James T. Fields led to the first true American publishing house. Ticknor & Fields (which later evolved to Houghton, Mifflin, and Company) aimed for a broad national audience, paid its authors well, introduced the concept of royalty payments, and staunchly defended their books from piracy. Though he was not a writer himself, Ticknor hoped that his name on a book's title page reassured readers that the book was a good one.
Ticknor was well-acquainted with all of his authors, who came to respect him as a literary adviser, businessman, marketer, and friend. He deserves extra credit for his unusually close relationship with the reclusive author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When Hawthorne traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1862, his wife Sophia insisted that Ticknor accompany him. Ticknor handled all the travel arrangements, including purchasing train tickets and personal items for his favorite author. Ticknor had previously accompanied Hawthorne to the nation's capital in 1853 while the latter prepared to take a job as consul to Liverpool.
Their last trip together was in 1864. Hawthorne was getting sick and thought travel would do him good. Ticknor, the younger of the two, was in perfect health. However, sometime before leaving Boston he caught a cold. Amidst heavy rains in New York, it developed into pneumonia. In Philadelphia, Ticknor wrote to Mrs. Hawthorne that her husband "continues to improve." While visiting Fairmount Park, Ticknor offered Hawthorne his coat because of the cool air. Back at the Continental Hotel that night, however, Ticknor had trouble breathing. "I am sorry to say," Hawthorne wrote, "that our friend Ticknor is suffering under a severe billious attack... He had previously seemed uncomfortable, but not to an alarming degree." A physician was called and the author never left his publisher's side.
The next morning, April 10, 1864, editor George William Childs went to visit at their rooms. Hawthorne, in a daze while mumbling and pacing, said Ticknor had died. "My best friend, on whom I depended, coming here for my benefit," Childs recorded; Hawthorne had expected his own death on that trip, not that of his friend William Ticknor, aged 53.
*The photo to the right shows Fields, Hawthorne, and Ticknor.