The Old Subscriber by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: EssayAt this season of the year, we are forcibly struck with the earnest and honest effort that is being made by the publisher of the American newspaper. It i …

Story type: Essay

At this season of the year, we are forcibly struck with the earnest and honest effort that is being made by the publisher of the American newspaper. It is a healthy sign and a hopeful one for the future of our country. It occurs to me that with the great advancement of the newspaper, and the family paper, and the magazine, we do not expect leaders and statesmen to think for us so much as we did fifty years ago. We do not allow the newspaper to mold us so much as we did. We enjoy reading the opinion of a bright, brave, and cogent editor because we know that he sits where he can acquire his facts in a few hours from all quarters of the globe, and speak truly to his great audience in relation to those facts, but we have ceased to allow even that man to think for us.

What then is to be the final outcome of all this? Is it not that the average American is going to use, and is using, his thinker more than he ever did before? Will not that thinker then, like the muscle of the blacksmith’s arm, or the mule’s hind foot, grow to a wondrous size as a result? Most assuredly.

The day certainly is not far distant, when the American can not only out-fight, out-row, out-bat, out-run, out-lie, and out-sail all other nationalities; but he will also be able to out-think them. We already point with pride to some of the wonderful thoughts that our leading thinkists, with their thinkers, have thunk. There are native born Americans now living, who have thought of things that would make the head of the amateur thinker ache for a week.

All this is largely due to the free use of the newspaper as a home educator. The newspaper is growing more and more ubiquitous, if I may be allowed the expression. Many poor people, who, a few years ago, could not afford the newspaper, now have it scolloped and put it on their pantry shelves every year.

But I did not start out to enlarge upon the newspaper. I would like to say a word or two more, however, on that general subject. Very often we hear some wise man with the responsibility of the universe on his shoulders, the man who thinks he is the censor of the human race now, and that he will be foreman of the grand jury on the Judgment Day–we hear this kind of man say every little while:

“We’ve got too many papers. We are loaded down with reading matter. Can’t read all my paper every day. Lots of days I throw my paper aside before I get it all read through, and never have a chance to finish it. All that is dead loss.”

It is, of course, a dead loss to that kind of a man. He is the kind of man that expects his family to begin at one side of the cellar and eat right straight across, it–cabbages, potatoes, turnips, pickles, apples, pumpkins, etc., etc.,–without stopping to discriminate. There are none too many papers, so far as the subscriber is concerned. Looking at it from the publisher’s standpoint sometimes, there are too many.

To the man who has inherited too large, wide, sinewy hands, and a brain that under the microscope looks like a hepatized lung, it seems some days as though the field had been over-crowded when he entered it. To the young man who was designed to maul rails or sock the fence-post into the bosom of the earth, and who has evaded that sphere of action and disregarded the mandate to maul rails, or to take a coal-pick and toy with the bowels of the earth, hoping to win an easier livelihood by feeding sour paste to village cockroaches, and still poorer pabulum to his subscribers, the newspaper field seems to be indeed jam full.

But not so the man who is tall enough to see into the future about nine feet. He still remembers that he must live in the hearts of his subscribers, and he makes their wants his own. He is not to proud to listen to suggestions from the man who works. He recognizes that it is not the man with the diamond-mounted stomach who has contributed most to his success, but the man who never dips into society much with the exception of his family, perhaps, and that ought to be good society. A man ought not to feel too good to associate with his wife and children. Generally my sympathies are with his wife and children, if they have to associate with him very much.

But if I could ever get down to it, I would like to say a word on behalf of the old subscriber. Being an old subscriber myself, I feel an interest in his cause; and as he rarely rushes into print except to ask why the police contrive to keep aloof from anything that might look like a fight, or to inquire why the fire department will continue year after year to run through the streets killing little children who never injured the department in any way, just so that they will be in time to chop a hole in the roof of a house that is not on fire, and pour some water down into the library, then whoop through an old tin dipper a few times and go away–as the old subscriber does not generally say much in print except on the above subjects, I make bold to say on his behalf that as a rule, he is not treated half as well as the prodigal son, who has been spending his substance on a rival paper, or stealing his news outright from the old subscriber.

Why should we pat the new subscriber on the back, and give him a new album that will fall to pieces whenever you laugh in the same room? Why should you forget the old love for the new? Do we not often impose on the old subscriber by giving up the space he has paid for to flaming advertisements to catch the coy and skittish gudgeon who still lurks outside the fold? Do we not ofttimes offer a family Bible for a new subscriber when an old subscriber may be in a lost and undone state?

