“Such a Generous Spirit in Your Dealings in Regard to the Temple Book”: Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from J. Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple, 28 July 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As we approach this weekend’s special tours commemorating the centennial of the commencement of La Casa Nueva, it is worth noting that two of the main concepts we’ll explore when walking through the house are the aspects of it that reflect its being a monument and a memorial to the Temple and Workman family as well as to California and other history.

Another way in which Walter P. Temple sought to memorialize his family through a monument to their history was to have a book published, first by hiring attorney Johnstone Jones as well as have access to the collection of the Luther P. Ingersoll, which wound up at the Los Angeles Public Library. When Jones had to drop out of the project because of ill health, Temple turned to James Perry Worden, best known for his extensive work on two editions of Harris Newmark’s Sixty Years in Southern California, published in 1916 with a second edition a decade later.

Worden, however, despite being engaged in the work of producing a Workman and Temple family history for most of the 1920s, never finished the tome and Temple’s faltering finances led to all work being ended by the time the Great Depression took deeper root in the early 1930s. While there was no book, what Worden did leave behind were dozens of letters, penned to Temple, his business manager Milton Kauffman and attorney George H. Woodruff, and his eldest child, Thomas.

We’ve shared several of these missives in past posts on this blog and they never fail to be both enlightening and entertaining, largely because of Worden’s highly personalized, unorthodox, self-reverential and fussy writing style, often as he pleaded poverty, asked for more money, lamented a lack of support and always promising to deliver a work of local history like no other. The highlighted letter from the Homestead’s collection and dated 28 July 1925 is certainly no exception and the four-pager is filled with all manner of what we might called “Wordenisms” in terms of ways of emphasizing words and phrases with capitalization, spacing and underlining.

The correspondence began with the writer’s statement that, before he began his work on the book, he arose early and “was as active as the old-time farmer pitching hay,—and, indeed, long before breakfast” but then thought it vital to send his missive, expecting that Temple “will read the letter with more than usual care and attention.” The reason was “I am reasonably concerned, and more and more so (as I observe other people of advanced years [Worden still had twenty more years of life in him] and limited opportunity for exercise, and what happens to them,) about my own health.”

The good doctor (well, a PhD in history, which was rare when he earned his at the end of the 19th century) lamented that he had not taken a vacation that summer, not even, he claimed, a day off so, “in my highest duty to myself,” he knew that this was wrong. Still, he proclaimed “I am tempted to make this sacrifice, and to run this risk, being fully as anxious as you to finish your book and to pass on to other work, and earning.” Even with his “fidelity” to his patron, Worden went on, “I do not see that I could do more” and asked Temple to “look beyond the mere business consideration and [if you] care anything for me personally,” he’d recognize that the historian was “struggling to accomplish” his task, but “I am doing [so] cheerfully and confidently.”

Obviously, everyone getting on in years would suffer some setbacks in their health, but Worden informed Temple that “I congratulate you that may examination for increased life insurance turned out so happily,” meaning that Worden’s health was actually good; still it also meant that “you are . . . now secured against financial loss.” Yet, he had to also remind Temple that the policy benefitted him as it applied to what was paid before to Jones and Ingersoll “in which I had no part, from which I derived no profit, for which I had no responsibility.” Worden even added that “were I so unfortunate as to demise in the near future, you would recover all your entire cash investment, from the beginning of the movement to make your book, and far beyond what you have every paid me,” while his widow, Effie, would be left “nothing unless voluntarily given by you.”

With this strange (even for Worden) explanation, he went on to note that “my dear Mr. Temple, that if you will do me justice, you must take a new and clearer view of our relations with reference to the making of your book” because the historian put a lot of money in the work and would lose further the longer it took to issue the tome and “that I would be a FAR GREATER LOSER THAN YOURSELF if I failed to finish the work.” Worden even proposed to be reading his patron’s thoughts, specifically, “I have been paying and paying the Doctor, and he comes again and again for his check, and it looks as though he is willing to go on forever in that fashion.”

Yet, the narrative continued, this would be a mistake in Temple’s presupposing he would be the only to lose out in such a situation; hence the letter and its assertion about the financial boon of having the insurance “placed on my head,” as Worden put it. Never one to forego a little buttering up, though, he added:

You have again and again shown such a generous spirit in your dealings in regard to the Temple book, and you have done so much, and so many things that Mrs. Worden and I fully appreciate, and always will give you credit for, and our present relations are so cordial, and perfectly satisfactory to me, that I feel free to present to your thoughtful consideration, the eminently UNsatisfactory part of my relation to the work.

Probably keenly aware that his doctoral degree did not translate into the financial security he obviously craved, Worden complained that everything Temple paid him to date would “fall FAR SHORT of a just compensation to me for my professional labors, based on my unquestionable reputation for scholarship and my supposed (and, I hope, actual) knowledge of the subject and field.” He was, “an UNDERpaid employee” and was merely “hoping for part of my reward in any bonus you might wish to give,” though he quickly followed this with the idea that he also sought “for an increased reputation, when my work shall have matured into a fine book, creditable to us all, a book that will add lasting glory to your family name, and will also, I trust, make me better known as a California author.

