Thursday, December 10, 2009

William D. Ticknor - Publisher

Offices of Ticknor and Fields (Old Corner Book Store).

William D. Ticknor was born in Lebanon New Hampshire August 6, 1810 on the family farm. In 1827 he left for Boston to work in the brokerage house of his uncle Benjamin. By 1832, he had partnered with John Allen to form the publishing company Allen and Ticknor, which was housed in the now-famous Old Corner Book Store building.

As partners came and went, the company named changed, with Ticknor and Fields being perhaps the best remembered. From the Old Corner Book Store, they published many of the leading literary lights of New England, such as Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., as well as Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Horatio Alger. At a time when international copyright was not upheld, in 1842 they paid Alfred, Lord Tennyson a royalty for publishing his work, an early act of fair play in a business in which pirating of books was a common complaint on both sides of the Atlantic. While at the Old Corner Book Store, they also published the Atlantic Monthly. (For an extra credit nugget, I found a single sentence 1841 newspaper advertisement for De Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Addict). Eventually, the outgrew the location and moved to Tremont street. Over time, partners and name changes came and went, and the company eventually became part of Houghton, Osgood and Company, which later became Houghton Mifflin.

Burroughs street, 1874.

Ticknor house, Burroughs street.

In 1854, Ticknor bought land between Pond and Burroughs streets in Jamaica Plain, and built a house on the Burroughs street side. We can imagine friends like Hawthorne traveling out of the city and visiting the Ticknor home over the next decade. When Dickens came to America for a speaking tour, Ticknor was his host, and perhaps he might have visited Burroughs street as well.

[Note: I've just learned that Caroline Ticknor related a story of Dickens visiting the Ticknor house in Jamaica Plain. After the great man left the house, a shy relative followed him outside, and made a copy of the impression his foot left in the soft gravel.]

In 1862, William Ticknor journeyed south to Washington D.C. with his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, where they met President Lincoln. In March of 1864, they set out to Washington again, in hopes that the milder weather would aid Hawthorne’s poor health. During the trip, it was Ticknor’s health that took a turn for the worse, and he died at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia with his friend by his side. Hawthorne returned to Concord, but in a month he would be dead as well.

Ticknor and his wife, Emeline Staniford Holt had five surviving children, including three sons who went to Harvard. Howard Malcolm, Benjamin Holt and Thomas Baldwin Ticknor all went into the business. Before joining the firm, Benjamin first enlisted in the army during the Civil war, and at one time was in charge of recruiting at the Readville training camp.

Howard Ticknor lived in the family house through at least the 1880s . The 1874 map above shows the house still owned by the estate of William D. Ticknor. Son Benjamin stayed in Jamaica Plain as well, buying a lot on Harris avenue from Captain Charles Brewer. The 1874 map shows Benjamin H. Ticknor at 13 Harris avenue. Unlike his father’s house, Benjamin’s home still stands today as number 15. The small, twentieth century house that sits to the right of it was added to the same property, and now carries the address 13A.

Harris avenue, 1874.

Benjamin’s household was in interesting one. The 1880 census lists his wife, Caroline daughters Caroline, aged 13, and Edith, aged 11, as well has sister Elinor, aged 35 and brother Thomas, aged 30. To that, we can add four female domestics and one coachman. Although only two of five servants were Irish-born, two others had Irish parents, the other woman being from Newfoundland. So four women to care for six people, including the woman of the house. I think we can say that the Irish were nineteenth-century Jamaica Plain’s version of labor-saving devices.

Benjamin's daughter Caroline went on to have a career as a writer and editor. She wrote Hawthorne and His Friend (the friend being her grandfather William D. Ticknor), May Alcott, A Memoir, and Glimpses of Authors (cited above), and edited Holmes's Boston, with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and numerous books. In 1925, Caroline and sister Edith were still living at the house on Harris avenue.

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