The Historian and His Patron: A Letter from J. Perry Worden to George H. Woodruff, 18 April 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

James Perry Worden (1866-1945), an early recipient of a doctoral degree in history, which he earned in the 1890s, was hired by Walter P. Temple in late 1921 to continue work on a Workman and Temple family history started by two predecessors, Luther Ingersoll and Johnstone Jones. Worden was known at the time for his labors in crafting the narrative for Harris Newmark’s Sixty Years in Southern California, a work published in 1916 by Newmark’s sons and which covered an immense amount of local history from 1853 to 1913.

A couple of previous posts highlighted letters from Worden to Temple from December 1922 and January 1923 concerning the project and these came just before and not long after the death of Temple’s wife, Laura Gonzalez. While it was natural that Temple would be distracted from direct dealings with Worden following his wife’s passing, a few months passed after the January missive before, the historian became peeved at the lack of payment for his work and wrote an extraordinarily long and involved letter of complaint to Temple’s attorney, George H. Woodruff.

Woodruff, evidently, was asked by Temple to be the go-between in working with Ingersoll, Jones and Worden, and he sent a shorter missive to his friend and client on 21 April 1923, with what can be assumed is a wry request for Temple to read Worden’s diatribe “in your leisure moments, as it sets forth his position regarding the preparation of the book.” The attorney added that he wrote Worden “stating that we would arrange a meeting very soon at which his matter would be taken up and a definite understanding reached as the basis for an agreement.”

This was provided that Temple wanted to continue with the project. The lawyer counseled “it would be well to proceed with the work now if you intend to do it at all” and Woodruff observed that from prior conversations “you are desirous of putting these manuscripts into book form.” He concluded by saying he would be out to see Temple soon and set up a time for a meeting of the minds.

As to Worden’s letter to Woodruff, dated the 18th, it spans six pages of single-spaced typing and, while it contains some of his trademark capitalization and underlining, these are relatively spare, though he apparently did not need these points of emphasis to air, at great length, his grievances. It started with an apology to Woodruff that he had to “bother one so busy as you,” but, characteristically, he immediately added that it was a problem that “I myself, pressed as I always am for time, should need to devote a single minute, precious for other, advance work, concerning my unhappy relation fo the proposed History of the Temple Family in California.”

The basic problem was monetary because, while the January letter profusely thanked his patron for funds received, this missive stated “it is three months today” since Worden was paid anything and the last outlay of $50 was unclear as to whether it was for work already done or future endeavors. The historian contined that “the absurdity of this situation . . . will be instanfly seen when one remembers that only a word from Mr. Temple, or a stroke of his pen, such as should be obtainable on your strong recommendation, ought to be necessary to remunerate me for patient, hard labor already done” as well as reimburse for expenses so that Worden could “push forward vigorously the tremendous rest of the work yet to be done.” This way, he, being “most faithful to Mr. Temple, his family and his best interests” could be saved the “burden and an embarrassment that have become intolerable.”

Worden added that he felt that Temple had confidence in him, did not turn down any requests “nor differed seriously with me as to any feature of the progam.” This, the historian continued, was the arrangement he had with the Newmark brothers “with whom I never had other than a verbal contract” and with whom he was now working on a second edition (which he later slyly added would include “considerable Temple matter” including some photos). He also complained about the fact that Temple gave permission to Worden to put in his “Who’s Who in America” bio that he was “editor of the Temple Family annals.” Despite this, however, Temple refused to advance Worden for more funds that “I felt I had really earned.”

Purportedly, the patron gave “a point-blank refusal to pay me anything more until he could investigate and make sure that he was getting his money’s worth” and this wounded the good doctor’s considerable pride, to the extent that he told the attorney that these conditions :make it absolutely impossible for me ever to approach him with any similar request again.” Declaiming that “the only way in which Mr. Temple can expect to command my services in the future” was to have regular payment of funds, Worden wrote that it was necessary to avoid “any questioning of either my integrity or accuracy” and ensure that “our relations will, as they must be, as between one and another gentleman.”

