REVIEWS OF Recollections of a Lifetime (1856), by Samuel G. Goodrich

Reviews of other works by Goodrich

Knickerbocker, February 1857
The National Era, 18 December 1856
The Athenaeum, reprinted in Littel’s Living Age, 1 January 1858

Knickerbocker, 49 (February 1857): 198-199. Ed. Lewis Gaylord Clark.

Recollections of a Life-Time: or Men and Things I have Seen. In a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend: Historical, Biographical, Anecdotical, and Descriptive. By S. G. Goodrich. In two volumes: pp. 554. New-York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan.

It would be quite without the bounds of probability, that Peter Parley could write a dull book. Peter Parley!—mention but his very name, and how the ears of the little people prick up! A new book from his pen, to them, is as eagerly sought for as was each successive ‘Waverley Novel,’ as it appeared, to ‘children of larger growth.’ And in perusing the volumes on our table, we have been confirmed in an opinion, more than once before expressed in this Magazine that he who can write acceptably for children, has that within him which must enable him to write to the edification of persons of more mature years. ‘Mr. Goodrich,’ as has been well, and with perfect truthfulness, remarked, by a contemporary reviewer, although a youthful-looking gentleman, is sixty-two years of age: (do n’t believe it!) and in the half century covered by his recollecions, he has seen more than most men would see in twice that time. He has been famous in his way. In all the world there is no other individual who has published so many volumes, or done so much in the capacity of an author to govern the character and intelligence of the living age. As ‘Peter Parley,’ he is renowned on all the Continents. But his best title to an enduring reputation will be found in these personal memories, the most natural, genial, and entertaining that have appeared in this country since Franklin’s. Mr. Goodrich has almost a daguerreian minuteness of agreeable description, and every body who has been familiar with the country life of New-England during the first half of this century will recognize the singular fidelity of his delineations. On this subject, indeed, his work will always be held in the highest estimation by competent critics. Simple, earnest, genuine. Every appreciative reader will perceive at a glance that the serious or gay experience of Connecticut, of ‘the central flowery kingdom’ of Yankeedom, is displayed in it just as it is, or as it was before railroads led so generally to the destruction of our local characteristics. Mr. Goodrich’s father was a Congregational clergyman at Ridgefield, one of the most pleasant nurse-towns in Connecticut, and he lived here until he was fifteen. The outlines of his subsequent career, as publisher, author, legislator, traveller, Consul of the United States at Paris, etc., etc., are pretty well known. His personal qualities and the circumstances in which he has been placed, have made him acquainted with a great number of the leading men of his time, both abroad and at home, and his intelligent observation and skill in portraiture, have enabled him to introduce them to us in such a manner that we feel almost as familiar with their presence and idiosyncrasies as he is himself. His anecdotes are fresh, and excellently told, and his reminiscences of American literature and art—such as he alone could give us—are sympathetic, interesting, and judiciously written. Another journal observes: ‘Peter Parley is the author and editor of one hundred and seventy volumes, of which over seven millions have been sold! He has crossed the Atlantic sixteen times, and made, perhaps, the acquaintance of more persons of prominence, and become

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familiar with more important facts and incidents, both at home and abroad, than any other American.’ The literary critic of ‘The Tribune’ daily journal observes: ‘Mr. GOODRICH has had a remarkable and interesting career. As an author and editor, he has published no less than one hundred and seventy volumes, the sales of which amount to the enormous number of seven millions of copies. He was a private soldier in the war of 1812 with England. He was a close observer of the proceedings of the Hartford Convention, and was personally acquainted with most of its members. He has crossed the Atlantic sixteen times, and was a witness of the French Revolution of 1848, and of the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon. With the variety of anecdote, incident, and description introduced in this work, by such a muster of pleasant narrative style as Peter Parley, it cannot fail to present great and various attractions.’ We have but a word to add to this: and that is, that ‘Peter Parley’ has so well forseen, that a book to be a book, must be a book in a ‘good book’s clothing,’ that he has taken good care (in which carefulness he has been laudably emulated by his publishers) to have his volumes appear before the public in their proper guise. The engravings some how (with exceptions) seem the débris of a chaos of ‘cuts.’


