The Magazine That Taught Faulkner, Fitzgerald, And Millay How To Write

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The giant building towered in the night Like a titanic hand released at last From under cumbering mountain-ranges vast, Poised menacingly high, as if to smite A silent, sullen, deadly blow at Man. I slunk along its base; then, cowering, ran, Feeling the while it mattered not how fast, Since it would strike me from behind at last. Next morning, as I passed among the hive Of careless people, to myself I said: “You do not fear. You’ve only seen it dead. I’ve seen the thing alive!”

A fifteen-year-old boy named Bennett Cerf found the city less menacing in his 1914 “After Vacation.” “And as we make a dive for the news-stand for an ‘extra’ (which, by the way, is the first evening paper we have seen in ages), our hearts throb; instinctively, we throw out our chests. After all, there was something missing in the country, an indefinable something that seemed somewhat to spoil our pleasure. Perhaps it was the air of loneliness and quiet; we were born in the city and brought up in the city—brought up to be one of a great multitude, brought up to dodge autos and the like, to rush and hustle—and we can’t do without it!

An eleven-year-old boy from Mount Vernon, New York, gave a hint that he would come to prefer country pleasures in his silver-badge essay of June 1911, “A Winter Walk.” A passage from this work suggests the grace, warmth, and ear for language that inform the better-known works of its author, E. B. White: “All the trees wore a new fur coat, pure white, and the pines and evergreens were laden with pearl. Every living creature seemed happy. Squirrels frisked among the branches, chattering because we trespassed on their property. Once in a while we caught an occasional glimpse of a little ball of fur among the fern, which meant that br’er rabbit was out on this cold morning. A few straggling quails were heard piping their shrill little notes as they flew overhead.

“All these harmless little wood creatures were noticed by Don [the boy’s pointer] and he wanted to be after them, but I objected to harming God’s innocent little folk when He had given the world such a bright, cheery morning to enjoy.”

 
 
 
 
 
 

Another account of a walk in the woods appeared in the July 1922 issue under the title “My Favorite Recreation.” The writer, fourteen-year-old Rachel Carson, told the League about a day of birdwatching that ended with a resounding sunset: “The cool of approaching night settled. The wood thrushes trilled their golden melody. The setting sun transformed the sky into a sea of blue and gold. A vesper sparrow sung his evening lullaby. We turned homeward, gloriously tired, gloriously happy!”

The St. Nicholas League’s members were on hand to report on the marvels of the twentieth century as they appeared. In the March 1912 issue, Mary Dendy of England wrote: “I was having a music-lesson in the drawing room at home, when suddenly we heard one of the maids crying out that there was an aeroplane in the air! We rushed out into the road, just in time to see it… it was traveling very fast, and it looked graceful and natural in the air, just as though it was meant to live there, like a bird.”

In 1925 Virginia Starck told what it was like to be a twelve-year-old in Hollywood during the silent era: “Just a block from my home is a studio which makes comedies and uses the houses of the neighborhood. Many, many times the door-bell will ring and it will be one of the comedy directors asking if he can use the flat in a scene. About three blocks away from my house is the studio where The Courtship of Miles Standish’ was made. In one portion of the ‘lot’ is what is supposed to be an exact replica of the Mayflower. I certainly had some fun on it. One day a lot of the children in the neighborhood piled on and played pirate on anything that struck their fancy.”

 

Often the St. Nicholas Leaguers sent dispatches from places even more exotic than Hollywood. In 1919 a reader named Phyllis A. Whitney wrote: “I am going to school up in Kuling. It is way up in the mountains and very cold. When we go up the mountain, we are carried up in chairs, which are very queer-looking, uncomfortable things. The sides of the mountains are so steep and the path is so narrow that you think all the time that the men who are carrying you are going to slip and fall.” Before she became a prolific and popular novelist, Phyllis Whitney appeared again in the pages of the League, winning the silver badge for her essay “A Red-Letter Day.”