The fortunes of the age reflected in a magazine
You may have seen the lead column ("The Easy Chair") in the October Harper's subtitled "Take My Mentor - Please". It advises working women - particularly young women executives - not to depend upon male mentors, and certainly not
to get "involved" with them. There is a sex reversal here: the original Mentor was really the goddess Athena in disguise, counseling the young [quoteright]Telemachus while his father, Ulysses, was roaming the Mediterranean dallying with Circe and the sirens and other more desirable females. But, the OED assures us, the word is also applied to things - the Bible, for instance. And that reminds me of a magazine...
The first issue of The Mentor ("A Wise and Faithful Guide and Friend") appeared on 17 February 1913. Each issue, for the first several years, consisted of a dozen printed pages and six "exquisite intaglio gravures," usually sepia but sometimes in other shades, and occasionally six prints in full color - the entire magazine being devoted to a single subject. Since it was published weekly by the Associated Newspaper School, Inc. (New York City), there was also a tie-in with local newspapers, which "published every weekday a human interest story about a picture in The Mentor." In northern California two papers carried this column: The Vallejo Daily Times and the Eureka Humbolt Standard. The subjects for the first four issues were: "Beautiful Children in Art," "Makers of American Poetry," "A Trip Round the World," and "Beautiful Women in Art." Initially, each issue sold for 10 cents, raised to 15 cents after six months (subscriptions remained steady at $5 per year). One difficulty with those early issues, for serious magazine collectors, was the fact that the gravures were loose, so that one often finds a copy missing some, or all, of its principal illustrations -- and a good deal of the written content too, since the most pertinent material concerning each photogravure was often printed on the back, not in the bound text. In the second year, The Mentor was published only twice a month. Twenty-four issues cost $3 by subscription, and the publisher changed (the first of many changes) to the Mentor Association. Subscribers were offered many free supplementary services (e.g. a reading club program).
Pausing for a moment with The Mentor No. 106 (1 May 1916), devoted to "American Pioneer Prose Writers," we find, along with the names of James Fenimore Cooper, Benjamin Franklin etc, the name of James Kirke Paulding (1779-1860). It is doubtful if one living American in a million has read any of his prose - but nearly everyone is familiar with one very short poem he composed:
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;(Did you ever stop to wonder where Peter went to "pick" pickled peppers?)
Where is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"
In mid-1919, wartime inflation forced the price of The Mentor to 20 cents ($4 per year) then, with the 212th issue (October, 1920) The Mentor underwent the first of several changes in format and content. There were still six gravure pictures, but bound into the center of the magazine, and hence numbered as regular pages; the number of pages rose to 40, the price to 35¢, and the last five pages were not devoted to the main topic ("The Inland Seas - The Great Lakes"). For example, on page 35 of this October issue we are told the intriguing story of a young Kansan, his French bride, and the subsequent acquisition (by a Kansas Museum) of one of her family treasures: Leonardo da Vinci's "La Belle Ferroniere" - removed from France duty free (The duty was 100%) because the owner had a right to take her property with her to America, where the sale was completed.
The May 1921 issue features a long article by Rabindranath Tagore (the Kahlil Gibran of his day) on Women: also Folk Sayings from China and Hindustan, rhymed by Arthur Guiterman:
"Avoid suspicion; when you're walking through
Your Neighbor's melon patch, don't tie your shoe."
"The starveling cat maintains the firm belief
That every well-fed cat must be a thief."
The August 1922 issue saw the first of several increases in page size, and another change of publisher, to the Crowell Publishing Co. with W. D. Moffat as editor. In the "Open Letter" on the last page of that magazine Moffat assures his readers that the magazine will follow the dictum of Mr. Emil Coué, the French "soul Doctor" ("Who is stirring France and England with his formula for self-improvement -- 'Day by day, in every way, I am growing better'"). And just before the "Open Letter" Harlow Shapley summarized the controversy about the "canals" of Mars and the possibility of intelligent life on that planet. He concludes that "the theory has a profound appeal to the imagination. But beyond that the theory has, to back it up, very little in the way of solid scientific fact."
