When popular author Samuel Griswold Goodrich died in 1860, many adults may have felt that they lost a childhood friend. Goodrich’s books made him one of the most influential writers of children’s books in 19th-century America.


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“Death of S. G. Goodrich,” reprinted from the New York Evening Post (from Littell’s Living Age 65 (9 June 1860; pp. 619-620)

The obituary columns of to-day’s city papers contain the announcement of the death of one of the oldest and most popular of American authors, Samuel Griswold Goodrich, better known as “Peter Parley,” and, by the latter pseudonym, familiar to the great majority of children in this country.

Mrs. Barbauld, in England, was one of the first to make juvenile literature a speciality, but her fame in this line has been lately eclipsed by that of Mr. Goodrich. He wrote in that easy, colloquial style which at once attracts a child’s attention, and some ten or fifteen years ago his words were at the height of their popularity. His success attracted others to the same line of literature, and at the present date Peter Parley’s works are, to a great extent, rivalled, if not superseded, by those of later writers—imitators, perhaps, but often equalling the original. Mr. Goodrich may, however, have the credit of really opening the mine of juvenile literature in which the Abbotts, Captain Mayne Reid, Miss Sewell, A. L. O. E. and others have since so successfully worked.

Samuel Griswold Goodrich was born in the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, on the 19th of August, 1793, and was descended from a family which had already distinguished itself in the literary world. He was a nephew of Chauncey Allen Goodrich, an eminent American divine and scholar, who assisted Dr. Noah Webster and Mr. Worcester in their lexicographical pursuits. He counted among his ancestors some of the most learned scholars and prominent statesmen of the early years of the American republic, and appears to have transmitted his literary ability to his descendants, as he leaves a son, who has already attained a fair literary reputation. In 1824, Mr. Goodrich established himself in business in Hartford, and subsequently removed to Boston. From 1828 to 1842 he edited “The Token,” an annual of the style so popular a few years ago. While he wrote for this work himself, he did not neglect to secure efficient aid, numbering Hawthorne among his contributors, as well as Edward Everett, Bishop Doane, Longfellow, Pierpont, Cushing, Tuckerman, Orville Dewey, Charles Sprague, Mrs. Sigourney, Mrs. Osgood, N.P. Willis, W.G. Clark, J.T. Fields and others. In 1827, he commenced the publication of tales under the name of Peter Parley, continuing them till 1857, at an average of one volume each year. At the same time he had other serial works in hand, including “Parley’s Historical Compends,” Parley’s Cabinet Library,” “Merry’s Museum,” and a number of schoolbooks, historical and geographical. In 1838, he published a duodecimo volume of poetry, entitled “The Outcast and other Poems,” and in 1851 another, under the simple title of “Poems.” An octavo, “Les Etats Unis d’ Amerique,” was published in Paris in 1852, and these, with “Sketches from a Student’s Window” (1841), “Ireland and the Irish” (1842), “The Gem Book of British Poetry” (1854), and “Five Letters to my Neighbor Smith,” were his principal works, other than those of the Parley series, and those geographical and historical. Of the latter class his “History of All Nations, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time—in which the History of every Nation, Ancient and Modern, is separately given,” is worthy of notice rather as an example of the author’s skill at compilation and condensation; for few writers we apprehend, would attempt to condense the history of the human race in an octavo of twelve hundred pages.

In 1857 Mr. Goodrich published what he considered to be the crowning work of his life—his “Recollections of a Lifetime, or Men and Things that I have Seen.” In this volume he gives, in a series of familiar letters, lively reminiscences of eminent men, distinguished in the walks of literature, art, and politics, with whom he had associated in the course of his long and busy life. Statesmen, painters, singers, presidents, actors, authors, and divines are all brought within the compass of this work, and there are comparatively few men of celebrity in this country who are not alluded to. Nor is his eiolon Peter Parley forgotten; for it appears that other parties claimed to be the veritable “Peter Parley,” and Mr. Goodrich had to defend his rights. Speaking of his own literary labors, he gives a complete list of his published works, so far as he can remember, and then remarks:—

“I thus stand before the public as the author and editor of about one hundred and seventy volumes, one hundred and sixteen bearing the name of Peter Praley. Of all these, about seven millions of volumes have been sold; about three hundred thousand volumes are now [1857] sold annually.”

Notwithstanding the fact that a large number of spurious Parley books were published by various parties, Mr. Goodrich made a large fortune from the genuine works.

Although such a fertile writer, Mr. Goodrich took an active interest in politics, and was at once tie a member of the Massachusetts Senate and a candidate for Congress. He was also appointed, by President Fillmore, United States Consul to Paris, and resided there several years. His decease was quite sudden. We saw him but a week

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p. 620

ago, down town, as hale and fresh looking as though he were scarce half a century old, instead of being in his sixty-seventh year. During the last few days he was occupied in removing his residence to a country place in Connecticut. On Tuesday afternoon, while in this city, he was taken ill, and the physician summoned declared that his ailment was an affection of the heart. On Wednesday afternoon he became worse, and a few moments after four o’clock he breathed his last. His funeral will take place to-morrow, at ten o’clock, at St. Bartholomew’s church, corner of Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place.—N. Y. Evening Post, 11 May.

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