James Thomas Fields

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For the American soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, see James H. Fields.
James T. Fields
James T Fields 001.jpg
Born (1817-12-31)December 31, 1817
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Died April 24, 1881(1881-04-24) (aged 63)
Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation Editor
Publisher
Poet
Nationality American
James Thomas Fields, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

James Thomas Fields (December 31, 1817 – April 24, 1881) was an American publisher, editor, and poet.

Biography[edit]

Early life and family[edit]

He was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on December 31, 1817 and named James Field; the family later added the "s".[1] His father was a sea captain and died before Fields was three.[2] He and his brother were raised by their mother and her siblings, their aunt Mary and uncle George.[3] At the age of 14, Fields took a job at the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston[2] as an apprentice to publishers Carter and Hendee.[4] His first published poetry was included in the Portsmouth Journal in 1837 but he drew more attention when, on September 13, 1838, he delivered his "Anniversary Poem" to the Boston Mercantile Library Association.[5]

Publishing career[edit]

In 1839, he joined William Ticknor and became junior partner in the publishing and bookselling firm known after 1846 as Ticknor and Fields, and after 1868 as Fields, Osgood & Company. Ticknor oversaw the business side of the firm, while Fields was its literary expert. He became known for being likable, for his ability to find creative talent, and for his ability to promote authors and win their loyalty.[6] With this company, Fields became the publisher of leading contemporary American writers, with whom he was on terms of close personal friendship. He was also the American publisher of some of the best-known British writers of his time, some of whom he also knew intimately. The company paid royalties to these British authors, including Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, at a time when other American publishers pirated the works of those authors.[7] The first collected edition of Thomas de Quincey's works (20 vols., 1850–1855) was published by his firm. Ticknor and Fields built their company to have a substantial influence in the literary scene which writer and editor Nathaniel Parker Willis acknowledged in a letter to Fields: "Your press is the announcing-room of the country's Court of Poetry."[8]

Sometime in 1844, Fields was engaged to Mary Willard, a local woman six years younger than him. Before they could be married, she died of tuberculosis on April 17, 1845.[9] He maintained a close friendship with her family and, on March 13, 1850, married her 18-year old sister Eliza Willard at Boston's Federal Street Church.[10] Also sick with tuberculosis, she died on July 13, 1851.[11] Grief-stricken, he left the United States for a time and traveled to Europe.

In 1854, Fields married Annie Adams, who was an author herself. Mrs. Fields was instrumental in helping Mr. Fields establish literary salons at their home at 37 Charles Street in Boston, where they entertained many well-known writers.[12] One such writer was Nathaniel Hawthorne. After Hawthorne's death in 1864, Fields served as a pallbearer for his funeral alongside Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edwin Percy Whipple.[13] In 1867, he performed the same role after the death of Nathaniel Parker Willis, along with Holmes, Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Samuel Gridley Howe.[14]

Ticknor and Fields purchased The Atlantic Monthly for $10,000 and, about two years later in May 1861, Fields took over the editorship from Lowell.[15] At a New Year's Eve party in 1865, he met William Dean Howells and 10 days later offered him a position as assistant editor of the Atlantic. Howells accepted but was somewhat dismayed by Fields's close supervision.[16]

Fields was less concerned with the retail store owned by the company and wanted to focus on publishing. On November 12, 1864, he sold the Old Corner Bookstore[17] and moved Ticknor and Fields to 124 Tremont Street.

Later life and death[edit]

Fields retired from his publishing company in 1871 to focus on lecturing and writing.

On New Year's Day, 1871, Fields announced his retirement from the business at a small gathering of friends.[18] No longer involved with editorial duties, he then devoted himself to lecturing and writing. He also edited, with Edwin Percy Whipple, A Family Library of British Poetry (1878).