The National Era, 10 (18 December 1856): 201. Recollections of a Lifetime: or Men and Things I have Seen. In a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend. Historical, Biographical, Anecdotical, and Descriptive. By S. G. Goodrich. 2 vols. New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton, & Mulligan. 1856.

There are few of the readers of the Era, and certainly none of them who are, have been, or had much to do with, children for the last twenty years, who are not familiar with the name of Peter Parley, and with the volumes that have borne this title. Many, however, may not know who Peter is, or was, or has been. Now, the veritable old man, once pictured with a crutch, who by his portrait (side view) is seen to be a very handsome-looking individual, beyond the shady side of fifty, Samuel G. Goodrich by name, has come forth, in his person, to tell the world about himself, his ancestors, kindred, friends, and acquaintances; what he has seen, and what he has not seen, and what he has not seen, but has heard. Of course, it is an interesting book—anybody may know that; for he is a keen observer of men and things, and has a very good faculty of presenting them to others. Some of the stories do not lose anything in the telling, and a few, we are inclined to think, have somehow got fastened to a wrong parentage. Our readers will no doubt recognise portraits of persons with whom they have been familiar—more so than the author—and instances will occur to them, as well as to ourselves, in which the judgment will be, that had he known his subjects better, he would have given a more faithful delineation. The work might have been compressed, as, in not a few cases, the notes supply no information beyond what is amply possessed, or which lies, in various forms and connections, in volumes of easy access. The gathering of facts of interest—many of them new, in reference to characters before but little known, but who deserve to be better appreciated, is often suitably performed; and we are glad to see such an addition to different phases of our country’s history. The anecdotes which are intermingled help to develop character; the snatches of poetry, and longer pieces, render the work yet more attractive; and, with all the prolixity of certain portions, it is a book that will be read with much pleasure by the numerous friends and acquaintances of the author. There will no doubt be some variance of opinion as to the points of political reference—such, for instance, as the Hartford Convention, and the character and conduct of the Federal party before and during the war of 1812—but the author has stated his own views in a frank and manly manner, and has thrown light on particulars of the general subject; and, in the main, we believe his estimate of the state of affairs in these periods, and of the men who were then prominent actors, will be that on which impartial history will settle down as the most accurate in point of fact. The struggles of his literary life, the piracies he has suffered, and the necessity of proving himself to be himself, or rather Peter Parley, is only another chapter of the annals of successful authorship. There are always men enough who try to wear a borrowed plumage, and we are always glad to see them stripped of their ill-gotten guise, as in this case seems to have been most effectually done.

The illustrations of the volumes are in good style, and rightly are they put in, for a book by this author without pictures would almost set us to questioning its authenticity. The sketches of scenery, too, in prose and poetry, are pleasing, while the traits of character in such men as the poets Brainerd [sic] and Percival, and others, and the history of certain of the fruits of their genius, and the light so thrown on parts of the literary hist[o]ry of the past, will be regarded with gratification. Mr. Goodrich’s observations are not confined, however, to our own country. Abroad, too, he has had opportunities to observe, and we find a pleasant record of his impressions of celebrities, then in the height of their fame, like Scott, Jeffrey, Lockhart, Chalmers, in Scotland; Brougham, Eldon, Hannah Moore, &c., in England; while in France, he presents us with some notices of the Revolution of 1848, and subsequent events, with the persons who bore part in them.

The volumes are thicker than they would have been, but for the large type and wide-leaded lines; but the author himself, so great a sufferer in his eyes, we presume, was determined that no one reading his reminiscences should have occasion for any complaints on this score. The work we doubt not will be received and read by many thousands who cherish kind recollections of his labors for them and their children, and desire to know more about him.

