The Americanization of Edward Bok
Edward William Bok (1863-1930)
Part 4 out of 7
fact to Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes and the poet said: "Let me write
the introduction for it." Bok, of course, eagerly accepted, and within a
few days he received the following, which, with the book, never reached
"How many autograph writers have had occasion to say with the Scotch
trespasser climbing his neighbor's wall, when asked where he was going
"Edward Bok has persevered like the widow in scripture, and the most
obdurate subjects of his quest have found it for their interest to give
in, lest by his continual coming he should weary them. We forgive him;
almost admire him for his pertinacity; only let him have no imitators.
The tax he has levied must not be imposed a second time.
"An autograph of a distinguished personage means more to an imaginative
person than a prosaic looker-on dreams of. Along these lines ran the
consciousness and the guiding will of Napoleon, or Washington, of Milton
"His breath warmed the sheet of paper which you have before you. The
microscope will show you the trail of flattened particles left by the
tesselated epidermis of his hand as it swept along the manuscript. Nay,
if we had but the right developing fluid to flow over it, the surface of
the sheet would offer you his photograph as the light pictured it at the
instant of writing.
"Look at Mr. Bok's collection with such thoughts, ...and you will cease
to wonder at his pertinacity and applaud the conquests of his
"Oliver Wendell Holmes."
Whenever biographers of the New England school of writers have come to
write of John Greenleaf Whittier, they have been puzzled as to the
scanty number of letters and private papers left by the poet. This
letter, written to Bok, in comment upon a report that the poet had
burned all his letters, is illuminating:
"The report concerning the burning of my letters is only true so far as
this: some years ago I destroyed a large collection of letters I had
received not from any regard to my own reputation, but from the fear
that to leave them liable to publicity might be injurious or unpleasant
to the writers or their friends. They covered much of the anti-slavery
period and the War of the Rebellion, and many of them I knew were
strictly private and confidential. I was not able at the time to look
over the MS. and thought it safest to make a bonfire of it all. I have
always regarded a private and confidential letter as sacred and its
publicity in any shape a shameful breach of trust, unless authorized by
the writer. I only wish my own letters to thousands of correspondents
may be as carefully disposed of.
"You may use this letter as you think wise and best.
"Very truly thy friend,
"John G. Whittier."
Once in a while a bit of untold history crept into a letter sent to Bok;
as for example in the letter, referred to in a previous chapter from
General Jubal A. Early, the Confederate general, in which he gave an
explanation, never before fully given, of his reasons for the burning of
"The town of Chambersburg was burned on the same day on which the demand
on it was made by McCausland and refused. It was ascertained that a
force of the enemy's cavalry was approaching, and there was no time for
delay. Moreover, the refusal was peremptory, and there was no reason for
delay unless the demand was a mere idle threat.
"I had no knowledge of what amount of money there might be in
Chambersburg. I knew that it was a town of some twelve thousand
inhabitants. The town of Frederick, in Maryland, which was a much
smaller town than Chambersburg, had in June very promptly responded to
my demand on it for $200,000, some of the inhabitants, who were friendly
to me, expressing a regret that I had not made it $500,000. There were
one or more National Banks at Chambersburg, and the town ought to have
been able to raise the sum I demanded. I never heard that the refusal
was based on the inability to pay such a sum, and there was no offer to
pay any sum. The value of the houses destroyed by Hunter, with their
contents, was fully $100,000 in gold, and at the time I made the demand
the price of gold in greenbacks had very nearly reached $3.00 and was
going up rapidly. Hence it was that I required the $500,000 in
greenbacks, if the gold was not paid, to provide against any further
depreciation of the paper money.
"I would have been fully justified by the laws of retaliation in war in
burning the town without giving the inhabitants the opportunity of
"J. A. Early."
Bok wrote to Eugene Field, once, asking him why in all his verse he had
never written any love-songs, and suggesting that the story of Jacob and
Rachel would have made a theme for a beautiful love-poem. Field's reply
is interesting and characteristic, and throws a light on an omission in
his works at which many have wondered:
"I'll see what I can do with the suggestion as to Jacob and Rachel.
Several have asked me why I have never written any love-songs. That is
hard to answer. I presume it is because I married so young. I was
married at twenty-three, and did not begin to write until I was
twenty-nine. Most of my lullabies are, in a sense, love-songs; so is 'To
a Usurper,' 'A Valentine,' 'The Little Bit of a Woman,' 'Lovers' Lane,'
etc., but not the kind commonly called love-songs. I am sending you
herewith my first love-song, and even into it has crept a cadence that
makes it a love-song of maturity rather than of youth. I do not know
that you will care to have it, but it will interest you as the first....
"Ever sincerely yours,
During the last years of his life, Bok tried to interest Benjamin
Harrison, former President of the United States, in golf, since his
physician had ordered "moderate outdoor exercise." Bok offered to equip
him with the necessary clubs and balls. When he received the balls, the
"Thanks. But does not a bottle of liniment go with each ball?"
When William Howard Taft became President of the United States, the
impression was given out that journalists would not be so welcome at the
White House as they had been during the administration of President
Roosevelt. Mr. Taft, writing to Bok about another matter, asked why he
had not called and talked it over while in Washington. Bok explained the
impression that was current; whereupon came the answer, swift and
"There are no personae non gratae at the White House. I long ago learned
the waste of time in maintaining such a class."
There was in circulation during Henry Ward Beecher's lifetime a story,
which is still revived every now and then, that on a hot Sunday morning
in early summer, he began his sermon in Plymouth Church by declaring
that "It is too damned hot to preach." Bok wrote to the great preacher,
asked him the truth of this report, and received this definite denial:
"My Dear Friend:
"No, I never did begin a sermon with the remark that "it is d--d hot,"
etc. It is a story a hundred years old, revamped every few years to suit
some new man. When I am dead and gone, it will be told to the rising
generation respecting some other man, and then, as now, there will be
fools who will swear that they heard it!
"Henry Ward Beecher."
When Bok's father passed away, he left, among his effects, a large
number of Confederate bonds. Bok wrote to Jefferson Davis, asking if
they had any value, and received this characteristic answer:
"I regret my inability to give an opinion. The theory of the Confederate
Government, like that of the United States, was to separate the sword
from the purse. Therefore, the Confederate States Treasury was under the
control not of the Chief Executive, but of the Congress and the
Secretary of the Treasury. This may explain my want of special
information in regard to the Confederate States Bonds. Generally, I may
state that the Confederate Government cannot have preserved a fund for
the redemption of its Bonds other than the cotton subscribed by our
citizens for that purpose. At the termination of the War, the United
States Government, claiming to be the successor of the Confederate
Government, seized all its property which could be found, both at home
and abroad. I have not heard of any purpose to apply these assets to the
payment of the liabilities of the Confederacy, and, therefore, have been
at a loss to account for the demand which has lately been made for the
Always the soul of courtesy itself, and most obliging in granting the
numerous requests which came to him for his autograph, William Dean
Howells finally turned; and Bok always considered himself fortunate that
the novelist announced his decision to him in the following
"The requests for my autograph have of late become so burdensome that I
am obliged either to refuse all or to make some sort of limitation.
Every author must have an uneasy fear that his signature is 'collected'
at times like postage-stamps, and at times 'traded' among the collectors
for other signatures. That would not matter so much if the applicants
were always able to spell his name, or were apparently acquainted with
his work or interested in it.
"I propose, therefore, to give my name hereafter only to such askers as
can furnish me proof by intelligent comment upon it that they have read
some book of mine. If they can inclose a bookseller's certificate that
they have bought the book, their case will be very much strengthened;
but I do not insist upon this. In all instances a card and a stamped and
directed envelope must be inclosed. I will never 'add a sentiment'
except in the case of applicants who can give me proof that they have
read all my books, now some thirty or forty in number.
"W. D. Howells."
It need hardly be added that Mr. Howells's good nature prevented his
adherence to his rule!
Rudyard Kipling is another whose letters fairly vibrate with
personality; few men can write more interestingly, or, incidentally,
considering his microscopic handwriting, say more on a letter page.
Bok was telling Kipling one day about the scrapple so dear to the heart
of the Philadelphian as a breakfast dish. The author had never heard of
it or tasted it, and wished for a sample. So, upon his return home, Bok
had a Philadelphia market-man send some of the Philadelphia-made
article, packed in ice, to Kipling in his English home. There were
several pounds of it and Kipling wrote:
"By the way, that scrapple--which by token is a dish for the
Gods--arrived in perfect condition, and I ate it all, or as much as I
could get hold of. I am extremely grateful for it. It's all nonsense
about pig being unwholesome. There isn't a Mary-ache in a barrel of
Then later came this afterthought:
"A noble dish is that scrapple, but don't eat three slices and go to
work straight on top of 'em. That's the way to dyspepsia!
"P. S. I wish to goodness you'd give another look at England before
long. It's quite a country; really it is. Old, too, I believe."
It was Kipling who suggested that Bok should name his Merion home
"Swastika." Bok asked what the author knew about the mystic sign:
"There is a huge book (I've forgotten the name, but the Smithsonian will
know)," he wrote back, "about the Swastika (pronounced Swas-ti-ka to
rhyme with 'car's ticker'), in literature, art, religion, dogma, etc. I
believe there are two sorts of Swastikas, one [figure] and one [figure];
one is bad, the other is good, but which is which I know not for sure.
The Hindu trader opens his yearly account-books with a Swastika as 'an
auspicious beginning,' and all the races of the earth have used it. It's
an inexhaustible subject, and some man in the Smithsonian ought to be
full of it. Anyhow, the sign on the door or the hearth should protect
you against fire and water and thieves.
"By this time should have reached you a Swastika door-knocker, which I
hope may fit in with the new house and the new name. It was made by a
village-smith; and you will see that it has my initials, to which I hope
you will add yours, that the story may be complete.
"We are settled out here in Cape Town, eating strawberries in January
and complaining of the heat, which for the last two days has been a
little more than we pampered folk are used to; say 70° at night. But
what a lovely land it is, and how superb are the hydrangeas! Figure to
yourself four acres of 'em, all in bloom on the hillside near our home!"
Bok had visited the Panama Canal before its completion and had talked
with the men, high and low, working on it, asking them how they felt
about President Roosevelt's action in "digging the Canal first and
talking about it afterwards." He wrote the result of his talks to
Colonel Roosevelt, and received this reply:
"I shall always keep your letter, for I shall want my children and
grandchildren to see it after I am gone. I feel just as you do about the
Canal. It is the greatest contribution I was able to make to my country;
and while I do not believe my countrymen appreciate this at the moment,
I am extremely pleased to know that the men on the Canal do, for they
are the men who have done and are doing the great job. I am awfully
pleased that you feel the way you do.
