Part 3 out of 7
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
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 quickly proved 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
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
XIII. Publishing Incidents and Anecdotes
One evening some literary men were dining together previous to going to
a private house where a number of authors were to give readings from
their books. At the table the talk turned on the carelessness with which
the public reads books. Richard Harding Davis, one of the party,
contended that the public read more carefully than the others believed.
It was just at the time when Du Maurier's Trilby was in every one's
"Don't you believe it," said one of the diners. "I'll warrant you could
take a portion of some well-known story to-night and palm it off on most
of your listeners as new stuff."
"Done," said Davis. "Come along, and I'll prove you wrong."
The reading was to be at the house of John Kendrick Bangs at Yonkers.
When Davis's "turn" in the programme came, he announced that he would
read a portion from an unpublished story written by himself. Immediately
there was a flutter in the audience, particularly among the younger
Pulling a roll of manuscript out of his pocket, Davis began:
"It was a fine, sunny, showery day in April. The big studio window--"
He got no farther. Almost the entire audience broke into a shout of
laughter and applause. Davis had read thirteen of the opening words of
All publishing houses employ "readers" outside of those in their own
offices for the reading of manuscripts on special subjects. One of these
"outside readers" was given a manuscript for criticism. He took it home
and began its reading. He had finished only a hundred pages or so when,
by a curious coincidence, the card of the author of the manuscript was
brought to the "reader." The men were close friends.
Hastily gathering up the manuscript, the critic shoved the work into a
drawer of his desk, and asked that his friend be shown in.
The evening was passed in conversation; as the visitor rose to leave,
his host, rising also and seating himself on his desk, asked:
"What have you been doing lately? Haven't seen much of you."
"No," said the friend. "It may interest you to know that I have been
turning to literary work, and have just completed what I consider to be
an important book."
"Really?" commented the "reader."
"Yes," went on his friend. "I submitted it a few days ago to one of the
big publishing houses. But, great Scott, you can never tell what these
publishers will do with a thing of that sort. They give their
manuscripts to all kinds of fools to read. I suppose, by this time, some
idiot, who doesn't know a thing of the subject about which I have
written, is sitting on my manuscript."
Mechanically, the "reader" looked at the desk upon which he was sitting,
thought of the manuscript lying in the drawer directly under him, and
"Yes, that may be. Quite likely, in fact."
Of no novel was the secret of the authorship ever so well kept as was
that of The Breadwinners, which, published anonymously in 1883, was the
talk of literary circles for a long time, and speculation as to its
authorship was renewed in the newspapers for years afterward. Bok wanted
very much to find out the author's name so that he could announce it in
his literary letter. He had his suspicions, but they were not well
founded until an amusing little incident occurred which curiously
revealed the secret to him.
Bok was waiting to see one of the members of a publishing firm when a
well-known English publisher, visiting in America, was being escorted
out of the office, the conversation continuing as the two gentlemen
walked through the outer rooms. "My chief reason," said the English
publisher, as he stopped at the end of the outer office where Bok was
sitting, "for hesitating at all about taking an English set of plates of
the novel you speak of is because it is of anonymous authorship, a
custom of writing which has grown out of all decent proportions in your
country since the issue of that stupid book, The Breadwinners."
As these last words were spoken, a man seated at a desk directly behind
the speaker looked up, smiled, and resumed reading a document which he
had dropped in to sign. A smile also spread over the countenance of the
American publisher as he furtively glanced over the shoulder of the
English visitor and caught the eye of the smiling man at the desk.
Bok saw the little comedy, realized at once that he had discovered the
author of The Breadwinners, and stated to the publisher that he intended
to use the incident in his literary letter. But it proved to be one of
those heart-rending instances of a delicious morsel of news that must be
withheld from the journalist's use. The publisher acknowledged that Bok
had happened upon the true authorship, but placed him upon his honor to
make no use of the incident. And Bok learned again the vital
journalistic lesson that there are a great many things in the world that
the journalist knows and yet cannot write about. He would have been
years in advance of the announcement finally made that John Hay wrote
At another time, while waiting, Bok had an experience which, while
interesting, was saddening instead of amusing. He was sitting in Mark
Twain's sitting-room in his home in Hartford waiting for the humorist to
return from a walk. Suddenly sounds of devotional singing came in
through the open window from the direction of the outer conservatory.
The singing was low, yet the sad tremor in the voice seemed to give it
special carrying power.
"You have quite a devotional servant," Bok said to a maid who was
dusting the room.
"Oh, that is not a servant who is singing, sir," was the answer. "You
can step to this window and see for yourself."
Bok did so, and there, sitting alone on one of the rustic benches in the
flower-house, was a small, elderly woman. Keeping time with the first
finger of her right hand, as if with a baton, she was slightly swaying
her frail body as she sang, softly yet sweetly, Charles Wesley's hymn,
"Jesus, Lover of My Soul," and Sarah Flower Adams's "Nearer, My God, to
But the singer was not a servant. It was Harriet Beecher Stowe!
On another visit to Hartford, shortly afterward, Bok was just turning
into Forrest Street when a little old woman came shambling along toward
him, unconscious, apparently, of people or surroundings. In her hand she
carried a small tree-switch. Bok did not notice her until just as he had
passed her he heard her calling to him: "Young man, young man." Bok
retraced his steps, and then the old lady said: "Young man, you have
been leaning against something white," and taking her tree-switch she
whipped some wall dust from the sleeve of Bok's coat. It was not until
that moment that Bok recognized in his self-appointed "brush" no less a
personage than Harriet Beecher Stowe.
"This is Mrs. Stowe, is it not?" he asked, after tendering his thanks to
Those blue eyes looked strangely into his as she answered:
"That is my name, young man. I live on this street. Are you going to
have me arrested for stopping you?" with which she gathered up her
skirts and quickly ran away, looking furtively over her shoulder at the
amazed young man, sorrowfully watching the running figure!
Speaking of Mrs. Stowe brings to mind an unscrupulous and yet ingenious
trick just about this time played by a young man attached to one of the
New York publishing houses. One evening at dinner this chap happened to
be in a bookish company when the talk turned to the enthusiasm of the
Southern negro for an illustrated Bible. The young publishing clerk
listened intently, and next day he went to a Bible publishing house in
New York which issued a Bible gorgeous with pictures and entered into an
arrangement with the proprietors whereby he should have the Southern
territory. He resigned his position, and within a week he was in the
South. He made arrangements with an artist friend to make a change in
each copy of the Bible which he contracted for. The angels pictured
therein were white in color. He had these made black, so he could show
that there were black angels as well as white ones. The Bibles cost him
just eighty cents apiece. He went about the South and offered the Bibles
to the astonished and open-mouthed negroes for eight dollars each, two
dollars and a half down and the rest in monthly payments. His sales were
enormous. Then he went his rounds all over again and offered to close
out the remaining five dollars and a half due him by a final payment of
two dollars and a half each. In nearly every case the bait was
swallowed, and on each Bible he thus cleared four dollars and twenty
Running the elevator in the building where a prominent publishing firm
had its office was a negro of more than ordinary intelligence. The firm
had just published a subscription book on mechanical engineering, a
chapter of which was devoted to the construction and operation of
passenger elevators. One of the agents selling the book thought he might
find a customer in Washington.
"Wash," said the book-agent, "you ought to buy a copy of this book, do
you know it?"
"No, boss, don't want no books. Don't git no time fo' readin' books,"
drawled Wash. "It teks all mah time to run dis elevator."
"But this book will help you to run your elevator. See here: there's a
whole chapter here on elevators," persisted the canvasser.
"Don't want no help to run dis elevator," said the darky. "Dis elevator
runs all right now."
"But," said the canvasser, "this will help you to run it better. You
will know twice as much when you get through."
"No, boss, no, dat's just it," returned Wash. "Don't want to learn
nothing, boss," he said. "Why, boss, I know more now than I git paid
There was one New York newspaper that prided itself on its huge
circulation, and its advertising canvassers were particularly insistent
in securing the advertisements of publishers. Of course, the real
purpose of the paper was to secure a certain standing for itself, which
it lacked, rather than to be of any service to the publishers.
By dint of perseverance, its agents finally secured from one of the
ten-cent magazines, then so numerous, a large advertisement of a special
number, and in order to test the drawing power of the newspaper as a
medium, there was inserted a line in large black type:
"SEND TEN CENTS FOR A NUMBER."
But the compositor felt that magazine literature should be even cheaper
than it was, and to that thought in his mind his fingers responded, so
that when the advertisement appeared, this particular bold-type line
"SEND TEN CENTS FOR A YEAR."
This wonderful offer appealed with singular force to the class of
readers of this particular paper, and they decided to take advantage of
it. The advertisement appeared on Sunday, and Monday's first mail
brought the magazine over eight hundred letters with ten cents enclosed
"for a year's subscription as per your advertisement in yesterday's --."
The magazine management consulted its lawyer, who advised the publisher
to make the newspaper pay the extra ninety cents on each subscription,
and, although this demand was at first refused, the proprietors of the
daily finally yielded. At the end of the first week eight thousand and
fifty-five letters with ten cents enclosed had reached the magazine, and
finally the total was a few over twelve thousand!
XIV. Last Years in New York
Edward Bok's lines were now to follow those of advertising for several
years. He was responsible for securing the advertisements for The Book
Buyer and The Presbyterian Review. While the former was, frankly, a
house-organ, its editorial contents had so broadened as to make the
periodical of general interest to book-lovers, and with the subscribers
constituting the valuable list of Scribner book-buyers, other publishers
were eager to fish in the Scribner pond.
With The Presbyterian Review, the condition was different. A magazine
issued quarterly naturally lacks the continuity desired by the
advertiser; the scope of the magazine was limited, and so was the
circulation. It was a difficult magazine to "sell" to the advertiser,
and Bok's salesmanship was taxed to the utmost. Although all that the
publishers asked was that the expense of getting out the periodical be
met, with its two hundred and odd pages even this was difficult. It was
not an attractive proposition.
The most interesting feature of the magazine to Bok appeared to be the
method of editing. It was ostensibly edited by a board, but,
practically, by Professor Francis L. Patton, D.D., of Princeton
Theological Seminary (afterward president of Princeton University), and
Doctor Charles A. Briggs, of Union Theological Seminary. The views of
these two theologians differed rather widely, and when, upon several
occasions, they met in Bok's office, on bringing in their different
articles to go into the magazine, lively discussions ensued. Bok did not
often get the drift of these discussions, but he was intensely
interested in listening to the diverse views of the two theologians.
