From other people’s work I must return to my own. As is Fleet Street
compared with Hyde Park, so is journalism with the authorship of more
To would-be scribblers I would say journalism is a bagatelle in
comparison with the production of a book. The main axiom for a book is
_Write what you know about_. If you live with dukes, don’t write about
the slums. If you live in the slums, don’t write of dukes.
Don’t write unless you have something to say. For the papers, matter is
more important than style. Aim at telling something interesting in an
interesting way. Keep it short and crisp and to the point. Never mind
rejection. Introductions to editors are of no avail. They generally
retard. Work of merit always finds its niche, so peg away till you get
the right thing and fit it into the right corner.
A journalist requires no equipment but a quick perception of men and
matters, a desire for information, and a belief that what interests her
may interest someone else. A journalist is obliged to look ahead:
Someone is reported very ill—collect facts for an obituary notice.
A picture promises to become successful—have an account of the artist
and his work ready for press.
An actor is producing a new play—try to learn something about the play,
and any little incident of its production.
One used to write of things that had been; but since all this Yankee
journalism has come in, one has to anticipate things that _are_ to be.
Weddings are described to-day before the marriage ceremony even takes
[Illustration: MRS. ALEC TWEEDIE’S WRITING TABLE]
It is a bad sign of the times, but that is modern journalism. A
journalist’s is a hard and anxious life and often ill-paid; but
here, at least, men and women can earn equal wages, and have equal
chances. Nearly all the papers except _The Times_ now have women on
Just as an actor adopts various disguises, so it is amusing to remember
how many pseudonyms have been the different masks which have helped
me, as other journalists, to attract the attention of the public. The
public loves variety. It would never, never pay to appear always as the
same old stager.
Journalists must turn their hand to anything, at any time, and in any
way. Sometimes I wrote as a man, sometimes as an old lady, comparing
the past with the present. For instance, the “Elderly Scribe” became
“A Girl at the Drawing-room,” under which heading a long article once
appeared in a leading paper, describing my imaginary thrills as an
American _débutante_ at the first Court of King Edward VII.
I think it was in the _Pall Mall Gazette_:
“Although I am an American, a Republican and all that sort of
thing, I must own I dearly love a ceremony, adore a title, and was
prepared for wild enthusiasm at a Court function. I crossed the
Atlantic all in a quiver of excitement to know whether I should
receive a card or not, because on that would depend our tearing off
to Paris to get a Court dress.
“Oh, the joy and excitement on opening a big envelope, without a
stamp, with a purple die-mark in one corner, bearing the mysterious
words, ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Office’! There was nothing grand
whatever about the card, just a great, big, plain invitation:
“‘The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by their Majesties to invite
Miss American to a Court to be held at Buckingham Palace on Friday,
June 6, 1902, at 10 o’clock p.m.’
“‘Full dress, ladies with feathers and trains.’
“Hugging the much-prized card to my heart, I skipped about the room
practising that bow, or curtsey, or bob, or whatever they like to
call it, that I had been rehearsing for weeks in my own mind, so as
to be ready for the great event.
“We went to Paris and ordered the dress, which I dare say would
have been just as well made in England, only somehow it sounds
smarter to cross the Channel for it. The four yards of wonderful
train of glistening, sheeny, silvery stuff was made and ready, the
three white plumes, the long tulle veil and white gloves were all
on my bed waiting, and I was just wild with excitement. I wanted to
get dressed at breakfast-time, but as the Court did not begin until
10 p.m., the family decided that was rather too early, although I
really did have my head done soon after lunch, as the hairdresser
came then to perform upon it. He had so many engagements for Court
heads, he had to dress it then or not at all. He did it up in
the most wonderful manner, frizzed it and curled it, the greater
part of the coiffure being, however, low on my neck, as that, he
declared, was more becoming with the tulle veil. When he had done
he placed the three white feathers conspicuously in front, and
twisted the tulle in and out of the curls. A long strand of tulle,
which was finally to hang down my back, he folded up and pinned in
a bob on the top of my head, so that it might not inconvenience me
during the many hours that intervened before I went to Buckingham
“They say that seven thousand people are still waiting for
invitations; if they only knew how lovely it all was they would be
more anxious even than they now are, for it was a veritable dream
of splendour, gorgeousness, and magnificence, such as my youthful
mind had never conceived possible.
