The Historian and His Patron: A Letter from J. Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple, 19 January 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Mention has been made several times in this blog to James Perry Worden (1866-1945), who was hired by Walter P. Temple to write a book on the history of the Workman and Temple families, but whose project went unfinished.

As noted before, Worden came to Temple’s attention because of his significant work in editing, composing and footnoting prominent Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark’s 1916 autobiography, Sixty Years in Southern California, which has gone through several editions and is still used as a reference about Los Angeles history.

Worden was actually the third person contracted to put together the Workman and Temple family history.  Luther Ingersoll, who created a collection of Los Angeles historical materials for the city’s public library, worked on compiling some material for Temple, along with an assistant, in 1919, shortly after Temple’s oil royalties began rolling in from the Montebello lease he owned.

It is not clear what ended that arrangement, but, in June 1920, Johnstone Jones, a Los Angeles attorney who represented Temple in 1906-07 in a successful lawsuit concerning the desecration of El Campo Santo Cemetery, was hired to write the book.  Jones completed some of the work, but ill health forced him to retire from the project.

Unknown Older Couple In A Garden
James Perry Worden and his wife Effie, ca. 1925.

In entered Worden, whose work appears to have started sometime in 1921.  Unlike his predecessors, Worden, who earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from the University of Halle in Germany and was a teacher of German and French before coming to Los Angeles, did complete some of the project.

But, he also was asked to engage in tangential work, such as finding schools on the east coast and in England for Temple’s children to attend (the three sons wound up in Massachusetts, thanks, in large part, to Worden’s efforts, while daughter Agnes remained in California, and no English education awaited the quartet) and other matters.

Then, as Temple’s financial picture darkened, Worden’s work became less important, especially as his regular stipends dried up by the end of the 1920s.  When Temple ran out of money as the Great Depression worsened, Worden no longer had a patron.  He did, however, remain in occasional contact with the family and wrote a long obituary of Walter Temple after the latter’s death in 1938 (covered here in a post last November.)

Worden died in 1945 and some of his papers wound up at the Huntington Library, though it is not clear what happened to the all of the Temple-related material.  A history of the Workman and Temple families, then, had to wait until ten years ago when I was fortunate enough to have my biography, written in the mid-1990s, published.

Worden to WPT 19Jan23 p1
This and the following two images comprise a letter and receipt from the Homestead collection by Worden to Walter P. Temple, dated 19 January 1923.

Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a letter from Worden to Temple from this day nearly a century ago.  It is pretty typical of the many, many missives sent by the historian to his patron.  This is true in terms of style and content, as Worden loved to use capital letters, spacing, underlining and other devices to emphasize points, but also played up Temple’s virtues, while spotlighting his own shaky finances, in what could only be called fawning.

For historians today, it would be pretty hard to imagine having this kind of a relationship and sending these kinds of documents (emails more likely than snail mail!) because of an obvious need to keep some personal distance from whoever or whatever is paying the bills on a project.

After thanking Temple for paying him for recent work as well as down payment on another element of the general project, Worden got right into what often animated his correspondence with Temple, writing,

I had begun to fear that you had forgotten me; for I have worked so hard and steadily of late . . . with the result that I have been ‘dog-tired’ for several evenings, that my own private business affairs have had to be neglected, and I was getting various anxious to meet a number of bills . . .

These two general themes, the exhaustion of the work and the looming threat of financial problems, are recurring ones in Worden’s letters to his patron.  He followed by noting that, having finished the work begun by Jones, “which had so long rather enslaved me indoors,” he could not head out and conduct interviews and get to “the real stuff not yet in other books.”

Moreover, he went on, “you and I have had such pleasant relations that I shall greatly enjoy completing the book for you.”  Going into a trifecta (underlining, capitalization, double spacing) of his preferred methods of emphasis, Worden added,

I believe that I have always played you fair [and] you have always had confidence in me, and always have been generous and prompt with me  . . . more than ever I WISH TO GIVE YOU, while earning all I can through your patronage, THE MOST FAITHFUL AND MOST EFFICIENT S E R V I C E . . .

After discussing the prospect of a Walter P. Temple Historical Collection that would include 1,000 or more photographs Worden would take of historic structures and other subjects, he invited the kind of tangential work that became commonplace later: “if you think of some clerical or secretarial service I can render you, WITHOUT PAY perhaps for that particular thing or time, SAY SO.”

In obtaining these photos, some of which would be used in the book, Worden went on that, “if you will back me liberally in this, I will very much add to your own memorial in a lasting manner by this choice collection of local historical studies.”  Discussing his camera, using the finest of lenses, and his dark-room at home, “of which I am rather proud, the exuberantly expressive historian offered to have Temple visit to “see under what favorable conditions I am to make your volume to the memory and glory of The Temples in California.”

Worden to WPT 19Jan23 p2

More buttering up of Temple came in the form of this choice bit: “[I] congratulate you on the real honor paid you by the President of the Mexican Republic, in sending such an autographic  portrait that that [sic] can be used to great advantage” in discussing Temple’s extensive travels in that country in the mid-1890s.  Worden added “You are entitled to make all you can, in such a work, of your travels and your intercourse with notable of famous people.”

Then comes a conclusion with more bombast, in which Worden informs his patron that

You have thus far discharged fully and liberally all your obligations, morally and legally, toward me, thus helping me successfully to conclude the second stage of the work, and to get ready for the last and most important of all . . .

This stage was to be the “field work” of interviewing people whose stories could be included in the Temple history.  Worden then closed his missive, but not without further fawning in his receipt, acknowledging those remitted funds.  Even here, he resorts to those tried and true techniques of playing up to his patron:

In remitting this receipt, I desire to add my appreciation of the fair, square and liberal manner in which Mr. Temple has dealt with me from the beginning until the present moment; thus encouraging me when the work was at times hard and discouraging, and winning from me, I trust, a loyalty which mere money can never buy.

The result of this “long, hard pull” of effort in producing his manuscript, the historian opined would “thus make it possible for me to produce, in the Temple Memorial, the finest book yet published, of its kind, in the whole history of Southern California.”

Worden receipt WPT 19Jan23

If nothing else, Worden hardly lacked confidence in his abilities!


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