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- The Americanization of Edward Bok - 40/64 -
President's messages ever discussed more ethical questions that women should know about and get straight in their minds. As it is, some of your ideas are not at all understood by them; your strenuous-life theory, for instance, your factory-law ideas, and particularly your race-suicide arguments. Men don't fully understand them, for that matter; women certainly do not."
"I am aware of all that," said the President. "What is your plan to remedy it?"
"Have a department in my magazine, and explain your ideas," suggested Bok.
"Haven't time for another thing. You know that," snapped back the President. "Wish I had."
"Not to write it, perhaps, yourself," returned Bok.
"But why couldn't you find time to do this: select the writer here in Washington in whose accuracy you have the most implicit faith; let him talk with you for one hour each month on one of those subjects; let him write out your views, and submit the manuscript to you; and we will have a department stating exactly how the material is obtained and how far it represents your own work. In that way, with only an hour's work each month, you can get your views, correctly stated, before this vast audience when it is not in trolleys or railroadcars."
"But I haven't the hour," answered Roosevelt, impressed, however, as Bok saw. "I have only half an hour, when I am awake, when I am really idle, and that is when I am being shaved."
"Well," calmly suggested the editor, "why not two of those half-hours a month, or perhaps one?"
"What?" answered the President, sitting upright, his teeth flashing but his smile broadening. "You Dutchman, you'd make me work while I'm getting shaved, too?"
"Well," was the answer, "isn't the result worth the effort?"
"Bok, you are absolutely relentless," said the President. "But you're right. The result would be worth the effort. What writer have you in mind? You seem to have thought this thing through."
"How about O'Brien? You think well of him?"
(Robert L. O'Brien, now editor of the Boston Herald, was then Washington correspondent for the Boston Transcript and thoroughly in the President's confidence.)
"Fine," said the President. "I trust O'Brien implicitly. All right, if you can get O'Brien to add it on, I'll try it."
And so the "shaving interviews" were begun; and early in 1906 there appeared in The Ladies' Home Journal a department called "The President," with the subtitle: "A Department in which will be presented the attitude of the President on those national questions which affect the vital interests of the home, by a writer intimately acquainted and in close touch with him."
O'Brien talked with Mr. Roosevelt once a month, wrote out the results, the President went over the proofs carefully, and the department was conducted with great success for a year.
But Theodore Roosevelt was again to be the editor of a department in The Ladies' Home Journal; this time to be written by himself under the strictest possible anonymity, so closely adhered to that, until this revelation, only five persons have known the authorship.
Feeling that it would be an interesting experiment to see how far Theodore Roosevelt's ideas could stand unsupported by the authority of his vibrant personality, Bok suggested the plan to the colonel. It was just after he had returned from his South American trip. He was immediately interested.
"But how can we keep the authorship really anonymous?" he asked.
"Easily enough," answered Bok, "if you're willing to do the work. Our letters about it must be written in long hand addressed to each other's homes; you must write your manuscript in your own hand; I will copy it in mine, and it will go to the printer in that way. I will personally send you the proofs; you mark your corrections in pencil, and I will copy them in ink; the company will pay me for each article, and I will send you my personal check each month. By this means, the identity of the author will be concealed."
Colonel Roosevelt was never averse to hard work if it was necessary to achieve a result that he felt was worth while.
"All right," wrote the colonel finally. "I'll try--with you!--the experiment for a year: 12 articles... I don't know that I can give your readers satisfaction, but I shall try my very best. I am very glad to be associated with you, anyway. At first I doubted the wisdom of the plan, merely because I doubted whether I could give you just that you wished. I never know what an audience wants: I know what it ought to want: and sometimes I can give it, or make it accept what I think it needs--and sometimes I cannot. But the more I thought over your proposal, the more I liked it... Whether the wine will be good enough to attract without any bush I don't know; and besides, in such cases the fault is not in the wine, but in the fact that the consumers decline to have their attention attracted unless there is a bush!"