“We left home early, and when we arrived at St. James’s Park about
half-past eight, a line of carriages was already before us, but
as the doors were not opened till nine we had to wait our turn.
Gradually that procession of carriages moved on; we did not draw up
in front of Buckingham Palace, which I know so well from the road,
but drove right into a courtyard at the back, a regular quadrangle,
round the four sides of which a brilliant row of gas-jets was
shining. The Royal folk wisely live in these more secluded portions
of the Palace, and their private rooms overlook the gardens, which
are lovely and contain a lake, instead of looking on to the public
part of St. James’s Park.
“There was a great wide stairway with red carpet, beyond which
was the cloakroom, and once having struggled through that, my
chaperone straightened me out and shook my train, telling me I
looked ‘just sweet,’ a very consoling remark in my flutter of
excitement. She then gave me my train back over my arm, and we were
ready. Four yards of Court train were pretty heavy, I found; for
although it was shining silver outside, it was lined with white
satin (_débutantes_’ dresses are always white), and there was an
interlining to make it stand out as I passed before the King and
Queen. Then I had a bouquet too, which seemed to grow very heavy
before the evening was over, and I envied those ladies who had come
without such floral adjuncts.
“Continuing our journey up the staircase we gave up our cards of
invitation at the top, and I passed into a room at the left—my
chaperone passing on to the big ballroom at once.
“The great State ballroom at Buckingham Palace is a magnificent
chamber; it is an immensely long saloon, probably about a hundred
and fifty feet, which looks out on the gardens. A friend we met
there said that the kitchens were underneath, and that this wing
was only added in 1850, when more space was found necessary.
“Our friend told us that all the rooms had been redecorated. They
were certainly perfectly beautiful—such lovely brocaded walls and
wonderful curtains, lots of pictures, many of which they said were
priceless; and one thing struck me as particularly strange: the
magnificent glass chandeliers and candelabra. We never have such
things in America; but they were simply gorgeous with incandescent
lights shining behind their prismatic colours. The Palace was
literally banked with flowers and the air scented with their
“There were lots of gorgeous servants everywhere with red liveries
emblazoned with gold. Most of them wore white silk stockings
and black shoes with buckles. There were endless officials from
the Lord Chamberlain’s Office in dark blue uniforms with gold
embroidery. There were some of the most delightful old men
possible, who, they said, were Beefeaters, and had come from
the Tower of London in all their magnificence to assist at the
Court at Buckingham Palace. Numbers of men were there in black
velvet or cloth, with steel buttons, little white lace frills,
silk stockings, and a sword, probably the most becoming costume
a modern man ever wore, and there were many wonderful uniforms
with breasts ablaze with Orders and medals. These gentlemen were
specially favoured and allowed to go with their women-folk, but,
of course, they were not presented. A man is only presented to the
King at a Levée, and when at a Court and their ladies pass the
Royal Presence, the men disappear and join them in a later room.
Then there were beautiful men of the Body Guard, all gentlemen of
importance, who wore splendid uniforms and big brass helmets. There
are only forty-eight in this Royal guard, so most of them were
present, and I was sorry for them standing on show in their heavy
clothes for hours and hours. At the last Court one of them fainted
twice, they say.
“It was all so beautiful I hardly know how to describe it. At the top
of the staircase was the hall, which was lovely. Hundreds of ladies
were there before us, and nearly all of them had seats. Some of the
elderly ladies thought the seats were not comfortable, but there seemed
to be banks of long sofas with gilt legs and red cushions, which formed
a welcome resting-place and an opportunity for laying down the weight
of one’s train. That train made me feel awfully grand, ‘quite too
utterly too, too,’ in fact; but, oh dear, it was heavy.
