MAKER OF THE BOOK OF LIFE
• *^- OontiriiiCQ| people Come t*crc lor '^^ BPj^^HMy*^trf^isjPw6^jfi^ >
S Visit to Abraham Cahan, Who Is the Father Con-
J fessor. the Court of Last Resort of the Marvellous
(Copyright, 1010, hy the Ntw York Herald Co. All rights reserre.U
New York, Saturday.—
NEWSPAPERS are scenarios of tlie dramas of
life. They are the short records of tragedies
and comedies which are true. What we know
as large metropolitan dallies contain many of
them. The newspapers of ill" east side con
tain more. Why?
"Because," said Mr. Abraham Cahan, the editor
of the Jewish Daily Forward, "men are greater In
numbers and emotions here. The crowded and chang
ing conditions of east side life intensify effects; and
the Jewish race is essentially dramatic."
Mr. Cahan himself is about forty years old—ner
vous, alert, quick moving, an obvious dynamo of
energy. He is indeed a remarkable man. A novelist
of distinction, a contributor to the highest class of
American magazines and with a reportorlal experi
ence upon American newspapers, he deliberately
stepped out of that arena eight years ago to conduct
a small newspaper on the east side because he con
ceived the work to be done there was the more vital.
I visited him recently, being curious as to the duties
of an east side editor. I wondered wherein he.differed
from his more decorative brethren of a great daily.
"In many things," commenced Mr. Cahan, with a
Slightly foreign accent, "but chiefly in his opportu
nities for studying humanity direct. In the great
daily the editor Is exactly—an editor. On the east
side he is an editor, a rabbi, a lawgiver, a sympathiser
and a friend. He must be all these, in fact, if he
would be an editor; for the east side is, above all
Mr. Caftan's speech is a duplicate of his appear
ance—e/iger, quick moving, tense.
"First tell me something about the organization of
the typical east side newspaper," 1 said; "something
about its contents and makeup now."
"So far as news is concerned," said Mr. Cahan,
laughing, "I'm afraid we're a rather negligible quan
tity. Our special correspondent is mostly the office
boy, who buyu the last edition from the news .stands.
Ju fact, wi mostly 'lift' what news we print—ul
though we always credit the newspaper wi steal
from," he added, conscientiously.
"You ■ c," be went on, "the most essential point
of difference is necessitated by our readers. Thn
Jewish east side- la more purely literary In his tasto
than the average reader of the American daily. The
Jew Is less Interested In things than In tut
He likes discussions, debates, essays, p
tJjinns, in fai i. which are not news. Sporting page*
(In not Interest him. We, accordingly, carrj each day
a couple of pages of what you would term 'special
articles,' although they arc different kinds of special
s from those which your readers like. We carry
lots of translations of the most, famous for
eign Uterarj work. We carry criticisms and crlti
of our criticisms. In fact, the Jewish reutfei
considers it his particular privilege to criticise orlg
miii articles which we print, to criticise them both
from the 11 Inl of view of the .story and the point of
view of art. lie I d, H trained analytical
Los Angeles Sunday Herald
faculty which trie average American reader does not
"Then, generally, the Journalistic methods are quite
different from those of —the others."
I vaguely Indicated an uptown direction.
"Oh. quite," said Mr. Cahan. smiling, and then, ru
minating, "Where shall I begin?"
The Human Element.
"Well, the great point of difference is the human
one," said Mr. Cahan. "We are brought into more
intimate touch with people than you are. You merely
touch the facts. We have to touch the facts and the
hearts and the minds. We've got to make the east
side people feel Umt they've not only a newspaper, but
that the newspaper is kin to them, part of their lives
and of themselves. In fact," he concluded more col
loquially, "you've got to help your reader out."**
"In such a manner as?"
Mr. Cahan crossed his feet —feet covered with those
elastic sided boots which are as much a part of the
great east side as the strange, mystic characters writ
ten upon the paper between us.
"Well, the gallery of deserting husbands," he vol
unteered. "You see the changed and changing condi
tions of life here tend sometimes to lessen ujoral re
sponsibility. Men desert their wives. The wives
come to us with descriptions and photographs and we
publish them. That's what we call the '(Gallery of
Husbands.' We get letters from all over the country
from people who recognize the men.
"'That fellow's here at such and such an address,'
one will say. Po wo get the husbands. They come
then and state their case. They usually say they can't
live with their wives. -That isn't necessary,' we say,
'but you mustjupporl them.'
"Then wives come." he continued, "who wnnt hus
bands discovered. There was one here yesterday.
She had a pretty little girl with her, four years old.
