“S. G. Goodrich,” by J. C. Derby (from Fifty Years Among Authors, Books and Publishers. Hartford, CT: M.A. Winter & Hatch, Publishers, 1884; pp. 110-123)
Forty years ago “Peter Parley’s Tales, or Stories for Children,” were the best known and most popular books for young people published at that time.
The author, whose real name was Samuel G. Goodrich, was at one time a publisher and bookseller himself. In the year 1820 he published an edition of The Poetical Works of Jno. Trumbull, LL.D., which contained the famous epic of McFingal.
It is stated in the memoir, which prefaces the edition, that it was first published at Hartford before the close of the year 1782, and as no author at that period was entitled by law to the copyright of his productions, the work soon became the prey of every printer and bookseller.
Among more than thirty different editions, one only at any subsequent time was published with the permission or even the knowledge of the writer, and the poem remained the property of newsmongers, hawkers, peddlers and petty shopmen. For this Mr. Goodrich paid the author one
thousand dollars and one hundred copies of the work for the copyright.
Booksellers advised him against the venture, but he secured subscriptions enough, as he supposed, to indemnify himself against any loss; but when the book was published fully one-half of the subscribers declined to take the work.
It has been frequently said, especially among writers themselves, that publishers always profit by the productions of authors, while the latter generally receive little, if any, compensation for their literary efforts. So thought Col. Trumbull, the poet, who surmised he had sold the copyright for his poems too cheap and that his publisher had made too good a bargain: but the result proved that Mr. Goodrich was sold instead of the books, there being no demand for the poems.
To Mr. Goodrich belongs the credit of first introducing Nathaniel Hawthorne to the public in book form. He tells how this was accomplished in his interesting “Recollections of a Lifetime,” as follows:
“I had seen some anonymous publications which seemed to me to indicate extraordinary powers. I inquired of the publishers as to the writer and through them a correspondence ensued between me and ‘N. Hawthorne.’ This name I considered a disguise, and it was not till after many letters had passed, that I met the author, and found it to be a true title, representing a very substantial personage. At this period he was unsettled as to his views; he had tried his hand in literature, and considered himself to have met with a fatal rebuff from the reading world. His mind vacillated between various projects, verging, I think, toward a mercantile profession. I combated his despondence, and assured him of triumph, if he would persevere in a literary career. He wrote numerous articles, which appeared in the Token (an annual edited by Mr. Goodrich); occasionally an astute critic seemed to see through them, and to discover the soul that was in them: but in general they passed without notice.
“Such articles as ‘Sights from a Steeple,’ ‘Sketches beneath an Umbrella,’ ‘The Wives of the Dead,’ ‘The Prophetic Pictures,’ now universally acknowledged to be productions of extraordinary depth, meaning and power, extorted hardly a word of either praise or blame, while columns were given to pieces since totally forgotten. I felt
annoyed, almost angry, indeed, at this. I wrote several articles in the papers, directing attention to these productions, and finding an echo of my views, I recollect to have asked John Pickering to read some of them, and give me his opinion of them. He did as I requested; his answer was that they displayed a wonderful beauty of style, with a kind of double vision, a sort of second sight, which revealed, beyond the outward forms of life and being, a sort of Spirit World, somewhat as a lake reflects the earth around it and the sky above it. He was right no doubt at that period, but ere long a large portion of the reading world obtained a new sense—how or where, or whence, is not easily determined—which led them to study the mystical, to dive beneath and beyond the senses, and to discern, gather and cherish gems and pearls of price in the hidden depths of the soul.
“Hawthorne was in fact, a kind of Wordsworth in prose: less kindly, less genial toward mankind, but deeper and more philosophical. His face was similar: at first he was neglected, at last he had worshippers.
“In 1837, I recommended Mr. Hawthorne to publish a volume comprising his various pieces, which had appeared in the Token and elsewhere. He consented, but as I had ceased to be a publisher, it was difficult to find anyone who would undertake to bring out the work. I applied to the agent of the Stationers’ Company, but he refused, until at last I relinquished my copyright on such of the tales as I had published, to Mr. Hawthorne, and joined a friend of his in a bond to indemnify them against loss, and thus the work was published by the Stationers’ Company under the title of ‘Twice Told Tales,’ and for the author’s benefit. It was deemed a failure for more than a year, when a breeze seemed to rise and fill its sails, and with it, the author was carried on to fame and fortune.”