In 1887, General William Tecumseh Sherman was much talked about as a
candidate for the presidency, until his famous declaration came out: "I
will not run if nominated, and will not serve if elected." During the
weeks of talk, however, much was said of General Sherman's religious
views, some contending that he was a Roman Catholic; others that he was
Bok wrote to General Sherman and asked him. His answer was direct:
"My family is strongly Roman Catholic, but I am not. Until I ask some
favor the public has no claim to question me further."
When Mrs. Sherman passed away, Doctor T. DeWitt Talmage wrote General
Sherman a note of condolence, and what is perhaps one of the fullest
expositions of his religious faith to which he ever gave expression came
from him in a most remarkable letter, which Doctor Talmage gave to Bok.
"New York, December 12, 1886.
"My Dear Friend:
"Your most tender epistle from Mansfield, Ohio, of December 9 brought
here last night by your son awakens in my brain a flood of memories.
Mrs. Sherman was by nature and inheritance an Irish Catholic. Her
grandfather, Hugh Boyle, was a highly educated classical scholar, whom I
remember well,--married the half sister of the mother of James G. Blaine
at Brownsville, Pa., settled in our native town Lancaster, Fairfield
County, Ohio, and became the Clerk of the County Court. He had two
daughters, Maria and Susan. Maria became the wife of Thomas Ewing, about
1819, and was the mother of my wife, Ellen Boyle Ewing. She was so
staunch to what she believed the true Faith that I am sure that though
she loved her children better than herself, she would have seen them die
with less pang, than to depart from the "Faith." Mr. Ewing was a great
big man, an intellectual giant, and looked down on religion as something
domestic, something consoling which ought to be encouraged; and to him
it made little difference whether the religion was Methodist,
Presbyterian, Baptist, or Catholic, provided the acts were 'half as
good' as their professions.
"In 1829 my father, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ohio, died at
Lebanon away from home, leaving his widow, Mary Hoyt of Norwalk, Conn.
(sister to Charles and James Hoyt of Brooklyn) with a frame house in
Lancaster, an income of $200 a year and eleven as hungry, rough, and
uncouth children as ever existed on earth. But father had been kind,
generous, manly with a big heart; and when it ceased to beat friends
turned up--Our Uncle Stoddard took Charles, the oldest; W. I. married
the next, Elisabeth (still living); Amelia was soon married to a
merchant in Mansfield, McCorab; I, the third son, was adopted by Thomas
Ewing, a neighbor, and John fell to his namesake in Mt. Vernon, a
"Surely 'Man proposes and God disposes.' I could fill a hundred pages,
but will not bore you. A half century has passed and you, a Protestant
minister, write me a kind, affectionate letter about my Catholic wife
from Mansfield, one of my family homes, where my mother, Mary Hoyt,
died, and where our Grandmother, Betsey Stoddard, lies buried. Oh, what
a flood of memories come up at the name of Betsey Stoddard,--daughter of
the Revd. Mr. Stoddard, who preached three times every Sunday, and as
often in between as he could cajole a congregation at ancient Woodbury,
Conn.,--who came down from Mansfield to Lancaster, three days' hard
journey to regulate the family of her son Judge Sherman, whose gentle
wife was as afraid of Grandma as any of us boys. She never spared the
rod or broom, but she had more square solid sense to the yard than any
woman I ever saw. From her Charles, John, and I inherit what little
sense we possess.
"Lancaster, Fairfield County, was our paternal home, Mansfield that of
Grandmother Stoddard and her daughter, Betsey Parker. There Charles and
John settled, and when in 1846 I went to California Mother also went
there, and there died in 1851.
"When a boy, once a year I had to drive my mother in an old 'dandy
wagon' on her annual visit. The distance was 75 miles, further than
Omaha is from San Francisco. We always took three days and stopped at
every house to gossip with the woman folks, and dispense medicines and
syrups to the sick, for in those days all had the chills or ague. If I
could I would not awaken Grandmother Betsey Stoddard because she would
be horrified at the backsliding of the servants of Christ,--but oh! how
I would like to take my mother, Mary Hoyt, in a railroad car out to
California, to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, among the vineyards of
grapes, the groves of oranges, lemons and pomegranates. How clearly
recurs to me the memory of her exclamation when I told her I had been
ordered around Cape Horn to California. Her idea was about as definite
as mine or yours as to, Where is Stanley? but she saw me return with
some nuggets to make her life more comfortable.
"She was a strong Presbyterian to the end, but she loved my Ellen, and
the love was mutual. All my children have inherited their mother's
faith, and she would have given anything if I would have simply said
Amen; but it is simply impossible.
"But I am sure that you know that the God who created the minnow, and
who has moulded the rose and carnation, given each its sweet fragrance,
will provide for those mortal men who strive to do right in the world
which he himself has stocked with birds, animals, and men;--at all
events, I will trust Him with absolute confidence.
"With great respect and affection,
"W. T. Sherman."
XX. Meeting a Reverse or Two
With the hitherto unreached magazine circulation of a million copies a
month in sight, Edward Bok decided to give a broader scope to the
periodical. He was determined to lay under contribution not only the
most famous writers of the day, but also to seek out those well-known
persons who usually did not contribute to the magazines; always keeping
in mind the popular appeal of his material, but likewise aiming
constantly to widen its scope and gradually to lift its standard.
Sailing again for England, he sought and secured the acquaintance of
Rudyard Kipling, whose alert mind was at once keenly interested in what
Bok was trying to do. He was willing to co-operate, with the result that
Bok secured the author's new story, William the Conqueror. When Bok read
the manuscript, he was delighted; he had for some time been reading
Kipling's work with enthusiasm, and he saw at once that here was one of
the author's best tales.
At that time, Frances E. Willard had brought her agitation for
temperance prominently before the public, and Bok had promised to aid
her by eliminating from his magazine, so far as possible, all scenes
which represented alcoholic drinking. It was not an iron-clad rule, but,
both from the principle fixed for his own life and in the interest of
the thousands of young people who read his magazine, he believed it
would be better to minimize all incidents portraying alcoholic drinking
or drunkenness. Kipling's story depicted several such scenes; so when
Bok sent the proofs he suggested that if Kipling could moderate some of
these scenes, it would be more in line with the policy of the magazine.
Bok did not make a special point of the matter, leaving it to Kipling's
judgment to decide how far he could make such changes and preserve the
atmosphere of his story.
From this incident arose the widely published story that Bok cabled
Kipling, asking permission to omit a certain drinking reference, and
substitute something else, whereupon Kipling cabled back: "Substitute
Mellin's Food." As a matter of fact (although it is a pity to kill such
a clever story), no such cable was ever sent and no such reply ever
received. As Kipling himself wrote to Bok: "No, I said nothing about
Mellin's Food. I wish I had." An American author in London happened to
hear of the correspondence between the editor and the author, it
appealed to his sense of humor, and the published story was the result.
If it mattered, it is possible that Brander Matthews could accurately
reveal the originator of the much-published yarn.
From Kipling's house Bok went to Tunbridge Wells to visit Mary Anderson,
the one-time popular American actress, who had married Antonio de
Navarro and retired from the stage. A goodly number of editors had tried
to induce the retired actress to write, just as a number of managers had
tried to induce her to return to the stage. All had failed. But Bok
never accepted the failure of others as a final decision for himself;
and after two or three visits, he persuaded Madame de Navarro to write
her reminiscences, which he published with marked success in the
The editor was very desirous of securing something for his magazine that
would delight children, and he hit upon the idea of trying to induce
Lewis Carroll to write another Alice in Wonderland series. He was told
by English friends that this would be difficult, since the author led a
secluded life at Oxford and hardly ever admitted any one into his
confidence. But Bok wanted to beard the lion in his den, and an Oxford
graduate volunteered to introduce him to an Oxford don through whom, if
it were at all possible, he could reach the author. The journey to
Oxford was made, and Bok was introduced to the don, who turned out to be
no less a person than the original possessor of the highly colored
vocabulary of the "White Rabbit" of the Alice stories.
"Impossible," immediately declared the don. "You couldn't persuade
Dodgson to consider it." Bok, however, persisted, and it so happened
that the don liked what he called "American perseverance."
"Well, come along," he said. "We'll beard the lion in his den, as you
say, and see what happens. You know, of course, that it is the Reverend
Charles L. Dodgson that we are going to see, and I must introduce you to
that person, not to Lewis Carroll. He is a tutor in mathematics here, as
you doubtless know; lives a rigidly secluded life; dislikes strangers;
makes no friends; and yet withal is one of the most delightful men in
the world if he wants to be."
But as it happened upon this special occasion when Bok was introduced to
him in his chambers in Tom Quad, Mr. Dodgson did not "want to be"
delightful. There was no doubt that back of the studied reserve was a
kindly, charming, gracious gentleman, but Bok's profession had been
mentioned and the author was on rigid guard.
When Bok explained that one of the special reasons for his journey from
America this summer was to see him, the Oxford mathematician
sufficiently softened to ask the editor to sit down.
Bok then broached his mission.
"You are quite in error, Mr. Bok," was the Dodgson comment. "You are not
speaking to the person you think you are addressing."
For a moment Bok was taken aback. Then he decided to go right to the
"Do I understand, Mr. Dodgson, that you are not 'Lewis Carroll'; that
you did not write Alice in Wonderland?"
For an answer the tutor rose, went into another room, and returned with
a book which he handed to Bok. "This is my book," he said simply. It was
entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, by C. L. Dodgson. When
he looked up, Bok found the author's eyes riveted on him.
"Yes," said Bok. "I know, Mr. Dodgson. If I remember correctly, this is
the same book of which you sent a copy to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria,
when she wrote to you for a personal copy of your Alice."
Dodgson made no comment. The face was absolutely without expression save
a kindly compassion intended to convey to the editor that he was making
a terrible mistake.
"As I said to you in the beginning, Mr. Bok, you are in error. You are
not speaking to 'Lewis Carroll.'" And then: "Is this the first time you
have visited Oxford?"
Bok said it was; and there followed the most delightful two hours with
the Oxford mathematician and the Oxford don, walking about and into the
wonderful college buildings, and afterward the three had a bite of lunch
together. But all efforts to return to "Lewis Carroll" were futile.
While saying good-by to his host, Bok remarked:
"I can't help expressing my disappointment, Mr. Dodgson, in my quest in
behalf of the thousands of American children who love you and who would
so gladly welcome 'Lewis Carroll' back."
The mention of children and their love for him momentarily had its
effect. For an instant a different light came into the eyes, and Bok
instinctively realized Dodgson was about to say something. But he
checked himself. Bok had almost caught him off his guard.
"I am sorry," he finally said at the parting at the door, "that you
should be disappointed, for the sake of the children as well as for your
own sake. I only regret that I cannot remove the disappointment."
