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Panem et Circenses; bread and the Big Show. The diagnosis of the satyr-like mathematician had been accurate. That same method whereby the tyrants of Rome had sought to beguile the restless and unthinking multitude, Banneker adopted to capture and lead the sensation-avid metropolitan public through his newspaper. As a facture, a creation made to the mind of the creator, The Patriot was Banneker's own. True, Marrineal reserved full control. But Marrineal, after a few months spent in anxious observation of his editor's headlong and revolutionary method, had taken the sales reports for his determinative guide and decided to give the new man full sway.
Circulation had gone up as water rises in a tube under irresistible pressure from beneath. Nothing like it had ever been known in local journalism. Barring some set-back, within four years of the time when Banneker's introductory editorial appeared, the paper would have eclipsed all former records. In less than two years it had climbed to third place, and already Banneker's salary, under the percentage agreement, was, in the words of the alliterative Gardner, whose article describing The House With Three Eyes and its owner had gone forth on the wings of a far-spreading syndicate, "a stupendous stipend."
Banneker's editorials pervaded and gave the keynote. With sublime self-confidence he had adopted the untried scheme of having no set and determined place for the editorial department. Sometimes, his page appeared in the middle of the paper; sometimes on the back; and once, when a most promising scheme of municipal looting was just about to be put through, he fired his blast from the front sheet in extra heavy, double-leaded type, displacing an international yacht race and a most titillating society scandal with no more explanation than was to be found in the opening sentence:
"This is more important to YOU, Mr. New Yorker, than any other news in to-day's issue."
"Where Banneker sits," Russell Edmonds was wont to remark between puffs, "is the head of the paper."
"Let 'em look for the stuff," said Banneker confidently. "They'll think all the more of it when they find it."
Often he used inset illustrations, not so much to give point to his preachments, as to render them easier of comprehension to the unthinking. And always he sought the utmost of sensationalism in caption and in type, employing italics, capitals, and even heavy-face letters with an effect of detonation.
"Jollies you along until he can see the white of your mind, and then fires his slug into your head, point-blank," Edmonds said.
With all this he had the high art to keep his style direct, unaffected, almost severe. No frills, no literary graces, no flashes of wit except an occasional restrained touch of sarcasm: the writing was in the purest style and of a classic simplicity. The typical reader of The Patriot had a friendly and rather patronizing feeling for the editorials: they were generally deemed quite ordinary, "common as an old shoe" (with an approving accent from the commentator), comfortably devoid of the intricate elegancies practiced by Banneker's editorial compeers. So they were read and absorbed, which was all that their writer hoped or wished for them. He was not seeking the bubble, reputation, but the solid satisfaction of implanting ideas in minds hitherto unaroused to mental processes, and training the resultant thought in his chosen way and to eventual though still vague purposes.
"They're beginning to imitate you, Ban," commented Russell Edmonds in the days of The Patriot's first surprising upward leap. "Flattery of your peers."
"Let 'em imitate," returned Banneker indifferently.
"Yes; they don't come very near to the original. It's a fundamental difference in style."
"It's a fundamental difference in aim."
"They're writing at and for their owners; to make good with the boss. I'm writing at my public."
"I believe you're right. It's more difficult, though, isn't it, to write for a hundred thousand people than at one?"
"Not if you understand them from study at first hand, as I do. That's why the other fellows are five or ten-thousand-dollar men," said Banneker, quite without boastfulness "while I'm--"
"A fifty-thousand-dollar a year man," supplied Edmonds.
"Well, getting toward that figure. I'm on the target with the editorials and I'm going to hold on it. But our news policy is different. We still wobble there."
"What do you want! Look at the circulation. Isn't that good enough?"
"No. Every time I get into a street-car and see a passenger reading some other paper, I feel that we've missed fire," returned Banneker inexorably. "Pop, did you ever see an actress make up?"
"I've a general notion of the process."
"Find me a man who can make up news ready and rouged to go before the daily footlights as an actress makes up her face."
The veteran grunted. "Not to be found on Park Row."
"Probably not. Park Row is too deadly conventional."
One might suppose that the environment of religious journalism would be equally conventional. Yet it was from this department that the "find" eventually came, conducted by Edmonds. Edgar Severance, ten years older than Banneker, impressed the guiding spirit of The Patriot at first sight with a sense of inner certitude and serenity not in the least impaired by his shabbiness which had the redeeming merit of being clean.