One day the question of heresy came up between the two men, and during a
pause in the discussion, Bok, looking for light, turned to Doctor Briggs
and asked: "Doctor, what really is heresy?"
Doctor Briggs, taken off his guard for a moment, looked blankly at his
young questioner, and repeated: "What is heresy?"
"Yes," repeated Bok, "just what is heresy, Doctor?"
"That's right," interjected Doctor Patton, with a twinkle in his eyes,
"what is heresy, Briggs?"
"Would you be willing to write it down for me?" asked Bok, fearful that
he should not remember Doctor Briggs's definition even if he were told.
And Doctor Briggs wrote:
"Heresy is anything in doctrine or practice that departs from the mind
of the Church as officially defined.
Charles A. Briggs.
"Let me see," asked Doctor Patton, and when he read it, he muttered:
"Humph, pretty broad, pretty broad."
"Well," answered the nettled Doctor Briggs, "perhaps you can give a less
broad definition, Patton."
"No, no," answered the Princeton theologian, as the slightest wink came
from the eye nearest Bok, "I wouldn't attempt it for a moment. Too much
On another occasion, as the two were busy in their discussion of some
article to be inserted in the magazine, Bok listening with all his
might, Doctor Patton, suddenly turning to the young listener, asked, in
the midst of the argument: "Whom are the Giants going to play this
Doctor Briggs's face was a study. For a moment the drift of the question
was an enigma to him: then realizing that an important theological
discussion had been interrupted by a trivial baseball question, he
gathered up his papers and stamped violently out of the office. Doctor
Patton made no comment, but, with a smile, he asked Bok: "Johnnie Ward
going to play to-day, do you know? Thought I might ask Mr. Scribner if
you could go up to the game this afternoon."
It is unnecessary to say to which of the two men Bok was the more
attracted, and when it came, each quarter, to figuring how many articles
could go into the Review without exceeding the cost limit fixed by the
house, it was always a puzzle to Doctor Briggs why the majority of the
articles left out were invariably those that he had brought in, while
many of those which Doctor Patton handed in somehow found their place,
upon the final assembling, among the contents.
"Your articles are so long," Bok would explain.
"Long?" Doctor Briggs would echo. "You don't measure theological
discussions by the yardstick, young man."
"Perhaps not," the young assembler would maintain.
But we have to do some measuring here by the composition-stick, just the
And the Union Seminary theologian was never able successfully, to vault
From his boyhood days (up to the present writing) Bok was a pronounced
baseball "fan," and so Doctor Patton appealed to a warm place in the
young man's heart when he asked him the questions about the New York
baseball team. There was, too, a baseball team among the Scribner young
men of which Bok was a part. This team played, each Saturday afternoon,
a team from another publishing house, and for two seasons it was
unbeatable. Not only was this baseball aggregation close to the hearts
of the Scribner employees, but, in an important game, the junior member
of the firm played on it and the senior member was a spectator. Frank N.
Doubleday played on first base; William D. Moffat, later of Moffat, Yard
& Company, and now editor of The Mentor, was behind the bat; Bok
pitched; Ernest Dressel North, the present authority on rare editions of
books, was in the field, as were also Ray Safford, now a director in the
Scribner corporation, and Owen W. Brewer, at present a prominent figure
in Chicago's book world. It was a happy group, all closely banded
together in their business interests and in their human relations as
With Scribner's Magazine now in the periodical field, Bok would be asked
on his trips to the publishing houses to have an eye open for
advertisements for that periodical as well. Hence his education in the
solicitation of advertisements became general, and gave him a
sympathetic understanding of the problems of the advertising solicitor
which was to stand him in good stead when, in his later experience, he
was called upon to view the business problems of a magazine from the
editor's position. His knowledge of the manufacture of the two magazines
in his charge was likewise educative, as was the fascinating study of
typography which always had, and has today, a wonderful attraction for
It was, however, in connection with the advertising of the general books
of the house, and in his relations with their authors, that Bok found
his greatest interest. It was for him to find the best manner in which
to introduce to the public the books issued by the house, and the
general study of the psychology of publicity which this called for
attracted Bok greatly.
Bok was now asked to advertise a novel published by the Scribners which,
when it was issued, and for years afterward, was pointed to as a proof
of the notion that a famous name was all that was necessary to ensure
the acceptance of a manuscript by even a leading publishing house. The
facts in the case were that this manuscript was handed in one morning by
a friend of the house with the remark that he submitted it at the
suggestion of the author, who did not desire that his identity should be
known until after the manuscript had been read and passed upon by the
house. It was explained that the writer was not a famous author; in
fact, he had never written anything before; this was his first book of
any sort; he merely wanted to "try his wings." The manuscript was read
in due time by the Scribner readers, and the mutual friend was advised
that the house would be glad to publish the novel, and was ready to
execute and send a contract to the author if the firm knew in whose name
the agreement should be made. Then came the first intimation of the
identity of the author: the friend wrote that if the publishers would
look in the right-hand corner of the first page of the manuscript they
would find there the author's name. Search finally revealed an asterisk.
The author of the novel (Valentino) was William Waldorf Astor.
Although the Scribners did not publish Mark Twain's books, the humorist
was a frequent visitor to the retail store, and occasionally he would
wander back to the publishing department located at the rear of the
store, which was then at 743 Broadway.
Smoking was not permitted in the Scribner offices, and, of course, Mark
Twain was always smoking. He generally smoked a granulated tobacco which
he kept in a long check bag made of silk and rubber. When he sauntered
to the back of the Scribner store, he would generally knock the residue
from the bowl of the pipe, take out the stem, place it in his vest
pocket, like a pencil, and drop the bowl into the bag containing the
granulated tobacco. When he wanted to smoke again (which was usually
five minutes later) he would fish out the bowl, now automatically filled
with tobacco, insert the stem, and strike a light. One afternoon as he
wandered into Bok's office, he was just putting his pipe away. The pipe,
of the corncob variety, was very aged and black. Bok asked him whether
it was the only pipe he had.
"Oh, no," Mark answered, "I have several. But they're all like this. I
never smoke a new corncob pipe. A new pipe irritates the throat. No
corncob pipe is fit for anything until it has been used at least a
"How do you break in a pipe, then?" asked Bok.
"That's the trick," answered Mark Twain. "I get a cheap man--a man who
doesn't amount to much, anyhow: who would be as well, or better,
dead--and pay him a dollar to break in the pipe for me. I get him to
smoke the pipe for a couple of weeks, then put in a new stem, and
continue operations as long as the pipe holds together."
Bok's newspaper syndicate work had brought him into contact with Fanny
Davenport, then at the zenith of her career as an actress. Miss
Davenport, or Mrs. Melbourne McDowell as she was in private life, had
never written for print; but Bok, seeing that she had something to say
about her art and the ability to say it, induced her to write for the
newspapers through his syndicate. The actress was overjoyed to have
revealed to her a hitherto unsuspected gift; Bok published her articles
successfully, and gave her a publicity that her press agent had never
dreamed of. Miss Davenport became interested in the young publisher, and
after watching the methods which he employed in successfully publishing
her writings, decided to try to obtain his services as her assistant
manager. She broached the subject, offered him a five years' contract
for forty weeks' service, with a minimum of fifteen weeks each year to
spend in or near New York, at a salary, for the first year, of three
thousand dollars, increasing annually until the fifth year, when he was
to receive sixty-four hundred dollars.
Bok was attracted to the work: he had never seen the United States, was
anxious to do so, and looked upon the chance as a good opportunity. Miss
Davenport had the contract made out, executed it, and then, in high
glee, Bok took it home to show it to his mother. He had reckoned without
question upon her approval, only to meet with an immediate and decided
negative to the proposition as a whole, general and specific. She argued
that the theatrical business was not for him; and she saw ahead and
pointed out so strongly the mistake he was making that he sought Miss
Davenport the next day and told her of his mother's stand. The actress
suggested that she see the mother; she did, that day, and she came away
from the interview a wiser if a sadder woman. Miss Davenport frankly
told Bok that with such an instinctive objection as his mother seemed to
have, he was right to follow her advice and the contract was not to be
It is difficult to say whether this was or was not for Bok the
turning-point which comes in the life of every young man. Where the
venture into theatrical life would have led him no one can, of course,
say. One thing is certain: Bok's instinct and reason both failed him in
this instance. He believes now that had his venture into the theatrical
field been temporary or permanent, the experiment, either way, would
have been disastrous.
Looking back and viewing the theatrical profession even as it was in
that day (of a much higher order than now), he is convinced he would
never have been happy in it. He might have found this out in a year or
more, after the novelty of travelling had worn off, and asked release
from his contract; in that case he would have broken his line of
progress in the publishing business. From whatever viewpoint he has
looked back upon this, which he now believes to have been the crisis in
his life, he is convinced that his mother's instinct saved him from a
The Scribner house, in its foreign-book department, had imported some
copies of Bourrienne's Life of Napoleon, and a set had found its way to
Bok's desk for advertising purposes. He took the books home to glance
them over, found himself interested, and sat up half the night to read
them. Then he took the set to the editor of the New York Star, and
suggested that such a book warranted a special review, and offered to
leave the work for the literary editor.
"You have read the books?" asked the editor.
"Every word," returned Bok.
"Then, why don't you write the review?" suggested the editor.
This was a new thought to Bok. "Never wrote a review," he said.
"Try it," answered the editor. "Write a column."
"A column wouldn't scratch the surface of this book," suggested the
"Well, give it what it is worth," returned the editor.
Bok did. He wrote a page of the paper.
"Too much, too much," said the editor. "Heavens, man, we've got to get
some news into this paper."
"Very well," returned the reviewer. "Read it, and cut it where you like.
That's the way I see the book."
And next Sunday the review appeared, word for word, as Bok had written
it. His first review had successfully passed!
But Bok was really happiest in that part of his work which concerned
itself with the writing of advertisements. The science of advertisement
writing, which meant to him the capacity to say much in little space,
appealed strongly. He found himself more honestly attracted to this than
to the writing of his literary letter, his editorials, or his book
reviewing, of which he was now doing a good deal. He determined to
follow where his bent led; he studied the mechanics of unusual
advertisements wherever he saw them; he eagerly sought a knowledge of
typography and its best handling in an advertisement, and of the value
and relation of illustrations to text. He perceived that his work along
these lines seemed to give satisfaction to his employers, since they
placed more of it in his hands to do; and he sought in every way to
become proficient in the art.