Worden again demonstrated his profound sense of pride in pointing out to Woodruff that it was his “entirely unselfish act” that led to Temple’s being “accepted by that leading and only standard American publication of international and lasting reference . . . [and] the companion of cultured people everywhere.” It was the historian’s aim to ensure that his pastron was “the first Temple of the Pacific Coast ever to have that place . . . without one cent of material gain in any form to myself.” With his track record of some twenty such nominations, Woodruff was assured that this “ought of itself to have earned for me Mr. Temple’s lasting gratitude and continued friendly interest.”

Beyond this, the historian claimed he had done $1400 worth of work, but only got half that amount (an unnamed person apparently receiving the rest) for photographs Worden hunted up for the project. Moreover, there was a promise Temple made that amounted to a “confidence worth as much or more than any written contract” that would allow Worden to continue so that the articles he’d been working on would be completed. Still, he went on, “we were waiting for Mr. Temple to recover from his great sorrow after Laura’s death.

Hoping to avoid “needless loss of time, and consequent delay,” the scholar boasted that

no one who sees the meaty and almost voluminous ‘Sixty Years in S. California’ and knows of my three years’ hard pull in helping the Mesrs. Newmark to make it what it is, will doubt my ability to judge how great must be the work to build up an equally great Temple Memorial in the hope that the public will take as kindly to it as it has to Newmark’s Memoirs, and that posterity, insted of shelving, neglecting and forgetting it, will also read and cheristh it, and so hand down to future generations the Temple story, and make worth while every expenditure and effort of Walter Temple and those of us assisting in this important work.

Worden professed to disdain formal written contracts because it was “my practice to work so honorably and conscientiously” that these would not be necesary. Still, he pointed out, “I am so jealous of my reputation that I should not work an hour for any man, at whatever rate, who did not fully trust me.”

Consequently, it was “of the utmost importance,” the historian intoned, that his patron “differentiates between me and the several others who have so long and apparently so successfully taken advantage of him.” Presumably, Worden meant Ingersoll and Jones, but, obviously, we can’t know for sure, though he also stated “I know that I have the enimty of one person often near to Mr. Temple because I refused his proposition to try to extract larger amounts for mere superficial work.”

Worden was asking for a $50 per week stipend, telling the lawyer that such work would fetch up to twice that back east. He added that it was Temple who, whille Woodruff and Worden were in the front parlor of the Temple home in Alhambra, said a written contract was needed to protect the historian “should anything happen to him.” The scholar further noted that he and his wife, Effie, “went ahead on the long-leasing of our present dwelling and assumed a much greater rental than we had been paying, confident that we were safe in depending upon an additional income.”

There was also the fact that “many elements of expense enter into such a dignified and lasting project, such a work stretching along through the toilsome months,” including tipcs, cigares, books, maps, but, Worden averred, “I must be free to act decisively at the moment . . . and I must not be hampered by any fear that there will be a haggling and a questioning of my accounts.” He said this was the case with the Newmarks, who wound up donating many of Worden’s acquisitions for Sixty Years in Southern California to the Southwest Museum of the American Indian.

In that regard, Worden noted that it took significant outlays to acquire books “to make a rare, new, ORIGINAL book” and he detailed expenses at such well-known book shops as Dawson’s in downtown Los Angeles and McLean’s in Pasadena, including recent purchases made since Temple’s last payment. He also had an arrangement by which he paid ten to twenty-five cents to read and make notes from books without having to acquire them and shelled out a couple of bucks to go through four volumes of an early San Francisco newspaper that had just been sold and had not yet been delivered to the purchaser. Finally, Worden added, “that my own library, placed at Mr. Temple’s disposal, represents a large investment and contains some rare things.”

The fussy scholar then told Woodruff that Temple had the benefit of Worden’s “immense amount of labor and collections” in the “OVER TEN YEARS SINCE I FIRST BEGAN TO DIRECT MY ATTENTION ESPECIALLY TO THE CALIFORNIA HISTORICAL FIELD” including his work for the Newmark book. He had no compunction whatever is stating,

if there be living in Southern California to-day anyone with equal scholarship, experience, both in reference to Southern California hsitory and traditions and in actual book making through all its branches, literary and technical, AND with equal enthusiasm and capacity for an immense amount of digging research and the collation and arrangement of widely-distributed, detailed, uncollected materials, and a willingness to see the thing though to the last ditch, both for a modest compensation and a matter of personal pride—if there be any other such person living today, I should like to know it.

