Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

The best and worst of December 1918: Book talk, strewn violets, a sad loss, and a magazine of the future

2018 is over!

I should have anticipated that this would happen eventually, leaving me with a blog title and tag line that make me look like I can’t do simple arithmetic. When I started this project last January, though, the end of the year seemed so far off that it wasn’t worth thinking about. To the extent that I envisioned 2019 rolling around, I imagined myself luxuriating in all the reading I’d missed out on—diving into the new books that have been waiting on my bookshelf

Photograph of a pile of books

and reading frivolous lifestyle articles, which 1918 was woefully short of. Maybe taking a quiz to find out what Hogwarts house I belong in or what Jane Austen character I resemble.*

What actually happened: I got stuck, like someone in a science fiction story who invents a time machine that breaks down as the dinosaurs are descending. I couldn’t bring myself to read any of those new books, not even the biography of food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, one of my favorite 1918 people. (That’s it at the top of the pile.) I did look at the New York Times headlines on my iPad on New Year’s Day, but they freaked me out. “What is all this news?” I asked myself. “And what does it have to do with me?” So I retreated to the January 1, 1919 news and My Antonia.

It looks like it will take a while. Maybe I’ll read The Waste Land and work my way gradually back to the present.

In the meantime, from my cozy perch in 1918, here are the December bests and worsts.

Best quiz contestants:  

The winners of the “Are You a Stagnuck?” quiz: fellow blogger Deborah Kalb of Books Q&A with Deborah Kalb** and Barbara Dinerman. For their prizes, Deborah has chosen a copy of The Melting of Molly and Barbara has chosen My Antonia. Congratulations to both of these loyal readers! You are not Stagnucks at all. The answers will be posted below the quiz soon. (UPDATE 1/11/2019: You can find them here.)

Best magazine:

Front page header for The Bookman magazine, December 1918

Up to now, four magazines have won the Best Magazine award: The Crisis (three times), The Little Review (twice), The Dial, and The American Journal of Insanity. But the magazine that I turned to most eagerly every month, the one that became my 1918 comfort read, never won the honor. In fact, I came close to naming it Worst Magazine one month, after an ownership change that seemed likely to send it down the tubes.

I’m happy to say that The Bookman’s wonderful December 1918 issue richly deserves the honor.

It began unpromisingly, with a profile of the editor of The Saturday Evening Post and a 15-page article called “The Amazing Story of the Government Printing Office.”*** But then things started looking up, with a Sara Teasdale poem and an interesting article by British war poet Robert Nichols called “To the Young Writers of America,” in which he discusses British taste in American books and vice versa, and notes that up-and-coming poets Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot**** were published in England before they were published in the United States. The highlight for me was when he said that

a certain American poet, come to live among us, antagonized the majority of those who were longing to hear what the real American poets were doing. I will not advertise his name. He does not need my help. He is an adept.

Well, I’ll advertise it: it must be Ezra Pound. I love feeling like a 1918 insider.

Then there was Margaret Ashmun’s Christmas round-up, including several gorgeously illustrated children’s books I mentioned in the 1918 Holiday Shopping Guide,

Harry Clarke illustration from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson, 1916. People in formal dress.

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916)

and a fascinating set of articles on children’s literature around the world by writers from England, France, Holland, Spain, and Scandinavia. I was so riveted by the history of children’s books in the Netherlands that I looked up the writer, Hendrik Willem van Loon, who turns out to be the author of The Story of Mankind, which won the first-ever Newbery Award in 1921.

Illustration from Twin Travellers in South America by Mary H. Wade. Boy and girl outside house with parrot.

Frontispiece, Twin Travellers in South America, by Mary H. Wade

In an article about children’s holiday books, Annie Carroll Moore test-drives them on an actual child, nine-year-old Edouard–an ingenious gimmick in an era when gimmicks were sorely lacking.

“Twin Travellers in South America” looked promising but failed to hold his interest for more than a hasty glance at the pictures. “I think my teacher would like that book because it seems like a geography trying to be a story.”*****

And there’s a review of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons by H.W. Boynton, who feels exactly as I do about it:

I take pleasure in the book, I suspect, because it covers vividly the range of my own generation and yields the atmosphere of and color of that “middle distance” which, as one emerges from it, is wont to be as blurred and insignificant to the backward eye. And I close the book with the queer feeling that everything about it is true except the central figure.

He reviews My Antonia too, but I’m saving that until I finish the book.

Okay, enough Bookman love–on to rest of the best (and worst).

Worst loss to criticism

Portrait photograph of Randolph Bourne.

