David Harum: A Story of American Life, 1898
The Teller, 1901
Edward Noyes Westcott is something of an anomaly in the history of American literature, being a banker turned author. The son of a dentist, he attended the public schools in Syracuse until he was sixteen and then left school to take a job as a junior clerk in a local bank. At the age of twenty he left Syracuse to work for an insurance company in New York City. He returned to Syracuse, however, to become a teller and cashier in banks in that city. In 1874 he married Jane Dows of Buffalo, New York, and the couple had three children, two sons and a daughter.
Eager to get ahead in life and to provide for his children’s education, Westcott formed the company of Westcott and Abbott, a banking and brokerage house, in 1880. For several years the firm was successful, but the bankruptcy of an allied company caused its failure in the late 1880’s, at which time Westcott took a job with the Syracuse water commission.
Having to retire because of tuberculosis in 1895, Westcott went to the Adirondack Mountains to recuperate. While there he began to write for his own amusement. In 1895 he went to Naples, still searching for good health. While there he wrote David Harum, his famous novel about a shrewd but good-hearted Yankee with a penchant for horse trading. The novel, rejected by six publishing houses before it was finally accepted, appeared in 1898, just a few months after Westcott’s death. Its success was immediate, with six printings within three months. The novel was immensely popular in the early twentieth century. Within two years more than 400,000 copies were sold, and the eventual sales exceeded one million copies. In 1901 The Teller, a group of stories, with some letters by Westcott, was published.
The popularity of David Harum continued with stage and film adaptations. The novel, among the first of a type that portrays the Yankee character as hard on the outside but gentle and kind within, is competently written, but its literary value is slight, and scholars, unlike the public, have passed it by with but little attention.