And now, all ye who have read or heard about Peter Parley, who have figured out, in your imagination, who and what sort of a man he might be, just step into any of the bookstores, buy the book, and see for yourselves.


Review. The Athenaeum 2 (31 October 1857): 1353-1354. Reprinted in Littell’s Living Age 56 (1 January 1858): 26-29.

Recollections of a Lifetime; or Men and Things I have Seen: in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend. Historical, Biographical, Anecdotical, and Descriptive. By S. G. Goodrich. 2 vols. (New York, Miller & Co.; London, Low & Co.)

Sixty-four years to an American are something like one hundred and sixty years to any memorialist belonging to the old country, so far as the amount of changes with which man’s memory can be stored is represented. Mr. Goodrich, at all events, has seen far more than he knows how to describe. It is curious to find a man so pleasant in his style as our author was when writing as “Peter Parley” for children, so prosy, and diffuse, and sapless as he is when dealing with the varied topics which fill these two heavy volumes. Yet, they contain instructive matter, and, if abridged and rewritten, they might be transformed into a welcome addition to the library of American biography.

Mr. Goodrich was born in the western part of Connecticut State, at Ridgefield. His father was clergyman there, with a small stipend and a family of eight children,—all of whom, says our Mr. Goodrich “attained respectable positions in life.” But life fifty years ago was primitive,—manners were simple,—and self-sacrifice was not then thought [a] calamity. Let us string together a few traits, showing how people lived in those homely days:—

“Money was scarce, wages being about fifty cents a day, though these were generally paid in meat, vegetables, and other articles of use—seldom in money. There was not a factory of any kind in the place. There was a butcher, but he only went from house to house to slaughter the cattle and swine of his neighbors. There was a tanner, but he only dressed other people’s skins: there was a clothier, but he generally fulled and dressed other people’s cloth. * * Even dyeing blue a portion of the wool, so as to make linsey-woolsey for short-gowns, aprons, and blue-mixed stockings—vital necessities in those days—was a domestic operation. During the autumn, a dye-tub in the chimney corner—thus placed so as to be cherished by the genial heat—was as familiar in all thrifty houses, as the Bible or the back-log. It was covered with a board, and formed a cosy seat in the wide-mouthed fireplace, especially of a chill evening. * * Our bread was of rye, tinged with Indian meal. Wheat bread was reserved for the sacrament and company; a proof not of its superiority, but of its scarcity and consequent estimation. All the vegetables came from our garden and farm. The fuel was supplied by our own woods—sweet-scented hickory, snapping chestnut, odoriferous oak, and reeking, fizzling ash. * * Sugar was partially supplied by our maple-trees. These were tapped in March, the sap being collected, and boiled down in the woods. This was wholly a domestic operation, and one in which all the children rejoiced. * * Rum was largely consumed, but our distilleries had scarcely begun. A half-pint of it was given as a matter of course to every day laborer, more particularly in the summer season. In all families, rich or poor, it was offered to male visitors as an essential point of hospitality, or even good manners. Women—I beg pardon—ladies, took their schnapps, then named ‘Hopkins’ Elixir,’ which was the most delicious and seductive means of getting tipsy that has been invented. Crying babies were silenced with hot toddy, then esteemed an infallible remedy for wind on the stomach. Every man imbibed his morning dram, and this was esteemed temperance. There is a story of a preacher about those days, who thus lectured his parish: ‘I say nothing, my beloved brethren, against taking a little bitters before breakfast, and after breakfast, especially if you are used to it. What I contend against is this dramming, dramming, dramming, at all hours of the day.’ * * We raised our own flax, rotted it, hackled it, dressed it, and spun it. The little wheel, turned by the foot, had its place, and was as familiar as if it had been a member of the family. * * The wool was also spun in the family, partly by my sisters, and partly by Molly Gregory, daughter of our neighbor, the town carpenter. I remember her well as she sang and spun aloft in the attic. In those days, church singing was one of the fine arts—the only one, indeed, which flourished in Ridgefield, except the music of the drum and fife. The choir was divided into four parts, ranged on three sides of the meeting-house gallery. * * Twice a year, that is, in the spring and autumn, the tailor came to the house and fabricated the semiannual stock of clothes for the male members—this being called ‘whipping the cat.’ Mantuamakers and milliners came in their turn, to fit out the female members of the family. There was a similar process as to boots and shoes.”

