The Americanization of Edward Bok/Chapter 12
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Chapter 12: Baptism Under Fire
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THE PERSONNEL of the Scribner house was very youthful from the members of the firm clear down the line. It was veritably a house of young men.
The story is told of a Boston publisher, sedate and fairly elderly, who came to the Scribner house to transact business with several of its departments. One of his errands concerning itself with advertising, he was introduced to Bok, who was then twenty-four. Looking the youth over, he transacted his business as well as he felt it could be transacted with a manager of such tender years, and then sought the head of the educational department: this brought him to another young man of twenty-four.
With his yearnings for some one more advanced in years full upon him, the visitor now inquired for the business manager of the new magazine, only to find a man of twenty-six. His next introduction was to the head of the out-of-town business department, who was twenty-seven.
At this point the Boston man asked to see Mr. Scribner. This disclosed to him Mr. Arthur H. Scribner, the junior partner, who owned to twenty-eight summers. Mustering courage to ask faintly for Mr. Charles Scribner himself, he finally brought up in that gentleman’s office only to meet a man just turning thirty-three!
“This is a young-looking crowd,” said Mr. Scribner one day, looking over his young men. And his eye rested on Bok. “Particularly you, Bok. Doubleday looks his years better than you do, for at least he has a moustache.” Then, contemplatively: “You raise a moustache, Bok, and I’ll raise your salary.”
This appealed to Bok very strongly, and within a month he pointed out the result to his employer. “Stand in the light here,” said Mr. Scribner. “Well, yes,” he concluded dubiously, “it’s there—something at least. All right; I’ll keep my part of the bargain.”
He did. But the next day he was nonplussed to see that the moustache had disappeared from the lip of his youthful advertising manager. “Couldn’t quite stand it, Mr. Scribner,” was the explanation. “Besides, you didn’t say I should keep it: you merely said to raise it.”
But the increase did not follow the moustache. To Bok’s great relief, it stuck!
This youthful personnel, while it made for esprit de corps, had also its disadvantages. One day as Bok was going out to lunch, he found a small-statured man, rather plainly dressed, wandering around the retail department, hoping for a salesman to wait on him. The young salesman on duty, full of inexperience, had a ready smile and quick service ever ready for “carriage trade,” as he called it; but this particular customer had come afoot, and this, together with his plainness of dress, did not impress the young salesman. His attention was called to the wandering customer, and it was suggested that he find out what was wanted. When Bok returned from lunch, the young salesman, who, with a beaming smile, had just most ceremoniously bowed the plainly dressed little customer out of the street-door, said: “You certainly struck it rich that time when you suggested my waiting on that little man! Such an order! Been here ever since. Did you know who it was?”
“No,” returned Bok. “Who was it?”
“Andrew Carnegie,” beamed the salesman.
Another youthful clerk in the Scribner retail bookstore, unconscious of the customer’s identity, waited one day on the wife of Mark Twain.
Mrs. Clemens asked the young salesman for a copy of Taine’s Ancient Régime.
“Beg pardon,” said the clerk, “what book did you say?”
Mrs. Clemens repeated the author and title of the book.
Going to the rear of the store, the clerk soon returned, only to inquire: “May I ask you to repeat the name of the author?”
“Taine, T-a-i-n-e,” replied Mrs. Clemens.
Then did the youthfulness of the salesman assert itself. Assuming an air of superior knowledge, and looking at the customer with an air of sympathy, he corrected Mrs. Clemens:
“Pardon me, madam, but you have the name a trifle wrong. You mean Twain—not Taine.”
With so many young men of the same age, there was a natural sense of team-work and a spirit of comradeship that made for successful co-operation. This spirit extended outside of business hours. At luncheon there was a Scribner table in a neighboring restaurant, and evenings saw the Scribner department heads mingling as friends. It was a group of young men who understood and liked each other, with the natural result that business went easier and better because of it.
But Bok did not have much time for evening enjoyment, since his outside interests had grown and prospered and they kept him busy. His syndicate was regularly supplying over a hundred newspapers: his literary letter had become an established feature in thirty different newspapers.