"You're not a newspaper man?" said Banneker after the introduction. "What are you?"
"I'm a prostitute," answered the other equably.
Banneker smiled. "Where have you practiced your profession?"
"As assistant editor of Guidance. I write the blasphemous editorials which are so highly regarded by the sweetly simple souls that make up our clientele; the ones which weekly give gratuitous advice to God."
"Did Mr. Edmonds find you there?"
"No," put in the veteran; "I traced him down through some popular scientific stuff in the Boston Sunday Star."
"Fake, all of it," proffered Severance. "Otherwise it wouldn't be popular."
"Is that your creed of journalism?" asked Banneker curiously.
"Why come to The Patriot, then? It isn't ours."
Severance raised his fine eyebrows, but contented himself with saying: "Isn't it? However, I didn't come. I was brought." He indicated Edmonds.
"He gave me more ideas on news-dressing," said the veteran, "than I'd pick up in a century on the Row."
"Ideas are what we're after. Where do you get yours, Mr. Severance, since you are not a practical newspaper man?"
"From talking with people, and seeing what the newspapers fail to do."
"Where were you before you went on Guidance?"
"Instructor at Harvard."
"And you practiced your--er--specified profession there, too?"
"Oh, no. I was partly respectable then.
"Why did you leave?"
"Ah? You don't build up much of a character for yourself as prospective employee."
"If I join The Patriot staff I shall probably disappear once a month or so on a spree."
"Why should you join The Patriot staff? That is what you fail to make clear to me."
"Reference, Mr. Russell Edmonds," returned the other negligently.
"You two aren't getting anywhere with all this chatter," growled the reference. "Come, Severance; talk turkey, as you did to me."
"I don't want to talk," objected the other in his gentle, scholarly accents. "I want to look about: to diagnose the trouble in the news department."
"What do you suspect the trouble to be?" asked Banneker.
"Oh, the universal difficulty. Lack of brains."
Banneker laughed, but without relish. "We pay enough for what we've got. It ought to be good quality."
"You pay not wisely but too well. My own princely emolument as a prop of piety is thirty-five dollars a week."
"Would you come here at that figure?"
"I should prefer forty. For a period of six weeks, on trial."
"As Mr. Edmonds seems to think it worth the gamble, I'll take you on. From to-day, if you wish. Go out and look around."
"Wait a minute," interposed Edmonds. "What's his title? How is his job to be defined?"
"Call him my representative in the news department. I'll pay his salary myself. If he makes good, I'll more than get it back."
Mr. Severance's first concern appeared to be to make himself popular. In the anomalous position which he occupied as representative between two mutually jealous departments, this was no easy matter. But his quiet, contained courtesy, his tentative, almost timid, way of offering suggestions or throwing out hints which subsequently proved to have definite and often surprising value, his retiring willingness to waive any credit in favor of whosoever might choose to claim it, soon gave him an assured if inconspicuous position. His advice was widely sought. As an immediate corollary a new impress made itself felt in the daily columns. With his quick sensitiveness Banneker apprehended the change. It seemed to him that the paper was becoming feminized in a curious manner.
"Is it a play for the women?" he asked Severance in the early days of the development.
"You're certainly specializing on femaleness."
"For the men. Not the women. It's an old lure."
Banneker frowned. "And not a pretty one."
"Effective, though. I bagged it from the Police Gazette. Have you ever had occasion to note the almost unvarying cover appeal of that justly popular weekly?"
"Half-dressed women," said Banneker, whose early researches had extended even to those levels.
"Exactly. With all they connote. Thereby attracting the crude and roving male eye. Of course, we must do the trick more artistically and less obviously. But the pictured effect is the thing. I'm satisfied of that. By the way, I am having a little difficulty with your art department. Your man doesn't adapt himself to new ideas."
"I've thought him rather old-fashioned. What do you want to do?"
"Bring in a young chap named Capron whom I've run upon. He used to be an itinerant photographer, and afterward had a try at the movies, but he's essentially a news man. Let him read the papers for pictures."
