Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from J. Perry Worden to Thomas W. Temple II, 22 March 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A series of posts on this blog highlighting, from the Museum’s holdings, letters from historian J[ames] Perry Worden to members of the Temple family and their associates, are notable for Worden’s tone of alternately fawning and complaining and style exemplified by his over-abundant use of capitalization, spacing, underlining and other mechanisms.

Hired by Walter P. Temple by fall 1921 to write a history of the Workman and Temple family after efforts by attorney Johnstone Jones and Los Angeles Public Library researcher and historian Luther Ingersoll failed to lead to much more than outlines and draft chapters, some of which by the latter were rejected (more on that in a future post,) Worden came with an important feather in his cap.

Yonkers Statesman, 12 May 1888.

He served as advisory editor of the 1916 memoir of prominent Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark’s memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California, including revised editions in 1926 and 1930, and Worden was given credit for essentially putting the rough manuscript into a more readable document.

With this pedigree, it is no wonder Temple hired him, but the relationship between the historian and his patron became more complicated over time, with Worden often delegated to handle unrelated tasks, such as researching and smoothing the way for Temple’s children regarding schooling in Massachusetts, the ancestral home state of the family, and England, where the clan hailed before migrating to America in the 1630s.

Los Angeles Herald, 20 November 1892.

As has been seen in another recent post, Worden also took on advocacy for Temple-related concerns, including the attempt to change the name of the Town of Temple to Santa Rita—the resolution was to choose Temple City, which satisfied both the founder and the postal service. Worden also sought to get Alhambra’s Main Street changed to Temple, while he employed his typewriter to advocate against changing the name of Temple Street in Los Angeles to Beverly Boulevard, though much of the route was reassigned to that name.

Worden never finished the Workman and Temple family history, though some the material he gathered and drafts were sold or given by his widow, Effie, to the Huntington Library not longer after his death from a stroke in March 1945. While some of the historian’s biography has been presented here before, there is more to his story that may be of interest to readers of these posts.

Statesman, 1 December 1897.

He was born in 1866 in Hastings-on-Hudson, a town in Westchester County just north of New York City and, while his father, severely wounded in the Civil War, was a teamster and janitor, Worden had a far more intellectual bent, though his education was somewhat delayed, likely because of family finances. He was educated in public schools and then was a member of social and literary clubs as well as a temperance (anti-alcohol) society and gained renown for his oratorical skills, including lectures on the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains.

As bicycling became a major American pastime towards the end of the 19th century, Worden, who spent the decade from 1882 to 1892 as a reporter and special correspondent for the New York Sun and New York Tribune newspapers, was an enthusiastic devotee and he earned his first national plaudits for an 1892 excursion to Great Britain for which he spent very little money and garnered significant attention for his article about it in a cycling magazine called Outing.

New York Times, 3 March 1906.

In his late Twenties, Worden managed to earn his degree from Columbia College (now University) in New York City and also organized the Worden Summer School in Europe, which was an educational bicycle tour through several countries. His interest in literature and history was such that, after four years of study as the century came to a close, he ended up with a PhD in 1900 from the University of Halle in Germany and then briefly taught at a high school there. From 1907 to 1910, he returned to England and Germany for post-graduate studies and even served as American consul in Bristol, England by appointment of President Theodore Roosevelt as he furthered his education.

His interest in German literature, including such luminaries as Johann Wolfgang von Göethe and Friedrich Schiller, was also expounded upon by him in lectures, including one in New York attended by 1,000 persons. Worden was regularly published in the New York Times during the first years of the 20th century when he was a professor of modern languages, another of his academic specialties, at Kalamazoo College, which still exists, in the city of that name in Michigan.

Los Angeles Times, 29 January 1911.

Worden was first mentioned in Los Angeles newspapers in connection with his 1892 econo-jaunt through Britain, but was also quoted locally a few times while serving as consul in England, including on the marketing of California oranges in that country. Early in 1911, he settled in this area and was in the Angel City to speak to the prominent Friday Morning Club, a major organization of well-to-do Los Angeles women, on the German city of Weimar and its associations with his heroes, Göethe and Schiller. Yet, when the First World War broke out three years later, Worden penned a letter to the Los Angeles Times suggesting that the United States support Germany in the conflict.

Despite this, he was soon offered the job putting the Newmark manuscript into publishable shape and his lectures turned to more patriotic and acceptable subjects such as George Washington or famous figures he’d met in England and France, who were allied in the war against the Germans, including Prime Minister William Gladstone, the explorer Henry M. Stanley, nurse Florence Nightingale and author Emile Zola.

Times, 3 August 1914.

Then came the roughly decade-long association with Temple and the strange mixture of his work as biographer and whatever his sundry side tasks and projects might be called. Worden’s distinctive correspondence numbers, in those letters that have survived, in the couple of hundred or so and they never fail to be entertaining, at least in terms of fully displaying his distinctive personality, called “pawky,” which means “artfully shrewd” and “canny” as well as witty.

The featured letter here, from 22 March 1927, was written to Temple’s son Thomas W. II, who was nearing the end of his first year at the prestigious and challenging Harvard Law School. Worden, who seems to have helped with letters of introduction and by other means to get the young scholar enrolled there, began by expressing appreciation for a recent letter received from Thomas because, typically, Worden said “I was a good deal down-hearted, and your letter was very friendly and sympathetic, and bright and brightening.”

