I made my first acquaintance with David Grayson in a dank corner of a bookshop basement. The bare light bulb just overhead had gone out, probably months before, leaving the corner in deep shadow. Ever the intrepid book hunter, I reached for my pocket torch and continued browsing. There, on the shelf nearest the floor, scuffed and soiled, its frayed and faded spine almost illegible, was Adventures in Contentment (1907) by David Grayson. Well, who doesn’t like adventures or contentment? I reached for the volume, blew decades of dust from the top of the spine, and settled myself on the floor. Three pages later I had made a new friend. I was on my feet and up the narrow stairs, clutching my treasure and wondering, as I have so often wondered on making a new literary discovery, why no one had ever mentioned this book to me.
‘David Grayson’ is the pseudonym of Ray Stannard Baker, who at the turn of the twentieth century was one of the most famous journalists and editors in America. With his large, round, rimless glasses, close-cropped white moustache and impeccably tailored suits, he was the personification of the urbane man of letters. Known internationally under his own name for his muckraking articles in the spirit of his colleagues Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, Baker was the confidant of Nobel Laureates and presidents. In the next decades he would accompany his close friend Woodrow Wilson to the peace negotiations at Versailles as an advisor, then write Wilson’s official biography in eight volumes, for which he would be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
The David Grayson books are the memoirs of a man whose life is driven by ‘that vague Success which we Americans love to glorify’ until, struck down by illness and feeling like a man ‘thrown violently from a moving planet’, he reflects for the first time in his life on what it is he has been chasing. Having had it all, he has had enough. Rising at last from his sickbed, he rents a
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