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Founding of the Overland Monthly

and History of the Out West Magazine
By George Wharton James

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HEN Anton Roman, who had had some little experience in both selling and publishing, decided to publish a magazine of California, devoted to the development of the country, he and his friends almost unconsciously turned to one man as the literary guide or pilot of the new literary ship. This man was Francis Bret Harte, who later set the example so many literary men and others have followed, by dropping one of his triple names and becoming henceforth merely Bret Harte, as he is almost universally known. Harte had already launched into a literary career. He had written for the Californian, a magazine that C. H. Webb had started some years before; and he had edited a small volume of poems under the title "Outcroppings." which Roman had successfully published two years before. But he was diffident

as to the success of a mag-
azine. He questioned wheth-
er there were enough first-
class writers on the Pacific
Coast to assure the constant
supply of such material as
alone would be acceptable to
him. For he was fastidious
and critical to a degree. With-
out any large academic education,
he was yet as rigid in his liter-
ary ideals as a puritanic old maid

is in her morals. Roman, however,

was confident. In his book-selling and

regularly for the new venture. At Harte's request, two of them consented to act as a kind of editorial board, with himself. These were Noah Brooks, then editor of the Alta California, and W. C. Bartlett, editor of the Bulletin. They did advise with him about the first number, but both gentlemen had discernment enough to see, after that first issue, that their work was purely supererogation, and they henceforth left Harte to his own devices. There were two of his friends, however, who were nearer to him than any others. These were Charles Warren Stoddard, whom he affectionately spoke to and of, always, as Charley, and Miss Ina Donna Coolbrith. These three made such a compact of mutual helpfulness that Harte's objections were overruled, his questionings satisfied, and the new magazine was launched. Harte himself suggested the accepted title -The Overland Monthlyand wrote in the first issue

a most interesting little editorial telling the why of the name. He also suggested the cover, "the grizzly bear," which is always associated in the minds of "old timers" with the Overland Monthly. As a practical printer, he also determined the typographical appearance, or format, of the Overland Monthly. He was to be absolutely free in his editorial choice of material, though Roman has since confessed that he was afraid "that he would be likely to lean too much toward the purely literary articles, while what I was then aiming at was a magazine that would help the material development of this coast."


Bret Harle

publishing endeavors, he was constantly having manuscripts submitted to him that he regarded as worthy of a place in such a magazine as he contemplated, and he persisted in urging Harte to assume the editorial responsibility. Harte then consulted with his literary friends, those in whose work and word he had absolute faith. Several of them definitely guaranteed that, if necessary, they would write

For three months before the magazine appeared, Mr. Roman planned to have Mr. Harte with him all the time, in order that they might constantly discuss plans and

stories that would help the new magazine to succeed. "Together with our wives," he writes, "we went, first to San Jose; then, after a month or so, to a pleasant retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains, thence to Santa Cruz. . . . I have no recollection in detail of the many pleasant interviews we had together at our leisure moments, and during the many hours while journeying in the cars up and down the attractive valley of Santa Clara, and during our excursions in stage coaches across the beautiful wooded mountain roads. They were three months of delightful pleasure to me, and never can I forget his charming companionship."

July, 1868, was the memorable month. Though Harte expected to write a story for the first issue, he was unable to complete it. One of his associates, Noah Brooks, wrote his promised story, "The Diamond Maker of Sacramento," and it was published, and Miss Coolbrith contributed one of her sweetest poems. W. C. Bartlett, the other editorial associate contributed his Breeze from the Woods, a vivid and glowing out-of-doors Western sketch, as strong in its descriptions, as fascinating in its style, as powerful in its philosophy, as quaint and subtle in its humor, as skilled in its observations, as anything that either Gilbert White, Henry D. Thoreau or John Burroughs ever wrote. Other articles of note appeared, of which Noah Brooks thus comments:


the first number of our magazine, 'By Rail Through France,' was a disappointment to those who expected to find in it some of the broad and rippling humor that had so distinguished his 'Quaker City' letters. His subsequent contributions were chiefly reminiscent of foreign travel, but one of these, 'A Medieval Romance,' printed in October, 1868, was sufficiently full of rollicking and extravagant fun to satisfy the most exacting of laughers.