Pasadena Post, 30 July 1923.

The correspondent’s low spirits were because of “my work and its responsibility” as well as having to pay almost ten dollars in taxes to the “Highway Bandido,” this forcing Worden to dig into his savings, because he’d spent more than twice that on books the same day. With these financial burdens, a common theme with him, he dolefully wrote, “I must say that this Spring period . . . is anything but the Springtime it used to be.”

Worden’s academic endeavors, which, though, were unspecified were such that “I am engaged early and late, and am never though with [it], and we climb and stumble over [the piles of books] in our limited house area.” Still, as he always did, he guaranteed “we are going to have a s p l e n d i d book, if one may judge of the possible contents,” this some 5 1/2 years in to the project. He claimed he was offered $15 by a historical society for a 300-word piece, but said he would not do it for $150 because of his outstanding obligations. Still, he went on,

the necessary slowness, owing to the great variety of materials, and my limited spreading-out facilities, makes me discouraged, as it not only affects the close of the work, but also affects the interests of a book [unidentified] I am to finisg [sic], after the Temple book is done.

However, there is nothing to do, but to go through “to the bitter end,” and YOU can help by patiently waiting, encouraging, not bothering me, and in some ways c o n t r i b u t i n g: I am glad to note your keen interest, also your occasional possession of a really good item or bit of data . . . and I hope to have the work sufgiciently [sic] advanced, (for it will certainly take months and months, at best to finish), by the time you come home, that we may frequently consult about certain contents.

You may be assured, therefore, that I am now ‘on the job,” day and evening.

As to Walter Temple, the historian told Thomas, that “you need not worry as to his health” and that he looked forward to his son’s return from the east in a couple of months. Moreover, he was “expediting the finishing of the house . . . [and] has planned several “surprises”, asking me to carry out one or two. This included the “lining up and rounding out of his library,” by which was apparently meant the room on the first floor of La Casa Nueva.

Los Angeles Record, 5 November 1925.

To that end, Worden continued, “he asked me, therefore, to look over his collection of books upstairs, and to make suggestions,” though whether the reference to a second floor was in La Casa Nueva or the Workman House is not known. He was out at the Homestead the day prior and spent 3-4 hours and “went thoroughly over everything, so that I can now make a report.”

Beyond this, Worden informed Thomas that he’d found some illustrations that might work for the book and, “am searching widely, among ranchers, etc. for unusual, old pictures,—and bagged them, and borrowed a book, that I shall return tomorrow.” He also planned to secure “a photo or wo, (of a large stock on hand,) of your sister [Agnes[, at the piano” to send to the Temples’ relatives, the Bancrofts, in Massachusetts.

Pomona Bulletin, 4 March 1925.

After leaving the Homestead, Worden planned to go to Duarte to talk to one of the city’s namesakes “and try to get certain data, and any old pictures,” while elsewhere he mentioned an upcoming appointment with the mother of Milton Kauffman, Walter’s business manager, who was from an early Jewish family in Los Angeles, the Laventhals.

With respect to Thomas’ studies, Worden congratulated him on doing well and advised him to “k e e p u p t h e s t r o n g p u l l, the struggle, no matter how hard it is, a n d s o W I N O U T!” He even commented that he spoke to George H. Woodruff, Walter Temple’s attorney and business partner, and “expressed the fear that you w[ou]ld f a i l, not because I had so much less confidence in you, but because I was told in Boston of the high percentage of those who, each year, (and, perhaps, esp[ecially] the first year,) were ‘plucked’ at Harvard.”

Woodruff, however, assured Worden that he had every confidence in Thomas’ likelihood of success and “was sure you would pull through.” With respect to the lawyer, it was added that “you are very fortunate in having, at that end, one like Mr. Bancroft,” who was a cousin living near Thomas and his brothers (Walter, Jr. and Edgar, who were attending a preparatory high school called Dummer [uh huh] Academy), “with whom you can consult.” He also advised that Thomas relay on Woodruff for career advice, as well, “n o t merely as one of your Temple Estate Co. [partners,” or as a mere friend, b u t as an exceptionally s o u n d and, therefore, able lawyer, whose advice to you ought to be worth a ‘heap.'”

The historian concluded by reminding Thomas “of the VERY great satisfaction it will be to your Father, (far better and more than all that the doctors can do, if he needs them at all,) if you come back, having successfully passed your exams, etc., and if, also, the boys can make a like good showing; and how much fun you will get out of your Summer, with that hard work p u t b e h i n d y o u.”

The vague references to Walter Temple’s health might dovetail with the knowledge that he often went to Soboba Hot Springs near Hemet, where the warmer, drier climate evidently helped with his lungs—the Temple family had many members over generations with maladies related to these vital organs.

After noting that his wife was sure to be happy with Thomas’ letter, Worden offered a “final word” which was that he was

not altogether sorry we did not finish the Temple book when you were still a boy, for now, as one far more advanced, you can take a keen, personal interest, and have at least s o m e actual part, in successfully making what I hope will be a volume, when at least complete, UNsurpassed, of its kind in California literature.

We’ll definitely share more of Perry Worden’s correspondence, with all of its quirks and characteristic expressions of his “pawky” personality, so be sure to check those out as part of the “Read All About It” series of letters from the Homestead’s collection

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