The Romanian Nation

Very few people today will remember a famous newspaper that used to appear at some point in the capital, during the war of independence. I mean here 'The Romanian Nation' that Frédéric Damé and I published together. The life of that paper was as short as it was glorious, so I can tell its story in just a few words. The Christian armies had crossed the Danube. One morning I found a note from Damé that read approximately as follows:"Dear friend,Call on me at once. It's about a most serious business that could make our fortune."I had known Damé as a bright and enterprising man. I immediately went to see him, imagining on the way all sort of beautiful things. In a few words he told me about his plans: a newspaper as the country had never had before; a newspaper without any political colour; a newspaper that would provide information from the battlefield; a newspaper that would sustain people's enthusiasm on the issue of independence. We had to look for a name… The name of a paper is difficult to find; but Damé was lucky at the end of but a few moments of thought: 'The Romanian Nation!' Long live 'The Romanian Nation'! We worked for a whole day to give it the right look… In the evening we closed the deal with our friend Cucu, the printer. The newspaper heading beautifully arranged, we immediately started to produce materials. The first issue came out three days later: half of it was enthusiastic articles and the other half telegrams and correspondences from the war zone. The enthusiastic half was the most difficult to do: useless declamation is not easy, especially when one is not particularly endowed for it. Telegrams and correspondences however were pouring, so soon, apart from a first declamatory article, the paper was nothing but news and news again, one more detailed and sensational than the other. How come we had so many? We translated them from foreign newspapers and gave them local colour. From a Vienna newspaper we would for instance take a long war correspondence about things happened in Poradin, Rusciuk, Varna, Vidin, Constantinople, etc; and we would change it into as many correspondences as things mentioned in it, and date them each as if from the locality where they had taken place. So we would have correspondences from Istanbul, Vidin, Varna, Rusciuk, Poradin, etc., and, to give each correspondence a convenient size, we would pour a lot of fantasy on top of everything, plus descriptions of the localities, historical details and statistical dates, almost all taken from an old, but excellent at its time, conversation dictionary. 'The Romanian Nation' was doing as no other paper in the country had done before. If previously political newspapers were not sold by the issue but only sent to subscribers, the print run being of 1500-2000 copies at the most, our paper was heading towards 12-15000, without any subscription. We were all of course very content, both us and the publisher, who had a share of the earnings. The Cucu Printing House was at the time situated on Lipscani street, near Şerban-Vodă inn, right on the corner between the gate of the National Bank and Caragheorghevici street. Day in, day out, the machines were only working on our paper; and outside in the street, which was then but a blind alley, the vendors were making a terrible noise asking for copies; a continuous fervent activity. The editorial office was on the same blind alley, right across the printing house. It was from there that we led the armies, from there that we ordered the attack on the redoubts, and from there that we saw the thoughts of the general staff and the kettles in Poradin boiling. Damé was a man of fine qualities – hardworking, energetic, and endowed with a rare fantasy. We had a map of the Balkan Peninsula and some paper flags on pins. He would every day arrange the armies and make combinations of probable movements; and it must be said that most of the times he got the movements right in advance, guessing the thoughts of the war leaders. I can remember perfectly that he foresaw Mehmet Ali's famous diversion on the Lom the moment he received the newspapers from Vienna with its detailed description. And our paper was advancing steadily, from success to success: 18000. The Christian armies had by now surrounded Plevna. It was there that the war had to come to an end; it was therefore in that direction that all the increasingly tense eyes were pointed. One day Damé says to me:'Our newspaper has outstripped all my expectations. I had a most fortunate idea. I'm almost sure now that we've ensured some kind of situation for ourselves. 