1817–1881
portrait
portrait

De­cem­ber 31, 1817, Ports­mouth, New Hamp­shire.

Ap­ril 24, 1881, Bos­ton, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Mount Au­burn Ce­me­te­ry, Cam­bridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Fields’ fa­ther, a sea cap­tain, died be­fore John was three. Fields and his bro­ther were raised by their mo­ther and her sib­lings, their aunt Ma­ry and uncle George.

At age 14, Fields took a job at the Old Cor­ner Book­store in Bos­ton as an ap­pren­tice to pub­lishers Car­ter and Hen­dee. His first pub­lished po­ems ap­peared 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.

In 1839, Fields joined Will­iam Tick­nor and be­came jun­ior par­tner in the pub­lish­ing and book­sell­ing firm known af­ter 1846 as Tick­nor & 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 pro­mot­ing au­thors and win­ning their loy­al­ty.

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. His firm al­so pub­lished the first col­lect­ed edi­tion of Tho­mas de Quin­cey’s works (20 vol­umes, 1850–55).

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.

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. 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. Al­so sick with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, she died Ju­ly 13, 1851. Grief strick­en, Fields left Am­er­i­ca for a time and tra­veled to Eu­rope.

In 1854, Fields mar­ried An­nie Adams, who was an au­thor her­self. She was in­str­ument­al in help­ing him es­tab­lish li­ter­a­ry sa­lons at their home at 37 Charles Street in Bos­ton, where they en­ter­tained ma­ny well known writ­ers, such as 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, Hen­ry Wads­worth Long­fel­low, and Ed­win Per­cy Whip­ple. 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.

Ticknor and Fields pur­chased The At­lan­tic Month­ly around 1859 for $10,000 and, in May 1861, Fields took ov­er the ed­it­or­ship from Low­ell. 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’ close su­per­vi­sion.

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 and moved Ticknor and Fields to 124 Tre­mont Street. On New Year’s Day, 1871, Fields an­nounced his re­tire­ment from the bus­i­ness at a small ga­ther­ing of friends. No long­er oc­cu­pied by ed­it­or­i­al duties, he 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 in the 1870s. In May 1879, he suf­fered a stroke and col­lapsed be­fore a sched­uled lec­ture at Well­es­ley Col­lege. By au­tumn, he seemed to have re­cov­ered. In Jan­u­ary 1881, he gave his fi­nal pub­lic lec­ture, co­in­ci­dent­al­ly at the Mer­can­tile Li­bra­ry As­so­ci­a­tion, the or­gan­i­za­tion that host­ed his first publ­ic read­ing.

In the field of hym­nol­o­gy, 13 piec­es from the 1854 of ed­it­ion of Fields’ Po­ems ap­peared in Put­nam’s Sin­gers and Songs.

  1. Come Up, the Moon Is Ris­ing Fast
  2. Forget Not the Dead
  3. Go Forth, the Sky Is Blue Above
  4. Go, with a Man­ly Heart
  5. He Was Not What the World Counts Rich
  6. Hither, Bright An­gels, Wing Your Flight
  7. O Hap­pi­est He, Whose Rip­er Years Re­tain
  8. There Are, Thank Hea­ven, Be­neath This Fit­ful Dome
  9. This Cot­tage Door, This Gen­tle Gale
  10. Thou Who Hast Called Our Be­ing Here
  11. Two Pil­grims to the Ho­ly Land
  12. Underneath the Sod Low Ly­ing
  13. We Were Crowd­ed in the Ca­bin
  14. Ye Sac­red Walls, Blest Free­dom’s Shrine