Here are a few more details, which bring again before us persons, and the scenes, aready introduced to us by Greenwood and Flint:—

“At the period of my earliest recollections, men of all classes were dressed in long, broad-tailed coats, with huge pockets, long

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waistcoats, and breeches. Hats had low crowns, with broad brims—some so wide as to be supported at the sides with cords. The stockings of the parson, and a few others, were of silk in summer and worsted in winter; those of the people were generally of wool, and blue and gray mixed. Women dressed in wide bonnets—sometimes of straw and sometimes of silk: the gowns were of silk, muslin, gingham, &c.—generally close and short-waisted, the breast and shoulders being covered by a full muslin kerchief. Girls ornamented themselves with a large white Vandyke. * * Tavern haunting—especially in winter, when there was little to do—for manufactures had not then sprung up to give profitable occupation, during this inclement season—was common, even with respectable farmers. Marriages were celebrated in the evening, at the house of the bride, with a general gathering of the neighborhood, and usually wound off by dancing. Everybody went, as to a public exhibition, without invitation. Funerals generally drew large processions, which proceeded to the grave. Here the minister always made an address, suited to the occasion. If there was any thing remarkable in the history of the deceased, it was turned to religious account in the next Sunday’s sermon. Singing meetings, to practice church music, were a great resource for the young, in winter. * * Balls at the taverns were frequented by the young; the children of deacons and ministers attended, though the parents did not. The winter brought sleighing, skating, and the usual round of indoor sports.”

We are amused, a page or two later, to find Mr. Goodrich putting in a good word for the practice of “whittling,”—which, with some writers on America, has shared the wrath bestowed on the sitter’s legs resting on the mantel-shelf—on the spitter’s evolutions, whether there be carpet or no carpet. Mr. Goodrich defends the knife, the shingle, and the chips, as so many first steps and implements in mechanical ingenuity.—

“Steam navigation [says he, the electric telegraph, the steam reaper, &c. &c., are american inventions: hence it is that, whether it be at the world’s fair in London or Paris, we gain a greater proportion of prizes for useful inventions than other people. that is what comes of whittling!”

Society was civiller in those days than it has since become.—

“Before I proceed, let me note, in passing, a point of manners then universal, but which has now nearly faded away. When travelers met with people on the highway, both saluted one another with a certain dignified and formal courtesy. All children were regularly taught at school to ‘make their manners’ to strangers; the boys to bow and the girls to courtesy. It was something different from the frank, familiar ‘How are you, stranger?’ of the Far West; something different from the ‘Bon jour, serviteur,’ of the Alps. * * For children to salute travelers was, in my early days, as well a duty as a decency. A child who did not ‘make his manners’ to a stranger on the high-road, was deemed a low fellow. * * Jefferson was, or affected to be, very simple in his taste, dress, and manners. He wore pantaloons, instead of breeches, and adopted leather shoe strings in place of buckles. These and other similar things were praised by his admirers as signs of his democracy: a certain coarseness of manners, supposed to be encouraged by the leaders, passed to the led. Rudeness and irreverence were at length deemed democratic, if not democracy. An anecdote, which is strictly historical, will illustrate this. About this time, there was in the eastern part of Connecticut a clergyman by the name of Cleveland, who was noted for his wit. One summer day, as he was riding along, he came to a brook. Here he paused to let his horse drink. Just then, a stranger rode into the stream from the opposite direction, and his horse began to drink also. The animals approached, as is their wont under such circumstances, and thus brought the two men face to face. ‘How are you, priest?’ said the stranger. ‘How are you, democrat?’ said the parson. ‘How do you know I am a democrat?’ said one. ‘How do you know I am a priest?’ said the other. ‘I know you to be a priest by your dress,’ said the stranger. ‘I know you to be a democrat by your address,’ said the parson.”