"Ina D. Coolbrith sent to this famous first number one of her subjective, thoughtful poems, 'Longing,' a good example of the poetic fancy with which she afterwards embroidered many a page of the Overland Monthly. The best poem in that number was a clever bit of verse, 'Returned,' by Bret Harte. It was composed on the lines of 'Her Letter,' a poem which Harte has since included in his collected writings, but which was, like so many of his good things, hidden away in the fine print of his 'Etc.' It was Harte's modesty that induced him to seclude many of his best minor poems in his 'Etc.' to Jefferson Brick, in his magazine for December, 1869. But that did not fool anybody. For 'Poverty Flat' was Harte's own creation, and none but he could have so deftly turned the lines:

Romance was everywhere, though few had time to stop to consider it; the outside world saw and felt it, and over it all the glamor of gold shone as a glittering halo, bewildering, dazzling, exciting those under its beams and attracting and alluring those who were far away. But no one thought of California as a place of literature; it never entered the mind of the staid East that this new and romantic era was to create a new and romantic style of literature; that it was the forcing-house of poets, short-story writers, essayists, historians, novelists.

And 1868 saw the dawning of that idea in the mind of the outside world, for in that year the Overland Monthly was born.

ENJAMIN P. AVERY, that gentle and lovable soul, whose sympathetic hand touched nothing that it did not adorn, wrote of 'Art Beginnings on the Pacific,' a theme which found in him an intelligent and appreciative treatment. Years before, Avery and I had been associated together in the editorial management of a daily newspaper in Marysville; and now, after many changes, we found ourselves together in San Francisco; he was then a member of the editorial staff of the Evening Bulletin, and I was managing editor of the Alta California. His death in China, in 1874, while he was United States Minister to Peking, deprived his country of the services of an able and patriotic citizen, and made a vacancy in the ranks of our American writers which never has since been filled. Avery was editor of the Overland Monthly from 1872 until he went to China. Another journalist who appeared in the first number was Samuel Williams, also of the Bulletin staff.

"At that time Mark Twain had made his celebrated trip on the Steamer Quaker City, and his jolly, mirthcreating letters had been printed in the Alta California, but they had not been published in his first famous book, "The Innocents Abroad.' That volume did not appear until near the end of 1868, and Mark's paper in

"'And how I once went down
the middle

With the man that shot Sandy

"Another delightful piece of versification was Bret Harte's 'San Francisco from the Sea.' Harte had promised a short story for this number, and when he failed to make that ready, with some confusion of countenance he said, 'Well, I have a bit of verse that will have to take its place.' The lines beginning, 'Serene, indifferent of fate,' added to the fame of the versatile poet and story-writer.

"From the first, emphasis was laid on the proposition that the Overland Monthly was devoted to the development of the country in which it was printed, and Harte was always anxious to give the magazine that 'local color' of which we had heard so much in literature and had seen so little. His own stories and poems were full of that color; in fact, they had no other atmosphere than that of California.

"He was disappointed that in the first number of the Overland Monthly he was obliged to use so many articles that were distinctly alien to our soil. This defect was duly remedied as the enterprise grew and steadied itself. John S. Hittell, for example, with his wonderfully exact and intimate knowledge of the material resources and social history of the Pacific Coast, contributed to the early numbers of the magazine many papers on mining, geology and our increasing agricultural resources. The old Alta furnished forth a group of writers in the Overland Monthly. Besides Messrs. M. G. Upton, Hittell and myself, Alfred S. Evans wrote several admirable sketches

of travel among the mining camps on the eastern border of California, and John C. Cremony contributed some striking reminiscences of early times. Upton, who was a careful writer, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and an old journalist in California, confined himself strictly to matters of fact. He had no aptitude for fiction, although his own private fund of humor was apparently inexhaustible. The great earthquake of October 21, 1868, gave us all a topic for serious reflection, and Upton's careful paper on that disturbance, 'Earthquake Theories,' in the December number of the Overland Monthly, was a valuable contribution to the vast volume of observations on seismic phenomena. Dr. J. D. B. Stillman, in his paper, 'Concerning the Late Earthquake,' took a more scientific view of the subject; and Harte, in his 'Etc.' for November, 1868, apologized for some slight defect in the printing of that number of the magazine, the earthquake shock having disturbed the office in which the printed sheets were lying. But on the whole, Harte was disposed to treat the whole subject with a levity which some dignified dons of the city thought unbecoming.

