The Americanization of Edward Bok The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After
by Edward William Bok (1863-1930)
To the American woman I owe much, but to two women I owe more, My mother and my wife. And to them I dedicate this account of the boy to whom one gave birth and brought to manhood and the other blessed with all a home and family may mean.
This book was to have been written in 1914, when I foresaw some leisure to write it, for I then intended to retire from active editorship. But the war came, an entirely new set of duties commanded, and the project was laid aside.
Its title and the form, however, were then chosen. By the form I refer particularly to the use of the third person. I had always felt the most effective method of writing an autobiography, for the sake of a better perspective, was mentally to separate the writer from his subject by this device.
Moreover, this method came to me very naturally in dealing with the Edward Bok, editor and publicist, whom I have tried to describe in this book, because, in many respects, he has had and has been a personality apart from my private self. I have again and again found myself watching with intense amusement and interest the Edward Bok of this book at work. I have, in turn, applauded him and criticised him, as I do in this book. Not that I ever considered myself bigger or broader than this Edward Bok: simply that he was different. His tastes, his outlook, his manner of looking at things were totally at variance with my own. In fact, my chief difficulty during Edward Bok's directorship of The Ladies' Home Journal was to abstain from breaking through the editor and revealing my real self. Several times I did so, and each time I saw how different was the effect from that when the editorial Edward Bok had been allowed sway. Little by little I learned to subordinate myself and to let him have full rein.
But no relief of my life was so great to me personally as his decision to retire from his editorship. My family and friends were surprised and amused by my intense and obvious relief when he did so. Only to those closest to me could I explain the reason for the sense of absolute freedom and gratitude that I felt.
Since that time my feelings have been an interesting study to myself. There are no longer two personalities. The Edward Bok of whom I have written has passed out of my being as completely as if he had never been there, save for the records and files on my library shelves. It is easy, therefore, for me to write of him as a personality apart: in fact, I could not depict him from any other point of view. To write of him in the first person, as if he were myself, is impossible, for he is not.
The title suggests my principal reason for writing the book. Every life has some interest and significance; mine, perhaps, a special one. Here was a little Dutch boy unceremoniously set down in America unable to make himself understood or even to know what persons were saying; his education was extremely limited, practically negligible; and yet, by some curious decree of fate, he was destined to write, for a period of years, to the largest body of readers ever addressed by an American editor—the circulation of the magazine he edited running into figures previously unheard of in periodical literature. He made no pretense to style or even to composition: his grammar was faulty, as it was natural it should be, in a language not his own. His roots never went deep, for the intellectual soil had not been favorable to their growth;—yet, it must be confessed, he achieved.
But how all this came about, how such a boy, with every disadvantage to overcome, was able, apparently, to "make good"—this possesses an interest and for some, perhaps, a value which, after all, is the only reason for any book.
EDWARD W. BOK MERION, PENNSYLVANIA, 1920
An Explanation An Introduction of Two Persons I. The First Days in America II. The First Job: Fifty Cents a Week III. The Hunger for Self-Education IV. A Presidential Friend and a Boston Pilgrimage V. Going to the Theatre with Longfellow VI. Phillips Brooks's Books and Emerson's Mental Mist VII. A Plunge into Wall Street VIII. Starting a Newspaper Syndicate IX. Association with Henry Ward Beecher X. The First "Woman's Page," "Literary Leaves," and Entering Scribner's XI. The Chances for Success XII. Baptism Under Fire XIII. Publishing Incidents and Anecdotes XIV. Last Years in New York XV. Successful Editorship XVI. First Years as a Woman's Editor XVII. Eugene Field's Practical Jokes XVIII. Building Up a Magazine XIX. Personality Letters XX. Meeting a Reverse or Two XXI. A Signal Piece of Constructive Work XXII. An Adventure in Civic and Private Art XXIII. Theodore Roosevelt's Influence XXIV. Theodore Roosevelt's Anonymous Editorial Work XXV. The President and the Boy XXVI. The Literary Back-Stairs XXVII. Women's Clubs and Woman Suffrage XXVIII. Going Home with Kipling, and as a Lecturer XXIX. An Excursion into the Feminine Nature XXX. Cleaning Up the Patent-Medicine and Other Evils XXXI. Adventures in Civics XXXII. A Bewildered Bok XXXIII. How Millions of People Are Reached XXXIV. A War Magazine and War Activities XXXV. At the Battle-Fronts in the Great War XXXVI. The End of Thirty Years' Editorship XXXVII. The Third Period XXXVIII. Where America Fell Short with Me XXXIX. What I Owe to America Edward William Bok: Biographical Data The Expression of a Personal Pleasure
An Introduction of Two Persons
IN WHOSE LIVES ARE FOUND THE SOURCE AND MAINSPRING OF SOME OF THE EFFORTS OF THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK IN HIS LATER YEARS
Along an island in the North Sea, five miles from the Dutch Coast, stretches a dangerous ledge of rocks that has proved the graveyard of many a vessel sailing that turbulent sea. On this island once lived a group of men who, as each vessel was wrecked, looted the vessel and murdered those of the crew who reached shore. The government of the Netherlands decided to exterminate the island pirates, and for the job King William selected a young lawyer at The Hague.
"I want you to clean up that island," was the royal order. It was a formidable job for a young man of twenty-odd years. By royal proclamation he was made mayor of the island, and within a year, a court of law being established, the young attorney was appointed judge; and in that dual capacity he "cleaned up" the island.
The young man now decided to settle on the island, and began to look around for a home. It was a grim place, barren of tree or living green of any kind; it was as if a man had been exiled to Siberia. Still, argued the young mayor, an ugly place is ugly only because it is not beautiful. And beautiful he determined this island should be.
One day the young mayor-judge called together his council. "We must have trees," he said; "we can make this island a spot of beauty if we will!" But the practical seafaring men demurred; the little money they had was needed for matters far more urgent than trees.
"Very well," was the mayor's decision—and little they guessed what the words were destined to mean—"I will do it myself." And that year he planted one hundred trees, the first the island had ever seen.
"Too cold," said the islanders; "the severe north winds and storms will kill them all."
"Then I will plant more," said the unperturbed mayor. And for the fifty years that he lived on the island he did so. He planted trees each year; and, moreover, he had deeded to the island government land which he turned into public squares and parks, and where each spring he set out shrubs and plants.
Moistened by the salt mist the trees did not wither, but grew prodigiously. In all that expanse of turbulent sea—and only those who have seen the North Sea in a storm know how turbulent it can be—there was not a foot of ground on which the birds, storm-driven across the water-waste, could rest in their flight. Hundreds of dead birds often covered the surface of the sea. Then one day the trees had grown tall enough to look over the sea, and, spent and driven, the first birds came and rested in their leafy shelter. And others came and found protection, and gave their gratitude vent in song. Within a few years so many birds had discovered the trees in this new island home that they attracted the attention not only of the native islanders but also of the people on the shore five miles distant, and the island became famous as the home of the rarest and most beautiful birds. So grateful were the birds for their resting-place that they chose one end of the island as a special spot for the laying of their eggs and the raising of their young, and they fairly peopled it. It was not long before ornithologists from various parts of the world came to "Eggland," as the farthermost point of the island came to be known, to see the marvellous sight, not of thousands but of hundreds of thousands of bird-eggs.
A pair of storm-driven nightingales had now found the island and mated there; their wonderful notes thrilled even the souls of the natives; and as dusk fell upon the seabound strip of land the women and children would come to "the square" and listen to the evening notes of the birds of golden song. The two nightingales soon grew into a colony, and within a few years so rich was the island in its nightingales that over to the Dutch coast and throughout the land and into other countries spread the fame of "The Island of Nightingales."
Meantime, the young mayor-judge, grown to manhood, had kept on planting trees each year, setting out his shrubbery and plants, until their verdure now beautifully shaded the quaint, narrow lanes, and transformed into cool wooded roads what once had been only barren sun-baked wastes. Artists began to hear of the place and brought their canvases, and on the walls of hundreds of homes throughout the world hang to-day bits of the beautiful lanes and wooded spots of "The Island of Nightingales." The American artist William M. Chase took his pupils there almost annually. "In all the world to-day," he declared to his students, as they exclaimed at the natural cool restfulness of the island, "there is no more beautiful place."
The trees are now majestic in their height of forty or more feet, for it is nearly a hundred years since the young attorney went to the island and planted the first tree; today the churchyard where he lies is a bower of cool green, with the trees that he planted dropping their moisture on the lichen-covered stone on his grave.
This much did one man do. But he did more.
After he had been on the barren island two years he went to the mainland one day, and brought back with him a bride. It was a bleak place for a bridal home, but the young wife had the qualities of the husband. "While you raise your trees," she said, "I will raise our children." And within a score of years the young bride sent thirteen happy-faced, well-brought-up children over that island, and there was reared a home such as is given to few. Said a man who subsequently married a daughter of that home: "It was such a home that once you had been in it you felt you must be of it, and that if you couldn't marry one of the daughters you would have been glad to have married the cook."
