Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 17

It must not be thought that Dr. Planish did nothing at all as managing secretary of the Heskett Foundation. He took part in conferences, almost weekly conferences, promoted by colleges, libraries, municipal forums, state educational associations, and he unflinchingly told these conferences that rural education was a fine idea. He sat on committees, and if the sitting was not actual and physical, at least he had his name on the rosters of committees, scores of them. He benevolently allowed students to use the pedagogical library which Miss Nimrock had collected, and he supervised the publication of three pamphlets prepared by university instructors who had concluded, after examining all the figures issued by the state governments, that teachers could be better paid and better heated. This was called Research.

He was fond of these pamphlets, because whenever his accounts looked a little confused, he could always put down “printing and promotion” as an item of expense.

The publication of the Foundation that he really pushed was that more popular and chatty volume New Light in the Red Schoolhouse, published two years before (cloth-bound, illus. & map, $1.65, discount in quants.). By the happiest of coincidences, it had been written by Mr. Hamilton Frisby, trustee of the Heskett estate, and contained his signed portrait as frontispiece. The use of this book enabled village-born philanthropists to benefit their native states and get proper credit for generosity (and perhaps show up their old boyhood friends who had stayed home). If they purchased it in lots of one hundred, their names, as donors, would be stamped on the cover in purest gold, and the books sent to any list they desired, along with a beautiful form letter, with the Heskett Rural School Foundation heading and signed by Dr. Planish — or anyway, by Dr. Planish’s secretary — or anyway, signed — stating that Mr. M (or N) was a fine gentleman, nationally known for his large heart, great wealth and intellect, and now weren’t they sorry they’d laughed at him when he was a boy!

This official letter was Dr. Planish’s addition to the soulless routine which Miss Nimrock had used in selling New Light in the Red Schoolhouse, and it doubled the output of this spiritual item in six months.

It was indeed chiefly as a literary man that Dr. Planish markedly improved upon Miss Nimrock. He gave no larger financial grants for school-garden contests, but he increased fourfold the number of letters of advice sent out monthly to rural educators: advice on whether blackboards should be greenboards or blueboards, advice on reading poetry, advice on the established code for school janitors. He sat dictating oracles all day long, stopping only to steal his information from the publications of Columbia University, the Carnegie Foundation and the Association for Adult Education.

He was spectacular in giving interviews, in what he called “the application of modern high-pressure publicity technique to the ancient causes of learning and righteousness.” Weekly he sent out to the press Human Interest Stories about six students in Wyoming, average age 11.7, banding to study atonal harmony, or an Oxford graduate, frequently sober, teaching in the mountains, or Lafayette Heskett’s one-man knitting show, or Mr. Hamilton Frisby breeding Hereford cattle, or Mrs. Hamilton Frisby purchasing the pearls of the Grand Duchess Tilly, or Master Hamilton Frisby, Jr., inventing a glider.

As a literary man, Dr. Planish also composed the Heskett Foundation’s first aggressive series of fund-soliciting letters. Mr. Frisby insisted that the Foundation had enough funds so that it was not worth the bother “to circularize a lot of fourflushers that you couldn’t pry a sawbuck loose from with dynamite,” but Dr. Planish saw it more professionally, with the eye of vision and of the Future.

The Biblical virtue of philanthropy was in this era turning into something far nobler than the impulsive handing out of a quarter. It was no longer emotion and friendliness, but Social Engineering, Planned Giving, with a purpose and a technique; it was Big Business, as big and busy as General Motors, but with God for executive vice-president. Dr. Planish saw that today the Good Samaritan wouldn’t do anything so silly and unsanitary as to pick up a man who had fallen among hit-run drivers. According to every rule of First Aid, the silly suburbanite might have killed the poor fellow by moving him. Today, the Samaritan would telephone to the nearest hospital and say, “Take care of him, and when I come again, I shall increase my subscription to your nationwide chain of hospitals, now headed by that great Organization Executive, Dr. Gideon Planish.”

Thus dreamed the Doctor, tender heart and powerful brain running strong and true, as he took his daily nap among the steel filing cabinets in his office.

All this colonization of hospitals was as yet merely in his prophetic vision. Not for some time yet would Organized Philanthropy rank eighth among the major industries of the United States. But already Dr. Planish could foresee a wedding of generosity and efficiency which would make the Crusades look like a bonus march, and perceive that it was going to be valuable for a scholar with a wife and child to be stationed close to this waxing flood of gold.

He saw himself dedicated now to the new life of service; in labors more abundant, in conferences above measure, on committees more frequent, in journeyings often, in long-distance telephoning often, in hunger and thirst at unpalatable public dinners, in cold audiences and nakedness of meaning — and he was not afraid, and gloried of the things that concerned his infirmities.

Despite Frisby’s doubting, Dr. Planish prepared a new letter of solicitation for the H.R.S.F.


11872 Royal George Avenue



Vice–Presidents and Directors:


J. T. Niminy, Esq.,
3756 Wynadotte Ave.,
Marquette, Ind.

Dear Friend of Education:

This letter isn’t for you. We know from our huge files that you are sound on the subject of rural education; you realize that unless our country schools are just as well staffed and supplied as the snootiest city private school, there is no hope for our beloved America in its race against world anarchy.

But you have a friend who believes just as you and I do, but doesn’t know about the HESKETT RURAL SCHOOL FOUNDATION. He doesn’t realize that if he will take a mere $10.00 a year from his cigar money, he can make that sum do $1000 worth of imperative national good — and make him a proud Contributing Member of the H.R.S.F.

He’ll get all our publications free, with the privilege of attending our Conferences and hearing the biggest men of the nation explain the solution of all rural problems. And you, dear Defender of Education, will be doing the greatest good to the country by telephoning to that Unknown Friend of Ours and giving him our address and greetings.

WE can’t locate your friend — YOU CAN! While you’re reading this, why not lift the receiver and call his number and tell him — RIGHT THIS MINUTE! — we want to send him, FREE, the four-color booklet “OUR SECRET SHAME.”

Cordially yours,

Gideon Planish, Ph.D.

Managing Secretary.

This letter was sent not only to all members of the Foundation, but to all persons who had promisingly inquired about its work, and later sent to a general list. Dr. Kitto thought it a rather shocking letter, and Mr. Frisby thought it funny. But, in the technical term, it “pulled.” With the passion for exactitude and flapping charts which is part of the New Scientific Philanthropy, Dr. Planish calculated that it cost ten cents to send out the letter, including stationery, postage, mimeographing, filling in, the booklet, overhead, and purchasing lists of persons known to have been philanthropic — which were rather coarsely known as “sucker lists,” and which were sold commercially, like fly-paper. As the professional saviors put it, “If one per cent of the prospects on the sucker list kick through, the cost of the campaign is covered.”

To the gratification of the Doctor’s love for beautiful letters, 1.37% of his prospects did “kick through,” and showed their devotion to education by taking out Foundation memberships.

Even Mr. Frisby was impressed. Dr. Planish had been truly ordained as a priest of Scientific Philanthropy.

And as for the pamphlet Our Secret Shame which was sent out to prospects — that was Bernardine Nimrock’s old tract, Statistics on Salaries and Attendance in District Schools, with a new cover on it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57