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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey (1836-1907)

Editor, Novelist, Poet, Short Story Writer

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Thomas Bailey Aldrich moved with his father to New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of three. He remained there until age thirteen, when his father's impending death prompted Aldrich's return to New Hampshire and his mother's household (Parker). At age sixteen, Aldrich started working as a clerk for his uncle, Charles Frost: "While working over the books of the firm, his mind was often busy with themes outside of the commission house, all leading towards a literary career" (Hemstreet 218). The clerkship in his uncle's office was not overly demanding, and during his free time Aldrich found many opportunities to explore his literary talents.

After three years Aldrich "had become known as a writer of graceful, sentimental, and ironical verse and had gathered enough work to make a volume which appeared under the title of The Bells" (Parker). At age nineteen, Aldrich was able to resign his clerkship and take up the position of junior literary critic for the Evening Mirror . That same year, he left the Mirror and took an editorial position at N. P. Willis's Home Journal . Among the Pfaffians, Aldrich was closest to William Winter, with whom he maintained a long friendship, even dedicating a poem to him in the Home Journal. Aldrich and Winter shared "a love of beauty and sentiment, and a strong moral bent" (Miller 73). When Henry Clapp, Jr. formed the Saturday Press in 1858, Aldrich became an associate editor and regular contributor (Miller 26). However, Ferris Greenslet notes that he never lost his reserved nature: "despite his close friendship with many of the men, Aldrich never went very far with the self-conscious Bohemianism that, transplanted from its native Paris soil, put forth few blossoms of other than dubious fragrance. He was an occasional attendant at the compotations at Pfaff's celebrated resort in the basement of 647 Broadway. But there is plenty of evidence that he was usually glad to escape to the quiet of his little hall-room. There was a kind of critical reserve at the root of his temperament that made noisy and promiscuous hilarity distasteful to him" (41).

Despite his desire to serve in the army or the navy, Aldrich instead worked as a war correspondent for the New York Tribune during the Civil War. In 1862 he returned to New York City and worked as an advisor for a publishing company before taking a position as managing editor of the Illustrated News (Parker). It was during this return trip to New York that Aldrich became engaged to Lilian Woodman and wrote Judith and Holofernes and Friar Jerome's Beautiful Book (Parker).

In 1865 Aldrich married Woodman and abandoned his life in New York City in favor of a more reserved existence in Boston, leaving behind the Bohemian lifestyle he had once supported. Several years after the move, he wrote to Bayard Taylor, "who could understand: 'I miss my few dear friends in New York-but that is all. There is a finer intellectual atmosphere here than in our city....The people of Boston are full-blooded readers, appreciative, trained'" (qtd. in Boynton 328-29). He became editor of Every Saturday and held the post for seven years. In 1869 he published his best known work, an autobiographical account of his life entitled The Story of a Bad Boy . Aldrich's "bad boy," Tom Bailey, "led the way for the satiric unconventionality of Tom Sawyer and the gritty realism of Huck Finn and his alcoholic, abusive Pap" (Watters). In the following years, Aldrich published several works of fiction, including Prudence Palfrey (1874), The Queen of Sheba (1877), and The Stillwater Tragedy (1880).

Aldrich reached the pinnacle of editorial achievement in 1881 when he was chosen to replace William Dean Howells as editor of the Atlantic Monthly . "Then followed nine years, from 1881 to 1890, during which Aldrich exerted his greatest influence on American letters. The delicacy, charm, and precision of workmanship which were associated with his name gave him authority in the matter of literary taste which few Americans had possessed before him" (Parker). In 1890 Aldrich retired from the Atlantic Monthly and spent the next seventeen years as a "man of letters and leisure" (Parker). He published four volumes of stories and essays: An Old Town by the Sea (1893), Two Bites at a Cherry (1894), A Sea Turn and Other Matters (1902), and Ponkapog Papers (1903). His last work, a poem entitled "Longfellow" was "finished only a short time before his death, and, with touching appropriateness, was read at his funeral. It was singularly fitting that Aldrich's tribute to the master from whom he had drawn his earliest inspiration should have afforded his own requiem" (Parker).