One day when the children had grown to man's and woman's estate the mother called them all together and said to them, "I want to tell you the story of your father and of this island," and she told them the simple story that is written here.
"And now," she said, "as you go out into the world I want each of you to take with you the spirit of your father's work, and each in your own way and place, to do as he has done: make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been in it. That is your mother's message to you."
The first son to leave the island home went with a band of hardy men to South Africa, where they settled and became known as "the Boers." Tirelessly they worked at the colony until towns and cities sprang up and a new nation came into being: The Transvaal Republic. The son became secretary of state of the new country, and to-day the United States of South Africa bears tribute, in part, to the mother's message to "make the world a bit more beautiful and better."
The second son left home for the Dutch mainland, where he took charge of a small parish; and when he had finished his work he was mourned by king and peasant as one of the leading clergymen of his time and people.
A third son, scorning his own safety, plunged into the boiling surf on one of those nights of terror so common to that coast, rescued a half-dead sailor, carried him to his father's house, and brought him back to a life of usefulness that gave the world a record of imperishable value. For the half-drowned sailor was Heinrich Schliemann, the famous explorer of the dead cities of Troy.
The first daughter now left the island nest; to her inspiration her husband owed, at his life's close, a shelf of works in philosophy which to-day are among the standard books of their class.
The second daughter worked beside her husband until she brought him to be regarded as one of the ablest preachers of his land, speaking for more than forty years the message of man's betterment.
To another son it was given to sit wisely in the councils of his land; another followed the footsteps of his father. Another daughter, refusing marriage for duty, ministered unto and made a home for one whose eyes could see not.
So they went out into the world, the girls and boys of that island home, each carrying the story of their father's simple but beautiful work and the remembrance of their mother's message. Not one from that home but did well his or her work in the world; some greater, some smaller, but each left behind the traces of a life well spent.
And, as all good work is immortal, so to-day all over the world goes on the influence of this one man and one woman, whose life on that little Dutch island changed its barren rocks to a bower of verdure, a home for the birds and the song of the nightingale. The grandchildren have gone to the four corners of the globe, and are now the generation of workers-some in the far East Indies; others in Africa; still others in our own land of America. But each has tried, according to the talents given, to carry out the message of that day, to tell the story of the grandfather's work; just as it is told here by the author of this book, who, in the efforts of his later years, has tried to carry out, so far as opportunity has come to him, the message of his grandmother:
"Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been in it."
I. The First Days in America
The Leviathan of the Atlantic Ocean, in 1870, was The Queen, and when she was warped into her dock on September 20 of that year, she discharged, among her passengers, a family of four from the Netherlands who were to make an experiment of Americanization.
The father, a man bearing one of the most respected names in the Netherlands, had acquired wealth and position for himself; unwise investments, however, had swept away his fortune, and in preference to a new start in his own land, he had decided to make the new beginning in the United States, where a favorite brother-in-law had gone several years before. But that, never a simple matter for a man who has reached forty-two, is particularly difficult for a foreigner in a strange land. This fact he and his wife were to find out. The wife, also carefully reared, had been accustomed to a scale of living which she had now to abandon. Her Americanization experiment was to compel her, for the first time in her life, to become a housekeeper without domestic help. There were two boys: the elder, William, was eight and a half years of age; the younger, in nineteen days from his landing-date, was to celebrate his seventh birthday.
This younger boy was Edward William Bok. He had, according to the Dutch custom, two other names, but he had decided to leave those in the Netherlands. And the American public was, in later years, to omit for him the "William."
Edward's first six days in the United States were spent in New York, and then he was taken to Brooklyn, where he was destined to live for nearly twenty years.
Thanks to the linguistic sense inherent in the Dutch, and to an educational system that compels the study of languages, English was already familiar to the father and mother. But to the two sons, who had barely learned the beginnings of their native tongue, the English language was as a closed book. It seemed a cruel decision of the father to put his two boys into a public school in Brooklyn, but he argued that if they were to become Americans, the sooner they became part of the life of the country and learned its language for themselves, the better. And so, without the ability to make known the slightest want or to understand a single word, the morning after their removal to Brooklyn, the two boys were taken by their father to a public school.
The American public-school teacher was perhaps even less well equipped in those days than she is to-day to meet the needs of two Dutch boys who could not understand a word she said, and who could only wonder what it was all about. The brothers did not even have the comfort of each other's company, for, graded by age, they were placed in separate classes.
Nor was the American boy of 1870 a whit less cruel than is the American boy of 1920; and he was none the less loath to show that cruelty. This trait was evident at the first recess of the first day at school. At the dismissal, the brothers naturally sought each other, only to find themselves surrounded by a group of tormentors who were delighted to have such promising objects for their fun. And of this opportunity they made the most. There was no form of petty cruelty boys' minds could devise that was not inflicted upon the two helpless strangers. Edward seemed to look particularly inviting, and nicknaming him "Dutchy" they devoted themselves at each noon recess and after school to inflicting their cruelties upon him.
Louis XIV may have been right when he said that "every new language requires a new soul," but Edward Bok knew that while spoken languages might differ, there is one language understood by boys the world over. And with this language Edward decided to do some experimenting. After a few days at school, he cast his eyes over the group of his tormentors, picked out one who seemed to him the ringleader, and before the boy was aware of what had happened, Edward Bok was in the full swing of his first real experiment with Americanization. Of course the American boy retaliated. But the boy from the Netherlands had not been born and brought up in the muscle-building air of the Dutch dikes for nothing, and after a few moments he found himself looking down on his tormentor and into the eyes of a crowd of very respectful boys and giggling girls who readily made a passageway for his brother and himself when they indicated a desire to leave the schoolyard and go home.
Edward now felt that his Americanization had begun; but, always believing that a thing begun must be carried to a finish, he took, or gave—it depends upon the point of view—two or three more lessons in this particular phase of Americanization before he convinced these American schoolboys that it might be best for them to call a halt upon further excursions in torment.
At the best, they were difficult days at school for a boy of six without the language. But the national linguistic gift inherent in the Dutch race came to the boy's rescue, and as the roots of the Anglo-Saxon lie in the Frisian tongue, and thus in the language of his native country, Edward soon found that with a change of vowel here and there the English language was not so difficult of conquest. At all events, he set out to master it.
But his fatal gift of editing, although its possession was unknown to him, began to assert itself when, just as he seemed to be getting along fairly well, he balked at following the Spencerian style of writing in his copybooks. Instinctively he rebelled at the flourishes which embellished that form of handwriting. He seemed to divine somehow that such penmanship could not be useful or practicable for after life, and so, with that Dutch stolidity that, once fixed, knows no altering, he refused to copy his writing lessons. Of course trouble immediately ensued between Edward and his teacher. Finding herself against a literal blank wall—for Edward simply refused, but had not the gift of English with which to explain his refusal—the teacher decided to take the matter to the male principal of the school. She explained that she had kept Edward after school for as long as two hours to compel him to copy his Spencerian lesson, but that the boy simply sat quiet. He was perfectly well-behaved, she explained, but as to his lesson, he would attempt absolutely nothing.
It was the prevailing custom in the public schools of 1870 to punish boys by making them hold out the palms of their hands, upon which the principal would inflict blows with a rattan. The first time Edward was punished in this way, his hand became so swollen he wondered at a system of punishment which rendered him incapable of writing, particularly as the discerning principal had chosen the boy's right hand upon which to rain the blows. Edward was told to sit down at the principal's own desk and copy the lesson. He sat, but he did not write. He would not for one thing, and he could not if he would. After half an hour of purposeless sitting, the principal ordered Edward again to stand up and hold out his hand; and once more the rattan fell in repeated blows. Of course it did no good, and as it was then five o'clock, and the principal had inflicted all the punishment that the law allowed, and as he probably wanted to go home as much as Edward did, he dismissed the sore-handed but more-than-ever-determined Dutch boy.
Edward went home to his father, exhibited his swollen hand, explained the reason, and showed the penmanship lesson which he had refused to copy. It is a singular fact that even at that age he already understood Americanization enough to realize that to cope successfully with any American institution, one must be constructive as well as destructive. He went to his room, brought out a specimen of Italian handwriting which he had seen in a newspaper, and explained to his father that this simpler penmanship seemed to him better for practical purposes than the curlicue fancifully embroidered Spencerian style; that if he had to learn penmanship, why not learn the system that was of more possible use in after life?
Now, your Dutchman is nothing if not practical. He is very simple and direct in his nature, and is very likely to be equally so in his mental view. Edward's father was distinctly interested—very much amused, as he confessed to the boy in later years—in his son's discernment of the futility of the Spencerian style of penmanship. He agreed with the boy, and, next morning, accompanied him to school and to the principal. The two men were closeted together, and when they came out Edward was sent to his classroom. For some weeks he was given no penmanship lessons, and then a new copy-book was given him with a much simpler style. He pounced upon it, and within a short time stood at the head of his class in writing.
The same instinct that was so often to lead Edward aright in his future life, at its very beginning served him in a singularly valuable way in directing his attention to the study of penmanship; for it was through his legible handwriting that later, in the absence of the typewriter, he was able to secure and satisfactorily fill three positions which were to lead to his final success.