To publishers whose advertisements he secured for the periodicals in his
charge, he made suggestions for the improvement of their announcements,
and found his suggestions accepted. He early saw the value of white
space as one of the most effective factors in advertising; but this was
a difficult argument, he soon found, to convey successfully to others. A
white space in an advertisement was to the average publisher something
to fill up; Bok saw in it something to cherish for its effectiveness.
But he never got very far with his idea: he could not convince (perhaps
because he failed to express his ideas convincingly) his advertisers of
what he felt and believed so strongly.
An occasion came in which he was permitted to prove his contention. The
Scribners had published Andrew Carnegie's volume, Triumphant Democracy,
and the author desired that some special advertising should be done in
addition to that allowed by the appropriation made by the house. To
Bok's grateful ears came the injunction from the steel magnate: "Use
plenty of white space." In conjunction with Mr. Doubleday, Bok prepared
and issued this extra advertising, and for once, at least, the wisdom of
using white space was demonstrated. But it was only a flash in the pan.
Publishers were unwilling to pay for "unused space," as they termed it.
Each book was a separate unit, others argued: it was not like
advertising one article continuously in which money could be invested;
and only a limited amount could be spent on a book which ran its course,
even at its best, in a very short time.
And, rightly or wrongly, book advertising has continued much along the
same lines until the present day. In fact, in no department of
manufacturing or selling activity has there been so little progress
during the past fifty years as in bringing books to the notice of the
public. In all other lines, the producer has brought his wares to the
public, making it easier and still easier for it to obtain his goods,
while the public, if it wants a book, must still seek the book instead
of being sought by it.
That there is a tremendous unsupplied book demand in this country there
is no doubt: the wider distribution and easier access given to
periodicals prove this point. Now and then there has been tried an
unsupported or not well-thought-out plan for bringing books to a public
not now reading them, but there seems little or no understanding of the
fact that there lies an uncultivated field of tremendous promise to the
publisher who will strike out on a new line and market his books, so
that the public will not have to ferret out a book-store or wind through
the maze of a department store. The American reading public is not the
book-reading public that it should be or could be made to be; but the
habit must be made easy for it to acquire. Books must be placed where
the public can readily get at them. It will not, of its own volition,
seek them. It did not do so with magazines; it will not do so with
In the meanwhile, Bok's literary letter had prospered until it was now
published in some forty-five newspapers. One of these was the
Philadelphia Times. In that paper, each week, the letter had been read
by Mr. Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the owner and publisher of The Ladies' Home
Journal. Mr. Curtis had decided that he needed an editor for his
magazine, in order to relieve his wife, who was then editing it, and he
fixed upon the writer of Literary Leaves as his man. He came to New
York, consulted Will Carleton, the poet, and found that while the letter
was signed by William J. Bok, it was actually written by his brother who
was with the Scribners. So he sought Bok out there.
The publishing house had been advertising in the Philadelphia magazine,
so that the visit of Mr. Curtis was not an occasion for surprise. Mr.
Curtis told Bok he had read his literary letter in the Philadelphia
Times, and suggested that perhaps he might write a similar department
for The Ladies' Home Journal. Bok saw no reason why he should not, and
told Mr. Curtis so, and promised to send over a trial installment. The
Philadelphia publisher then deftly went on, explained editorial
conditions in his magazine, and, recognizing the ethics of the occasion
by not offering Bok another position while he was already occupying one,
asked him if he knew the man for the place.
"Are you talking at me or through me?" asked Bok.
"Both," replied Mr. Curtis.
This was in April of 1889.
Bok promised Mr. Curtis he would look over the field, and meanwhile he
sent over to Philadelphia the promised trial "literary gossip"
installment. It pleased Mr. Curtis, who suggested a monthly department,
to which Bok consented. He also turned over in his mind the wisdom of
interrupting his line of progress with the Scribners, and in New York,
and began to contemplate the possibilities in Philadelphia and the work
He gathered a collection of domestic magazines then published, and
looked them over to see what was already in the field. Then he began to
study himself, his capacity for the work, and the possibility of finding
it congenial. He realized that it was absolutely foreign to his Scribner
work: that it meant a radical departure. But his work with his newspaper
syndicate naturally occurred to him, and he studied it with a view of
its adaptation to the field of the Philadelphia magazine.
His next step was to take into his confidence two or three friends whose
judgment he trusted and discuss the possible change. Without an
exception, they advised against it. The periodical had no standing, they
argued; Bok would be out of sympathy with its general atmosphere after
his Scribner environment; he was now in the direct line of progress in
New York publishing houses; and, to cap the climax, they each argued in
turn, he would be buried in Philadelphia: New York was the centre, etc.,
More than any other single argument, this last point destroyed Bok's
faith in the judgment of his friends. He had had experience enough to
realize that a man could not be buried in any city, provided he had the
ability to stand out from his fellow-men. He knew from his biographical
reading that cream will rise to the surface anywhere, in Philadelphia as
well as in New York: it all depended on whether the cream was there: it
was up to the man. Had he within him that peculiar, subtle something
that, for the want of a better phrase, we call the editorial instinct?
That was all there was to it, and that decision had to be his and his
A business trip for the Scribners now calling him West, Bok decided to
stop at Philadelphia, have a talk with Mr. Curtis, and look over his
business plant. He did this, and found Mr. Curtis even more desirous
than before to have him consider the position. Bok's instinct was
strongly in favor of an acceptance. A natural impulse moved him, without
reasoning, to action. Reasoning led only to a cautious mental state, and
caution is a strong factor in the Dutch character. The longer he pursued
a conscious process of reasoning, the farther he got from the position.
But the instinct remained strong.
On his way back from the West, he stopped in Philadelphia again to
consult his friend, George W. Childs; and here he found the only person
who was ready to encourage him to make the change.
Bok now laid the matter before his mother, in whose feminine instinct he
had supreme confidence. With her, he met with instant discouragement.
But in subsequent talks he found that her opposition was based not upon
the possibilities inherent in the position, but on a mother's natural
disinclination to be separated from one of her sons. In the case of
Fanny Davenport's offer the mother's instinct was strong against the
proposition itself. But in the present instance it was the mother's love
that was speaking; not her instinct or judgment.
Bok now consulted his business associates, and, to a man, they
discouraged the step, but almost invariably upon the argument that it
was suicidal to leave New York. He had now a glimpse of the truth that
there is no man so provincially narrow as the untravelled New Yorker who
believes in his heart that the sun rises in the East River and sets in
the North River.
He realized more keenly than ever before that the decision rested with
him alone. On September 1, 1889, Bok wrote to Mr. Curtis, accepting the
position in Philadelphia; and on October 13 following he left the
Scribners, where he had been so fortunate and so happy, and, after a
week's vacation, followed where his instinct so strongly led, but where
his reason wavered.
On October 20, 1889, Edward Bok became the editor of The Ladies' Home
XV. Successful Editorship
There is a popular notion that the editor of a woman's magazine should
be a woman. At first thought, perhaps, this sounds logical. But it is a
curious fact that by far the larger number of periodicals for women, the
world over, are edited by men; and where, as in some cases, a woman is
the proclaimed editor, the direction of the editorial policy is
generally in the hands of a man, or group of men, in the background. Why
this is so has never been explained, any more than why the majority of
women's dressmakers are men; why music, with its larger appeal to women,
has been and is still being composed, largely, by men, and why its
greatest instrumental performers are likewise men; and why the church,
with its larger membership of women, still has, as it always has had,
men for its greatest preachers.
In fact, we may well ponder whether the full editorial authority and
direction of a modern magazine, either essentially feminine in its
appeal or not, can safely be entrusted to a woman when one considers how
largely executive is the nature of such a position, and how thoroughly
sensitive the modern editor must be to the hundred and one practical
business matters which today enter into and form so large a part of the
editorial duties. We may question whether women have as yet had
sufficient experience in the world of business to cope successfully with
the material questions of a pivotal editorial position. Then, again, it
is absolutely essential in the conduct of a magazine with a feminine or
home appeal to have on the editorial staff women who are experts in
their line; and the truth is that women will work infinitely better
under the direction of a man than of a woman.
It would seem from the present outlook that, for some time, at least,
the so-called woman's magazine of large purpose and wide vision is very
likely to be edited by a man. It is a question, however, whether the day
of the woman's magazine, as we have known it, is not passing. Already
the day has gone for the woman's magazine built on the old lines which
now seem so grotesque and feeble in the light of modern growth. The
interests of women and of men are being brought closer with the years,
and it will not be long before they will entirely merge. This means a
constantly diminishing necessity for the distinctly feminine magazine.
Naturally, there will always be a field in the essentially feminine
pursuits which have no place in the life of a man, but these are rapidly
being cared for by books, gratuitously distributed, issued by the
manufacturers of distinctly feminine and domestic wares; for such
publications the best talent is being employed, and the results are
placed within easy access of women, by means of newspaper advertisement,
the store-counter, or the mails. These will sooner or later--and much
sooner than later--supplant the practical portions of the woman's
magazine, leaving only the general contents, which are equally
interesting to men and to women. Hence the field for the magazine with
the essentially feminine appeal is contracting rather than broadening,
and it is likely to contract much more rapidly in the future.
The field was altogether different when Edward Bok entered it in 1889.
It was not only wide open, but fairly crying out to be filled. The day
of Godey's Lady's Book had passed; Peterson's Magazine was breathing its
last; and the home or women's magazines that had attempted to take their
place were sorry affairs. It was this consciousness of a void ready to
be filled that made the Philadelphia experiment so attractive to the
embryo editor. He looked over the field and reasoned that if such
magazines as did exist could be fairly successful, if women were ready
to buy such, how much greater response would there be to a magazine of
higher standards, of larger initiative--a magazine that would be an
authoritative clearing-house for all the problems confronting women in
the home, that brought itself closely into contact with those problems
and tried to solve them in an entertaining and efficient way; and yet a
magazine of uplift and inspiration: a magazine, in other words, that
would give light and leading in the woman's world.
