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- The Americanization of Edward Bok - 60/64 -


in order to face and solve its impending problems. The outstanding question he saw which would immediately face men and women of the country was the problem of Americanization. The war and its after-effects had clearly demonstrated this to be the most vital need in the life of the nation, not only for the foreign-born but for the American as well.

The more one studied the problem the clearer it became that the vast majority of American-born needed a refreshing, and, in many cases, a new conception of American ideals as much as did the foreign-born, and that the latter could never be taught what America and its institutions stood for until they were more clearly defined in the mind of the men and women of American birth.

Bok went to Washington, consulted with Franklin K. Lane, secretary of the interior, of whose department the Government Bureau of Americanization was a part. A comprehensive series of articles was outlined; the most expert writer, Esther Everett Lape, who had several years of actual experience in Americanization work, was selected; Secretary Lane agreed personally to read and pass upon the material, and to assume the responsibility for its publication.

With the full and direct co-operation of the Federal Bureau of Americanization, the material was assembled and worked up with the result that, in the opinion of the director of the Federal Bureau, the series proved to be the most comprehensive exposition of practical Americanization adapted to city, town, and village, thus far published.

The work on this series was one of the last acts of Edward Bok's editorship; and it was peculiarly gratifying to him that his editorial work should end with the exposition of that Americanization of which he himself was a product. It seemed a fitting close to the career of a foreign-born Americanized editor.

The scope of the reconstruction articles now published, and the clarity of vision shown in the selection of the subjects, gave a fresh impetus to the circulation of the magazine; and now that the government's embargo on the use of paper had been removed, the full editions of the periodical could again be printed. The public responded instantly.

The result reached phenomenal figures. The last number under Bok's full editorial control was the issue of October, 1919. This number was oversold with a printed edition of two million copies--a record never before achieved by any magazine. This same issue presented another record unattained in any single number of any periodical in the world. It carried between its covers the amazing total of over one million dollars in advertisements.

This was the psychological point at which to stop. And Edward Bok did. Although his official relation as editor did not terminate until January, 1920, when the number which contained his valedictory editorial was issued, his actual editorship ceased on September 22, 1919. On that day he handed over the reins to his successor.

As Bok was, on that day, about to leave his desk for the last time, it was announced that a young soldier whom he "had met and befriended in France" was waiting to see him. When the soldier walked into the office he was to Bok only one of the many whom he had met on the other side. But as the boy shook hands with him and said: "I guess you do not remember me, Mr. Bok," there was something in the eyes into which he looked that startled him. And then, in a flash, the circumstances under which he had last seen those eyes came to him.

"Good heavens, my boy, you are not one of those two boys in the little hut that I--"

"To whom you read the poem 'Passing Souls,' that evening. Yes, sir, I'm the boy who had hold of your left hand. My bunkie, Ben, went West that same evening, you remember."

"Yes," replied the editor, "I remember; I remember only too well," and again Bok felt the hand in his relax, drop from his own, and heard the words: "Saviour-meet-me-on-my way."

The boy's voice brought Bok back to the moment.

"It's wonderful you should remember me; my face was all bound up--I guess you couldn't see anything but my eyes."

"Just the eyes, that's right," said Bok. "But they burned into me all right, my boy."

"I don't think I get you, sir," said the boy.

"No, you wouldn't," Bok replied. "You couldn't, boy, not until you're older. But, tell me, how in the world did you ever get out of it?"

"Well, sir," answered the boy, with that shyness which we all have come to know in the boys who actually did, "I guess it was a close call, all right. But just as you left us, a hospital corps happened to come along on its way to the back and Miss Nelson--the nurse, you remember?--she asked them to take me along. They took me to a wonderful hospital, gave me fine care, and then after a few weeks they sent me back to the States, and I've been in a hospital over here ever since. Now, except for this thickness of my voice that you notice, which Doc says will be all right soon, I'm fit again. The government has given me a job, and I came here on leave just to see my parents up-State, and I thought I'd like you to know that I didn't go West after all."

