Vanity Fair, April 1916
WATCHMAN, WHAT OF THE NIGHT?
A Little Dash of Prophecy and Prevision
By Pelham Grenville
Although Mr. H. G. Wells has,
to a certain extent, covered the ground by his prophetic articles in
the Saturday Evening Post on the probable course which events will take at the conclusion of the
war in Europe, there are so many aspects of the situation on which he has omitted to touch that
Vanity Fair has felt absolutely compelled to unleash its own office prophet.
IT is perhaps a truism, or whatever they call it, to say that the Great War will bring about great changes. The cessation of hostilities will affect us all—America as much as any country in Europe. Have you ever paused to reflect on the great mass of unemployed writers of picturesque war-impressions which the declaration of peace will fling like a great wave on this land of ours? Every day a new ship starts out from the port of New York laden down so that the water drips over the bulwarks with men and women, bearing fountain pens and notebooks, who are on their way to the other side to supply our magazines with peppery articles on the war-zone conditions. What will be the result on these persons of the sudden cessation of their jobs? Will they not become a vast burden on the resources of the community?
WHAT is that you say? You should worry? You think that this will not affect you personally? Won’t it! How are you going to get your day's work done, when all your time will be spent in driving Will Irwin, and Irvin Cobb, and Owen Johnson, and John Reed, and the rest of them away from your back door when they come there begging for a meal? Do you think the mere notice, "Beware the dog!" will be enough to check the resolute panhandling of Senator Beveridge and Mary Roberts Rinehart? The problem of the workless war-correspondents cannot be dismissed with a light laugh. It will have to be faced by organized methods; and I confess that I, for one, cannot see what on earth is to be done with them, unless they can be provided with work of a congenial kind—perhaps on the new subway.
TO digress a little. Although gratified when I received the request of Vanity Fair to slip its readers a few remarks on the subject of what is likely to occur at the end of the war, I was hardly surprised. I have devoted considerable study to the great conflict. Few persons have watched the bulletin boards with a more zealous eye than myself, and I have bought so many extras that I am now able to tell at a glance whether the headline-writer of the Evening Telegram has really got anything to say or whether he is simply fulfilling the terms of his contract by using up all the office’s scare-head, double primer, bold.
I AM also the author of several stirring letters to the press under such varied pseudonyms as “Indignant Onlooker,” “Anxious,” and the like, and I have contributed to Majorie Sterrett’s battleship fund with a generosity only equalled by that of Colonel Roosevelt himself. It is difficult, therefore, to see how anyone can help being stirred and stimulated by the remarks above and the remarks which are now about to follow.
AS regards the United States, peace will hit certain sections of the community extremely hard. The citizens who have grown accustomed to spending their days in restful contemplation of the bulletin boards in Herald Square will undoubtedly be forced by their wives to go to work. But the class which will suffer most will be those who will once more be compelled by the iron decree of Fashion to make the annual trip to Europe. America is full of patient, hard-working men, who ask nothing better than to be allowed to devote their whole time to leaping in the air after the elusive dollar. This is what they love, and if they were allowed to do this, with an occasional visit to the Winter Garden as a relaxation, they would ask for nothing more. They have welcomed the war as the first decent excuse they have found in twenty years for heading their wives and daughters off from the European trip. With the coming of peace, they must go back to the old mill. They must brave the horrors of the Atlantic voyage, the miseries of foreign picture-galleries. They must wander through cities where open plumbing is unknown and where one may buy a copy of the Sistine Madonna, but never a copy of the Morning Telegraph. I confess that, when I think of the state of these men, a thrill of pity permeates my entire frame.
BUT let us not end on a note of gloom. Peace will bring happiness to some, if only to a few. One contemplates with a sense of pleasure (that pleasure which one feels at the sight of the good man taking his rest), the vision of President Wilson putting the cover on his typewriter after all these weary months, and, after telling Secretary Tumulty to inform callers that he is out and not to let anyone get him on the telephone, settling down in the old arm-chair with a pipe and the current number of Vanity Fair. No more Notes to write. Nobody to hold to strict accountability, except his next opponent at golf. He has deserved a rest, this man with the iron will and the leather finger-tips. Nobody who has not done the same daily amount of hard typing can realize what it means to be able to knock off for a bit of a rest.
AS a community, we shall derive at least one or two definite boons from the termination of the war. It will once more be permissible to talk about books, theaters and pictures, instead of confining ourselves exclusively to the boom or slump in Whatzis Steel. It will be possible to open one’s Sunday paper again without being compelled to plough through ten pages of blurred photographs labelled, “German Gunners in Action,” to be followed next week by the same photographs labelled, “French Artillery at Work.”
We shall no longer have to think up a convincing lie, within a few seconds of answering the telephone, or else be obliged to pay ten dollars for the privilege of witnessing amateur actors perform amateur plays in aid of the warring countries. In common fairness, these things must be allowed to weigh in the balance against the horrors of peace.
But, whenever peace comes, there will be one man who will be perfectly happy. Nothing will convince Mr. Ford that it was not he, and he alone, who brought the thing about.
AND now consider, if you will, the effect of sudden peace on the health of a number of deserving persons. With the removal of the necessity to economize on food, and the abolition of bread-tickets, meat-tickets, and so forth, conditions in Germany for some considerable period after the signing of the peace articles will resemble the rush hour at a down-town restaurant. Germany, released from its privations, will become a nation of amateur Boscos. It will plunge at the bill of fare with the wild abandon of a chorus girl whose escort has just discovered that he has a fifty dollar bill on him.
Every Teuton in the land will combine the characteristic attributes of the snapping turtle and the South American python. It does not require a prophet to foresee the inevitable wave of indigestion which must surge over Germany.
For nearly two years the Kaiser has been keeping himself as fit as a fiddle (with the exception of an occasional mortal illness) by violent physical exercise. He has done an amount of road-work in his sprints from the Eastern front to the Western front, and from the Western front to the Kiel Canal, to see if the fleet was enjoying itself at that charming inland resort, which has seldom been equalled by any of our pugilists. It will readily be seen that an abrupt change to a sedentary life cannot but have a bad effect on his liver. The Crown Prince, again. Whatever we may think of the prudence of his habit of being killed at least twice a week, there is no doubt that the hobby kept him out in the open air. It can scarcely be a good thing for him to change his habits at a moment’s notice.
I HAVE mentioned the German High Seas Fleet. How do you think those indomitable sea-warriors will welcome the relaxation of the blockade and the consequent necessity to cruise about the exposed and frequently chilly North Sea? Window gardens, cherished for so many months in the shelter of the Kiel Canal, will be subjected to the damaging blasts of the wind; and many a tough tar will feel a not unmanly pang as he sees his pet geranium carried away into the lee scuppers by a nor’-easter, or hears the captain break it to him that the mustard-and-cress which he planted in the happy, leisurely days of war has been spoiled by a passing wave. These men, you must remember, have come to love the Kiel Canal and look upon it as their home. For a long time after the arrival of peace they will feel like orphans driven out into the snow.
NOR will the Allies escape unscathed from the general misery. As soon as hostilities have ceased, the No-Treating law will, of course, be repealed, causing infinite discomfort in Scotland. Once more people who have bought a wee drap for some Highland friend will look expectantly at him when it has disappeared, and he will no longer be able to save himself that pain of which so many poets have written—the pain of parting, by murmuring something about respecting the law.