Part 7 out of 7
cannot help feeling regretful that the custom is not growing more
A man must unquestionably prepare years ahead for his retirement, not
alone financially, but mentally as well. Bok noticed as a curious fact
that nearly every business man who told him he had made a mistake in his
retirement, and that the proper life for a man is to stick to the game
and see it through--"hold her nozzle agin the bank" as Jim Bludso would
say--was a man with no resources outside his business. Naturally, a
retirement is a mistake in the eyes of such a man; but oh, the pathos of
such a position: that in a world of so much interest, in an age so
fascinatingly full of things worth doing, a man should have allowed
himself to become a slave to his business, and should imagine no other
man happy without the same claims!
It is this lesson that the American business man has still to learn:
that no man can be wholly efficient in his life, that he is not living a
four-squared existence, if he concentrates every waking thought on his
material affairs. He has still to learn that man cannot live by bread
alone. The making of money, the accumulation of material power, is not
all there is to living. Life is something more than these, and the man
who misses this truth misses the greatest joy and satisfaction that can
come into his life-service for others.
Some men argue that they can give this service and be in business, too.
But service with such men generally means drawing a check for some
worthy cause, and nothing more. Edward Bok never belittled the giving of
contributions--he solicited too much money himself for the causes in
which he was interested--but it is a poor nature that can satisfy itself
that it is serving humanity by merely signing checks. There is no form
of service more comfortable or so cheap. Real service, however, demands
that a man give himself with his check. And that the average man cannot
do if he remains in affairs.
Particularly true is this to-day, when every problem of business is so
engrossing, demanding a man's full time and thought. It is the rare man
who can devote himself to business and be fresh for the service of
others afterward. No man can, with efficiency, serve two masters so
exacting as are these. Besides, if his business has seemed important
enough to demand his entire attention, are not the great uplift
questions equally worth his exclusive thought? Are they easier of
solution than the material problems?
A man can live a life full-square only when he divides it into three
First: that of education, acquiring the fullest and best within his
reach and power;
Second: that of achievement: achieving for himself and his family, and
discharging the first duty of any man, that in case of his incapacity
those who are closest to him are provided for. But such provision does
not mean an accumulation that becomes to those he leaves behind him an
embarrassment rather than a protection. To prevent this, the next period
Third: Service for others. That is the acid test where many a man falls
short: to know when he has enough, and to be willing not only to let
well enough alone, but to give a helping hand to the other fellow; to
recognize, in a practical way, that we are our brother's keeper; that a
brotherhood of man does exist outside after-dinner speeches. Too many
men make the mistake, when they reach the point of enough, of going on
pursuing the same old game: accumulating more money, grasping for more
power until either a nervous breakdown overtakes them and a sad
incapacity results, or they drop "in the harness," which is, of course,
only calling an early grave by another name. They cannot seem to get the
truth into their heads that as they have been helped by others so should
they now help others: as their means have come from the public, so now
they owe something in turn to that public.
No man has a right to leave the world no better than he found it. He
must add something to it: either he must make its people better and
happier, or he must make the face of the world fairer to look at. And
the one really means the other.
"Idealism," immediately say some. Of course, it is. But what is the
matter with idealism? What really is idealism? Do one-tenth of those who
use the phrase so glibly know it true meaning, the part it has played in
the world? The worthy interpretation of an ideal is that it embodies an
idea--a conception of the imagination. All ideas are at first ideals.
They must be. The producer brings forth an idea, but some dreamer has
dreamed it before him either in whole or in part.
Where would the human race be were it not for the ideals of men? It is
idealists, in a large sense, that this old world needs to-day. Its soil
is sadly in need of new seed. Washington, in his day, was decried as an
idealist. So was Jefferson. It was commonly remarked of Lincoln that he
was a "rank idealist." Morse, Watt, Marconi, Edison--all were, at first,
adjudged idealists. We say of the League of Nations that it is ideal,
and we use the term in a derogatory sense. But that was exactly what was
said of the Constitution of the United States. "Insanely ideal" was the
term used of it.
