Starting a Newspaper Syndicate: The Americanization of Edward Bok Chapter 8

Edward felt that his daytime hours, spent in a publishing atmosphere as stenographer with Henry Holt and Company, were more in line with his editorial duties during the evenings. The Brooklyn Magazine was now earning a comfortable income for its two young proprietors, and their backers were entirely satisfied with the way it was being conducted. In fact, one of these backers, Mr. Rufus T. Bush, associated with the Standard Oil Company, who became especially interested, thought he saw in the success of the two boys a possible opening for one of his sons, who was shortly to be graduated from college. He talked to the publisher and editor about the idea, but the boys showed by their books that while there was a reasonable income for them, not wholly dependent on the magazine, there was no room for a third.

Mr. Bush now suggested that he buy the magazine for his son, alter its name, enlarge its scope, and make of it a national periodical. Arrangements were concluded, those who had financially backed the venture were fully paid, and the two boys received a satisfactory amount for their work in building up the magazine. Mr. Bush asked Edward to suggest a name for the new periodical, and in the following month of May, 1887, The Brooklyn Magazine became The American Magazine, with its publication office in New York. But, though a great deal of money was spent on the new magazine, it did not succeed. Mr. Bush sold his interest in the periodical, which, once more changing its name, became The Cosmopolitan Magazine. Since then it has passed through the hands of several owners, but the name has remained the same. Before Mr. Bush sold The American Magazine he had urged Edward to come back to it as its editor, with promise of financial support; but the young man felt instinctively that his return would not be wise. The magazine had been The Cosmopolitan only a short time when the new owners, Mr. Paul J. Slicht and Mr. E. D. Walker, also solicited the previous editor to accept reappointment. But Edward, feeling that his baby had been rechristened too often for him to father it again, declined the proposition. He had not heard the last of it, however, for, by a curious coincidence, its subsequent owner, entirely ignorant of Edward’s previous association with the magazine, invited him to connect himself with it. Thus three times could Edward Bok have returned to the magazine for whose creation he was responsible.

Edward was now without editorial cares; but he had already, even before disposing of the magazine, embarked on another line of endeavor. In sending to a number of newspapers the advance sheets of a particularly striking “feature” in one of his numbers of The Brooklyn Magazine, it occurred to him that he was furnishing a good deal of valuable material to these papers without cost. It is true his magazine was receiving the advertising value of editorial comment; but the boy wondered whether the newspapers would not be willing to pay for the privilege of simultaneous publication. An inquiry or two proved that they would. Thus Edward stumbled upon the “syndicate” plan of furnishing the same article to a group of newspapers, one in each city, for simultaneous publication. He looked over the ground, and found that while his idea was not a new one, since two “syndicate” agencies already existed, the field was by no means fully covered, and that the success of a third agency would depend entirely upon its ability to furnish the newspapers with material equally good or better than they received from the others. After following the material furnished by these agencies for two or three weeks, Edward decided that there was plenty of room for his new ideas.

He discussed the matter with his former magazine partner, Colver, and suggested that if they could induce Mr. Beecher to write a weekly comment on current events for the newspapers it would make an auspicious beginning. They decided to talk it over with the famous preacher. For to be a “Plymouth boy”—that is, to go to the Plymouth Church Sunday-school and to attend church there—was to know personally and become devoted to Henry Ward Beecher. And the two were synonymous. There was no distance between Mr. Beecher and his “Plymouth boys.” Each understood the other. The tie was that of absolute comradeship.

“I don’t believe in it, boys,” said Mr. Beecher when Edward and his friend broached the syndicate letter to him. “No one yet ever made a cent out of my supposed literary work.”

All the more reason, was the argument, why some one should.

Mr. Beecher smiled! How well he knew the youthful enthusiasm that rushes in, etc.

“Well, all right, boys! I like your pluck,” he finally said. “I’ll help you if I can.”

The boys agreed to pay Mr. Beecher a weekly sum of two hundred and fifty dollars—which he knew was considerable for them.

When the first article had been written they took him their first check. He looked at it quizzically, and then at the boys. Then he said simply: “Thank you.” He took a pin and pinned the check to his desk. There it remained, much to the curiosity of the two boys.

The following week he had written the second article and the boys gave him another check. He pinned that up over the other. “I like to look at them,” was his only explanation, as he saw Edward’s inquiring glance one morning.

