The Americanization of Edward Bok/Chapter 28

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The Americanization of Edward Bok by Edward W. Bok
Chapter 28: Going Home with Kipling, and as a Lecturer

IT was in June, 1899, when Rudyard Kipling, after the loss of his daughter and his own almost fatal illness from pneumonia in America, sailed for his English home on the White Star liner, Teutonic. The party consisted of Kipling, his wife, his father J. Lockwood Kipling, Mr. and Mrs. Frank N. Doubleday, and Bok. It was only at the last moment that Bok decided to join the party, and the steamer having its full complement of passengers, he could only secure one of the officers’ large rooms on the upper deck. Owing to the sensitive condition of Kipling’s lungs, it was not wise for him to be out on deck except in the most favorable weather. The atmosphere of the smoking-room was forbidding, and as the rooms of the rest of the party were below deck, it was decided to make Bok’s convenient room the headquarters of the party. Here they assembled for the best part of each day; the talk ranged over literary and publishing matters of mutual interest, and Kipling promptly labelled the room “The Hatchery,”—from the plans and schemes that were hatched during these discussions.

It was decided on the first day out that the party, too active-minded to remain inert for any length of time, should publish a daily newspaper to be written on large sheets of paper and to be read each evening to the group. It was called The Teuton Tonic; Mr. Doubleday was appointed publisher and advertising manager; Mr. Lockwood Kipling was made art editor to embellish the news; Rudyard Kipling was the star reporter, and Bok was editor.

Kipling, just released from his long confinement, like a boy out of school, was the life of the party—and when, one day, he found a woman aboard reading a copy of The Ladies’ Home Journal his joy knew no bounds; he turned in the most inimitable “copy” to the Tonic, describing the woman’s feelings as she read the different departments in the magazine. Of course, Bok, as editor of the Tonic, promptly pigeon-holed the reporter’s “copy”; then relented, and, in a fine spirit of large-mindedness, “printed” Kipling’s pæans of rapture over Bok’s subscriber. The preparation of the paper was a daily joy: it kept the different members busy, and each evening the copy was handed to “the large circle of readers”—the two women of the party—to read aloud. At the end of the sixth day, it was voted to “suspend publication,” and the daily of six issues was unanimously bequeathed to the little daughter of Mr. Lockwood de Forest, a close friend of the Kipling family—a choice bit of Kiplingania.

One day it was decided by the party that Bok should be taught the game of poker, and Kipling at once offered to be the instructor! He wrote out a list of the “hands” for Bok’s guidance, which was placed in the centre of the table, and the party, augmented by the women, gathered to see the game.

A baby had been born that evening in the steerage, and it was decided to inaugurate a small “jack-pot” for the benefit of the mother. All went well until about the fourth hand, when Bok began to bid higher than had been originally planned. Kipling questioned the beginner’s knowledge of the game and his tactics, but Bok retorted it was his money that he was putting into the pot and that no one was compelled to follow his bets if he did not choose to do so. Finally, the jack-pot assumed altogether too large dimensions for the party, Kipling “called” and Bok, true to the old idea of “beginner’s luck” in cards, laid down a royal flush! This was too much, and poker, with Bok in it, was taboo from that moment. Kipling’s version of this card-playing does not agree in all particulars with the version here written. “Bok learned the game of poker,” Kipling says; “had the deck stacked on him, and on hearing that there was a woman aboard who read The Ladies’ Home Journal insisted on playing after that with the cabin-door carefully shut.” But Kipling’s art as a reporter for The Tonic was not as reliable as the art of his more careful book work.

Bok derived special pleasure on this trip from his acquaintance with Father Kipling, as the party called him. Rudyard Kipling’s respect for his father was the tribute of a loyal son to a wonderful father.

“What annoys me,” said Kipling, speaking of his father one day, “is when the pater comes to America to have him referred to in the newspapers as ‘the father of Rudyard Kipling.’ It is in India where they get the relation correct: there I am always ‘the son of Lockwood Kipling.’”

