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Park Row And Fleet Street Post by :Lynn_Lyons Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :2965

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Park Row And Fleet Street

It is difficult for us to tell how accurately Philip Gibbs has pictured Fleet Street in his novel The Street of Adventure; for, externally at least, there is little resemblance to Park Row. We cite, for instance, a description of the city room of The Star as Francis Luttrell found it on his first day:

"It was a large room, with a number of desks divided by glass partitions and with a large table in the center. At the far end of the room was a fire burning brightly in the grate, and in front of it were two men and a girl, the men in swing chairs with their legs stretched out, the girl on the floor in the billows of a black silk skirt, arranging chestnuts on the first bar of the grate."

There isn't any grate in our city room and we have no roasting parties. There have been days in mid-July when it might have been possible to fry eggs on the skylight of our city room, but we don't remember that anybody ever tried it. Nor is our memory stirred to any local reminiscences by the description of The Star office just before press time, when "silence reigned in the room except for the scratching of pens." Probably there are not more than half a dozen pens in all Park Row and four of them are on The Evening Post.

* * *

We find the difference in spirit not so great. There is a great deal about the terrific strain of newspaper work and how a brutal city editor will drive a finely tempered reporter until he has had the best of his brains and then toss him aside like a withered violet.

"Fleet Street," says Gibbs, who tells the story partly in the first person, "would kill you in a year--it is very cruel, very callous to the sufferings of men's souls and bodies."

Again, the heroine, who is a press woman, complains: "We women wear out sooner. Five years in Fleet Street withers any girl. Then she gets crow's feet round her eyes and becomes snappy and fretful, or a fierce creature struggling in an unequal combat with men. I am just reaching that stage."

An even more terrifying picture is painted of the book reviewer. He was, according to Gibbs, "A young, anemic-looking man with fair, wavy hair, going a little gray, and a pale, haggard, clean-shaven face, seated, with his elbows on the desk, a novel opened before him and six other novels in a pile at his elbow. He was smoking a cigarette, and the third finger of his left hand was deeply stained with nicotine. As Luttrell entered he groaned slightly and pushed back a lock of his fair hair from his forehead."

We would like to find something personal in that portrait or at least to hope that we might be like that after a few years more of this terrific strain. But we doubt it. Despite eleven years of unremitting toil we have been unable to wear ourselves gray or conspicuously haggard or clean shaven. It is not easy. To be sure, we have heard many newspaper men picturing themselves as butterflies broken on the wheel, but always with a melancholy gusto. Moreover, that was in the days when Jack's and Joel's were open all night.

We can't speak with authority about Fleet Street, nor even pretend to be infallible about Park Row, but it is our impression that newspaper work is easier than any of the other professions except the ministry. And the easiest sort of newspaper work is dramatic criticism or book reviewing. If you are not sure of your facts you can just leave them out, and even if they get in wrong it doesn't matter much. There is a certain amount of work to be done in the first two or three years, but by that time the critic should have a particular pigeonhole in his brain for practically every book or play which comes along. Upon seeing "I'll Say It Is" in 1922 all he has to do is to remember what he said about "Have Another" in 1920. Once or twice a year a book or play comes along which doesn't fit into any pigeonhole, but that can be dismissed in one paragraph as "queer" and allowed to go at that.

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Park Row And Fleet Street

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