“King Edward and Queen Alexandra arrived exactly at twenty minutes
past ten. By this time we had been in the Palace about an hour. They
entered at the top end of the big hall or concert-hall, and stood on
a red velvet carpet—not on a dais—facing the organ-loft, where the
band played at intervals. Behind them were two thrones, but they stood
for one hour and a quarter while the _débutantes_ and mothers passed,
and each bowed separately to each woman or Indian Prince who passed.
The Royal pair often talked to one another, and seemed to be enjoying
themselves. The Indian Princes over for the Coronation were wonderful.
One man in gold and cream brocade wore gorgeous jewels and a ruby as
big as a florin; another was dressed in a sort of dressing-gown with
diamond buttons of enormous size; another wore a wonderful green and
gold sash, which fastened in a big bow in front over his portly form.
They were certainly a great addition to a magnificent spectacle.
“We _débutantes_ passed through the bottom of the long hall—up the
corridor at the side, where I saw our Ambassador (the only man in
plain clothes), where our trains were let down by someone belonging
to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, before re-entering the ballroom;
he seemed to be quite accustomed to that sort of thing, and spread
them out most neatly over the highly polished floor. I was feeling
all in a flutter when an official asked me for my card, which had
somehow got mixed up with my handkerchief and my bouquet; but I
managed to extricate it for him, and he roared my name out very
loudly as I entered the Royal Presence. I felt I should like to
catch hold of His Majesty’s hand as I made my curtsey, but I pulled
myself together and just had time to realise what a nice kind face
the King had, and how pleasantly he smiled, before walking a couple
of steps further and repeating my low obeisance to that beautiful
and lovely woman Queen Alexandra.
“Oh dear, how I wished I could stop and look at her for five
minutes instead of making my oft-rehearsed curtsey and getting out
of the way in five seconds. She looked perfectly charming, and it
seemed quite impossible to believe that those were her daughters
beside her. She did not seem to be any older than I am myself; her
auburn hair she wears in a fringe almost down to her eyebrows,
and it is all very neat and tight and well arranged. On her head
she wore a little crown of diamonds, encircled by a larger tiara.
It was not a great big crown, such as the peeresses are going to
wear at the Coronation in a few days’ time, but just a dear little
shining circlet looking eminently regal. Somebody said she was not
going to wear the crown that all the Queen Consorts have worn at
former coronations, but is having one made all for herself, and
the Koh-i-noor, the famous diamond, is to be mounted in it. The
late Queen had this famous diamond cut and wore it as a brooch.
So, although it is only half its original size, it is much more
beautiful and valuable now. The Queen was dressed in white satin
with golden fleurs-de-lis embroidered all over it. Her train was of
gold, lined with Royal crimson velvet, and in the procession it was
carried by two pages.
“What masses of jewels she wore. Round her neck she seemed to have
about a dozen necklaces of pearls and diamonds; great long strings
of pearls reaching down to her waist. They all suited her, and she
has the most delightful figure and most winning smile of anyone
I ever saw—in fact, it was worth while coming all the way from
America just to look at England’s Queen.
“The presentation was all too quick, the exciting moment had come
and gone, and when I found I was out of the room, another of those
grand gentlemen caught my train on his stick and in some wonderful
manner turned it over my arm, and I sailed away, my presentation
accomplished. The arrangements were excellent; of course, there
had been some difficulty about trains or no trains, but it had
been decided that everyone was to wear a train, although only
_débutantes_ passing immediately before their Majesties were
required to let them down at this evening Court early after the
death of Queen Victoria.
“Perhaps the most beautiful part of the Court was the passing of
the Royal procession through the galleries on their way to supper.