Father Kipling was, in every sense, a choice spirit: gentle, kindly, and of a most remarkably even temperament. His knowledge of art, his wide reading, his extensive travel, and an interest in every phase of the world’s doings, made him a rare conversationalist, when inclined to talk, and an encyclopædia of knowledge as extensive as it was accurate. It was very easy to grow fond of Father Kipling, and he won Bok’s affection as few men ever did.

Father Kipling’s conversation was remarkable in that he was exceedingly careful of language and wasted few words.

One day Kipling and Bok were engaged in a discussion of the Boer problem, which was then pressing. Father Kipling sat by listening, but made no comment on the divergent views, since, Kipling holding the English side of the question and Bok the Dutch side, it followed that they could not agree. Finally Father Kipling arose and said: “Well, I will take a stroll and see if I can’t listen to the water and get all this din out of my ears.”

Both men felt gently but firmly rebuked and the discussion was never again taken up.

Bok tried on one occasion to ascertain how the father regarded the son’s work.

“You should feel pretty proud of your son,” remarked Bok.

“A good sort,” was the simple reply.

“I mean, rather, of his work. How does that strike you?” asked Bok.

“Which work?”

“His work as a whole,” explained Bok.

“Creditable,” was the succinct answer.

“No more than that?” asked Bok.

“Can there be more?” came from the father.

“Well,” said Bok, “the judgment seems a little tame as applied to one who is generally regarded as a genius.”

“By whom?”

“The critics, for instance,” replied Bok.

“There are no such,” came the answer.

“No such what, Mr. Kipling?” asked Bok.

“Critics.”

“No critics?”

“No,” and for the first time the pipe was removed for a moment. “A critic is one who only exists as such in his own imagination.”

“But surely you must consider that Rud has done some great work?” persisted Bok.

“Creditable,” came once more.

“You think him capable of great work, do you not?” asked Bok. For a moment there was silence. Then:

“He has a certain grasp of the human instinct. That, some day, I think, will lead him to write a great work.”

There was the secret: the constant holding up to the son, apparently, of something still to be accomplished; of a goal to be reached; of a higher standard to be attained. Rudyard Kipling was never in danger of unintelligent laudation from his safest and most intelligent reader.

During the years which intervened until his passing away, Bok sought to keep in touch with Father Kipling, and received the most wonderful letters from him. One day he enclosed in a letter a drawing which he had made showing Sakia Muni sitting under the bo-tree with two of his disciples, a young man and a young woman, gathered at his feet. It was a piece of exquisite drawing. “I like to think of you and your work in this way,” wrote Mr. Kipling, “and so I sketched it for you.” Bok had the sketch enlarged, engaged John La Farge to translate it into glass, and inserted it in a window in the living-room of his home at Merion.

After Father Kipling had passed away, the express brought to Bok one day a beautiful plaque of red clay, showing the elephant’s head, the lotus, and the swastika, which the father had made for the son. It was the original model of the insignia which, as a watermark, is used in the pages of Kipling’s books and on the cover of the subscription edition.

“I am sending with this for your acceptance,” wrote Kipling to Bok, “as some little memory of my father to whom you were so kind, the original of one of the plaques that he used to make for me. I thought it being the swastika would be appropriate for your swastika. May it bring you even more good fortune.”

To those who knew Lockwood Kipling, it is easier to understand the genius and the kindliness of the son. For the sake of the public’s knowledge, it is a distinct loss that there is not a better understanding of the real sweetness of character of the son. The public’s only idea of the great writer is naturally one derived from writers who do not understand him, or from reporters whom he refused to see, while Kipling’s own slogan is expressed in his own words: “I have always managed to keep clear of ‘personal’ things as much as possible.” [figure]

It was on Bok’s fiftieth birthday that Kipling sent him a copy of “If.” Bok had greatly admired this poem, but knowing Kipling’s distaste for writing out his own work, he had resisted the strong desire to ask him for a copy of it. It is significant of the author’s remarkable memory that he wrote it, as he said, “from memory,” years after its publication, and yet a comparison of the copy with the printed form, corrected by Kipling, fails to discover the difference of a single word.