The above scraps, collected from the pages of prosy writing, over which they are thinly sprinkled, will afford no bad idea of the matter of a large portion of the first volume. How its writer’s education, commenced at a dame-school, which was kept by one Delight Benedict, was continued and carried out,—by what steps he rose into compilation, editorship, authorship, competence, and an European reputation (of its kind),—we do not profess to follow, since the chapters might be shorn of pages, and the pages be shorn of paragraphs, and the paragraphs of words, ere the story could be reduced into such form and compass as would make sketch or extract easy. Some of the passages which will be found most amusing on this side of the Atlantic are “pencillings,” by Mr. Goodrich, of the literary celebrities of

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England and Scotland, taken about the year 1823, telling how “Peter Parley” surprised a person no less awful than the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, on the floor, in high romps with Mrs. Russel’s boys!—how the American was taken out a-riding, and “did not get the trot of Jeffreys mare out of ‘his’ bones for a fortnight,”—and how he found Blackwood, “a plain, short, stocky person, with a large head, bald and flat on the top, who spoke broad Scotch, or rather sang it”:—also, how he dined with Sir Walter Scott’s son-in-law and daughter. From the record of this dinner-party, a passage or two may be extracted.—

“Mrs. Lockhart was now apparently about two and twenty years old—small in person, and girl-like in manner. Her hair was light-brown, cut short, and curled in her neck and around her face. Her cheeks were blooming, and her countenance fall of cheerfulness. Her address was at once graceful and gracious—indicating a lively, appreciative nature and the finest breeding. She had a son, four years old, and at my request, he was brought in. He was a fine boy, “very like his father,” but alas, doomed to an early death. Mrs. Lockhart spoke with great interest of Mr. Irving, who had visited the family at Abbotsford. She said that he slept in a room which looked out on the Tweed. In the morning as he came down to breakfast, he was very pale, and being asked the reason, confessed that he had not been able to sleep. The sight of the Tweed from his window, and the consciousness of being at Abbotsford, so filled his imagination—so excited his feelings, as to deprive him of slumber. She also spoke of Professor Ticknor—laying the accent on the last syllable—as having been at Abbotsford, and leaving behind him the most agreeable impressions. Our lively hostess was requested to give us some music, and instantly complied—the harp being her instrument. She sang Scotch airs, and played several pibrochs—all with taste and feeling. Her range of tunes seemed inexhaustible. Her father sat by, and entered heartily into the performances. He beat time vigorously with his lame leg, and frequently helped out a chorus, the heartiness of his tones making up for some delinquencies in tune and time. Often he made remarks upon the songs, and told anecdotes respecting them. When a certain pibroch had. been played, he said it reminded him of the first time he ever saw Miss Edgeworth. There had come to Abbotsford, a wild Gaelic peasant from the neighborhood of Staffa, and it was proposed to him to sing, a pibroch, common in that region. He had consented, but required the whole party present, to sit in a circle on the floor, while he should sing the song, and perform a certain pantomimic accompaniment, in the center. All was accordingly arranged in the great hall, and the performer had just begun his wild chant, when in walked a tall, stately lady, and announced herself as Miss Edgeworth! * * ‘The most remarkable thing about the American Indians,’ said Blackwood, ‘is their being able to follow in the trail of their enemies, by their footprints left in the leaves, upon the grass, and even upon the moss of the rocks. The accounts given of this seem hardly credible.’—‘I can readily believe it, however,’ said Sir Walter. ‘You must remember that this is a part of their education. I have learned at Abbotsford to discriminate between the hoof-marks of all our neighbors’ horses, and I taught the same thing to Mrs. Lockhart. It is, after all, not so difficult as you might think. Every horse’s foot has some peculiar—either of size, shoeing, or manner of striking the earth. I was once walking with Southey—a mile or more from home—across the fields. At last we came to a bridlepath, leading toward Abbotsford, and here I noticed fresh hoof prints. Of this I said nothing; but pausing and looking up with an inspired expression, I said to Southey—“I have a gift of second sight: we shall have a stranger to dinner!”—“And what may be his name?” was the reply.—“Scott,” said I.—“Ah, it is some relation of yours,” he said; “you have invited him, and you would pass off as an example of your Scottish gift of prophecy, a matter previously agreed upon!”—“Not at all,” said I. “I assure you that till this moment I never thought of such a thing.” ‘When we got home, I was told that Mr. Scott, a farmer living some three or four miles distant, and a relative of mine, was waiting to see me. Southey looked astounded. The man remained to dinner, and he was asked if he had given any intimation of his coming. He replied in the negative: that indeed he had no idea of visiting Abbotsford when he left home. After enjoying Southey’s wonder for some time, I told him that I saw the tracks of Mr. Scott’s horse in the bridle-path, and inferring that he was going to Abbotsford, easily foresaw that we should have him to dinner.’ Mrs. Lockhart confirmed her father’s statement, and told how, in walking over the country together, they had often amused themselves in studying the hoof-prints along the roads. * * Charles Scott, Sir Walter’s second son, a rosy-cheeked youth of about eighteen, was present. He had recently come from Wales, where he had been under the teaching of a Welch clergyman. This subject being mentioned, Blackwood asked Mr. Robinson—a very sober, clerical-looking gentleman—to give the company a sample of a Welch sermon. Two chairs were placed back to back: Blackwood sat in one—his bald, flat pate for a desk,

