Chapter 4

Presley's Socialistic poem, "The Toilers," had an enormous success. The editor of the Sunday supplement of the San Francisco paper to which it was sent, printed it in Gothic type, with a scarehead title so decorative as to be almost illegible, and furthermore caused the poem to be illustrated by one of the paper's staff artists in a most impressive fashion. The whole affair occupied an entire page. Thus advertised, the poem attracted attention. It was promptly copied in New York, Boston, and Chicago papers. It was discussed, attacked, defended, eulogized, ridiculed. It was praised with the most fulsome adulation; assailed with the most violent condemnation. Editorials were written upon it. Special articles, in literary pamphlets, dissected its rhetoric and prosody. The phrases were quoted -- were used as texts for revolutionary sermons, reactionary speeches. It was parodied; it was distorted so as to read as an advertisement for patented cereals and infants' foods. Finally, the editor of an enterprising monthly magazine reprinted the poem, supplementing it by a photograph and biography of Presley himself.

Presley was stunned, bewildered. He began to wonder at himself. Was he actually the "greatest American poet since Bryant"? He had had no thought of fame while composing "The Toilers." He had only been moved to his heart's foundations, thoroughly in earnest, seeing clearly, and had addressed himself to the poem's composition in a happy moment when words came easily to him, and the elaboration of fine sentences was not difficult. Was it thus fame was achieved? For a while he was tempted to cross the continent and go to New York and there come into his own, enjoying the triumph that awaited him. But soon he denied himself this cheap reward. Now he was too much in earnest. He wanted to help his People, the community in which he lived -- the little world of the San Joaquin, at grapples with the Railroad. The struggle had found its poet. He told himself that his place was here. Only the words of the manager of a lecture bureau troubled him for a moment. To range the entire nation, telling all his countrymen of the drama that was working itself out on this fringe of the continent, this ignored and distant Pacific Coast, rousing their interest and stirring them up to action -- appealed to him. It might do great

-273-

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The Octopus
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Other Books by Frank Norris i
  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Book One 1
  • Chapter 1 3
  • Chapter 2 36
  • Chapter 3 65
  • Chapter 4 85
  • Chapter 5 109
  • Chapter 6 145
  • Book Two 195
  • Chapter 1 197
  • Chapter 2 224
  • Chapter 3 256
  • Chapter 4 273
  • Chapter 5 311
  • Chapter 6 338
  • Chapter 7 363
  • Chapter 8 390
  • Chapter 9 427
  • Conclusion 451
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