The lecture bureaus now desired that Edward Bok should go on the platform. Bok had never appeared in the role of a lecturer, but he reasoned that through the medium of the rostrum he might come in closer contact with the American public, meet his readers personally, and secure some first-hand constructive criticism of his work. This last he was always encouraging. It was a naïve conception of a lecture tour, but Bok believed it and he contracted for a tour beginning at Richmond, Virginia, and continuing through the South and Southwest as far as Saint Joseph, Missouri, and then back home by way of the Middle West.

Large audiences greeted him wherever he went, but he had not gone far on his tour when he realized that he was not getting what he thought he would. There was much entertaining and lionizing, but nothing to help him in his work by pointing out to him where he could better it. He shrank from the pitiless publicity that was inevitable; he became more and more self-conscious when during the first five minutes on the stage he felt the hundreds of opera-classes levelled at him, and he and Mrs. Bok, who accompanied him, had not a moment to themselves from early morning to midnight. Yet his large correspondence was following him from the office, and the inevitable invitations in each city had at least to be acknowledged. Bok realized he had miscalculated the benefits of a lecture tour to his work, and began hopefully to wish for the ending of the circuit.

One afternoon as he was returning with his manager from a large reception, the “impresario” said to him: “I don’t like these receptions. They hurt the house.”

“The house?” echoed Bok.

“Yes, the attendance.”

“But you told me the house for this evening was sold out?” said the lecturer.

“That is true enough. House, and even the stage. Not a seat unsold. But hundreds just come to see you and not to hear your lecture, and this exposure of a lecturer at so crowded a reception as this, before the talk, satisfies the people without their buying a ticket. My rule is that a lecturer should not be seen in public before his lecture, and I wish you would let me enforce the rule with you. It wears you out, anyway, and no receptions until afterward will give you more time for yourself and save your vitality for the talk.”

Bok was entirely acquiescent. He had no personal taste for the continued round of functions, but he had accepted it as part of the game.

The idea from this talk that impressed Bok, however, with particular force, was that the people who crowded his houses came to see him and not to hear his lecture. Personal curiosity, in other words. This was a new thought. He had been too busy to think of his personality; now he realized a different angle to the situation. And, much to his manager’s astonishment, two days afterwards Bok refused to sign an agreement for another tour later in the year. He had had enough of exhibiting himself as a curiosity. He continued his tour; but before its conclusion fell ill—a misfortune with a pleasant side to it, for three of his engagements had to be cancelled.

The Saint Joseph engagement could not be cancelled. The house had been oversold; it was for the benefit of a local charity which besought Bok by wire after wire to keep a postponed date. He agreed, and he went. He realized that he was not well, but he did not realize the extent of his mental and physical exhaustion until he came out on the platform and faced the crowded auditorium. Barely sufficient space had been left for him and for the speaker’s desk; the people on the stage were close to him, and he felt distinctly uncomfortable.

Then, to his consternation, it suddenly dawned upon him that his tired mind had played a serious trick on him. He did not remember a line of his lecture; he could not even recall how it began! He arose, after his introduction, in a bath of cold perspiration. The applause gave him a moment to recover himself, but not a word came to his mind. He sparred for time by some informal prefatory remarks expressing regret at his illness and that he had been compelled to disappoint his audience a few days before, and then he stood helpless! In sheer desperation he looked at Mrs. Bok sitting in the stage box, who, divining her husband’s plight, motioned to the inside pocket of his coat. He put his hand there and pulled out a copy of his lecture which she had placed there! The whole tragic comedy had happened so quickly that the audience was absolutely unaware of what had occurred, and Bok went on and practically read his lecture. But it was not a successful evening for his audience or for himself, and the one was doubtless as glad when it was over as the other.

When he reached home, he was convinced that he had had enough of lecturing! He had to make a second short tour, however, for which he had contracted with another manager before embarking on the first. This tour took him to Indianapolis, and after the lecture, James Whitcomb Riley gave him a supper. There were some thirty men in the party; the affair was an exceedingly happy one; the happiest that Bok had attended. He said this to Riley on the way to the hotel.

