Tales from Bohemia

Robert Neilson Stephens
Tales from Bohemia

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Title: Tales From Bohemia
Author: Robert Neilson Stephens
Release Date: September, 2005 [EBook #8869] [Yes, we are more than
one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on August 17,
Edition: 10
Language: English

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One crisp evening early in March, 1887, I climbed the three flights of
rickety stairs to the fourth floor of the old "Press" building to begin
work on the "news desk." Important as the telegraph department was in
making the newspaper, the desk was a crude piece of carpentry. My
companions of the blue pencil irreverently termed it "the shelf." This
was my second night in the novel dignity of editorship. Though my
rank was the humblest, I appreciated the importance of a first step from
"the street." An older man, the senior on the news desk, had preceded
me. He was engaged in a bantering conversation with a youth who
lolled at such ease as a well-worn, cane-bottomed screw-chair afforded.
The older man made an informal introduction, and I learned that the
youth with pale face and serene smile was "Mr. Stephens, private
secretary to the managing editor." That information scarcely impressed
me any more than it would now after more than twenty years'
experience of managing editors and their private secretaries.
The bantering continued, and I learned that the youth cherished literary
aspirations, and that he performed certain work in connection with the
dramatic department for the managing editor, who kept theatrical news
and criticisms within his personal control.
Suddenly a chance remark broke the ice for a friendship between the
young man and me which was to last unbroken until his untimely death.
Stephens wrote the Isaac Pitman phonography! Here had I been for
more than three years wondering to find the shorthand writers of
wide-awake and progressive America floundering in what I conceived

to be the Serbonian bog of an archaic system of stenography.
Unexpectedly a most superior young man came within my ken who
was a disciple of Isaac Pitman. Furthermore, like myself, he was
entirely self taught. No old shorthand writer who can look back a
quarter of a century on his own youthful enthusiasm for the art can fail
to appreciate what a bond of sympathy this discovery constituted. From
that night forward we were chosen friends, confiding our ambitions to
each other, discussing the grave issues of life and death, settling the
problems of literature. Notwithstanding his more youthful appearance,
my seniority in age was but slight. Gradually "Bob," as all his friends
called him with affectionate informality, was given opportunities to
advance himself, under the kindly yet firm guidance of the managing
editor, Mr. Bradford Merrill. That gentleman appreciated the distinct
gifts of his young protégé, journalistic and literary, and he fostered
them wisely and well. I remember perfectly the first criticism of an
important play which "Bob" was permitted to write unaided. It was
Richard Mansfield's initial appearance in Philadelphia as "Dr. Jekyl and
Mr. Hyde," at the Chestnut Street Theatre on Monday, October 3, 1887.
After the paper had gone to press, and while Mr. Merrill and a few of
the telegraph editors were partaking of a light lunch, the night editor,
the late R.E.A. Dorr, asked Mr. Merrill "how Stephens had made out."
"He has written a very clever and very interesting criticism," Mr.
Merrill replied. "I had to edit it somewhat, because he was inclined to
be Hugoesque and melodramatic in describing the action with very
short sentences. But I am very much pleased, indeed."
That was the beginning of Bob's career as a dramatic critic, a career in
which he gained authority and in which his literary faculties,
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