Randolph Bourne, date unknown

One of the highlights of my 1918 reading has been Randolph Bourne’s criticism in The Dial. He was modern without (like Ezra Pound) descending into incoherence, hard-headed without (like H.L. Mencken) crossing the line to nastiness. At 32, he had a bright future ahead of him. Or he would have, if he hadn’t fallen victim, after suffering from chronic health problems and disabilities throughout his life, to the influenza epidemic. He died on December 22, 1918.  His last essay for The Dial, published on December 28, was a rapturous review of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians. It ends as follows:

The book runs over with good things. One closes it with a new sense of the delicious violence of sheer thought. If there were more Gideons like this, at the sound of such trumpets all the walls of the Victorian Jerichos would certainly fall.

I wish he had lived to leave us his thoughts on the explosion of literary talent that would emerge after the war.

On a more cheerful note…

Best nostalgia-inducing headline:

President Wilson arrives in France, and the crowds go wild. Like, strewn violets wild. Sigh.

New York Times headline, December 15, 1918, Two Million Cheer Wilson. Includes subhead Flowers Strew His Path.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

Best Christmas present:

Because what says “Christmas” better than not executing someone for exercising their First Amendment rights?

December 17, 1918 New York Times story President Saves Soldier. Wilson commutes death sentence for disobeying orders.

New York Times, December 17, 1918

Worst Christmas present:

Because what says “Red Cross” better than a basket of tobacco?

December 10, 1918 New York Times story about Red Cross workers giving baskets of ciagrettes to returning soldiers.

New York Times, December 10, 1918

Best judicial decision:

Most 1918 judicial decisions were pretty appalling, but I can get behind Johnson v. Johnson.

December 16, 1918 New York Times item about judge ruling that wife's refusal to cook meals does not justify assault.

New York Times, December 16, 1918

Worst praise for a leader during a political campaign:

Excerpt from December 15, 1918 New York Times story saying Lloyd George was called a real spark of radium at a meeting.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

Best sinister stratagem:

Cordiality! Those dastards!

December 15, 1918 New York Times headline reading in part Germans' Cordiality to Army Believed to be a Peace Strategem.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

Worst journalistic flat-footedness:

World War I, as you undoubtedly know, ended on November 11, 1918. Some monthly magazines were on it, like The Crisis

Editorial page of The Crisis, December 1918, with editorial titled Peace.

and Poetry.

First page of Poetry Magazine, December 1918, with poem titled Peace.

Others missed the boat. The Atlantic Monthly was full of war articles with titles like “Morale” and “Impressions of the Fifth Year.”  St. Nicholas published its monthly update on how the war was going, with one line at the top saying, oh, wait, we won.

Header in December 1918 St. Nicholas with sentence announcing the war is over.

St. Nicholas, December 1918

And if you look closely at these festive stamps in the Ladies’ Home Journal to paste onto your letter to your boy or girl in service

Page of stickers in December 1918 Ladies' Home Journal.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1918

you’ll find this

Sticker reading 1919 on the Kaiser's Chest with picture of happy sailors sitting on a chest.

and this.

Sticker reading It's war this Christmas, but wait till next year.

Best caption on an illustration:

Phillisy sidled up to her Aunt Marion, intent on a Red Cross sweater. “So,” she asked, “can people come alive when they’re dead?”

Illustration from December 1918 Sunset magazine. Woman knitting outdoros with girl standing next to her.

Sunset, December 1918

Best cartoons:

I love both of these Christmas-Eve-in-the-village scenes by Johnny Gruelle of Judge (the creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy) and Harrison Cady at rival humor magazine Life.

December 28, 1918 Johnny Gruelle Life cover titled Christmas Eve at Yapp's Crossing.

Judge, December 28, 1918

December 5, 1918 Harrison Cady Life illustration showing snowy village.

Life, December 5, 1918

Curious about who drew this charming Life cartoon, I blew it up to to 800% of its size and managed to read the signature: Rea Irvin, who later became a New Yorker cartoonist and created the magazine’s mascot, Eustace Tilley.

Rea Irvin cartoon in Life, December 5, 1918. Butler bringing lump of coal on tray into living room.

Life, December 5, 1918

Worst cartoon:

With the Huns out of the picture, the cartoonists need a new scary-looking villain. Sounds like a job for…the Bolsheviki!

Judge cartoon, December 7, 1918 showing monstrous man about to attack little boy with caption about Bolsheviki.

Judge, December 7, 1918

Best ad (magazine)

Murad generally owns this category******

1918 Murad cigarette ad showing Santa with giant box of Murads in his sack.

Life, December 19, 1918

but is edged out this month by rival Turkish cigarette Helmar.

1918 Helmar cigarette ad saying Helmar Turkish cigarettes with each letter colored with a country's flag.

Judge, December 28, 1918

Best ad (newspaper)

Newspaper ads are rarely interesting, but I did like this one. I’m unclear on the purpose of the electric vibrator that the woman on the right in the second row is using on her head.