I was not flurried then as I was on presentation, so I could just
stand and see the regal party pass without personal emotion. The
King looks every inch a King in his dark blue uniform, wearing, of
course, that blue ribbon which they call the Order of the Garter.
First of all came the King and Queen, followed by their daughters,
the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, the Mistress of the Robes, and
a host of others. They walked very slowly, and the Queen, who had
no bouquet, bowed delightfully to everyone, as she passed through
those vast rooms. Oh dear! Oh dear! It was lovely, and I am sorry
it is over, for it was more lovely than anything I could ever have
conjured up in my wildest dreams.”
Most useful proved my own experiences at such functions as
Drawing-rooms, and my favourite adage as to journalism came into play,
viz. Write of what you know.
But how, some timid minds may object, can a working-woman still afford
to go to Court? Suffice it to say that one originally handsome gown of
wealthier days served me, its wearer, several times to make my curtseys
I should not have attended so often in the ordinary way, but going
so much abroad as I did, it was advisable. There one’s reception at
Court is of use, for, after all, foreigners are unable to judge one’s
social position from one’s appearance, some of the worst scamps seeming
the most ideal on the surface, therefore a pass-word, such as having
“been to Court”—which means so little in England—counts for something
across the water. I always wore a train, that once belonged to my
great-grandmother. It ought to know its way to Buckingham Palace by
now. Strangely enough, that old _chiné_ silk (it must be between one
hundred and a hundred and fifty years old) has a stripe of soft grey
between wider stripes of beautiful mellowed flowers. It is exactly
the same kind of thing that is so fashionable to-day. History repeats
itself even in silk, and those dull _chiné_ ribbons and dull _chiné_
silks are but reproductions of those worn by our great-grandmothers.
Royalty and really great folk—that is great-minded people in high
places—do not carp at the clothes of those whose work in life is harder
than showing off new and expensive dresses. Thank goodness, the days
are long dead when writers were supposed to exist on the sufferance of
publishers, to be always ragged, in debt, or to fawn on patrons and
live in Grub Street.
Still, this is forestalling the account of my laborious, weary time
before achieving anything, so it must be put down in faithful warning
that “good times” have to be worked and waited for.
I often wonder now how I lived through those first years of hardship,
paying off debts, working often ten hours a day with the constant goal
of making an income and achieving success.
Poverty or ambition are the only stepping-stones to attainment.
Perseverance did it, and bed. On and on I pegged. Wrote and re-wrote
some things several times over, while others were not even corrected.
Worked with throbbing eyes and weary brain—I’ve always been more or
less a teetotaller, but it wasn’t that which helped me—it was bed.
Never a good sleeper at any time, I crept off to bed as early as
possible, and even if I did not sleep, I rested my back, closed my
eyes, and lay in the dark. Most of my work was planned then, all my
articles were thought out in that silent obscurity. My bed was my
Lots of people work best in the evening and the small hours of the
morning. I was never any good then, and if “copy” had to be ready, say,
by eleven at night, and I knew a “printer’s devil” would be standing in
my hall at that hour to bear it away to the machines, I always got hot
and cold, nervous and fussy; I never worked so well as directly after
Work! Would anyone dare to say I have not worked? Why, in one fortnight
(November, 1906) I see I had long signed articles in the _Queen_,
_Daily Chronicle_, _Observer_, _Daily Mail_, and _Tatler_. Five
important papers, besides unsigned articles in others.
“What does a signed article imply?” someone may wonder. It means
double, treble, quadruple pay—as compared with an unsigned one. It
means the writer’s name is of value, and sufficiently established to
say what he thinks and means right out, instead of sending his poisoned
darts unofficially in the disguise of anonymity. All articles and
reviews ought to be signed, I think. One takes more care, gives more
thought, attains a higher standard than for anonymous stuff. Leaders
and critiques would be of real value if one knew who had written them.
