Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American founder of the Roycroft Arts and Crafts community, philosopher, lecturer, critic, publisher, novelist, essayist, and biographer wrote Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (Vols. 1-9), a series of one hundred and eighty biographies of highly influential literary figures including Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Jonathan Swift, William Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman.
Elbert Green Hubbard was born on 19 June, 1856 in Bloomington, Illinois, the son of Francis and Silas Hubbard, a country doctor “whose income never exceeded five hundred dollars a year.” After working on a farm at the age of fifteen, Hubbard held various jobs including door-to-door salesman, teacher, and cub reporter in Chicago before entering Harvard College. He had also been a partner in a soap making factory and when he sold his shares he was able to travel to Europe. He finally settled in the sleepy hamlet of East Aurora, just south of Buffalo in Erie County, New York state, where his parents lived with him and also worked in the Shop at times. He married Bertha Crawford in 1879 with whom he would have four children.
Hubbard had set up “a little building like an old English chapel” beside their home, opening the first printing shop for The Philistine magazine. “We called it `The Philistine’ because we were going after the `Chosen People’ in literature.” Filling its pages with his mordant wit and sometimes controversial but insightful commentary, Roycroft saw an ever increasing demand for the publication. They also printed classic literature books so further stone wings and buildings were added to the property and furnishings created for the offices to accommodate the increase in business. Soon a number of craft items were also available for sale as Hubbard was attracting a growing group of devoted artists who formed the foundation of the Roycroft Shop;
“All boys and girls want to make things with their hands, and they want to make beautiful things, they want to `get along,’ and I've simply given them a chance to get along here, instead of seeking their fortunes in Buffalo, New York or Chicago. They have helped me and I have helped them; and through this mutual help we have made head, gained ground upon the whole.” —from the Introduction to Little Journeys
Similar to the Tuskegee Institute for African Americans in Alabama that was founded in 1881 in part by Booker T. Washington, Roycroft attracted earnest hard working young men and women, pilgrims and admirers from all over the world who wanted to belong to the vibrant artistic community. The Shop gained international acclaim for its hand-illuminated books, Mission furniture, stained glass, leather goods, and copper utensils. “..a Roycrofter is a person who makes beautiful things, and makes them as well as he can.”
In 1895 Hubbard printed an inspirational essay championing a soldier’s mission titled Message to Garcia in The Philistine after a discussion with his son Bert who had said “Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban war. Rowan had gone alone and done the thing—carried the message to Garcia.” First used only as filler, it was immediately praised and eventually re-printed and translated to many languages and inspired adaptations to the screen in 1916 and 1936.
“This article, not much more than a paragraph, covering only fifteen hundred words, was written one evening after supper in a single hour. It was the Twenty-second of February, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-Nine, [first American President George] Washington's Birthday, and we were just going to press with the March “Philistine.” The thing leaped hot from my heart, written after a rather trying day, when I had been endeavoring to train some rather delinquent helpers in the way they should go.” —from the Introduction to Little Journeys
Hubbard’s second wife Alice Moore (1861-1915) was a noted feminist and suffragist and the community soon attracted conventions of radicals, free-thinkers, and reformers. Hubbard was an outspoken speaker on matters of reform and free enterprise. In 1913 he was fined for misusing the U.S. postal service to mail The Philistine `filthy’ material, to his impressive `Who’s Who’ list of subscribers, and lost his right to citizenship. However he soon received pardon by President Woodrow Wilson so that he could travel to Europe to cover the war. The Philistine published his efforts, including “Who Lifted the Lid Off Hell?”
With plans to interview German Kaiser Wilhelm, Elbert and Alice boarded the British ocean liner Lusitania as Saloon Class passengers on 1 May 1915 in New York harbor. Hubbard had three years earlier written poignantly of Isador and Ida Strauss, co-owners of Macy’s department store, and their undying devotion to each other who were aboard the fated Titanic. They had refused to be parted at the last minute in boarding life boats and stayed on her decks. Little did Hubbard know that he and Alice too would meet a watery demise. While in the Irish Sea just off of the coast of Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-20 on 7 May, 1915.
With such contributors as Booker T. Washington and Billy Sunday In Memoriam was published by Roycroft as “a collection of letters and excerpts coming from all nations, creeds and professions—a spontaneous tribute of love, respect and admiration for two great souls. ..Elbert and Alice Hubbard”
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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