Of course, his opportunities for making this letter interesting were unusual. Owing to his Scribner connection, however, he had taken his name from the letter and signed that of his brother. He had, also, constantly to discriminate between the information that he could publish without violation of confidence and that which he felt he was not at liberty to print. This gave him excellent experience; for the most vital of all essentials in the journalist is the ability unerringly to decide what to print and what to regard as confidential.
Of course, the best things that came to him he could not print. Whenever there was a question, he gave the benefit of the doubt to the confidential relation in which his position placed him with authors; and his Dutch caution, although it deprived him of many a toothsome morsel for his letter, soon became known to his confrères, and was a large asset when, as an editor, he had to follow the golden rule of editorship that teaches one to keep the ears open but the mouth shut.
This Alpha and Omega of all the commandments in the editorial creed some editors learn by sorrowful experience. Bok was, again, fortunate in learning it under the most friendly auspices. He continued to work without sparing himself, but his star remained in the ascendency. Just how far a man’s own efforts and standards keep a friendly star centred over his head is a question. But Edward Bok has always felt that he was materially helped by fortuitous conditions not of his own creation or choice.
He was now to receive his first public baptism of fire. He had published a symposium, through his newspaper syndicate, discussing the question, “Should Clergymen Smoke?” He had induced all the prominent clergymen in the country to contribute their views, and so distinguished was the list that the article created widespread attention.
One of the contributors was the Reverend Richard S. Storrs, D.D., one of the most distinguished of Brooklyn’s coterie of clergy of that day. A few days after the publication of the article, Bok was astounded to read in the Brooklyn Eagle a sensational article, with large headlines, in which Doctor Storrs repudiated his contribution to the symposium, declared that he had never written or signed such a statement, and accused Edward Bok of forgery.
Coming from a man of Doctor Storrs’s prominence, the accusation was, of course, a serious one. Bok realized this at once. He foresaw the damage it might work to the reputation of a young man trying to climb the ladder of success, and wondered why Doctor Storrs had seen fit to accuse him in this public manner instead of calling upon him for a personal explanation. He thought perhaps he might find such a letter from Doctor Storrs when he reached home, but instead he met a small corps of reporters from the Brooklyn and New York newspapers. He told them frankly that no one was more surprised at the accusation than he, but that the original contributions were in the New York office of the syndicate, and he could not corroborate his word until he had looked into the papers and found Doctor Storrs’s contribution.
That evening Bok got at the papers in the case, and found out that, technically, Doctor Storrs was right: he had not written or signed such a statement. The compiler of the symposium, the editor of one of New York’s leading evening papers whom Bok had employed, had found Doctor Storrs’s declaration in favor of a clergyman’s use of tobacco in an address made some time before, had extracted it and incorporated it into the symposium. It was, therefore, Doctor Storrs’s opinion on the subject, but not written for the occasion for which it was used. Bok felt that his editor had led him into an indiscretion. Yet the sentiments were those of the writer whose name was attached to them, so that the act was not one of forgery. The editor explained that he had sent the extract to Doctor Storrs, who had not returned it, and he had taken silence to mean consent to the use of the material.
Bok decided to say nothing until he heard from Doctor Storrs personally, and so told the newspapers. But the clergyman did not stop his attack. Of course, the newspapers egged him on and extracted from him the further accusation that Bok’s silence proved his guilt. Bok now took the case to Mr. Beecher, and asked his advice.
“Well, Edward, you are right and you are wrong,” said Mr. Beecher. “And so is Storrs, of course. It is beneath him to do what he has done. Storrs and I are not good friends, as you know, and so I cannot go to him and ask him the reason of his disclaimer. Otherwise I would. Of course, he may have forgotten his remarks: that is always possible in a busy man’s life. He may not have received the letter enclosing them. That is likewise possible. But I have a feeling that Storrs has some reason for wishing to repudiate his views on this subject just at this time. What it is I do not, of course, know, but his vehemence makes me think so. I think I should let him have his rein. Keep you quiet. It may damage you a little here and there, but in the end it won’t harm you. In the main point, you are right. You are not a forger. The sentiments are his and he uttered them, and he should stand by them. He threatens to bring you into court, I see from to-day’s paper. Wait until he does so.”
