Thomas Bailey Aldrich (11 November 1836 – 19 March 1907) was a poet, novelist, traveler, and editor, born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA.
When he was but a child his father moved to New Orleans, but after ten years the boy was sent back to Portsmouth—the "Rivermouth" of several of his stories—to prepare for college. This period of his life is partly described in his semi-autobiographical novel Story of a Bad Boy (1870), of which "Tom Bailey" is the juvenile hero. Critics have said that this novel contains the first realistic depiction of childhood in American fiction and prepared the ground for Huckleberry Finn.
His father's death in 1849 compelled Aldrich to abandon the idea of college and he entered his uncle's business office in New York at age 16 in 1852. Here he soon became a constant contributor to the newspapers and magazines, and the intimate friend of the young poets, artists and wits of the metropolitan Bohemia of the early sixties, among whom were EC Stedman, RH Stoddard, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Bayard Taylor and Walt Whitman. From 1856 to 1859 he was on the staff of the Home Journal, then edited by NP Willis, while during the Civil War he was himself editor of the New York Illustrated News.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich House; Strawbery Banke Museum
, Portsmouth, NH
In 1865 he moved to Boston and was editor for ten years for Ticknor and Fields—then at the height of their prestige—of the eclectic weekly Every Saturday, discontinued in 1875. From 1881 to 1890 he was editor of the Atlantic Monthly.
Meanwhile Aldrich had written much, both in prose and verse. His genius was many-sided, and it is surprising that so busy an editor and so prolific a writer should have attained the perfection of form for which he was remarkable. His successive volumes of verse, chiefly The Ballad of Babie Bell (1856), Pampinea, and Other Poems (1861), Cloth of Gold (1874), Flower and Thorn (1876), Friar Jerome's Beautiful Book (1881), Mercedes and Later Lyrics (18S}), Wyndham Towers (1889), and the collected editions of 1865, 1882, 1897 and 1900, showed him to be a poet of lyrical skill, dainty touch and felicitous conceit, the influence of Herrick being constantly apparent.
He repeatedly essayed the long narrative or dramatic poem, but seldom with success, save in such earlier work as Garnaut Hall. But no American poet has shown more skill in describing some single picture, mood, conceit or episode. His best things are such lyrics as "Hesperides," "When the Sultan goes to Ispahan," "Before the Rain," "Nameless Pain," "The Tragedy," "Seadrift," "Tiger Lilies," "The One White Rose," "Palabras Carińosas," "Destiny," or the eight-line poem "Identity," which did more to spread Aldrich's reputation than any of his writing after Babie Bell.
Beginning with the collection of stories entitled Marjorie Daw and Other People (1873), Aldrich applied to his later prose work that minute care in composition which had previously characterized his verse—taking a near, new or salient situation, and setting it before the reader in a pretty combination of kindly realism and reticent humour. In the novels, Prudence Palfrey (1874), The Queen of Sheba (1877), and The Stillwater Tragedy (1880), there is more rapid action; but the Portsmouth pictures in the first are elaborated with the affectionate touch shown in the shorter humorous tale, A Rivermouth Romance (1877). In An Old Town by the Sea (1893) the author's birthplace was once more commemorated, while travel and description are the theme of From Ponkapog to Pesth (1883). Aldrich died at Boston on 19 March 1907. His last words were "In spite of it all, I'm going to sleep."
His Life was written by Ferris Greenslet (1908).
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopędia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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- Works by Thomas Bailey Aldrich at Project Gutenberg