Capron came on the staff as an insignificant member with an insignificant salary. Personally a man of blameless domesticity, he was intellectually and professionally a sex-monger. He conceived the business of a news art department to be to furnish pictured Susannahs for the delectation of the elders of the reading public. His flair for femininity he transferred to The Patriot's pages, according to a simple and direct formula; the greater the display of woman, the surer the appeal and therefore the sale. Legs and bosoms he specialized for in illustrations. Bathing-suits and boudoir scenes were his particular aim, although any picture with a scandal attachment in the accompanying news would serve, the latter, however, to be handled in such manner as invariably to point a moral. Herein his team work with Severance was applied in high perfection.
"Should Our Girls Become Artists' Models" was one of their early and inspired collaborations, a series begun with a line of "beauty pictures" and spun out by interviews with well or less known painters and illustrators, giving rich opportunity for displays of nudity, the moral being pointed by equally lavish interviews with sociologists and prominent Mothers in Israel. Although at least ninety-nine per cent of all professional posing is such as would not be out of place at a church sociable, the casual reader of the Capron-Severance presentation would have supposed that a lace veil was the extent of the protection allowed to a female model between sheer nakedness and the outer artistic world. Following this came a department devoted (ostensibly) to physical culture for women. It was conducted by the proprietress of a fashionable reducing gymnasium, who was allowed, as this was a comparatively unimportant feature, to supply the text subject to Severance's touching-up ingenuity; but the models were devised and posed by Capron. They were extremely shapely and increasingly expressive in posture and arrangement until they attained a point where the post-office authorities evinced symptoms of rising excitement--though not the type of excitement at which the Art Expert was aiming--when the series took a turn for the milder, and more purely athletic, and, by the same token, less appetizing; and presently faded away in a burst of semi-editorial self-laudation over The Patriot's altruistic endeavors to improve the physical status of the "future mothers of the nation."
Failing any other excuse for their careful lubricities, the team could always conjure up an enticing special feature from an imaginary foreign correspondent, aimed direct at the family circle and warning against the "Moral Pitfalls of Paris," or the "Vampires of High Life in Vienna." The invariable rule was that all sex-stuff must have a moral and virtuous slant. Thus was afforded to the appreciative reader a double satisfaction, physical and ethical, pruriency and piety.
It was Capron who devised the simple but effective legend which afterward became, in a thousand variants, a stock part of every news item interesting enough to merit graphic treatment, "The X Marks the Spot Where the Body Was Found." He, too, adapted, from a design in a drug-store window picturing a sponge fisherman in action, the cross-section illustration for news. Within a few weeks he had displaced the outdated art editor and was in receipt of a larger salary than the city editor, who dealt primarily in news, not sensations, panem not circenses.
Sensationalism of other kinds was spurred to keep pace with the sex appeal. The news columns became constantly more lurid. They shrieked, yelled, blared, shrilled, and boomed the scandals and horrors of the moment in multivocal, multigraphic clamor, tainting the peaceful air breathed by everyday people going about their everyday business, with incredible blatancies which would be forgotten on the morrow in the excitement of fresh percussions, though the cumulative effect upon the public mind and appetite might be ineradicable. "Murderer Dabbles Name in Bloody Print." "Wronged Wife Mars Rival's Beauty." "Society Woman Gives Hundred-Dollar-Plate Dinner." "Scientist Claims Life Flickers in Mummy." "Cocktails, Wine, Drug, Ruin for Lovely Girl of Sixteen." "Financier Resigns After Sprightly Scene at Long Beach." Severance developed a literary genius for excitant and provocative word-combinations in the headings; "Love-Slave," "Girl-Slasher," "Passion-Victim," "Death-Hand," "Vengeance-Oath," "Lust-Fiend." The articles chosen for special display were such as lent themselves, first, to his formula for illustration, and next to captions which thrilled with the sensations of crime, mystery, envy of the rich and conspicuous, or lechery, half concealed or unconcealed. For facts as such he cared nothing. His conception of news was as a peg upon which to hang a sensation. "Love and luxury for the women: money and power for the men," was his broad working scheme for the special interest of the paper, with, of course, crime and the allure of the flesh for general interest. A jungle man, perusing one day's issue (supposing him to have been competent to assimilate it), would have judged the civilization pictured therein too grisly for his unaccustomed nerves and fled in horror back to the direct, natural, and uncomplicated raids and homicides of the decent wilds.