And as the trio walked to the station, the don said: "That is his
attitude toward all, even toward me. He is not 'Lewis Carroll' to any
one; is extremely sensitive on the point, and will not acknowledge his
identity. That is why he lives so much to himself. He is in daily dread
that some one will mention Alice in his presence. Curious, but there it
Edward Bok's next quest was to be even more disappointing; he was never
even to reach the presence of the person he sought. This was Florence
Nightingale, the Crimean nurse. Bok was desirous of securing her own
story of her experiences, but on every hand he found an unwillingness
even to take him to her house. "No use," said everybody. "She won't see
any one. Hates publicity and all that sort of thing, and shuns the
public." Nevertheless, the editor journeyed to the famous nurse's home
on South Street, in the West End of London, only to be told that "Miss
Nightingale never receives strangers."
"But I am not a stranger," insisted the editor. "I am one of her friends
from America. Please take my card to her."
This mollified the faithful secretary, but the word instantly came back
that Miss Nightingale was not receiving any one that day. Bok wrote her
a letter asking for an appointment, which was never answered. Then he
wrote another, took it personally to the house, and awaited an answer,
only to receive the message that "Miss Nightingale says there is no
answer to the letter."
Bok had with such remarkable uniformity secured whatever he sought, that
these experiences were new to him. Frankly, they puzzled him. He was not
easily baffled, but baffled he now was, and that twice in succession.
Turn as he might, he could find no way in which to reopen an approach to
either the Oxford tutor or the Crimean nurse. They were plainly too much
for him, and he had to acknowledge his defeat. The experience was good
for him; he did not realize this at the time, nor did he enjoy the
sensation of not getting what he wanted. Nevertheless, a reverse or two
was due. Not that his success was having any undesirable effect upon
him; his Dutch common sense saved him from any such calamity. But at
thirty years of age it is not good for any one, no matter how well
balanced, to have things come his way too fast and too consistently. And
here were breaks. He could not have everything he wanted, and it was
just as well that he should find that out.
In his next quest he found himself again opposed by his London friends.
Unable to secure a new Alice in Wonderland for his child readers, he
determined to give them Kate Greenaway. But here he had selected another
recluse. Everybody discouraged him. The artist never saw visitors, he
was told, and she particularly shunned editors and publishers. Her own
publishers confessed that Miss Greenaway was inaccessible to them. "We
conduct all our business with her by correspondence. I have never seen
her personally myself," said a member of the firm.
Bok inwardly decided that two failures in two days were sufficient, and
he made up his mind that there should not be a third. He took a bus for
the long ride to Hampstead Heath, where the illustrator lived, and
finally stood before a picturesque Queen Anne house that one would have
recognized at once, with its lower story of red brick, its upper part
covered with red tiles, its windows of every size and shape, as the
inspiration of Kate Greenaway's pictures. As it turned out later, Miss
Greenaway's sister opened the door and told the visitor that Miss
Greenaway was not at home.
"But, pardon me, has not Miss Greenaway returned? Is not that she?"
asked Bok, as he indicated a figure just coming down the stairs. And as
the sister turned to see, Bok stepped into the hall. At least he was
inside! Bok had never seen a photograph of Miss Greenaway, he did not
know that the figure coming downstairs was the artist; but his instinct
had led him right, and good fortune was with him.
He now introduced himself to Kate Greenaway, and explained that one of
his objects in coming to London was to see her on behalf of thousands of
American children. Naturally there was nothing for the illustrator to do
but to welcome her visitor. She took him into the garden, where he saw
at once that he was seated under the apple-tree of Miss Greenaway's
pictures. It was in full bloom, a veritable picture of spring
loveliness. Bok's love for nature pleased the artist and when he
recognized the cat that sauntered up, he could see that he was making
headway. But when he explained his profession and stated his errand, the
atmosphere instantly changed. Miss Greenaway conveyed the unmistakable
impression that she had been trapped, and Bok realized at once that he
had a long and difficult road ahead.
Still, negotiate it he must and he did! And after luncheon in the
garden, with the cat in his lap, Miss Greenaway perceptibly thawed out,
and when the editor left late that afternoon he had the promise of the
artist that she would do her first magazine work for him. That promise
was kept monthly, and for nearly two years her articles appeared, with
satisfaction to Miss Greenaway and with great success to the magazine.
The next opposition to Bok's plans arose from the soreness generated by
the absence of copyright laws between the United States and Great
Britain and Europe. The editor, who had been publishing a series of
musical compositions, solicited the aid of Sir Arthur Sullivan. But it
so happened that Sir Arthur's most famous composition, "The Lost Chord,"
had been taken without leave by American music publishers, and sold by
the hundreds of thousands with the composer left out on pay-day. Sir
Arthur held forth on this injustice, and said further that no accurate
copy of "The Lost Chord" had, so far as he knew, ever been printed in
the United States. Bok saw his chance, and also an opportunity for a
"Very well, Sir Arthur," suggested Bok; "with your consent, I will
rectify both the inaccuracy and the injustice. Write out a correct
version of 'The Lost Chord'; I will give it to nearly a million readers,
and so render obsolete the incorrect copies; and I shall be only too
happy to pay you the first honorarium for an American publication of the
song. You can add to the copy the statement that this is the first
American honorarium you have ever received, and so shame the American
publishers for their dishonesty."
This argument appealed strongly to the composer, who made a correct
transcript of his famous song, and published it with the following note:
"This is the first and only copy of "The Lost Chord" which has ever been
sent by me to an American publisher. I believe all the reprints in
America are more or less incorrect. I have pleasure in sending this copy
to my friend, Mr. Edward W. Bok, for publication in The Ladies' Home
Journal for which he gives me an honorarium, the only one I have ever
received from an American publisher for this song.
At least, thought Bok, he had healed one man's soreness toward America.
But the next day he encountered another. On his way to Paris, he stopped
at Amiens to see Jules Verne. Here he found special difficulty in that
the aged author could not speak English, and Bok knew only a few words
of casual French. Finally a neighbor's servant who knew a handful of
English words was commandeered, and a halting three-cornered
conversation was begun.
Bok found two grievances here: the author was incensed at the American
public because it had insisted on classing his books as juveniles, and
accepting them as stories of adventure, whereas he desired them to be
recognized as prophetic stories based on scientific facts--an insistence
which, as all the world knows, has since been justified. Bok explained,
however, that the popular acceptance of the author's books as stories of
adventure was by no means confined to America; that even in his own
country the same was true. But Jules Verne came back with the rejoinder
that if the French were a pack of fools, that was no reason why the
Americans should also be.
The argument weighed somewhat with the author, however, for he then
changed the conversation, and pointed out how he had been robbed by
American publishers who had stolen his books. So Bok was once more face
to face with the old non-copyright conditions; and although he explained
the existence then of a new protective law, the old man was not
mollified. He did not take kindly to Bok's suggestion for new work, and
closed the talk, extremely difficult to all three, by declaring that his
writing days were over.
But Bok was by no means through with non-copyright echoes, for he was
destined next day to take part in an even stormier interview on the same
subject with Alexander Dumas fils. Bok had been publishing a series of
articles in which authors had told how they had been led to write their
most famous books, and he wanted Dumas to tell "How I Came to Write
To act as translator this time, Bok took a trusted friend with him,
whose services he found were needed, as Dumas was absolutely without
knowledge of English. No sooner was the editor's request made known to
him than the storm broke. Dumas, hotly excited, denounced the Americans
as robbers who had deprived him of his rightful returns on his book and
play, and ended by declaring that he would trust no American editor or
The mutual friend explained the new copyright conditions and declared
that Bok intended to treat the author honorably. But Dumas was not to be
mollified. He launched forth upon a new arraignment of the Americans;
dishonesty was bred in their bones! and they were robbers by instinct.
All of this distinctly nettled Bok's Americanism. The interpreting
friend finally suggested that the article should be written while Bok
was in Paris; that he should be notified when the manuscript was ready,
that he should then appear with the actual money in hand in French
notes; and that Dumas should give Bok the manuscript when Bok handed
Dumas the money.
"After I count it," said Dumas.
This was the last straw!
"Pray ask him," Bok suggested to the interpreter, "what assurance I have
that he will deliver the manuscript to me after he has the money." The
friend protested against translating this thrust, but Bok insisted, and
Dumas, not knowing what was coming, insisted that the message be given
him. When it was, the man was a study; he became livid with rage.
"But," persisted Bok, "say to Monsieur Dumas that I have the same
privilege of distrusting him as he apparently has of distrusting me."
And Bok can still see the violent gesticulations of the storming French
author, his face burning with passionate anger, as the two left him.
Edward Bok now sincerely hoped that his encounters with the absence of a
law that has been met were at an end!
Rosa Bonheur, the painter of "The Horse Fair," had been represented to
Bok as another recluse who was as inaccessible as Kate Greenaway. He had
known of the painter's intimate relations with the ex-Empress Eugenie,
and desired to get these reminiscences. Everybody dissuaded him; but
again taking a French friend he made the journey to Fontainebleau, where
the artist lived in a chateau in the little village of By.
A group of dogs, great, magnificent tawny creatures, welcomed the two
visitors to the chateau; and the most powerful door that Bok had ever
seen, as securely bolted as that of a cell, told of the inaccessibility
of the mistress of the house. Two blue-frocked peasants explained how
impossible it was for any one to see their mistress, so Bok asked
permission to come in and write her a note.
This was granted; and then, as in the case of Kate Greenaway, Rosa
Bonheur herself walked into the hall, in a velvet jacket, dressed, as
she always was, in man's attire. A delightful smile lighted the strong
face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, cut short at the back; and
from the moment of her first welcome there was no doubt of her
cordiality to the few who were fortunate enough to work their way into
her presence. It was a wonderful afternoon, spent in the painter's
studio in the upper part of the chateau; and Bok carried away with him
the promise of Rosa Bonheur to write the story of her life for
publication in the magazine.
On his return to London the editor found that Charles Dana Gibson had
settled down there for a time. Bok had always wanted Gibson to depict
the characters of Dickens; and he felt that this was the opportunity,
while the artist was in London and could get the atmosphere for his
work. Gibson was as keen for the idea as was Bok, and so the two
arranged the series which was subsequently published.
On his way to his steamer to sail for home, Bok visited "Ian Maclaren,"
whose Bonnie Brier Bush stories were then in great vogue, and not only
contracted for Doctor Watson's stories of the immediate future, but
arranged with him for a series of articles which, for two years
thereafter, was published in the magazine.
The editor now sailed for home, content with his assembly of foreign
On the steamer, Bok heard of the recent discovery of some unpublished
letters by Louisa May Alcott, written to five girls, and before
returning to Philadelphia, he went to Boston, got into touch with the
executors of the will of Miss Alcott, brought the letters back with him
to read, and upon reaching Philadelphia, wired his acceptance of them
But the traveller was not at once to enjoy his home. After only a day in
Philadelphia he took a train for Indianapolis. Here lived the most
thoroughly American writer of the day, in Bok's estimation: James
Whitcomb Riley. An arrangement, perfected before his European visit, had
secured to Bok practically exclusive rights to all the output of his
Chicago friend Eugene Field, and he felt that Riley's work would
admirably complement that of Field. This Bok explained to Riley, who
readily fell in with the idea, and the editor returned to Philadelphia
with a contract to see Riley's next dozen poems. A little later Field
passed away. His last poem, "The Dream Ship," and his posthumous story
"The Werewolf" appeared in The Ladies' Home Journal.