Bok, chancing to meet Doctor Talmage, told him Mr. Beecher’s advice, and he endorsed it. “Remember, boy,” said Doctor Talmage, “silence is never so golden as when you are under fire. I know, for I have been there, as you know, more than once. Keep quiet; and always believe this: that there is a great deal of common sense abroad in the world, and a man is always safe in trusting it to do him justice.”
They were not pleasant and easy days for Bok, for Doctor Storrs kept up the din for several days. Bok waited for the word to appear in court. But this never came, and the matter soon died down and out. And, although Bok met the clergyman several times afterward in the years that followed, no reference was ever made by him to the incident.
But Edward Bok had learned a valuable lesson of silence under fire—an experience that was to stand him in good stead when he was again publicly attacked not long afterward.
This occurred in connection with a notable anniversary celebration in honor of Henry Ward Beecher, in which the entire city of Brooklyn was to participate. It was to mark a mile-stone in Mr. Beecher’s ministry and in his pastorate of Plymouth Church. Bok planned a worldwide tribute to the famed clergyman: he would get the most distinguished men and women of this and other countries to express their esteem for the Plymouth pastor in written congratulations, and he would bind these into a volume for presentation to Mr. Beecher on the occasion. He consulted members of the Beecher family, and, with their acquiescence, began to assemble the material. He was in the midst of the work when Henry Ward Beecher passed away. Bok felt that the tributes already received were too wonderful to be lost to the world, and, after again consulting Mrs. Beecher and her children, he determined to finish the collection and publish it as a memorial for private distribution. After a prodigious correspondence, the work was at last completed; and in June, 1887, the volume was published, in a limited edition of five hundred copies. Bok distributed copies of the volume to the members of Mr. Beecher’s family, he had orders from Mr. Beecher’s friends, one hundred copies were offered to the American public and one hundred copies were issued in an English edition.
With such a figure to whom to do honor, the contributors, of course, included the foremost men and women of the time. Grover Cleveland was then President of the United States, and his tribute was a notable one. Mr. Gladstone, the Duke of Argyll, Pasteur, Canon Farrar, Bartholdi, Salvini, and a score of others represented English and European opinion. Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, T. De Witt Talmage, Robert G. Ingersoll, Charles Dudley Warner, General Sherman, Julia Ward Howe, Andrew Carnegie, Edwin Booth, Rutherford B. Hayes—there was scarcely a leader of thought and of action of that day unrepresented. The edition was, of course, quickly exhausted; and when to-day a copy occasionally appears at an auction sale, it is sold at a high price.
The newspapers gave very large space to the distinguished memorial, and this fact angered a journalist, Joseph Howard, Junior, a man at one time close to Mr. Beecher, who had befriended him. Howard had planned to be the first in the field with a hastily prepared biography of the great preacher, and he felt that Bok had forestalled him. Forthwith, he launched a vicious attack on the compiler of the memorial, accusing him of “making money out of Henry Ward Beecher’s dead body” and of “seriously offending the family of Mr. Beecher, who had had no say in the memorial, which was therefore without authority, and hence extremely distasteful to all.”
Howard had convinced a number of editors of the justice of his position, and so he secured a wide publication for his attack. For the second time, Edward Bok was under fire, and remembering his action on the previous occasion, he again remained silent, and again the argument was put forth that his silence implied guilt. But Mrs. Beecher and members of the Beecher family did not observe silence, and quicklyproved that not only had Bok compiled the memorial as a labor of love and had lost money on it, but that he had the full consent of the family in its preparation.
When, shortly afterward, Howard’s hastily compiled “biography” of Mr. Beecher appeared, a reporter asked Mrs. Beecher whether she and her family had found it accurate.
“Accurate, my child,” said Mrs. Beecher. “Why, it is so accurate in its absolute falsity that neither I nor the boys can find one fact or date given correctly, although we have studied it for two days. Even the year of Mr. Beecher’s birth is wrong, and that is the smallest error!”
Edward Bok little dreamed that these two experiences with public criticism were to serve him as a foretaste of future attacks when he would get the benefit of hundreds of pencils especially sharpened for him.