The Great Gaines, descending for once from the habitual classicism of his phraseology, described The Patriot of Severance's production in two terse and sufficient words.
That itch irked Banneker almost unendurably at times. He longed to be relieved of it; to scratch the irritant Severance clean off the skin of The Patriot. But Severance was too evidently valuable. Banneker did go so far as to protest.
"Aren't you rather overdoing this thing, Severance?"
"Which thing? We're overdoing everything; hence the growth of the paper."
Banneker fell back upon banality. "Well, we've got to draw the line somewhere."
Severance bestowed upon the other his well-bred and delicate smile. "Exactly my principle. I'm for drawing the line every issue and on every page, if there's room for it. 'Nulla dies sine linea.' The line of appeal to the sensations, whether it's a pretty face or a caption that jumps out and grabs you by the eye. I want to make 'em gloat."
"I see. You were in earnest more or less when in our first talk, you defined your profession."
Severance waved a graceful hand. "Prostitution is the profession of all successful journalism which looks at itself honestly. Why not play the pander frankly?--among ourselves, of course. Perhaps I'm offending you, Mr. Banneker."
"You're interesting me. But, 'among ourselves' you say. You're not a newspaper man; you haven't the traditions."
"Therefore I haven't the blind spots. I'm not fooled by the sentimentalism of the profession or the sniveling claims of being an apostle of public enlightenment. If enlightenment pays, all very well. But it's circulation, not illumination, that's the prime desideratum. Frankly, I'd feed the public gut with all it can and will stand."
"Even to the extent of keeping the Tallman divorce scandal on the front page for a week consecutively. You won't pretend that, as news, it's worth it."
"Give me a definition of news," retorted the expert. "The Tallman story won't alter the history of the world. But it has its--well, its specialized value for our purposes."
"You mean," said Banneker, deliberately stimulating his own growing nausea, "that it makes the public's mind itch."
"It's a pretty filthy and scabby sort of animal, the public, Mr. Banneker. We're not trying to reform its morals in our news columns, I take it."
"No. No; we're not. Still--"
"That's the province of your editorials," went on the apostle of titillation smoothly. "You may in time even educate them up to a standard of decency where they won't demand the sort of thing we're giving them now. But our present business with the news columns is to catch them for you to educate."
"Quite so! You lure them into the dive where I wait to preach them a sermon."
After that conversation Banneker definitely decided that Severance's activities must be curbed. But when he set about it, he suffered an unpleasant surprise. Marrineal, thoroughly apprised of the new man's activities (as he was, by some occult means of his own, of everything going on in the office), stood fast by the successful method, and let Banneker know, tactfully but unmistakably, that Severance, who had been transferred to the regular payroll at a highly satisfactory figure, was to have a free hand. So the ex-religious editor continued to stroll leisurely through his unauthoritative and influential routine, contributing his commentary upon the news as it flowed in. He would saunter over to the make-up man's clotted desk, run his eye over the dummy of the morrow's issue, and inquire;
"Wasn't there a shooting scrape over a woman in a big West-Side apartment?... Being kept by the chap that was shot, wasn't she?... Oh, a bank clerk?... Well, that's a pretty dull-looking seventh page. Why not lift this text of the new Suburban Railways Bill and spread the shooting across three columns? Get Sanderson to work out a diagram and do one of his filmy line drawings of the girl lying on the couch. And let's be sure to get the word 'Banker' into the top head."
Or he would deliver a practical lecture from a text picked out of what to a less keen-scented news-hound might have appeared an unpromising subject.
"Can't we round out that disappearance story a little; the suburban woman who hasn't been seen since she went to New York three days ago? Get Capron to fake up a picture of the home with the three children in it grouped around Bereaved Husband, and--here, how would something like this do for caption: '"Mamma, Mamma! Come Back!" Sob Tiny Tots.' The human touch. Nothing like a bit of slush to catch the women. And we've been going a little shy on sentiment lately."
The "human touch," though it became an office joke, also took its place as an unwritten law. Severance's calm and impersonal cynicism was transmuted into a genuine enthusiasm among the copy-readers. Headlining took on a new interest, whetted by the establishment of a weekly prize for the most attractive caption. Maximum of sensationalism was the invariable test.