The following letter from Hawthorne to Mr. Goodrich, the original of which is lying before me, and a copy of which is given on another page, refers to the offer of the first of his productions published in the Token. The “Provincial Tales,” to which Hawthorne refers, are undoubtedly the “Twice Told Tales” above mentioned, only the appeared six years later than their author hoped, and under another and far better title.
“Salem, May 6th, 1830.
“I send you the two pieces for the Token. They were ready some days ago, but I kept them in expectation of hearing from you. I have complied with your wishes in regard to brevity. You can insert them (if you think them worthy a place in your publication) as by the author of ‘Provincial Tales’—such being the title I propose to give my volume. I can conceive no objection to your designating them in this manner, even if my tales should not be published as soon as the Token, or, indeed, if they never see the light at all. An unpublished book is not more obscure than many that creep into the world, and your readers will suppose that the ‘Provincial Tales’ are among the latter.
“S.G. Goodrich, Esq.”
During the seven years which elapsed between the date of this letter and the appearance of “Twice Told Tales,” it would seem that Mr. Goodrich procured considerable literary work for Hawthorne, which was not all to his taste, which he looked up[o]n as drudgery—as well he might—and in which, in consequence, he did not succeed.
In certain publications of late date, language is attributed to Hawthorne at this period, which, for the honor of literature, it would have been better to suppress. Hawthorne complains that he is under-paid, half-paid, and, in some cases, unpaid, and speaks slightingly of the one man out of two, who gave him an opportunity with the public, and who at this very time was doing all in his power to hasten the appearance of Hawthorne’s collected works.
The following letter from Commodore Horatio Bridge,* Hawthorne’s classmate and lifelong friend, to Mr. Frank B. Goodrich, should set this scandalous battle at rest forever:
“Washington, Feb. 2nd, 1884.
“F. B. Goodrich, Esq.,
“I have received yours of the 31st ultimo, and am able to give you what I think very correct information about the publication of the first series of ‘Twice Told Tales.’ It seems to me that any reflection cast upon the prices paid by your father to Mr. Hawthorne for his writings would be unfair, for they were doubtless what he, at that time, felt justified in giving ….
“The time came when it seemed desirable that these tales and some new matter which Mr. Hawthorne had ready should be published in a volume, and he told me that he had applied to your father to publish such a work, which plan he seemed to entertain favorably. But the delay was so great that Mr. Hawthorne became a good deal depressed. From my intimacy with him since boyhood I felt that this discouragement would have an unfavorable influence upon his future, and I determined, without his knowledge, to ascertain the true cause of the delay. Accordingly I wrote to Mr. Goodrich on the subject. The enclosed is a copy of his reply, by which you will see that the want of a guaranty against loss was the obstacle to the publication. The necessary guaranty I at once gave, only requiring that it should be kept secret from Mr. Hawthorne for a time, as his sensitiveness to pecuniary obligation was such that I feared he would refuse to have the book published under such conditions. It was only after the success of the volume was sufficient to show that no one in any way connected with it had lost money, that Hawthorne learned how the publication had been secured. These circumstances may account for any seeming discrepancies in Mr. Hawthorne’s expressions of his obligation to your father.
“If you have ‘The Snow Image’ at hand, you will see what the relations of Mr. Hawthorne and myself were, and that they justified me in doing everything in my power to hasten the fulfillment of my boyish prophecy. As you may suppose, my action was prompted much more by a desire to give Hawthorne reputation, than to secure for him the small profit he would derive from the percentage.
“I have written you very frankly, for I thought you would like to know exactly how matters stood.
“Very truly yours, &c., &c.
The following is the reply by Mr. Goodrich to Mr. Bridge’s letter in reference to the delay spoken of above:
“Boston, Oct. 20th, 1836.