Years afterward Edward had the satisfaction of seeing public-school pupils given a choice of penmanship lessons: one along the flourish lines and the other of a less ornate order. Of course, the boy never associated the incident of his refusal with the change until later when his mother explained to him that the principal of the school, of whom the father had made a warm friend, was so impressed by the boy's simple but correct view, that he took up the matter with the board of education, and a choice of systems was considered and later decided upon.
From this it will be seen that, unconsciously, Edward Bok had started upon his career of editing!
II. The First Job: Fifty Cents a Week
The Elder Bok did not find his "lines cast in pleasant places" in the United States. He found himself, professionally, unable to adjust the methods of his own land and of a lifetime to those of a new country. As a result the fortunes of the transplanted family did not flourish, and Edward soon saw his mother physically failing under burdens to which her nature was not accustomed nor her hands trained. Then he and his brother decided to relieve their mother in the housework by rising early in the morning, building the fire, preparing breakfast, and washing the dishes before they went to school. After school they gave up their play hours, and swept and scrubbed, and helped their mother to prepare the evening meal and wash the dishes afterward. It was a curious coincidence that it should fall upon Edward thus to get a first-hand knowledge of woman's housework which was to stand him in such practical stead in later years.
It was not easy for the parents to see their boys thus forced to do work which only a short while before had been done by a retinue of servants. And the capstone of humiliation seemed to be when Edward and his brother, after having for several mornings found no kindling wood or coal to build the fire, decided to go out of evenings with a basket and pick up what wood they could find in neighboring lots, and the bits of coal spilled from the coal-bin of the grocery-store, or left on the curbs before houses where coal had been delivered. The mother remonstrated with the boys, although in her heart she knew that the necessity was upon them. But Edward had been started upon his Americanization career, and answered: "This is America, where one can do anything if it is honest. So long as we don't steal the wood or coal, why shouldn't we get it?" And, turning away, the saddened mother said nothing.
But while the doing of these homely chores was very effective in relieving the untrained and tired mother, it added little to the family income. Edward looked about and decided that the time had come for him, young as he was, to begin some sort of wage-earning. But how and where? The answer he found one afternoon when standing before the shop-window of a baker in the neighborhood. The owner of the bakery, who had just placed in the window a series of trays filled with buns, tarts, and pies, came outside to look at the display. He found the hungry boy wistfully regarding the tempting-looking wares.
"Look pretty good, don't they?" asked the baker.
"They would," answered the Dutch boy with his national passion for cleanliness, "if your window were clean."
"That's so, too," mused the baker. "Perhaps you'll clean it."
"I will," was the laconic reply. And Edward Bok, there and then, got his first job. He went in, found a step-ladder, and put so much Dutch energy into the cleaning of the large show-window that the baker immediately arranged with him to clean it every Tuesday and Friday afternoon after school. The salary was to be fifty cents per week!
But one day, after he had finished cleaning the window, and the baker was busy in the rear of the store, a customer came in, and Edward ventured to wait on her. Dexterously he wrapped up for another the fragrant currant-buns for which his young soul—and stomach—so hungered! The baker watched him, saw how quickly and smilingly he served the customer, and offered Edward an extra dollar per week if he would come in afternoons and sell behind the counter. He immediately entered into the bargain with the understanding that, in addition to his salary of a dollar and a half per week, he should each afternoon carry home from the good things unsold a moderate something as a present to his mother. The baker agreed, and Edward promised to come each afternoon except Saturday.
"Want to play ball, hey?" said the baker.
"Yes, I want to play ball," replied the boy, but he was not reserving his Saturday afternoons for games, although, boy-like, that might be his preference.
Edward now took on for each Saturday morning—when, of course, there was no school—the delivery route of a weekly paper called the South Brooklyn Advocate. He had offered to deliver the entire neighborhood edition of the paper for one dollar, thus increasing his earning capacity to two dollars and a half per week.
Transportation, in those days in Brooklyn, was by horse-cars, and the car-line on Smith Street nearest Edward's home ran to Coney Island. Just around the corner where Edward lived the cars stopped to water the horses on their long haul. The boy noticed that the men jumped from the open cars in summer, ran into the cigar-store before which the watering-trough was placed, and got a drink of water from the ice-cooler placed near the door. But that was not so easily possible for the women, and they, especially the children, were forced to take the long ride without a drink. It was this that he had in mind when he reserved his Saturday afternoon to "play ball."
Here was an opening, and Edward decided to fill it. He bought a shining new pail, screwed three hooks on the edge from which he hung three clean shimmering glasses, and one Saturday afternoon when a car stopped the boy leaped on, tactfully asked the conductor if he did not want a drink, and then proceeded to sell his water, cooled with ice, at a cent a glass to the passengers. A little experience showed that he exhausted a pail with every two cars, and each pail netted him thirty cents. Of course Sunday was a most profitable day; and after going to Sunday-school in the morning, he did a further Sabbath service for the rest of the day by refreshing tired mothers and thirsty children on the Coney Island cars—at a penny a glass!
But the profit of six dollars which Edward was now reaping in his newly found "bonanza" on Saturday and Sunday afternoons became apparent to other boys, and one Saturday the young ice-water boy found that he had a competitor; then two and soon three. Edward immediately met the challenge; he squeezed half a dozen lemons into each pail of water, added some sugar, tripled his charge, and continued his monopoly by selling "Lemonade, three cents a glass." Soon more passengers were asking for lemonade than for plain drinking-water!
One evening Edward went to a party of young people, and his latent journalistic sense whispered to him that his young hostess might like to see her social affair in print. He went home, wrote up the party, being careful to include the name of every boy and girl present, and next morning took the account to the city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, with the sage observation that every name mentioned in that paragraph represented a buyer of the paper, who would like to see his or her name in print, and that if the editor had enough of these reports he might very advantageously strengthen the circulation of The Eagle. The editor was not slow to see the point, and offered Edward three dollars a column for such reports. On his way home, Edward calculated how many parties he would have to attend a week to furnish a column, and decided that he would organize a corps of private reporters himself. Forthwith, he saw every girl and boy he knew, got each to promise to write for him an account of each party he or she attended or gave, and laid great stress on a full recital of names. Within a few weeks, Edward was turning in to The Eagle from two to three columns a week; his pay was raised to four dollars a column; the editor was pleased in having started a department that no other paper carried, and the "among those present" at the parties all bought the paper and were immensely gratified to see their names.
So everybody was happy, and Edward Bok, as a full-fledged reporter, had begun his journalistic career.
It is curious how deeply embedded in his nature, even in his earliest years, was the inclination toward the publishing business. The word "curious" is used here because Edward is the first journalist in the Bok family in all the centuries through which it extends in Dutch history. On his father's side, there was a succession of jurists. On the mother's side, not a journalist is visible.
Edward attended the Sunday-school of the Carroll Park Methodist Episcopal Church, in Brooklyn, of which a Mr. Elkins was superintendent. One day he learned that Mr. Elkins was associated with the publishing house of Harper and Brothers. Edward had heard his father speak of Harper's Weekly and of the great part it had played in the Civil War; his father also brought home an occasional copy of Harper's Weekly and of Harper's Magazine. He had seen Harper's Young People; the name of Harper and Brothers was on some of his school-books; and he pictured in his mind how wonderful it must be for a man to be associated with publishers of periodicals that other people read, and books that other folks studied. The Sunday-school superintendent henceforth became a figure of importance in Edward's eyes; many a morning the boy hastened from home long before the hour for school, and seated himself on the steps of the Elkins house under the pretext of waiting for Mr. Elkins's son to go to school, but really for the secret purpose of seeing Mr. Elkins set forth to engage in the momentous business of making books and periodicals. Edward would look after the superintendent's form until it was lost to view; then, with a sigh, he would go to school, forgetting all about the Elkins boy whom he had told the father he had come to call for!
One day Edward was introduced to a girl whose father, he learned, was editor of the New York Weekly. Edward could not quite place this periodical; he had never seen it, he had never heard of it. So he bought a copy, and while its contents seemed strange, and its air unfamiliar in comparison with the magazines he found in his home, still an editor was an editor. He was certainly well worth knowing. So he sought his newly made young lady friend, asked permission to call upon her, and to Edward's joy was introduced to her father. It was enough for Edward to look furtively at the editor upon his first call, and being encouraged to come again, he promptly did so the next evening. The daughter has long since passed away, and so it cannot hurt her feelings now to acknowledge that for years Edward paid court to her only that he might know her father, and have those talks with him about editorial methods that filled him with ever-increasing ambition to tread the path that leads to editorial tribulations.
But what with helping his mother, tending the baker's shop in after-school hours, serving his paper route, plying his street-car trade, and acting as social reporter, it soon became evident to Edward that he had not much time to prepare his school lessons. By a supreme effort, he managed to hold his own in his class, but no more. Instinctively, he felt that he was not getting all that he might from his educational opportunities, yet the need for him to add to the family income was, if anything, becoming greater. The idea of leaving school was broached to his mother, but she rebelled. She told the boy that he was earning something now and helping much. Perhaps the tide with the father would turn and he would find the place to which his unquestioned talents entitled him. Finally the father did. He associated himself with the Western Union Telegraph Company as translator, a position for which his easy command of languages admirably fitted him. Thus, for a time, the strain upon the family exchequer was lessened.