Despite his growing distaste for the Severance cult, Banneker was honest enough to admit that the original stimulus dated from the day when he himself had injected his personality and ideas into the various departments of the daily. He had established the new policy; Severance had done no more than inform it with the heated imaginings and provocative pictorial quality inherent in a mind intensely if scornfully apprehensive of the unsatiated potential depravities of public taste. It was Banneker's hand that had set the strings vibrating to a new tune; Severance had only raised the pitch, to the n th degree of sensationalism. And, in so far as the editorial page gave him a lead, the disciple was faithful to the principles and policies of his chief. The practice of the news columns was always informed by a patently defensible principle. It paeaned the virtues of the poor and lowly; it howled for the blood of the wicked and the oppressor; it was strident for morality, the sanctity of the home, chastity, thrift, sobriety, the People, religion, American supremacy. As a corollary of these pious standards it invariably took sides against wealth and power, sentimentalized every woman who found her way into the public prints, whether she had perpetrated a murder or endowed a hospital, simpered and slavered over any "heart-interest story" of childhood ("blue-eyed tot stuff" was the technical office term), and licked reprehensive but gustful lips over divorce, adultery, and the sexual complications. It peeped through keyholes of print at the sanctified doings of Society and snarled while it groveled. All the shibboleths of a journalism which respected neither itself, its purpose, nor its readers echoed from every page. And this was the reflex of the work and thought of Errol Banneker, who intimately respected himself, and his profession as expressed in himself. There is much of the paradoxical in journalism--as, indeed, in the life which it distortedly mirrors.
Every other newspaper in town caught the contagion; became by insensible degrees more sensational and pornographic. The Patriot had started a rag-time pace (based on the same fundamental instinct which the rhythm of rag-time expresses, if the psychologists are correct) and the rest must, perforce, adopt it. Such as lagged in this Harlot's Progress suffered a loss of circulation, journalism's most condign penalty. For there are certain appetites which, once stimulated, must be appeased. Otherwise business wanes!
Out of conscious nothing, as represented by the now moribund News, there was provoked one evening a large, round, middle-aged, smiling, bespectacled apparition who named himself as Rudy Sheffer and invited himself to a job. Marrineal had sent him to Severance, and Severance, ever tactful, had brought him to Banneker. Russell Edmonds being called in, the three sat in judgment upon the Big Idea which Mr. Sheffer had brought with him and which was:
"Give 'em a laugh."
"The potentialities of humor as a circulation agency," opined Severance in his smoothest academic voice, "have never been properly exploited."
"A laugh on every page where there ain't a thrill," pursued Sheffer confidently.
"You find some of our pages dull?" asked Banneker, always interested in any new view.
"Well, your market page ain't no scream. You gotta admit it."
"People don't usually want to laugh when they're studying the stock market," growled Edmonds.
"Surprise 'em, then. Give 'em a jab in the ribs and see how they like it. Pictures. Real comics. Anywhere in the paper that there's room for 'em."
"There's always a cartoon on the editorial page," pointed out Banneker.
"Cartoon? What does that get you? A cartoon's an editorial, ain't it?"
Russell Edmonds shot a side glance at Banneker, meaning: "This is no fool. Watch him."
"Makes 'em think, don't it?" pursued the visitor. "If it tickles 'em, that's on the side. It gets after their minds, makes 'em work for what they get. That's an effort. See?"
"All right. What's your aim?"
"Not their brains. I leave that to Mr. Banneker's editorials. I'm after the laugh that starts down here." He laid hand upon his rotund waistcoat. "The belly-laugh."
"The anatomy of anti-melancholy," murmured Severance. "Valuable."
"You're right, it's valuable," declared its proponent. "It's money; that's what it is. Watch 'em at the movies. When their bellies begin to shake, the picture's got 'em."
"How would you produce this desirable effect?" asked Severance.
"No trouble to show goods. I'm dealing with gents, I know. This is all under your shirt for the present, if you don't take up the scheme."
From a portfolio which he had set in a corner he produced a sheaf of drawings. They depicted the adventures, mischievous, predatory, or criminal, of a pair of young hopefuls whose physiognomies and postures were genuinely ludicrous.
"Did you draw these?" asked Banneker in surprise, for the draughtsmanship was expert.
"No. Hired a kid artist to do 'em. I furnished the idea."
"Oh, you furnished the idea, did you?" queried Edmonds. "And where did you get it?"