"Henry George, who had been associated with me in the editorial management of the San Francisco Times, since defunct, wrote for the third number of the Overland Monthly a somewhat optimistic paper on 'What the Railroad Will Bring Us.' The first transcontinental railway was then advancing upon California, and George, while he deprecated the concentration of capital which the great work was certain to hasten in accumulation, was disposed to regard the ultimate effects of the completion of the road as likely to be far grander than they really have proved to be. His dream of the prodigious enrichment of San Francisco has not been realized."

Tever, was

HE second number of the Overland Monthly, however, was the most memorable one. While the first issue made a decided impression, both at home and in the East, it was the second number that compelled the Eastern critics to recognize and openly acknowledge that a new star had arisen in the literary heavens. Yet, strange and fatuous as it may seem, it was the second number, or Harte's story in it, which undoubtedly made his success as well as that of the magazine that came near wrecking it in California. The story has often been told, but it is worth telling again, as it will be many times. In their San Jose and Santa Cruz mountain rambles, Roman had used his best efforts "to impress upon his mind that the field of story writing of the early California gold diggers and their mining camps was yet comparatively new ground, and almost entirely open on all sides for him." He had also secured for Mr. Harte "whatever was within my reach in the way of sketches, tales and incidents in print and picture form, showing the life of the miners in the gold diggings during the early pioneer days of California." Harte had absorbed this material to good effect, and the result was his story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp." The proof sheets came to Roman while he and Harte were at their hotel in Santa Cruz. "One copy I gave to him, and took

the other to my own room, where I asked my wife to read it aloud to me. She did so, but the story so affected her that she could not finish reading it aloud. Then I took it and finished reading it. We were both pleased with it, and I so expressed myself to Mr. Harte."


But the story in proof sheet had caused no such pleasure in Mr. Bacon's printing office in town, where the Overland Monthly was printed. In Noah Brooks' words: "A vestal virgin . . . declined to have any hand in the proof reading or publication of a story in which one of the characters was a soiled dove, and another of the dramatis personae remarked: 'He rastled with my finger, the d-d little cuss!" This vestal virgin is said to have been the lady who afterwards became known as Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper. She openly avowed her disapproval of the story, prophesied the immediate downfall of the magazine if the editor persisted in publishing it, and when he did persist, personally made it her business to see that, as far as possible, her prophecy came true. Harte's attitude may be understood by his later references to the prurient prudes who "frantically excommunicated my story and anathematized it as the offspring of evil." Yet in the editorial sanctum, where his friends, with Mr. Roman assembled at Harte's request, he treated it in a most serious manner. He said in effect: "As Harte, the author, I see no objection whatever to that story, nor do I as Harte the editor. Harte, the author, I care nothing, however, whether the story goes in or not, but as Harte, the editor, I care everything. If that story is not fit to appear in the Overland Monthly, that fact demonstrates that I am not fit to be the editor of the Overland Monthly, for if I cannot decide upon the propriety of my own contributions, I cannot be relied upon to decide upon the propriety and availability of those of others that may be submitted to Therefore, while as Harte the author I am perfectly willing that the story be left out, as Harte the editor I say emphatically it must either go in or I immediately resign my position."



Needless to say, proprietor, associate editors and friends were unanimous in saying the story must go in. It did so. When the August number appeared, the vestal virgin's fine work also soon appeared, for whatever else one may say of her, none can question Mrs. Cooper's indefatigability and energy. The press, pulpit and lecture forum abounded in denunciation of the immoral story, its author and the magazine in which it appeared. A perfect tempest in a teapot raged for days. Harte grimly smiled and waited. I don't know whether he had read John Burrough's