But the American spirit of initiative had entered deep into the soul of Edward Bok. The brother had left school a year before, and found a place as messenger in a lawyer's office; and when one evening Edward heard his father say that the office boy in his department had left, he asked that he be allowed to leave school, apply for the open position, and get the rest of his education in the great world itself. It was not easy for the parents to see the younger son leave school at so early an age, but the earnestness of the boy prevailed.
And so, at the age of thirteen, Edward Bok left school, and on Monday, August 7, 1876, he became office boy in the electricians' department of the Western Union Telegraph Company at six dollars and twenty-five cents per week.
And, as such things will fall out in this curiously strange world, it happened that as Edward drew up his chair for the first time to his desk to begin his work on that Monday morning, there had been born in Boston, exactly twelve hours before, a girl-baby who was destined to become his wife. Thus at the earliest possible moment after her birth, Edward Bok started to work for her!
III. The Hunger for Self-Education
With school-days ended, the question of self-education became an absorbing thought with Edward Bok. He had mastered a schoolboy's English, but seven years of public-school education was hardly a basis on which to build the work of a lifetime. He saw each day in his duties as office boy some of the foremost men of the time. It was the period of William H. Vanderbilt's ascendancy in Western Union control; and the railroad millionnaire and his companions, Hamilton McK. Twombly, James H. Banker, Samuel F. Barger, Alonzo B. Cornell, Augustus Schell, William Orton, were objects of great interest to the young office boy. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Edison were also constant visitors to the department. He knew that some of these men, too, had been deprived of the advantage of collegiate training, and yet they had risen to the top. But how? The boy decided to read about these men and others, and find out. He could not, however, afford the separate biographies, so he went to the libraries to find a compendium that would authoritatively tell him of all successful men. He found it in Appleton's Encyclopedia, and, determining to have only the best, he saved his luncheon money, walked instead of riding the five miles to his Brooklyn home, and, after a period of saving, had his reward in the first purchase from his own earnings: a set of the Encyclopedia. He now read about all the successful men, and was encouraged to find that in many cases their beginnings had been as modest as his own, and their opportunities of education as limited.
One day it occurred to him to test the accuracy of the biographies he was reading. James A. Garfield was then spoken of for the presidency; Edward wondered whether it was true that the man who was likely to be President of the United States had once been a boy on the tow-path, and with a simple directness characteristic of his Dutch training, wrote to General Garfield, asking whether the boyhood episode was true, and explaining why he asked. Of course any public man, no matter how large his correspondence, is pleased to receive an earnest letter from an information-seeking boy. General Garfield answered warmly and fully. Edward showed the letter to his father, who told the boy that it was valuable and he should keep it. This was a new idea. He followed it further: if one such letter was valuable, how much more valuable would be a hundred! If General Garfield answered him, would not other famous men? Why not begin a collection of autograph letters? Everybody collected something.
Edward had collected postage-stamps, and the hobby had, incidentally, helped him wonderfully in his study of geography. Why should not autograph letters from famous persons be of equal service in his struggle for self-education? Not simple autographs—they were meaningless; but actual letters which might tell him something useful. It never occurred to the boy that these men might not answer him.
So he took his Encyclopedia—its trustworthiness now established in his mind by General Garfield's letter—and began to study the lives of successful men and women. Then, with boyish frankness, he wrote on some mooted question in one famous person's life; he asked about the date of some important event in another's, not given in the Encyclopedia; or he asked one man why he did this or why some other man did that.
Most interesting were, of course, the replies. Thus General Grant sketched on an improvised map the exact spot where General Lee surrendered to him; Longfellow told him how he came to write "Excelsior"; Whittier told the story of "The Barefoot Boy"; Tennyson wrote out a stanza or two of "The Brook," upon condition that Edward would not again use the word "awful," which the poet said "is slang for 'very,'" and "I hate slang."
One day the boy received a letter from the Confederate general Jubal A. Early, giving the real reason why he burned Chambersburg. A friend visiting Edward's father, happening to see the letter, recognized in it a hitherto-missing bit of history, and suggested that it be published in the New York Tribune. The letter attracted wide attention and provoked national discussion.
This suggested to the editor of The Tribune that Edward might have other equally interesting letters; so he despatched a reporter to the boy's home. This reporter was Ripley Hitchcock, who afterward became literary adviser for the Appletons and Harpers. Of course Hitchcock at once saw a "story" in the boy's letters, and within a few days The Tribune appeared with a long article on its principal news page giving an account of the Brooklyn boy's remarkable letters and how he had secured them. The Brooklyn Eagle quickly followed with a request for an interview; the Boston Globe followed suit; the Philadelphia Public Ledger sent its New York correspondent; and before Edward was aware of it, newspapers in different parts of the country were writing about "the well-known Brooklyn autograph collector."
Edward Bok was quick to see the value of the publicity which had so suddenly come to him. He received letters from other autograph collectors all over the country who sought to "exchange" with him. References began to creep into letters from famous persons to whom he had written, saying they had read about his wonderful collection and were proud to be included in it. George W. Childs, of Philadelphia, himself the possessor of probably one of the finest collections of autograph letters in the country, asked Edward to come to Philadelphia and bring his collection with him—which he did, on the following Sunday, and brought it back greatly enriched.
Several of the writers felt an interest in a boy who frankly told them that he wanted to educate himself, and asked Edward to come and see them. Accordingly, when they lived in New York or Brooklyn, or came to these cities on a visit, he was quick to avail himself of their invitations. He began to note each day in the newspapers the "distinguished arrivals" at the New York hotels; and when any one with whom he had corresponded arrived, Edward would, after business hours, go up-town, pay his respects, and thank him in person for his letters. No person was too high for Edward's boyish approach; President Garfield, General Grant, General Sherman, President Hayes—all were called upon, and all received the boy graciously and were interested in the problem of his self-education. It was a veritable case of making friends on every hand; friends who were to be of the greatest help and value to the boy in his after-years, although he had no conception of it at the time.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel, in those days the stopping-place of the majority of the famous men and women visiting New York, represented to the young boy who came to see these celebrities the very pinnacle of opulence. Often while waiting to be received by some dignitary, he wondered how one could acquire enough means to live at a place of such luxury. The main dining-room, to the boy's mind, was an object of special interest. He would purposely sneak up-stairs and sit on one of the soft sofas in the foyer simply to see the well-dressed diners go in and come out. Edward would speculate on whether the time would ever come when he could dine in that wonderful room just once!
One evening he called, after the close of business, upon General and Mrs. Grant, whom he had met before, and who had expressed a desire to see his collection. It can readily be imagined what a red-letter day it made in the boy's life to have General Grant say: "It might be better for us all to go down to dinner first and see the collection afterward." Edward had purposely killed time between five and seven o'clock, thinking that the general's dinner-hour, like his own, was at six. He had allowed an hour for the general to eat his dinner, only to find that he was still to begin it. The boy could hardly believe his ears, and unable to find his voice, he failed to apologize for his modest suit or his general after-business appearance.
As in a dream he went down in the elevator with his host and hostess, and when the party of three faced toward the dining-room entrance, so familiar to the boy, he felt as if his legs must give way under him. There have since been other red-letter days in Edward Bok's life, but the moment that still stands out preeminent is that when two colored head waiters at the dining-room entrance, whom he had so often watched, bowed low and escorted the party to their table. At last, he was in that sumptuous dining-hall. The entire room took on the picture of one great eye, and that eye centred on the party of three—as, in fact, it naturally would. But Edward felt that the eye was on him, wondering why he should be there.
What he ate and what he said he does not recall. General Grant, not a voluble talker himself, gently drew the boy out, and Mrs. Grant seconded him, until toward the close of the dinner he heard himself talking. He remembers that he heard his voice, but what that voice said is all dim to him. One act stamped itself on his mind. The dinner ended with a wonderful dish of nuts and raisins, and just before the party rose from the table Mrs. Grant asked the waiter to bring her a paper bag. Into this she emptied the entire dish, and at the close of the evening she gave it to Edward "to eat on the way home." It was a wonderful evening, afterward up-stairs, General Grant smoking the inevitable cigar, and telling stories as he read the letters of different celebrities. Over those of Confederate generals he grew reminiscent; and when he came to a letter from General Sherman, Edward remembers that he chuckled audibly, reread it, and then turning to Mrs. Grant, said: "Julia, listen to this from Sherman. Not bad." The letter he read was this:
"Dear Mr. Bok:—
"I prefer not to make scraps of sentimental writing. When I write anything I want it to be real and connected in form, as, for instance, in your quotation from Lord Lytton's play of 'Richelieu,' 'The pen is mightier than the sword.' Lord Lytton would never have put his signature to so naked a sentiment. Surely I will not.
