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The Legendary (1828)

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The Legendary, edited by N. P. Willis, was one of Samuel Goodrich’s early attempts to promote American writers. According to its prospectus, printed at the end of volume one, this periodical was “to consist wholly of original pieces in prose and verse, principally illustrative of American history, scenery, and manners.” Plans for the periodical were grand: it would be published “in duodecimo volumes of about three hundred pages each, and a volume will be issued once in three or four months as may be convenient,” the prospectus announced. Writers of prose were paid $1 per page; poets earned more.

Things didn’t turn out quite as planned. Volume one was published in May 1828; volume two didn’t appear until late November or early December. Volume two was the last. “It was kindly treated by the press,” Goodrich noted wryly in his Recollections of a Lifetime, “which generously published without charge, the best pieces in full, saving the reading million the trouble of buying the book and paying for the chaff, which was naturally found with the wheat. … [T]he work proved a miserable failure.” (II, 257-258)

The Legendary did, however, succeed in publishing works on American subjects, by American writers both established and up-and-coming. Lydia Maria Child, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Grenville Mellen, Lydia Sigourney, Sarah Josepha Hale, and Isaac McLellan already were familiar to readers; many also published in The Token, Goodrich’s popular annual. Among the up-and-coming were N. P. Willis himself—at the beginning of a career as a successful poet and prose writer (and several years from being satirized by his sister, Sara Payson Willis, in Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio, series two, and in Ruth Hall)—and William Cutter, who later would edit Robert Merry’s Museum as “Hiram Hatchet.” And, The Legendary published works by another new writer: Samuel Goodrich.

American subjects prevail. “The Camp Meeting” explores the tension between religion and social climbing in early-19th-century America. N. P. Willis gives a portrait of college students out for fun and adventure in “Leaves from a Colleger’s Album.” Native Americans are the focus of several works: “The Indian Wife” and “The Church in the Wilderness,” by Lydia Child; “Sachem’s Hill,” by Eliza Lee Follen. “The Witch” draws on witchcraft accusations in 17th-century New England; Christopher Columbus is the center of Lydia Sigourney’s “First Meeting of the Old and New World” and of J. W. Miller’s “Columbus”; Willis G. Clarke mourns the death that year of young poet John G. C. Brainard, in “Stanzas to the Memory of John G. C. Brainard.” (Brainard was a good friend of Samuel Goodrich, who devotes a number of pages to him in Recollections.) The American landscape inspires H. Pickering (“The Hudson”; “A Forest Scene”), Grenville Mellen (“The Palisadoes”), Anna Maria Wells (“Ascutney”), and Joseph H. Nichols (“Bennett’s Bridge”).

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