1857 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Trumbull

Samuel Griswold Goodrich, in Recollections of a Lifetime (1857) 2:110-12, 114-15.



About this time I began to think of trying to bring out original American works. It must be remembered that I am speaking of a period prior to 1820. At that date, Bryant, Irving, and Cooperthe founders of our modern literature — a trinity of genius in poetry, essay, and romance — had but just commenced their literary career. Neither of them had acquired a positive reputation. Halleck, Percival, Brainard, Longfellow, Willis, were at school — at least, all were unknown. The general impression was that we had not, and could not have, a literature. It was the precise point at which Sidney Smith had uttered that bitter taunt in the Edinburgh Review — "Who reads an American book?" It proved to be that "darkest hour just before the dawn." The successful booksellers of the country — Carey, Small, Thomas, Warner, of Philadelphia; Campbell, Duyckinck, Reed, Kirk & Merecin, Whiting & Watson, of New York; Beers & Howe, of New haven; O. P. Cooke, of Hartford; West & Richardson, Cummings & Hilliard, H. P. & C. Williams, S. T. Armstrong, of Boston — were for the most part the mere reproducers and sellers of English books. It was positively injurious to the commercial credit of a bookseller undertake American works, unless they might be Morse's Geographies, classical books, school-books, devotional hooks, or other utilitarian works.

Nevertheless, about this time I published an edition of Trumbull's poems, in two volumes, octavo, and paid him a thousand dollars, and a hundred copies of the work, for the copyright. I was seriously counseled against this by several booksellers — and, in fact, Trumbull had sought a publisher, in vain, for several years previous. There was an association of designers and engravers at Hartford, called the "Graphic Company," and as I desired to patronize the liberal arts there, I employed them to execute the embellishments. For so considerable an enterprise, I took the precaution to get a subscription, in which I was tolerably successful. The work was at last produced, but it did not come up to the public expectation, or the patriotic zeal had cooled, and more than half the subscribers declined taking the work. I did not press it, but putting a good face upon the affair, I let it pass, and — while the public supposed I had made money by my enterprise, and even the author looked askance at me in the jealous apprehension that I had made too good a bargain out of him — I quietly pocketed a loss of about a thousand dollars. This was my first serious adventure in patronizing American literature....

He was at that time an old man, and — always small of stature — was now bent, emaciated, and tottering with a cane. His features were finely cut, and he must have been handsome in his younger days. His eye was keen and bright, his nose slightly aquiline, his mouth arching downward at the corners, expressive of sarcastic humor, There was something about him that at once bespoke the man of letters, the poet, and the satirist.