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

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In July 1908 St. Nicholas published a letter from a reader who would carry into adulthood an interest in both China and magazines.

MY DEAR ST. NICHOLAS: I am a boy born in China. I live in the country near Wei Skein (Way Shen) City, in an inclosed compound or big yard about two blocks large. There are eight dwelling-houses, a boys’ and girls’ school, a college, a big church, and two hospitals.

A new house is being built (the house we are to live in) by Chinese carpenters and masons.

It will take about eight months to build it. What a long time! The Chinese have no saw-mills, but every log has to be cut and sawed by hand.

I think you are fine.

Your true friend and reader, HENRY R. LUCE.

The St. Nicholas League’s correspondents provided glimpses of unusual people as well as places. In 1909 twelve-year-old Eric Marks of New York wrote about meeting Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. On their second day in Washington, Eric’s group “had a special audience with President Roosevelt. He was ‘dee-lighted’ to see us. He gave the ladies of the party roses, and he told us boys about his boys, and then sent me through the White House with a friend of his. He certainly was kind to us.” Eric was not the only St. Nicholas Leaguer to bump into President Roosevelt. About a decade later, fourteen-year-old Katharine Matthies met the former President on a train bound for Florida. “That evening we were in the dining-car when he came in and sat at the table across the aisle from us. That was the first we knew of his being on the train.

“The next morning I was first as we went through the cars on our way to breakfast. I opened the door and stepped into the dining-car. A sudden lurch threw me against a man who was coming towards me. I drew back and saw ex-President Roosevelt smiling at me. He said, ‘Good morning,’ and shook hands with me, making some remark that I do not remember. He was on our train all day long, and I saw him several times. The next morning I heard that he had left the train during the night and gone across country to the Gulf Coast.”

Another fourteen-year-old, Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakoff, wrote from the far side of the world about his meeting with another world figure, the Empress of Russia. Published at the start of the World War, Vladimir’s letter tells of a royal way of life that was in its last days: “The Emperor has a palace called Livadia, about two versts from Yalta; almost every day we see some of the imperial family driving about.… The Empress and the four Grand Duchesses, her daughters, presided at different stalls. I went to buy at the stall of the Empress, and had the honor of receiving something from her own hands, of which I was very proud. The bazaar was held in front of the imperial yacht, the Standard.”

Louise K. Paine, a thirteen-year-old student at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York, won a silver badge in June 1908 for her sketch of a visit to a figure as well known as any world leader: Mark Twain. “He was a dear old man with snow white hair and twinkling gray eyes. He was very entertaining and I soon forgot all else listening to him talk. While we were waiting to be served ‘Mark Twain’s’ secretary played on the orchestrelle. The music was very beautiful.

 

“A little later dinner was announced and ‘Mark Twain’ led me out to the table on his arm. During the meal he would get up and walk around. This is a queer habit of his and he rarely sits still through a whole meal. Returning to the table one time he brought with him a volume of Kipling’s poems and read aloud to us from them. … After dinner we went up-stairs to the billiard room. It was quite a large room lined with shelves filled with books, in the center was a large billiard table, a present to Mr. Clemens from Mr. H. H. Rogers.

 

“It was very interesting watching Mr. Clemens play, for he is considered an expert at the game.

“Soon after the carriage was announced and I went away after having probably one of the pleasantest and most interesting experiences of my life.”

On at least one occasion, a St. Nicholas Leaguer’s piece about a famous person prompted a response from the subject. When, in 1929, fourteen-year-old Thoreau E. Raymond of Taunton, Massachusetts, won a cash prize for a panegyric called “Our Calvin Coolidge,” the former President sent the poet this note:

21 MASSASOIT STREET NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS

MY DEAR YOUNG LADY: Permit me to thank you for the poem in ST. NICHOLAS not because it is about me or because I feel worthy of it but because it is good. It shows you can work and think. I hope you will study hard and keep on working and thinking.

Sincerely, CALVIN COOLIDGE.