James R. Osgood

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James R. Osgood (1836–1892) was an American publisher known for his involvement with the publishing company that would become Houghton Mifflin.

Life and work[edit]

A reputed child prodigy, James Ripley Osgood knew Latin at the age of three and entered college at 12 years of age. He studied at Bowdoin College in Maine, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. While there, he was a member of the Peucinian Society among others.

He entered the publishing trade as a clerk in the Boston firm of Ticknor and Fields and, by 1864, became a partner in the firm. It was reorganized in 1868 as Fields, Osgood, & Company. The firm acquired The Atlantic Monthly.

Title page for an 1871 book displaying the company logo for James R. Osgood & Company
Advertisement, Boston Almanac, 1876

In 1870 Osgood and two partners founded James R. Osgood & Company. Among their successful publications was Bret Harte's The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories, followed by a volume of Harte's poems and another of "condensed novels." Osgood advanced Bret Harte $10,000 for future work, but Harte never wrote another story. In 1875, Osgood published Blanche Willis Howard's One Summer, which became a best-selling novel.

In 1872 and 1877, J.R. Osgood & Company brought out Henry Wilson's three-volume account of the Civil War, The History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. Also in 1877 the firm sold the North American Review and published an edition of Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

In 1878 the firm dissolved, and Osgood joined forces with Henry Oscar Houghton to form the short-lived Houghton, Osgood & Company. The firm's most successful book was William Dean Howells' The Lady of the Aroostook. In 1880 this firm became the New York branch of Houghton, Mifflin & Company. Osgood remained in Boston, where he founded a second J.R. Osgood & Company.

Osgood published an edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass in 1881 that was attacked by the Boston district attorney as "obscene literature".[1] Osgood gave in and refused to bring out another edition, forcing Whitman to find another publisher.

By this time Osgood had befriended Samuel L. Clemens, whose pen name was "Mark Twain." In 1882 the company published Twain's The Prince and the Pauper and The Stolen White Elephant. That same year, Osgood accompanied Clemens on a riverboat trip collecting material for Life on the Mississippi, which was published by Osgood in 1883.

Osgood's firm was reportedly one of the most successful in Boston. However, in 1885 the company went bankrupt. Osgood's young partners, Thomas and Benjamin Ticknor, found a third partner and started a new firm. Osgood went to work for Harper's Magazine. In 1891 Osgood went into business again, with the magazine's permission, in partnership with Clarence McIlvaine as Osgood, McIlvaine, & Company. The firm had its greatest success with Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but Osgood died before the volume went on sale.[citation needed]

In fiction[edit]

A fictionalized Osgood played a key role in Matthew Pearl's 2009 historical thriller The Last Dickens.[2]

Published by Osgood[edit]


  1. ^ Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. University of California Press, 1999, p. 414. ISBN 0-520-22687-9.
  2. ^ Jones, Radhika. "An Old Curiosity." New York Times. May 31, 2009.