The idealist, particularly to-day when there is so great need of him, is
not to be scoffed at. It is through him and only through him that the
world will see a new and clear vision of what is right. It is he who has
the power of going out of himself--that self in which too many are
nowadays so deeply imbedded; it is he who, in seeking the ideal, will,
through his own clearer perception or that of others, transform the
ideal into the real. "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
It was his remark that he retired because he wanted "to play" that
Edward Bok's friends most completely misunderstood. "Play" in their
minds meant tennis, golf, horseback, polo, travel, etc.--(curious that
scarcely one mentioned reading!). It so happens that no one enjoys some
of these play-forms more than Bok; but "God forbid," he said, "that I
should spend the rest of my days in a bunker or in the saddle. In
moderation," he added, "yes; most decidedly." But the phrase of "play"
meant more to him than all this. Play is diversion: exertion of the mind
as well as of the body. There is such a thing as mental play as well as
physical play. We ask of play that it shall rest, refresh, exhilarate.
Is there any form of mental activity that secures all these ends so
thoroughly and so directly as doing something that a man really likes to
do, doing it with all his heart, all the time conscious that he is
helping to make the world better for some one else?
A man's "play" can take many forms. If his life has been barren of books
or travel, let him read or see the world. But he reaches his high estate
by either of these roads only when he reads or travels to enrich himself
in order to give out what he gets to enrich the lives of others. He owes
it to himself to get his own refreshment, his own pleasure, but he need
not make that pure self-indulgence.
Other men, more active in body and mind, feel drawn to the modern arena
of the great questions that puzzle. It matters not in which direction a
man goes in these matters any more than the length of a step matters so
much as does the direction in which the step is taken. He should seek
those questions which engross his deepest interest, whether literary,
musical, artistic, civic, economic, or what not.
Our cities, towns, communities of all sizes and kinds, urban and rural,
cry out for men to solve their problems. There is room and to spare for
the man of any bent. The old Romans looked forward, on coming to the age
or retirement, which was definitely fixed by rule, to a rural life, when
they hied themselves to a little home in the country, had open house for
their friends, and "kept bees." While bee-keeping is unquestionably
interesting, there are to-day other and more vital occupations awaiting
the retired American.
The main thing is to secure that freedom of movement that lets a man go
where he will and do what he thinks he can do best, and prove to himself
and to others that the acquirement of the dollar is not all there is to
life. No man can realize, until on awakening some morning he feels the
exhilaration, the sense of freedom that comes from knowing he can choose
his own doings and control his own goings. Time is of more value than
money, and it is that which the man who retires feels that he possesses.
Hamilton Mabie once said, after his retirement from an active editorial
position: "I am so happy that the time has come when I elect what I
shall do," which is true; but then he added: "I have rubbed out the word
'must' from my vocabulary," which was not true. No man ever reaches that
point. Duty of some sort confronts a man in business or out of business,
and duty spells "must." But there is less "must" in the vocabulary of
the retired man; and it is this lessened quantity that gives the tang of
joy to the new day.
It is a wonderful inner personal satisfaction to reach the point when a
man can say: "I have enough." His soul and character are refreshed by
it: he is made over by it. He begins a new life! he gets a sense of a
new joy; he feels, for the first time, what a priceless possession is
that thing that he never knew before, freedom. And if he seeks that
freedom at the right time, when he is at the summit of his years and
powers and at the most opportune moment in his affairs, he has that
supreme satisfaction denied to so many men, the opposite of which comes
home with such cruel force to them: that they have overstayed their
time: they have worn out their welcome.
There is no satisfaction that so thoroughly satisfies as that of going
while the going is good.
The friends of Edward Bok may be right when they said he made a mistake
in his retirement.
As Mr. Dooley says: "It's a good thing, sometimes, to have people size
ye up wrong, Hinnessey: it's whin they've got ye'er measure ye're in
Edward Bok's friends have failed to get his measure--yet!
They still have to learn what he has learned and is learning every day:
"the joy," as Charles Lamb so aptly put it upon his retirement, "of
walking about and around instead of to and fro."
The question now naturally arises, having read this record thus far: To
what extent, with his unusual opportunities of fifty years, has the
Americanization of Edward Bok gone? How far is he, to-day, an American?