Ease has come, facility of the pen. I believe I could write an article
on almost any sort of subject with five minutes’ notice, and twenty
minutes in which to dictate it. It is so easy to write on a theme which
you never really touch on at all, but just glide along the outside
edge. Things conceived like this cannot be of permanent value, but they
are the product of an active brain and serve their purpose for the
moment. That is journalism.
It may be interesting to beginners to read here how I wrote my first
magazine article as a girl, in amateur days. This will illustrate how
wise it is to make use of one’s opportunities; how from one small
beginning a path may be opened in the wood of difficulty, at which,
except in rare instances, all but genius has to hew.
I chanced to be in Paris in 1890, with my husband and mother who knew
Pasteur, and thus I saw a good deal of the delightful, grey-bearded old
gentleman whose work made such a stir at that time and revolutionised
science. He was then about seventy. Short in stature, he was in no way
a striking figure, but his clear eyes and thoughtful face arrested
attention. I shall never forget the charm of his manner, and the
courteous tolerance he displayed towards an unscientific young woman,
who had no excuse for poking about the place save that she was the
sister of one of his students and the daughter of a scientist. At that
time Pasteur did very little personal work or research himself, but he
most carefully superintended everything that was done under his roof.
So anxious was he for others to benefit by his experience that he had
set apart fourteen tables in his large laboratory, at which were to be
found working students of all nationalities and ages, from twenty-five
to fifty—some of them men who had already won a name in science. No
charge was made to them beyond the price of the materials they used,
and every facility for scientific research was provided.
The hydrophobia cure was then the subject of commanding interest in
the scientific world. It was a curious set of people who assembled in
the large outer hall of the Institute every morning. On one occasion
when I was there the patients numbered eighty-nine, amongst whom were
a little English girl (the first to be sent over by the Lord Mayor’s
Mansion-House Fund), a French soldier, a Belgian fisherman, a German,
and many more of different nationalities.
On my return to England from that visit, with mental and scribbled
notes, I sat down to write a little article on “Pasteur and his
Institute,” which I sent addressed to the editor of _Murray’s
Magazine_, feeling quite proud of myself but absolutely certain of its
rejection. It was the first magazine article I had attempted. What was
my surprise on receiving a letter in the course of a few days, signed
“The Editor,” saying that he had been much interested in the article,
but it was far too short for a magazine, and if I could double its
length and write on one side of the paper only, he would have great
pleasure in inserting it.
I actually jumped for joy. It seemed as if the whole literary world
were opening at my feet. Of course, I copied it all out carefully on
one side of the paper as ordered, and added a little bit here and a
little bit there, counting the words one by one as they crept from
tens into hundreds. The article duly appeared. It was wonderfully well
reviewed, for it was the first thing of the kind on Pasteur that had
been written in English, and therefore was quoted at some length in our
A few years afterwards, when struggling to pay Charterhouse and Harrow
bills, I was dining out one night when a gentleman was introduced to
me. He said:
“I know you very well, Mrs. Alec Tweedie, far better than you know me.
I have printed several of your articles.”
“Indeed,” I exclaimed, surprised, “but I have never seen you before.”
“No, but you know the editor of _Murray’s Magazine_ as a correspondent.”
“Of course I do,” I laughed, “and love him very much, for he printed my
first magazine effort.”
“I am the man,” he replied; “I am W. L. Courtney, under which name I
have since accepted several articles of yours for the _Fortnightly
This was a pleasant means of introduction to one’s editor.
Lending or borrowing money ends friendship, and in the same way I
feel shy of offering my wares to anyone I know. Mr. Courtney and I
are excellent friends; but the work is arranged by an agent nowadays.
Friendship and work have never gone together in my case. It is so much
better to be incognito, and for them to remain unknown. Writing is a
business, and can only be worked on a strictly business footing.
On one of the few occasions I ever entered an editor’s room—certainly
in all those thirteen years of stress of work the occasions could be
counted on my fingers—the experience was not pleasant.
