interminably far apart!) to “walk in the garden,” that being the cheerful tradition of the Country Life Press. There, after some embarrassing chat about the peonies and the sun dial, the victim meanwhile groaning to know whether it was, this time, hail or farewell, there would come tidings of one of those five-dollar raises that were so hotly desiderated. That paternal function (so this young man and his fellow small fry observed) was rightly a little beneath the dignity of the Effendi: you, they noted, only walked in the garden with paper merchants and people like Booth Tarkington and Ellen Glasgow and good Mr. Grosset of Grosset and Dunlap! Many young men (O Effendi), from Frank Norris down, have found your house a wonderful training-school for writers and publishers and booksellers. There are great names, of permanent honour in literature, that owe much to your wisdom and patience. But among all those who know you in your trebled capacity as employer, publisher, and friend, there is none who has more reason to be grateful, or who has done less to deserve it, than the young man I have described. And so you will forgive him if he thus publicly and selfishly pleases himself by trying to express his sense of gratitude, and signs himself, Faithfully yours, Christopher Morley. Roslyn, Long Island January, 1921.


The original responsibility for some of these stories—or at any rate the original copyright—was allotted as follows: “The Prize Package,” Collier’s Weekly (1918); “Urn Burial,” Every Week (1918); “The Climacteric,” The Smart Set (1918); “The Pert Little Hat,” The Metropolitan (1919); “The Battle of Manila Envelopes,” The Bookman (1920); “The Commutation Chop-house,” The New York Evening Post (1920); “The Curious Case of Kenelm Digby,” The Bookman (1921); “Gloria and the Garden of Sweden,” Munsey’s (1921); “Punch and Judy,” The Outlook (1921). All but one of these publications are still in existence. To their editors and owners the author expresses his indebtedness and his congratulation.

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