These questions, so direct and personal in their nature, are perhaps
best answered in a way more direct and personal than the method thus far
adopted in this chronicle. We will, therefore, let Edward Bok answer
these questions for himself, in closing this record of his
XXXVIII. Where America Fell Short with Me
When I came to the United States as a lad of six, the most needful
lesson for me, as a boy, was the necessity for thrift. I had been taught
in my home across the sea that thrift was one of the fundamentals in a
successful life. My family had come from a land (the Netherlands) noted
for its thrift; but we had been in the United States only a few days
before the realization came home strongly to my father and mother that
they had brought their children to a land of waste.
Where the Dutchman saved, the American wasted. There was waste, and the
most prodigal waste, on every hand. In every street-car and on every
ferry-boat the floors and seats were littered with newspapers that had
been read and thrown away or left behind. If I went to a grocery store
to buy a peck of potatoes, and a potato rolled off the heaping measure,
the groceryman, instead of picking it up, kicked it into the gutter for
the wheels of his wagon to run over. The butcher's waste filled my
mother's soul with dismay. If I bought a scuttle of coal at the corner
grocery, the coal that missed the scuttle, instead of being shovelled up
and put back into the bin, was swept into the street. My young eyes
quickly saw this; in the evening I gathered up the coal thus swept away,
and during the course of a week I collected a scuttleful. The first time
my mother saw the garbage pail of a family almost as poor as our own,
with the wife and husband constantly complaining that they could not get
along, she could scarcely believe her eyes. A half pan of hominy of the
preceding day's breakfast lay in the pail next to a third of a loaf of
bread. In later years, when I saw, daily, a scow loaded with the garbage
of Brooklyn householders being towed through New York harbor out to sea,
it was an easy calculation that what was thrown away in a week's time
from Brooklyn homes would feed the poor of the Netherlands.
At school, I quickly learned that to "save money" was to be "stingy"; as
a young man, I soon found that the American disliked the word "economy,"
and on every hand as plenty grew spending grew. There was literally
nothing in American life to teach me thrift or economy; everything to
teach me to spend and to waste.
I saw men who had earned good salaries in their prime, reach the years
of incapacity as dependents. I saw families on every hand either living
quite up to their means or beyond them; rarely within them. The more a
man earned, the more he--or his wife--spent. I saw fathers and mothers
and their children dressed beyond their incomes. The proportion of
families who ran into debt was far greater than those who saved. When a
panic came, the families "pulled in"; when the panic was over, they "let
out." But the end of one year found them precisely where they were at
the close of the previous year, unless they were deeper in debt.
It was in this atmosphere of prodigal expenditure and culpable waste
that I was to practise thrift: a fundamental in life! And it is into
this atmosphere that the foreign-born comes now, with every inducement
to spend and no encouragement to save. For as it was in the days of my
boyhood, so it is to-day--only worse. One need only go over the
experiences of the past two years, to compare the receipts of merchants
who cater to the working-classes and the statements of savingsbanks
throughout the country, to read the story of how the foreign-born are
learning the habit of criminal wastefulness as taught them by the
Is it any wonder, then, that in this, one of the essentials in life and
in all success, America fell short with me, as it is continuing to fall
short with every foreign-born who comes to its shores?
As a Dutch boy, one of the cardinal truths taught me was that whatever
was worth doing was worth doing well: that next to honesty came
thoroughness as a factor in success. It was not enough that anything
should be done: it was not done at all if it was not done well. I came
to America to be taught exactly the opposite. The two infernal
Americanisms "That's good enough" and "That will do" were early taught
me, together with the maxim of quantity rather than quality.
It was not the boy at school who could write the words in his copy-book
best who received the praise of the teacher; it was the boy who could
write the largest number of words in a given time. The acid test in
arithmetic was not the mastery of the method, but the number of minutes
required to work out an example. If a boy abbreviated the month January
to "Jan."and the word Company to "Co." he received a hundred per cent
mark, as did the boy who spelled out the words and who could not make
the teacher see that "Co." did not spell "Company."