Fifteen minutes later, Edward Bok left his editorial office for the last time.

But as he went home his thoughts were not of his last day at the office, nor of his last acts as editor, but of his last caller-the soldier-boy whom he had left seemingly so surely on his way "West," and whose eyes had burned into his memory on that fearful night a year before!

Strange that this boy should have been his last visitor!

As John Drinkwater, in his play, makes Abraham Lincoln say to General Grant:

"It's a queer world!"

XXXVII. The Third Period

The announcement of Edward Bok's retirement came as a great surprise to his friends. Save for one here and there, who had a clearer vision, the feeling was general that he had made a mistake. He was fifty-six, in the prime of life, never in better health, with "success lying easily upon him"--said one; "at the very summit of his career," said another--and all agreed it was "queer," "strange,"--unless, they argued, he was really ill. Even the most acute students of human affairs among his friends wondered. It seemed incomprehensible that any man should want to give up before he was, for some reason, compelled to do so. A man should go on until he "dropped in the harness," they argued.

Bok agreed that any man had a perfect right to work until he did "drop in the harness." But, he argued, if he conceded this right to others, why should they not concede to him the privilege of dropping with the blinders off?

"But," continued the argument, "a man degenerates when he retires from active affairs." And then, instances were pointed out as notable examples. "A year of retirement and he was through," was the picture given of one retired man. "In two years, he was glad to come back," and so the examples ran on. "No big man ever retired from active business and did great work afterwards," Bok was told.

"No?" he answered. "Not even Cyrus W. Field or Herbert Hoover?"

And all this time Edward Bok's failure to be entirely Americanized was brought home to his consciousness. After fifty years, he was still not an American! He had deliberately planned, and then had carried out his plan, to retire while he still had the mental and physical capacity to enjoy the fruits of his years of labor! For foreign to the American way of thinking it certainly was: the protestations and arguments of his friends proved that to him. After all, he was still Dutch; he had held on to the lesson which his people had learned years ago; that the people of other European countries had learned; that the English had discovered: that the Great Adventure of Life was something more than material work, and that the time to go is while the going is good!

For it cannot be denied that the pathetic picture we so often see is found in American business life more frequently than in that of any other land: men unable to let go--not only for their own good, but to give the younger men behind them an opportunity. Not that a man should stop work, for man was born to work, and in work he should find his greatest refreshment. But so often it does not occur to the man in a pivotal position to question the possibility that at sixty or seventy he can keep steadily in touch with a generation whose ideas are controlled by men twenty years younger. Unconsciously he hangs on beyond his greatest usefulness and efficiency: he convinces himself that he is indispensable to his business, while, in scores of cases, the business would be distinctly benefited by his retirement and the consequent coming to the front of the younger blood.

Such a man in a position of importance seems often not to see that he has it within his power to advance the fortunes of younger men by stepping out when he has served his time, while by refusing to let go he often works dire injustice and even disaster to his younger associates.

The sad fact is that in all too many instances the average American business man is actually afraid to let go because he realizes that out of business he should not know what to do. For years he has so excluded all other interests that at fifty or sixty or seventy he finds himself a slave to his business, with positively no inner resources. Retirement from the one thing he does know would naturally leave such a man useless to himself and his family, and his community: worse than useless, as a matter of fact, for he would become a burden to himself, a nuisance to his family, and, when he would begin to write "letters" to the newspapers, a bore to the community.

It is significant that a European or English business man rarely reaches middle age devoid of acquaintance with other matters; he always lets the breezes from other worlds of thought blow through his ideas, with the result that when he is ready to retire from business he has other interests to fall back upon. Fortunately it is becoming less uncommon for American men to retire from business and devote themselves to other pursuits; and their number will undoubtedly increase as time goes on, and we learn the lessons of life with a richer background. But one cannot help feeling regretful that the custom is not growing more rapidly.

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


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