The method of editorial expression in the magazines of 1889 was also
distinctly vague and prohibitively impersonal. The public knew the name
of scarcely a single editor of a magazine: there was no personality that
stood out in the mind: the accepted editorial expression was the
indefinite "we"; no one ventured to use the first person singular and
talk intimately to the reader. Edward Bok's biographical reading had
taught him that the American public loved a personality: that it was
always ready to recognize and follow a leader, provided, of course, that
the qualities of leadership were demonstrated. He felt the time had
come--the reference here and elsewhere is always to the realm of popular
magazine literature appealing to a very wide audience--for the editor of
some magazine to project his personality through the printed page and to
convince the public that he was not an oracle removed from the people,
but a real human being who could talk and not merely write on paper.
He saw, too, that the average popular magazine of 1889 failed of large
success because it wrote down to the public--a grievous mistake that so
many editors have made and still make. No one wants to be told, either
directly or indirectly, that he knows less than he does, or even that he
knows as little as he does: every one is benefited by the opposite
implication, and the public will always follow the leader who
comprehends this bit of psychology. There is always a happy medium
between shooting over the public's head and shooting too far under it.
And it is because of the latter aim that we find the modern popular
magazine the worthless thing that, in so many instances, it is to-day.
It is the rare editor who rightly gauges his public psychology. Perhaps
that is why, in the enormous growth of the modern magazine, there have
been produced so few successful editors. The average editor is obsessed
with the idea of "giving the public what it wants," whereas, in fact,
the public, while it knows what it wants when it sees it, cannot clearly
express its wants, and never wants the thing that it does ask for,
although it thinks it does at the time. But woe to the editor and his
periodical if he heeds that siren voice!
The editor has, therefore, no means of finding it out aforehand by
putting his ear to the ground. Only by the simplest rules of psychology
can he edit rightly so that he may lead, and to the average editor of
to-day, it is to be feared, psychology is a closed book. His mind is all
too often focussed on the circulation and advertising, and all too
little on the intangibles that will bring to his periodical the results
essential in these respects.
The editor is the pivot of a magazine. On him everything turns. If his
gauge of the public is correct, readers will come: they cannot help
coming to the man who has something to say himself, or who presents
writers who have. And if the reader comes, the advertiser must come. He
must go where his largest market is: where the buyers are. The
advertiser, instead of being the most difficult factor in a magazine
proposition, as is so often mistakenly thought, is, in reality, the
simplest. He has no choice but to advertise in the successful
periodical. He must come along. The editor need never worry about him.
If the advertiser shuns the periodical's pages, the fault is rarely that
of the advertiser: the editor can generally look for the reason nearer
One of Edward Bok's first acts as editor was to offer a series of prizes
for the best answers to three questions he put to his readers: what in
the magazine did they like least and why; what did they like best and
why; and what omitted feature or department would they like to see
installed? Thousands of answers came, and these the editor personally
read carefully and classified. Then he gave his readers' suggestions
back to them in articles and departments, but never on the level
suggested by them. He gave them the subjects they asked for, but
invariably on a slightly higher plane; and each year he raised the
standard a notch. He always kept "a huckleberry or two" ahead of his
readers. His psychology was simple: come down to the level which the
public sets and it will leave you at the moment you do it. It always
expects of its leaders that they shall keep a notch above or a step
ahead. The American public always wants something a little better than
it asks for, and the successful man, in catering to it, is he who
follows this golden rule.
XVI. First Years as a Woman's Editor
Edward Bok has often been referred to as the one "who made The Ladies'
Home Journal out of nothing," who "built it from the ground up," or, in
similar terms, implying that when he became its editor in 1889 the
magazine was practically non-existent. This is far from the fact. The
magazine was begun in 1883, and had been edited by Mrs. Cyrus H. K.
Curtis, for six years, under her maiden name of Louisa Knapp, before Bok
undertook its editorship. Mrs. Curtis had laid a solid foundation of
principle and policy for the magazine: it had achieved a circulation of
440,000 copies a month when she transferred the editorship, and it had
already acquired such a standing in the periodical world as to attract
the advertisements of Charles Scribner's Sons, which Mr. Doubleday, and
later Bok himself, gave to the Philadelphia magazine--advertising which
was never given lightly, or without the most careful investigation of
the worth of the circulation of a periodical.
What every magazine publisher knows as the most troublous years in the
establishment of a periodical, the first half-dozen years of its
existence, had already been weathered by the editor and publisher. The
wife as editor and the husband as publisher had combined to lay a solid
basis upon which Bok had only to build: his task was simply to rear a
structure upon the foundation already laid. It is to the vision and to
the genius of the first editor of The Ladies' Home Journal that the
unprecedented success of the magazine is primarily due. It was the
purpose and the policy of making a magazine of authoritative service for
the womanhood of America, a service which would visualize for womanhood
its highest domestic estate, that had won success for the periodical
from its inception. It is difficult to believe, in the multiplicity of
similar magazines to-day, that such a purpose was new; that The Ladies'
Home Journal was a path-finder; but the convincing proof is found in the
fact that all the later magazines of this class have followed in the
wake of the periodical conceived by Mrs. Curtis, and have ever since
been its imitators.
When Edward Bok succeeded Mrs. Curtis, he immediately encountered
another popular misconception of a woman's magazine--the conviction that
if a man is the editor of a periodical with a distinctly feminine
appeal, he must, as the term goes, "understand women." If Bok had
believed this to be true, he would never have assumed the position. How
deeply rooted is this belief was brought home to him on every hand when
his decision to accept the Philadelphia position was announced. His
mother, knowing her son better than did any one else, looked at him with
amazement. She could not believe that he was serious in his decision to
cater to women's needs when he knew so little about them. His friends,
too, were intensely amused, and took no pains to hide their amusement
from him. They knew him to be the very opposite of "a lady's man," and
when they were not convulsed with hilarity they were incredulous and
No man, perhaps, could have been chosen for the position who had a less
intimate knowledge of women. Bok had no sister, no women confidantes: he
had lived with and for his mother. She was the only woman he really knew
or who really knew him. His boyhood days had been too full of poverty
and struggle to permit him to mingle with the opposite sex. And it is a
curious fact that Edward Bok's instinctive attitude toward women was
that of avoidance. He did not dislike women, but it could not be said
that he liked them. They had never interested him. Of women, therefore,
he knew little; of their needs less. Nor had he the slightest desire,
even as an editor, to know them better, or to seek to understand them.
Even at that age, he knew that, as a man, he could not, no matter what
effort he might make, and he let it go at that.
What he saw in the position was not the need to know women; he could
employ women for that purpose. He perceived clearly that the editor of a
magazine was largely an executive: his was principally the work of
direction; of studying currents and movements, watching their formation,
their tendency, their efficacy if advocated or translated into
actuality; and then selecting from the horizon those that were for the
best interests of the home. For a home was something Edward Bok did
understand. He had always lived in one; had struggled to keep it
together, and he knew every inch of the hard road that makes for
domestic permanence amid adverse financial conditions. And at the home
he aimed rather than at the woman in it.
It was upon his instinct that he intended to rely rather than upon any
knowledge of woman. His first act in the editorial chair of The Ladies'
Home Journal showed him to be right in this diagnosis of himself, for
the incident proved not only how correct was his instinct, but how
woefully lacking he was in any knowledge of the feminine nature.
He had divined the fact that in thousands of cases the American mother
was not the confidante of her daughter, and reasoned if an inviting
human personality could be created on the printed page that would supply
this lamentable lack of American family life, girls would flock to such
a figure. But all depended on the confidence which the written word
could inspire. He tried several writers, but in each case the particular
touch that he sought for was lacking. It seemed so simple to him, and
yet he could not translate it to others. Then, in desperation, he wrote
an installment of such a department as he had in mind himself, intending
to show it to a writer he had in view, thus giving her a visual
demonstration. He took it to the office the next morning, intending to
have it copied, but the manuscript accidentally attached itself to
another intended for the composing-room, and it was not until the
superintendent of the composing-room during the day said to him, "I
didn't know Miss Ashmead wrote," that Bok knew where his manuscript had
Miss Ashmead?" asked the puzzled editor.
Yes, Miss Ashmead in your department," was the answer.
The whereabouts of the manuscript was then disclosed, and the editor
called for its return. He had called the department "Side Talks with
Girls" by Ruth Ashmead.
"My girls all hope this is going into the magazine," said the
superintendent when he returned the manuscript.
"Why?" asked the editor.
"Well, they say it's the best stuff for girls they have ever read.
They'd love to know Miss Ashmead better."
Here was exactly what the editor wanted, but he was the author! He
changed the name to Ruth Ashmore, and decided to let the manuscript go
into the magazine. He reasoned that he would then have a month in which
to see the writer he had in mind, and he would show her the proof. But a
month filled itself with other duties, and before the editor was aware
of it, the composition-room wanted "copy" for the second installment of
"Side Talks with Girls." Once more the editor furnished the copy!
Within two weeks after the second article had been written, the magazine
containing the first installment of the new department appeared, and the
next day two hundred letters were received for "Ruth Ashmore," with the
mail-clerk asking where they should be sent. "Leave them with me,
please," replied the editor. On the following day the mail-clerk handed
him five hundred more.
The editor now took two letters from the top and opened them. He never
opened the third! That evening he took the bundle home, and told his
mother of his predicament. She read the letters and looked at her son.
"You have no right to read these," she said. The son readily agreed.
His instinct had correctly interpreted the need, but he never dreamed
how far the feminine nature would reveal itself on paper.
The next morning the editor, with his letters, took the train for New
York and sought his friend, Mrs. Isabel A. Mallon, the "Bab" of his
popular syndicate letter.
"Have you read this department?" he asked, pointing to the page in the
"I have," answered Mrs. Mallon. "Very well done, too, it is. Who is
"You are," answered Edward Bok. And while it took considerable
persuasion, from that time on Mrs. Mallon became Ruth Ashmore, the most
ridiculed writer in the magazine world, and yet the most helpful editor
that ever conducted a department in periodical literature. For sixteen
years she conducted the department, until she passed away, her last act
being to dictate a letter to a correspondent. In those sixteen years she
had received one hundred and fifty-eight thousand letters: she kept
three stenographers busy, and the number of girls who to-day bless the
name of Ruth Ashmore is legion.
But the newspaper humorists who insisted that Ruth Ashmore was none
other than Edward Bok never knew the partial truth of their joke!
The editor soon supplemented this department with one dealing with the
spiritual needs of the mature woman. "The King's Daughters" was then an
organization at the summit of its usefulness, with Margaret Bottome its
president. Edward Bok had heard Mrs. Bottome speak, had met her
personally, and decided that she was the editor for the department he
had in mind.
