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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XIII, Italian — Spanish, The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 228-236.


José de Larra — “Figaro” [1809-1837]

Joys of Journalism

“AT last I am a journalist!” I exclaimed enthusiastically, and immediately began to conceive articles, fully determined to grind in the mortar of my criticism any writer who might be unfortunate enough to invade the territory covered by my jurisdiction. Fool that I was! I shall recount briefly my experiences, without, however, revealing the secret springs that set in motion the complication machinery of a magazine, or lifting the veil of prestige that drapes its altars. My story is unexaggerated and impartial, and I leave the reader to judge if it be not preferable to subscribe to a periodical than to be obliged wisely and hurriedly to provide reading matter for it.

“Mr. Figaro,” says the editor, “let us have an article on the stage, if you please.”

Now, be it understood that I write for the public, and the public, it seems to me, deserves the truth. The comedy in question is ridiculous. The actor, A, is bad, and the actress, B, is worse. Great heavens! It never would have occurred to me to choose the stage as my subject. What is to be done when the author of a comedy pronounces it excellent and the critic acephalous? The actors will use bad language, the author’s future plays will be refused, and any one will be disgusted. Who is this critic, anyhow? An incompetent, a pedant, a rascal! And all this obloquy falls on the unlucky head of the poor friend of beauty and of truth.

Oh, the joys of journalism!


I fly precipitately from the stage to literature. A presumptuous individual has just published a quite indigestible work. “Sir,” he begins a seductive letter, “I confide in your talent and in your friendship for myself, of which I have ample proof (which unfortunately is quite true), that you will honor my work with a just and impartial criticism (by impartial he means favorable), an I hope that you will do me the honor to dine with me, in order that we may together discuss certain ideas that might be touched upon etc.”

Ignore these insinuations, and you will have to choose between ingratitude and falsehood. Both vices have their stern detractors, and the wrath of at least one of them will be vented on the unlucky Figaro.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

I will translate foreign news, then. I sharpen my pen, arrange a vast pile of periodicals, and set to work. Three columns are soon written. Three columns, did I say? On the following day I look for them in the Review, but in vain.

“Mr. Editor, what has been done with my copy?”

“None of your business!” he replies. “Here it is. We haven’t been able to use it. This piece is not suitable; that over there is out of date; the other is good, but badly translated.”

“But remember that one must do this work for hours at a time, and a man gets tired!” I explain.

“If you are the sort of man who gets tired, you are no use for newspaper work.”

“But my head aches already.”

“The head of a good journalist never aches.”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

Away with trifles, then. It seems that I am cut out for 230 sterner stuff. I will write a profound and instructive article — on political economy, for instance.

“A fine article,” the editor tells me, “but don’t write any more like it.”

“Why not?”

“Because it will ruin my magazine. Who do you think will read it, if it is not jocular, malicious, or superficial? Besides, it takes up five columns — all that I have left. No, Mr. Figaro, let us have no more scientific articles. You are wasting your time.”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

“Now, I wish you would revise these articles that have been sent in, especially those dealing with poetical subjects.”

“Yes, Mr. Editor, but I shall have to read them.”

“Certainly, Mr. Figaro.”

“Very good, Mr. Editor, but I would much rather recite the whole of the Litany fifty times.”

“Mr. Figaro!”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

Politics and more politics. What else is left to me? It is true that I do not know anything about it, but what difference will that make? Shall I be the first to write ignorantly on politics? I set to work, then, and string together a batch of words such s these: conferences, protocols, rights, representation, monarchy, legality, cabinets, courts, centralization, nations, happiness, peace, illusions, treason, war, inexpedience, belligerents, armistice, forces, unity, governments, maxims, systems, disquisitions, revolution, order, center, left, modification, bill, reforms, etc. I write my article, but merciful heavens! the editor sends for me.

“Mr. Figaro, you are evidently trying to compromise me with the ideas propounded in this article.”


“I propound ideas, Mr. Editor? If so, I did not know it. What reason should I have for such a thing?”

“You had better take care.”

“Pardon me, but I did not believe my political system was so — ” I paused to think of an appropriate word.

“Because, if any harm should result, you will be responsible.”

“I, Mr. Editor?”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

If this were only all for which poor Figaro stands responsible, it would not be so bad. Even if the author were not mediocre, nor the actor offended, nor the article displeasing, some confounded imp of a printer would be sure to make some silly mistake in spelling. And then who would be responsible? Figaro, of course! It is probable that I shall soon be obliged to print my own articles.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

And to think that I once cherished a desire to enter the journalistic field! I confess to you, dear reader, that I have a weak character, and never knew what I wanted. And this you may judge from the long list of my unfortunate writings, which, however, I shall do my best to abridge, henceforth, as much as I can.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

“The Articles.”

Don Candido Buenafe’s Ambitious Son

DON CANDIDO BUENAFÉ is an excellent fellow, but one of those men o whom one is accustomed to speak as unlucky. He has been employed all his life in an obscure branch of the civil service, and knows just about enough to read the 232 Gazette, and compose, with bad syntax and worse orthography, official correspondence of a routine sort, or make extracts from legal documents. But, in spite of his lack of learning, he is ambitious that his son Tomas should grow up wiser than himself, to which end, by the way, no extraordinary efforts or sacrifices would be necessary. “I would cheerfully give,” he has said many a time, newspaper in hand, “half of my salary to be able to write a political article as good as this. What a clever man the author of this must be, and how he convinces one with his arguments! Yes, I would give half of my life and the other half, too, if my son Tomas might some day do as well.