With an ineffably satisfied air, Mr. Sheffer tapped his bullet head.
"You must be older than you look, then. Those figures of the kids are redrawn from a last-century German humorous classic, 'Max und Moritz.' I used to be crazy over it when I was a youngster. My grandfather brought it to me from Europe, and made a translation for us youngsters."
"Sure! Those pictures'd make a reformer laugh. I picked up the book in German on an Ann Street sidewalk stand, caught the Big Idea right then and there; to Americanize the stuff and--"
"For 'Americanize,' read 'steal,'" commented Edmonds.
"There ain't no thin' crooked in this," protested the other with sincerity. "The stuff ain't copyrighted here. I looked that up particularly."
"Quite true, I believe," confirmed Severance. "It's an open field."
"I got ten series mapped out to start. Call 'em 'The Trouble-hunter Twins, Ruff and Reddy.' If they catch on, the artist and me can keep 'em goin' forever. And they'll catch."
"I believe they will," said Severance.
"Smeared across the top of a page it'll make a business man laugh as hard as a kid. I know business men. I was one, myself. Sold bar fixtures on the road for four years. And my best selling method was the laughs I got out of 'em. Used to take a bit of chalk and do sketches on the table-tops. So I know what makes 'em laugh. Belly-laughs. You make a business man laugh that way, and you get his business. It ain't circulation alone; it's advertising that the stuff will bring in. Eh?"
"What do you think, Mr. Banneker?" asked Severance.
"It's worth trying," decided Banneker after thought. "You don't think so, do you, Pop?"
"Oh, go ahead!" returned Edmonds, spewing forth a mouthful of smoke as if to expel a bad taste. "What's larceny among friends?"
"But we're not taking anything of value, since there's no copyright and any one can grab it," pointed out the smooth Severance.
Thus there entered into the high-tension atmosphere of the sensationalized Patriot the relaxing quality of humor. Under the ingenuous and acquisitive Sheffer, whose twins achieved immediate popularity, it developed along other lines. Sheffer--who knew what makes business men laugh--pinned his simple faith to three main subjects, convulsive of the diaphragmatic muscles, building up each series upon the inherent humor to be extracted from physical violence as represented in the perpetrations and punishments of Ruff and Reddy, marital infidelity as mirrored in the stratagems and errancies of an amorous ape with an aged and jealous spouse, and the sure-fire familiarity of aged minstrel jokes (mother-in-law, country constable, young married cookery, and the like) refurbished in pictorial serials through the agency of two uproarious and imbecilic vulgarians, Bonehead and Buttinsky.
Children cried for them, and laughed to exhaustion over them. Not less did the mentally exhausted business man writhe abdominally over their appeal. Spread across the top of three pages they wrung the profitable belly-laugh from growing thousands of new readers. If Banneker sometimes had misgivings that the educational influence of The Patriot was not notably improved by all this instigation of crime and immorality made subject for mirth in the mind of developing youth, he stifled them in the thought of increased reading public for his own columns. Furthermore, it was not his newspaper, anyway.
But the editorial page was still peculiarly his own, and with that clarity of view which he never permitted personal considerations to prejudice, Banneker perceived that it was falling below pitch. Or, rather, that, while it remained static, the rest of the paper, under the stimulus of Severance, Capron, Sheffer, and, in the background but increasingly though subtly assertive, Marrineal, had raised its level of excitation. Change his editorials he would not. Nor was there need; the response to them was too widespread and fervent, their following too blindly fanatic, the opposition roused by them too furious to permit of any doubt as to their effectiveness. But that portion of the page not taken up by his writings and the cartoon (which was often based upon an idea supplied by him), was susceptible of alteration, of keying-up. Casting about him for the popular note, the circus appeal, he started a "signed-article" department of editorial contributions to which he invited any and all persons of prominence in whatever line. The lure of that universal egotism which loves to see itself in the public eye secured a surprising number of names. Propagandists were quick to appreciate the opportunity of The Patriot's wide circulation for furthering their designs, selfish or altruistic. To such desirables as could not be caught by other lures, Banneker offered generous payment.