“I received your letter in regard to our friend Hawthorne. It will cost about $450 to print 1,000 volumes in good style. I have seen a publisher and he agrees to publish it if he can be guaranteed $250 as an ultimate resort against loss. If you will find that guarantee, the thing shall be put immediately in hand. I am not now a publisher, but I shall take great interest in this work and I do not think there is any probability that you will ever be called upon for a farthing. The generous spirit of your letter is a reference.
“I only wish to know if you will take the above risk. The publication will be solely for the benefit of Hawthorne, he receiving 10 percent. on the retail price—the usual terms.
“Horatio Bridge, Esq.,
It is difficult to conceive what could have been the motive for the printing of some of Hawthorne’s petty complaints during the period which preceded the appearance of this book.
After retiring from the publishing business, Mr. Goodrich devoted his time to authorship, becoming the most voluminous of any American author, the series of Peter Parley’s juvenile books alone embracing more than 100 volumes, comprising histories, travels, geographies, and illustrating the arts and sciences. In addition to these there are fully as large a number in the various departments of educational literature.
The first volume of Peter Parley’s series was entitled Tales of Peter Parley about America, published in 1827. It was quickly followed by Tales of Peter Parley about Europe, Parley’s Winter Evening Tales, Parley’s Asia, Parley’s Africa, Parley’s Sun, Moon and Stars, and many others.
Their great popularity in this country led to their pub-
lication on the other side. Mr. Tegg, a London publisher, undertook their re-publication and paid Mr. Goodrich a moderate sum for the sale of the same; this soon ceased, however, as Tegg found it easy to have volumes prepared by other writers using the name and fame of Peter Parley, to create a large circulation. Mr. Goodrich also published school histories of the United States, England, France, Greece and Rome, the sale of which has been as large as 50,000 volumes annually, the copyrights received remaining for many years a source of income to his family.
In a little volume entitled Peter Parley’s Geography for Children, is a picture representing him sitting in a chair, with his lame foot bound up, and a crutch at his side, while he was saying to the boys around, “Take care, don’t touch my gouty toe; if you do, I won’t tell you any more stories.” Of this work more than 2,000,000 copies were sold, and, of course, Peter Parley and his crutch were pretty generally associated together in the minds of children.
To represent what an impression this picture produced in the minds of young people, it will be well to give Peter Parley’s own words:
“On another occasion,” he says, “I think at Savannah, a gentleman called upon me, introducing his two grandchildren who were anxious to see Peter Parley. The girl rushed up to me, and gave me a ringing kiss at once. We were immediately the best friends in the world. The boy on the contrary held himself aloof and ran his eye over me up and down, from top to toe. He then walked around surveying me with the most scrutinizing gaze. After this he sat down and during the interview took no further notice of me. At parting he gave me a keen look but said not a word. The next day the gentleman called and told me that his grandson, as they were on their way home, said to him:—‘Grandfather, I wouldn’t have anything to do with that man; he ain’t Peter Parley.’ ‘How do you know that?’ said the grandfather. ‘Because,’ said the boy, ‘he hasn’t got his foot bound up, and he don’t walk with a crutch!”
Indeed the impression of the little boy was shared by
others than himself, and some, even among older persons, still think of Peter Parley as lame, with a gouty toe and crutch.*
In the year 1850, Mr. Goodrich completed a work on an extensive scale, entitled: “A History of All Nations,” the publication of which, in two large octavo volumes, profusely illustrated, had been undertaken by the firm of Wilkins, Carter & Co., now Rice, Kendall, & Co., a large paper house in Boston. But one volume of the work was published, when the author was appointed by President Fillmore, United States Consul in Paris. Mr. Goodrich, before leaving the country to fill his official position, met me in New York, and completed negotiations with me to undertake the publication of this work, as it was out of the line of business of the then publishers, who desired the change as much as he did. In consequence, the transfer was then made.
This was the first subscription book published by my firm, Derby & Miller, and the price, although placed at a high figure, did not prevent the sale of tens of thousands of copies. It was a good work, well illustrated, and gave satisfaction to purchasers.