A second series of articles was also arranged for with Mr. Harrison, in
which he was to depict, in a personal way, the life of a President of
the United States, the domestic life of the White House, and the
financial arrangements made by the government for the care of the chief
executive and his family. The first series of articles by the former
President had been very successful; Bok felt that they had accomplished
much in making his women readers familiar with their country and the
machinery of its government. After this, which had been undeniably solid
reading, Bok reasoned that the supplementary articles, in lighter vein,
would serve as a sort of dessert. And so it proved.
Bok now devoted his attention to strengthening the fiction in his
magazine. He sought Mark Twain, and bought his two new stories; he
secured from Bret Harte a tale which he had just finished; and then ran
the gamut of the best fiction writers of the day, and secured their best
output. Marion Crawford, Conan Doyle, Sarah Orne Jewett, John Kendrick
Bangs, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Hamlin Garland, Mrs. Burton Harrison,
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Mary E. Wilkins, Jerome K. Jerome, Anthony
Hope, Joel Chandler Harris, and others followed in rapid succession.
He next turned for a moment to his religious department, decided that it
needed a freshening of interest, and secured Dwight L. Moody, whose
evangelical work was then so prominently in the public eye, to conduct
"Mr. Moody's Bible Class" in the magazine--practically a study of the
stated Bible lesson of the month with explanation in Moody's simple and
The authors for whom the Journal was now publishing attracted the
attention of all the writers of the day, and the supply of good material
became too great for its capacity. Bok studied the mechanical makeup,
and felt that by some method he must find more room in the front
portion. He had allotted the first third of the magazine to the general
literary contents and the latter two-thirds to departmental features.
Toward the close of the number, the departments narrowed down from full
pages to single columns with advertisements on each side.
One day Bok was handling a story by Rudyard Kipling which had overrun
the space allowed for it in the front. The story had come late, and the
rest of the front portion of the magazine had gone to press. The editor
was in a quandary what to do with the two remaining columns of the
Kipling tale. There were only two pages open, and these were at the
back. He remade those pages, and continued the story from pages 6 and 7
to pages 38 and 39.
At once Bok saw that this was an instance where "necessity was the
mother of invention." He realized that if he could run some of his front
material over to the back he would relieve the pressure at the front,
present a more varied contents there, and make his advertisements more
valuable by putting them next to the most expensive material in the
In the next issue he combined some of his smaller departments in the
back; and thus, in 1896, he inaugurated the method of "running over into
the back" which has now become a recognized principle in the make-up of
magazines of larger size. At first, Bok's readers objected, but he
explained why he did it; that they were the benefiters by the plan; and,
so far as readers can be satisfied with what is, at best, an awkward
method of presentation, they were content. Today the practice is
undoubtedly followed to excess, some magazines carrying as much as
eighty and ninety columns over from the front to the back; from such
abuse it will, of course, free itself either by a return to the original
method of make-up or by the adoption of some other less-irritating plan.
In his reading about the America of the past, Bok had been impressed by
the unusual amount of interesting personal material that constituted
what is termed unwritten history--original events of tremendous personal
appeal in which great personalities figured but which had not sufficient
historical importance to have been included in American history. Bok
determined to please his older readers by harking back to the past and
at the same time acquainting the younger generation with the picturesque
events which had preceded their time.
He also believed that if he could "dress up" the past, he could arrest
the attention of a generation which was too likely to boast of its
interest only in the present and the future. He took a course of reading
and consulted with Mr. Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, who
had become interested in his work and had written him several voluntary
letters of commendation. Mr. Dana gave material help in the selection of
subjects and writers; and was intensely amused and interested by the
manner in which his youthful confrere "dressed up" the titles of what
might otherwise have looked like commonplace articles.
"I know," said Bok to the elder editor, "it smacks a little of the
sensational, Mr. Dana, but the purpose I have in mind of showing the
young people of to-day that some great things happened before they came
on the stage seems to me to make it worth while."
Mr. Dana agreed with this view, supplemented every effort of the
Philadelphia editor in several subsequent talks, and in 1897 The Ladies'
Home Journal began one of the most popular series it ever published. It
was called "Great Personal Events," and the picturesque titles explained
them. He first pictured the enthusiastic evening "When Jenny Lind Sang
in Castle Garden," and, as Bok added to pique curiosity, "when people
paid $20 to sit in rowboats to hear the Swedish nightingale."
This was followed by an account of the astonishing episode "When Henry
Ward Beecher Sold Slaves in Plymouth Pulpit"; the picturesque journey
"When Louis Kossuth Rode Up Broadway"; the triumphant tour "When General
Grant Went Round the World"; the forgotten story of "When an Actress Was
the Lady of the White House"; the sensational striking of the gold vein
in 1849, "When Mackay Struck the Great Bonanza"; the hitherto
little-known instance "When Louis Philippe Taught School in
Philadelphia"; and even the lesser-known fact of the residence of the
brother of Napoleon Bonaparte in America, "When the King of Spain Lived
on the Banks of the Schuylkill"; while the story of "When John Wesley
Preached in Georgia" surprised nearly every Methodist, as so few had
known that the founder of their church had ever visited America. Each
month picturesque event followed graphic happening, and never was
unwritten history more readily read by the young, or the memories of the
older folk more catered to than in this series which won new friends for
the magazine on every hand.
XXI. A Signal Piece of Constructive Work
The influence of his grandfather and the injunction of his grandmother
to her sons that each "should make the world a better or a more
beautiful place to live in" now began to be manifest in the grandson.
Edward Bok was unconscious that it was this influence. What directly led
him to the signal piece of construction in which he engaged was the
wretched architecture of small houses. As he travelled through the
United States he was appalled by it. Where the houses were not
positively ugly, they were, to him, repellently ornate. Money was wasted
on useless turrets, filigree work, or machine-made ornamentation. Bok
found out that these small householders never employed an architect, but
that the houses were put up by builders from their own plans.
Bok felt a keen desire to take hold of the small American house and make
it architecturally better. He foresaw, however, that the subject would
finally include small gardening and interior decoration. He feared that
the subject would become too large for the magazine, which was already
feeling the pressure of the material which he was securing. He
suggested, therefore, to Mr. Curtis that they purchase a little magazine
published in Buffalo, N. Y., called Country Life, and develop it into a
first-class periodical devoted to the general subject of a better
American architecture, gardening, and interior decoration, with special
application to the small house. The magazine was purchased, and while
Bok was collecting his material for a number of issues ahead, he edited
and issued, for copyright purposes, a four-page magazine.
An opportunity now came to Mr. Curtis to purchase The Saturday Evening
Post, a Philadelphia weekly of honored prestige, founded by Benjamin
Franklin. It was apparent at once that the company could not embark upon
the development of two magazines at the same time, and as a larger field
was seen for The Saturday Evening Post, it was decided to leave Country
Life in abeyance for the present.
Mr. Frank Doubleday, having left the Scribners and started a
publishing-house of his own, asked Bok to transfer to him the copyright
and good will of Country Life--seeing that there was little chance for
The Curtis Publishing Company to undertake its publication. Mr. Curtis
was willing, but he knew that Bok had set his heart on the new magazine
and left it for him to decide. The editor realized, as the Doubleday
Company could take up the magazine at once, the unfairness of holding
indefinitely the field against them by the publication of a mere
copyright periodical. And so, with a feeling as if he were giving up his
child to another father, Bok arranged that The Curtis Publishing Company
should transfer to the Doubleday, Page Company all rights to the title
and periodical of which the present beautiful publication Country Life
is the outgrowth.
Bok now turned to The Ladies' Home Journal as his medium for making the
small-house architecture of America better. He realized the limitation
of space, but decided to do the best he could under the circumstances.
He believed he might serve thousands of his readers if he could make it
possible for them to secure, at moderate cost, plans for well-designed
houses by the leading domestic architects in the country. He consulted a
number of architects, only to find them unalterably opposed to the idea.
They disliked the publicity of magazine presentation; prices differed
too much in various parts of the country; and they did not care to risk
the criticism of their contemporaries. It was "cheapening" their
Bok saw that he should have to blaze the way and demonstrate the
futility of these arguments. At last he persuaded one architect to
co-operate with him, and in 1895 began the publication of a series of
houses which could be built, approximately, for from one thousand five
hundred dollars to five thousand dollars. The idea attracted attention
at once, and the architect-author was swamped with letters and inquiries
regarding his plans.
This proved Bok's instinct to be correct as to the public willingness to
accept such designs; upon this proof he succeeded in winning over two
additional architects to make plans. He offered his readers full
building specifications and plans to scale of the houses with estimates
from four builders in different parts of the United States for five
dollars a set. The plans and specifications were so complete in every
detail that any builder could build the house from them.
A storm of criticism now arose from architects and builders all over the
country, the architects claiming that Bok was taking "the bread out of
their mouths" by the sale of plans, and local builders vigorously
questioned the accuracy of the estimates. But Bok knew he was right and
Slowly but surely he won the approval of the leading architects, who saw
that he was appealing to a class of house-builders who could not afford
to pay an architect's fee, and that, with his wide circulation, he might
become an influence for better architecture through these small houses.
The sets of plans and specifications sold by the thousands. It was not
long before the magazine was able to present small-house plans by the
foremost architects of the country, whose services the average
householder could otherwise never have dreamed of securing.
Bok not only saw an opportunity to better the exterior of the small
houses, but he determined that each plan published should provide for
two essentials: every servant's room should have two windows to insure
cross-ventilation, and contain twice the number of cubic feet usually
given to such rooms; and in place of the American parlor, which he
considered a useless room, should be substituted either a living-room or
a library. He did not point to these improvements; every plan simply
presented the larger servant's room and did not present a parlor. It is
a singular fact that of the tens of thousands of plans sold, not a
purchaser ever noticed the absence of a parlor except one woman in
Brookline, Mass., who, in erecting a group of twenty-five "Journal
houses," discovered after she had built ten that not one contained a
"Ladies' Home Journal houses" were now going up in communities all over
the country, and Bok determined to prove that they could be erected for
the prices given. Accordingly, he published a prize offer of generous
amount for the best set of exterior and interior photographs of a house
built after a Journal plan within the published price. Five other and
smaller prizes were also offered. A legally attested builder's
declaration was to accompany each set of photographs. The sets
immediately began to come in, until over five thousand had been
received. Bok selected the best of these, awarded the prizes, and began
the presentation of the houses actually built after the published plans.