"I want it written in an intimate way as if there were only two persons
in the world, you and the person reading. I want heart to speak to
heart. We will make that the title," said the editor, and unconsciously
he thus created the title that has since become familiar wherever
English is spoken: "Heart to Heart Talks." The title gave the department
an instantaneous hearing; the material in it carried out its spirit, and
soon Mrs. Bottome's department rivaled, in popularity, the page by Ruth
These two departments more than anything else, and the irresistible
picture of a man editing a woman's magazine, brought forth an era of
newspaper paragraphing and a flood of so-called "humorous" references to
the magazine and editor. It became the vogue to poke fun at both. The
humorous papers took it up, the cartoonists helped it along, and actors
introduced the name of the magazine on the stage in plays and skits.
Never did a periodical receive such an amount of gratuitous advertising.
Much of the wit was absolutely without malice: some of it was written by
Edward Bok's best friends, who volunteered to "let up" would he but
raise a finger.
But he did not raise the finger. No one enjoyed the "paragraphs" more
heartily when the wit was good, and in that case, if the writer was
unknown to him, he sought him out and induced him to write for him. In
this way, George Fitch was found on the Peoria, Illinois, Transcript and
introduced to his larger public in the magazine and book world through
The Ladies' Home Journal, whose editor he believed he had "most
unmercifully roasted";--but he had done it so cleverly that the editor
at once saw his possibilities.
When all his friends begged Bok to begin proceedings against the New
York Evening Sun because of the libellous (?) articles written about him
by "The Woman About Town," the editor admired the style rather than the
contents, made her acquaintance, and secured her as a regular writer:
she contributed to the magazine some of the best things published in its
pages. But she did not abate her opinions of Bok and his magazine in her
articles in the newspaper, and Bok did not ask it of her: he felt that
she had a right to her opinions--those he was not buying; but he was
eager to buy her direct style in treating subjects he knew no other
woman could so effectively handle.
And with his own limited knowledge of the sex, he needed, and none knew
it better than did he, the ablest women he could obtain to help him
realize his ideals. Their personal opinions of him did not matter so
long as he could command their best work. Sooner or later, when his
purposes were better understood, they might alter those opinions. For
that he could afford to wait. But he could not wait to get their work.
By this time the editor had come to see that the power of a magazine
might lie more securely behind the printed page than in it. He had begun
to accustom his readers to writing to his editors upon all conceivable
This he decided to encourage. He employed an expert in each line of
feminine endeavor, upon the distinct understanding that the most
scrupulous attention should be given to her correspondence: that every
letter, no matter how inconsequential, should be answered quickly,
fully, and courteously, with the questioner always encouraged to come
again if any problem of whatever nature came to her. He told his editors
that ignorance on any question was a misfortune, not a crime; and he
wished their correspondence treated in the most courteous and helpful
Step by step, the editor built up this service behind the magazine until
he had a staff of thirty-five editors on the monthly pay-roll; in each
issue, he proclaimed the willingness of these editors to answer
immediately any questions by mail, he encouraged and cajoled his readers
to form the habit of looking upon his magazine as a great clearing-house
of information. Before long, the letters streamed in by the tens of
thousands during a year. The editor still encouraged, and the total ran
into the hundreds of thousands, until during the last year, before the
service was finally stopped by the Great War of 1917-18, the yearly
correspondence totalled nearly a million letters.
The work of some of these editors never reached the printed page, and
yet was vastly more important than any published matter could possibly
be. Out of the work of Ruth Ashmore, for instance, there grew a class of
cases of the most confidential nature. These cases, distributed all over
the country, called for special investigation and personal contact. Bok
selected Mrs. Lyman Abbott for this piece of delicate work, and, through
the wide acquaintance of her husband, she was enabled to reach,
personally, every case in every locality, and bring personal help to
bear on it. These cases mounted into the hundreds, and the good
accomplished through this quiet channel cannot be overestimated.
The lack of opportunity for an education in Bok's own life led him to
cast about for some plan whereby an education might be obtained without
expense by any one who desired. He finally hit upon the simple plan of
substituting free scholarships for the premiums then so frequently
offered by periodicals for subscriptions secured. Free musical education
at the leading conservatories was first offered to any girl who would
secure a certain number of subscriptions to The Ladies' Home Journal,
the complete offer being a year's free tuition, with free room, free
board, free piano in her own room, and all travelling expenses paid. The
plan was an immediate success: the solicitation of a subscription by a
girl desirous of educating herself made an irresistible appeal.
This plan was soon extended, so as to include all the girls' colleges,
and finally all the men's colleges, so that a free education might be
possible at any educational institution. So comprehensive it became that
to the close of 1919, one thousand four hundred and fifty-five free
scholarships had been awarded. The plan has now been in operation long
enough to have produced some of the leading singers and instrumental
artists of the day, whose names are familiar to all, as well as
instructors in colleges and scores of teachers; and to have sent several
score of men into conspicuous positions in the business and professional
Edward Bok has always felt that but for his own inability to secure an
education, and his consequent desire for self-improvement, the
realization of the need in others might not have been so strongly felt
by him, and that his plan whereby thousands of others were benefited
might never have been realized.
The editor's correspondence was revealing, among other deficiencies, the
wide-spread unpreparedness of the average American girl for motherhood,
and her desperate ignorance when a new life was given her. On the theory
that with the realization of a vital need there is always the person to
meet it, Bok consulted the authorities of the Babies' Hospital of New
York, and found Doctor Emmet Holt's house physician, Doctor Emelyn L.
Coolidge. To the authorities in the world of babies, Bok's discovery
was, of course, a known and serious fact.
Doctor Coolidge proposed that the magazine create a department of
questions and answers devoted to the problems of young mothers. This was
done, and from the publication of the first issue the questions began to
come in. Within five years the department had grown to such proportions
that Doctor Coolidge proposed a plan whereby mothers might be
instructed, by mail, in the rearing of babies--in their general care,
their feeding, and the complete hygiene of the nursery.
Bok had already learned, in his editorial experience, carefully to weigh
a woman's instinct against a man's judgment, but the idea of raising
babies by mail floored him. He reasoned, however, that a woman, and more
particularly one who had been in a babies' hospital for years, knew more
about babies than he could possibly know. He consulted baby-specialists
in New York and Philadelphia, and, with one accord, they declared the
plan not only absolutely impracticable but positively dangerous. Bok's
confidence in woman's instinct, however, persisted, and he asked Doctor
Coolidge to map out a plan.
This called for the services of two physicians: Miss Marianna Wheeler,
for many years superintendent of the Babies' Hospital, was to look after
the prospective mother before the baby's birth; and Doctor Coolidge,
when the baby was born, would immediately send to the young mother a
printed list of comprehensive questions, which, when answered, would be
immediately followed by a full set of directions as to the care of the
child, including carefully prepared food formule. At the end of the
first month, another set of questions was to be forwarded for answer by
the mother, and this monthly service was to be continued until the child
reached the age of two years. The contact with the mother would then
become intermittent, dependent upon the condition of mother and child.
All the directions and formule were to be used only under the direction
of the mother's attendant physician, so that the fullest cooperation
might be established between the physician on the case and the advisory
department of the magazine.
Despite advice to the contrary, Bok decided, after consulting a number
of mothers, to establish the system. It was understood that the greatest
care was to be exercised: the most expert advice, if needed, was to be
sought and given, and the thousands of cases at the Babies' Hospital
were to be laid under contribution.
There was then begun a magazine department which was to be classed among
the most clear-cut pieces of successful work achieved by The Ladies'
Step by step, the new departure won its way, and was welcomed eagerly by
thousands of young mothers. It was not long before the warmest
commendation from physicians all over the country was received.
Promptness of response and thoroughness of diagnosis were, of course,
the keynotes of the service: where the cases were urgent, the special
delivery post and, later, the night-letter telegraph service were used.
The plan is now in its eleventh year of successful operation. Some idea
of the enormous extent of its service can be gathered from the amazing
figures that, at the close of the tenth year, show over forty thousand
prospective mothers have been advised, while the number of babies
actually "raised" by Doctor Coolidge approaches eighty thousand. Fully
ninety-five of every hundred of these babies registered have remained
under the monthly letter-care of Doctor Coolidge until their first year,
when the mothers receive a diet list which has proved so effective for
future guidance that many mothers cease to report regularly. Eighty-five
out of every hundred babies have remained in the registry until their
graduation at the age of two. Over eight large sets of library drawers
are required for the records of the babies always under the supervision
of the registry.
Scores of physicians who vigorously opposed the work at the start have
amended their opinions and now not only give their enthusiastic
endorsement, but have adopted Doctor Coolidge's food formule for their
private and hospital cases.
It was this comprehensive personal service, built up back of the
magazine from the start, that gave the periodical so firm and unique a
hold on its clientele. It was not the printed word that was its chief
power: scores of editors who have tried to study and diagnose the appeal
of the magazine from the printed page, have remained baffled at the
remarkable confidence elicited from its readers. They never looked back
of the magazine, and therefore failed to discover its secret. Bok went
through three financial panics with the magazine, and while other
periodicals severely suffered from diminished circulation at such times,
The Ladies' Home Journal always held its own. Thousands of women had
been directly helped by the magazine; it had not remained an inanimate
printed thing, but had become a vital need in the personal lives of its
So intimate had become this relation, so efficient was the service
rendered, that its readers could not be pried loose from it; where women
were willing and ready, when the domestic pinch came, to let go of other
reading matter, they explained to their husbands or fathers that The
Ladies' Home Journal was a necessity--they did not feel that they could
do without it. The very quality for which the magazine had been held up
to ridicule by the unknowing and unthinking had become, with hundreds of
thousands of women, its source of power and the bulwark of its success.
Bok was beginning to realize the vision which had lured him from New
York: that of putting into the field of American magazines a periodical
that should become such a clearing-house as virtually to make it an
He felt that, for the present at least, he had sufficiently established
the personal contact with his readers through the more intimate
departments, and decided to devote his efforts to the literary features
of the magazine.
XVII. Eugene Field's Practical Jokes
Eugene Field was one of Edward Bok's close friends and also his despair,
as was likely to be the case with those who were intimate with the
Western poet. One day Field said to Bok: "I am going to make you the
most widely paragraphed man in America." The editor passed the remark
over, but he was to recall it often as his friend set out to make his
The fact that Bok was unmarried and the editor of a woman's magazine
appealed strongly to Field's sense of humor. He knew the editor's
opposition to patent medicines, and so he decided to join the two facts
in a paragraph, put on the wire at Chicago, to the effect that the
editor was engaged to be married to Miss Lavinia Pinkham, the
granddaughter of Mrs. Lydia Pinkham, of patent-medicine fame. The
paragraph carefully described Miss Pinkham, the school where she had
been educated, her talents, her wealth, etc. Field was wise enough to
put the paragraph not in his own column in the Chicago News, lest it be
considered in the light of one of his practical jokes, but on the news
page of the paper, and he had it put on the Associated Press wire.