The third check was treated the same way. When the boys handed him the fourth, one morning, as he was pinning it up over the others, he asked: “When do you get your money from the newspapers?”

He was told that the bills were going out that morning for the four letters constituting a month’s service.

“I see,” he remarked.

A fortnight passed, then one day Mr. Beecher asked: “Well, how are the checks coming in?”

“Very well,” he was assured.

“Suppose you let me see how much you’ve got in,” he suggested, and the boys brought the accounts to him.

After looking at them he said: “That’s very interesting. How much have you in the bank?”

He was told the balance, less the checks given to him. “But I haven’t turned them in yet,” he explained. “Anyhow, you have enough in bank to meet the checks you have given me, and a profit besides, haven’t you?”

He was assured they had.

Then, taking his bank-book from a drawer, he unpinned the six checks on his desk, indorsed each thus: wrote a deposit-slip, and, handing the book to Edward, said:

For deposit (??) in Bank
H. W. Beecher

“Just hand that in at the bank as you go by, will you?”

Edward was very young then, and Mr. Beecher’s methods of financiering seemed to him quite in line with current notions of the Plymouth pastor’s lack of business knowledge. But as the years rolled on the incident appeared in a new light—a striking example of the great preacher’s wonderful considerateness.

Edward had offered to help Mr. Beecher with his correspondence; at the close of one afternoon, while he was with the Plymouth pastor at work, an organ-grinder and a little girl came under the study window. A cold, driving rain was pelting down. In a moment Mr. Beecher noticed the girl’s bare toes sticking out of her worn shoes.

He got up, went into the hall, and called for one of his granddaughters.

“Got any good, strong rain boots?” he asked when she appeared.

“Why, yes, grandfather. Why?” was the answer.

“More than one pair?” Mr. Beecher asked.

“Yes, two or three, I think.”

“Bring me your strongest pair, will you, dear?” he asked. And as the girl looked at him with surprise he said: “Just one of my notions.”

“Now, just bring that child into the house and put them on her feet for me, will you?” he said when the shoes came. “I’ll be able to work so much better.”

One rainy day, as Edward was coming up from Fulton Ferry with Mr. Beecher, they met an old woman soaked with the rain. “Here, you take this, my good woman,” said the clergyman, putting his umbrella over her head and thrusting the handle into the astonished woman’s hand. “Let’s get into this,” he said to Edward simply, as he hailed a passing car.

“There is a good deal of fraud about beggars,” he remarked as he waved a sot away from him one day; “but that doesn’t apply to women and children,” he added; and he never passed such mendicants without stopping. All the stories about their being tools in the hands of accomplices failed to convince him. “They’re women and children,” he would say, and that settled it for him.

“What’s the matter, son? Stuck?” he said once to a newsboy who was crying with a heavy bundle of papers under his arm.

“Come along with me, then,” said Mr. Beecher, taking the boy’s hand and leading him into the newspaper office a few doors up the street.

“This boy is stuck,” he simply said to the man behind the counter. “Guess The Eagle can stand it better than this boy; don’t you think so?”

To the grown man Mr. Beecher rarely gave charity. He believed in a return for his alms.

“Why don’t you go to work?” he asked of a man who approached him one day in the street.

“Can’t find any,” said the man.

“Looked hard for it?” was the next question.

“I have,” and the man looked Mr. Beecher in the eye.

“Want some?” asked Mr. Beecher.

“I do,” said the man.

“Come with me,” said the preacher. And then to Edward, as they walked along with the man following behind, he added: “That man is honest.”

“Let this man sweep out the church,” he said to the sexton when they had reached Plymouth Church.

“But, Mr. Beecher,” replied the sexton with wounded pride, “it doesn’t need it.”

“Don’t tell him so, though,” said Mr. Beecher with a merry twinkle of the eye; and the sexton understood.

Mr. Beecher was constantly thoughtful of a struggling young man’s welfare, even at the expense of his own material comfort. Anxious to save him from the labor of writing out the newspaper articles, Edward, himself employed during the daylight hours which Mr. Beecher preferred for his original work, suggested a stenographer. The idea appealed to Mr. Beecher, for he was very busy just then. He hesitated, but as Edward persisted, he said: “All right; let him come to-morrow.”