Of course this publication gave fresh impetus to the whole scheme;
prospective house-builders pointed their builders to the proof given,
and additional thousands of sets of plans were sold. The little houses
became better and better in architecture as the series went on, and
occasionally a plan for a house costing as high as ten thousand dollars
For nearly twenty-five years Bok continued to publish pictures of houses
and plans. Entire colonies of "Ladies' Home Journal houses" have sprung
up, and building promoters have built complete suburban developments
with them. How many of these homes have been erected it is, of course,
impossible to say; the number certainly runs into the thousands.
It was one of the most constructive and far-reaching pieces of work that
Bok did during his editorial career--a fact now recognized by all
architects. Shortly before Stanford White passed away, he wrote: "I
firmly believe that Edward Bok has more completely influenced American
domestic architecture for the better than any man in this generation.
When he began, I was short-sighted enough to discourage him, and refused
to cooperate with him. If Bok came to me now, I would not only make
plans for him, but I would waive any fee for them in retribution for my
Bok then turned to the subject of the garden for the small house, and
the development of the grounds around the homes which he had been
instrumental in putting on the earth. He encountered no opposition here.
The publication of small gardens for small houses finally ran into
hundreds of pages, the magazine supplying planting plans and full
directions as to when and how to plant-this time without cost.
Next the editor decided to see what he could do for the better and
simpler furnishing of the small American home. Here was a field almost
limitless in possible improvement, but he wanted to approach it in a new
way. The best method baffled him until one day he met a woman friend who
told him that she was on her way to a funeral at a friend's home.
"I didn't know you were so well acquainted with Mrs. S--," said Bok.
"I wasn't, as a matter of fact," replied the woman. "I'll be perfectly
frank; I am going to the funeral just to see how Mrs. S--'s house is
furnished. She was always thought to have great taste, you know, and,
whether you know it or not, a woman is always keen to look into another
Bok realized that he had found the method of presentation for his
interior-furnishing plan if he could secure photographs of the most
carefully furnished homes in America. He immediately employed the best
available expert, and within six months there came to him an assorted
collection of over a thousand photographs of well-furnished rooms. The
best were selected, and a series of photographic pages called "Inside of
100 Homes" was begun. The editor's woman friend had correctly pointed
the way to him, for this series won for his magazine the enviable
distinction of being the first magazine of standing to reach the then
marvellous record of a circulation of one million copies a month. The
editions containing the series were sold out as fast as they could be
The editor followed this up with another successful series, again
pictorial. He realized that to explain good taste in furnishing by text
was almost impossible. So he started a series of all-picture pages
called "Good Taste and Bad Taste." He presented a chair that was bad in
lines and either useless or uncomfortable to sit in, and explained where
and why it was bad; and then put a good chair next to it, and explained
where and why it was good.
The lesson to the eye was simply and directly effective; the pictures
told their story as no printed word could have done, and furniture
manufacturers and dealers all over the country, feeling the pressure
from their customers, began to put on the market the tables, chairs,
divans, bedsteads, and dressing-tables which the magazine was portraying
as examples of good taste. It was amazing that, within five years, the
physical appearance of domestic furniture in the stores completely
The next undertaking was a systematic plan for improving the pictures on
the walls of the American home. Bok was employing the best artists of
the day: Edwin A. Abbey, Howard Pyle, Charles Dana Gibson, W. L. Taylor,
Albert Lynch, Will H. Low, W. T. Smedley, Irving R. Wiles, and others.
As his magazine was rolled to go through the mails, the pictures
naturally suffered; Bok therefore decided to print a special edition of
each important picture that he published, an edition on plate-paper,
without text, and offered to his readers at ten cents a copy. Within a
year he had sold nearly one hundred thousand copies, such pictures as W.
L. Taylor's "The Hanging of the Crane" and "Home-Keeping Hearts" being
Pictures were difficult to advertise successfully; it was before the
full-color press had become practicable for rapid magazine work; and
even the large-page black-and-white reproductions which Bok could give
in his magazine did not, of course, show the beauty of the original
paintings, the majority of which were in full color. He accordingly made
arrangements with art publishers to print his pictures in their original
colors; then he determined to give the public an opportunity to see what
the pictures themselves looked like.
He asked his art editor to select the two hundred and fifty best
pictures and frame them. Then he engaged the art gallery of the
Philadelphia Art Club, and advertised an exhibition of the original
paintings. No admission was charged. The gallery was put into gala
attire, and the pictures were well hung. The exhibition, which was
continued for two weeks, was visited by over fifteen thousand persons.
His success here induced Bok to take the collection to New York. The
galleries of the American Art Association were offered him, but he
decided to rent the ballroom of the Hotel Waldorf. The hotel was then
new; it was the talk not only of the town but of the country, while the
ballroom had been pictured far and wide. It would have a publicity
value. He could secure the room for only four days, but he determined to
make the most of the short time. The exhibition was well advertised; a
"private view" was given the evening before the opening day, and when,
at nine o'clock the following morning, the doors of the exhibition were
thrown open, over a thousand persons were waiting in line.
The hotel authorities had to resort to a special cordon of police to
handle the crowds, and within four days over seventeen thousand persons
had seen the pictures. On the last evening it was after midnight before
the doors could be closed to the waiting-line. Boston was next visited,
and there, at the Art Club Gallery, the previous successes were
repeated. Within two weeks over twenty-eight thousand persons visited
Other cities now clamored for a sight of the pictures, and it was
finally decided to end the exhibitions by a visit to Chicago. The
success here exceeded that in any of the other cities. The banquet-hall
of the Auditorium Hotel had been engaged; over two thousand persons were
continually in a waiting-line outside, and within a week nearly thirty
thousand persons pushed and jostled themselves into the gallery. Over
eight thousand persons in all had viewed the pictures in the four
The exhibition was immediately followed by the publication of a
portfolio of the ten pictures that had proved the greatest favorites.
These were printed on plate-paper and the portfolio was offered by Bok
to his readers for one dollar. The first thousand sets were exhausted
within a fortnight. A second thousand were printed, and these were
quickly sold out.
Bok's next enterprise was to get his pictures into the homes of the
country on a larger scale; he determined to work through the churches.
He selected the fifty best pictures, made them into a set and offered
first a hundred sets to selected schools, which were at once taken. Then
he offered two hundred and fifty sets to churches to sell at their
fairs. The managers were to promise to erect a Ladies' Home Journal
booth (which Bok knew, of course, would be most effective advertising),
and the pictures were to sell at twenty-five and fifty cents each, with
some at a dollar each. The set was offered to the churches for five
dollars: the actual cost of reproduction and expressage. On the day
after the publication of the magazine containing the offer, enough
telegraphic orders were received to absorb the entire edition. A second
edition was immediately printed; and finally ten editions, four thousand
sets in all, were absorbed before the demand was filled. By this method,
two hundred thousand pictures had been introduced into American homes,
and over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in money had been raised
by the churches as their portion.
But all this was simply to lead up to the realization of Bok's cherished
dream: the reproduction, in enormous numbers, of the greatest pictures
in the world in their original colors. The plan, however, was not for
the moment feasible: the cost of the four-color process was at that time
prohibitive, and Bok had to abandon it. But he never lost sight of it.
He knew the hour would come when he could carry it out, and he bided his
It was not until years later that his opportunity came, when he
immediately made up his mind to seize it. The magazine had installed a
battery of four-color presses; the color-work in the periodical was
attracting universal attention, and after all stages of experimentation
had been passed, Bok decided to make his dream a reality. He sought the
co-operation of the owners of the greatest private art galleries in the
country: J. Pierpont Morgan, Henry C. Frick, Joseph E. Widener, George
W. Elkins, John G. Johnson, Charles P. Taft, Mrs. John L. Gardner,
Charles L. Freer, Mrs. Havemeyer, and the owners of the Benjamin Altman
Collection, and sought permission to reproduce their greatest paintings.
Although each felt doubtful of the ability of any process adequately to
reproduce their masterpieces, the owners heartily co-operated with Bok.
But Bok's co-editors discouraged his plan, since it would involve
endless labor, the exclusive services of a corps of photographers and
engravers, and the employment of the most careful pressmen available in
the United States. The editor realized that the obstacles were numerous
and that the expense would be enormous; but he felt sure that the
American public was ready for his idea. And early in 1912 he announced
his series and began its publication.
The most wonderful Rembrandt, Velasquez, Turner, Hobbema, Van Dyck,
Raphael, Frans Hals, Romney, Gainsborough, Whistler, Corot, Mauve,
Vermeer, Fragonard, Botticelli, and Titian reproductions followed in
such rapid succession as fairly to daze the magazine readers. Four
pictures were given in each number, and the faithfulness of the
reproductions astonished even their owners. The success of the series
was beyond Bok's own best hopes. He was printing and selling one and
three-quarter million copies of each issue of his magazine; and before
he was through he had presented to American homes throughout the breadth
of the country over seventy million reproductions of forty separate
master-pieces of art.
The dream of years had come true.
Bok had begun with the exterior of the small American house and made an
impression upon it; he had brought the love of flowers into the hearts
of thousands of small householders who had never thought they could have
an artistic garden within a small area; he had changed the lines of
furniture, and he had put better art on the walls of these homes. He had
conceived a full-rounded scheme, and he had carried it out.
It was a peculiar satisfaction to Bok that Theodore Roosevelt once
summed up this piece of work in these words: "Bok is the only man I ever
heard of who changed, for the better, the architecture of an entire
nation, and he did it so quickly and yet so effectively that we didn't
know it was begun before it was finished. That is a mighty big job for
one man to have done."
XXII. An Adventure in Civic and Private Art
Edward Bok now turned his attention to those influences of a more public
nature which he felt could contribute to elevate the standard of public
He was surprised, on talking with furnishers of homes, to learn to what
extent women whose husbands had recently acquired means would refer to
certain styles of decoration and hangings which they had seen in the
Pullman parlor-cars. He had never seriously regarded the influence of
the furnishing of these cars upon the travelling public; now he realized
that, in a decorative sense, they were a distinct factor and a very
For in those days, twenty years ago, the decoration of the Pullman
parlor-car was atrocious. Colors were in riotous discord; every foot of
wood-panelling was carved and ornamented, nothing being left of the
grain of even the most beautiful woods; gilt was recklessly laid on
everywhere regardless of its fitness or relation. The hangings in the
cars were not only in bad taste, but distinctly unsanitary; the heaviest
velvets and showiest plushes were used; mirrors with bronzed and
redplushed frames were the order of the day; cord portières,
lambrequins, and tasselled fringes were still in vogue in these cars. It
was a veritable riot of the worst conceivable ideas; and it was this
standard that these women of the new-money class were accepting and
introducing into their homes!
