As a New Republic Editor
WALTER WEYL was identified with "The New Republic" from the late winter of 1913 to the autumn of 1919.. Though his personal connection with the paper was always intimate, my impression is that fully half the time he was away on some sort of an excursion to Europe, to the Orient, to Washington on war service, or to his home in Woodstock to write a book. He did not like the routine of an office; he tired quickly of writing articles of the same length week after week; he cared almost nothing for the work of editing, as distinct from writing. He came and went: when he was on the paper his head would be full of plans of the trips Bertha Weyl and he would make and the books they would write, and then when he was away on these trips his head would be equally full of plans for the reorganization and the rejuvenation of the paper.
The organization of "The New Republic" was based on the theory that none of its editors wished to do much editing, that none of them would remain at a desk very long, and that there would be a place on the board for men who were not wholly organizable. The scheme has defects, but it also has virtues, and not the least of these is that it was the only conceivable scheme under which an incorrigible free lance could dip in for a while to edit or to shape policy, and dip out again without upsetting everybody and everything.
The scheme enabled Walter Weyl to edit the paper as much as he cared to edit it. The arrangement suited him, suited his whimsical activity and his occasional practical fervor, and left him free to indulge his endless intellectual curiosity. It worked, above all I think because he was the most trusting of men where his affections were involved. He was not conscious of personal rights that he had to defend, nor touched by jealousy. He was too much interested in a thousand things outside himself to cultivate that sense of not getting what was due to him which is the bane and destroyer of all free co-operation. He was not a good member of a team and he knew it, because the work of the team interested him only in spurts. But he was a perfect colleague, nevertheless, because when he was interested he had no personal reservations. There are men who cannot play on a team, but insist on the letter of their theoretical rights nevertheless. There was nothing of that in Walter Weyl. He pretended to no discipline he did not possess. He was satisfied to be a free lance all the time, and when he joined in it was as a free lance still.
"The New Republic" was first conceived by Herbert Croly, Willard and Dorothy Straight. At that time Croly and Littell were old friends, the rest of us knew them and each other only slightly. There were no precedents in America for a paper like "The New Republic," except Godkin's "Nation," and that was built on one man, whereas the fundamental idea of "The New Republic" was to build on a group. The event which really decided the selection of that group was the Bull Moose adventure of 1912. All of the original editors had been in that affair, Croly and Weyl very deeply in it. No two books had done more to shape the thought of that period in American politics than Croly's "The Promise of American Life" and Weyl's "The New Democracy." And some day when Theodore Roosevelt's letters are really published, instead of being edited and expurgated in the likeness of the people who hated him in 1912 and admired him only in his last phases, the place of these two books will be more generally known. The evidence will show that they played a decisive intellectual role in gathering up the loose ends of the muckraking era and turning them to constructive use.
It was for the purpose of carrying forward this impulse that "The New Republic" was founded, and it was essential that Walter Weyl should be part of it. He was by far the best trained economist in the progressive movement. He was the only active Bull Moose I ever knew who thought the Progressive program could be justified by statistics of the social facts as well as by moral denunciation. Had the progressive movement survived, as everyone in 1913 thought it would, the work which Walter Weyl intended to do when he joined "The New Republic" would have made a great difference. For he would have played a leading part in the translation of progressive passion into a workable and solidly-founded program. But on the very day that "The New Republic" offices in West Twenty-first Street opened for business, the war began in Europe. And by November when the first number was published the Old World of the Bull Moose was shattered. "The New Republic," instead of pressing forward on the basis of doctrines widely accepted in principle by millions of American voters, found itself suddenly, in common with the rest of America, compelled to turn its attention from familiar domestic problems to the invention of principles, for which there were no precedents at all.
One's memory of the terrible years from 1914 is full of tricks. We all felt so intensely whatever we believed at any moment that we found ourselves thinking that we had always believed it from the day the Germans marched into Belgium. As a matter of fact there was hardly a person in America whose attitude toward the war did not change radically as the war dragged on, hardly a person who did not read his feelings at the moment back into the past. There were literally thousands who,, when the Lusitania was sunk, sincerely believed they had wished America to utter a solemn protest about Belgium in August, 1914. There were tens of thousands in 1917 who imagined they had urged America to enter the war when the Lusitania was sunk. By the summer of 1918 there were hundreds of thousands who thought they had always been against neutrality in any form.
If there were not bound volumes of "The New Republic" to prove it, and a row of scrap-books filled with clippings from the German press denouncing us as hirelings of the House of Morgan and lickspittles of Northcliffe, I should be afraid to say that "The New Republic" was never neutral in thought. But, in fact, the paper began in November at the point which Roosevelt had reached towards the end of October. It advocated the theory that America should have protested against the invasion of Belgium. It was antiWilson and in high favor with the Colonel. Walter Weyl and Croly and I spent a night at Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt as fresh as a daisy at two in the morning, Walter Weyl as alert as ever, and Croly dozing in his chair. But this cordiality lasted only a few weeks. One day the Colonel made an onslaught on Wilson and Bryan, practically charging them with personal responsibility for the rape of nuns in Mexico. "The New Republic" said this was not fair play, the Colonel lost his temper, and wrote a savage letter. I remember how much pleasure it gave Walter Weyl shortly after that to write an article praising Roosevelt for a speech he thought was good.
