To an extraordinary flow of language he added a range of information and a vividness of expression truly astonishing. His favorite themes were politics and the lives of great men. To his monologues on the former subject he brought a ripe wisdom, based upon the most extensive reading and the shrewdest observation, and quickened by the keenest enthusiasm. He was by no means a political bigot; and there was not a political experiment, from the democracy of the Greeks to the referendum in Switzerland, with the details of which he was not perfectly familiar. Although he was a convinced believer in the Republican form of government, having, as he expressed it, “no use for the King business,” he was fully alive to the peculiar dangers and difficulties with which modern progress has confronted popular institutions.
When the publication of some work like Rosebery’s Chatham or Monypenny’s Disraeli afforded an occasion, Mr. Pulitzer would spend an hour before we left the table in giving us a picture of some exciting crisis in English politics, the high lights picked out in pregnant phrases of characterization, in brilliant epitome of the facts, in spontaneous epigram, and illustrative anecdote. Whether he spoke of the Holland House circle, of the genius of Cromwell, of Napoleon’s campaigns, or sought to point a moral from the lives of Bismarck, Metternich, Louis XI, or Kossuth, every sentence was marked by the same penetrating analysis, the same facility of expression, the same clearness of thought.
On rare occasions he talked of his early days, telling us in a charming, simple, and unaffected manner of the tragic and humorous episodes with which his youth had been crowded. Of the former I recall a striking description of a period during which he filled two positions in St. Louis, one involving eight hours’ work during the day, the other eight hours during the night. Four of the remaining eight were devoted to studying English.
His first connection with journalism arose out of an experience which he related with a wealth of detail which showed how deeply it had been burned into his memory.
When he arrived in St. Louis he soon found himself at the end of his resources, and was faced with the absolute impossibility of securing work in that city. In company with forty other men he applied at the office of a general agent who had advertised for hands to go down the Mississippi and take up well-paid posts on a Louisiana sugar plantation. The agent demanded a fee of five dollars from each applicant, and, by pooling their resources, the members of this wretched band managed to meet the charge. The same night they were taken on board a steamer which immediately started down river. At three o’clock in the morning they were landed on the river bank about forty miles below St. Louis, at a spot where there was neither house, road, nor clearing. Before the marooned party had time to realize its plight the steamer had disappeared.