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(madison icon)1902

The Story of a Literary Career

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox   1905

During my thirteenth year the "New York Mercury" ceased to come to us. I missed its weekly visits with an intensity scarcely to be understood by one who has not known the same lonely surroundings and possessed the same temperament. There was not money enough floating around in those times to permit a subscription to the "Mercury," and if I were to possess it I knew I must either obtain a long list of subscribers, which would be a difficult and laborious undertaking, or earn it by my pen.

I resolved to try. But fearing failure, I did not want the family to know of my venture. I wrote two essays--just what the subjects were I have forgotten, and the clippings were lost years since. How to post my letter was the next question. I often acted as mail carrier to the post office, five miles distant, riding across fields and over fences on my graceful single-footer, Kitty, in company with a schoolmate, Alice Ellis, who possessed a Shetland pony. We rode without saddles, blanketing and bridling our own steeds--and it is fortunate I did not live in Buffalo Bill's vicinity or my career might have terminated in the Wild West Show.

While I could post a letter unknown to my family, the stamp had first to be obtained. Finally I decided on a stratagem. I was corresponding with a young girl, several years my senior, who was in the freshman class at Madison University. I confided in her, enclosed the "Mercury" letter, and assured her she would be reimbursed for the stamp when we next met. I would save my pennies for that purpose.

Jean posted my letter and watched the newsstand for results. Two months later, long after I had relinquished all hope, she wrote me that my essays had appeared. Whereupon I wrote a stern reproof to the editor for not sending me the paper, "at least, as pay for my work," if he could afford no other remuneration. Shortly afterward a large package of back numbers of the "New York Mercury" came addressed to me through the country post office.

Even at that immature period I had a wooer--a young man past voting age, possessed of a mustache, a tenor voice and no visible means of support. He played the violin and sang "This night or never my bride thou shalt be" in a truly fascinating manner. He had been given to understand (by the family) that his room was preferable to his company, however, and had ceased to call. When the enormous roll of newspapers direct from the editor's office came to me, a stern senior member of the household at once concluded that the lovelorn swain had subscribed to win new favor in my eyes. This accusation was made before I was questioned on the subject. Perhaps the most triumphant and dramatic hour of my life was when I stepped forth, in short skirts and long ringlets, and announced to the family that not my would-be lover, but my literary work had procured the coveted "Mercury" for our united enjoyment. The world seemed to grow larger and life more wonderful from that hour. I was then fourteen.

Wilcox, Ella Wheeler. The story of a literary career. Holyoke, Mass.: E. Towne, [1905].
From the UW Libraries' Department of Special Collections: Cairns PS 3313 A4 1905.