He followed this up a few days later with a paragraph announcing Bok's
arrival at a Boston hotel. Then came a paragraph saying that Miss
Pinkham was sailing for Paris to buy her trousseau. The paragraphs were
worded in the most matter-of-fact manner, and completely fooled the
newspapers, even those of Boston. Field was delighted at the success of
his joke, and the fact that Bok was in despair over the letters that
poured in upon him added to Field's delight.
He now asked Bok to come to Chicago. "I want you to know some of my
cronies," he wrote. "Julia [his wife] is away, so we will shift for
ourselves." Bok arrived in Chicago one Sunday afternoon, and was to dine
at Field's house that evening. He found a jolly company: James Whitcomb
Riley, Sol Smith Russell the actor, Opie Read, and a number of Chicago's
When seven o'clock came, some one suggested to Field that something to
eat might not be amiss.
"Shortly," answered the poet. "Wife is out; cook is new, and dinner will
be a little late. Be patient." But at eight o'clock there was still no
dinner. Riley began to grow suspicious and slipped down-stairs. He found
no one in the kitchen and the range cold. He came back and reported.
"Nonsense," said Field. "It can't be." All went down-stairs to find out
the truth. "Let's get supper ourselves," suggested Russell. Then it was
discovered that not a morsel of food was to be found in the
refrigerator, closet, or cellar. "That's a joke on us," said Field.
"Julia has left us without a crumb to eat.
It was then nine o'clock. Riley and Bok held a council of war and
decided to slip out and buy some food, only to find that the front,
basement, and back doors were locked and the keys missing! Field was
very sober. "Thorough woman, that wife of mine," he commented. But his
friends knew better.
Finally, the Hoosier poet and the Philadelphia editor crawled through
one of the basement windows and started on a foraging expedition. Of
course, Field lived in a residential section where there were few
stores, and on Sunday these were closed. There was nothing to do but to
board a down-town car. Finally they found a delicatessen shop open, and
the two hungry men amazed the proprietor by nearly buying out his stock.
It was after ten o'clock when Riley and Bok got back to the house with
their load of provisions to find every door locked, every curtain drawn,
and the bolt sprung on every window. Only the cellar grating remained,
and through this the two dropped their bundles and themselves, and
appeared in the dining-room, dirty and dishevelled, to find the party at
table enjoying a supper which Field had carefully hidden and brought out
when they had left the house.
Riley, cold and hungry, and before this time the victim of Field's
practical jokes, was not in a merry humor and began to recite
paraphrases of Field's poems. Field retorted by paraphrasing Riley's
poems, and mimicking the marked characteristics of Riley's speech. This
started Sol Smith Russell, who mimicked both. The fun grew fast and
furious, the entire company now took part, Mrs. Field's dresses were
laid under contribution, and Field, Russell, and Riley gave an impromptu
play. And it was upon this scene that Mrs. Field, after a continuous
ringing of the door-bell and nearly battering down the door, appeared at
seven o'clock the next morning!
It was fortunate that Eugene Field had a patient wife; she needed every
ounce of patience that she could command. And no one realized this more
keenly than did her husband. He once told of a dream he had which
illustrated the endurance of his wife.
"I thought," said Field, "that I had died and gone to heaven. I had some
difficulty in getting past St. Peter, who regarded me with doubt and
suspicion, and examined my records closely, but finally permitted me to
enter the pearly gates. As I walked up the street of the heavenly city,
I saw a venerable old man with long gray hair and flowing beard. His
benignant face encouraged me to address him. 'I have just arrived and I
am entirely unacquainted,' I said. 'May I ask your name?'
"'My name,' he replied, 'is Job.'
"'Indeed,' I exclaimed, 'are you that Job whom we were taught to revere
as the most patient being in the world?'
"'The same,' he said, with a shadow of hesitation; 'I did have quite a
reputation for patience once, but I hear that there is a woman now on
earth, in Chicago, who has suffered more than I ever did, and she has
endured it with great resignation.'
"'Why,' said I, 'that is curious. I am just from earth, and from
Chicago, and I do not remember to have heard of her case. What is her
"'Mrs. Eugene Field,' was the reply.
"Just then I awoke," ended Field.
The success of Field's paragraph engaging Bok to Miss Pinkham stimulated
the poet to greater effort. Bok had gone to Europe; Field, having found
out the date of his probable return, just about when the steamer was
due, printed an interview with the editor "at quarantine" which sounded
so plausible that even the men in Bok's office in Philadelphia were
fooled and prepared for his arrival. The interview recounted, in detail,
the changes in women's fashions in Paris, and so plausible had Field
made it, based upon information obtained at Marshall Field's, that even
the fashion papers copied it.
All this delighted Field beyond measure. Bok begged him to desist; but
Field answered by printing an item to the effect that there was the
highest authority for denying "the reports industriously circulated some
time ago to the effect that Mr. Bok was engaged to be married to a New
England young lady, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is no violation of
friendly confidence that makes it possible to announce that the
Philadelphia editor is engaged to Mrs. Frank Leslie, of New York."
It so happened that Field put this new paragraph on the wire just about
the time that Bok's actual engagement was announced. Field was now
deeply contrite, and sincerely promised Bok and his fiancee to reform.
"I'm through, you mooning, spooning calf, you," he wrote Bok, and his
friend believed him, only to receive a telegram the next day from Mrs.
Field warning him that "Gene is planning a series of telephonic
conversations with you and Miss Curtis at college that I think should
not be printed." Bok knew it was of no use trying to curb Field's
industry, and so he wired the editor of the Chicago News for his
cooperation. Field, now checked, asked Bok and his fiancee and the
parents of both to come to Chicago, be his guests for the World's Fair,
and "let me make amends."
It was a happy visit. Field was all kindness, and, of course, the entire
party was charmed by his personality. But the boy in him could not be
repressed. He had kept it down all through the visit. "No, not a
joke-cross my heart," he would say, and then he invited the party to
lunch with him on their way to the train when they were leaving for
home. "But we shall be in our travelling clothes, not dressed for a
luncheon," protested the women. It was an unfortunate protest, for it
gave Field an idea! "Oh," he assured them, "just a goodbye luncheon at
the club; just you folks and Julia and me." They believed him, only to
find upon their arrival at the club an assembly of over sixty guests at
one of the most elaborate luncheons ever served in Chicago, with each
woman guest carefully enjoined by Field, in his invitation, to "put on
her prettiest and most elaborate costume in order to dress up the
One day Field came to Philadelphia to give a reading in Camden in
conjunction with George W. Cable. It chanced that his friend, Francis
Wilson, was opening that same evening in Philadelphia in a new comic
opera which Field had not seen. He immediately refused to give his
reading, and insisted upon going to the theatre. The combined efforts of
his manager, Wilson, Mr. Cable, and his friends finally persuaded him to
keep his engagement and join in a double-box party later at the theatre.
To make sure that he would keep his lecture appointment, Bok decided to
go to Camden with him. Field and Cable were to appear alternately.
Field went on for his first number; and when he came off, he turned to
Bok and said: "No use, Bok, I'm a sick man. I must go home. Cable can
see this through," and despite every protestation Field bundled himself
into his overcoat and made for his carriage. "Sick, Bok, really sick,"
he muttered as they rode along. Then seeing a fruit-stand he said: "Buy
me a bag of oranges, like a good fellow. They'll do me good.
When Philadelphia was reached, he suggested: "Do you know I think it
would do me good to go and see Frank in the new play? Tell the driver to
go to the theatre like a good boy." Of course, that had been his intent
all along! When the theatre was reached he insisted upon taking the
oranges with him. "They'll steal 'em if you leave 'em there," he said.
Field lost all traces of his supposed illness the moment he reached the
box. Francis Wilson was on the stage with Marie Jansen. "Isn't it
beautiful?" said Field, and directing the attention of the party to the
players, he reached under his chair for the bag of oranges, took one
out, and was about to throw it at Wilson when Bok caught his arm, took
the orange away from him, and grabbed the bag. Field never forgave Bok
for this act of watchfulness. "Treason," he hissed--"going back on a
The one object of Field's ambition was to achieve the distinction of so
"fussing" Francis Wilson that he would be compelled to ring down the
curtain. He had tried every conceivable trick: had walked on the stage
in one of Wilson's scenes; had started a quarrel with an usher in the
audience--everything that ingenuity could conceive he had practised on
his friend. Bok had known this penchant of Field's, and when he insisted
on taking the bag of oranges into the theatre, Field's purpose was
One day Bok received a wire from Field: "City of New Orleans purposing
give me largest public reception on sixth ever given an author. Event of
unusual quality. Mayor and city officials peculiarly desirous of having
you introduce me to vast audience they propose to have. Hate to ask you
to travel so far, but would be great favor to me. Wire answer." Bok
wired back his willingness to travel to New Orleans and oblige his
friend. It occurred to Bok, however, to write to a friend in New Orleans
and ask the particulars. Of course, there was never any thought of Field
going to New Orleans or of any reception. Bok waited for further
advices, and a long letter followed from Field giving him a glowing
picture of the reception planned. Bok sent a message to his New Orleans
friend to be telegraphed from New Orleans on the sixth: "Find whole
thing to be a fake. Nice job to put over on me. Bok." Field was
overjoyed at the apparent success of his joke and gleefully told his
Chicago friends all about it--until he found out that the joke had been
on him. "Durned dirty, I call it," he wrote Bok.
It was a lively friendship that Eugene Field gave to Edward Bok, full of
anxieties and of continuous forebodings, but it was worth all that it
cost in mental perturbation. No rarer friend ever lived: in his serious
moments he gave one a quality of unforgetable friendship that remains a
precious memory. But his desire for practical jokes was uncontrollable:
it meant being constantly on one's guard, and even then the pranks could
not always be thwarted!