Fields became increasingly popular as a lecturer throughout the 1870s.[19] In May 1879, Fields suffered a brain hemorrhage and collapsed before a scheduled lecture at Wellesley College. By autumn he seemed to have recovered. In January 1881, he gave what would be his final public lecture, coincidentally at the Mercantile Library Association, the organization which hosted his first public reading.[20] Fields died in Boston on April 24, 1881. He is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His wife, Annie Fields, was devastated and demanded friends not mention him and she gradually cut herself off from others. Her friend, writer Celia Thaxter told her, "don't shut yourself away... or you will die a thousand deaths of silence." Shortly after, she began a friendship with Sarah Orne Jewett, and the two became companions for the rest of their lives.[21]

Writing[edit]

In addition to his work as a publisher and essayist, Fields wrote poetry. A number of his works are collected in his book Ballads and Verses published in 1880. This volume contains the poem "The Ballad of the Tempest", which includes the famous lines:

"We are lost!" the captain shouted
As he staggered down the stairs

His chief works were the collection of sketches and essays entitled Underbrush (1877) and the chapters of reminiscence composing Yesterdays with Authors (1871), in which he recorded his personal friendship with William Wordsworth, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and others.

Legacy[edit]

Grave of James T. Fields at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Annie Adams Fields wrote the biography Memoir of James T. Fields, by his Wife (Boston, 1881) and Authors and Friends (Boston, 1896), which also mentions him. James T. Fields was known in his lifetime as one of the most successful and shrewd book promoters, working at a time when bribery was typical in the publishing culture.[2] Hawthorne said he owed his success as a writer to him: "I care more for your good opinion than for that of a host of critics, and have excellent reason for so doing; inasmuch as my literary success, whatever it has been or may be, is the result of my connection with you".[2]

Fields was particularly successful as a publisher because of his ability to build close relationships with writers. As author Rebecca Harding Davis said, he was "the shrewdest of publishers and kindest of men. He was the wire that conducted the lightning so that it never struck amiss."[22] He also knew the tastes of the reading public. Fields was reputedly able to ascertain what book a visitor to the Old Corner Bookstore would purchase within 10 minutes of arrival.[23]

After Fields's death, his friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called "Auf Wiedersehen" dedicated to him. Fields, along with Longfellow, is featured in the first and third of Matthew Pearl's novels, The Dante Club (2003) and The Last Dickens (2009). Fields is also mentioned in the 1994 film version of Little Women.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 1.
  2. ^ a b c d Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 281. ISBN 0-87745-332-2
  3. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 6.
  4. ^ Sedgwick, Ellery. History of the Atlantic Monthly, 1856–1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994: 70. ISBN 978-1-55849-793-1
  5. ^ Winship, Michael. American Literary Publishing in the Mid-nineteenth Century: The Business of Ticknor and Fields. Cambridge University Press, 2003: 20. ISBN 978-0-521-52666-1
  6. ^ McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004: 192. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7
  7. ^ Corbett, William. Literary New England: A History and Guide. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1993: 77. ISBN 0-571-19816-3
  8. ^ Brooks, Van Wyck. The Flowering of New England. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1952: 495.
  9. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 106.
  10. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 136.
  11. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 138.
  12. ^ Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: A Life. New York: Random House, 2004: 353–353. ISBN 0-8129-7291-0
  13. ^ Baker, Carlos. Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait. New York: Viking Press, 1996: 448. ISBN 0-670-86675-X.
  14. ^ Baker, Thomas N. Sentiment and Celebrity: Nathaniel Parker Willis and the Trials of Literary Fame. New York, Oxford University Press, 2001: 187. ISBN 0-19-512073-6
  15. ^ Duberman, Martin. James Russell Lowell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966: 180.
  16. ^ Goodman, Susan and Carl Dawson. William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005: 107–108. ISBN 0-520-23896-6
  17. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 279.
  18. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 361.
  19. ^ Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994: 133. ISBN 0-201-51810-4
  20. ^ Tryon, Warren S. Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963: 379–380.
  21. ^ Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994: 134. ISBN 0-201-51810-4
  22. ^ Felton, R. Todd. A Journey into the Transcendentalists' New England. Berkeley, California: Roaring Forties Press, 2006: 28. ISBN 0-9766706-4-X
  23. ^ Goodman, Susan and Carl Dawson. William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005: 122. ISBN 0-520-23896-6

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]