Imbued with this idea, he had the boy taught Latin, and later sent him to a French master, “because,” as he said, “if you know French you know all that need be known”; and he would add, “There are plenty of learned pundits in the country who know nothing else.” In two months the little angel, who was fourteen years old at the time, learned to translate badly and read defectively, “Calypso se trouvait inconsolable du départ d’Ulysse,” and then it was that he and his papa made me a visit, the interesting details of which I here set forth for the entertainment of my readers.

“Mr. Figaro,” said Don Candido, greeting me cordially, “let me present to you my son Tomas, who knows Latin. You may not be ignorant of the fact that I am training him for a literary career, in order that he may rescue the family name from obscurity. Ah, Mr. Figaro, when I see him famous, I shall die happy.”

Tomas then made so awkward a bow that I could do no less than found great hopes on his literary prowess. But his appearance and speech differed not at all from those of other young men of the day. He told me that it was true that he 233 was only fourteen years old, but that he knew the world and the human heart comme ma poche, that all women were alike, that he was very blasé, and that he was deceived by none; that Voltaire was a great man, and that no one had laughed more than he at Compère Mathieu, since his papa, desirous of his attaining knowledge, had allowed him to read any book that might fall into his hands. Touching politics, he added, “I and Chateaubriand agree”; and, in conclusion he chattered about nations and revolutions as he might have recounted the doings of his school friends.

“The boys of the nineteenth century,” said I to myself, “seem to reach old age before they have been young.”

My two friends, the ancient youth and the youthful old man, then seated themselves, and Don Candido took from his pocket a thick package.

“My visit has two objects,” he said. “As for the first, Tomas having made great strides in French, I have told him to translate a comedy. He has done so, and here it is.”


“Yes, sir. Certain passages have been left blank, since he had no other dictionary than Sobrino’s, and ——”


“You will undoubtedly be kind enough to alter anything that seems to you incorrect; and as you are familiar with the steps necessary to take in order to put it on the stage, and the ——”

“Ah! you wish to have it produced?”

“Most certainly. You see, the royalties will be for him.”

“Yes, sir,” interrupted the boy, “and papa has promised me a dress suit as soon as the tragedy on which I am now working is finished.”



“Yes, sir, in eleven scenes. You know, in Paris, they no longer construct these works in acts, but In scenes. It is a romantic tragedy. Classicism is the death of genius, as of course you know. Do you think there is any chance of its being given?”

“Well, why not?”

“Let me tell you,” put in Don Candido, “he has already written a descriptive comedy.”

“I beg your pardon,” added Tomas, “when I wrote it, I had not read Victor Hugo, nor had I the experience that I now possess.”


“Yes, my son wrote the comedy, and we sent it to a man who makes a specialty of reading plays. He said that it was all right, and that he would send it to the censor. So I suppose he sent it.”

“Excuse me, papa, but it was lost, you remember.”

“Oh, yes, certainly, it was lost; and as we could not find it anywhere, we had to make another copy, and sent it to the censor.”

“Papa you are mistaken; first we sent it to the civil bureau.”

“So we did, and from there it went to the ecclesiastical censor, was then returned to the civil bureau, and finally got to the political censor. In a word, in six months it came back to us prohibited.”


“Yes, sir; and why, I don’t know, because my comedy ——”

“It may be that they did well, Mr. Figaro. My son always writes with a purpose! But is it not enough to say that his mother nearly died of laughing when she read it, and that I wept with joy?”


“The second object that brings us here,” Don Candido presently resumed, “is that you may give my Tomas some good advice, for I have already told him that he should not restrict himself to plays; that the field of literature is very vast, and that the temple of fame has many doors.”

“You are right, friend Candido. But allow me to tell your son the best way to become famous. Do not write anything for a long time. Silence is literary aristocracy, and I say to you that if you follow my advice there will come a day when the words will be on everybody’s lips, ‘Don Tomas, yes, Don Tomas is a wise man.’ After that you will be able with perfect confidence to deluge the public with comedies, essays, and commentaries. Everything will then be read with avidity, if only it be from the hand of Don Tomas. If you have no desire for fame, and wish to take the short road to publicity, you must act quite otherwise. Steep yourself in comic writers; have a correspondent in Paris, and send for a new comedy of Scribe every week; worm yourself into the columns of the newspapers, and write that everything is as it should be, and that we are all saints. Make arrangements with some publisher, who will iv you four or five pesos a volume for translations of Walter Scott, which you can do at odd moments. That they may be badly translated matters not at all, for neither the publisher nor any other Christian will understand them. That’s the way to become famous, Don Tomas.”

At this point Don Candido fell into my arms, and, taking Tomas by the hand, said:

“See, my son, how wisely the gentleman speaks. Now give thanks to your protector. I suspected it all: you need no more than you know already. How fortunate, Mr. Figaro! My son’s career is made. Essays, comedies, novels, 236 translations! And all through knowing French! Oh, French! French! Ah! and magazines? Did you not also mention magazines, Mr. Figaro?”

“Yes, my friend, and magazines too,” I concluded, conducting the pair to the door, and bidding them farewell. “Only I warn you not to put too much faith in them, as they may not always be in existence. but remember the rest of my advice, for that is the road to fame.”

“The Essays.”


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