As I grew into young manhood, and went into business, I found on every
hand that quantity counted for more than quality. The emphasis was
almost always placed on how much work one could do in a day, rather than
upon how well the work was done. Thoroughness was at a discount on every
hand; production at a premium. It made no difference in what direction I
went, the result was the same: the cry was always for quantity,
quantity! And into this atmosphere of almost utter disregard for quality
I brought my ideas of Dutch thoroughness and my conviction that doing
well whatever I did was to count as a cardinal principle in life.
During my years of editorship, save in one or two conspicuous instances,
I was never able to assign to an American writer, work which called for
painstaking research. In every instance, the work came back to me either
incorrect in statement, or otherwise obviously lacking in careful
One of the most successful departments I ever conducted in The Ladies'
Home Journal called for infinite reading and patient digging, with the
actual results sometimes almost negligible. I made a study of my
associates by turning the department over to one after another, and
always with the same result: absolute lack of a capacity for patient
research. As one of my editors, typically American, said to me: "It
isn't worth all the trouble that you put into it." Yet no single
department ever repaid the searcher more for his pains. Save for
assistance derived from a single person, I had to do the work myself for
all the years that the department continued. It was apparently
impossible for the American to work with sufficient patience and care to
achieve a result.
We all have our pet notions as to the particular evil which is "the
curse of America," but I always think that Theodore Roosevelt came
closest to the real curse when he classed it as a lack of thoroughness.
Here again, in one of the most important matters in life, did America
fall short with me; and, what is more important, she is falling short
with every foreigner that comes to her shores.
In the matter of education, America fell far short in what should be the
strongest of all her institutions: the public school. A more inadequate,
incompetent method of teaching, as I look back over my seven years of
attendance at three different public schools, it is difficult to
conceive. If there is one thing that I, as a foreign-born child, should
have been carefully taught, it is the English language. The individual
effort to teach this, if effort there was, and I remember none, was
negligible. It was left for my father to teach me, or for me to dig it
out for myself. There was absolutely no indication on the part of
teacher or principal of responsibility for seeing that a foreign-born
boy should acquire the English language correctly. I was taught as if I
were American-born, and, of course, I was left dangling in the air, with
no conception of what I was trying to do.
My father worked with me evening after evening; I plunged my young mind
deep into the bewildering confusions of the language--and no one
realizes the confusions of the English language as does the
foreign-born--and got what I could through these joint efforts. But I
gained nothing from the much-vaunted public-school system which the
United States had borrowed from my own country, and then had rendered
incompetent-either by a sheer disregard for the thoroughness that makes
the Dutch public schools the admiration of the world, or by too close a
regard for politics.
Thus, in her most important institution to the foreign-born, America
fell short. And while I am ready to believe that the public school may
have increased in efficiency since that day, it is, indeed, a question
for the American to ponder, just how far the system is efficient for the
education of the child who comes to its school without a knowledge of
the first word in the English language. Without a detailed knowledge of
the subject, I know enough of conditions in the average public school
to-day to warrant at least the suspicion that Americans would not be
particularly proud of the system, and of what it gives for which
annually they pay millions of dollars in taxes.
I am aware in making this statement that I shall be met with convincing
instances of intelligent effort being made with the foreign-born
children in special classes. No one has a higher respect for those
efforts than I have--few, other than educators, know of them better than
I do, since I did not make my five-year study of the American public
school system for naught. But I am not referring to the exceptional
instance here and there. I merely ask of the American, interested as he
is or should be in the Americanization of the strangers within his
gates, how far the public school system, as a whole, urban and rural,
adapts itself, with any true efficiency, to the foreign-born child. I
venture to color his opinion in no wise; I simply ask that he will
inquire and ascertain for himself, as he should do if he is interested
in the future welfare of his country and his institutions; for what
happens in America in the years to come depends, in large measure, on
what is happening to-day in the public schools of this country.
As a Dutch boy I was taught a wholesome respect for law and for
authority. The fact was impressed upon me that laws of themselves were
futile unless the people for whom they were made respected them, and
obeyed them in spirit more even than in the letter. I came to America to
feel, on every hand, that exactly the opposite was true. Laws were
passed, but were not enforced; the spirit to enforce them was lacking in
the people. There was little respect for the law; there was scarcely any
for those appointed to enforce it.
