He applied the same test to people who shout at one another in the streets, who whistle at the top of their lungs, or leave doors to slam in the faces of those behind them.
His resentment against these practices was made the more bitter by the knowledge that he was absolutely helpless in the matter whenever he came within hearing distance of an ill-bred person.
There was yet another element in this which added to his misery. He said to me once, when we had been driven off the plage at Mentone by two American tourists of the worst type, who at a hundred yards’ distance from each other were yelling their views as to which hotel they proposed to meet at for lunch, “I can never forget that when I was a young man in the full vigor of my health I used to regard other people’s complaints about noise as being merely an affectation. I would even make a noise deliberately in order to annoy any one who forced the absurd pretense upon my notice. Well, Mr. Ireland, I swear my punishment has been heavy enough.”
To revert, however, to Mr. Pulitzer’s dependence on those around him, it must be remembered that nothing could reach him except through the medium of speech. The state of his bank account, the condition of his investments, the reports about The World, his business correspondence, the daily news in which he was so deeply interested, everything upon which he based his relation with the affairs of life he had to accept at second hand.
It might be supposed that under these circumstances Mr. Pulitzer was easily deceived, that when there was no evil intention, for instance, but simply a desire to spare him annoyance, the exercise of a little ingenuity could shield him from anything likely to wound his feelings or excite his anger. As a matter of fact I have never known a man upon whom it would not have been easier to practice a deception. His blindness, so far from being a hindrance to him in reaching the truth, was an aid.
Two instances will serve to illustrate the point. Suppose that I found in the morning paper an article which I thought would stir J. P. up and spoil his day: when I was called to read to him I had no means of knowing whether the man whom I replaced had taken the same view as myself and had skipped the article or whether he had, deliberately or inadvertently, read it to him. The same argument applied to the man who was to follow me. If I read the article to him I might find out later that my predecessor had omitted it, or, if I omitted it, that my successor had read it.
In either event one of us would be in the wrong; and it was impossible to tell in advance whether the man who read it would be blamed for lack of discretion or praised for his good judgment, as everything depended upon the exact mood in which Mr. Pulitzer happened to be.
It was an awkward dilemma for the secretary, for, if he did not read it and another man did, Mr. Pulitzer might very well interpret the first man’s caution as an effort to hoodwink him, or the second man’s boldness as an exhibition of indifference to his feelings, or, what was more likely still, fasten one fault upon one man and the other upon the other.