"In the text there was a prefix or qualification:
"Beneath the rule of men entirely great The pen is mightier than the sword.
"Now, this world does not often present the condition of facts herein described. Men entirely great are very rare indeed, and even Washington, who approached greatness as near as any mortal, found good use for the sword and the pen, each in its proper sphere.
"You and I have seen the day when a great and good man ruled this country (Lincoln) who wielded a powerful and prolific pen, and yet had to call to his assistance a million of flaming swords.
"No, I cannot subscribe to your sentiment, 'The pen is mightier than the sword,' which you ask me to write, because it is not true.
"Rather, in the providence of God, there is a time for all things; a time when the sword may cut the Gordian knot, and set free the principles of right and justice, bound up in the meshes of hatred, revenge, and tyranny, that the pens of mighty men like Clay, Webster, Crittenden, and Lincoln were unable to disentangle.
"Wishing you all success, I am, with respect, your friend,
"W. T. Sherman."
Mrs. Grant had asked Edward to send her a photograph of himself, and after one had been taken, the boy took it to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, intending to ask the clerk to send it to her room. Instead, he met General and Mrs. Grant just coming from the elevator, going out to dinner. The boy told them his errand, and said he would have the photograph sent up-stairs.
"I am so sorry we are just going out to dinner," said Mrs. Grant, "for the general had some excellent photographs just taken of himself, and he signed one for you, and put it aside, intending to send it to you when yours came." Then, turning to the general, she said: "Ulysses, send up for it. We have a few moments."
"I'll go and get it. I know just where it is," returned the general. "Let me have yours," he said, turning to Edward. "I am glad to exchange photographs with you, boy."
To Edward's surprise, when the general returned he brought with him, not a duplicate of the small carte-de-visite size which he had given the general—all that he could afford—but a large, full cabinet size.
"They make 'em too big," said the general, as he handed it to Edward.
But the boy didn't think so!
That evening was one that the boy was long to remember. It suddenly came to him that he had read a few days before of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln's arrival in New York at Doctor Holbrook's sanitarium. Thither Edward went; and within half an hour from the time he had been talking with General Grant he was sitting at the bedside of Mrs. Lincoln, showing her the wonderful photograph just presented to him. Edward saw that the widow of the great Lincoln did not mentally respond to his pleasure in his possession. It was apparent even to the boy that mental and physical illness had done their work with the frail frame. But he had the memory, at least, of having got that close to the great President.
Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, October 13th 1881
The eventful evening, however, was not yet over. Edward had boarded a Broadway stage to take him to his Brooklyn home when, glancing at the newspaper of a man sitting next to him, he saw the headline: "Jefferson Davis arrives in New York." He read enough to see that the Confederate President was stopping at the Metropolitan Hotel, in lower Broadway, and as he looked out of the stage-window the sign "Metropolitan Hotel" stared him in the face. In a moment he was out of the stage; he wrote a little note, asked the clerk to send it to Mr. Davis, and within five minutes was talking to the Confederate President and telling of his remarkable evening.
Mr. Davis was keenly interested in the coincidence and in the boy before him. He asked about the famous collection, and promised to secure for Edward a letter written by each member of the Confederate Cabinet. This he subsequently did. Edward remained with Mr. Davis until ten o'clock, and that evening brought about an interchange of letters between the Brooklyn boy and Mr. Davis at Beauvoir, Mississippi, that lasted until the latter passed away.
Edward was fast absorbing a tremendous quantity of biographical information about the most famous men and women of his time, and he was compiling a collection of autograph letters that the newspapers had made famous throughout the country. He was ruminating over his possessions one day, and wondering to what practical use he could put his collection; for while it was proving educative to a wonderful degree, it was, after all, a hobby, and a hobby means expense. His autograph quest cost him stationery, postage, car-fare—all outgo. But it had brought him no income, save a rich mental revenue. And the boy and his family needed money. He did not know, then, the value of a background.
He was thinking along this line in a restaurant when a man sitting next to him opened a box of cigarettes, and taking a picture out of it threw it on the floor. Edward picked it up, thinking it might be a "prospect" for his collection of autograph letters. It was the picture of a well-known actress. He then recalled an advertisement announcing that this particular brand of cigarettes contained, in each package, a lithographed portrait of some famous actor or actress, and that if the purchaser would collect these he would, in the end, have a valuable album of the greatest actors and actresses of the day. Edward turned the picture over, only to find a blank reverse side. "All very well," he thought, "but what does a purchaser have, after all, in the end, but a lot of pictures? Why don't they use the back of each picture, and tell what each did: a little biography? Then it would be worth keeping." With his passion for self-education, the idea appealed very strongly to him; and believing firmly that there were others possessed of the same thirst, he set out the next day, in his luncheon hour, to find out who made the picture.
At the office of the cigarette company he learned that the making of the pictures was in the hands of the Knapp Lithographic Company. The following luncheon hour, Edward sought the offices of the company, and explained his idea to Mr. Joseph P. Knapp, now the president of the American Lithograph Company.
"I'll give you ten dollars apiece if you will write me a one-hundred-word biography of one hundred famous Americans," was Mr. Knapp's instant reply. "Send me a list, and group them, as, for instance: presidents and vice-presidents, famous soldiers, actors, authors, etc."
"And thus," says Mr. Knapp, as he tells the tale today, "I gave Edward Bok his first literary commission, and started him off on his literary career."
And it is true.
But Edward soon found the Lithograph Company calling for "copy," and, write as he might, he could not supply the biographies fast enough. He, at last, completed the first hundred, and so instantaneous was their success that Mr. Knapp called for a second hundred, and then for a third. Finding that one hand was not equal to the task, Edward offered his brother five dollars for each biography; he made the same offer to one or two journalists whom he knew and whose accuracy he could trust; and he was speedily convinced that merely to edit biographies written by others, at one-half the price paid to him, was more profitable than to write himself.
So with five journalists working at top speed to supply the hungry lithograph presses, Mr. Knapp was likewise responsible for Edward Bok's first adventure as an editor. It was commercial, if you will, but it was a commercial editing that had a distinct educational value to a large public.
The important point is that Edward Bok was being led more and more to writing and to editorship.
IV. A Presidential Friend and a Boston Pilgrimage
Edward Bok had not been office boy long before he realized that if he learned shorthand he would stand a better chance for advancement. So he joined the Young Men's Christian Association in Brooklyn, and entered the class in stenography. But as this class met only twice a week, Edward, impatient to learn the art of "pothooks" as quickly as possible, supplemented this instruction by a course given on two other evenings at moderate cost by a Brooklyn business college. As the system taught in both classes was the same, more rapid progress was possible, and the two teachers were constantly surprised that he acquired the art so much more quickly than the other students.
Before many weeks Edward could "stenograph" fairly well, and as the typewriter had not then come into its own, he was ready to put his knowledge to practical use.
An opportunity offered itself when the city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle asked him to report two speeches at a New England Society dinner. The speakers were to be the President of the United States, General Grant, General Sherman, Mr. Evarts, and General Sheridan. Edward was to report what General Grant and the President said, and was instructed to give the President's speech verbatim.
At the close of the dinner, the reporters came in and Edward was seated directly in front of the President. In those days when a public dinner included several kinds of wine, it was the custom to serve the reporters with wine, and as the glasses were placed before Edward's plate he realized that he had to make a decision then and there. He had, of course, constantly seen wine on his father's table, as is the European custom, but the boy had never tasted it. He decided he would not begin then, when he needed a clear head. So, in order to get more room for his note-book, he asked the waiter to remove the glasses.
It was the first time he had ever attempted to report a public address. General Grant's remarks were few, as usual, and as he spoke slowly, he gave the young reporter no trouble. But alas for his stenographic knowledge, when President Hayes began to speak! Edward worked hard, but the President was too rapid for him; he did not get the speech, and he noticed that the reporters for the other papers fared no better. Nothing daunted, however, after the speechmaking, Edward resolutely sought the President, and as the latter turned to him, he told him his plight, explained it was his first important "assignment," and asked if he could possibly be given a copy of the speech so that he could "beat" the other papers.
The President looked at him curiously for a moment, and then said: "Can you wait a few minutes?"
Edward assured him that he could.
After fifteen minutes or so the President came up to where the boy was waiting, and said abruptly:
"Tell me, my boy, why did you have the wine-glasses removed from your place?"
Edward was completely taken aback at the question, but he explained his resolution as well as he could.
"Did you make that decision this evening?" the President asked.
"What is your name?" the President next inquired.
He was told.
"And you live, where?"
Edward told him.
"Suppose you write your name and address on this card for me," said the President, reaching for one of the place-cards on the table.
The boy did so.
"Now, I am stopping with Mr. A. A. Low, on Columbia Heights. Is that in the direction of your home?"
"Suppose you go with me, then, in my carriage," said the President, "and I will give you my speech."
Edward was not quite sure now whether he was on his head or his feet.
As he drove along with the President and his host, the President asked the boy about himself, what he was doing, etc. On arriving at Mr. Low's house, the President went up-stairs, and in a few moments came down with his speech in full, written in his own hand. Edward assured him he would copy it, and return the manuscript in the morning.