■Please come back,' she wrote. 'Your little Becky's
here crying for her papa. She sent you these kisses
with her own hand.'
"The child put little crosses at the bottom of the
letter. Then the woman said: —'He's crazy for that
child. When he sees that it'll break his heart!'"
Mr. Cahan rose und looked at bis watch. "I'm
afraid you're rather late," said he.
He looked out of the door. "Between two and four
<■;'.< h day." be continued, "people come here for ad
vice, but I'm afraid they're all jrone today."
There was one woman there, however, shawled.
dark, typical of the east side. Mr. cahan approached
her. The woman spoke eagerly, with little stiff ges
ticulations. Mr. Cahan shook his head. She spoke
again, gesticulated again. Mr. Caban shook his head
more. Then he commenced to speak. He spoke
fur five minutes, perhaps. She listened at lirst with
out any indication of feeling; then, nodding energetic
ally many times, arose and went. Mr. Cahan followed
her to the stairs and called over to her. Shu an
swerod, uoddlng energetically still.
"That woman's husband," said he, "loft her two
igo. She hud not heard from him. He took the
!jisi«i which they hud saved. lie left without a word.
Yesterday he wrote from Argentina, saying that he
wanted her to conic to him. He said that Ik; loved
her aud couldn't do without her. He didn't send any '
money, but she wants to x<>; says she loves him yet.
1 told her not to go."
"Why?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "business isn't very good for the
stranger In Argentina, i>ut there's a large while slave
trade down there. This man may want to traffic
in her. 1 told her that 'If be loves you, 1 I said,
'he'll ho willing to come to you. Tell him you'll for
give him if he cornea hero to yon, bul don't go to
him. If he won't he doesn't love you.' That got her.
So she* going to write its I suggested."
The Family Secrets.
He led the way back Into his little office, with the
Kindle desk and the two chairs to relieve it of its bare
"Another feature which would be novel to die or
dinary American reader Is (lie family discussions
which we print, Tlie.se arc very popular on the east
side. A man and his wife quarrel, for instance. The
uiun wants to give up the store, the wife wants to re
tain it. They can't agree. 'Well, we'll write to the
Forward,' says one, 'and let It judge.' So the man
writes a letter telling his reasons for wanting to give
up the store and the wife writes her reasons for want
ing to keep it. We publish both letters. And the re
markable thing about such letters is that there are
seldom assertions aud almost Invariably arguments.
When the thing hus been thoroughly ventilated we de
cide, and everybody invariably accepts the decision.
The Jew regards his newspaper as Englishmen some
times regard theirs. lie Invests it with some of the
qualities of a pulpit utterance."
"And some of the dramatic problems which you
me called upon to solve as editor and humanitarian
in general?" I asked.
"There was one in particular a few days ago," said
he, without hesitation. "The man was intelligent
aud about forty-five. Ho was poorly dressed. He
came In here to find out whether It was permissible
for him to marry a deaf mute."
"You have a wide scope for advice." I suggested.
"The circumstances were these," continued Mr.
<'ahaii. "The girl was the daughter of a Hebrew
who had succeeded. He was worth about $60,000.
Che daughter, being deaf and mute, found It Impos
sible to marry. The father, wishing to settle her In
life, offered $10,000 with her an a dowry. Here was
the problem of the man who came to me: —
" 'I'm a failure in life,' he said. 'I tried peddling
and failed, i tried keeping a little store and failed.
I tried as salesman and failed. I am very poor. 1
make only $5 a week. There is nothing before me.
Now, here is this $10,000 offered if 1 will only marry
this girl. I feel that I ought to take It. But I have a
doubt In me; so I came to you.'
"Well, we told him that he ought not to take it
'You would not love her,' we said. 'It would be
"He looked on* of the window which you see and
pointed to the thousands of women sitting there In
the park opposite.
" 'Do you mean to say that all those women married
for love? No; they married for homes. They made
marriages of convenience, and yet they are good wives.
The rich do it every day. I would oe a good hus
band—l promise you that—once I married her. Is
not a marriage justified by other things than love? A
man is lonely, say. His nature is becoming warped by
solitude. Is he not justified in marrying for associa
tion? Whether you speak by mouth or fingers—-It Is
the same. Intelligent association is what you need.'
" 'It would be selling yourself.' I insisted. 'You are
marrying her for her $10,000. You are selling yourself
as much as the woman In the street. Failure or no
failure, a man should not sell himself for money.'
"Well, he went away and Bald that lie wouldn't do
It," said Mr. Cahan. "An argument like that might
seem ineffective if used with the ordinary man, but
the Jew of the east side has a very deep feeling of re
sponsibility to his Inmost ideals."