The nearest that a boy gets to the law is through the policeman. In the
Netherlands a boy is taught that a policeman is for the protection of
life and property; that he is the natural friend of every boy and man
who behaves himself. The Dutch boy and the policeman are, naturally,
friendly in their relations. I came to America to be told that a
policeman is a boy's natural enemy; that he is eager to arrest him if he
can find the slightest reason for doing so. A policeman, I was informed,
was a being to hold in fear, not in respect. He was to be avoided, not
to be made friends with. The result was that, as did all boys, I came to
regard the policeman on our beat as a distinct enemy. His presence meant
that we should "stiffen up"; his disappearance was the signal for us to
So long as one was not caught, it did not matter. I heard mothers tell
their little children that if they did not behave themselves, the
policeman would put them into a bag and carry them off, or cut their
ears off. Of course, the policeman became to them an object of terror;
the law he represented, a cruel thing that stood for punishment. Not a
note of respect did I ever hear for the law in my boyhood days. A law
was something to be broken, to be evaded, to call down upon others as a
source of punishment, but never to be regarded in the light of a
And as I grew into manhood, the newspapers rang on every side with
disrespect for those in authority. Under the special dispensation of the
liberty of the press, which was construed into the license of the press,
no man was too high to escape editorial vituperation if his politics did
not happen to suit the management, or if his action ran counter to what
the proprietors believed it should be. It was not criticism of his acts,
it was personal attack upon the official; whether supervisor, mayor,
governor, or president, it mattered not.
It is a very unfortunate impression that this American lack of respect
for those in authority makes upon the foreign-born mind. It is difficult
for the foreigner to square up the arrest and deportation of a man who,
through an incendiary address, seeks to overthrow governmental
authority, with the ignoring of an expression of exactly the same
sentiments by the editor of his next morning's newspaper. In other
words, the man who writes is immune, but the man who reads, imbibes, and
translates the editor's words into action is immediately marked as a
culprit, and America will not harbor him. But why harbor the original
cause? Is the man who speaks with type less dangerous than he who speaks
with his mouth or with a bomb?
At the most vital part of my life, when I was to become an American
citizen and exercise the right of suffrage, America fell entirely short.
It reached out not even the suggestion of a hand.
When the Presidential Conventions had been held in the year I reached my
legal majority, and I knew I could vote, I endeavored to find out
whether, being foreign-born, I was entitled to the suffrage. No one
could tell me; and not until I had visited six different municipal
departments, being referred from one to another, was it explained that,
through my father's naturalization, I became, automatically, as his son,
an American citizen. I decided to read up on the platforms of the
Republican and Democratic parties, but I could not secure copies
anywhere, although a week had passed since they had been adopted in
I was told the newspapers had printed them. It occurred to me there must
be many others besides myself who were anxious to secure the platforms
of the two parties in some more convenient form. With the eye of
necessity ever upon a chance to earn an honest penny, I went to a
newspaper office, cut out from its files the two platforms, had them
printed in a small pocket edition, sold one edition to the American News
Company and another to the News Company controlling the Elevated
Railroad bookstands in New York City, where they sold at ten cents each.
So great was the demand which I had only partially guessed, that within
three weeks I had sold such huge editions of the little books that I had
cleared over a thousand dollars.
But it seemed to me strange that it should depend on a foreign-born
American to supply an eager public with what should have been supplied
through the agency of the political parties or through some educational
I now tried to find out what a vote actually meant. It must be recalled
that I was only twenty-one years old, with scant education, and with no
civic agency offering me the information I was seeking. I went to the
headquarters of each of the political parties and put my query. I was
regarded with puzzled looks.
"What does it mean to vote?" asked one chairman.
"Why, on Election Day you go up to the ballot-box and put your ballot
in, and that's all there is to it."
But I knew very well that that was not all there was to it, and was
determined to find out the significance of the franchise. I met with
dense ignorance on every hand. I went to the Brooklyn Library, and was
frankly told by the librarian that he did not know of a book that would
tell me what I wanted to know. This was in 1884.
