May 9, 2010

Death of Samuel Griswold Goodrich

Peter Parley was the name most often used by Samuel Griswold Goodrich on his books aimed for children. Goodrich, who died on May 9, 1860, used the grandfatherly Parley character (see illustration at right) to introduce young people to legends, United States history, and American life. His book The Tales of Peter Parley About America (1828) begins:

Here I am! My name is Peter Parley! I am an old man. I am very gray and lame. But I have seen a great many things, and had a great many adventures, and I love to talk about them.

He is credited with having published over 40 such books, though some may have been ghost-written by others. Goodrich was also a publisher, a poet, a biographer, the editor of an annual gift book (The Token), a Massachusetts state representative and state senator and, later in life, United States Consul to Paris.

Goodrich was also an early booster for other American writers, including Nathaniel Parker Willis and Lydia Maria Child. One poetry anthology in the 1840s referred to him as a "liberal patron of American authors and artists; and it is questionable whether any other person has done as much to improve the style of the book manufacture." His writing was praised as "cheerful" and full of "pure morality" with a melodious flow. Connecticut-born, Goodrich settled in New York after returning from his consulship overseas; it was in that state where he died in 1860. His most important period, however, was spent in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, which now has a Peter Parley Road named in his honor (on land he once owned).

Goodrich was not without his critics, however. He supported the early career of a then-anonymous writer of short stories who frequently published in The Token. Nathaniel Hawthorne felt underpaid (and undervalued), calling Goodrich "a good-natured sort of man enough... but rather an unscrupulous one in money matters, and not particularly trustworthy in anything." Hawthorne determined Goodrich took advantage of writers, "born to do what he did, as maggots to feed on rich cheese."

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