1918 ad for New York Edison titled Give Something Electric with cartoons of people using electrical appliances.

New York Times, December 20, 1918

Worst ad:

In another month it might have been this,

1918 ad for Restgood mattress with headline Curled Hair: The Natural Mattress Filler.

Sunset, December 1918

or this,

1918 ad for Radioc with headline Radium and Hair Health.

New York Times, December 17, 1918

but this was the month of

1918 Nashua Woolnap ad showing child in bed aiming rifle at owl.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1918

so it was no contest.

Best magazine covers:

There was surprisingly little Yuletide festiveness on the December magazine covers, perhaps due to bet-hedging on the war.

Vogue upheld its usual high standard with two beautiful covers.

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, December 15, 1918. Woman reclining on bed with colorful cushions in front of open window.

Vogue, December 15, 1918

Vogue 1918 Christmas Gifts number cover. Woman on Juliet balcony waving garlands.

Vogue Christmas Gifts Number, 1918

Erté finally turned up again after several months of covers that are lost to history, or at least to the internet.*******

Erté December 1918 Harper's Bazar cover illustration, woman in pink coat in snow.

Harper’s Bazar cover illustration, December 1918, Erté

House and Garden featured this snowy scene.

House and Garden December 1918 cover illustration. Gray house with pink roof, footprints in snow.

Artist William Edouard Scott was back with another luminous painting on the cover of The Crisis.

The Crisis December 1918 cover. William Edouard Scott painting The Flight into Egypt. Black family next to river with lamp.

And I loved this Vanity Fair cover,

Vanity Fair December 1918 cover, colorful cartoon of crowd of happy soldiers.

which might have won, but then I remembered this Dada 3 cover, which was featured in the post on my sad 1918 love life. With the war over, it’s a new era, with a new, sometimes anarchic, aesthetic emerging. And nothing looks more like that future than

Cover of Dada 3, December 1918 with caption reading Je ne veux meme pas savoir s'il y a eu des hommes avant moi.

On to…1919!!!!!!

*Although I don’t need to; I know I’m a Ravenclaw and, like everyone else, Lizzie.

**You should check out her website, which features interviews with a huge number of authors (although none from 1918).

***Which, it turns out, is so amazing that the story continues in the January 1919 issue.

****What The Bookman had to say about Eliot under the previous ownership: “There is such a display of cynical cleverness in the verse of T.S. Eliot that I think he might be able to write almost anything except poetry.”

*****Edouard was right. A sample of the twins’ childish prattle: “‘Why, that must be a mataco,’ he said. ‘It’s a kind of armadillo. See, it has rolled itself into a ball for safety. Matacos always do that when they think danger is near. With its head hidden and its jointed shell curled around, it now feels quite safe.'”

******Fun fact: cartoonist Rea Irvin was a Murad illustrator.

*******I couldn’t find an undamaged copy of the actual cover–this is a reproduction of the illustration.

 

New review on the Book List:

December 31: Renascence and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1917).

America at war: Suddenly, it’s real

I didn’t learn much about World War I in school. It was the seventies, and there was a backlash underway against the rote memorization of battle dates and that sort of thing. It was all about cause and effect. One day we’d be learning about Archduke Ferdinand and the alliances, and the next day the teacher would say, “Now, after the Allied victory…” We’d say, “Wait, what about the war?” and the teacher would ask us if we really wanted to learn about a bunch of battles. We’d say no and that would be that—on to Versailles.

So my vague impression was that the Americans came in in 1917 and gave new energy to the exhausted Allies, who won fairly quickly. A month of reading the 1918 news set me straight. As depicted in the press, the early stage of the American war effort was a colossal screw-up. American soldiers in France, short on weapons and supplies, did little but consume scarce food supplies and—judging from the humor magazines—hit on French women.*

Judge magazine, February 9, 1918

The Wilson administration’s handling of the war was universally regarded as inept. The New Republic said in its January 19 issue that “any friend of the administration who fails at the present time to speak frankly about the effect produced by the breakdown of management of the war upon the state of mind of the public is doing to President Wilson a most indifferent service.” The fuel shortage, it said, is creating a sense that the country is “helplessly drifting into a succession of similar crises, which if they are allowed to develop will continue to paralyze American ability to assist our Allies and do harm to Germany, and which will react balefully on the morale of the nation.” And that’s what the administration’s friends were saying! (New Republic founding editor Walter Lippmann was serving as an aide to Secretary of War Newton Baker.)