“Usually,” said Bok, “men, for some reason or other, hold aloof from me on these lecture tours. They stand at a distance and eye me, and I see wonder on their faces rather than a desire to mix.”

“You’ve noticed that, then?” smilingly asked the poet.

“Yes, and I can’t quite get it. At home, my friends are men. Why should it be different in other cities?”

“I’ll tell you,” said Riley. “Five or six of the men you met to-night were loath to come. When I pinned them down to their reason, it was I thought: they regard you as an effeminate being, a sissy.”

“Good heavens!” interrupted Bok.

“Fact,” said Riley, “and you can’t wonder at it nor blame them. You have been most industriously paragraphed, in countless jests, about your penchant for pink teas, your expert knowledge of tatting, crocheting, and all that sort of stuff. Look what Eugene Field has done in that direction. These paragraphs have, doubtless, been good advertising for your magazine, and, in a way, for you. But, on the other hand, they have given a false impression of you. Men have taken these paragraphs seriously and they think of you as the man pictured in them. It’s a fact; I know. It’s all right after they meet you and get your measure. The joke then is on them. Four of the men I fairly dragged to the dinner this evening said this to me just before I left. That is one reason why I advise you to keep on lecturing. Get around and show yourself, and correct this universal impression. Not that you can’t stand when men think of you, but it’s unpleasant.”

It was unpleasant, but Bok decided that the solution as found in lecturing was worse than the misconception. From that day to this he never lectured again.

But the public conception of himself, especially that of men, awakened his interest and amusement. Some of his friends on the press were still busy with their paragraphs, and he promptly called a halt and asked them to desist. “Enough was as good as a feast,” he told them, and explained why.

One day Bok got a distinctly amusing line on himself from a chance stranger. He was riding from Washington to Philadelphia in the smoking compartment, when the newsboy stuck his head in the door and yelled: “Ladies’ Home Journal, out to-day.” He had heard this many times before; but on this particular day, upon hearing the title of his own magazine yelled almost in his ears, he gave an involuntary start.

Opposite to him sat a most companionable young fellow, who, noticing Bok’s start, leaned over and with a smile said: “I know, I know just how you feel. That’s the way I feel whenever I hear the name of that damned magazine. Here, boy,” he called to the retreating magazine-carrier, “give me a copy of that Ladies’ Home Disturber: I might as well buy it here as in the station.”

Then to Bok: “Honest, if I don’t bring home that sheet on the day it is out, the wife is in a funk. She runs her home by it literally. Same with you?”

“The same,” answered Bok. “As a matter of fact, in our family, we live by it, on it, and from it.”

Bok’s neighbor, of course, couldn’t get the real point of this, but he thought he had it.

“Exactly,” he replied. “So do we. That fellow Bok certainly has the women buffaloed for good. Ever see him?”

“Oh, yes,” answered Bok.

“Live in Philadelphia?”

“Yes.”

“There’s where the thing is published, all right. What does Bok look like?”

“Oh,” answered Bok carelessly, “just like, well, like all of us. In fact, he looks something like me.”

“Does he, now?” echoed the man. “Shouldn’t think it would make you very proud!”

And, the train pulling in at Baltimore, Bok’s genial neighbor sent him a hearty good-bye and ran out with the much-maligned magazine under his arm!

He had an occasion or two now to find out what women thought of him!

He was leaving the publication building one evening after office hours when just as he opened the front door, a woman approached. Bok explained that the building was closed.

“Well, I am sorry,” said the woman in a dejected tone, “for I don’t think I can manage to come again.”

“Is there anything I can do?” asked Bok. “I am employed here.”

“No-o,” said the woman. “I came to see Mr. Curtis on a personal matter.”

“I shall see him this evening,” suggested Bok, “and can give him a message for you if you like.”

“Well, I don’t know if you can. I came to complain to him about Mr. Bok,” announced the woman.

“Oh, well,” answered Bok, with a slight start at the matter-of-fact announcement, “that is serious; quite serious. If you will explain your complaint, I will surely see that it gets to Mr. Curtis.”

Bok’s interest grew.

