The Enchanted Typewriter

Author: John Kendrick Bangs

V the Editing of Xanthippe

After my interview with Xanthippe, I hesitated to approach the type-writer for a week or two. It did a great deal of clicking after the midnight hour had struck, and I was consumed with curiosity to know what was going on, but I did not wish to meet Mrs. Socrates again, so I held aloof until Boswell should have served his sentence. I was no longer afraid of the woman, but I do fear the good fellow of the weaker sex, and I deemed it just as well to keep out of any and all disputes that might arise from a casual conversation with a creature of that sort. An agreement with a real good fellow, even when it ends in a row, is more or less diverting; but a disputation with a female good fellow places a man at a disadvantage. The argumentum ad hominem is not an easy thing with men, but with women it is impossible. Hence, I let the type-writer click and ring for a fortnight.

Finally, to my relief, I recognized Boswell’s touch upon the keys and sauntered up to the side of the machine.

"Is this Boswell—Jim Boswell?" I inquired.

"All that’s left of him," was the answer. "How have you been?"

"Very well," said I. And then it seemed to me that tact required that I should not seem to know that he had been in the superheated jail of the Stygian country. So I observed, "You’ve been off on a vacation, eh?"

"How do you know that?" was the immediate response.

"Well," I put in, "you’ve been absent for a fortnight, and you look more or less—ah—burned."

"Yes, I am," replied the deceitful editor. "Very much burned, in fact. I’ve been—er—I’ve been playing golf with a friend down in Cimmeria."

"I envy you," I observed, with an inward chuckle.

"You wouldn’t if you knew the links," replied Boswell, sadly. "They’re awfully hard. I don’t know any harder course than the Cimmerian."

And then I became conscious of a mistrustful gaze fastened upon me.

"See here," clicked the machine. "I thought I was invisible to you? If so, how do you know I look burned?"

I was cornered, and there was only one way out of it, and that was by telling the truth. "Well, you are invisible, old chap," I said. "The fact is, I’ve been told of your trouble, and I know what you have undergone."

"And who told you?" queried Boswell.

"Your successor on the Gazette, Madame Socrates, nee Xanthippe," I replied.

"Oh, that woman—that woman!" moaned Boswell, through the medium of the keys. "Has she been here, using this machine too? Why didn’t you stop her before she ruined me completely?"

"Ruined you?" I cried.

"Well, next thing to it," replied Boswell. "She’s run my paper so far into the ground that it will take an almighty powerful grip to pull it out again. Why, my dear boy, when I went to—to the ovens, I had a circulation of a million, and when I came back that woman had brought it down to eight copies, seven of which have already been returned. All in ten days, too."

"How do you account for it?" I asked.

"’Side Talks with Men’ helped, and ’The Man’s Corner’ did a little, but the editorial page did the most of it. It was given over wholly to the advancement of certain Xanthippian ideas, which were very offensive to my women readers, and which found no favor among the men. She wants to change the whole social structure. She thinks men and women are the same kind of animal, and that both need to be educated on precisely the same lines—the girls to be taught business, the boys to go through a course of domestic training. She called for subscriptions for a cooking-school for boys, and demanded the endowment of a commercial college for girls, and wound up by insisting upon a uniform dress for both sexes. I tell you, if you’d worked for years to establish a dignified newspaper the way I have, it would have broken your heart to see the suggested fashion-plates that woman printed. The uniform dress was a holy terror. It was a combination of all the worst features of modern garb. Trousers were to be universal and compulsory; sensible masculine coats were discarded entirely, and puffed-sleeved dress-coats were substituted. Stiff collars were abolished in favor of ribbons, and rosettes cropped up everywhere. Imagine it if you can—and everybody in all Hades was to be forced into garments of that sort!"

"I should enjoy seeing it," I said.

"Possibly—but you wouldn’t enjoy wearing it," retorted the machine. "And then that woman’s funny column—it was frightful. You never saw such jokes in your life; every one of them contained a covert attack upon man. There was only one good thing in it, and that was a bit of verse called ’Fair Play for the Little Girls.’ It went like this:

"’If little boys, when they are young,
Can go about in skirts,
And wear upon their little backs
Small broidered girlish shirts,
Pray why cannot the little girls,
When infants, have a chance
To toddle on their little ways
In little pairs of pants?’"