The Book of Life.
Mr. Oahan paused and excused himself for a mo
ment, while he went to another silent, shawled figure
which waited patiently on a chair at the end of the
large room where men wrote at desks. He spoke with
her for five minutes and returned.
"But our most striking feature" he remarked in con
tinuation, "if you like to call it that, is 'The Book of
Life.' It is made of letters from the people, which tell
their problems; speak their tragedies. We print three
•alumni of these a day. We give the people advice if
they want It. It has, perhaps, been due as much to
this as anything that we have grown so. We get thirty
of these letters a day, and select about three from
"How did you induce them to understand wnai
you wanted at first?"
"Well, It was difficult," he answered. "I addressed
a letter to the people in the first place. I said: —'You
have life, (live it to us. There are great tragedies
and comedies of life in your tenement houses. If I
could tear the roofs from them I could see those
tragedies and comedies; but I can't. You must help
me to know.'
"Well, nt first they couldn't understand. They sent
In long letters with those artificial climaxes for
which the magazines have such tender regard—exag
gerated emotions, with no simplicity, no truth. So I
tried again. I wrote a letter myself. It was an arti
ficial ckk In the editorial hencoop to induce the. real
kind. Then the stream commenced to pour in—let
ters throbbing with pain; weighted with the primal
burdena of nien and women—problems of living hu
mnnity written In tears."
Mr. Cahan turned to a file. "Here it is, you see."
He Indicated the page, which to me was an unlntelll
gibillty. "Here is one," he said, formulating the
skeleton of it slowly.
"He loves a girl. He is a cripple. He Is conscious
of his deformity and is ashamed to speak to her. The
others understand and laugh at him so that he Is
ashamed to show himself in the street. He hides
himself in his room. He says that he does not know
what to do. He asks us."
Mr. Cahan'i moving finger passed along.
"Here Is a boarder who lived In a family and quar
relled with the woman. That was a year ago. He
left and started a rumor that she was unfaithful to
her husband. Now his conscience bothers hltn. He
is sorry. 'I hate myself,' he nays. 'I want you to
publish this woman's name and print that I call my
self a liar. This woman was a good woman. I was
only angry and I lied.' "
"In fact," continued Mr. Cahan, "It is remarkable
what a part conscience plays here. There was a letter
the other day from a man who bought some fake
jewelry for v dollar or so and sold it to a woman for
fifty. You know" —Mr. Cahan pantomimed the man
who comes up in the street with the furtive air and the
piece of jewelry concealed beneath his coat. "Well, the
mnn went away and prospered. Now he's worth $10,
--000 and his conscience bothers him. lie wants to find
the woman so that he can give back the $50. He says
that If she will name some little incident connected
with the sale he will send it back. He feels bad."
Mr. Cahan consulted the tiles again.
"Here's a woman who had her watch stolen," he
went on. "She knows the man who stole it. He is her
friend. She likes and respects him. He is a good man
and not a thief, she writes. He wan only tempted,
for he Is very, very poor. She wants him to know that
this is how she feels. She wants her watch back, but
she does not want to hurt his feellngn. Bhc knows he
has pawned It. 'Let him only leave the ticket in some
place In which I can get it,' she says, 'and it will be
all right. Then let him come to me Just as he always
did. Let him not be ashamed. I will not remind him
of it —not in a look or a word. It will be just as if I did
not know. Just let him leave the ticket at the place.'"
He turned over the files. "Here is another one," he
said. "This is from a woman. She and her husband
lived happily up to a year ago. Then he began to con
ceive a suspicion that she was saving money secretly.
He would search In her stockings. He is always on
the hunt for money in unlikely places—places In which
he thinks she might have hidden it. She cannot con
vince him that she is not saving any. It Is a source of
misery to both of them."
He turned over pages, pages—each a chapter In his
Book of Life. "Here is a girl in love with a man
twenty years her 6euior. They were friends in the
old country. They worked together. Her love Is
based upon affection and esteem, but she doubts her
heart. Her head tells her that there is too great a
disparity in ages. Yet she is lonely and sure of hl«
affection. He is so good to her—so tender. .What
shall she do?
"Here is a man who had to fly from Germany. He
is successful here. Yet the yearning is strong in him
to se« the places that he knew when he was young.
He knows that he will be arrested and Imprisoned If
he goes, yet he seems unable to stop himself. He
asks us to help him."
And so Mr. Cahan continued. The dramas of the
lives of the poor came with the prodigality of a ma
gician with a magic hat. There were far more than I
could use. So I told him—this man who had called
them forth—thanked him and went. And as 1 stood
at the head of the stairs I stepped aside for three
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