"Serene, I fold my hands and wait,"

and I would not like to say he was serene, but he did wait. He knew that there was a larger and wiser audience in the East, whose voice, if in his favor, would soon quiet any clamor in California. When the reviews in Eastern magazines and papers began to appear, the grimness of his smile was lost-it became a broad smile. The flattering comments were unanimous and enough to turn any one's head. From that moment his fame

was made, and the fact that in one of the earliest mails there came a letter from the publishers of the prim, staid, puritanic, critical New England literary mentor, the Atlantic Monthly, offering Harte a salary that in those days was accounted a fortune for a story a month, similar to "The Luck of Roaring Camp," forever silenced all but the most persistently prurient of prurient prudes who had so foolishly condemned it. Today, fathers buy it for their young sons, mothers give it to their daughters, and all alike enjoy its wonderful characterizations -its felicitous descriptions and its quaint and subtle humor, while all weep at its human sentiment and strong pathos. Here was a new field for story writing, and a new note in literature. While the power of Edgar Allan Poe was still felt, and rightly, too, here was a decided departure from his wild and weird, his blood-curdling and hair-raising stories. A new master, with a new medium and a new style was sending forth new canvases for the world's delectation. For Bret Harte was essentially a stylist. Not only did he give new matter, new literary material, to the reading world, but he gave it in a new style. . .

I have never had the slightest sympathy with those morbid and thin-skinned Californians who have felt "hurt" and "grieved" and "angered" and all the rest at Bret Harte's leaving California and at his mining camp pictures, claiming that they reviled the miners and threw discredit upon them. Bosh! As well condemn Dickens for the pictures he gives of the life of his charactersor Thackeray or George Eliot, or Zola. What Harte wrote in 1869 ought to have settled that question forever. Indeed, it never ought to have been raised. "I trust that in the following sketches I have abstained from any positive moral. I might have painted my villains of the blackest dye-so black, indeed, that the originals thereof would have contemplated them with the glow of comparative virtue. I might have made it impossible for them to have performed a virtuous or generous action, and have thus avoided that moral confusion which is apt to arise in the contemplation of mixed motives and qualities. But I should have burdened myself with the responsibility of their creation, which, as humble writer of romance, and entitled to no particular reverence, I did not care to do."


ERHAPS the most individualistic

Out West Magazine

nay, there is no question but that it is safe to say the most individualistic magazine ever published in America was "Out West", under the editorship of Charles F. Lummis. About two years before he took hold of it, it was a small quarto started in 1886, and edited by Frank A. Pattee, under the name of "The Land of Sunshine." Then it was changed to an octavo, still holding the same title, but already bearing the striking marks of its new editorship. Lummis was no novice in the editor's tripos. For some years he had been the City Editor of the Los Angeles Times, under that veteran journalist, Harrison Gray Otis. When he left the East to join the staff of the Times, he tramped across the continent. This gave him material for the book which he afterward published, but more, it opened his eyes to the marvels of the scenery and of the Indian life of our great Southwest. From that time on, he became one of the foremost exponents of this wonderland, and I question whether any modern pen has yet equalled his in the vividness of its sketches and its intimate revelations.

On assuming the editorship of "The Land of Sunshine" he began, immediately, to make the new California magazine the vehicle for carrying his knowledge of the Southwest to the world at large. He delved into its ancient history and gave translations of valuable reports and other documents; up to that time, practically unknown. He photographed the Indians at home, in their sports, in the field, on horseback and in their religious ceremonials. For over two years he lived with one tribe of Pueblo Indians, mastered their language and wrote a most fascinating book about their folk tales.

He became equally familiar with the scenery in all its magnificent variety and he photographed it widely, sometimes under the most adverse conditions. He became familiar with the intimate life of many of the leading Mexicans of the country; was the first to describe by both word and picture the horrible fascinations of the ceremonies of the Penitentes,-those fanatic religionists who whipped their naked bodies with cactus-whips until the blood streamed down, and then crucified one of their number in imitation of the Passion of our Lord.

These, and kindred subjects, engaged Mr. Lummis' pen during the entire time of his editorship of the magazine. When it reached its sixteenth volume, he changed the name from "The Land of Sunshine" to "Out West", and under the new title it grew in size, popularity and influence, for Mr. Lummis took upon himself the task of being the censor of everything dealing with the Southwest. When it came to matters dealing with this subject, his virile pen became an instrument of torture to all those who were dealing in an incapable and incompetent manner with subjects connected with this region. It became the standard question, not only in California and the Southwest, but even in the libraries and magazines in the East, "Who will Lummis pillory next?" Many a man who deemed himself almost above criticism found himself stripped naked, as it were, shot through and through with arrows, and even scalped, because he had presumed carelessly to handle subjects that were within the domain of Mr. Lummis' interests.

