After the War — What?

by david on 18 June 2019

Cover of “After the War – What?”

What is there to talk about except the one thing we are all thinking about–the war? … I profoundly believe that if the world is to be saved at all, it is to be saved by putting into practise some things which have long been called impractical. The world has been wrecked on the hard rocks of the “practical;” it is time to patch up the old vessel and put to open sea, on the boundless, fathomless, untried waters of the ideal.

On 13 July 1917, the University Club of San Francisco invited Mr. Stockton Axson to speak at a dinner reception for summer session faculty of the University of California. He was Professor of English at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston, Texas, but that was perhaps not the most notable thing about Axson. The most notable thing was that his brother-in-law was the President of the United States.

Stockton Axson (1867-1935)

Isaac Stockton Keith Axson II (who always went by Stockton) was born on 15 June 1867 in Rome, Georgia, the son of Rev Samuel Edward Axson and his wife Margaret Jane Hoyt. It was a troubled childhood–his mother died in childbirth and his father committed suicide–and he struggled throughout his life with mental health. Stockton was still in high school when a graduate student in political science named Woodrow Wilson began courting Stockton’s sister Ellen. They married in 1885, and Stockton and Woodrow soon became close friends.

Wilson, who became President of Princeton University before moving into politics, helped Stockton get a job at Princeton. Axson published little but was popular as an undergraduate lecturer in English literature.

Title page of “After the War – What?”

In conjunction with the publication, in sixty-nine volumes, of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton Legacy Library occasionally issues supplementary volumes about Wilson’s thought or actions. In 1993 they published “Brother Woodrow,” the previously unpublished recollections of the brother-in-law who knew Wilson intimately for forty years and was as deeply devoted to him as he was often puzzled by his behavior. The editors write:

This memoir of Woodrow Wilson is a long-neglected treasure, full of the candid and perceptive observations of Wilson’s brother-in-law and close friend, Stockton Axson. A charming and talented scholar of English literature, Axson became one of the few people in whom the reticent Wilson confided freely. Axson and Wilson met in 1884, when Wilson was courting Axson’s sister Ellen, while Axson was still a school boy. The friendship of the two men ended only with the president’s death in 1924. Axson’s fondness for his mentor, “Brother Woodrow,” pervades this account, but he is frank in his analysis of Wilson’s flaws. As one of only a few personal memoirs of Wilson, this book offers a uniquely intimate view of the “human side” of the introverted president–and a sensitive evocation of the social life of a bygone era.

Page 3 of “After the War – What?”

Axson begins with memories of Wilson’s father and of Wilson’s life as a young man, including his engagement and marriage to Ellen Axson and his early teaching posts. Wilson taught for twelve years at Princeton University before his accession to its presidency, and Axson also taught there during this period. After Wilson began his stormy career as president of Princeton, Axson’s bachelor quarters were often a meeting place for the “Wilson faction.” His lucid analysis of Wilson’s successes and failures as Princeton’s president is one of the highlights of the book–and probably the best record of these years of Wilson’s life.

The book ends with a look behind the scenes of Wilson’s career as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States, and an analysis of the growing complexity of his personality. “It is Uncle Joseph [Wilson’s father] in him,” observed one relative of Wilson’s seeming rigidity. From the standpoint of a loving family member, Axson offers a penetrating but sympathetic report on how Wilson changed as he bore the terrible burdens of World War I and its aftermath.

Page 14 of “After the War – What?”

Stockton Axson moved from Princeton to Rice in 1913. Excepting a two-year stint as national secretary of the American Red Cross, he remained at Rice until his death on 26 February 1935.

The book is a thin volume: only twelve pages of text, though there are almost as many blank leaves at the back as there are printed ones in the front. It is bound in brown cloth over boards, and issued with a delicate glassine dustjacket. For this title Elder used high quality Italian laid paper with a “Tuscany” watermark. The book was issued in October 1917, and may have been a vanity publication.

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The President’s War Message

by david on 11 November 2018

Cover of “The President’s War Message”

On hundred years ago today, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, France and Germany signed armistice documents in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne, France, bringing the First World War to an end.

Paul Elder & Company published two short books in connection with the War. The first of these, The President’s War Message, is the text of Woodrow Wilson’s address to Congress on 2 April 1917, asking that a state of war be declared between the United States and Germany.