"That isn’t at all bad," said I, smiling in spite of poor Boswell’s woe. "If the rest of the paper was on a par with that I don’t see why the circulation fell off."

"Well, she took liberties, that’s all," said Boswell. "For instance, in her ’Side Talks with Men’ she had something like this: ’Napoleon— It is rather difficult to say just what you can do with your last season’s cocked-hat. If you were to purchase five yards of one-inch blue ribbon, cut it into three strips of equal length, and fasten one end to each of the three corners of the hat, tying the other ends into a choux, it would make a very acceptable work-basket to send to your grandmother at Christmas.’ Now Napoleon never asked that woman for advice on the subject. Then there was an answer to a purely fictitious inquiry from Solomon which read: ’It all depends on local custom. In Salt Lake City, and in London at the time of Henry the Eighth, it was not considered necessary to be off with the old love before being on with the new, but latterly the growth of monopolistic ideas tends towards the uniform rate of one at a time.’ A purely gratuitous fling, that was, at one of my most eminent patrons, or rather two of them, for latterly both Solomon and Henry the Eighth have yielded to the tendency of the times and gone into business, which they have paid me well to advertise. Solomon has established an ’Information Bureau,’ where advice can always be had from the ’Wise-man,’ as he calls himself, on payment of a small fee; while Henry, taking advantage of his superior equipment over any English king that ever lived, has founded and liberally advertised his ’Chaperon Company (Limited).’ It’s a great thing even in Hades for young people to be chaperoned by an English queen, and Henry has been smart enough to see it, and having seven or eight queens, all in good standing, he has been doing a great business. Just look at it from a business point of view. There are seven nights in every week, and something going on somewhere all the time, and queens in demand. With a queen quoted so low as $100 a night, Henry can make nearly $5000 a week, or $260,000 a year, out of evening chaperonage alone; and when, in addition to this, yachting-parties up the Styx and slumming-parties throughout the country are being constantly given, the man’s opportunity to make half a million a year is in plain sight. I’m told that he netted over $500,000 last year; and of course he had to advertise to get it, and this Xanthippe woman goes out of her way to get in a nasty little fling at one of my mainstays for his matrimonial propensities."

"Failing utterly to see," said I, "that, in marrying so many times, Henry really paid a compliment to her sex which is without parallel in royal circles."

"Well, nearly so," said Boswell. "There have been other kings who were quite as complimentary to the ladies, but Henry was the only man among them who insisted on marrying them all."

"True," said I. "Henry was eminently proper—but then he had to be."

"Yes," said Boswell, with a meditative tap on the letter Y. "Yes— he had to be. He was the head of the Church, you know."

"I know it," I put in. "I’ve always had a great deal of sympathy for Henry. He has been very much misjudged by posterity. He was the father of the really first new woman, Elizabeth, and his other daughter, Mary, was such a vindictive person."

"You are a very fair man, for an American," said Boswell. "Not only fair, but rare. You think about things."

"I try to," said I, modestly. "And I’ve really thought a great deal about Henry, and I’ve truly seen a valid reason for his continuous matrimonial performances. He set himself up against the Pope, and he had to be consistent in his antagonism."

"He did, indeed," said Boswell. "A religious discussion is a hard one."

"And Henry was consistent in his opposition," said I. "He didn’t yield a jot on any point, and while a great many people criticise him on the score of his wives—particularly on their number—I feel that I have in very truth discovered his principle."

"Which was?" queried Boswell.

"That the Pope was wrong in all things," said I.

"So he said," commented Boswell.

"And being wrong in all things, celibacy was wrong," said I.

"Exactly," ejaculated Boswell.

"Well, then," said I, "if celibacy is wrong, the surest way to protest against it is to marry as many times as you can."

"By Jove!" said Boswell, tapping the keys yearningly, as though he wished he might spare his hand to shake mine, "you are a man after my own heart."