Senator George Chamberlain, 1904

Congress was so fed up that Republican Senator George Chamberlain introduced a bill to reorganize the government’s conduct of the war through the establishment of a War Council with sweeping powers, accountable only to the President. “The military establishment of America has fallen down,” Chamberlain said in a January 20 speech, because of “inefficiency in every bureau and department of the Government of the United States.”  The New Republic denounced this “crude, ill considered, and indefensible measure,” but said that, if Wilson didn’t come up with better structures for the conduct of the war, “the existing mechanism will continue to creak, and groan and exasperate its victims.”

As January ended and February began, though, American soldiers completed their training and moved to the front lines. A Times correspondent reported that, as they did so, “Every man was happy just because he was going to fight at last, and as the regiments marched along the men sang joyously until they reached a point where all further operations were carried out in complete silence.”

On January 30, there was heavy shelling on an American position on the French front. Two soldiers were killed and one was captured. The Associated Press interviewed one of the wounded, a sandy-haired youth from Bismarck, North Dakota, who “said with a smile to the correspondent, ‘Did you ever hear of such bad luck? Now I’ve got a piece bit out of my leg by a shell splinter…believe me, if I ever get back to that line again—well, all I want is another chance.”

SS Tuscania, 1914

Then, on February 5, the SS Tuscania, a British ship transporting American soldiers across the Atlantic, was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk in the Irish Sea. The British and American governments were slow to produce casualty lists, and relatives waited anxiously for days. Among them were the cartoonist Richard F. Outcault, creator of Buster Brown and the Yellow Kid, and his wife. “I am expecting hourly to hear from Dick,” Mrs. Outcault told the New York Times, “and I expect to get news soon. He is a level-headed boy, and I am sure he knew how to take care of himself in an emergency.” Richard F. Outcault, Jr., was among the survivors. 210 other families were not so lucky.

The strange air of unreality was gone. America was at war.

*UPDATE 4/1/2019: Remember when I promised to make mistakes? This is one of them. First of all, the soldier is French. And he’s not hitting on the women–one of them is his marraine, or (honorary) godmother. Marraines served as substitute mothers to soldiers without families or whose families were out of reach in German-occupied areas.

The 14 Points: I flunk a pop quiz

President Wilson’s speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, outlining the Fourteen Points—his statement of principles for peace—took Washington by surprise. There was barely enough time for the House and Senate to make arrangements for a joint session. I, on the other hand, knew it was coming, and for the first time My Year in 1918 felt like homework. I decided I might as well turn it into actual homework, and I gave myself a pop quiz: how many of the points could I remember? You can do this too! Just get a piece of paper, write down the numbers 1 to 14, and give it a go!

No? Okay, here they are:

  1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at.
  2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas.
  3. The removal of economic barriers and establishment of equal trade conditions.
  4. Reduction of armaments.
  5. Free, open-minded, and impartial adjustment of colonial claims.
  6. The evacuation (by the Germans) of all Russian territory.
  7. The evacuation of Belgium.
  8. The restoration of French territory, including Alsace-Lorraine.
  9. A readjustment of Italy’s borders along the lines of nationality.
  10. Autonomy for the peoples of Austria-Hungary.
  11. The evacuation of Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro.
  12. Sovereignty for the Turkish people and autonomy for other peoples under Turkish rule.
  13. An independent Polish state.
  14. A general association of nations.

Here’s what I managed to come up with:

Not very impressive, especially since I was a government major. 32 percent! But I did get some key principles right. On second thought, flunking seems kind of harsh. I’ll bump my grade up to a D+.

If President Wilson hadn’t forced my hand, I would have waited a while to write about World War I. I’m starting to get the gist of what was going on—mostly, totally chaos in Russia—but it’s so complicated. When I was in school, World War I was treated like World War II: The Prequel. A slightly different line-up of combatants, a less morally clear-cut conflict. Afterwards, I read about the tremendous human cost of the war in books like Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. But I never understood the war itself very well.

Here, then, are some early thoughts. On the one hand, the American press is completely consumed by the war. Children’s magazines explain the intricacies of U-boat fighting. Women’s magazines talk about doing your bit by cutting down on butter and sugar. (I’m not sure exactly how this helps.) There’s a war-related illustration on almost every magazine cover.

On the other hand, there’s a tremendous sense of confusion and ambivalence. What exactly are we fighting for, and why? There’s lots of carping in the press about the ineffectiveness of the Allied forces. A few days before Wilson’s address, British Prime Minister Lloyd George gave a speech to trade unionists that struck me more as an effort to maintain the loyalty of his people than as a rallying cry. In this context, Wilson’s speech seems as much a justification for the war as a path to peace.

It will be interesting to see how people in 1918 respond to the 14 points. In the meantime, I’d better brush up on my European geography. You never know when there’s going to be another quiz!