I could mention a dozen such cases, but perhaps the three most notable are those in which he attacked Dr. Stephen Peet, Editor of the American Antiquarian, and Dr. Smith, Editor of the Century Dictionary. I myself

was the third victim of these onslaughts. Dr. Peet had written a book on the "Cliff and Cave Dwellings of the Southwest." Lummis clearly showed that Peet knew nothing of his subject, and that the book was a pretentious fraud,-which censure, as anyone who knows the subject will agree, was not too strong.

In the second case, Dr. Smith certainly regarded himself so far above Mr. Lummis' criticism that he treated him at first with a haughty superciliousness which we, who knew Lummis, were assured would speedily bring its own just results. We were not disappointed. Dr. Smith was pilloried, laughed at, scorned, and treated as if he were an overgrown schoolboy who had pretended to the knowledge of a professor. Those editorials make good reading-of a kind—even to this day. In my own case, perhaps the least said the better, but Mr. Lummis took an article of mine, which the editor had mutilated and altered without my knowledge or permission, and proved that I was writing upon a subject of which I knew nothing. In those days our relationship was such that I refused to make an explanation which would have changed Mr. Lummis' attitude.

The result of criticisms of this kind naturally brought down upon Mr. Lummis' head responses that were neither kindly nor wise. Yet once in a while something about him was written that produced a universal chuckle. Such were the following stanzas which appeared originally in one of San Francisco's weeklies, but the author of which I have never yet been able to find.

I had gone down to visit my old friend, Dr. Wellwood Murray, at his hotel at Palm Springs on the border of the Colorado desert. I had scarcely settled myself in my room before the old Doctor came to me and said in that

rich, sonorous, deep voice of his: "I have a poem I should like to read to you, written about your dear friend and mine, Charles F. Lummis." I shall never forget the sententious way in which the verses were read and the gestures that accompanied the reading. My reader must imagine them. In reading the title, re

member that Mr. Lummis' magazine was called "Out West". He himself was from the East.

My name is Lummis, I'm the West!
For culture I don't give a hang;
I hate the puny East, although

I can't conceal my Yankee twang.
My trousers they are corduroy,
Ditto my jacket and my vest;
For I'm the wild and woolly boy,

My name is Lummis; I'm the West!

I am the mountains and the sea,

I am the salty plain between;

You've seen the orange crop!-That's Me,

I did it with my magazine,

My monthly Indian reports,
Drier than old Mojave's breast,
Where the uncultured jackass sports;
My name is Lummis; I'm the West!
Who first beheld the Indian race?
Columbus, say you? "Tisn't true.
I was the first to see his face;
I've had him copyrighted too,
I'm local color, Sitting Bull,
Tracy, the bandit, Teddy's guest;

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famous, the financial side of its publication was not always cheering, and after a dozen successful years of editorship, he was compelled to give it up. Then for several years it had a very checkered career, and finally, I was prevailed upon to accept the editorial helm, which I held for a period of two and a half years. During the whole of that time I was required to provide not only all the literary matter but also the cuts, practically without expense to the business management. And when I found that my name was being used to bolster up dishonest circulation reports, I immediately severed my connection with it. Then, for a few months, Cruse Carriel edited and published it, and there my knowledge of it ends.

Bret Harte, in first issue of Overland Monthly, July, 1868

The bear who adorns the cover may be "an ill-favored" beast whom "women can not abide," but he is honest withal. Take him if you please as the symbol of local primitive barbarism. He is crossing the track of the Pacific Railroad, and has paused a moment to look at the coming engine of civilization and progress-which moves like a good many other engines of civilization and progress with a prodigious shrieking and puffing—and apparently recognizes his rival and his doom. And yet, leaving the symbol out, there is much about your grizzly that is pleasant. The truth should, however, be tested at a moment when no desire for self-preservation prejudices the observer. In his placid moments he has a stupid, good-natured, grey tranquillity, like that of the hills in midsummer. I am satisfied that his unpleasant habit of scalping with his fore paw is the result of contact with the degraded aborigine, and the effect of bad example on the untutored ursine mind. Educated, he takes quite naturally to the pole, but has lost his ferocity, which is perhaps after all the most respectable thing about a barbarian. As a cub he is playful and boisterous, and I have often thought was not a bad symbol of our San Francisco climate. Look at him well, for he is passing away. Fifty years and he will be as extinct as the dodo or dinornis.


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