"Thanks, old chap," said I, reaching out my hand and shaking it in the air with my visionary friend—"thanks. I’ve studied these things with some care, and I’ve tried to find a reason for everything in life as I know it. I have always regarded Henry as a moral man—as is natural, since in spite of all you can say he is the real head of the English Church. He wasn’t willing to be married a second or a seventh time unless he was really a widower. He wasn’t as long in taking notice again as some modern widowers that I have met, but I do not criticise him on that score. I merely attribute his record to his kingly nature, which involves necessarily a quickness of decision and a decided perception of the necessities which is sadly lacking in people who are born to a lesser station in life. England demanded a queen, and he invariably met the demand, which shows that he knew something of political economy as well as of matrimony; and as I see it, being an American, a man needs to know something of political economy to be a good ruler. So many of our statesmen have acquired a merely kindergarten knowledge of the science, that we have had many object-lessons of the disadvantages of a merely elementary knowledge of the subject. To come right down to it, I am a great admirer of Henry. At any rate, he had the courage of his heart-convictions."

"You really surprise me," tapped Boswell. "I never expected to find an American so thoroughly in sympathy with kings and their needs."

"Oh, as for that," said I, "in America we are all kings and we are not without our needs, matrimonial and otherwise, only our courts are not quite so expeditious as Henry’s little axe. But what was Henry’s attitude towards this extraordinary flight of Xanthippe’s?"

"Wrath," said Boswell. "He was very much enraged, and withdrew his advertisements, declined to give our society reporters the usual accounts of the functions his wives chaperoned, and, worst of all, has withdrawn himself and induced others to withdraw from the symposium I was preparing for my special Summer Girls’ issue, which is to appear in August, on ’How Men Propose.’ He and Brigham Young and Solomon and Bonaparte had agreed to dictate graphic accounts of how they had done it on various occasions, and Queen Elizabeth, who probably had more proposals to the square minute that any other woman on record, was to write the introduction. This little plan, which was really the idea of genius, is entirely shattered by Mrs. Socrates’s infernal interference."

"Nonsense," said I. "Don’t despair. Why don’t you come out with a plain statement of the facts? Apologize."

"You forget, my dear sir," interposed Boswell, "that one of the fundamental principles of Hades as an institution is that excuses don’t count. It isn’t a place for repentance so much as for expiation, and I might apologize nine times a minute for forty years and would still have to suffer the penalty of the offence. No, there is nothing to be done but to begin my newspaper work again, build up again the institution that Xanthippe has destroyed, and bear my misfortunes like a true spirit."

"Spoken like a philosopher!" I cried. "And if I can help you, my dear Boswell, count upon me. In anything you may do, whether you start a monthly magazine, a sporting weekly, or a purely American Sunday newspaper, you are welcome to anything I can do for you."

"You are very kind," returned Boswell, appreciatively, "and if I need your services I shall be glad to avail myself of them. Just at present, however, my plans are so fully prepared that I do not think I shall have to call upon you. With Sherlock Holmes engaged to write twelve new detective stories; Poe to look after my tales of horror; D’Artagnan dictating his personal memoirs; Lucretia Borgia running my Girls’ Department; and others too numerous to mention, I have a sufficient supply of stuff to fill up; but if you feel like writing a few poems for me I may be able to use them as fillers, and they may help to make your name so well known in Hades that next year I shall be able to print a Worldly Letter from you every week with a good chance of its proving popular."

And with this promise Boswell left me to get out the first number of The Cimmerian: a Sunday Magazine for all. Taking him at his word, I sent him the following poem a few days later:


Whither do we drift,
Insensate souls, whose every breath
Foretells the doom of nothingness?
Yet onward, upward let it be
Through all the myriad circles
Of the ensuing years—
And then, pray what?
Alas! ’tis all, and never shall be stated.
Atoms, yet atomless we drift,
But whitherward?

I had intended this for one of our leading magazines, but it seemed so to lack the mystical quality, which is essential to a successful magazine poem in our sphere, that I deemed it best to try it on Boswell.


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Chicago: John Kendrick Bangs, "V the Editing of Xanthippe," The Enchanted Typewriter in The Enchanted Typewriter (New York: The Century Co., 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Bangs, John Kendrick. "V the Editing of Xanthippe." The Enchanted Typewriter, in The Enchanted Typewriter, New York, The Century Co., 1918, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Bangs, JK, 'V the Editing of Xanthippe' in The Enchanted Typewriter. cited in 1918, The Enchanted Typewriter, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from