In the latter part of 1916 an anonymous department called "Men" was begun in the magazine.
The physical work was great. The colonel punctiliously held to the conditions, and wrote manuscript and letters with his own hand, and Bok carried out his part of the agreement. Nor was this simple, for Colonel Roosevelt's manuscript--particularly when, as in this case, it was written on yellow paper with a soft pencil and generously interlined--was anything but legible. Month after month the two men worked each at his own task. To throw the public off the scent, during the conduct of the department, an article or two by Colonel Roosevelt was published in another part of the magazine under his own name, and in the department itself the anonymous author would occasionally quote himself.
It was natural that the appearance of a department devoted to men in a woman's magazine should attract immediate attention. The department took up the various interests of a man's life, such as real efficiency; his duties as an employer and his usefulness to his employees; the employee's attitude toward his employer; the relations of men and women; a father's relations to his sons and daughters; a man's duty to his community; the public-school system; a man's relation to his church, and kindred topics.
The anonymity of the articles soon took on interest from the positiveness of the opinions discussed; but so thoroughly had Colonel Roosevelt covered his tracks that, although he wrote in his usual style, in not a single instance was his name connected with the department. Lyman Abbott was the favorite "guess" at first; then after various other public men had been suggested, the newspapers finally decided upon former President Eliot of Harvard University as the writer.
All this intensely interested and amused Colonel Roosevelt and he fairly itched with the desire to write a series of criticisms of his own articles to Doctor Eliot. Bok, however, persuaded the colonel not to spend more physical effort than he was already doing on the articles; for, in addition, he was notating answers on the numerous letters received, and those Bok answered "on behalf of the author."
For a year, the department continued. During all that time the secret of the authorship was known to only one man, besides the colonel and Bok, and their respective wives!
When the colonel sent his last article in the series to Bok, he wrote:
"Now that the work is over, I wish most cordially to thank you, my dear fellow, for your unvarying courtesy and kindness. I have not been satisfied with my work. This is the first time I ever tried to write precisely to order, and I am not one of those gifted men who can do so to advantage. Generally I find that the 3,000 words is not the right length and that I wish to use 2,000 or 4,000! And in consequence feel as if I had either padded or mutilated the article. And I am not always able to feel that every month I have something worth saying on a given subject.
"But I hope that you have not been too much disappointed."
Bok had not been, and neither had his public!
In the meanwhile, Bok had arranged with Colonel Roosevelt for his reading and advising upon manuscripts of special significance for the magazine. In this work, Colonel Roosevelt showed his customary promptness and thoroughness. A manuscript, no matter how long it might be, was in his hands scarcely forty-eight hours, more generally twenty-four, before it was read, a report thereon written, and the article on its way back. His reports were always comprehensive and invariably interesting. There was none of the cut-and-dried flavor of the opinion of the average "reader"; he always put himself into the report, and, of course, that meant a warm personal touch. If he could not encourage the publication of a manuscript, his reasons were always fully given, and invariably without personal bias.
On one occasion Bok sent him a manuscript which he was sure was, in its views, at variance with the colonel's beliefs. The colonel, he knew, felt strongly on the subject, and Bok wondered what would be his criticism. The report came back promptly. He reviewed the article carefully and ended: "Of course, this is all at variance with my own views. I believe thoroughly and completely that this writer is all wrong. And yet, from his side of the case, I am free to say that he makes out the best case I have read anywhere. I think a magazine should present both sides of all questions; and if you want to present this side, I should strongly recommend that you do so with this article."
Sagamore Hill. April 26th 1916
This is a really noteworth story--a profoundly touching story--of the Americanizing of an immigrant girl, who between babyhood and young womanhood leaps over a space which in all outward and humanizing essentials is far more important than the distance painfully traversed by her forefathers during the preceding thousand years. When we tend to grow disheartened over some of the developments of our American civilization, it is well worth while seeing what this same civilization holds for starved and noble souls who have elsewhere been denied what
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