August 19, 2014

Birth of Goodrich: instead of wickedness

In the western part of the State of Connecticut, is a small town by the name of Ridgefield. This title is descriptive, and indicates the general form and position of the place. It is, in fact, a collection of hills, rolled into one general and commanding elevation. On the west is a ridge of mountains, forming the boundary between the States of Connecticut and New York; to the south the land spreads out in wooded undulations to Long Island Sound; east and north, a succession of hills, some rising up against the sky, and others fading away in the distance, bound the horizon. In this town, in an antiquated and rather dilapidated house of shingles and clapboards, I was born on the 19th of August, 1793.

Thus Samuel Griswold Goodrich explains his own birth on August 19, 1793, in his Recollections of a Lifetime (1857). He was one of ten children (only eight of whom survived past infancy) and was raised in near poverty. His father, a minister, made only $400 a year. As such, young Goodrich was mostly self-educated. He later became a bookseller and publisher.

In the literary world, Goodrich is perhaps most well-known for founding and editing the annual gift book The Token — which published the writings of Nathaniel Parker Willis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others — as well as the Peter Parley series of educational anecdotes for children. Peter Parley's book featured an elderly gentleman telling stories about history, geography, biography, science, and other miscellaneous topics. The series proved both popular and lucrative; he later recalled his optimism: "Well, thought I, if this goes on I may yet rival Mother Goose!"

Goodrich's self-education proved his greatest inspiration for the future. As a boy, he read Robinson Crusoe, the Bible, natural history, and biographies. Looking back as an adult, he believed it was all a positive influence on him. It was through this background, he writes,

...that I first formed the conception of the Parley Tales— the general idea of which was to make nursery books reasonable and truthful, and thus to feed the young mind upon things wholesome and pure, instead of things monstrous, false, and pestilent: that we should use the same prudence in giving aliment to the mind and soul, as to the body; and as we would not give blood and poison as food for the latter, we should not administer cruelty and violence, terror and impurity, to the other. In short, that the elements of nursery books should consist of beauty instead of deformity, goodness instead of wickedness, decency instead of vulgarity.

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