The President took out his watch. It was then after midnight. Musing a moment, he said: "You say you are an office boy; what time must you be at your office?"
"Half past eight, sir."
"Well, good night," he said, and then, as if it were a second thought: "By the way, I can get another copy of the speech. Just turn that in as it is, if they can read it."
Afterward, Edward found out that, as a matter of fact, it was the President's only copy. Though the boy did not then appreciate this act of consideration, his instinct fortunately led him to copy the speech and leave the original at the President's stopping-place in the morning.
And for all his trouble, the young reporter was amply repaid by seeing that The Eagle was the only paper which had a verbatim report of the President's speech.
But the day was not yet done!
That evening, upon reaching home, what was the boy's astonishment to find the following note:
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:—
I have been telling Mrs. Hayes this morning of what you told me at the dinner last evening, and she was very much interested. She would like to see you, and joins me in asking if you will call upon us this evening at eight-thirty.
Very faithfully yours,
RUTHERFORD B. HAYES.
Edward had not risen to the possession of a suit of evening clothes, and distinctly felt its lack for this occasion. But, dressed in the best he had, he set out, at eight o'clock, to call on the President of the United States and his wife!
He had no sooner handed his card to the butler than that dignitary, looking at it, announced: "The President and Mrs. Hayes are waiting for you!" The ring of those magic words still sounds in Edward's ears: "The President and Mrs. Hayes are waiting for you!"—and he a boy of sixteen!
Edward had not been in the room ten minutes before he was made to feel as thoroughly at ease as if he were sitting in his own home before an open fire with his father and mother. Skilfully the President drew from him the story of his youthful hopes and ambitions, and before the boy knew it he was telling the President and his wife all about his precious Encyclopedia, his evening with General Grant, and his efforts to become something more than an office boy. No boy had ever so gracious a listener before; no mother could have been more tenderly motherly than the woman who sat opposite him and seemed so honestly interested in all that he told. Not for a moment during all those two hours was he allowed to remember that his host and hostess were the President of the United States and the first lady of the land!
That evening was the first of many thus spent as the years rolled by; unexpected little courtesies came from the White House, and later from "Spiegel Grove"; a constant and unflagging interest followed each undertaking on which the boy embarked. Opportunities were opened to him; acquaintances were made possible; a letter came almost every month until that last little note, late in 1892.
My Dear Friend:
I would write you more fully if I could. You are always thoughtful & kind.
Thankfully your friend Rutherford B. Hayes
Thanks—Thanks for your steady friendship.
The simple act of turning down his wine-glasses had won for Edward Bok two gracious friends.
The passion for autograph collecting was now leading Edward to read the authors whom he read about. He had become attached to the works of the New England group: Longfellow, Holmes, and, particularly, of Emerson. The philosophy of the Concord sage made a peculiarly strong appeal to the young mind, and a small copy of Emerson's essays was always in Edward's pocket on his long stage or horse-car rides to his office and back.
He noticed that these New England authors rarely visited New York, or, if they did, their presence was not heralded by the newspapers among the "distinguished arrivals." He had a great desire personally to meet these writers; and, having saved a little money, he decided to take his week's summer vacation in the winter, when he knew he should be more likely to find the people of his quest at home, and to spend his savings on a trip to Boston. He had never been away from home, so this trip was a momentous affair.
He arrived in Boston on Sunday evening; and the first thing he did was to despatch a note, by messenger, to Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes, announcing the important fact that he was there, and what his errand was, and asking whether he might come up and see Doctor Holmes any time the next day. Edward naively told him that he could come as early as Doctor Holmes liked—by breakfast-time, he was assured, as Edward was all alone! Doctor Holmes's amusement at this ingenuous note may be imagined.
Within the hour the boy brought back this answer:
MY DEAR BOY:
I shall certainly look for you to-morrow morning at eight o'clock to have a piece of pie with me. That is real New England, you know.
Very cordially yours,
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES."
Edward was there at eight o'clock. Strictly speaking, he was there at seven-thirty, and found the author already at his desk in that room overlooking the Charles River, which he learned in after years to know better.
"Well," was the cheery greeting, "you couldn't wait until eight for your breakfast, could you? Neither could I when I was a boy. I used to have my breakfast at seven," and then telling the boy all about his boyhood, the cheery poet led him to the dining-room, and for the first time he breakfasted away from home and ate pie—and that with "The Autocrat" at his own breakfast-table!
A cosier time no boy could have had. Just the two were there, and the smiling face that looked out over the plates and cups gave the boy courage to tell all that this trip was going to mean to him.
"And you have come on just to see us, have you?" chuckled the poet. "Now, tell me, what good do you think you will get out of it?"
He was told what the idea was: that every successful man had something to tell a boy, that would be likely to help him, and that Edward wanted to see the men who had written the books that people enjoyed. Doctor Holmes could not conceal his amusement at all this.
When breakfast was finished, Doctor Holmes said: "Do you know that I am a full-fledged carpenter? No? Well, I am. Come into my carpenter-shop."
And he led the way into a front-basement room where was a complete carpenter's outfit.
"You know I am a doctor," he explained, "and this shop is my medicine. I believe that every man must have a hobby that is as different from his regular work as it is possible to be. It is not good for a man to work all the time at one thing. So this is my hobby. This is my change. I like to putter away at these things. Every day I try to come down here for an hour or so. It rests me because it gives my mind a complete change. For, whether you believe it or not," he added with his inimitable chuckle, "to make a poem and to make a chair are two very different things."
"Now," he continued, "if you think you can learn something from me, learn that and remember it when you are a man. Don't keep always at your business, whatever it may be. It makes no difference how much you like it. The more you like it, the more dangerous it is. When you grow up you will understand what I mean by an 'outlet'—a hobby, that is—in your life, and it must be so different from your regular work that it will take your thoughts into an entirely different direction. We doctors call it a safety-valve, and it is. I would much rather," concluded the poet, "you would forget all that I have ever written than that you should forget what I tell you about having a safety-valve."
"And now do you know," smilingly said the poet, "about the Charles River here?" as they returned to his study and stood before the large bay window. "I love this river," he said. "Yes, I love it," he repeated; "love it in summer or in winter." And then he was quiet for a minute or so.
Edward asked him which of his poems were his favorites.
"Well," he said musingly, "I think 'The Chambered Nautilus' is my most finished piece of work, and I suppose it is my favorite. But there are also 'The Voiceless,' 'My Aviary,' written at this window, 'The Battle of Bunker Hill,' and 'Dorothy Q,' written to the portrait of my great-grandmother which you see on the wall there. All these I have a liking for, and when I speak of the poems I like best there are two others that ought to be included—'The Silent Melody' and 'The Last Leaf.' I think these are among my best."
"What is the history of 'The Chambered Nautilus'?" Edward asked.
"It has none," came the reply, "it wrote itself. So, too, did 'The One-Hoss Shay.' That was one of those random conceptions that gallop through the brain, and that you catch by the bridle. I caught it and reined it. That is all."
Just then a maid brought in a parcel, and as Doctor Holmes opened it on his desk he smiled over at the boy and said:
"Well, I declare, if you haven't come just at the right time. See those little books? Aren't they wee?" and he handed the boy a set of three little books, six inches by four in size, beautifully bound in half levant. They were his "Autocrat" in one volume, and his better-known poems in two volumes.
"This is a little fancy of mine," he said. "My publishers, to please me, have gotten out this tiny wee set. And here," as he counted the little sets, "they have sent me six sets. Are they not exquisite little things?" and he fondled them with loving glee. "Lucky, too, for me that they should happen to come now, for I have been wondering what I could give you as a souvenir of your visit to me, and here it is, sure enough! My publishers must have guessed you were here and my mind at the same time. Now, if you would like it, you shall carry home one of these little sets, and I'll just write a piece from one of my poems and your name on the fly-leaf of each volume. You say you like that little verse:
"'A few can touch the magic string.'
Then I'll write those four lines in this volume." And he did.
As each little volume went under the poet's pen Edward said, as his heart swelled in gratitude:
"Doctor Holmes, you are a man of the rarest sort to be so good to a boy."
A few can touch the magic string. And noisy fame is proud to win them, — Alas for those who never sing. But die with all their music in them! Oliver Wendell Holmes
The pen stopped, the poet looked out on the Charles a moment, and then, turning to the boy with a little moisture in his eye, he said:
"No, my boy, I am not; but it does an old man's heart good to hear you say it. It means much to those on the down-hill side to be well thought of by the young who are coming up."
As he wiped his gold pen, with its swan-quill holder, and laid it down, he said:
"That's the pen with which I wrote 'Elsie Venner' and the 'Autocrat' papers. I try to take care of it."
"You say you are going from me over to see Longfellow?" he continued, as he reached out once more for the pen. "Well, then, would you mind if I gave you a letter for him? I have something to send him."
Sly but kindly old gentleman! The "something" he had to send Longfellow was Edward himself, although the boy did not see through the subterfuge at that time.