Bok wrote an editorial calling attention to these facts. The Pullman
Company paid no attention to it, but the railroad journals did. With one
accord they seized the cudgel which Bok had raised, and a series of
hammerings began. The Pullman conductors began to report to their
division chiefs that the passengers were criticising the cars, and the
company at last woke up. It issued a cynical rejoinder; whereupon Bok
wrote another editorial, and the railroad journals once more joined in
The president of a large Western railroad wrote to Bok that he agreed
absolutely with his position, and asked whether he had any definite
suggestions to offer for the improvement of some new cars which they
were about to order. Bok engaged two of the best architects and
decorators in the country, and submitted the results to the officials of
the railroad company, who approved of them heartily. The Pullman Company
did not take very kindly, however, to suggestions thus brought to them.
But a current had been started; the attention of the travelling public
had been drawn for the first time to the wretched decoration of the
cars; and public sentiment was beginning to be vocal.
The first change came when a new dining-car on the Chicago, Burlington
and Quincy Railroad suddenly appeared. It was an artistically treated
Flemish-oak-panelled car with longitudinal beams and cross-beams, giving
the impression of a ceiling-beamed room. Between the "beams" was a quiet
tone of deep yellow. The sides of the car were wainscoting of plain
surface done in a Flemish stain rubbed down to a dull finish. The grain
of the wood was allowed to serve as decoration; there was no carving.
The whole tone of the car was that of the rich color of the sunflower.
The effect upon the travelling public was instantaneous. Every passenger
commented favorably on the car.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad now followed suit by
introducing a new Pullman chair-car. The hideous and germ-laden plush or
velvet curtains were gone, and leather hangings of a rich tone took
their place. All the grill-work of a bygone age was missing; likewise
the rope curtains. The woods were left to show the grain; no carving was
visible anywhere. The car was a relief to the eye, beautiful and simple,
and easy to keep clean. Again the public observed, and expressed its
The Pullman people now saw the drift, and wisely reorganized their
decorative department. Only those who remember the Pullman parlor-car of
twenty years ago can realize how long a step it is from the atrociously
decorated, unsanitary vehicle of that day to the simple car of to-day.
It was only a step from the Pullman car to the landscape outside, and
Bok next decided to see what he could do toward eliminating the hideous
bill-board advertisements which defaced the landscape along the lines of
the principal roads. He found a willing ally in this idea in Mr. J.
Horace McFarland, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of the most skilful
photographers in the country, and the president of The American Civic
Association. McFarland and Bok worked together; they took innumerable
photographs, and began to publish them, calling public attention to the
intrusion upon the public eye.
Page after page appeared in the magazine, and after a few months these
roused public discussion as to legal control of this class of
advertising. Bok meanwhile called the attention of women's clubs and
other civic organizations to the question, and urged that they clean
their towns of the obnoxious bill-boards. Legislative measures
regulating the size, character, and location of bill-boards were
introduced in various States, a tax on each bill-board was suggested in
other States, and the agitation began to bear fruit.
Bok now called upon his readers in general to help by offering a series
of prizes totalling several thousands of dollars for two photographs,
one showing a fence, barn, or outbuilding painted with an advertisement
or having a bill-board attached to it, or a field with a bill-board in
it, and a second photograph of the same spot showing the advertisement
removed, with an accompanying affidavit of the owner of the property,
legally attested, asserting that the advertisement had been permanently
removed. Hundreds of photographs poured in, scores of prizes were
awarded, the results were published, and requests came in for a second
series of prizes, which were duly awarded.
While Bok did not solve the problem of bill-board advertising, and while
in some parts of the country it is a more flagrant nuisance to-day than
ever before, he had started the first serious agitation against
bill-board advertising of bad design, detrimental, from its location, to
landscape beauty. He succeeded in getting rid of a huge bill-board which
had been placed at the most picturesque spot at Niagara Falls; and
hearing of "the largest advertisement sign in the world" to be placed on
the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, he notified the advertisers
that a photograph of the sign, if it was erected, would be immediately
published in the magazine and the attention of the women of America
called to the defacement of one of the most impressive and beautiful
scenes in the world. The article to be advertised was a household
commodity, purchased by women; and the owners realized that the proposed
advertisement would not be to the benefit of their product. The sign was
Of course the advertisers whose signs were shown in the magazine
immediately threatened the withdrawal of their accounts from The Ladies'
Home Journal, and the proposed advertiser at the Grand Canyon, whose
business was conspicuous in each number of the magazine, became actively
threatening. But Bok contended that the one proposition had absolutely
no relation to the other, and that if concerns advertised in the
magazine simply on the basis of his editorial policy toward bill-board
advertising, it was, to say the least, not a sound basis for
advertising. No advertising account was ever actually withdrawn.
In their travels about, Mr. McFarland and Bok began to note the
disreputably untidy spots which various municipalities allowed in the
closest proximity to the centre of their business life, in the most
desirable residential sections, and often adjacent to the most important
municipal buildings and parks. It was decided to select a dozen cities,
pick out the most flagrant instances of spots which were not only an
eyesore and a disgrace from a municipal standpoint, but a menace to
health and meant a depreciation of real-estate value.
Lynn, Massachusetts, was the initial city chosen, a number of
photographs were taken, and the first of a series of "Dirty Cities" was
begun in the magazine. The effect was instantaneous. The people of Lynn
rose in protest, and the municipal authorities threatened suit against
the magazine; the local newspapers were virulent in their attacks.
Without warning, they argued, Bok had held up their city to disgrace
before the entire country; the attack was unwarranted; in bad taste;
every citizen in Lynn should thereafter cease to buy the magazine, and
so the criticisms ran. In answer Bok merely pointed to the photographs;
to the fact that the camera could not lie, and that if he had
misrepresented conditions he was ready to make amends.
Of course the facts could not be gainsaid; local pride was aroused, and
as a result not only were the advertised "dirty spots" cleaned up, but
the municipal authorities went out and hunted around for other spots in
the city, not knowing what other photographs Bok might have had taken.
Trenton, New Jersey, was the next example, and the same storm of public
resentment broke loose--with exactly the same beneficial results in the
end to the city. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was the third one of
America's "dirty cities." Here public anger rose particularly high, the
magazine practically being barred from the news-stands. But again the
result was to the lasting benefit of the community.
Memphis, Tennessee, came next, but here a different spirit was met.
Although some resentment was expressed, the general feeling was that a
service had been rendered the city, and that the only wise and practical
solution was for the city to meet the situation. The result here was a
group of municipal buildings costing millions of dollars, photographs of
which The Ladies' Home Journal subsequently published with gratification
to itself and to the people of Memphis.
Cities throughout the country now began to look around to see whether
they had dirty spots within their limits, not knowing when the McFarland
photographers might visit them. Bok received letters from various
municipalities calling his attention to the fact that they were
cognizant of spots in their cities and were cleaning up, and asking
that, if he had photographs of these spots, they should not be
It happened that in two such instances Bok had already prepared sets of
photographs for publication. These he sent to the mayors of the
respective cities, stating that if they would return them with an
additional set showing the spots cleaned up there would be no occasion
for their publication. In both cases this was done. Atlanta, Georgia;
New Haven, Connecticut; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and finally Bok's own
city of Philadelphia were duly chronicled in the magazine; local storms
broke and calmed down-with the spots in every instance improved.
It was an interesting experiment in photographic civics. The pity of it
is that more has not been done along this and similar lines.
The time now came when Bok could demonstrate the willingness of his own
publishing company to do what it could to elevate the public taste in
art. With the increasing circulation of The Ladies' Home Journal and of
The Saturday Evening Post the business of the company had grown to such
dimensions that in 1908 plans for a new building were started. For
purposes of air and light the vicinity of Independence Square was
selected. Mr. Curtis purchased an entire city block facing the square,
and the present huge but beautiful publication building was conceived.
Bok strongly believed that good art should find a place in public
buildings where large numbers of persons might find easy access to it.
The proximity of the proposed new structure to historic Independence
Hall and the adjacent buildings would make it a focal point for visitors
from all parts of the country and the world. The opportunity presented
itself to put good art, within the comprehension of a large public, into
the new building, and Bok asked permission of Mr. Curtis to introduce a
strong note of mural decoration. The idea commended itself to Mr. Curtis
as adding an attraction to the building and a contribution to public
The great public dining-room, seating over seven hundred persons, on the
top floor of the building, affording unusual lighting facilities, was
first selected; and Maxfield Parrish was engaged to paint a series of
seventeen panels to fill the large spaces between the windows and an
unusually large wall space at the end of the room. Parrish contracted to
give up all other work and devote himself to the commission which
attracted him greatly.
For over a year he made sketches, and finally the theme was decided
upon: a bevy of youths and maidens in gala costume, on their way through
gardens and along terraces to a great fete, with pierrots and dancers
and musicians on the main wall space. It was to be a picture of happy
youth and sunny gladness. Five years after the conception of the idea
the final panel was finished and installed in the dining-room, where the
series has since been admired by the thirty to fifty thousand visitors
who come to the Curtis Building each year from foreign lands and from
every State in America. No other scheme of mural decoration was ever
planned on so large a scale for a commercial building, or so
successfully carried out.
The great wall space of over one thousand square feet, unobstructed by a
single column, in the main foyer of the building was decided upon as the
place for the pivotal note to be struck by some mural artist. After
looking carefully over the field, Bok finally decided upon Edwin A.
Abbey. He took a steamer and visited Abbey in his English home. The
artist was working on his canvases for the State capitol at Harrisburg,
and it was agreed that the commission for the Curtis Building was to
follow the completion of the State work.
"What subject have you in mind?" asked Abbey.
"None," replied Bok. "That is left entirely to you."
The artist and his wife looked at each other in bewilderment.
"Rather unusual," commented Abbey. "You have nothing in mind at all?"
"Nothing, except to get the best piece of work you have ever done," was
Poor Abbey! His life had been made so tortuous by suggestions, ideas,
yes, demands made upon him in the work of the Harrisburg panels upon
which he was engaged, that a commission in which he was to have free
scope, his brush full leeway, with no one making suggestions but himself
and Mrs. Abbey, seemed like a dream. When he explained this, Bok assured
him that was exactly what he was offering him: a piece of work, the
subject to be his own selection, with the assurance of absolute liberty
to carry out his own ideas. Never was an artist more elated.
"Then, I'll give you the best piece of work of my life," said Abbey.
"Perhaps there is some subject which you have long wished to paint
rather than any other," asked Bok, "that might fit our purpose
There was: a theme that he had started as a fresco for Mrs. Abbey's
bedroom. But it would not answer this purpose at all, although he
confessed he would rather paint it than any subject in the realm of all
literature and art.
"And the subject?" asked Bok.
"The Grove of Academe," replied Abbey, and the eyes of the artist and
his wife were riveted on the editor.
"With Plato and his disciples?" asked Bok.
"The same," said Abbey. "But you see it wouldn't fit."
"Wouldn't fit?" echoed Bok. "Why, it's the very thing."
