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E Clampus Vitus





James Leo Meehan

[I do not have a copy of the booklet entitled "Harold Bell Wright, Author and Man" yet, but I do have a copy of McCall's magazine, March 1925. The index lists a "Special Article" beginning on page 20: "Harold Bell Wright, Author and Man" by Blanche Colton Williams and J. Leo Meehan. But when you turn to page 20, you find two separate stories by the two different authors: "The Inspired Novelist," by Williams, and "The Sterling American," by J. Leo Meehan. The first is presented as a story about the Author, the second as a story about the Man. Evidently, the brochure also combined these two stories.

The booklet, "Harold Bell Wright, Author and Man," was published by D. Appleton and Company in1925 to accompany Harold Bell Wright’s newest book, A Son of His Father. From the description of the booklet found inside the dust jacket, it appears that the booklet had many photos--none of which are found in McCalls.]

McCall's Introduction:  Here is a deeply moving study of Hal Wright, the man, written by one who has known the novelist intimately --in the saddle, by the campfire, and in the study. Reading this, you will meet, too, his wife and his sons. And above all, you will understand why it was inevitable that the young clergyman should become a great and deservedly popular author-the pastor of a congregation embracing more than two million souls. It is such a picture as one rarely is vouchsafed of a man in the public eye, because it really reveals the sitter--instead of obscuring him with stereotyped epithets and phrases.

   "I have always wanted to meet Harold Bell Wright," a friend said to me when I told him I was going to Arizona to meet the famous novelist. "I've always felt he would turn out to be my kind of man."
   Perhaps this was the feeling of the folk in McCall Street when they telegraphed me in my Los Angeles home, asking me to go and see Wright. "We want you to go out to Tucson and get us a picture story of Wright," the telegram said. "We want you to tell the McCall family what sort of man has written the novel they will read in our magazine soon. We want you to tell them how he works, how he plays, his ideas of God and mankind, why he has selected the Arizona desert for his home."
   So this is to be the story of Harold Bell Wright, the man--not the novelist to millions. It is to be the story of a man popularly and favorably known in Arizona among his friends as "Hal" Wright. And it is intended for those less fortunate than I, the millions who have met Harold Bell Wright between the covers of his books, but who do not know him in the flesh.
   It was characteristic of Wright to meet me at the train. That I learned afterward. He and my charming hostess, Mrs. Wright, were both there. And the day I left Tucson, they stood with me at the steps of the Pullman until the train pulled out. It was no mark a of special beneficence to me. I could see that it was simply their fine sense of hospitality.
   I should describe Wright's appearance as "rangey," if you know what I mean by that. He is tall, and spare, but rugged; modelled after lines not unlike those of Abe Lincoln. There is, however, little or no trace of the terrific battle he once fought with the White Plague. It is very evident that this battle has been won. His movements are rather rapid, decisive; and an army man might describe his stride as "snappy." He speaks softly, but always giving the impression that he speaks precisely what he wishes to say. His smile, too, is quiet. By that I mean it is a smile of genuine pleasure, of one who finds much in life that is good and worth smiling about. In the days I was with him--in his home, in the desert, on the cattle range, in town--I don't believe I ever heard him really laugh out loud. Yet he laughed whole-heartedly many times in the quiet way which is typical of the man.
   We first drove about Tucson while Mrs. Wright shopped for provisions. They live five miles out, where there are no deliveries. While we waited, Wright inquired about the folks in McCall Street. He told me he had just mailed the first two installments of the new novel. He was very anxious that his first serial please them, r and the McCall family.
   Presently we were driving out through the country. In a few minutes we had passed all cultivated land, all signs of human habitation. The sage, the greasewood, the cactus and the mesquite replaced orderly rows of trees, well kept yards, attractive homes and gardens. Almost before I knew it, we were at the Wright gate. The road winds in leisurely fashion through a heavy, natural desert growth up to the top of a gently sloping knoll upon which stands the little group of buildings which comprise the Wright homestead. A mile away one would scarcely know a building stood there. The Wrights have happily combined the southwestern Indian pueblo and the Spanish hacienda in the general architectural scheme.
   When I stepped into the house I expressed my first thought aloud. "Why, these windows frame perfect pictures in every direction I look," I exclaimed. The Wrights smiled. Another visitor had confirmed the success of their house-building plans.
   "We built the house around these windows," Wright explained. "We nailed some boards together in the form of frames, and set them about until they framed the views you see from here, until each was a picture. Then we told the contractor to build the house around them."
   After luncheon Wright took me to his literary workshop, a wing on the east side of the house. In building and furnishing it, he fashioned for himself his ideal of a workshop. The windows, like those in the living room and dining room, are very large, perhaps six feet wide and four feet high. Each is a single sash, and may be thrown up entirely out of sight so that the room may be made practically an outdoor spot. Open on three sides, it looks out upon undisturbed desert growth, with clumps of mesquite trees touching the window frames in places.