By April 1927 the page size of The Mentor had grown again - now it was the same size as a current Atlantic Monthly. This issue began with an article on pirates, continued with "The Tragic Fate of Carlotta" (Emperor Maximilian's consort), and contained a set of striking color reproductions of the work of Arnold Bocklin ("The Isle of the Dead," which he painted five times, is his best known painting).
As an American Savoyard I particularly treasure The Mentor of February 1929, with its cover, a color woodcut of Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., from HMS Pinafore. That year was the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of that much loved work - how sad it is that the D'Oyly Carte Company, which commissioned and produced all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas from 1875 to 1982, was forced to close last year. An article, "the Great Partnership," by Grant Overton, contains a little known anecdote about Sullivan, who, unlike Gilbert, seldom lost his temper. But in one rehearsal of Princess Ida, "he endured one singer for long, then laid down his baton.
"'Mr. Blank,' speaking calmly, with a smile, 'there is something radically wrong with that song. Either you do not understand it, or I don't.
'I think understand it', replied Mr. Blank, with assurance.
'Perhaps you do. That's the worst of being a composer. One always begins at the wrong end. In future I'll get you to sing my songs first, then I'll compose them afterwards.'
An awful silence - then the rehearsal went on."
The article reproduces the plaque on Sullivan's New York lodgings (45 East 20th St.) which read (incorrectly) : "On this site Sir Arthur Sullivan composed "The Pirates of Penzance" during 1879." He did orchestrate the work there, but that was all.
The great depression of 1929 saw a drastic change in appearance and content of The Mentor. The Editor was now Hugh Leamy, and the magazine was now printed on slick paper, with many illustrations drawn in the style of John Held, Jr. In fact, the magazine seems to have tried to duplicate the look of Vanity Fair (without the fashions, however). The November issue features articles by A. A. Milne, Knute Rockne, Lowell Thomas, and an editorial by Will Durant.
The Mentor had now reduced its price to 25¢ and in April 1930 it even introduced a fiction feature - a "Story of the Month." The tenor of the articles had changed, too. Cosmo Hamilton's "Marriage the Failure" foresees the impending doom of that venerable institution; of the "Bright Young Women" he says: "Do they share the same rooms? Oh, no. They can't be bothered with his clothing and moods, his inhibitions and complexes, his love of the gramophone, his general untidiness. There are no fusty conventions and Mrs Grundys in these good days, of course."
This desperate attempt to shock, to be daring and even frivolous in an attempt to gain new readers was in vain; in June 1930, Crowell Publishing gave up, and George W. Martin, its publisher, gave the magazine a new title, The Mentor-- World Traveller, a new look, and enlarged the pages to slightly more than Life size. As an indication that the end was not far off, the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature stopped indexing the magazine in December 1930. My last issue is January 1931; I have reason to believe it was the last published.
This last issue has ladies fashions in the two center pages, and a "Gossip of the World" column by Lady Drummond-Hay. One part of her column sounds contemporary: "The world is sick. It is sick socially, politically, economically to an extent never before experienced. It is a singular fact that this condition has grown worse..." She then proceeds to attribute this condition almost entirely to "the practical cessation of migration, which today is seen as emigration and immigration." She characterizes Hitler, whom she interviewed, as "standing aloof in the isolation of his idealism." If she detected his anti-Semitism, she is careful to conceal the fact.
The final pages are filled with dates and prices of cruises, all from the East Coast, nearly all from New York City: "Jan. 8 - The M.V. Britannic, White Star Line, Leaves N.Y. on a 46 day cruise $750 up."
Sic transit gloria Mentor...
Paul W. Healy, the solon of Contra Costa, digs deep into his mountain of magazines for his monthly articles. How many dentist's offices have been depleted to make his hoard?
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