'The Romanian Nation' is going to be like a small estate for us…''I hope you're right!' I answered not very enthusiastic. I don't know why, but I was a bit apprehensive about the future. On the one hand I thought that the immediate success of the paper was but a flash in the pan that was bound to go out at least as quickly as it had appeared. On the other I reckoned that the war would last for one or two more months, three at the most, and that, having run out of things with which to feed our public's curiosity, we will ourselves be left with very little food. When the war was over, when the peace negotiations were over too – for I couldn't conceive of the map of the Balkans changing without a European congress – what would justify a newspaper living exclusively off correspondences and telegrams from the front? That was what I thought; but my friend, more optimist and more cautious, had better thoughts in mind.'If the war ends, as it is very likely, to the advantage of the Christian armies, you cannot imagine what an era of public activism will ensue in the independent Romania, especially after more than two centuries of tribulations. The economic and political movements will bloom, and 'The Romanian Nation' will be the only European journal in the country.''I hope you're right!' I said. 'I wouldn't mind that at all!' But to make the success of our paper absolutely certain we needed something else as well. In that state of tension induced by waiting for the outcomes of the surrounding of Plevna, the correspondences adapted after the Vienna newspapers were no longer enough – they were arriving too late. So we thought that, since we could afford it, we should send a special correspondent, first to Turnu-Măgurele, and then even to Plevna. To cut a long story short, we found our man – somebody well known in our society, well bred, polite, and intelligent, but an impoverished aristocrat. We agreed upon the following: that he should post correspondences every day, writing every evening about everything he might have found out during the day; and he should wire us the moment he found out any item of importance whose communication might have turned out to have an emergency character. We set up a code for the telegrams. We gave our nobleman transport and spending money, and the salary a month in advance, and we dispatched him to Turnu-Măgurele. A man of the world, the moment he got there he made the acquaintance of a lot of ladies from the Red Cross and Romanian officers, and established relations with the most important Russian officers. And he was indeed sending us rather interesting correspondences every day. One day, about the beginning of November, I went to the office very early and got there before Damé, who was usually the first. Barely had I taken off my coat when the telegraph man entered. I couldn't say I had a hunch, but I felt a shiver running though my whole body. I signed the paper with a trembling hand and I threw the telegram on the table without opening it. I rolled a cigarette, smoked it, and only then did I take the telegram slowly and, taking my time, opened it. Here is its content, which I doubt I'll ever be able to forget:'Médoc fini, Votca, Tzuica, dedans.'I read it for ten times with the code next to me:Médoc – Plevna; fini – taken; Votca – Russians; Tzuica – Romanians; dedans – inside. What was I supposed to do? Let the current issue come out and publish the news only in the evening edition? Impossible! Others would have got it by then too; it might spread throughout the city during the morning, and when we finally released it, the heat would have gone. An idea. I ran to the printing house and screamed:'Don't damage the matter of last night's issue!' I was lucky! The matter was untouched. The idea was to print a new edition of the last night's issue including the telegram! In a few minutes the machines started rattling and the vendors running like crazy in the streets screaming: 'The Romanian Nation' with the fall of Plevna! The whole city stirring; the whole world; national flags everywhere… Stormy enthusiasm… Damé, patting me on the shoulder, says radiantly: 'Notre fortune est faite, mon beau!' (This will make our fortune, my dear.) Hardly had he finished that sentence when we heard a terrible noise outside. People were dashing into the alley; booing, hitting, breaking windows.'Run!' a boy from the printing house screamed to us, going in by the back door. 'Run! They'll kill you!' I saw Damé pale as a dead mat; I don't know how he saw me. We didn't wait for any other explanation and followed the boy's urge immediately. What had happened? Unfortunately Médoc was not fini, nor were Votca or Tzuica dedans yet. Our correspondent had been to a hell of a party the previous night with some Russians who assured him that, just as they were drinking, Osman Pasha was surrendering to the armies of the cross. Towards dawn, high on champagne, he dispatched the telegram with other drinks… 'The Romanian Nation' had lived… A month later, when Gazi-Osman finally capitulated, I and my friend cried with emotion, like any other Romanian thinking of their nation… Médoc fini!

by I. L. Caragiale (1852-1912)