In 1859, after my removal to New York, the firm of
Derby & Jackson became his publishers, issuing from our press the last two of Peter Parley’s Tales ever written by him, entitled, “The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry and his Young Friends over various Countries of Europe” and “Gilbert Goahead’s Adventures and Travels in Foreign Parts.” These were soon followed by a more pretentious volume, the descriptive title of which was as follows:—
“Peter Parley’s Thousand and One Stories of Fact and Fancy, Wit and Humor, Rhyme, Reason and Romance, Edited by S. G. Goodrich. The intention of this book is to bring whole libraries into a single volume—to furnish a mental meal for every day, every hour,—for every taste, humor, age, caprice—a book of books for the grave and gay, the old and young; therefore we have Science and Philosophy, Rhyme and Reason, Wit and Wisdom, Fact and Fancy, which put together as they come, produce a sort of intellectual plum pudding, inasmuch as the whole is peppered and spiced with puns, conundrums, drolleries, and other ‘Milledulcia’ to say nothing of a garnish of three hundred engravings.”
The very last book ever written by Mr. Goodrich, as well as the most important and extensive, was entitled: “Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom; being a Systematic and Popular Description of the Habits, Structure, and Classification of Animals, from the highest to the lowest forms, with their relation to Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, and the Arts, by S. G. Goodrich (Peter Parley), with 1,500 engravings.”
This work, which was sold by subscription only, reached the sale of many thousand copies, was dedicated to Professor Lous Agassiz—himself, perhaps, at that time the greatest authority on natural history. He was then a professor in Harvard University. I took a copy of this book with a ntoe of introduction from Mr. Goodrich to Professor Agassiz, who seemed greatly pleased with the popular arrangement of the work, and admired the attractive appearance of its mechanical execution as well as the pertinent illustrations. He gave me a strong letter of indorsement, commending
the work to the patronage of the public. This was the first and only time I met this distinguished scholar.
Mr. Goodrich was a good and racy talker, and related many anecdotes of distinguished people he had met.
Among others was his first meeting with Sir Walter Scott. At that time the author of “Waverley” was clerk of a court consisting of three judges, who were themselves distinguished in literature. On one occasion he dined with J. G. Lockhart, the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott. Among the guests were Sir Walter and William Blackwood, the founder of Blackwood’s Magazine. After dinner both Lockhart and Blackwood told stories, thus passing a pleasant half-hour. The wine at last was rather low, and, Mr. Goodrich says, the host ordered the servant to bring more, but Sir Walter said:
“No, no, Lokert”—such was his pronunciation of his son-in-law’s name—“we have had enough; let us go and see the ladies.” And so they went into the parlor.
On another occasion Mr. Goodrich related to me a conversation he had with the same parties on the merits of J. Fenimore Cooper, who was then just publishing his famous novels. Mr. Goodrich gives the following interesting account of this talk in his “Recollections,” before referred to, as follows:—
Mr. Lochart said:—“I have lately been reading an exceedingly clever American novel, entitled ‘The Pioneers’ by Cooper. His descriptive power is very great, and I think he has opened a new field of romance, especially in the hunters along the frontier, who in their intercourse with savages have become half savages themselves. This border life is full of incident, adventure and poetry, while the character of Leather-stocking is original and striking.”
“I have not seen ‘The Pioneers,’ ” said Scott, “but I have read [‘]The Pilot,’ by the same author, which has just been published. It is very clever, and I think it will turn out that his strength lies in depicting sea life and adventures. We really had no good sea tales, and here is a wide field open to a man of true genius.”
In the year 1859, Mr. Goodrich decided to retire from active work in authorship. He had a competence which he derived from his copyrights, and therefore made up his mind that he would enjoy, as far as his health would permit, the fruits of his literary work. He arranged with me for a desk in our publishing office on Broadway. “Just to have a place,” as he said, “where I can meet friends and write occasional letters,” his residence being then on Ninth Street.
On the 9th day of May, 1860, he bade us good-bye according to his usual custom, as he left the store for home. The next morning I was startled to read of his sudden death, which occurred early in the evening from heart disease.
