The Americanization of Edward Bok/Explanation
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.