The next day he said: “I asked that stenographer friend of yours not to come again. No use of my trying to dictate. I am too old to learn new tricks. Much easier for me to write myself.”

Shortly after that, however, Mr. Beecher dictated to Edward some material for a book he was writing. Edward naturally wondered at this, and asked the stenographer what had happened.

“Nothing,” he said. “Only Mr. Beecher asked me how much it would cost you to have me come to him each week. I told him, and then he sent me away.”

That was Henry Ward Beecher!

Edward Bok was in the formative period between boyhood and young manhood when impressions meant lessons, and associations meant ideals. Mr. Beecher never disappointed. The closer one got to him, the greater he became—in striking contrast to most public men, as Edward had already learned.

Then, his interests and sympathies were enormously wide. He took in so much! One day Edward was walking past Fulton Market, in New York City, with Mr. Beecher.

“Never skirt a market,” the latter said; “always go through it. It’s the next best thing, in the winter, to going South.”

Of course all the marketmen knew him, and they knew, too, his love for green things.

“What do you think of these apples, Mr. Beecher?” one marketman would stop to ask.

Mr. Beecher would answer heartily: “Fine! Don’t see how you grow them. All that my trees bear is a crop of scale. Still, the blossoms are beautiful in the spring, and I like an apple-leaf. Ever examine one?” The marketman never had. “Well, now, do, the next time you come across an apple-tree in the spring.”

And thus he would spread abroad an interest in the beauties of nature which were commonly passed over.

“Wonderful man, Beecher is,” said a market dealer in green goods once. “I had handled thousands of bunches of celery in my life and never noticed how beautiful its top leaves were until he picked up a bunch once and told me all about it. Now I haven’t the heart to cut the leaves off when a customer asks me.”

His idea of his own vegetable-gardening at Boscobel, his Peekskill home, was very amusing. One day Edward was having a hurried dinner, preparatory to catching the New York train. Mr. Beecher sat beside the boy, telling him of some things he wished done in Brooklyn.

“No, I thank you,” said Edward, as the maid offered him some potatoes.

“Look here, young man,” said Mr. Beecher, “don’t pass those potatoes so lightly. They’re of my own raising—and I reckon they cost me about a dollar a piece,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.

He was an education in so many ways! One instance taught Edward the great danger of passionate speech that might unconsciously wound, and the manliness of instant recognition of the error. Swayed by an occasion, or by the responsiveness of an audience, Mr. Beecher would sometimes say something which was not meant as it sounded. One evening, at a great political meeting at Cooper Union, Mr. Beecher was at his brightest and wittiest. In the course of his remarks he had occasion to refer to ex-President Hayes; some one in the audience called out: “He was a softy!”

“No,” was Mr. Beecher’s quick response. “The country needed a poultice at that time, and got it.”

“He’s dead now, anyhow,” responded the voice.

“Not dead, my friend: he only sleepeth.”

It convulsed the audience, of course, and the reporters took it down in their books.

After the meeting Edward drove home with Mr. Beecher. After a while he asked: “Well, how do you think it went?”

Edward replied he thought it went very well, except that he did not like the reference to ex-President Hayes.

“What reference? What did I say?”

Edward repeated it.

“Did I say that?” he asked. Edward looked at him. Mr. Beecher’s face was tense. After a few moments he said: “That’s generally the way with extemporaneous remarks: they are always dangerous. The best impromptu speeches and remarks are the carefully prepared kind,” he added.

Edward told him he regretted the reference because he knew that General Hayes would read it in the New York papers, and he would be nonplussed to understand it, considering the cordial relations which existed between the two men. Mr. Beecher knew of Edward’s relations with the ex-President, and they had often talked of him together.

Nothing more was said of the incident. When the Beecher home was reached Mr. Beecher said: “Just come in a minute.” He went straight to his desk, and wrote and wrote. It seemed as if he would never stop. At last he handed Edward an eight-page letter, closely written, addressed to General Hayes.

“Read that, and mail it, please, on your way home. Then it’ll get there just as quickly as the New York papers will.”

It was a superbly fine letter,—one of those letters which only Henry Ward Beecher could write in his tenderest moods. And the reply which came from Fremont, Ohio, was no less fine!

Did you happen to miss the previous chapter? Read Chapter 7