05/19: David Grayson Clubs

Today I graduated from PennDesign with a Masters of Architecture. My sister was kind enough to give me a copy of The Architecture of Happiness as a graduation gift. I hope to enjoy a bit more balanced life and get a chance to read the book soon. A few weeks ago, while reading The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin I came across a description of a series of magazine articles from 1906 written by Ray Stannard Baker under the pen name David Grayson.

…and Baker, while investigating the problem of race in America, contributed a long series of articles on the pastoral joys to be found outside the nation’s growing cities. The ‘Country Life’ series proved a much needed tonic for Ray Baker’s life and career. Utterly beaten down with weariness following the disintegration of McClure’s, he had returned to the safe haven of his country home in East Lansing, still a small village surrounded by farm houses and stretches of wilderness. Just as the rugged Arizona landscape had once provided solace during an earlier period of depression, so Michigan’s natural beauties now absorbed his attention. For hours each day, he split cord wood, mulched fruit trees, and planted shrubs. Such hard, physical work began to restore his body and mind.

When he received Phillips’ request to rummage his literary cupboard, Baker turned to the private journals he had been keeping for nearly a decade. In these pages, he had recorded not only his thoughts on politics and economics, but daily observations of rural life. Reading over theses entries, he conceived the idea of a fictional alter ego, an educated, successful man, who had abandoned his frenetic city life for the rigors and simple pleasures of life on a farm. When Baker sat down to organize his thoughts, memories of his childhood in the frontier town of St. Croix, and winters working as a school teacher in small Michigan farming communities mingled with his recent experiences in East Lansing. Writing more easily than ever before, Baker completed six potential installments for the magazine in three weeks. Anxious that the portrait of country life would confound readers accustomed to his hard hitting investigative journalism, he chose to solicit an opinion of new work using the pen name David Grayson. Swearing Phillips and the staff to secrecy, he mailed out the manuscript with the note ‘take care of my child.’ Though he later acknowledged how ridiculous his request must have appeared, this more intimate mode of writing was something utterly different than his previous successful work. Finally, after restless days spent rambling through the countryside, the editorial judgment from Phillips arrived by telegraph. “Manuscript a delight. Bully boy. Send more chapters.”

The David Grayson stories instantly resonated with the reading public. Fan letters arrived by the thousands. “You have sublimated the real but commonplace experiences of life that we all enjoy”, one admirer wrote, “but never take the time or have the talent to write about.” David Grayson clubs sprang up in all sections of the country. Women dreamed of marrying a gentleman like David Grayson, a philosopher farmer with a well-stocked library, who had found happiness and peace in growing things, farm auctions, country fairs, school house meetings and neighborly conversations. “David Grayson is a great man,” Lincoln Stephens told Baker. “I never realized there was, in you, such a sense of beauty, so much fine philosophic wisdom. And, most wonderful of all, serenity.” Under such titles as “Adventures in Contentment” and “Adventures in Friendship”, the collected Grayson stories continued for decades, filling six books that sold over two million copies. Not until years later when he discovered that impostors were presenting lectures and readings across the country under the name of David Grayson did Baker finally claim Grayson’s work as his own. 
The quote is a long one, but it reminded me of the Cultural Landscapes class I sat in on earlier this year. If I ever track down the original articles and compilations I’d like to see what role this work had in the rise of the garden suburb and general attitudes on cities and country living.

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