1817–1881

Introduction

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Born: De­cem­ber 31, 1817, Ports­mouth, New Hamp­shire.

Died: Ap­ril 24, 1881, Bos­ton, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Buried: Mount Au­burn Ce­me­te­ry, Cam­bridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Biography

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 Brit­ish au­thors such as 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.

Works

Thirteen piec­es from the 1854 ed­i­tion of Po­ems ap­peared in Put­nam’s Sin­gers and Songs.

Poem

The Dead

Forget not the Dead, who have loved, who have left us,
Who bend o’er us now, from their bright homes above;
But believe—never doubt—that the God who bereft us
Permits them to mingle with friends they still love.

Repeat their fond words, all their noble deeds cherish,
Speak pleasantly of them who left us in tears;
Other joys may be lost, but their names should not perish
While time bears our feet through the valley of years.

Dear friends of our youth! can we cease to remember
The last look of life, and the low-whispered prayer?
O, cold be our hearts as the ice of December
When Love’s tablets record no remembrances there.

Then forget not the Dead, who are evermore nigh us,
Still floating sometimes to our dream-haunted bed;
In the loneliest hour, in the crowd, they are by us;
Forget not the Dead! oh, forget not the Dead!

James Thomas Fields
Poems, 1849

Sources

Lyrics