Probably no newspaper writer is more widely known than George Alfred Townsend. The magic pseudonym “Gath” is almost as familiar beyond the seas as at home. For twenty-five years it has been the index to clear and logical analyses of men and manners, to descriptions of photographic accuracy and to vivid details of events.
The merits of “Gath’s” newspaper and literary work are best attested by the fact that it has won him a reputation that mediocrity could never have done. A brief sketch of Mr. Townsend’s career as a writer, therefore will better serve its purpose if devoted to illustrate the quantity rather than the quality of his work.
George Alfred Townsend’s father, a slave-holder of Maryland, was originally a house-builder. He married a devout Methodist and through her influence was induced to join the Methodist Church. He became a minister, and as “Gath” thinks, spoiled a good house-builder. “Some few of my father’s houses that are yet standing,” said he, “I have admired much more than any sermon of his that I’ve read.” Mr. Townsend moved to Georgetown, Del. in response to a call from the Methodist Church of that place, and here on January 30, 1841, George Alfred was born. His first schooling was at Washington College, Chester County, Md. afterward Delaware College at Newark, Del. When about 14 years old his parents moved to Philadelphia, where they both died. He then went to the Philadelphia High School for four years, during which time his taste for literary pursuits began to develop, and he published a little paper called the School Journal. His first effort to get into print outside of the school paper was a poem, entitled “Progress of Education,” published in 1856. He was then 15 years of age. The Republican party came into existence about this time and political topics engaged his attention. His first newspaper work was on the Philadelphia Inquirer and as a correspondent of the New York Herald. From 1860 to 1862 he was city editor of Forney’s Press. He began to engage in political correspondence in 1867 with four newspaper, the Cincinnati Commercial, Cleveland Leader, Chicago Tribune, and St. Louis Democrat. Up to this time he did all of his own writing, but he soon found this not only breaking down his physical energies, but after sitting at his desk all day he would be drained of subjects. Therefore, in order to give himself time to get out and circulate among public men and replenish his wasted stock of material he employed a stenographer All of his newspaper work is now dictated. This, at present, consists of one daily letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer of about 5,500 words and two letters a week of about the same length for other papers, and an occasional magazine article. His week’s work will average about 50,000 words, or about thirty or forty columns of closely printed matter. Mr. Townsend never receives a salary from any newspaper, but is paid by the letter.
His literary work is of a varied character. He has published a dozen books, mostly novels, which have been well received by the public. For two years he wrote almost as much for the English press as for our own. He was a contributor to Cornhill Magazine when Thackery was editor. He also contributed a series of twelve articles on the American war to Chamber’s Journal.
In 1874 Mr. Townsend, in order to familiarize himself with commercial life, removed to New York, where he has since resided in winter, seeking the recuperative air of his South Mountain home in summer.
The voluminous newspaper writings of George Alfred Townsend, if measured by columns would reach from Washington to Mount Vernon and back to Alexandria. It would make a square sheet covering as much space as the new Pension building. The manuscript of the same would reach from Washington to Baltimore.