As the campaign increased in intensity, I found myself a desired person
in the eyes of the local campaign managers, but not one of them could
tell me the significance and meaning of the privilege I was for the
first time to exercise.
Finally, I spent an evening with Seth Low, and, of course, got the
But fancy the quest I had been compelled to make to acquire the simple
information that should have been placed in my hands or made readily
accessible to me. And how many foreign-born would take equal pains to
ascertain what I was determined to find out?
Surely America fell short here at the moment most sacred to me: that of
my first vote!
Is it any easier to-day for the foreign citizen to acquire this
information when he approaches his first vote? I wonder! Not that I do
not believe there are agencies for this purpose. You know there are, and
so do I. But how about the foreign-born? Does he know it? Is it not
perhaps like the owner of the bulldog who assured the friend calling on
him that it never attacked friends of the family? "Yes," said the
friend, "that's all right. You know and I know that I am a friend of the
family; but does the dog know?"
Is it to-day made known to the foreign-born, about to exercise his
privilege of suffrage for the first time, where he can be told what that
privilege means: is the means to know made readily accessible to him: is
it, in fact, as it should be, brought to him?
It was not to me; is it to him?
One fundamental trouble with the present desire for Americanization is
that the American is anxious to Americanize two classes--if he is a
reformer, the foreign-born; if he is an employer, his employees. It
never occurs to him that he himself may be in need of Americanization.
He seems to take it for granted that because he is American-born, he is
an American in spirit and has a right understanding of American ideals.
But that, by no means, always follows. There are thousands of the
American-born who need Americanization just as much as do the
foreign-born. There are hundreds of American employers who know far less
of American ideals than do some of their employees. In fact, there are
those actually engaged to-day in the work of Americanization, men at the
top of the movement, who sadly need a better conception of true
An excellent illustration of this came to my knowledge when I attended a
large Americanization Conference in Washington. One of the principal
speakers was an educator of high standing and considerable influence in
one of the most important sections of the United States. In a speech
setting forth his ideas of Americanization, he dwelt with much emphasis
and at considerable length upon instilling into the mind of the
foreign-born the highest respect for American institutions.
After the Conference he asked me whether he could see me that afternoon
at my hotel; he wanted to talk about contributing to the magazine. When
he came, before approaching the object of his talk, he launched out on a
tirade against the President of the United States; the weakness of the
Cabinet, the inefficiency of the Congress, and the stupidity of the
Senate. If words could have killed, there would have not remained a
single living member of the Administration at Washington.
After fifteen minutes of this, I reminded him of his speech and the
emphasis which he had placed upon the necessity of inculcating in the
foreign-born respect for American institutions.
Yet this man was a power in his community, a strong influence upon
others; he believed he could Americanize others, when he himself,
according to his own statements, lacked the fundamental principle of
Americanization. What is true of this man is, in lesser or greater
degree, true of hundreds of others. Their Americanization consists of
lip-service; the real spirit, the only factor which counts in the
successful teaching of any doctrine, is absolutely missing. We certainly
cannot teach anything approaching a true Americanism until we ourselves
feel and believe and practise in our own lives what we are teaching to
others. No law, no lip-service, no effort, however well-intentioned,
will amount to anything worth while in inculcating the true American
spirit in our foreign-born citizens until we are sure that the American
spirit is understood by ourselves and is warp and woof of our own being.
To the American, part and parcel of his country, these particulars in
which his country falls short with the foreign-born are, perhaps, not so
evident; they may even seem not so very important. But to the
foreign-born they seem distinct lacks; they loom large; they form
serious handicaps which, in many cases, are never surmounted; they are a
menace to that Americanization which is, to-day, more than ever our
fondest dream, and which we now realize more keenly than before is our
most vital need.
It is for this reason that I have put them down here as a concrete
instance of where and how America fell short in my own Americanization,
and, what is far more serious to me, where she is falling short in her
Americanization of thousands of other foreign-born.
"Yet you succeeded," it will be argued.
That may be; but you, on the other hand, must admit that I did not
succeed by reason of these shortcomings: it was in spite of them, by
overcoming them--a result that all might not achieve.
