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Arnold, Melvin (1913-2000)

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Melvin Arnold

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Lynch.

Biographical Introduction
by Alexandra Arnold Lynch, his daughter

Melvin Luxton Arnold was born August 13, 1913, the fifth of seven children, one of whom died in infancy, to Daniel and Letitia Luxton Arnold. His father was an electrician, and the family lived in modest circumstances in Portland,

Mel’s inquiring mind developed early. As young boy, he was severely punished by his fundamentalist father for asking “Who created God?” As he grew up, he found interesting and stimulating friends in the neighborhood. The father of his best friend, Tom Perry, was a basement inventor and scientist, who challenged the boys to experiment and question. The most respected and prosperous neighbors on his block were an African-American professional couple, a rarity in Portland at that time.

Like many young men in the hard economic years of the Great Depression, Mel worked his way through high school. He had an after school job with The News Telegram newspaper, as a night reporter on the police beat. After graduating from Franklin High School, he worked for the paper as a full time reporter. He was always grateful to the City Editor for assigning him to report on the city’s service clubs, because he got a good meal at the noon luncheon meetings.

When his salary was increased one dollar to sixteen dollars a week, he felt financially secure enough to marry his high school sweetheart, Valerie Hendricksen. Their only child, Alexandra, was born in December 1933.

Melvin Arnold

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Lynch.

With his family to support, Mel never had the opportunity or the finances to go on to college. He was self-educated and read omnivorously for the rest of his life, in history, philosophy, sociology . . . everything! Each book’s notes and bibliography led to ever expanding interests to explore. He bought books as he could afford them, underlining as he read, making marginal notes and frequently writing summaries for his files. “Feed your mind!” he told his daughter, and made sure she always had good books to read.

Mel’s responsibilities grew at The News Telegram, and his early contacts with the members of the civic and service clubs developed into important friendships. Among the most socially active citizens were Portland’s liberal ministers, including Dr. Richard Steiner of the First Unitarian Church, who became a good friend and mentor. For several years Mel and his colleague Richard Neuberger (later Oregon’s U.S. Senator) researched and wrote articles on Northwest regional issues as “stringers” for the national media.

In the years leading up to World War II, Mel was an account executive with a major advertising agency in Portland, then was with Portland General Electric as Director of Advertising. During the early 1940s, he received a Presidential appointment to the Northwest Regional Energy Production Board. A “Dollar a Year” man, he never cashed the check. His association and experience with energy issues led to an executive position with Standard Oil, N.J. at the headquarters in New York, in the publications division.

In 1946, at the urging of his friend Dr. Richard Steiner, he accepted the offer from the Unitarian Association as Director of the Beacon Press and The Christian Register.

Melvin Arnold

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Lynch.

As the war was coming to its end, he foresaw the potential healing power of Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of “Reverence for Life.” Schweitzer’s books were no longer in print, and his publisher in England was not interested in new editions. Mel decided to go to Africa and ask Dr. Schweitzer personally for permission to publish his works in America.

This was a turning point, both for Mel and for the Beacon Press. Schweitzer’s enthusiastic acceptance and encouragement gave Mel the confidence to pursue other distinguished authors. For Beacon, it was the beginning of development from a church based program into a nationally respected publisher of scholarly books.

In 1947, Mel and Charles R Joy spent several weeks at the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene. They co-wrote The Africa of Albert Schweitzer which was published jointly by Beacon Press and Harper & Brothers in 1948.

The public interest in Schweitzer that developed was phenomenal. Life magazine even hailed him as “The Greatest Man In The World” in a three-page photo essay, with Dr. Joy’s photographs from the book. In 1949, when Dr. Schweitzer made his first visit to America, to be the keynote speaker at the Goethe bicentennial festival at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, he asked Mel to accompany him as he traveled around the country for speaking engagements, organ recitals, and fund-raising events. It was a memorable time for everyone involved.

Looking back on his career, Mel felt most privileged to have been friend of, and editor for Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King, Jr., both Nobel Prize recipients.

When he retired in the early 1970s, he and Val decided to return to their home state, where they bought a home with three acres on the Applegate River in southern Oregon, near Jacksonville, a historic gold rush town. For the first time they owned their own home and had land for a garden. Mel loved to work in his vegetable garden in the rich soil of the river flood plain. The bountiful harvest of vegetables went to neighbors and the local Grange food bank. He amused his friends with notes about his giant squash and his weight lifting exercises, usually performed with Bach recordings playing in the background. They welcomed the peace and quiet of the country life, with the river, forest and the resident wildlife. Their bend of the river was locally known as “cougar crossing,” and occasionally one was spotted in the area. Their domestic “wildlife” included their beloved Yorkshire Terriers and a succession of abandoned cats who found their way to a new home with the Arnolds.

Of course, he read constantly, subscribing to The New York Times, The London Times Literary Supplement, The Economist, and numerous other periodicals. He continued editing and corresponding with family, friends and colleagues around the world, until his last days. He died April 13, 2000, at the age of 86. Valerie, his wife of 67 years died a few months later.