It was on this latter basis that he secured a prize, in the person of the Reverend George Bland, ex-revivalist, ex-author of pious stories for the young, skilled dealer in truisms, in wordy platitudes couched largely in plagiarized language from the poets and essayists, in all the pseudo-religious slickeries wherewith men's souls are so easily lulled into self-satisfaction. The Good, the True, the Beautiful; these were his texts, but the real god of his worship was Success. This, under the guise of Duty ("man's God-inspired ambition to be true to his best possibilities"), he preached day in and day out through his "Daily Help" in The Patriot: Be guided by me and you will be good: Be good and you will be prosperous: Be prosperous and you will be happy. On an adjoining page there were other and far more specific instructions as to how to be prosperous and happy, by backing Speedfoot at 10 to 1 in the first race, or Flashaway at 5 to 2 in the third. Sometimes the Reverend Bland inveighed convincingly against the evils of betting. Yet a cynic might guess that the tipsters' recipes for being prosperous and happy (and therefore, by a logical inversion, good) were perhaps as well based and practical as the reverend moralist's. His correspondence, surest indication of editorial following, grew to be almost as large as Banneker's. Severance nicknamed him "the Oracle of Boobs," and for short he became known as the "Booblewarbler," for there were times when he burst into verse, strongly reminiscent of the older hymnals. This he resented hotly and genuinely, for he was quite sincere; as sincere as Sheffer, in his belief in himself. But he despised Sheffer and feared Severance, not for what the latter represented, but for the cynical honesty of his attitude. In retort for Severance's stab, he dubbed the pair Mephistopheles and Falstaff, which was above his usual felicitousness of characterization. Sheffer (who read Shakespeare to improve his mind, and for ideas!) was rather flattered.
Even the platitudinous Bland had his practical inspirations; if they had not been practical, they would not have been Bland's. One of these was an analysis of the national business character.
"We Americans," he wrote, "are natural merchandisers. We care less for the making of a thing than for the selling of it. Salesmanship is the great American game. It calls forth all our native genius; it is the expression of our originality, our inventiveness, our ingenuity, our idealism," and so on, for a full column slathered with deadly and self-betraying encomiums. For the Reverend Bland believed heartily that the market was the highest test of humankind. He would rather sell a thing than make it! In fact, anything made with any other purpose than to sell would probably not be successful, and would fail to make its author prosperous; therefore it must be wrong. Not the creator, but the salesman was the modern evangel.
"The Booblewarbler has given away the game," commented Severance with his slight, ironic smile, the day when this naive effusion appeared. "He's right, of course. But he thinks he's praising when he's damning."
Banneker was disturbed. But the flood of letters which came in promptly reassured him. The Reverend editorializer was hailed broadcast as the Messiah of the holy creed of Salesmanship, of the high cult of getting rid of something for more than it is worth. He was organized into a lecture tour; his department in the paper waxed ever greater. Banneker, with his swift appreciation of a hit, followed the lead with editorials; hired authors to write short stories glorifying the ennobled figure of the Salesman, his smartness, his strategy, his ruthless trickery, his success. And the salesmanhood of the nation, in trains, in hotel lobbies, at the breakfast table with its Patriot propped up flanking the egg and coffee, rose up to call him blessed and to add to his income.
Personal experiences in achieving success were a logical sequence to this; success in any field, from running a city as set forth by His Honor the Mayor, to becoming a movie star, by all the movie stars or aspirants whom their press-agents could crowd into the paper. A distinguished novelist of notably high blood-pressure contributed a series of thoughtful essays on "How to be Irresistible in Love," and a sentimental pugilist indulged in reminiscences (per a hired pen from the cheap magazine field) upon "The Influence of my Mother on my Career." An imitator of Banneker developed a daily half-column of self-improvement and inspiration upon moral topics, achieving his effects by capitalizing all the words which otherwise would have been too feeble or banal to attract notice, thereby giving an air of sublimated importance to the mildly incomprehensible. Nine tenths of The Patriot's editorial readers believed that they were following a great philosopher along the path of the eternal profundities. To give a touch of science, an amateur astronomer wrote stirring imaginative articles on interstellar space, and there were occasional "authoritative" pronouncements by men of importance in the political, financial, or intellectual worlds, lifted from public speeches or old publications. The page, if it did not actually itch, buzzed and clanged. But above the composite clamor rose ever the voice of Banneker, clear, serene, compelling.
And Banneker took his pay for it, deeming it well earned.
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