XXXIX. What I Owe to America
Whatever shortcomings I may have found during my fifty-year period of
Americanization; however America may have failed to help my transition
from a foreigner into an American, I owe to her the most priceless gift
that any nation can offer, and that is opportunity.
As the world stands to-day, no nation offers opportunity in the degree
that America does to the foreign-born. Russia may, in the future, as I
like to believe she will, prove a second United States of America in
this respect. She has the same limitless area; her people the same
potentialities. But, as things are to-day, the United States offers, as
does no other nation, a limitless opportunity: here a man can go as far
as his abilities will carry him. It may be that the foreign-born, as in
my own case, must hold on to some of the ideals and ideas of the land of
his birth; it may be that he must develop and mould his character by
overcoming the habits resulting from national shortcomings. But into the
best that the foreign-born can retain, America can graft such a wealth
of inspiration, so high a national idealism, so great an opportunity for
the highest endeavor, as to make him the fortunate man of the earth
He can go where he will: no traditions hamper him; no limitations are
set except those within himself. The larger the area he chooses in which
to work, the larger the vision he demonstrates, the more eager the
people are to give support to his undertakings if they are convinced
that he has their best welfare as his goal. There is no public
confidence equal to that of the American public, once it is obtained. It
is fickle, of course, as are all publics, but fickle only toward the man
who cannot maintain an achieved success.
A man in America cannot complacently lean back upon victories won, as he
can in the older European countries, and depend upon the glamour of the
past to sustain him or the momentum of success to carry him. Probably
the most alert public in the world, it requires of its leaders that they
be alert. Its appetite for variety is insatiable, but its appreciation,
when given, is fullhanded and whole-hearted. The American public never
holds back from the man to whom it gives; it never bestows in a
niggardly way; it gives all or nothing.
What is not generally understood of the American people is their
wonderful idealism. Nothing so completely surprises the foreign-born as
the discovery of this trait in the American character. The impression is
current in European countries-perhaps less generally since the war--that
America is given over solely to a worship of the American dollar. While
between nations as between individuals, comparisons are valueless, it
may not be amiss to say, from personal knowledge, that the Dutch worship
the gulden infinitely more than do the Americans the dollar.
I do not claim that the American is always conscious of this idealism;
often he is not. But let a great convulsion touching moral questions
occur, and the result always shows how close to the surface is his
idealism. And the fact that so frequently he puts over it a thick veneer
of materialism does not affect its quality. The truest approach, the
only approach in fact, to the American character is, as Viscount Bryce
has so well said, through its idealism.
It is this quality which gives the truest inspiration to the
foreign-born in his endeavor to serve the people of his adopted country.
He is mentally sluggish, indeed, who does not discover that America will
make good with him if he makes good with her.
But he must play fair. It is essentially the straight game that the true
American plays, and he insists that you shall play it too. Evidence
there is, of course, to the contrary in American life, experiences that
seem to give ground for the belief that the man succeeds who is not
scrupulous in playing his cards. But never is this true in the long run.
Sooner or later--sometimes, unfortunately, later than sooner--the public
discovers the trickery. In no other country in the world is the moral
conception so clear and true as in America, and no people will give a
larger and more permanent reward to the man whose effort for that public
has its roots in honor and truth.
"The sky is the limit" to the foreign-born who comes to America endowed
with honest endeavor, ceaseless industry, and the ability to carry
through. In any honest endeavor, the way is wide open to the will to
succeed. Every path beckons, every vista invites, every talent is called
forth, and every efficient effort finds its due reward. In no land is
the way so clear and so free.
How good an American has the process of Americanization made me? That I
cannot say. Who can say that of himself? But when I look around me at
the American-born I have come to know as my close friends, I wonder
whether, after all, the foreign-born does not make in some sense a
better American--whether he is not able to get a truer perspective;
whether his is not the deeper desire to see America greater; whether he
is not less content to let its faulty institutions be as they are;
whether in seeing faults more clearly he does not make a more decided
effort to have America reach those ideals or those fundamentals of his
own land which he feels are in his nature, and the best of which he is
anxious to graft into the character of his adopted land?