During one of our conversations, he had informed me that in early life he had been troubled with an organic affection of his heart. In the spring of 1832, he traveled in Europe consulting the most eminent specialists of London, Paris and Edinburgh, in diseases of the heart. He was informed by Baron Louis and others that with care he might live twenty years longer. He did live nearly thirty years longer.
From a collection of old letters placed at my disposal, I derive some interesting details of Mr. Goodrich’s early life. It seems that when, at the age of twenty-nine years, he made a voyage to England, he went armed with very flattering credentials for so young a man. Oliver Wolcott, governor of Connecticut, spoke of him as “a gentleman of good habits and perfect integrity,” and again as “possessing unusual industry and perseverance, and being of accomplished manners and address.” John Quincy Adams sent him three letters. Dewitt Clinton presented him to John Jacob Astor; Timothy Pitkin to Richard Rush; Benjamin Silliman spoke of his family as “having been long distinguished for worth and respectability.” At a later period, Daniel Webster, in an autograph letter of four pages, introduced him to Lord Ashley, as “the author of
the various publications which have appeared under the name of Peter Parley.”
From the same album I take the following letters and fragments of letters, addressed to Mr. Goodrich:
“Clapton, June 20th, ’47.
“We are very much pleased to be made aware that you are now in town. We are extremely busy people, as you will believe, and yet are always glad to make the acquaintance of the good and the great, and can manage to find time for that. We like our friends to come to us in the evening. Can you come on Sunday? We are very old-fashioned folks, and on Sundays take tea at six o’clock. Your coming will delight and amaze the children. They have seen so many pictures of Peter Parley and know him so well by idea.
“Gore House, Sept. 30th, 1842.
“I cannot consign to your care a parcel and letter for Mr. Sigourney without thanking you for the charming little volume you were so obliging as to send me. I have perused it with great pleasure, as I have every word from your gifted pen, and hope you will do me the favor of calling on me again, that I may repeat to you in person, the satisfaction we have all had in making your acquaintance. Count d’Orsay and Miss Power unite with me in kind regards, and I remain,
Among the letters connected with Mr. Goodrich’s editorship of the Token I find one from G. W. Doane (then rector of Trinity, in Boston, and afterwards Bishop of New Jersey), speaking of the Token for that year as an “exquisite volume,” but deploring a typographical error in a poem contributed by him; one from Bryant declining, for want of time, a “liberal offer” to illustrate an engraving by Hatch from a design by Inman, but stating that he would rather write for the Token than any other annual; one
from John Quincy Adams offering a fable; one from Hannah F. Gould sending eight articles, from which the editor was to choose one; another from Jared Sparks proposing a sketch of a scene on the North River, to be engraved on steel, &c. &c.
Rufus W. Griswold says in his Poets and Poetry of America:—
“Mr. Goodrich has been a liberal patron of American authors and artists; and it is questionable whether any other person has done as much to improve the style of the book manufacture, or to promote the arts of engraving. It is believed that he has put in circulation more than two millions of volumes of his own productions; all of which inculcate pure morality and cheerful views of life. His syle is simple and unaffected; the flow of his verse, melodious; and his subjects gnerally, such as he is capable of treating most successfully.”
The experience of Mr. Goodrich as an author was, in one respect, remarkable, I may say, altogether exceptional. Some two hundred Parley books, more or less fraudulent, have been published in this country and in England, including annuals, gifts, almanacs, visits, peeps, and rose-buds.
An edition of one of these in sheets, was sent from London to New York, where it was intended to bind them, and then throw them upon the market. They were seized and held, however, and the English pirates compelled to pay a round sum to get their property back. The principal foreign offender in this respect was Thomas Tegg (as has been mentioned), as publisher, and one George Mogridge, better known as “Old Humphrey,” as author. A spurious and mutilated edition of “Recollections of a Lifetime” appeared in New York a quarter of a century after Mr. Goodrich’s death, with a new and deceptive title-page. The Parley books have been translated into, and published in, nearly every foreign language, including modern Greek and Persian. A New York firm occasionally sends a few hundred copies of one of them to Japan.
Blind asylums print, from time to time, a few hundred copies of the same book in raised characters, free of copyright.
Of the genuine issue not far from eleven millions of volumes have been sold up to the present time.