The United States had remained neutral up until then, despite such events as the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Lusitania by German submarines on 7 May 1915, which killed 1,198 people including 128 Americans. Wilson insisted that Germany stop attacks on passenger ships, to which the Germans agreed. Wilson’s reelection in 1916 was attributed partly to his success in keeping the US out of the war. But in January 1917, Great Britain intercepted a German telegram informing Mexico that they would be resuming attacks on passenger ships, and offering to help Mexico reacquire Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Wilson released the telegram to the US public, and used it as justification for going to war. After Germany sank seven American merchant ships, Wilson gave his speech on April 2nd, and Congress declared war on April 6th.

Frontispiece and title page of “The President’s War Message”

Germany had launched the March 1918 “Spring Offensive” in an attempt to win the war before the Americans arrived. They advanced to within 75 miles of Paris, but there the offensive stalled. By summertime, 10,000 American soldiers arrived in France every day. The resulting “Hundred Days Offensive” was the decisive campaign of the war, and by November the Germans sued for peace.

Page 3 of “The President’s War Message”

As Adam Hochschild wrote in the New Yorker on 5 Nov 2018, the war ended as senselessly as it started, with more soldiers perishing on Armistice Day–2,738 killed, 8,206 wounded or missing–than did in Normandy on D-Day, 1944. Though the Armistice was signed at 5am, it would not take effect until 11:11am, and many Allied divisions fought on, trying to gain ground that would be conceded just hours later. The last American died at 10:59am when he charged a German machine-gun crew, and ignored their pleas to stop.

Pages 14-15 of “The President’s War Message”

The human toll of World War I was truly horrific. Ten million men died in combat, with twenty-one million wounded (the “Lost Generation”). Almost eight million civilians were also killed, and dozens if not hundreds of cities and towns in France and Belgium were bombed into dust. The war destroyed Europe’s old order, along with the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires.

My personal wish for all of us: may we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world. Let peace fill the earth as waters fill the sea.

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Drawing Room Plays

12 August 2018

Some works deserve to be forgotten, and Grace Luce Irwin’s Drawing Room Plays (1903) is one of these. Grace Adelaide Luce (1877-1914) grew up in San Diego, and after two years at Stanford University she moved to San Francisco. There she met and married Wallace Irwin, author of Paul Elder’s perhaps best-selling book, Love Sonnets of a […]

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The Boers and the Uitlanders

5 July 2018

Why did Elder & Shepard publish a book about a guerilla war in southern Africa? In 1901 the southern tip of Africa was immersed in a conflict known as the Boer War. The belligerents were the Boers, pastoral farmers who were descendants of the original 17th- and 18th-century Cape Dutch settlers, and the British Empire. […]

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The Abbey Classics

12 January 2018

Paul Elder’s Abbey Classics series comes complete with a little mystery: how many titles were there? Like the Panel Books, Paul Elder contracted The Abbey Classics from another printer, this one presumably in New York City. Publicity for the first two Abbey Classics volumes appeared in August 1907, and for the next two in November. In his “Thoughts For Your Friends” catalog […]

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Happy Holidays from paulelder.org

17 December 2017
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The Panel Books

6 December 2017

The following item appeared in the 7 Sep 1907 edition of The Publishers’ Weekly (an American book-trade journal), page 551 Paul Elder & Company, in connection with Sisley’s, of London, are about to publish a handy volume series of standard works under the general title of The Panel Books. Twenty titles will be ready in September. Sisley’s had issued The Panel Books in the […]

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Impression Classics

30 November 2017

Book series that gather and reprint public domain fiction have a long history. Perhaps the earliest series was Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill, founded by British publisher John Bell in 1777. Later British series included Routledge’s Railway Library (1848–99) and the Everyman’s Library (1906-). A well-known American example is the Modern Library (1925-70). Book series were a familiar sight at any […]

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Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson

21 November 2017

The introduction to Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson begins: “The Stanford English Club issues this little book in connection with, and in commemoration of, the presentation of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour at Stanford University in March, 1905. “This is one of a series of presentations of old English plays in […]

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Poems

1 September 2017

Paul Elder published a lot of poetry in his career: of the 420 titles on the checklist, at least sixty-one (15%) are poetry. Alas, not much of it is good poetry. (In this Paul Elder was not alone: I have a friend who collects “bad poetry” from across the Arts & Crafts period.) Irene Hardy’s Poems (1902) is […]

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