Ray Stannard Baker, a well-known muckraking journalist, started writing homespun tales of country life under the pseudonym “David Grayson” in 1907. They touched a chord in readers longing for a simpler life, and his nine Grayson books sold over two million copies worldwide.
Baker was born in 1870, moved in Amherst in 1910 and died here in 1946. He initially wrote these tales for his own enjoyment, perhaps out of nostalgia for his childhood in rural Minnesota. He didn’t intend for them to be published. But when he was working on a magazine that was pressed for articles, he adapted his jottings for the next issue, and a star was born.
Sometimes the magazine would have stories with bylines for both Baker and Grayson. He would work for weeks on well-researched journalism in the public interest, and his articles would get little response. But the letters of appreciation for the Grayson stories flooded the magazine office. David Grayson clubs started popping up.
“You have said what I have thought and heard and felt and seen but could not express,” wrote one letter-writer.
The author’s true identity was kept secret for 10 years. In response to a publisher who wanted to reveal it, Baker wrote, “My feeling all along has been that it would confuse without impressing the reader.”
Baker relented only because David Grayson imposters started giving lectures. One convinced a woman to marry him because she thought he wrote the books. Baker even received a bill at his Amherst home for a debt incurred by one imposter.
But Baker wasn’t prepared for the literal-mindedness of David Grayson’s many fans, according to his daughters, Alice and Rachel. People traveled to Amherst and knocked on Baker’s door, and were shocked that he didn’t live in a rural farmhouse, they wrote. The bachelor philosopher of the books actually had a wife and family!
David Grayson’s devoted fans were stunned, appalled, and even resentful, as if they discovered there was no Santa Claus, wrote Frank Prentice Rand in 1961. It was almost as if Baker himself was an imposter, Rand wrote.
Four of the David Grayson books have titles beginning with “Adventures in…” (Contentment, 1907; Friendship, 1910; Understanding, 1925; and Solitude, 1931). These titles provided half of the title for this blog. In future posts I will describe Baker’s impact on Amherst and other aspects of his amazing life.
Here’s a quote from “Adventures in Friendship”: “Contentment, and indeed usefulness, comes as the infallible result of great acceptances, great humilities, of not trying to make ourselves this or that (to conform to some dramatized version of ourselves), but of surrendering ourselves to the fullness of life, of letting life flow through us.”