The publishing and literary activities of the predecessors of Ticknor and Fields, 1829-1849
Newsome, Florence Wilson
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The aim of this study is to trace briefly the history of the predecessors of the Boston publishers and booksellers, Ticknor and Fields, from 1829 through 1849 and to record the development of American literature as revealed in the publications of Carter and Hendee, Allen and Ticknor, and William D. Ticknor [and Company]. In 1830 New York was the literary center of America. Such American authors as Cooper, Irving and Bryant were living and writing within the confines of that city. New England could only boast of such minor literary lights as Webster, Dana, Channing, Ticknor, and Everett, and all of these names are better known in other fields of endeavor than pure literature. The American people were still too much occupied with the exigencies of daily life to spend much time in reading, and it was only natural that they should turn to the English reprints of such acknowledged masters as Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, Scott, and Jane Austen, all of whom were at their height during this period; and that they should also turn to the periodical miscellanies, of which the United States and particularly Philadelphia had a great number. But, by 1833 the Knickerbocker School in New York had ceased to grow, and New England, by right of inheritance, again became our literary leader. The lyceum movement, started in Massachusetts in 1826, and the expansion and improvement of the school system in 1827 increased the demand for text and general informational books from adults and children alike. Once the inquiring mind of our Puritan descendants was started on the right track, such far-reaching movements as transcendentalism and abolition were taken up and spread by the newspapers, periodicals, lectures, and published in books throughout the country. In 1830 only 40 per cent of the books published in the United States were by American authors; in 1840 approximately 55 per cent were of native origin; and in 1850 nearly 70 per cent were of American origin. In this thirty year period American changed from dependent reprint trade to thriving self-sufficient American booktrade. Books were distributed by the subscription agent, the peddler, the auction sale, and the retail store, which, in order to pay a profit, was generally operated in conjunction with some other enterprise. Early in this period booksellers functioned under an exchange arrangement, and when the system ceased to function in the late 1830's and 1840's, ruinous piracy prevailed. Agitation for adequate copyright legislation, advocated by Charles Dickens and several other authors and publishers, was underway as early as 1842. The site on the corner of Washington and School Streets on which Timothy Harrington Carter established the Old Corner Book Store in 1829 has a long and interesting lineage. The present building was erected in 1712 following the great fire by Thomas Creese, an apothecary. Timothy H. Carter had been associated with Cummings and Billiard in their Boston store before he branched out for himself and established his younger brother, Richard, and Charles J. Hendee as partners of the new bookstore. Edwin Babcock became a member of the firm for a brief period in 1830-31, and in the latter year the youthful James T. Fields found his first employment as a clerk with Carter and Hendee. Although the real profits were in the retail trade, Carter and Hendee published over one hundred and fifty volumes during their four years in the Old Corner Book Store. The majority of these were educational or juvenile texts, theological discourses, political speeches, annuals and gift books, and a few medical works. A number of periodicals, mostly educational, were also issued. A few poems—notably Whittier's anonymous "Moll Pitcher", and collections of the works of Henry Pickering and Isaac McLellan—-pointed ahead to future preeminence in the field of belles-lettres. But a publisher can be no better than his authors, and New England had not yet begun to produce the works of major literary men. In the summer of 1832 Carter and Hendee sold their retail store to two other young men, John Allen and William D. Ticknor, and moved next door, upstairs, where they conducted a publishing and wholesale trade. John Allen had been the owner of a Boston bookstore and it was he who persuaded William Davis Ticknor, then employed in a bank, to form a partnership under the firm name Allen and Ticknor. Retail sales continued to be most profitable, but the interest of the partners lay in the publishing of books. Nearly 75 titles were published in their two and a half years of association and these naturally followed the pattern set by Carter and Hendee. There were many educational and juvenile texts, several educational periodicals and serials, and a number of novels issued under the exchange agreement. The beginning of William D. Ticknor's later specialization in medical books is also to be noted during these years. Their most sensational book was Lydia Maria Child's abolition tract, "An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans". Two important books of poetry, Caroline Norton's "Poems" and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Coplas de Don Jorge Manrique", a translation from the Spanish, were also published. With the publication of these last two titles, the reader can discern the dawn of the era which made the name Ticknor and Fields preeminent in the field of belles-lettres. In November 1854 John Allen withdrew from the partnership and started his own publishing business upstairs. William D. Ticknor, aided by his clerk James T. Fields, continued the business alone until July 1845 when John Reed, Jr. invested money in the business and the firm name was changed to William D. Ticknor and Company. In November 1849 the firm name became Ticknor, Reed and Fields. The financial crisis and depression precluded very much original publishing and expansion in the business, but by 1840 when business conditions were again normal, William D. Ticknor entered upon a period of great publishing activity. More than 200 titles were published during the period 1834-49 and of these titles nearly one fourth were poetry. Medicine, education, juvenile, lectures and speeches, and theological works account for much of their output. Mr. Ticknor consciously endeavored to develope his medical list and his publications included the works of many a noted Boston doctor—-Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, Henry J. Bigelow, John Jackson, John C. Warren, and Oliver Wendell Holmes among them—-and were often issued under the imprint "William D. Ticknor and Company, Medical Booksellers" or with their own specially designed medical colophon. Baptist, rather than Unitarian theological tracts were published under Mr. Ticknor's imprint, and both he and Mr. Fields were active in several Boston organizations—-the Boston Lyceum, the American Institute of Instruction, the Mercantile Library Association-—and thus were able to secure the publication of the lectures and reports of these organizations. Series of educational text books—notably Bumstead's and Palmer's---were profit-making titles for the firm. Mr. Ticknor, however, was not overly concerned with profit-making titles, but sought to introduce many an English poet and writer to the American people. Among these works were De Quincey's "Confessions of an English Opium Eater", Tennyson's "Poems", Barry Cornwall's "English Songs and Other Small Poems", John Bowring's "Matins and Vespers", Richard Monckton Milnes's "Poems of Many Years", and Leigh Hunt's "Rimini and Other Poems". But it was with our own native American poets that Mr. Ticknor was most concerned, and it was at this time that Holmes, Whittier and Longfellow were permanently added to the list of his firm. The second edition of Oliver Wendell Holmes's "Poems" was issued in 1849 and "Urania" appeared under his imprint in 1846; Whittier's "Lays of My Home and Other Poems" was finally issued in 1843; and all of Longfellow's works were taken over from John Owen in 1846 and issued in a variety of editions and bindings by William D. Ticknor and Company. This firm also published the second edition of "Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea" in 1846 and an anthology, "The Estray", in 1847 and finally "Evangeline". Thus, by 1849 New England had the native American authors of great literary talent and also an understanding and inspiring publisher in William D. Ticknor and James T. Fields. In both cases it was a gradual and parallel evolution and one which achieved fruition simultaneously.
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