“Well, you see,” said the woman, “it is this way. I live in a three-family flat. Here is my name and card,” and a card came out of a bag. “I subscribe to The Ladies’ Home Journal. It is delivered at my house each month by Mr. Bok. Now I have told that man three times over that when he delivers the magazine, he must ring the bell twice. But he just persists in ringing once and then that cat who lives on the first floor gets my magazine, reads it, and keeps it sometimes for three days before I get it! Now, I want Mr. Curtis to tell Mr. Bok that he must do as I ask and ring the bell twice. Can you give him that message for me? There’s no use talking to Mr. Bok; I’ve done that, as I say.”

And Bok solemnly assured his subscriber that he would!

Bok’s secretary told him one day that there was in the outer office the most irate woman he had ever tried to handle; that he had tried for half an hour to appease her, but it was of no use. She threatened to remain until Bok admitted her, and see him she would, and tell him exactly what she thought of him. The secretary looked as if he had been through a struggle. “It’s hopeless,” he said. “Will you see her?”

“Certainly,” said Bok. “Show her in.”

The moment the woman came in, she began a perfect torrent of abuse. Bok could not piece out, try as he might, what it was all about. But he did gather from the explosion that the woman considered him a hypocrite who wrote one thing and did another; that he was really a thief, stealing a woman’s money, and so forth. There was no chance of a word for fully fifteen minutes and then, when she was almost breathless, Bok managed to ask if his caller would kindly tell him just what he had done.

Another torrent of incoherent abuse came forth, but after a while it became apparent that the woman’s complaint was that she had sent a dollar for a subscription to The Ladies’ Home Journal; had never had a copy of the magazine, had complained, and been told there was no record of the money being received. And as she had sent her subscription to Bok personally, he had purloined the dollar!

It was fully half an hour before Bok could explain to the irate woman that he never remembered receiving a letter from her; that subscriptions, even when personally addressed to him, did not come to his desk, etc.; that if she would leave her name and address he would have the matter investigated. Absolutely unconvinced that anything would be done, and unaltered in her opinion about Bok, the woman finally left.

Two days later a card was handed in to the editor with a note asking him to see for a moment the husband of his irate caller. When the man came in, he looked sheepish and amused in turn, and finally said:

“I hardly know what to say, because I don’t know what my wife said to you. But if what she said to me is any index of her talk with you, I want to apologize for her most profoundly. She isn’t well, and we shall both have to let it go at that. As for her subscription, you, of course, never received it, for, with difficulty, I finally extracted the fact from her that she pinned a dollar bill to a postal card and dropped it in a street postal box. And she doesn’t yet see that she has done anything extraordinary, or that she had a faith in Uncle Sam that I call sublime.”

The Journal had been calling the attention of its readers to the defacement of the landscape by billboard advertisers. One day on his way to New York he found himself sitting in a sleeping-car section opposite a woman and her daughter.

The mother was looking at the landscape when suddenly she commented:

“There are some of those ugly advertising signs that Mr. Bok says are such a defacement to the landscape. I never noticed them before, but he is right, and I am going to write and tell him so.”

“Oh, mamma, don’t,” said the girl. “That man is pampered enough by women. Don’t make him worse. Ethel says he is now the vainest man in America.”

Bok’s eyes must have twinkled, and just then the mother looked at him, caught his eye; she gave a little gasp, and Bok saw that she had telepathically discovered him!

He smiled, raised his hat, presented his card to the mother, and said: “Excuse me, but I do want to defend myself from that last statement, if I may. I couldn’t help overhearing it.”

The mother, a woman of the world, read the name on the card quickly and smiled, but the daughter’s face was a study as she leaned over and glanced at the card. She turned scarlet and then white.

“Now, do tell me,” asked Bok of the daughter, “who ‘Ethel’ is, so that I may try at least to prove that I am not what she thinks.”

The daughter was completely flustered. For the rest of the journey, however, the talk was informal; the girl became more at ease, and Bok ended by dining with the mother and daughter at their hotel that evening.

But he never found out “Ethel’s” other name!

There were curiously amusing sides to a man’s editorship of a woman’s magazine!