Abbey and his wife were now like two happy children. Mrs. Abbey fetched
the sketches which her husband had begun years ago, and when Bok saw
them he was delighted. He realized at once that conditions and choice
would conspire to produce Abbey's greatest piece of mural work.
The arrangements were quickly settled; the Curtis architect had
accompanied Bok to explain the architectural possibilities to Abbey, and
when the artist bade good-by to the two at the railroad station, his
last words were:
"Bok, you are going to get the best Abbey in the world."
And Mrs. Abbey echoed the prophecy!
But Fate intervened. On the day after Abbey had stretched his great
canvas in Sargent's studio in London, expecting to begin his work the
following week, he suddenly passed away, and what would, in all
likelihood, have been Edwin Abbey's mural masterpiece was lost to the
Assured of Mrs. Abbey's willingness to have another artist take the
theme of the Grove of Academe and carry it out as a mural decoration,
Bok turned to Howard Pyle. He knew Pyle had made a study of Plato, and
believed that, with his knowledge and love of the work of the Athenian
philosopher, a good decoration would result. Pyle was then in Italy; Bok
telephoned the painter's home in Wilmington, Delaware, to get his
address, only to be told that an hour earlier word had been received by
the family that Pyle had been fatally stricken the day before.
Once more Bok went over the field of mural art and decided this time
that he would go far afield, and present his idea to Boutet de Monvel,
the French decorative artist. Bok had been much impressed with some
decorative work by De Monvel which had just been exhibited in New York.
By letter he laid the proposition in detail before the artist, asked for
a subject, and stipulated that if the details could be arranged the
artist should visit the building and see the place and surroundings for
himself. After a lengthy correspondence, and sketches submitted and
corrected, a plan for what promised to be a most unusual and
artistically decorative panel was arrived at.
The date for M. de Monvel's visit to Philadelphia was fixed, a final
letter from the artist reached Bok on a Monday morning, in which a few
remaining details were satisfactorily cleared up, and a cable was sent
assuring De Monvel of the entire satisfaction of the company with his
final sketches and arrangements. The following morning Bok picked up his
newspaper to read that Boutet de Monvel had suddenly passed away in
Paris the previous evening!
Bok, thoroughly bewildered, began to feel as if some fatal star hung
over his cherished decoration. Three times in succession he had met the
same decree of fate.
He consulted six of the leading mural decorators in America, asking
whether they would consent, not in competition, to submit each a
finished full-color sketch of the subject which he believed fitted for
the place in mind; they could take the Grove of Academe or not, as they
chose; the subject was to be of their own selection. Each artist was to
receive a generous fee for his sketch, whether accepted or rejected. In
due time, the six sketches were received; impartial judges were
selected, no names were attached to the sketches, several conferences
were held, and all the sketches were rejected!
Bok was still exactly where he started, while the building was nearly
complete, with no mural for the large place so insistently demanding it.
He now recalled a marvellous stage-curtain entirely of glass mosaic
executed by Louis C. Tiffany, of New York, for the Municipal Theatre at
Mexico City. The work had attracted universal attention at its
exhibition, art critics and connoisseurs had praised it unstintingly,
and Bok decided to experiment in that direction.
Just as the ancient Egyptians and Persians had used glazed brick and
tile, set in cement, as their form of wall decoration, so Mr. Tiffany
had used favrile glass, set in cement. The luminosity was marvellous;
the effect of light upon the glass was unbelievably beautiful, and the
colorings obtained were a joy to the senses.
Here was not only a new method in wall decoration, but one that was
entirely practicable. Glass would not craze like tiles or mosaic; it
would not crinkle as will canvas; it needed no varnish. It would retain
its color, freshness, and beauty, and water would readily cleanse it
He sought Mr. Tiffany, who was enthusiastic over the idea of making an
example of his mosaic glass of such dimensions which should remain in
this country, and gladly offered to co-operate. But, try as he might,
Bok could not secure an adequate sketch for Mr. Tiffany to carry out.
Then he recalled that one day while at Maxfield Parrish's summer home in
New Hampshire the artist had told him of a dream garden which he would
like to construct, not on canvas but in reality. Bok suggested to
Parrish that he come to New York. He asked him if he could put his dream
garden on canvas. The artist thought he could; in fact, was greatly
attracted to the idea; but he knew nothing of mosaic work, and was not
particularly attracted by the idea of having his work rendered in that
Bok took Parrish to Mr. Tiffany's studio; the two artists talked
together, the glass-worker showed the canvas-painter his work, with the
result that the two became enthusiastic to co-operate in trying the
experiment. Parrish agreed to make a sketch for Mr. Tiffany's approval,
and within six months, after a number of conferences and an equal number
of sketches, they were ready to begin the work. Bok only hoped that this
time both artists would outlive their commissions!
It was a huge picture to be done in glass mosaic. The space to be filled
called for over a million pieces of glass, and for a year the services
of thirty of the most skilled artisans would be required. The work had
to be done from a series of bromide photographs enlarged to a size
hitherto unattempted. But at last the decoration was completed; the
finished art piece was placed on exhibition in New York and over seven
thousand persons came to see it. The leading art critics pronounced the
result to be the most amazing instance of the tone capacity of
glass-work ever achieved. It was a veritable wonder-piece, far exceeding
the utmost expression of paint and canvas.
For six months a group of skilled artisans worked to take the picture
apart in New York, transport it and set it into its place in
Philadelphia. But at last it was in place: the wonder-picture in glass
of which painters have declared that "mere words are only aggravating in
describing this amazing picture." Since that day over one hundred
thousand visitors to the building have sat in admiration before it.
The Grove of Academe was to become a Dream Garden, but it was only after
six years of incessant effort, with obstacles and interventions almost
insurmountable, that the dream became true.
XXIII. Theodore Roosevelt's Influence
When the virile figure of Theodore Roosevelt swung down the national
highway, Bok was one of thousands of young men who felt strongly the
attraction of his personality. Colonel Roosevelt was only five years the
senior of the editor; he spoke, therefore, as one of his own years. The
energy with which he said and did things appealed to Bok. He made
Americanism something more real, more stirring than Bok had ever felt
it; he explained national questions in a way that caught Bok's fancy and
came within his comprehension. Bok's lines had been cast with many of
the great men of the day, but he felt that there was something
distinctive about the personality of this man: his method of doing
things and his way of saying things. Bok observed everything Colonel
Roosevelt did and read everything he wrote.
The editor now sought an opportunity to know personally the man whom he
admired. It came at a dinner at the University Club, and Colonel
Roosevelt suggested that they meet there the following day for a
"talk-fest." For three hours the two talked together. The fact that
Colonel Roosevelt was of Dutch ancestry interested Bok; that Bok was
actually of Dutch birth made a strong appeal to the colonel. With his
tremendous breadth of interests, Roosevelt, Bok found, had followed him
quite closely in his work, and was familiar with "its high points," as
he called them. "We must work for the same ends," said the colonel, "you
in your way, I in mine. But our lines are bound to cross. You and I can
each become good Americans by giving our best to make America better.
With the Dutch stock there is in both of us, there's no limit to what we
can do. Let's go to it." Naturally that talk left the two firm friends.
Bok felt somehow that he had been given a new draft of Americanism: the
word took on a new meaning for him; it stood for something different,
something deeper and finer than before. And every subsequent talk with
Roosevelt deepened the feeling and stirred Bok's deepest ambitions. "Go
to it, you Dutchman," Roosevelt would say, and Bok would go to it. A
talk with Roosevelt always left him feeling as if mountains were the
easiest things in the world to move.
One of Theodore Roosevelt's arguments which made a deep impression upon
Bok was that no man had a right to devote his entire life to the making
of money. "You are in a peculiar position," said the man of Oyster Bay
one day to Bok; "you are in that happy position where you can make money
and do good at the same time. A man wields a tremendous power for good
or for evil who is welcomed into a million homes and read with
confidence. That's fine, and is all right so far as it goes, and in your
case it goes very far. Still, there remains more for you to do. The
public has built up for you a personality: now give that personality to
whatever interests you in contact with your immediate fellowmen:
something in your neighborhood, your city, or your State. With one hand
work and write to your national audience: let no fads sway you. Hew
close to the line. But, with the other hand, swing into the life
immediately around you. Think it over."
Bok did think it over. He was now realizing the dream of his life for
which he had worked: his means were sufficient to give his mother every
comfort; to install her in the most comfortable surroundings wherever
she chose to live; to make it possible for her to spend the winters in
the United States and the summers in the Netherlands, and thus to keep
in touch with her family and friends in both countries. He had for years
toiled unceasingly to reach this point: he felt he had now achieved at
least one goal.
He had now turned instinctively to the making of a home for himself.
After an engagement of four years he had been married, on October 22,
1896, to Mary Louise Curtis, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus H. K.
Curtis; two sons had been born to them; he had built and was occupying a
house at Merion, Pennsylvania, a suburb six miles from the Philadelphia
City Hall. When she was in this country his mother lived with him, and
also his brother, and, with a strong belief in life insurance, he had
seen to it that his family was provided for in case of personal
incapacity or of his demise. In other words, he felt that he had put his
own house in order; he had carried out what he felt is every man's duty:
to be, first of all, a careful and adequate provider for his family. He
was now at the point where he could begin to work for another goal, the
goal that he felt so few American men saw: the point in his life where
he could retire from the call of duty and follow the call of
At the age of forty he tried to look ahead and plan out his life as far
as he could. Barring unforeseen obstacles, he determined to retire from
active business when he reached his fiftieth year, and give the
remainder of his life over to those interests and influences which he
assumed now as part of his life, and which, at fifty, should seem to him
best worth while. He realized that in order to do this he must do two
things: he must husband his financial resources and he must begin to
accumulate a mental reserve.
The wide public acceptance of the periodical which he edited naturally
brought a share of financial success to him. He had experienced poverty,
and as he subsequently wrote, in an article called "Why I Believe in
Poverty," he was deeply grateful for his experience. He had known what
it was to be poor; he had seen others dear to him suffer for the bare
necessities; there was, in fact, not a single step on that hard road
that he had not travelled. He could, therefore, sympathize with the
fullest understanding with those similarly situated, could help as one
who knew from practice and not from theory. He realized what a
marvellous blessing poverty can be; but as a condition to experience, to
derive from it poignant lessons, and then to get out of; not as a
condition to stay in.
Of course many said to Bok when he wrote the article in which he
expressed these beliefs: "That's all very well; easy enough to say, but
how can you get out of it?" Bok realized that he could not definitely
show any one the way. No one had shown him. No two persons can find the
same way out. Bok determined to lift himself out of poverty because his
mother was not born in it, did not belong in it, and could not stand it.