   Wright used to be a minister. Most people are aware of this fact. They know that when he wrote "That Printer of a Udells" and "The Shepherd of the Hills" he was performing pastoral duties at the same time. In fact, he told me the congregation of his last church had always consistently declined to accept his resignation, so that he really is still a sort of pastor-emeritus, as it were.
   And here permit me to digress for a moment. Wright quit the active ministry for just two reasons. One was that he could not stand the physical strain. The other was to extend his ministry to a larger audience. Thrown upon his own resources, practically, when he was ten years old, Wright never was strong, never robust. He earned his education. It took a lot of vitality from him to do so. As a consequence, he found himself constantly slipping toward the physical scrap heap when he essayed the difficult role of a busy pastor. And always having an interest in writing he concluded to try it while on one of his periodically enforced vacations for recuperation. He succeeded, as the popularity of "That Printer of Udells" proves. He determined to try one more book, and if that succeeded he would take it as the will of God that he should work out his ministry through books. The second succeeded. He accepted this as God's wish that he minister to a larger field. His congregation now totals many millions.
   In A Son of His Father which begins next month in McCall's, he wants to appeal to us to preserve and make use of the heritage of moral, mental and physical strength, courage and principle handed down to us by the pioneers of America.
   "An artist's greatest task is to understand and perfect his own technique," he told me. "I am trying always to perfect mine: But I cannot do my work while trying to imitate the technique of others, no matter how perfect theirs may be."
   And then, without personal criticism of any of his contemporaries, he indicated his belief that there is something more important in writing that [sic] mere perfection of technique. He added: "I would rather get a great truth from an untutored, illiterate cowman than a lie, perfectly told, from an erudite college professor."
   Wright asked if I wanted to see some of this country which is such an inspiration to him. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Our time was too limited to permit adequate exploration on horseback, so we took a big car which he has especially equipped for mountain and desert travel. Wright drove.
   As we rode along, a tiny lizard, frightened perhaps by the sudden invasion of his quiet domain by a great panting monster of civilization, darted out into one of the wheel tracks, scarcely a yard in front of the car. Wright was talking, and I was listening. I didn't even know that he saw the little lizard, and I probably was too intent upon listening to have thought of interruption. But he did see the lizard. The brakes screamed, so powerfully did he set them. Wright continued to speak, and shifted into low gear. A moment or two later the scurrying desert reptile found his way out of the wheel track and to safety in the brush. Wright let the clutch in, and we proceeded on our way. Neither of us mentioned the incident. Wright never stopped talking on the point under discussion. It was plainly evident that this was an ordinary occurrence with him, so common that he acted subconsciously. I suppose we saw hundreds of those little lizards that afternoon, darting through the brush. They are the commonest living creatures of the desert. Killing one would have made little difference. But as I have come to know Hal Wright of Tucson, I know he did exactly what I would expect him to do.
   And incidentally, it is also interesting to note that when he did this thing he had a big .44 calibre revolver in a holster on a full cartridge belt beside him in the seat! I asked him afterward why, when we went out on those desert trips, he always took along a revolver. "One doesn't need a gun very often in this country," he explained. "But when he does, he usually needs it badly."
   That evening he proposed that we might drive down into the Arivaca country next day. It is in the Arivaca country he has laid the scenes of his new McCall story. It lies at the foot of the Serritas, a mountain range some sixty miles southwest of Tucson, and very close to the Mexican border.
   Mrs. Wright had a big lunch basket ready for us at half past seven in the morning. Wright and I drove to Tucson "to pick up a couple of friends for company." I was soon to appreciate his selection. They stood for two distinct types the Southwest breeds. And it is among these men that the famous novelist becomes simply "Hal" Wright, ideal companion on a desert or a mountain excursion.
   The McCall family will soon become familiar with Las Rosas Rancho, central scene of Wright's new story. We were soon upon the ranch Wright used for this location. The buildings were there, the country is there, exactly as he describes it. And the people are precisely the sort
of people he describes in the story. I know. I met some of them, or rather their prototypes. It was like having the characters step out of a book and shake hands with you!
   The religious strain is essentially a part of the Wright character. He is sensitive to the finest things in life, and rebellious against those forces which tend to coarsen our national fabric. He still believes earnestly in the importance of the church in our lives. But I am inclined to believe that he is a bit impatient with what he may regard as the inability of many churches and many churchmen to make the church an essential part of man's life. He does not believe in one-day-a-week religion.
   The Wrights seldom leave their home country. The past year or so they have been very busy fixing up the new desert home. Much remains to be done. While you are reading the new story, it is probable that Wright will be in his tinker-shop in one of the out-buildings, making furniture for the Guest House.
   "Come back again," Hal Wright said as my train began to move out of the station. Mrs. Wright nodded a second to his invitation. I will, because I am quite certain they meant it; and equally positive that I want more of their friendly hospitality. They are our kind of folks.


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