In 2002, they are survived by daughter Alexandra, her husband Douglas Lynch, grandsons John and Jason, and great grandsons Duncan and Noah.

Beacon Press The Growth of an Idea

It is very difficult to assess the present in the midst of the present; historians are fearful of this process, and I probably should be. However, because the past ten years of the Beacon Press have been inextricably bound up with the director of the division, Mr. Melvin Arnold, his recent resignation to become the associate editor of the Religious Books Department at Harper and Brothers in New York brings a time for evaluation.

Ideas more important than oil

ma arnold7When Melvin Arnold came to 25 Beacon Street ten years ago from the publications group of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, he came with a desire to deal with important religious ideas rather than with oil. He did not feel that there was anything wrong with oil, but ideas were far more important to him. He came to be the director of a newly organized Division of Publications.

After a year, Mr. Arnold realized that book publishing was the best area in which this work might be done. Until this time the Beacon Press had been a small, highly respected publishing house printing hymnbooks, religious education material, ministers’ sermons and books. Far above average in quality, but far below average in sales. Ideas in print are not much use unless they are read.

From this very important but meager beginning developed the Beacon Press of today. In 1948, the Beacon catalogue had 19 titles on its backlist; the spring 1956 catalogue has 321. But the present reputation of the Press lies not in the number of its volumes but in the importance of what has been put in print.

It is interesting to note how prophetic was the earliest major book publishing project of the Beacon Press after Melvin Arnold’s arrival. At a time when the popular men of religion were anti-liberal, the Beacon Press set out to introduce to this country a genius largely unknown to Americans‚ Dr. Albert Schweitzer. In view of his present popularity, it is difficult to realize that, in 1949, when Dr. Schweitzer visited 25 Beacon Street, he made the statement that more Americans had learned of his work after two years of association with the Beacon Press than in the previous twenty years of his association with all other presses. American recognition of a man who had been known only to a limited circle reached a high point with the celebration of Dr. Schweitzer’s eightieth birthday in 1955. At that time eleven Beacon books, of which he was either subject or author, were in bookstores and libraries.

Challenge to political totalitarianism

Another landmark in the publications program of the Beacon Press during the last decade was the challenge to political totalitarianism in the Roman Catholic Church voiced in Paul Blanshard’s three books and in Emmett McLoughlin’s People’s Padre. Beacon was thrown almost accidentally into this fray when the manuscript of American Freedom and Catholic Power, having been refused by several important American publishing houses, was submitted for consideration. After two thorough checkings with authorities in each of the areas the author discussed, Beacon published the book, announcing on the jacket of the first edition: In a democracy, every group that affects public policy must be accountable to the entire citizenry. A democracy cannot survive if Iron Curtains are placed around groups, secular, or clerical, that intervene in public affairs.

Gradually the basis of the Beacon philosophy of democracy has emerged through the decade. At first it directed public attention to the danger of Catholic totalitarianism. Then it became apparent that there were other forces also, both on the so-called right and on the left, which were extreme in their desire to destroy the basic traditions of freedom. In the middle forties, the Press took upon itself the unpopular task of helping American intellectuals face the harsh realities of Communist totalitarianism. This program has received more criticism than any other because many liberals were not then convinced that the Soviet system was totalitarian. Some thought that exposing right-wing radicalism was in the liberal tradition but that the exposing of Stalinism was not. However, in Apostles of Discord, published in 1953, two chapters were devoted to exposing left-wing radicalism in Protestant churches, and thirteen to analyzing right-wing extremism in the same sources.

A less starry-eyed vision

It is also interesting to note that perhaps the largest selection of books presented by any American house dealing with the totalitarianism inherent in the Soviet system is found on the Beacon backlist. Such books, it was hoped, would bring liberals from their “starry-eyed” vision of a new Utopia to the realities of aggressive totalitarianism with a new Communist label. This may be one of the most outstanding contributions of the press.

Another extreme which seemed to threaten American freedom was the very important threat of “McCarthyism,” which for some time American political leaders hesitated to touch. In the book world this was Beacon’s fight, and it is to be remembered that almost all of the books of the opposition were supplied by the Press. Beginning with McCarthy, the Man, the Senator, and the Ism, through McCarthy and the Communists (which enjoyed a brief stay on the best seller lists until the Senate censure motion), Trial by Television, and American Demogogues, Beacon helped to alert America to the implications of “McCarthyism.”

It is impossible to assess the importance of these books in this struggle for freedom in America (although the Press has heard from government officials that its books have upon occasion influenced legislative action), but it is obvious to all that they have played an important part.

In strong contrast to what has become the publishing situation on Madison Avenue in New York, where the sales department wields an increasing authority over editorial decisions, the Beacon Press has always felt that what is printed is of far more importance than whether the balance sheet is in the red or the black. Today the Beacon Press is known by many as one of the most courageous presses in America, often printing books that no regular book publisher would dare touch because of economic and religious pressure. But it has also become known as one of the quality presses of America, rating with those of universities in size and standards.

