Good morning, weirdos. This morning I’ve come to introduce you to a colleague of mine, a man I’ve only recently discovered across the gooey membrane of time. 

Arthur G. Staples, the fellow’s name is, and 100 years ago, he occupied a cluttered desk right here at the Sun Journal on Park Street in Lewiston. 

How do I know his desk was cluttered, you ask in that haughty way you have? I know because Arthur G. Staples himself told me himself. 

“Many people come into my office and sniff at my littered desk,” he wrote in a column titled, ‘The Littered Desk.’ “They do not understand. Give me time and I can find anything on my desk – except money.” 

Like myself, Arthur G. Staples was wary of dentists, although he was encouraged, somewhat, by advances in medicine that made the matter of tooth removal a little less gory and horrific. 

“It is pleasant to know that science is doing so much for us,” the eloquent columnist wrote. “It is taking our arms and legs off painlessly, removing our teeth with soothing music of the ether and the phonograph. Some day it may do as much for our sins and iniquities. St. Peter will hardly know us.” 

Like all newspaper writers worthy of note, Arthur G. Staples was not without vice. He smoked cigarettes, did my new pal, but only with great shame. 

“I firmly believe,” he wrote in a column titled Confessions of a Smoker, “that the man who smokes deserves to be punished for it.” 

Mark Twain had nothing on Arthur G. Staples. 

He was born in 1861 and died in 1940, which means he was long gone by the time I plopped into the world. And yet, in a very real way, I feel as though I know this man better than I know those with whom I share actual office space. 

It’s easy to get acquainted with a man, it turns out, if you spend a little time with the words he produced over the course of a long and ponderous career. I have in my hands this very moment nearly 300 columns penned by Mr. Staples as he was sitting in the very building I now inhabit five days a week. 

In 1920 – Staples would have been pushing 60 by then– he published a collection of his columns titled “Just Talks on Common Themes.” I don’t know how many copies of the book were sold.  I have no idea whether sales made him rich enough to retire from newspapers altogether. 

I DO know that this was a man who, in an age when newspapers were the main source of news for just about everybody, valued his profession very highly. 

In a column titled “It Costs But Two Cents,” my chum Arthur G. rankles in the face of complaints about the price of the daily paper. 

“The newspaper cost four hundred years of battle for human liberty, men imprisoned for the sake of truth, early martyrs in the stocks,” he wrote. “A newspaper costs also heart and soul, gray hairs and early graves . . . It is eternal watchfulness – blazing competition in the search of news, heroes in every field, all habited places of earth, under the earth, under the sea, in the skies, over battlefields, over the top, in the trenches, in the cabinets, in the courts, in commerce and in finance – all specialists – all for two cents a day. NOW! Do you think that it costs but two cents? True, that’s what it sells for. But it costs! As well ask what freedom costs!” 

It’s a glorious rant from a writer who more often chose serene observation about matters of birds, brooks and pastures. Arthur G. seemed like a chap who was most comfortable describing the sunset over an Auburn pasture, or writing about his experiences in the deep woods of northern Maine. 

We share a lot, Arthur G. and I. He was required to write about the weather, I’m required to write about the weather. He was leery of editors and dubious assignments, I’m . . . well, it goes without saying. 

“Our Maine news editor came over to my desk the other day and said: ‘They are having a lawsuit up in northern Maine over the ownership of a feather bed. Why don’t you converse with your readers on the feather bed?” Arthur G. groused in one column. “And she said it just as tho it were something soft.” 

This newspaper columnist from that long ago Lewiston was more sunny, reflective and serious-minded than I have ever been. His muse was nature itself, where mine … 

Well, I don’t know what mine is, but it isn’t trees or lakes or nature. If Arthur G. Staples and I were to somehow transcend both time and the grave, we might meet for a smoke in Kennedy Park. He’d turn his attention to the birds in the trees, the wind on his face and to the way the evening shadows slanted just so. 

Next to him on the park bench, I’d be mulling the prostitute, the dope runner, the sketchy guy quenching his thirst from a paper bag. 

We have our differences, Arthur G. Staples and I. He’s something of a poet while I’m something of a clown. But don’t go getting the idea that this long-ago writer was above the absurd altogether. What columnist can manage a long career without at least occasionally going off the beam? 

“On Owning Half a Horse,” is the title of one of his columns. “Thoughts on the Hen” is another, and “The Scientific Use of Whiskers” just tickles me to no end. 

Once, while suffering a bout of spring fever, he wrote an entire column in broken English to reflect his inner restlessness. All of that and he managed to rhyme, too. 

“I ain’t felt right fer a week er two,” he wrote, “sorter cranky, restless an’ blue; don’t do nothin’ I oughter do; ain’t got the pip an’ ain’t got the flu.” 

Arthur G. was also no stranger to self-deprecation, as witnessed by his account of marching in a parade with gear that was not his own. 

“I also wore a man-size sword, which hung from a belt that was made for a large person, the outfit being borrowed,” he wrote in On Being a Martial Figger. “The sword hung down, therefore, in a sort of discouraged and depressed way, and the belt, not having the proper friction against my abdomen (and I not having any abdomen) it likewise slipped around in sympathy with my chapeau and got between my legs, so that really it was hard to tell sometimes which way I was marching . . .” 

A couple days after my wife produced Staples’ book from God-knows-where, I found myself absorbed in it; not just because I had found a kindred spirit, but because his observations from a century ago also served as a bit of history lesson. 

In one column, he rails against the idea that women could not or should not ever rise beyond the level of homemaker – in that age, Staples reports, it would have been laughable for a man to allow his wife to perform a task as mundane as balancing the checkbook. 

“Most wives are given no chance to show whether they have any business sagacity or not,” he wrote, in one of his more ferocious of columns. “And yet there are a lot of pin-heads who think a woman cannot possibly know how to do business in a proper way.” 

On Nov. 11, 1918, the recognized end of World War I, Staples added jubilation to his usual eloquence in describing his emotions at the news. 

“The end of war!” he wrote. “Celebrate! There never was a day like it before since Earth began to turn within the realm of space! It is the restoration of Brotherhood! It is the attestation of God’s loving care! It is the apotheosis of human happiness. They must be celebrating it in heaven!” 

Arthur G. Staples, posthumous winner of the Yankee Quill Award in 1961, was the Man, when you get right down to it –  a man of principle, an incredibly gifted writer and a downright hoot when his fancy was tickled in just the right way. 

He was also a team player: If you look over this column and do the math, you’ll see that Arthur G. Staples did most of the heavy lifting here. Near 80 years dead and his talent is still powerful enough to carry a column written by a stranger from the future. 

I only hope that I can do the same for some poor schlep struggling to fill column space wherever news is generated in the year 2120. 


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