That gave him the first essential: a purpose. Then he backed up the
purpose with effort and an ever-ready willingness to work, and to work
at anything that came his way, no matter what it was, so long as it
meant "the way out." He did not pick and choose; he took what came, and
did it in the best way he knew how; and when he did not like what he was
doing he still did it as well as he could while he was doing it, but
always with an eye single to the purpose not to do it any longer than
was strictly necessary. He used every rung in the ladder as a rung to
the one above. He always gave more than his particular position or
salary asked for. He never worked by the clock; always by the job; and
saw that it was well done regardless of the time it took to do it. This
meant effort, of course, untiring, ceaseless, unsparing; and it meant
work, hard as nails.
He was particularly careful never to live up to his income; and as his
income increased he increased not the percentage of expenditure but the
percentage of saving. Thrift was, of course, inborn with him as a
Dutchman, but the necessity for it as a prime factor in life was burned
into him by his experience with poverty. But he interpreted thrift not
as a trait of niggardliness, but as Theodore Roosevelt interpreted it:
common sense applied to spending.
At forty, therefore, he felt he had learned the first essential to
carrying out his idea of retirement at fifty.
The second essential--varied interests outside of his business upon
which he could rely on relinquishing his duties--he had not cultivated.
He had quite naturally, in line with his belief that concentration means
success, immersed himself in his business to the exclusion of almost
everything else. He felt that he could now spare a certain percentage of
his time to follow Theodore Roosevelt's ideas and let the breezes of
other worlds blow over him. In that way he could do as Roosevelt
suggested and as Bok now firmly believed was right: he could develop
himself along broader lines, albeit the lines of his daily work were
broadening in and of themselves, and he could so develop a new set of
inner resources upon which he could draw when the time came to
relinquish his editorial position.
He saw, on every side, the pathetic figures of men who could not let go
after their greatest usefulness was past; of other men who dropped
before they realized their arrival at the end of the road; and, most
pathetic of all, of men who having retired, but because of lack of inner
resources did not know what to do with themselves, had become a trial to
themselves, their families, and their communities.
Bok decided that, given health and mental freshness, he would say
good-by to his public before his public might decide to say good-by to
him. So, at forty, he candidly faced the facts of life and began to
prepare himself for his retirement at fifty under circumstances that
would be of his own making and not those of others.
And thereby Edward Bok proved that he was still, by instinct, a
Dutchman, and had not in his thirty-four years of residence in the
United States become so thoroughly Americanized as he believed.
However, it was an American, albeit of Dutch extraction, one whom he
believed to be the greatest American in his own day, who had set him
thinking and shown him the way.
XXIV. Theodore Roosevelt's Anonymous Editorial Work
While Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, Bok was
sitting one evening talking with him, when suddenly Mr. Roosevelt turned
to him and said with his usual emphasis: "Bok, I envy you your power
with your public."
The editor was frankly puzzled.
"That is a strange remark from the President of the United States," he
"You may think so," was the rejoinder. "But listen. When do I get the
ear of the public? In its busiest moments. My messages are printed in
the newspapers and read hurriedly, mostly by men in trolleys or
railroad-cars. Women hardly ever read them, I should judge. Now you are
read in the evening by the fireside or under the lamp, when the day's
work is over and the mind is at rest from other things and receptive to
what you offer. Don't you see where you have it on me?"
This diagnosis was keenly interesting, and while the President talked
during the balance of the evening, Bok was thinking. Finally, he said:
"Mr. President, I should like to share my power with you."
"How?" asked Mr. Roosevelt.
"You recognize that women do not read your messages; and yet no
President's messages ever discussed more ethical questions that women
should know about and get straight in their minds. As it is, some of
your ideas are not at all understood by them; your strenuous-life
theory, for instance, your factory-law ideas, and particularly your
race-suicide arguments. Men don't fully understand them, for that
matter; women certainly do not."
"I am aware of all that," said the President. "What is your plan to
"Have a department in my magazine, and explain your ideas," suggested
"Haven't time for another thing. You know that," snapped back the
President. "Wish I had."
"Not to write it, perhaps, yourself," returned Bok.
"But why couldn't you find time to do this: select the writer here in
Washington in whose accuracy you have the most implicit faith; let him
talk with you for one hour each month on one of those subjects; let him
write out your views, and submit the manuscript to you; and we will have
a department stating exactly how the material is obtained and how far it
represents your own work. In that way, with only an hour's work each
month, you can get your views, correctly stated, before this vast
audience when it is not in trolleys or railroadcars."
"But I haven't the hour," answered Roosevelt, impressed, however, as Bok
saw. "I have only half an hour, when I am awake, when I am really idle,
and that is when I am being shaved."
"Well," calmly suggested the editor, "why not two of those half-hours a
month, or perhaps one?"
"What?" answered the President, sitting upright, his teeth flashing but
his smile broadening. "You Dutchman, you'd make me work while I'm
getting shaved, too?"
"Well," was the answer, "isn't the result worth the effort?"
"Bok, you are absolutely relentless," said the President. "But you're
right. The result would be worth the effort. What writer have you in
mind? You seem to have thought this thing through."
"How about O'Brien? You think well of him?"
(Robert L. O'Brien, now editor of the Boston Herald, was then Washington
correspondent for the Boston Transcript and thoroughly in the
"Fine," said the President. "I trust O'Brien implicitly. All right, if
you can get O'Brien to add it on, I'll try it."
And so the "shaving interviews" were begun; and early in 1906 there
appeared in The Ladies' Home Journal a department called "The
President," with the subtitle: "A Department in which will be presented
the attitude of the President on those national questions which affect
the vital interests of the home, by a writer intimately acquainted and
in close touch with him."
O'Brien talked with Mr. Roosevelt once a month, wrote out the results,
the President went over the proofs carefully, and the department was
conducted with great success for a year.
But Theodore Roosevelt was again to be the editor of a department in The
Ladies' Home Journal; this time to be written by himself under the
strictest possible anonymity, so closely adhered to that, until this
revelation, only five persons have known the authorship.
Feeling that it would be an interesting experiment to see how far
Theodore Roosevelt's ideas could stand unsupported by the authority of
his vibrant personality, Bok suggested the plan to the colonel. It was
just after he had returned from his South American trip. He was
"But how can we keep the authorship really anonymous?" he asked.
"Easily enough," answered Bok, "if you're willing to do the work. Our
letters about it must be written in long hand addressed to each other's
homes; you must write your manuscript in your own hand; I will copy it
in mine, and it will go to the printer in that way. I will personally
send you the proofs; you mark your corrections in pencil, and I will
copy them in ink; the company will pay me for each article, and I will
send you my personal check each month. By this means, the identity of
the author will be concealed."
Colonel Roosevelt was never averse to hard work if it was necessary to
achieve a result that he felt was worth while.
"All right," wrote the colonel finally. "I'll try--with you!--the
experiment for a year: 12 articles... I don't know that I can give your
readers satisfaction, but I shall try my very best. I am very glad to be
associated with you, anyway. At first I doubted the wisdom of the plan,
merely because I doubted whether I could give you just that you wished.
I never know what an audience wants: I know what it ought to want: and
sometimes I can give it, or make it accept what I think it needs--and
sometimes I cannot. But the more I thought over your proposal, the more
I liked it... Whether the wine will be good enough to attract without
any bush I don't know; and besides, in such cases the fault is not in
the wine, but in the fact that the consumers decline to have their
attention attracted unless there is a bush!"
In the latter part of 1916 an anonymous department called "Men" was
begun in the magazine.
The physical work was great. The colonel punctiliously held to the
conditions, and wrote manuscript and letters with his own hand, and Bok
carried out his part of the agreement. Nor was this simple, for Colonel
Roosevelt's manuscript--particularly when, as in this case, it was
written on yellow paper with a soft pencil and generously
interlined--was anything but legible. Month after month the two men
worked each at his own task. To throw the public off the scent, during
the conduct of the department, an article or two by Colonel Roosevelt
was published in another part of the magazine under his own name, and in
the department itself the anonymous author would occasionally quote
It was natural that the appearance of a department devoted to men in a
woman's magazine should attract immediate attention. The department took
up the various interests of a man's life, such as real efficiency; his
duties as an employer and his usefulness to his employees; the
employee's attitude toward his employer; the relations of men and women;
a father's relations to his sons and daughters; a man's duty to his
community; the public-school system; a man's relation to his church, and
The anonymity of the articles soon took on interest from the
positiveness of the opinions discussed; but so thoroughly had Colonel
Roosevelt covered his tracks that, although he wrote in his usual style,
in not a single instance was his name connected with the department.
Lyman Abbott was the favorite "guess" at first; then after various other
public men had been suggested, the newspapers finally decided upon
former President Eliot of Harvard University as the writer.
All this intensely interested and amused Colonel Roosevelt and he fairly
itched with the desire to write a series of criticisms of his own
articles to Doctor Eliot. Bok, however, persuaded the colonel not to
spend more physical effort than he was already doing on the articles;
for, in addition, he was notating answers on the numerous letters
received, and those Bok answered "on behalf of the author."
For a year, the department continued. During all that time the secret of
the authorship was known to only one man, besides the colonel and Bok,
and their respective wives!
When the colonel sent his last article in the series to Bok, he wrote:
"Now that the work is over, I wish most cordially to thank you, my dear
fellow, for your unvarying courtesy and kindness. I have not been
satisfied with my work. This is the first time I ever tried to write
precisely to order, and I am not one of those gifted men who can do so
to advantage. Generally I find that the 3,000 words is not the right
length and that I wish to use 2,000 or 4,000! And in consequence feel as
if I had either padded or mutilated the article. And I am not always
able to feel that every month I have something worth saying on a given
"But I hope that you have not been too much disappointed."
Bok had not been, and neither had his public!
In the meanwhile, Bok had arranged with Colonel Roosevelt for his
reading and advising upon manuscripts of special significance for the
magazine. In this work, Colonel Roosevelt showed his customary
promptness and thoroughness. A manuscript, no matter how long it might
be, was in his hands scarcely forty-eight hours, more generally
twenty-four, before it was read, a report thereon written, and the
article on its way back. His reports were always comprehensive and
invariably interesting. There was none of the cut-and-dried flavor of
the opinion of the average "reader"; he always put himself into the
report, and, of course, that meant a warm personal touch. If he could
not encourage the publication of a manuscript, his reasons were always
fully given, and invariably without personal bias.
On one occasion Bok sent him a manuscript which he was sure was, in its
views, at variance with the colonel's beliefs. The colonel, he knew,
felt strongly on the subject, and Bok wondered what would be his
criticism. The report came back promptly. He reviewed the article
carefully and ended: "Of course, this is all at variance with my own
views. I believe thoroughly and completely that this writer is all
wrong. And yet, from his side of the case, I am free to say that he
makes out the best case I have read anywhere. I think a magazine should
present both sides of all questions; and if you want to present this
side, I should strongly recommend that you do so with this article."
Sagamore Hill. April 26th 1916
This is a really noteworth story--a
profoundly touching story--of the Americanizing
of an immigrant girl, who between babyhood
and young womanhood leaps over a space
which in all outward and humanizing essentials
is far more important than the distance
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