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THE AMERICANIZATION OF EDWARD BOK
OF A DUTCH BOY FIFTY YEARS AFTER
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
THE SCRIBNER PRESS
NEW YORK, U. S. A.
TO THE AMERICAN WOMAN I OWE MUCH
BUT TO TWO WOMEN I OWE MORE
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 THAT 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
HUNDREDS of letters reached the publishers and author of this book asking that this autobiography be published at a reduced price which would allow its purchase in quantities for distribution.
I was most happy to co-operate with the desire of my publishers to respond to this wide public demand and to issue it at a reduced price, yet keeping the book practically in its original form.
It is highly creditable to the sense of public responsibility felt by my publishers in doing this, since they issued it at this reduced price not only with actual orders for hundreds of copies of the higher-priced edition on their books, but in the midst of a growing sale in excess of that at any time since publication. Hence the way was dearly and invitingly open for a continued sale at the higher price.
With a sense of deepest gratitude, therefore, to my publishers for this decision, and to the public for its bewilderingly generous reception of this book, I am glad to have a share in sending it forth at a price that brings it within reach of a wider audience.
EDWARD W. BOK
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, stretch a dangerous series of sand-bars that have proved the graveyard of many a vessel sailing these turbulent waters. 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 dean 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 short time 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 place 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."
"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 he 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 beautiful birds. It was not long before ornithologists from various parts of the world came to "Eggland," as the farthermost point of the island had come to be known as the home of sea-fowl, to see the marvellous sight, not of thousands but of hundreds of thousands of birds' 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" of "the burg" and listen to the evening notes of the birds of golden song.
Meantime, the young mayor-judge, grown to manhood, had kept on planting trees each year and 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 canvasses, and on the walls of hundreds of homes throughout the world hang to-day bits of the beautiful lanes and wooded spots of the isle of the sea. 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 trees that he planted drop 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-trained 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 marry 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 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.
The second son to leave the island home went to South Africa, where he settled and became one of "the Boers." Tirelessly he, with them, 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."
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, brought him to his father's house, and 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.
One daughter worked beside her husband for forty years, and when he passed away he was regarded as one of the ablest preachers of his land, speaking the message of men's betterment. Another daughter ministered unto and made a home for forty years for one who could see and hear 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 sands to a bower of verdure, and a home for the birds. 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 the United States 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."