"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
In The Arches of the Years Dr. Sutherland told the story of a journalist with the Daily Mail named Charles. He told it well, and you can read it below. Of course, Dr Sutherland would have heard the best version—the one told by Charles himself.
In the Mausoleum I also met one of the most remarkable and erratic journalists who ever graced the Street of Adventure. In Fleet Street he was known as Charles, and was off and on the staff of the Daily Mail in Lord Northcliffe’s time. Charles was a cockney, a small built man, and a brilliant descriptive writer. He could turn the tear-taps on to paper to order. Technically this is called “the human stuff.” He and no other could have written that wonderful account of the funeral of Edward VII:
“As the cortège passed here stood in front of me an old flower-woman from Leicester Square, with her basket of flowers, and a tall bronzed Australian. After the gun carriage came the riderless horse, and then a groom leading a little fox terrier. ‘`E was fond of `is dawg,’ said the flower woman, wiping her eyes.`Yus,’ sobbed the tall broad-shouldered man from the great open spaces, ‘`e was fond of `is dawg, `e was.'”
There is genius in everything—even in bathos.
Charles was off and on the Mail, always being dismissed and then reinstated. A speech by Mr. Asquith at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester was the cause of one rupture. Charles was sent to Manchester to write a descriptive report of the meeting. He did not attend the meeting, but in a cosy public-house he wrote an excellent description of what happened. At closing time he took his work to the post office and telegraphed it to the Mail. Unfortunately, that afternoon Mr. Asquith had been taken ill, and there was no meeting in Manchester that night.
The coronation of King George V was the cause of another disaster. Charles was told to describe the procession, but after a late night at the Savage Club, he awoke to find that the procession was over. But duty was duty, and he telephoned his description as seen from beside the triumphal arch of Canadian sheaves of wheat. Unhappily, on the previous night, this arch had been destroyed by fire. Charles was also fired, and was forbidden to enter the office. This time the parting with the “Chief” was to be final. Many another man might have gone to the river, but in such moments Charles showed the undeniable courage and resource of the London gamin.
He hired a cab and drove to a large orphanage. He presented a professional card to the secretary, who was delighted to see him. “Yes,” said Charles, “the Mail wishes me to write up your institution. I would like to take five of the orphans out to tea, show them the shops, buy them a few toys, and study their reactions. I would like them to be in ordinary clothes, so that they won’t feel self-conscious.”
“Splendid,” said the secretary, and selected three girls aged five, six, and seven, and two boys, aged eight and nine. He packed them all into his cab and drove to a tea-shop, where he gave them all an excellent tea. The children were wildly excited, and loved their new friend, because Charles was a very lovable man.
After tea he got them into the cab again, and drove—to the office of the Daily Mail. As Charles and the children entered the building the commissionaire forgot the order that Charles was not to be admitted. Charles knew the way upstairs and knocked at the Chief’s door. Then he entered, each of his hands holding the hand of a child, and three other children holding on to his jacket. The Napoleon of the Press looked up from his desk in amazement. Charles produced his handkerchief and sobbed bitterly. “For God’s sake, sir, do what you like with me, but don’t take the bread and butter out of the mouths of these innocent children.”
On beholding the sudden grief of their new friend all the children began to weep in chorus. Lord Northcliffe was speechless. He had made and destroyed governments. Tears trickled down his face, and he said thickly: “I never knew you had children. You may come back.” Charles and the five children departed, leaving Lord Northcliffe with his head resting on his arms.
Next post: 1st November 2017—Saint John Southworth “A Strange Post-mortem”