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and the performer mounted the other—taking one of Mrs. Lockhart’s songs for his notes. It seems he was familiar with the Welch language, and an admirable mimic. His performance was exceedingly amusing. When he became animated, he slapped the music down on Blackwood’s bald pate, and in capping his climaxes, gave it two or three smart thumps with his fist. Blackwood must have had a substantial skull, or he could not have borne it. At last, even he had enough of it, and when he perceived another climax was coming, he dodged, and the sermon was speedily brought to a close. Mr. Robinson was then called upon to imitate an Italian player on the bass-viol. He took a pair of tongs for his bow, and a shovel for the viol, and mounting a pair of spectacles on the tip-end of his nose, he began imitating the spluttering of the instrument by his voice. It was inimitably droll. Sir Walter was quite convulsed, and several of the ladies absolutely screamed. As to myself, I had the side-ache for four-and-twenty hours.”

It may have been already remembered by our readers that Mr. Goodrich was consul at Paris for some years. But it is singular that they should have left such feeble traces or yielded so few traits, as this book reveals. He recounts, too, as diffusely as well can be, how, in his editorial capacity, he did his part in “bringing out” some of the most popular American authors:—among others, Brainard, who wrote his poem on “The Fall of Niagara,” “yet had never been within less than five hundred miles of the cataract,”—Mr. N. P. Willis, who was successful and spoiled from the very outset of his career,—and Mr. Hawthorne, whose up-hill fight towards the eminence on which he now stands is also commemorated.—That this striking humorist and romancer was long in getting his public, none knew better than those concerned in the Athenaeum. But this Journal was not inadvertent to the appearance of something new and real in the world of American imagination; since so long ago as the year 1835, we made our readers acquainted with some of the papers by Mr. Hawthorne then anonymously scattered through the American periodicals, which, a few years later were gathered and published as the “Twice-told Tales.”

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