Up dirty, dark stairs I stumbled, and after much waiting was shown into
the gentleman’s office. I informed him I was going abroad, that I could
take photographs, and suggested a somewhat new scheme of illustrated
“What do you want for half a dozen?” he enquired.
“Five guineas a column,” was my reply.
“Five guineas a column. Tush! I’ll give you one guinea; and take six
I had only been a widow a short time, and was in deep, dull black, with
the little uniform muslin collar and cuffs. He looked me up and down.
Perhaps he thought I wanted the money badly, and repeated “A guinea a
column, no more.”
“But I cannot take less than five. I am going abroad to get the
information, and six guineas would not pay the ticket one way.”
“Ten guineas for the six, then.”
“No,” I replied, sticking firmly to my guns; “I am sorry I cannot do
them for that. Good morning.”
He barely raised his eyes from the paper. He did not even rise, nor
open the door. I stepped out, choking with humiliation and tears, but
with my head still high.
I wrote several books in the following years and many magazine
articles, but for five long years my name never once appeared in that
gentleman’s paper. Probably the only paper in the country into which
some sort of notice of something of mine did not creep.
He paid me out; but I survived.
Another time, I was dining in Grosvenor Street. A charming young man
took me in to dinner. He asked a number of questions, spoke much of my
past work and future plans. Being surprised, I said:
“You seem to know a great deal about me.”
“Would you mind telling me why? Are you a detective from Scotland Yard?”
“No, I am only one of your editors. You constantly write for me in the
_St. James’s Gazette_. My name is Hugh Chisholm.”
The same thing happened with regard to the _Pall Mall Gazette_ and Sir
Editors seldom or never write; many of them do not even know how. There
are, of course, one or two brilliant exceptions, as W. L. Courtney of
the _Fortnightly_, Owen Seaman of _Punch_, L. J. Maxse of the _National
Review_, Austin Harrison of the _English Review_. But there is hardly
a single daily paper where the editor is a writer, except J. L. Garvin
of the _Pall Mall_, and J. S. R. Phillips of the _Yorkshire Post_.
Many editors were once “reporters,” and on an occasion of stress were
put on to edit some subject. Having done it satisfactorily they came
in useful in times of pressure, and finally became one of the many
sub-editors necessary in a news office. From that apprenticeship they
have gradually climbed to the post of editor. An editor is therefore
not a literary man as a rule, but a business manager with a sound
judgment of the public pulse and what the public wants. If he is wise
he never goes into Society or knows people, because then his hand is
free, and he can be independent. He decides the policy and the attitude
of his paper, therefore he must read all the contemporary Press, and
about eleven o’clock in the morning he is so buried in other people’s
newspapers that he has to be dug out of the pulpy débris and printer’s
It is a tremendous strain to be an editor, besides a terrible
responsibility. Poor men, I pity them. It is bad enough to be a topical
writer; to have a “printer’s devil” waiting on one’s door-mat for
articles on which the ink is hardly dry; but to have to read and pass
everything nightly at such a pace is enough to send the wretched editor
demented. He is responsible for libellous matter, so out it must go. He
must not offend his political party, so free-lance contributors must be
“edited,” and, above all, he has only so many columns to fill and ten
times the amount of stuff waiting to be inserted.
Then again, _The Times_, that great bulwark of the British
Constitution, receives from fifty to a hundred letters a day for
insertion, out of which only six or eight of the most public interest
can be printed. _The Times_ is a great asset of the country, and proud,
indeed, should be John Walter, the fifth generation. He is Chairman
of the journal founded and maintained by his family at such a high
standard for so many years. He ought to write the true history of _The
Times_, as he alone can.
But there are many and puzzling questions as to the journalism of the
Why are modern writers so destructive in their ideas? Why are they so
Why in politics is everything for pulling down, and nothing for
Is this the craze of the age? The hypercritical, hypersensitive desire
to destroy everybody and everything, and why, oh why, must we have
veiled advertisements in nearly every column of our minor newspapers?