It is naturally with a feeling of deep satisfaction that I remember two
Presidents of the United States considered me a sufficiently typical
American to wish to send me to my native land as the accredited minister
of my adopted country. And yet when I analyze the reasons for my choice
in both these instances, I derive a deeper satisfaction from the fact
that my strong desire to work in America for America led me to ask to be
permitted to remain here.
It is this strong impulse that my Americanization has made the driving
power of my life. And I ask no greater privilege than to be allowed to
live to see my potential America become actual: the America that I like
to think of as the America of Abraham Lincoln and of Theodore
Roosevelt--not faultless, but less faulty. It is a part in trying to
shape that America, and an opportunity to work in that America when it
comes, that I ask in return for what I owe to her. A greater privilege
no man could have.
Edward William Bok: Biographical Data
1863: Born, October 9, at Helder, Netherlands.
1870: September 20: Arrived in the United States.
1870: Entered public schools of Brooklyn, New York.
1873: Obtained first position in Frost's Bakery,
Smith Street, Brooklyn, at 50 cents per week.
1876: August 7: Entered employ of the Western
Union Telegraph Company as office-boy.
1882: Entered employ of Henry Holt & Company as stenographer.
1884: Entered employ of Charles Scribner's Sons as stenographer.
1884: Became editor of The Brooklyn Magazine.
1886: Founded The Bok Syndicate Press.
1887: Published Henry Ward Beecher Memorial (privately printed).
1889: October 20: Became editor of The Ladies' Home Journal.
1890: Published Successward: Doubleday, McClure & Company.
1894: Published Before He Is Twenty: Fleming H. Revell Company.
1896: October 22: Married Mary Louise Curtis.
1897: September 7: Son born: William Curtis Bok.
1900: Published The Young Man in Business: L. C. Page & Company.
1905: January 25: Son born: Cary William Bok.
1906: Published Her Brother's Letters (Anonymous): Moffat, Yard & Co.
1907: Degree of LL.D. of Order of Augustinian Fathers conferred by
order of Pope Pius X., by the Most Reverend Diomede Falconio, D.D.,
Apostolic Delegate to the United States, at Villanova College.
1910: Degree of LL.D. conferred, in absentia, by Hope College, Holland,
Michigan (the only Dutch college in the United States).
1911: Founded, with others, The Child Federation of Philadelphia.
1912: Published: The Edward Bok Books of Self-Knowledge; five
volumes: Fleming H. Revell Company.
1913: Founded, with others, The Merion Civic Association, at Merion,
1915: Published Why I Believe in Poverty: Houghton, Mifflin Company.
1916: Published poem, God's Hand, set to music by Josef Hofmann:
Schirmer & Company.
1917: Vice-president Philadelphia Belgian Relief Commission.
1917: Member of National Y. M. C. A. War Work Council.
1917: State chairman for Pennsylvania of Y. M. C. A. War Work Council.
1918: Member of Executive Committee and chairman of Publicity Committee,
Philadelphia War Chest.
1918: Chairman of Philadelphia Y. M. C. A. Recruiting Committee.
1918: State chairman for Pennsylvania of United War Work Campaign.
1918: August-November: visited the battle-fronts in France as guest of
the British Government.
1919: September 22: Relinquished editorship of The Ladies' Home Journal,
completing thirty years of service.
1920: September 20: Upon the 50th anniversary of arrival in the United
States, published The Americanization of Edward Bok.
The Expression of a Personal Pleasure
I cannot close this record of a boy's development without an attempt to
suggest the sense of deep personal pleasure which I feel that the
imprint on the title-page of this book should be that of the publishing
house which, thirty-six years ago, I entered as stenographer. It was
there I received my start; it was there I laid the foundation of that
future career then so hidden from me. The happiest days of my young
manhood were spent in the employ of this house; I there began
friendships which have grown closer with each passing year. And one of
my deepest sources of satisfaction is, that during all the thirty-one
years which have followed my resignation from the Scribner house, it has
been my good fortune to hold the friendship, and, as I have been led to
believe, the respect of my former employers. That they should now be my
publishers demonstrates, in a striking manner, the curious turning of
the wheel of time, and gives me a sense of gratification difficult of