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Biographical Sketch of Thomas Bailey Aldrich

medalcolorizedtba.jpgBAD BOY TOM 

In his day, Aldrich was best known for his lyrical and romantic poetry, but his verse is now considered only among the most minor of poets. His reputation stands almost entirely on one bold American novel. This bio comes from an early 20th century collection.




NOTE: This essay appeared as the introduction to the affordable "Riverside" edition of "The Story of a Bad Boy". It was part of a series of popular titles reprinted by Houghton Miflin at the turn of the 20th century (no date given in book). Despite the lengthy sentences and wordy prose, it offers a good overview of the life and works of the Portsmouth, NH born author and editor. Although Mark Twain once noted that his friend Aldrich wrote only "six good poems," most of those poems too have passed out of the canon of American literature studied today. Only the author’s inventive bad boy book stands today, albeit shakily, as a significant work of American literature. -- JDR

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About Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The pleasant town of "Rivermouth" has become familiar to thousands who have never seen the old New Hampshire seaport where Thomas Bailey Aldrich was born, November 11, 1836. He first, with many vivid and loving touches, depicted its elm-shaded streets, spacious old-fashioned dwellings, decaying warehouses, and crumbling wharves, haunted by a faint spicy odor – the ghost of the dead West India trade – in The Story of a Bad Boy, which we have the best authority for regarding as substantially autobiographical. In this delightful history is given as spirited and living a picture of its author’s boyhood as could be desired. Taken in infancy to Louisiana, where his father had business interests, he returned to his grandfather’s house in Portsmouth to pass his school days, and there, in 1852, when he was preparing to enter Harvard College, he received the news of his father’s death in New Orleans. This loss changed his purpose, and he accepted a position in the banking-house of an Uncle in New York.

But already the boy’s aspirations were literary rather than commercial, and his earliest verses, after the manner of their kind, had appeared in the Poets’ Corner of a local newspaper. Even during the three years he remained in his uncle’s office, he became known as a not infrequent contributor to journals and magazines, and in 1855 he definitely connected himself with the New York Evening Mirror. From 1856 to 1859 he was assistant editor of the Home Journal, then under the charge of Mr. N.P. Willis, who gave to the work his youthful associate a kindly appreciation and encouragement that the latter always held in grateful remembrance. In the early part of the Civil War he was for a time attached to Blenker’s Division, Army of the Potomac, as a newspaper correspondent.

He brought out several volumes of verse during these years, the earliest, The Ballad of Baby Bell and Other Poems, having been issued when the author was but twenty. Always his own severest critic, he was peculiarly merciless in dealing with his juvenile poems; and in examining this little book and its immediate successors, but few verses will be found that have appeared in later collections.

In 1865, Mr. Aldrich married, and removed to Boston to take charge of Every Saturday, a new weekly established by Ticknor & Fields, of which he remained editor until 1874. In the first year named, an edition of his poems was brought out by the same publishers, in one of their little blue and gold volumes, a guise in which for a season nearly all American poets of repute were presented to the public, and it was no mean distinction for so young a writer to appear thus in company with the best names of the best period of American literature. Several of the verses in this volume, including Friar Jermome’s Beautiful Book, were first printed in the Atlantic Monthly, to which Mr. Aldrich had been a contributor since 1860.

In 1869, The Story of a Bad Boy appeared as a serial in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor & fields. Of the vitality and truthfulness of the portrait of a healthy, happy, unspoiled boy, enthusiastic readers, old as well as young, have always been eager to testify. In writing, the author expressed his disbelief in the colorlessly perfect and docile youth, who then usually figured in narratives of this sort, -- nowadays we are glad that Tom Bailey is not an invincible hero of a series of impossible adventures, or the general care-taker and adviser of his household. The genuine naturalness of the story, its pleasant humor, and its fine literary quality give it a perennial freshness, and have made it popular in many lands remote from its native New England.


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