Do we not again and again offer to the wife of our new subscriber a beautiful, plain gold ring, or a lace pin for a year’s subscription and $1, while the wife of our old subscriber is just in the shank of a long, hard, cold winter, without a ring or a pin to her back?

We ought to remember that the old subscriber came to us with his money when we most needed it. He bore with us when we were new in the business, and used such provincialisms as “We have saw” and “If we had knew.” He bore with us when the new column rules were so sharp that they chawed the paper all up, and the office was so cold, waiting for wood to come in on subscription, that the “color” was greasy and reluctant. He took our paper and paid for it, while the new subscriber was in the penitentiary for all we know. He made a mild kick sometimes when he “didn’t git his paper reggler;” but he paid on the first day of January every year in advance, out of an old calfskin wallet that opened out like a concertina, and had a strap that went around it four times, and looked as shiny, and sweaty, and good-natured as the razor-strop that might have been used by Noah.

The old subscriber never asked any rebate, or requested a prize volume of poetry with a red cover, because he had paid for another year; but he simply warmed his numb fingers, so that he could loosen his overalls and lower one side enough to let his hand into the pocket of his best pantaloons underneath, and there he always found the smooth wallet, and inside of it there was always a $2 bill, that had been put there to pay for the paper. Then the old subscriber would warm his hands some more, ask “How’s tricks?” but never begin to run down the paper, and then he would go away to work for another year.

I want to say that this country rests upon a great, solid foundation of old, paid-up subscribers. They are the invisible, rock-ribbed resting-place for the dazzling superstructure and the slim and peaked spire. Whether we procure a new press or a new dress, a new contributor or a new printers’ towel, we must bank on the old subscriber; for the new one is fickle, and when some other paper gives him a larger or a redder covered book, he may desert our standard. He yearns for the flesh-pots and the new scroll saws of other papers. He soon wearies of a uniformly good paper, with no chance to draw a town lot or a tin mine–in Montana.

Let us, therefore, brethren of the press, cling to the old subscriber as he has clung to us. Let us say to him, on this approaching Christmas Eve, “Son, thou art always with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, that this, thy brother, who had been a subscriber for our vile contemporary many years, but is alive again, and during a lucid interval has subscribed for our paper; but, after all, we would not go to him if we wanted to borrow a dollar. Remember that you still have our confidence, and when we want a good man to indorse our note at the bank, you will find that your name in our memory is ever fresh and green.”

Looking this over, I am struck with the amount of stuff I have successfully said, and yet there is a paucity of ideas. Some writers would not use the word paucity in this place without first knowing the meaning of it, but I am not that way. There are thousands of words that I now use freely, but could not if I postponed it until I could learn their meaning. Timidity keeps many of our authors back, I think. Many are more timid about using big words than they are about using other people’s ideas.

A friend of mine wanted to write a book, but hadn’t the time to do it. So he asked me if I wouldn’t do it for him. He was very literary, he said, but his business took up all his time, so I asked him what kind of a book he wanted. He said he wanted a funny book, with pictures in it and a blue cover. I saw at once that he had fine literary taste and delicate discrimination, but probably did not have time to give it full swing. I asked him what he thought it would be worth to write such a book. “Well,” he said, he had always supposed that I enjoyed it myself, but if I thought I ought to have pay besides, he would be willing to pay the same as he did for his other writing–ten cents a folio.

He is worth $50,000, because he has documentary evidence to show that a man who made that amount out of deceased hogs, had the misfortune to be his father and then die.

It was a great triumph to be born under such circumstances, and yet the young man lacks the mental stamina necessary to know how to successfully eat common mush and milk in such a low key that will not alarm the police.

I use this incident more as an illustration than anything else. It illustrates how anything may be successfully introduced into an article of this kind without having any bearing whatever upon it.

I like to close a serious essay, or treatise, with some humorous incident, like the clown in the circus out West last summer, who joked along through the performance all the afternoon till two or three children went into convulsions, and hypochondria seemed to reign rampant through the tent. All at once a bright idea struck him. He climbed up on the flying trapeze, fell off, and broke his neck. He was determined to make that audience laugh, and he did it at last. Every one felt repaid for the trouble of going to the circus.

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