The book's title page tells us it contains, "the inspired and inspiring selections, gathered during a life time of discriminating reading for his own use", and the book itself contains 228 pages of uplifting guidance and aspirational advice by eminences such as (to pick one page at random), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Rousseau, Madame De Stael, John Galsworthy, Charles W Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens and Ambrose Bierce.
Intrigued, THC embarked on a research journey to find out who Elbert Hubbard was. It turns out Hubbard was one of those self-made men of late 19th and early 20th century America who embraced many of the new social movements and sought to transform society, though the direction he favored changed over time.
Born in Illinois in 1856, Hubbard first achieved success as the first salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, a Buffalo firm founded in 1875. The company founder, John D Larkin, and Hubbard were marketing genuises and they transformed the company into a mail order and direct consumer sale operation, bypassing commercial middlemen, which resulted in skyrocketing growth into the early 20th century. By 1893, the company catalogue was sent to 1.5 million customers and expanded beyond just selling soaps. According to Wikipedia, by 1905:
By 1905, the catalog was offering over 115 products, including soaps, toiletries, shampoo, coffee and teas, extracts, cocoa, spices, chocolate, soups, perfumes. By 1912, the Larkin Catalogue was second only to the Sears Catalog in variety of products being offered.Elbert Hubbard made enough to retire from Larkin in the mid-1890s. Describing himself as a socialist and anarchist who believed in social, economic, domestic, political, mental and spiritual freedom, he founded the arts and craft community of Roycroft in East Aurora. By 1910, Roycroft was a community of 500 artisans, primarily printers, furniture makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders.
I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Isaiah.Over time he became more critical of socialism and an advocate for the American "can-do" spirit, saying prison was "An example of a Socialist's Paradise, where equality prevails, everything is supplied and competition is eliminated".
Hubbar's second wife, Alicia Moore Hubbard, whom he married after a scandalous affair in which she bore his child before marriage, was also an interesting character, an active suffragette and author.
In a bizarre episode in late 1912, Hubbard pleaded guilty to violating US Postal Service laws banning the sending of indecent material by mail, because one of his publications contained some jokes that, by today's standards, are very tame. He paid a $100 fine and, as a result, lost his right to a US passport. This became significant when World War One broke out a year later and Hubbard came up with the idea of going to Germany to interview Kaiser Wilhelm (at the time the US was neutral).
Unable to obtain a passport, Hubbard applied to President Wilson for a pardon. Initially rejected, he traveled to Washington, went to the White House and spoke with the President's secretary, Josephy Tumulty. Tumulty interrupted a cabinet meeting and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and Attorney General Thomas Gregory heard Hubbard's plea and upon their recommendation, Wilson granted the pardon.
Wilson's pardon allowed the Hubbards to book passage across the Atlantic. They chose to sail to Britain on the RMS Lusitania. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland. The end of their story can be found at The Lusitania Resource:
On Friday, 7 May, Elbert and Alice Hubbard were by the port side saloon class entrance, chatting with Charles Lauriat. Earlier in the voyage, Elbert Hubbard had lent Charles a copy of “Who Lifted the Lid Off Hell?” Hubbard asked, “Do you really think I’ll be a welcome visitor in Germany?”
Hubbard had barely finished speaking when they felt a muffled impact, and “the good ship trembled for a moment under the force of the blow.” They turned to see where the sound was coming from and saw a “smoke and cinders flying up in the air on the starboard side.” A second explosion soon followed.
Lauriat suggested to the Hubbards that they go back to their portside B Deck cabin and retrieve their lifebelts. Alice Hubbard could not swim and seemed to be too stunned at what had happened to move. To Lauriat’s surprise, the Hubbards did nothing. Elbert “stayed by the rail affectionately holding his arm around his wife’s waist.”
“Stay here if you wish,” Lauriat told them, “I’ll fetch some life-jackets for you.”
Lauriat went below to fetch lifebelts for the Hubbards and himself, but when he came back he found that the Hubbards were gone. Lauriat searched for the couple over a dozen times and could not believe that they had just vanished into thin air. Archie Donald saw the Hubbards refuse a place in the lifeboats. Elbert remarked, “What is to be, is to be.”
Ernest Cowper, on his way to save 6-year-old Helen Smith, passed Elbert and Alice Hubbard. Elbert said, “Well, Jack, they have got us. They are a damn sight worse than I ever thought they were.”
Cowper asked, “What are you going to do?”
Elbert shook his head. Alice just smiled and replied, “There does not seem to be anything to do.”
Cowper was then taken by surprise when he saw Elbert and Alice retreat into a room on the Boat Deck and close the door behind them. Cowper surmised that the Hubbards planned to die together and did not want to be parted in the water. In his writings, Elbert had once philosophized, “We are here now, some day we shall go. And when we go we would like to go gracefully.”
True to his word, Elbert Hubbard and his wife became regular heroes and went down with the Lusitania. Their bodies, if recovered, were never identified.
Three thousand people attended the Hubbard funeral in East Aurora.
Eight years later, the Roycrofters published Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book. Fourteen of the original Roycrofter builders were designated as National Historical Landmarks in 1986. This is the Roycroft Campus Corporation website on which you can find many Hubbard epigrams.