"And now, if you are going, I'll walk along with you if you don't mind, for I'm going down to Park Street to thank my publishers for these little books, and that lies along your way to the Cambridge car."
As the two walked along Beacon Street, Doctor Holmes pointed out the residences where lived people of interest, and when they reached the Public Garden he said:
"You must come over in the spring some time, and see the tulips and croci and hyacinths here. They are so beautiful.
"Now, here is your car," he said as he hailed a coming horse-car. "Before you go back you must come and see me and tell me all the people you have seen; will you? I should like to hear about them. I may not have more books coming in, but I might have a very good-looking photograph of a very old-looking little man," he said as his eyes twinkled. "Give my love to Longfellow when you see him, and don't forget to give him my letter, you know. It is about a very important matter."
And when the boy had ridden a mile or so with his fare in his hand he held it out to the conductor, who grinned and said:
"That's all right. Doctor Holmes paid me your fare, and I'm going to keep that nickel if I lose my job for it."
V. Going to the Theatre with Longfellow
When Edward Bok stood before the home of Longfellow, he realized that he was to see the man around whose head the boy's youthful reading had cast a sort of halo. And when he saw the head itself he had a feeling that he could see the halo. No kindlier pair of eyes ever looked at a boy, as, with a smile, "the white Mr. Longfellow," as Mr. Howells had called him, held out his hand.
"I am very glad to see you, my boy," were his first words, and with them he won the boy. Edward smiled back at the poet, and immediately the two were friends.
"I have been taking a walk this beautiful morning," he said next, "and am a little late getting at my mail. Suppose you come in and sit at my desk with me, and we will see what the postman has brought. He brings me so many good things, you know."
"Now, here is a little girl," he said, as he sat down at the desk with the boy beside him, "who wants my autograph and a 'sentiment.' What sentiment, I wonder, shall I send her?"
"Why not send her 'Let us, then, be up and doing'?" suggested the boy. "That's what I should like if I were she."
"Should you, indeed?" said Longfellow. "That is a good suggestion. Now, suppose you recite it off to me, so that I shall not have to look it up in my books, and I will write as you recite. But slowly; you know I am an old man, and write slowly."
Edward thought it strange that Longfellow himself should not know his own great words without looking them up. But he recited the four lines, so familiar to every schoolboy, and when the poet had finished writing them, he said:
"Good! I see you have a memory. Now, suppose I copy these lines once more for the little girl, and give you this copy? Then you can say, you know, that you dictated my own poetry to me."
Of course Edward was delighted, and Longfellow gave him the sheet as it is here:
Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait. Henry W. Longfellow
Then, as the fine head bent down to copy the lines once more, Edward ventured to say to him:
"I should think it would keep you busy if you did this for every one who asked you."
"Well," said the poet, "you see, I am not so busy a man as I was some years ago, and I shouldn't like to disappoint a little girl; should you?"
As he took up his letters again, he discovered five more requests for his autograph. At each one he reached into a drawer in his desk, took a card, and wrote his name on it.
"There are a good many of these every day," said Longfellow, "but I always like to do this little favor. It is so little to do, to write your name on a card; and if I didn't do it some boy or girl might be looking, day by day, for the postman and be disappointed. I only wish I could write my name better for them. You see how I break my letters? That's because I never took pains with my writing when I was a boy. I don't think I should get a high mark for penmanship if I were at school, do you?"
"I see you get letters from Europe," said the boy, as Longfellow opened an envelope with a foreign stamp on it.
"Yes, from all over the world," said the poet. Then, looking at the boy quickly, he said: "Do you collect postage-stamps?"
Edward said he did.
"Well, I have some right here, then," and going to a drawer in a desk he took out a bundle of letters, and cut out the postage-stamps and gave them to the boy.
"There's one from the Netherlands. There's where I was born," Edward ventured to say.
"In the Netherlands? Then you are a real Dutchman. Well! Well!" he said, laying down his pen. "Can you read Dutch?"
The boy said he could.
"Then," said the poet, "you are just the boy I am looking for." And going to a bookcase behind him he brought out a book, and handing it to the boy, he said, his eyes laughing: "Can you read that?"
It was an edition of Longfellow's poems in Dutch.
"Yes, indeed," said Edward. "These are your poems in Dutch."
"That's right," he said. "Now, this is delightful. I am so glad you came. I received this book last week, and although I have been in the Netherlands, I cannot speak or read Dutch. I wonder whether you would read a poem to me and let me hear how it sounds."
So Edward took "The Old Clock on the Stairs," and read it to him.
The poet's face beamed with delight. "That's beautiful," he said, and then quickly added: "I mean the language, not the poem."
"Now," he went on, "I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll strike a bargain. We Yankees are great for bargains, you know. If you will read me 'The Village Blacksmith' you can sit in that chair there made out of the wood of the old spreading chestnut-tree, and I'll take you out and show you where the old shop stood. Is that a bargain?"
Edward assured him it was. He sat in the chair of wood and leather, and read to the poet several of his own poems in a language in which, when he wrote them, he never dreamed they would ever be printed. He was very quiet. Finally he said: "It seems so odd, so very odd, to hear something you know so well sound so strange."
"It's a great compliment, though, isn't it, sir?" asked the boy.
"Ye-es," said the poet slowly. "Yes, yes," he added quickly. "It is, my boy, a very great compliment."
"Ah," he said, rousing himself, as a maid appeared, "that means luncheon, or rather," he added, "it means dinner, for we have dinner in the old New England fashion, in the middle of the day. I am all alone today, and you must keep me company; will you? Then afterward we'll go and take a walk, and I'll show you Cambridge. It is such a beautiful old town, even more beautiful, I sometimes think, when the leaves are off the trees.
"Come," he said, "I'll take you up-stairs, and you can wash your hands in the room where George Washington slept. And comb your hair, too, if you want to," he added; "only it isn't the same comb that he used."
To the boyish mind it was an historic breaking of bread, that midday meal with Longfellow.
"Can you say grace in Dutch?" he asked, as they sat down; and the boy did.
"Well," the poet declared, "I never expected to hear that at my table. I like the sound of it."
Then while the boy told all that he knew about the Netherlands, the poet told the boy all about his poems. Edward said he liked "Hiawatha."
"So do I," he said. "But I think I like 'Evangeline' better. Still," he added, "neither one is as good as it should be. But those are the things you see afterward so much better than you do at the time."
It was a great event for Edward when, with the poet nodding and smiling to every boy and man he met, and lifting his hat to every woman and little girl, he walked through the fine old streets of Cambridge with Longfellow. At one point of the walk they came to a theatrical bill-board announcing an attraction that evening at the Boston Theatre. Skilfully the old poet drew out from Edward that sometimes he went to the theatre with his parents. As they returned to the gate of "Craigie House" Edward said he thought he would go back to Boston.
"And what have you on hand for this evening?" asked Longfellow.
Edward told him he was going to his hotel to think over the day's events.
The poet laughed and said:
"Now, listen to my plan. Boston is strange to you. Now we're going to the theatre this evening, and my plan is that you come in now, have a little supper with us, and then go with us to see the play. It is a funny play, and a good laugh will do you more good than to sit in a hotel all by yourself. Now, what do you think?"
Of course the boy thought as Longfellow did, and it was a very happy boy that evening who, in full view of the large audience in the immense theatre, sat in that box. It was, as Longfellow had said, a play of laughter, and just who laughed louder, the poet or the boy, neither ever knew.
Between the acts there came into the box a man of courtly presence, dignified and yet gently courteous.
"Ah! Phillips," said the poet, "how are you? You must know my young friend here. This is Wendell Phillips, my boy. Here is a young man who told me to-day that he was going to call on you and on Phillips Brooks to-morrow. Now you know him before he comes to you."
"I shall be glad to see you, my boy," said Mr. Phillips. "And so you are going to see Phillips Brooks? Let me tell you something about Brooks. He has a great many books in his library which are full of his marks and comments. Now, when you go to see him you ask him to let you see some of those books, and then, when he isn't looking, you put a couple of them in your pocket. They would make splendid souvenirs, and he has so many he would never miss them. You do it, and then when you come to see me tell me all about it."
And he and Longfellow smiled broadly.
An hour later, when Longfellow dropped Edward at his hotel, he had not only a wonderful day to think over but another wonderful day to look forward to as well!
He had breakfasted with Oliver Wendell Holmes; dined, supped, and been to the theatre with Longfellow; and to-morrow he was to spend with Phillips Brooks.
Boston was a great place, Edward Bok thought, as he fell asleep.
VI. Phillips Brooks's Books and Emerson's Mental Mist
No one who called at Phillips Brooks's house was ever told that the master of the house was out when he was in. That was a rule laid down by Doctor Brooks: a maid was not to perjure herself for her master's comfort or convenience. Therefore, when Edward was told that Doctor Brooks was out, he knew he was out. The boy waited, and as he waited he had a chance to look around the library and into the books. The rector's faithful housekeeper said he might when he repeated what Wendell Phillips had told him of the interest that was to be found in her master's books. Edward did not tell her of Mr. Phillips's advice to "borrow" a couple of books. He reserved that bit of information for the rector of Trinity when he came in, an hour later.
