“I see you are disposed to give vent to your native scepticism toward me. But I never knew the thing yet that I could not do. At first, perhaps, I should have to depend somewhat upon your proof-reading, but before many months, I venture to say, I could stand on my own legs.”
After some further parley it was agreed that I should exert myself in his behalf, and after a visit to the pawnbroker’s, where Dannevig had deposited his dignity, we parted with the promise to meet again at dinner.
It was rather an anomalous position for a knight of Dannebrog, a familiar friend of princes and nobles, and an ex-habitue of the Cafe Anglais, to be a common reporter on a Chicago republican journal. Yet this was the position to which (after some daring exploits in book-reviewing and art criticism) my friend was finally reduced. As an art-critic, he might have been a success, if western art had been more nearly in accord with his own fastidious and exquisitely developed taste. As it was, he managed in less than a fortnight to bring down the wrath of the whole artistic brotherhood upon our journal, and as some of these men were personal friends of the principal stockholders in the paper, his destructive ardor was checked by an imperative order from the authorities, from whose will there is no appeal. As a book-reviewer he labored under similar disadvantages; he stoutly maintained that the reading of a volume would necessarily and unduly bias the critic’s judgment, and that a man endowed with a keen, literary nose could form an intelligent opinion, after a careful perusal of the title-page, and a glance at the preface. A man who wrote a book naturally labored under the delusion that he was wiser or better than the majority of his fellow-creatures, in which case you would do moral service by convincing him of his error, inhumanity continued to encourage authorship at the present rate, obscurity would soon become a claim to immortality. If a writer informed you that his work “filled a literary void,” his conceit was reprehensible, and on moral grounds he ought to be chastised; if he told you that he had only “yielded to the urgent request of his friends,” it was only fair to insinuate that his friends must have had very long ears. Nevertheless, Dannevig’s reviews were for about a month a very successful feature of our paper. They might be described as racy little essays, bristling with point and epigram, on some subject suggested by the title-pages of current volumes. At the end of that time, however, books began to grow scarce in our office, and before another month was at an end, we had no more need of a reviewer. My friend was then to have his last trial as a reporter.
One of his first experiences in this new capacity was at a mass-meeting preceding an important municipal election. Not daring to send his “copy” to the printer without revision, I determined to sacrifice two or three hours’ sleep, and to await his return. But the night wore on, the clock struck twelve, one, and two, and no Dannevig appeared. I began to grow anxious; our last form went to press at four o’clock, and I had left a column and a half open for his expected report. Not wishing to resort to dead matter, I hastily made some selections from a fresh magazine, and sent them to the foreman.