He offered that his value should be up to $150 per week and “this estimate of my value is also in accord with what so many, of no such education equipment as I claim, are no commanding,” yet Worden lamented “that if I regard the $35 per week paid me now for some time past in teh face of my own overhead and other expenses, and my hard work and long hours of researching, I must confess” that his salary was inadequate. He added that when he worked on Newmark’s memoirs, his sons provided “several thousand dollars’ worth of their own work and cooperation” and provided the historian with an office, a storage room, a leased typewriter and, at times, a typist. Beyond these, “there were many personal attentions and gifts that affected my cash expenses favorable, reducing materially my cost of living.”

With the Temple book, however, he paid $10 a month for storage of papers and he had to pay for electricity, his own typewriter, upkeep on his car, but “worst of all . . . is the expense to which I am subjected in the buying of books.” Denigrating Ingersoll, who took what he “could get out of the public libraries, and crib[bed] from other book,” Worden, “with due respect for my own scholarship and decent standards” and a desire for the Temple work to be the equal of the Newmark tome, averred that “I have set out to leave no stone unturned to get the rarest and the best materials . . . and especially materials having a bearing on the Workmans and the Temples.”

While Marco H. Newmark gave him funds to buy books, Worden and his wife had to work and save for the “HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS, (as I can show by my book-bills,) on books for use in making the Temple book.” Moreover, he recorded that Pasadena bookseller S.F. McLean “found, to his own astonishment and to my amazement, that I now owe him $1 4 2.00 for books, 3/4 of which were bough for the Temple book’s making,” even as Worden was paying weekly towards his account. This amount, however, was recent reduced to a $1 a week under “my very straightened [sic] circumstances,” even as he tried to buy books that he did not want to go to “Mr. [Henry E.] Huntington,” the renowned books, manuscripts and art collector and another. The idea was that, with such stellar materials, “THEN the public will become interested . . . in the Workman-Temple threads of gold running through the whole volume.”

Claiming that his net salary was under $25 per week Worden implored his patron to remember that, as “an experienced, sensible business man,” Temple “will see that I am working very hard, and very long, for VERY, VERY LITTLE REAL PAY.” Consequently, Worden reiterated, “that not you alone, but we also would be great losers if your book should not be produced, for we have banked OUR ALL in money, time and labor, and it is also clear that we gain nothing, and lose much, by every month of delay in finishing the book.”

Trusting that Temple’s “comonsense [sic] business judgment” was such that there could not “be any serious misunderstanding between us” and that the scholar was “certainly trying my best to do what is fair and right by you and your family,” Worden reminded Temple that the insurance documents referred to the pair as “partners in the making of the Temple history; and the object of this letter is to remind you mere of my own part of expense, toil, worry, hard labor, etc., etc.,” especially as he was not insured as Temple was.

What followed were five critical points: that Temple should “stand by me now, and continue to stand by and liberally help me, until I finish your book;” that he should “not lose confidence in me, and do not worry me by your own impatience . . . for that will only ‘rattle’ and discourage me, and WILL ONLY DO NO END OF HARM, if it does not ruin the book venture.;” to “not ask the impossible of me” in demands of time because no one would be able to do that; to “be patient and be hopeful” and to “EXPECT A FIRST-CLASS BOOK on the Temple and Workmans, and their enviable part in the glorious century;” and, finally, “don’t be afraid of some additional expense” especially for a planned trip to Massachusetts, the Temples’ ancestral home state, that took place in spring 1926 and also involved Worden finding schools for the three Temple sons.

Finally, and “above all,” it was crucial that the fastidious historian declare that:

From this time on, to the completin of the book, is the very time when I must patiently, clearly t h i n k , and slowly, patiently, with a calm and contented mind, form together and boil down and polish up the Manuscript that is to become the printed volume; when I must be alert against any possible error, and must also be keen to present your family in the strongest and best light, and shall need all my faculties, and the inner conviction that YOU ARE IN PERFECT ACCORD WITH ME, and shall, also, from time to time, need some extra money, for I must certainly go up to Berkeley, to see the Temple and Workman materials there [at the Bancroft Library], and to the State Library, at Sacramento, to make sure that have, or have not, some Temple or Workman stuff.

That is a heck of a sentence (even for this blogger), but Worden’s histrionics only came to an end after he noted that this was a “critical time OF THE FINISH IN THE RACE” in which Temple could hold back on his “cordial cooperation” and throw Worden off his horse, especially he took to “improperly hurrying and so worrying me.” So, the scholar implored Temple to give every assistance so “you will not only get a much finer volume, but you will also get it more quickly” because Worden claimed “I am satisfied immensely with the many fine items I have for your history, and am sure that i [sic] can thus make a book equal to any.”

We have many more Worden letters to share, so be sure to look for those in future posts!

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