"Oh! did he?" laughingly said Doctor Brooks. "That is nice advice for a man to give a boy. I am surprised at Wendell Phillips. He needs a little talk: a ministerial visit. And have you followed his shameless advice?" smilingly asked the huge man as he towered above the boy. "No? And to think of the opportunity you had, too. Well, I am glad you had such respect for my dumb friends. For they are my friends, each one of them," he continued, as he looked fondly at the filled shelves. "Yes, I know them all, and love each for its own sake. Take this little volume," and he picked up a little volume of Shakespeare. "Why, we are the best of friends: we have travelled miles together—all over the world, as a matter of fact. It knows me in all my moods, and responds to each, no matter how irritable I am. Yes, it is pretty badly marked up now, for a fact, isn't it? Black; I never thought of that before that it doesn't make a book look any better to the eye. But it means more to me because of all that pencilling.
"Now, some folks dislike my use of my books in this way. They love their books so much that they think it nothing short of sacrilege to mark up a book. But to me that's like having a child so prettily dressed that you can't romp and play with it. What is the good of a book, I say, if it is too pretty for use? I like to have my books speak to me, and then I like to talk back to them.
"Take my Bible, here," he continued, as he took up an old and much-worn copy of the book. "I have a number of copies of the Great Book: one copy I preach from; another I minister from; but this is my own personal copy, and into it I talk and talk. See how I talk," and he opened the Book and showed interleaved pages full of comments in his handwriting. "There's where St. Paul and I had an argument one day. Yes, it was a long argument, and I don't know now who won," he added smilingly. "But then, no one ever wins in an argument, anyway; do you think so?
"You see," went on the preacher, "I put into these books what other men put into articles and essays for magazines and papers. I never write for publications. I always think of my church when something comes to me to say. There is always danger of a man spreading himself out thin if he attempts too much, you know."
Doctor Brooks must have caught the boy's eye, which, as he said this, naturally surveyed his great frame, for he regarded him in an amused way, and putting his hands on his girth, he said laughingly: "You are thinking I would have to do a great deal to spread myself out thin, aren't you?"
The boy confessed he was, and the preacher laughed one of those deep laughs of his that were so infectious.
"But here I am talking about myself. Tell me something about yourself?"
And when the boy told his object in coming to Boston, the rector of Trinity Church was immensely amused.
"Just to see us fellows! Well, and how do you like us so far?"
And is the most comfortable way this true gentleman went on until the boy mentioned that he must be keeping him from his work.
"Not at all; not at all," was the quick and hearty response. "Not a thing to do. I cleaned up all my mail before I had my breakfast this morning.
"These letters, you mean?" he said, as the boy pointed to some letters on his desk unopened. "Oh, yes! Well, they must have come in a later mail. Well, if it will make you feel any better I'll go through them, and you can go through my books if you like. I'll trust you," he added laughingly, as Wendell Phillips's advice occurred to him.
"You like books, you say?" he went on, as he opened his letters. "Well, then, you must come into my library here at any time you are in Boston, and spend a morning reading anything I have that you like. Young men do that, you know, and I like to have them. What's the use of good friends if you don't share them? There's where the pleasure comes in."
He asked the boy then about his newspaper work: how much it paid him, and whether he felt it helped him in an educational way. The boy told him he thought it did; that it furnished good lessons in the study of human nature.
"Yes," he said, "I can believe that, so long as it is good journalism."
Edward told him that he sometimes wrote for the Sunday paper, and asked the preacher what he thought of that.
"Well," he said, "that is not a crime."
The boy asked him if he, then, favored the Sunday paper more than did some other clergymen.
"There is always good in everything, I think," replied Phillips Brooks. "A thing must be pretty bad that hasn't some good in it." Then he stopped, and after a moment went on: "My idea is that the fate of Sunday newspapers rests very much with Sunday editors. There is a Sunday newspaper conceivable in which we should all rejoice—all, that is, who do not hold that a Sunday newspaper is always and per se wrong. But some cause has, in many instances, brought it about that the Sunday paper is below, and not above, the standard of its weekday brethren. I mean it is apt to be more gossipy, more personal, more sensational, more frivolous; less serious and thoughtful and suggestive. Taking for granted the fact of special leisure on the part of its readers, it is apt to appeal to the lower and not to the higher part of them, which the Sunday leisure has set free. Let the Sunday newspaper be worthy of the day, and the day will not reject it. So I say its fate is in the hands of its editor. He can give it such a character as will make all good men its champions and friends, or he can preserve for it the suspicion and dislike in which it stands at present."
Edward's journalistic instinct here got into full play; and although, as he assured his host, he had had no such thought in coming, he asked whether Doctor Brooks would object if he tried his reportorial wings by experimenting as to whether he could report the talk.
"I do not like the papers to talk about me," was the answer; "but if it will help you, go ahead and practise on me. You haven't stolen my books when you were told to do so, and I don't think you'll steal my name."
The boy went back to his hotel, and wrote an article much as this account is here written, which he sent to Doctor Brooks. "Let me keep it by me," the doctor wrote, "and I will return it to you presently."
And he did, with his comment on the Sunday newspaper, just as it is given here, and with this note:
If I must go into the newspapers at all—which I should always vastly prefer to avoid—no words could have been more kind than those of your article. You were very good to send it to me. I am ever Sincerely, Your friend, Phillips Brooks
As he let the boy out of his house, at the end of that first meeting, he said to him:
"And you're going from me now to see Emerson? I don't know," he added reflectively, "whether you will see him at his best. Still, you may. And even if you do not, to have seen him, even as you may see him, is better, in a way, than not to have seen him at all."
Edward did not know what Phillips Brooks meant. But he was, sadly, to find out the next day.
A boy of sixteen was pretty sure of a welcome from Louisa Alcott, and his greeting from her was spontaneous and sincere.
"Why, you good boy," she said, "to come all the way to Concord to see us," quite for all the world as if she were the one favored. "Now take your coat off, and come right in by the fire."
"Do tell me all about your visit," she continued.
Before that cozey fire they chatted. It was pleasant to the boy to sit there with that sweet-faced woman with those kindly eyes! After a while she said: "Now I shall put on my coat and hat, and we shall walk over to Emerson's house. I am almost afraid to promise that you will see him. He sees scarcely any one now. He is feeble, and—" She did not finish the sentence. "But we'll walk over there, at any rate."
She spoke mostly of her father as the two walked along, and it was easy to see that his condition was now the one thought of her life. Presently they reached Emerson's house, and Miss Emerson welcomed them at the door. After a brief chat Miss Alcott told of the boy's hope. Miss Emerson shook her head.
"Father sees no one now," she said, "and I fear it might not be a pleasure if you did see him."
Then Edward told her what Phillips Brooks had said.
"Well," she said, "I'll see."
She had scarcely left the room when Miss Alcott rose and followed her, saying to the boy: "You shall see Mr. Emerson if it is at all possible."
In a few minutes Miss Alcott returned, her eyes moistened, and simply said: "Come."
The boy followed her through two rooms, and at the threshold of the third Miss Emerson stood, also with moistened eyes.
"Father," she said simply, and there, at his desk, sat Emerson—the man whose words had already won Edward Bok's boyish interest, and who was destined to impress himself upon his life more deeply than any other writer.
Slowly, at the daughter's spoken word, Emerson rose with a wonderful quiet dignity, extended his hand, and as the boy's hand rested in his, looked him full in the eyes.
No light of welcome came from those sad yet tender eyes. The boy closed upon the hand in his with a loving pressure, and for a single moment the eyelids rose, a different look came into those eyes, and Edward felt a slight, perceptible response of the hand. But that was all!
Quietly he motioned the boy to a chair beside the desk. Edward sat down and was about to say something, when, instead of seating himself, Emerson walked away to the window and stood there softly whistling and looking out as if there were no one in the room. Edward's eyes had followed Emerson's every footstep, when the boy was aroused by hearing a suppressed sob, and as he looked around he saw that it came from Miss Emerson. Slowly she walked out of the room. The boy looked at Miss Alcott, and she put her finger to her mouth, indicating silence. He was nonplussed.
Edward looked toward Emerson standing in that window, and wondered what it all meant. Presently Emerson left the window and, crossing the room, came to his desk, bowing to the boy as he passed, and seated himself, not speaking a word and ignoring the presence of the two persons in the room.
Suddenly the boy heard Miss Alcott say: "Have you read this new book by Ruskin yet?"
Slowly the great master of thought lifted his eyes from his desk, turned toward the speaker, rose with stately courtesy from his chair, and, bowing to Miss Alcott, said with great deliberation: "Did you speak to me, madam?"
The boy was dumfounded! Louisa Alcott, his Louisa! And he did not know her! Suddenly the whole sad truth flashed upon the boy. Tears sprang into Miss Alcott's eyes, and she walked to the other side of the room. The boy did not know what to say or do, so he sat silent. With a deliberate movement Emerson resumed his seat, and slowly his eyes roamed over the boy sitting at the side of the desk. He felt he should say something.