XVIII. Building Up a Magazine
The newspaper paragraphers were now having a delightful time with Edward
Bok and his woman's magazine, and he was having a delightful time with
them. The editor's publicity sense made him realize how valuable for his
purposes was all this free advertising. The paragraphers believed, in
their hearts, that they were annoying the young editor; they tried to
draw his fire through their articles. But he kept quiet, put his tongue
in his cheek, and determined to give them some choice morsels for their
He conceived the idea of making familiar to the public the women who
were back of the successful men of the day. He felt sure that his
readers wanted to know about these women. But to attract his newspaper
friends he labelled the series, "Unknown Wives of Well-Known Men" and
"Clever Daughters of Clever Men."
The alliterative titles at once attracted the paragraphers; they fell
upon them like hungry trout, and a perfect fusillade of paragraphs
began. This is exactly what the editor wanted; and he followed these two
series immediately by inducing the daughter of Charles Dickens to write
of "My Father as I Knew Him," and Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher, of "Mr.
Beecher as I Knew Him." Bok now felt that he had given the newspapers
enough ammunition to last for some time; and he turned his attention to
building up a more permanent basis for his magazine.
The two authors of that day who commanded more attention than any others
were William Dean Howells and Rudyard Kipling. Bok knew that these two
would give to his magazine the literary quality that it needed, and so
he laid them both under contribution. He bought Mr. Howells's new novel,
"The Coast of Bohemia," and arranged that Kipling's new novelette upon
which he was working should come to the magazine. Neither the public nor
the magazine editors had expected Bok to break out along these more
permanent lines, and magazine publishers began to realize that a new
competitor had sprung up in Philadelphia. Bok knew they would feel this;
so before he announced Mr. Howells's new novel, he contracted with the
novelist to follow this with his autobiography. This surprised the
editors of the older magazines, for they realized that the Philadelphia
editor had completely tied up the leading novelist of the day for his
next two years' output.
Meanwhile, in order that the newspapers might be well supplied with
barbs for their shafts, he published an entire number of his magazine
written by famous daughters of famous men. This unique issue presented
contributions by the daughters of Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
President Harrison, Horace Greeley, William M. Thackeray, William Dean
Howells, General Sherman, Julia Ward Howe, Jefferson Davis, Mr.
Gladstone, and a score of others. This issue simply filled the
paragraphers with glee. Then once more Bok turned to material calculated
to cement the foundation for a more permanent structure.
He noted, early in its progress, the gathering strength of the drift
toward woman suffrage, and realized that the American woman was not
prepared, in her knowledge of her country, to exercise the privilege of
the ballot. Bok determined to supply the deficiency to his readers, and
concluded to put under contract the President of the United States,
Benjamin Harrison, the moment he left office, to write a series of
articles explaining the United States. No man knew this subject better
than the President; none could write better; and none would attract such
general attention to his magazine, reasoned Bok. He sought the
President, talked it over with him, and found him favorable to the idea.
But the President was in doubt at that time whether he would be a
candidate for another term, and frankly told Bok that he would be taking
too much risk to wait for him. He suggested that the editor try to
prevail upon his then secretary of state, James G. Blaine, to undertake
the series, and offered to see Mr. Blaine and induce him to a favorable
consideration. Bok acquiesced, and a few days afterward received from
Mr. Blaine a request to come to Washington.
Bok had had a previous experience with Mr. Blaine which had impressed
him to an unusual degree. Many years before, he had called upon him at
his hotel in New York, seeking his autograph, had been received, and as
the statesman was writing his signature he said: "Your name is a
familiar one to me. I have had correspondence with an Edward Bok who is
secretary of state for the Transvaal Republic. Are you related to him?"
Bok explained that this was his uncle, and that he was named for him.
Years afterward Bok happened to be at a public meeting where Mr. Blaine
was speaking, and the statesman, seeing him, immediately called him by
name. Bok knew of the reputed marvels of Mr. Blaine's memory, but this
proof of it amazed him.
"It is simply inconceivable, Mr. Blaine," said Bok, "that you should
remember my name after all these years."
"Not at all, my boy," returned Mr. Blaine. "Memorizing is simply
association. You associate a fact or an incident with a name and you
remember the name. It never leaves you. The moment I saw you I
remembered you told me that your uncle was secretary of state for the
Transvaal. That at once brought your name to me. You see how simple a
trick it is."
But Bok did not see, since remembering the incident was to him an even
greater feat of memory than recalling the name. It was a case of having
to remember two things instead of one.
At all events, Bok was no stranger to James G. Blaine when he called
upon him at his Lafayette Place home in Washington.
"You've gone ahead in the world some since I last saw you," was the
statesman's greeting. "It seems to go with the name."
This naturally broke the ice for the editor at once.
"Let's go to my library where we can talk quietly. What train are you
making back to Philadelphia, by the way?"
"The four, if I can," replied Bok.
"Excuse me a moment," returned Mr. Blaine, and when he came back to the
room, he said: "Now let's talk over this interesting proposition that
the President has told me about."
The two discussed the matter and completed arrangements whereby Mr.
Blaine was to undertake the work. Toward the latter end of the talk, Bok
had covertly--as he thought--looked at his watch to keep track of his
"It's all right about that train," came from Mr. Blaine, with his back
toward Bok, writing some data of the talk at his desk. "You'll make it
Bok wondered how he should, as it then lacked only seventeen minutes of
four. But as Mr. Blaine reached the front door, he said to the editor:
"My carriage is waiting at the curb to take you to the station, and the
coachman has your seat in the parlor car."
And with this knightly courtesy, Mr. Blaine shook hands with Bok, who
was never again to see him, nor was the contract ever to be fulfilled.
For early in 1893 Mr. Blaine passed away without having begun the work.
Again Bok turned to the President, and explained to him that, for some
reason or other, the way seemed to point to him to write the articles
himself. By that time President Harrison had decided that he would not
succeed himself. Accordingly he entered into an agreement with the
editor to begin to write the articles immediately upon his retirement
from office. And the day after Inauguration Day every newspaper
contained an Associated Press despatch announcing the former President's
contract with The Ladies' Home Journal.
Shortly afterward, Benjamin Harrison's articles on "This Country of
Ours" successfully appeared in the magazine.
During Bok's negotiations with President Harrison in connection with his
series of articles, he was called to the White House for a conference.
It was midsummer. Mrs. Harrison was away at the seashore, and the
President was taking advantage of her absence by working far into the
The President, his secretary, and Bok sat down to dinner.
The Marine Band was giving its weekly concert on the green, and after
dinner the President suggested that Bok and he adjourn to the "back lot"
and enjoy the music.
"You have a coat?" asked the President.
"No, thank you," Bok answered. "I don't need one."
"Not in other places, perhaps," he said, "but here you do. The dampness
comes up from the Potomac at nightfall, and it's just as well to be
careful. It's Mrs. Harrison's dictum," he added smiling. "Halford, send
up for one of my light coats, will you, please?"
Bok remarked, as he put on the President's coat, that this was probably
about as near as he should ever get to the presidency.
"Well, it's a question whether you want to get nearer to it," answered
the President. He looked very white and tired in the moonlight.
"Still," Bok said with a smile, "some folks seem to like it well enough
to wish to get it a second time."
"True," he answered, "but that's what pride will do for a man. Try one
of these cigars."
A cigar! Bok had been taking his tobacco in smaller doses with paper
around them. He had never smoked a cigar. Still, one cannot very well
refuse a presidential cigar!
"Thank you," Bok said as he took one from the President's case. He
looked at the cigar and remembered all he had read of Benjamin
Harrison's black cigars. This one was black--inky black--and big.
"Allow me," he heard the President suddenly say, as he handed him a
blazing match. There was no escape. The aroma was delicious, but--Two or
three whiffs of that cigar, and Bok decided the best thing to do was to
let it go out. He did.
"I have allowed you to talk so much," said the President after a while,
"that you haven't had a chance to smoke. Allow me," and another match
crackled into flame.
"Thank you," the editor said, as once more he lighted the cigar, and the
fumes went clear up into the farthest corner of his brain.
"Take a fresh cigar," said the President after a while. "That doesn't
seem to burn well. You will get one like that once in a while, although
I am careful about my cigars."
"No, thanks, Mr. President," Bok said hurriedly. "It's I, not the
"Well, prove it to me with another," was the quick rejoinder, as he held
out his case, and in another minute a match again crackled. "There is
only one thing worse than a bad smoke, and that is an office-seeker,"
chuckled the President.
Bok couldn't prove that the cigars were bad, naturally. So smoke that
cigar he did, to the bitter end, and it was bitter! In fifteen minutes
his head and stomach were each whirling around, and no more welcome
words had Bok ever heard than when the President said: "Well, suppose we
go in. Halford and I have a day's work ahead of us yet."
The President went to work.
Bok went to bed. He could not get there quick enough, and he
didn't--that is, not before he had experienced that same sensation of
which Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: he never could understand, he said,
why young authors found so much trouble in getting into the magazines,
for his first trip to Europe was not a day old before, without even the
slightest desire or wish on his part, he became a contributor to the
The next day, and for days after, Bok smelled, tasted, and felt that
A few weeks afterward, Bok was talking after dinner with the President
at a hotel in New York, when once more the cigar-case came out and was
handed to Bok.
"No, thank you, Mr. President," was the instant reply, as visions of his
night in the White House came back to him. "I am like the man from the
West who was willing to try anything once."
And he told the President the story of the White House cigar.
The editor decided to follow General Harrison's discussion of American
affairs by giving his readers a glimpse of foreign politics, and he
fixed upon Mr. Gladstone as the one figure abroad to write for him. He
sailed for England, visited Hawarden Castle, and proposed to Mr.
Gladstone that he should write a series of twelve autobiographical
articles which later could be expanded into a book.
Bok offered fifteen thousand dollars for the twelve articles--a goodly
price in those days--and he saw that the idea and the terms attracted
the English statesman. But he also saw that the statesman was not quite
ready. He decided, therefore, to leave the matter with him, and keep the
avenue of approach favorably open by inducing Mrs. Gladstone to write
for him. Bok knew that Mrs. Gladstone had helped her husband in his
literary work, that she was a woman who had lived a full-rounded life,
and after a day's visit and persuasion, with Mr. Gladstone as an amused
looker-on, the editor closed a contract with Mrs. Gladstone for a series
of reminiscent articles "From a Mother's Life."
Some time after Bok had sent the check to Mrs. Gladstone, he received a
letter from Mr. Gladstone expressing the opinion that his wife must have
written with a golden pen, considering the size of the honorarium.
"But," he added, "she is so impressed with this as the first money she
has ever earned by her pen that she is reluctant to part with the check.