He stated that he and his wife, who was a stenographer, were well-situated to do this work, adding that he was a photographer with a “splendid outfit” who could make copies for the book and for a historical collection Temple wanted to compiled. Not only would the Temple book be as good as the Newmark tome, but Worden told Woodruff, “I may honestly say that I have this Temple task before me all the time: I eat and sleep with it.”

The historian continued that his time and money spent in advance for the project was evidence of good faith and that it was “my very natural expectation that, when he had recovered from his private sorrow, etc., he would in due time take care of and remunerate me.” Worden continued to work “despite his [Temple’s] eminently unsatisfactory reception of me the last time I was there.” It was high time that Worden was paid for his last three months of labor, which often meant nearly twelve hour days at libraries, as he and his wife were in a financial pinch, having to borrow money. He cautioned “relief must come, and quickly, or I shall need entirely to change my kind of work & abandon this.”

Worden remembered fondly his visits with Temple and that he “so enjoyed the work of trying to build for him and his family a noble and lasting memorial.” He asked the lawyer to present the case, cliaming “I do not believe that his own brother [John H., who died in 1926 and was an avid collector and recorder of Workman and Temple family history] could have served him more faithfully.” Woodruff was told “to make clear to Mr. Temple that the only way for him to guarantee such a proposed work as ours is to give me carte blanche to go ahead” and proceed with his labors, the result of which would mean that he could “hold me, and me alone, responsible for the finished project.”

The attorney was asked to convey, as well, that

I promise him a magnificent memorial of the Temple and Workman families, and one that will do us all lasting credit, and be regarded as a real addition to California historical literature.

He added, “those who have known me best for years will attest to my faithful, steady work . . . and they know that I am moderate in my charges, and that I am patient . . . as my working and waiting, unpaid, for Mr. Temple for the past three months will show.”

As Worden finally got to “concluding this most unpleasant correspondence,” he stated, once again, that he was in no financial position to continue working gratis, so he insisted “that I be paid for the past three months, and that I begin to work under a regular contract from not a day later than the 1st of May.” He told Woodruff that he always worked so that he was “not getting easily offended or soon out of patience” and expected the same courtesy in return. Having never been fired from any job, he cautioned, once he resigned from some project, “I have never returned or resumed that work, no matter what inducements were offered for me to go back.”

Again asserting that there was “so much to commend me as the best-equipped and most promising biographer he can hope to find for this particular work” and professing that if “Mr. Temple should for any reason fail to apreciate what he has at his service in me,” Worden told the attorney, “my temporary need—I will not say actual misfortune—is Mr. Temple’s opportunity; and it remains to be seen if he will seize it by meeting me half-way, and securing my services for the time he has need.”

Worden then claimed that “I have no wish to unduly value my ability or reputation” and asserted her merely wanted to “just place the proper rating, and let it go at that.” Yet, he offered another grandiloquent guarantee that he would deliver

absolutely a first-class historical work such as will give and secure to the Temples a status in Southern California history far beyond that which the historian has hitherto ever accorded them . . . [and] give Mr. Temple such entire satisfaction that he will never regret the expenditure of a single dollar for the masterpiece.

Worden then completed his extraordinary, even by the standards of his other large pieces of correspondence involving the Temples, missive by imploring Woodruff “to try to evolve a perfectly satisfactory outcome.” Whatever it was, the immediate result was that Worden was kept his gig, though it dragged on through the rest of the decade and involved substantial side projects, such as working to secure admission of the Temple chlidren to schools in Massachusetts.

As the family’s financial fortunes faltered, Worden was finally let go by 1930 and the book project never seemed to get beyond rough drafts of chapters. Still, he continued to maintain a connection to the Temples, including writing newspaper obituaries of his former patron when Walter Temple died in November 1938. Seven years later, Worden passed away and some of his papers were sold to the Huntington Library. More of his correspondence will be featured here from time-to-time, so look for those in future posts.

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