In the issuing of the new Beacon “quality paperback” series the Press has gained additional stature. Beacon was the third house to enter this field, and the first to introduce the ‘library-sized” paperback. Thus far Beacon Press has published 26 paperback titles, many of them already part of college supplementary reading lists.

When Mr. Arnold became director of the Division of Publications, the publishing operation was small. Today it is a well-established institution with a philosophy of publishing thoroughly in keeping with the liberal faith in which we stand. It has been an accomplishment to which many men might well have been proud to give a whole lifetime.

— By Walter Donald Kring, abridged from the Christian Register, April 1956. At the time of publication, the author was chairman of the AUA Division of Publications and President of Beacon Press.

Melvin Arnold and Unitarian Publishing

ma arnold2While the AUA had a publication purpose since its founding in 1825‚ indeed, a concern for book publication as an organized Unitarian activity preceded the AUA‚ and while there was a formal and continuing book publishing program at the AUA from 1854 on, the first use of the Beacon colophon and name came in 1902‚ 2002 is Beacon Press’s centenary. The Press plans, in 2004, to celebrate 150 years of Unitarian and Universalist book publishing at the General Assembly, with a published history of the Press and other programs. The Beacon Press program, after an effective startup in 1902, was, essentially desultory until the time Melvin Luxton Arnold (later he used only M.L. Arnold) arrived in Boston. By the time of his resignation in December 1955 the Beacon Press list had become bold, innovative, highly visible, and widely respected in public affairs, academic, and religious circles. It had four books, from 1952 to 1955, on the New York Times‘ best seller lists. Its biggest sellers were in the field of Catholic power– Paul Blanshard’s American Freedom and Catholic Power, Communism, Democracy and Catholic Power and Emmett McLoughlin’s Peoples’ Padre. At least the first and the last of these sold a quarter of a million or more copies. But several books critical of McCarthyism were also listed as best sellers and received wide attention: The Herblock Book by the Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post editorial cartoonist, Herbert Block, known to everyone as Herblock; McCarthy, The Man, The Senator and the Ism, by Jack Anderson and Ronald May and McCarthy and the Communists; sponsored by the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. Ralph Lord Roy’s Apostles of Discord, on the infiltration into organized Protestantism by the extreme left and extreme right, also appeared briefly on the Times‘ list.

The book that led the way, the first Blanshard book, was highly controversial‚ for 10 years some top newspapers refused advertising for it, for example. In 1948, when it was to be published (and was), some on the AUA Board of Trustees, fearful of retaliation by Catholics in Boston, had come close to forbidding publication. Had they prevailed none of the history that followed would have occurred because Arnold and most of the rest of the staff would have left, and no successor would have dared publish controversial books other publishers were afraid to handle. But then a publisher who was a trustee pointed out that AUA press directors had never been censored and why start now? The AUA board voted for the freedom to publish.

For the first Blanshard books, and all the other controversial books that followed during Arnold’s tenure, the same process of fact checking and vetting by experts was used. Beacon offered to refund the purchase price if a reader requested it and pledged to correct any confirmed errors its readers (and any others) cited. Fifty or so sets of manuscripts and later, of proofs, for the first Blanshard book, were sent out to authorities on papal history and power for review; all corrections needed were made. Most of these titles promised to issue a supplement free of charge to report mistakes‚ none ever had to be printed for any of these controversial books. Some books carried a coupon on the jacket or enclosed a return postcard for reader responses.

Other important titles on public policy published in these several years were Josiah DuBois’s The Devil’s Disciples on the I.G. Farben cartel and the Nazi movement (DuBois was the chief prosecutor at Nuremburg); and the first books published in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education case against school segregation: the first book by the civil rights intellectual guru, Kenneth B. Clark, Prejudice and Your Child, and the first book by Herbert Hill and Jack Greenberg (both of the NAACP), Citizens Guide to Desegregation; and Alfred McClung Lee’s Fraternities Without Brotherhood; and the first nonfiction book by James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, one of the first cluster of Beacon Paperbacks, the first “library-sized” paperbacks published (the smaller, highly successful Anchor books by Doubleday’s Jason Epstein were the pioneer of quality paperbacks).

But Beacon Press had another distinguished face that was not controversial, except, perhaps, intellectually, publishing first rate scholarly books like Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, Gilbert Murray’s The Greeks and their Gods, books by Sorokin and by Whitehead, John Dewey, Burckhardt, Huizinga, and many others. So, too, it issued many books in world religions, such as the Jefferson Bible, Gandhi’s Autobiography, The Letters of Stephen Wise, and others.

Most notable among the books on liberal religion published by the Press were books by Albert Schweitzer, published beginning in 1949.

— By Jeannette Hopkins, Past Director of Wesleyan University Press.