The result is that she has not offered it for deposit, and has decided
to frame it. Considering the condition of our exchequer, I have tried to
explain to her, and so have my son and daughter, that if she were to
present the check for payment and allow it to pass through the bank, the
check would come back to you and that I am sure your company would
return it to her as a souvenir of the momentous occasion. Our arguments
are of no avail, however, and it occurred to me that an assurance from
you might make the check more useful than it is at present!"
Bok saw with this disposition that, as he had hoped, the avenue of
favorable approach to Mr. Gladstone had been kept open. The next summer
Bok again visited Hawarden, where he found the statesman absorbed in
writing a life of Bishop Butler, from which it was difficult for him to
turn away. He explained that it would take at least a year or two to
finish this work. Bok saw, of course, his advantage, and closed a
contract with the English statesman whereby he was to write the twelve
autobiographical articles immediately upon his completion of the work
then under his hand.
Here again, however, as in the case of Mr. Blaine, the contract was
never fulfilled, for Mr. Gladstone passed away before he could free his
mind and begin on the work.
The vicissitudes of an editor's life were certainly beginning to
demonstrate themselves to Edward Bok.
The material that the editor was publishing and the authors that he was
laying under contribution began to have marked effect upon the
circulation of the magazine, and it was not long before the original
figures were doubled, an edition--enormous for that day--of seven
hundred and fifty thousand copies was printed and sold each month, the
magical figure of a million was in sight, and the periodical was rapidly
taking its place as one of the largest successes of the day.
Mr. Curtis's single proprietorship of the magazine had been changed into
a corporation called The Curtis Publishing Company, with a capital of
five hundred thousand dollars, with Mr. Curtis as president, and Bok as
The magazine had by no means an easy road to travel financially. The
doubling of the subscription price to one dollar per year had materially
checked the income for the time being; the huge advertising bills,
sometimes exceeding three hundred thousand dollars a year, were
difficult to pay; large credit had to be obtained, and the banks were
carrying a considerable quantity of Mr. Curtis's notes. But Mr. Curtis
never wavered in his faith in his proposition and his editor. In the
first he invested all he had and could borrow, and to the latter he gave
his undivided support. The two men worked together rather as father and
son--as, curiously enough, they were to be later--than as employer and
employee. To Bok, the daily experience of seeing Mr. Curtis finance his
proposition in sums that made the publishing world of that day gasp with
sceptical astonishment was a wonderful opportunity, of which the editor
took full advantage so as to learn the intricacies of a world which up
to that time he had known only in a limited way.
What attracted Bok immensely to Mr. Curtis's methods was their perfect
simplicity and directness. He believed absolutely in the final outcome
of his proposition: where others saw mist and failure ahead, he saw
clear weather and the port of success. Never did he waver: never did he
deflect from his course. He knew no path save the direct one that led
straight to success, and, through his eyes, he made Bok see it with
equal clarity until Bok wondered why others could not see it. But they
could not. Cyrus Curtis would never be able, they said, to come out from
under the load he had piled up. Where they differed from Mr. Curtis was
in their lack of vision: they could not see what he saw!
It has been said that Mr. Curtis banished patent-medicine advertisements
from his magazine only when he could afford to do so. That is not true,
as a simple incident will show. In the early days, he and Bok were
opening the mail one Friday full of anxiety because the pay-roll was due
that evening, and there was not enough money in the bank to meet it.
From one of the letters dropped a certified check for five figures for a
contract equal to five pages in the magazine. It was a welcome sight,
for it meant an easy meeting of the pay-roll for that week and two
succeeding weeks. But the check was from a manufacturing patent-medicine
company. Without a moment's hesitation, Mr. Curtis slipped it back into
the envelope, saying: "Of course, that we can't take." He returned the
check, never gave the matter a second thought, and went out and borrowed
more money to meet his pay-roll!
With all respect to American publishers, there are very few who could
have done this--or indeed, would do it to-day, under similar
conditions--particularly in that day when it was the custom for all
magazines to accept patent-medicine advertising; The Ladies' Home
Journal was practically the only publication of standing in the United
States refusing that class of business!
Bok now saw advertising done on a large scale by a man who believed in
plenty of white space surrounding the announcement in the advertisement.
He paid Mr. Howells $10,000 for his autobiography, and Mr. Curtis spent
$50,000 in advertising it. "It is not expense," he would explain to Bok,
"it is investment. We are investing in a trade-mark. It will all come
back in time." And when the first $100,000 did not come back as Mr.
Curtis figured, he would send another $100,000 after it, and then both
Bok's experience in advertisement writing was now to stand him in
excellent stead. He wrote all the advertisements and from that day to
the day of his retirement, practically every advertisement of the
magazine was written by him.
Mr. Curtis believed that the editor should write the advertisements of a
magazine's articles. "You are the one who knows them, what is in them
and your purpose," he said to Bok, who keenly enjoyed this advertisement
writing. He put less and less in his advertisements. Mr. Curtis made
them larger and larger in the space which they occupied in the media
used. In this way The Ladies' Home Journal advertisements became
distinctive for their use of white space, and as the advertising world
began to say: "You can't miss them." Only one feature was advertised at
one time, but the "feature" was always carefully selected for its wide
popular appeal, and then Mr. Curtis spared no expense to advertise it
abundantly. As much as $400,000 was spent in one year in advertising
only a few features--a gigantic sum in those days, approached by no
other periodical. But Mr. Curtis believed in showing the advertising
world that he was willing to take his own medicine.
Naturally, such a campaign of publicity announcing the most popular
attractions offered by any magazine of the day had but one effect: the
circulation leaped forward by bounds, and the advertising columns of the
magazine rapidly filled up.
The success of The Ladies' Home Journal began to look like an assured
fact, even to the most sceptical.
As a matter of fact, it was only at its beginning, as both publisher
and editor knew. But they desired to fill the particular field of the
magazine so quickly and fully that there would be small room for
competition. The woman's magazine field was to belong to them!
XIX. Personality Letters
Edward Bok was always interested in the manner in which personality was
expressed in letters. For this reason he adopted, as a boy, the method
of collecting not mere autographs, but letters characteristic of their
writers which should give interesting insight into the most famous men
and women of the day. He secured what were really personality letters.
One of these writers was Mark Twain. The humorist was not kindly
disposed toward autograph collectors, and the fact that in this case the
collector aimed to raise the standard of the hobby did not appease him.
Still, it brought forth a characteristic letter:
"I hope I shall not offend you; I shall certainly say nothing with the
intention to offend you. I must explain myself, however, and I will do
it as kindly as I can. What you ask me to do, I am asked to do as often
as one-half dozen times a week. Three hundred letters a year! One's
impulse is to freely consent, but one's time and necessary occupations
will not permit it. There is no way but to decline in all cases, making
no exceptions, and I wish to call your attention to a thing which has
probably not occurred to you, and that is this: that no man takes
pleasure in exercising his trade as a pastime. Writing is my trade, and
I exercise it only when I am obliged to. You might make your request of
a doctor, or a builder, or a sculptor, and there would be no impropriety
in it, but if you asked either of those for a specimen of his trade, his
handiwork, he would be justified in rising to a point of order. It would
never be fair to ask a doctor for one of his corpses to remember him by.
At another time, after an interesting talk with Mark Twain, Bok wrote an
account of the interview, with the humorist's permission. Desirous that
the published account should be in every respect accurate, the
manuscript was forwarded to Mark Twain for his approval. This resulted
in the following interesting letter:
"MY DEAR MR. BOK:
"No, no--it is like most interviews, pure twaddle, and valueless.
"For several quite plain and simple reasons, an 'interview' must, as a
rule, be an absurdity. And chiefly for this reason: it is an attempt to
use a boat on land, or a wagon on water, to speak figuratively. Spoken
speech is one thing, written speech is quite another. Print is a proper
vehicle for the latter, but it isn't for the former. The moment 'talk'
is put into print you recognize that it is not what it was when you
heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from
it. That is its soul. You have nothing but a dead carcass left on your
hands. Color, play of feature, the varying modulations of voice, the
laugh, the smile, the informing inflections, everything that gave that
body warmth, grace, friendliness, and charm, and commended it to your
affection, or at least to your tolerance, is gone, and nothing is left,
but a pallid, stiff and repulsive cadaver.
"Such is 'talk,' almost invariably, as you see it lying in state in an
'interview.' The interviewer seldom tries to tell one how a thing was
said; he merely puts in the naked remark, and stops there. When one
writes for print, his methods are very different. He follows forms which
have but little resemblance to conversation, but they make the reader
understand what the writer is trying to convey. And when the writer is
making a story, and finds it necessary to report some of the talk of his
characters, observe how cautiously and anxiously he goes at that risky
and difficult thing:
"'If he had dared to say that thing in my presence,' said Alfred, taking
a mock heroic attitude, and casting an arch glance upon the company,
'blood would have flowed.'
"'If he had dared to say that thing in my presence,' said Hawkwood, with
that in his eye which caused more than one heart in that guilty
assemblage to quake, 'blood would have flowed.'
"'If he had dared to say that thing in my presence,' said the paltry
blusterer, with valor on his tongue and pallor on his lips, 'blood would
"So painfully aware is the novelist that naked talk in print conveys no
meaning, that he loads, and often overloads, almost every utterance of
his characters with explanations and interpretations. It is a loud
confession that print is a poor vehicle for 'talk,' it is a recognition
that uninterpreted talk in print would result in confusion to the
reader, not instruction.
"Now, in your interview you have certainly been most accurate, you have
set down the sentences I uttered as I said them. But you have not a word
of explanation; what my manner was at several points is not indicated.
Therefore, no reader can possibly know where I was in earnest and where
I was joking; or whether I was joking altogether or in earnest
altogether. Such a report of a conversation has no value. It can convey
many meanings to the reader, but never the right one. To add
interpretations which would convey the right meaning is a something
which would require--what? An art so high and fine and difficult that no
possessor of it would ever be allowed to waste it on interviews.
"No; spare the reader and spare me; leave the whole interview out; it is
rubbish. I wouldn't talk in my sleep if I couldn't talk better than
"If you wish to print anything, print this letter; it may have some
value, for it may explain to a reader here and there why it is that in
interviews as a rule men seem to talk like anybody but themselves.
The Harpers had asked Bok to write a book descriptive of his
autograph-letter collection, and he had consented. The propitious
moment, however, never came in his busy life. One day he mentioned the