Monday, October 20, 2008

Samuel Goodrich - Defended

Samuel G. Goodrich, writer and Jamaica Plain resident, was one of the best known men of his day. Before his time, books for children were imported from England. Under the pseudonym Peter Parley, he became the first great children's writer in American literature. His work was so popular that it would be difficult to find a literate child in antebellum America who had not read a Parley story. Their old friend Peter Parley taught them their history and geography, filled with moral lessons along the way. Goodrich had a strong aversion to the Mother Goose rhymes (odd as it may seem to us) and had set about to provide children with a literature that was both educational and morally uplifting. His books were translated and read around the world, and he fought pirated versions of his works and the Parley name both here and abroad. As a publisher, he introduced many leading writers to the American public, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose short stories appeared in the Token, his annual magazine. While living in Jamaica Plain, he was encouraged to become active in Whig politics, and served in the Massachusetts house and senate. In this entry, we learn (if we didn't know already) that politics has always been a nasty business in America. Alas, there have never been good old days for us to look back on.

The Salem Gazette November 7, 1837

Norfolk County

Samuel G. Goodrich, Esq. the reputed author of Peter Parley's Tales, is one of the Whig candidates for the Senate from Norfolk; and we notice that the locos are driven to the desperate expedient of opposing him by attempting to ridicule him out of the field as Peter Parley. If it were the rising generation who were to be affected by their electioneering tricks, or if the boys were voters, we never should have heard of this objection to Mr. Goodrich, we are sure. In contempt of such reasoning, the children of Norfolk would rise en masse, and chair their old and tried friend Peter in the Senate, by acclamation, and all the children of all the land would have said amen.

Seriously, it appears to us that the Tories of Norfolk, in thus attempting to undervalue Mr. Goodrich, have made a singular mistake. The argument -- if argument there be -- is this: Mr. G. has written sundry books under the name of Peter Parley; many books we might more properly say, for there is hardly a subject on which youth have not been entertained and instructed by the productions of Peter Parley. These books have acquired unprecedented popularity, at home and abroad. They have been translated into various other languages, and are spreading every day wider and wider among the reading people of the world. At this moment, it is probable Parley has more readers than any other living author. All of his books are of a good moral tendency, and they are exerting an extensively beneficial influence by banishing Mother Goose's Melodies; and the host of other such silly and pernicious books, and creating in the minds of children a taste for solid and useful reading. And for this Mr. Goodrich is unfit to represent the county of Norfolk! And who are the men whose claims are urged in opposition? A.H. Everett, Abel Cushing and B.P. Williams, forsooth1

To our mind, the argument, fairly stated, runs thus: A man who may justly be regarded as a benefactor of the age -- who has, by persevering industry triumphed over the want of early education -- who has gained an honored name in both hemispheres -- who in the higher walks of literature has shown a capacity for success -- who as a legislator has acquitted himself very creditably (witness the slavery resolutions and the report on the license law of the last session) -- who has, in short, the talents to command success in whatever he undertakes -- he is disqualified for a Senator; while Mr. A.H. Everett, who has shown himself a faithless politician, who is by education as aristocrat, and in feeling haughty and proud -- Mr. Cushing, who is a thorough radical of the lowest order of political radicalism -- and Mr. Williams, who is a nonentity -- they are the men who we are told, are "a sure combination of talent, virtue, and patriotism." Will this argument commend itself to the good old democratic county of Norfolk

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