The quality which we learned to know in Walter Weyl during those times was one that easily lent itself to teasing. I would say, "Walter, what do you think about the armed merchantmen?" Then while he was^making a series of dots on his writing pad with a very sharp pencil, I would say, "Yes, I know, you think that on the whole the British view is between sixty-eight and seventythree per cent right." He would like that. It made him feel at home. And then he would begin: "But seriously—" and proceed to explain that the British view was on the whole rather more than half right, provided you took into account certain other factors which I had forgotten.
Up in Woodstock one day I asked him how far he carried this habit of statistical judgment. There had been a burglar around, and Walter had just told me that hearing a noise he had gone down stairs unarmed, carrying a candle to see what was the matter. "You're crazy," I said, "a lot of good your quantitative habits are to you if the best you can do is to offer a burglar a nice bright mark to shoot at."
"Not at all," he insisted, "the chances that a burglar would make such a racket were not one in nine hundred; the chances that a door was banging in the wind were as one in four, there being four doors in that room; and the chances of my breaking my neck if I did not take a candle were at least five to one against me." "And you thought all that out in the middle of the night?" I inquired feebly.
"Yes," he said. "I'm not naturally brave and the law of probabilities is a great comfort to me."
Such men do not make good partisans. I'm not sure they make good journalists. But they make the best advisers in the world. If you really went to Walter Weyl in order to find out if you were right, that is if you did not go to him just to convince yourself more thoroughly, he was the best man I ever met to turn to for help in hammering out an idea. He would make suggestions faster than you could steal them. Not only had he read enormously, but he had talked enormously with no end of people. He had a deep sense of fact, and an even deeper instinct for reality. He had that gift which experience itself so often does not give, an intuitive sense of what something distant would be like if you went there and experienced it.
That is why the war was such a personal torture to him when he allowed his imagination to dwell upon what was going on at the front. He could play chess with the war as brilliantly as the best of them, calculate with manpower and casualties, munitions and diplomatic manoeuvers. But the human agony which it all meant would make him quiver and give him actual physical pain. Sometimes he could not bear it, the horror would come upon him too fiercely, and he would want to go to Europe and understand so tremendously that everybody would then understand and know how to end it.
There were these two strains in Walter Weyl, that of the intellectual chess player, and that which was the gift of almost complete entrance into other men and a kind of actor's identification with them. When the two strains fused, as they did in his very best writing, he possessed the art of illuminating a difficulty which few Americans of his time could surpass. Often the two strains did not fuse, and he would vacillate, now captured by the intellectual difficulties of a question, now enchanted with an alien point of view into which he had lived himself in imagination.
His perceptions were too complicated, and too just, for quick and short journalistic expression. To get the full value of his ideas he needed time and space. The subject had so many facets, all the facets were chapters. Most of the subjects were books. And because he never knew before he started to write whether his intellect and his sympathies had fused, he produced more piles of unpublished manuscript than any successful writer I know. He was the very opposite of the man who prints almost before he is ready to write.
Walter Weyl labored prodigiously, and his published material is to the mass of what he wrote and destroyed or filed away as the visible iceberg to the invisible.
And at that he had the external marks of a somewhat indolent person. You could tell that by the ritual he went through spasmodically, such as swearing off cigarettes and planning to take regular exercise. His conscience worked in fits and starts, and things would not be done when they were promised, and books would be half written and abandoned. The pretext for interrupting himself was always excellent. He had had an idea for a play. He had met a man who told him about Chinese history, and he had been reading Chinese history. Somebody telephoned him yesterday evening and he had started to study the eight-hour law in Oregon. But actually he interrupted himself because long before he knew it consciously, he knew intuitively that the thing in hand was not going to suit him.
The ordinary ambitions were not strong enough in Walter Weyl to carry him over that dead center of a task where the original impulse is frayed and all the words are dust and ashes. There was no fanaticism whatsoever in him. There was no personal dogmatism. The soul of his intellect was an irresponsible and vagrant play of mind for its own sake, and a capacity for affectionate sympathy with all kinds of people. He had no enemies. He had no, literally no, abiding hatreds. He had no thick-and-thin causes, no hard partisanships, no unalterable commitments. Though at times he could simulate, as in the article on Woodrow Wilson, published a few months before his death, a fury out of the Old Testament, there was nothing permanent in his anger and little that was truly himself. He was of the company of Socrates, rather than Isaiah.
He was one of those men who are greater than their work, and who leave more friends than books behind them. Walter Weyl left good books, and the plans of even better ones. But he left more than that to those who worked side by side with him. He left the memory of a mind that was rigorously trained and relentless, and at the same time innocent and trusting. There were few dark places in our civilization Walter Weyl had not looked into and realized. He would suffer exquisitely when he heard of pain. But he was slow to reach judgment, and very charitable in uttering it. For even in the tyrant and the bully he saw the complication of motive, and would pause to understand.