Authors: Thomas Bailey Aldrich

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


The Bells: A Collection of Chimes, 1855

The Ballad of Babie Bell, and Other Poems, 1859

Cloth of Gold, and Other Poems, 1874

Flower and Thorn: Later Poems, 1877

Mercedes, and Later Lyrics, 1884

Wyndham Towers, 1890

Unguarded Gates, and Other Poems, 1895

Judith and Holofernes, 1896

The Poems of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 1897

Long Fiction:

The Story of a Bad Boy, 1869

Prudence Palfrey, 1874

The Queen of Sheba, 1877

The Stillwater Tragedy, 1880

The Second Son, 1888 (with Margaret Oliphant)

Short Fiction:

Out of His Head: A Romance, 1862

Marjorie Daw, and Other People, 1873

Two Bites at a Cherry, with Other Tales, 1893

A Sea Turn, and Other Matters, 1902


From Ponkapog to Pesth, 1883

An Old Town by the Sea, 1893

Ponkapog Papers, 1903


Thomas Bailey Aldrich (AWL-drihch), poet, editor, and story writer, was born in the harbor town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on November 11, 1836. The son of Elias Taft Aldrich and Sarah Abba Bailey Aldrich, Thomas spent his early years in New York City, New Orleans, and other parts of the United States. In 1849, he returned to Portsmouth to prepare for Harvard College and to live in the Nutter House, which he describes so vividly in The Story of a Bad Boy. There he was a pupil of Samuel De Merritt, a famous schoolmaster of the time.{$I[AN]9810001516}{$I[A]Aldrich, Thomas Bailey}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Aldrich, Thomas Bailey}{$I[tim]1836;Aldrich, Thomas Bailey}

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(Library of Congress)

Instead of going to college to study literature, he went to New York to clerk for his uncle, James Frost. In the metropolis, Aldrich worked diligently in the counting house, but he also had time to write poetry. Some of these early poems were published under various pseudonyms. In 1855 he gained nationwide acclaim for his “Ballad of Babie Bell,” which he wrote on the backs of bills of lading during his working hours. Meanwhile he had become a member of a bohemian group of writers, among whom were Walt Whitman and Bayard Taylor.

He started his work with the press with a position on the staff of the Home Journal. In 1861, during the Civil War, he went to the front with the Army of the Potomac as a reporter. In 1863 he began his distinguished editorial career as managing editor of theIllustrated News. Later he moved to Boston as editor of Every Saturday.

Meanwhile he had been writing and publishing poems, stories, and novels, some of which had appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. This magazine was his favorite place of publication for the rest of his career, where his predominantly genteel audience enjoyed his serialized novels and his witty, well-crafted stories with surprise endings. In 1881, when his friend William Dean Howells resigned his position as editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Aldrich was named to succeed him. He held this position for nine years, his successful tenure enhancing his status as a writer. After giving up this position he spent his time in traveling and at his home at Tenant’s Harbor on the coast of Maine. Aldrich died in Boston on March 19, 1907.

During the later half of the nineteenth century Aldrich was regarded as one of the United States’ best-known literary figures. In 1855, at age nineteen, he was already a popular success as a poet. He became known for his delicacy and precision of language. In 1865 his collected poems were published in the prestigious Ticknor and Fields Blue and Gold series. His collections of verse include Cloth of Gold, and Other Poems, Mercedes, and Later Lyrics, and Wyndham Towers. Among his most popular lyrics are “Hesperides,” “When the Sultan Goes to Ispahan,” “Before the Rain,” “Tiger Lilies,” “Destiny,” and “The Bells at Midnight”–the latter a poem written on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Two of his novels, Prudence Palfrey and The Stillwater Tragedy, were extremely popular in their day. He also wrote numerous short stories, of which “Marjorie Daw” is probably the best known.

Aldrich’s reputation, however, fell after his death. Critics believed he had nothing profound to say to the modern, post-World War I reader. Now he is primarily interesting to those who study the relationship between the genteel tradition and the growth of realism and for his influence on other writers in his time.

BibliographyAldrich, Mrs. Thomas Bailey. Crowding Memories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920. Written after Aldrich’s death, this biography by his wife presents a noncritical view of the author. Interesting for its anecdotal stories about Aldrich and illustrations of the author, his residences, and his friends.Bellman, Samuel I. “Riding on Wishes: Ritual Make-Believe Patterns in Three Nineteenth-Century American Authors–Aldrich, Hale, Bunner.” In Ritual in the United States: Acts and Representations. Tampa, Fla.: American Studies Press, 1985. Discusses Aldrich’s creation of an imaginary individual in three stories, “A Struggle for Life,” “Marjorie Daw,” and “Miss Mehetabel’s Son.” Argues that “things are not what they seem” is the principle of these three stories, which are presented ritualistically in the form of a hoax or tall tale intended to trap the unwary.Canby, Henry Seidel. The Short Story in English. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909. Canby discusses Aldrich, Frank R. Stockton, and H. C. Brunner as the masters of the type of short story of the “absurd situation” and incongruity. Calls Aldrich a stylist who infused his personality into tales of trivia and made them delightful. Says that in “Marjorie Daw” he was the first American to duplicate the French conte of Guy de Maupassant.Cohoon, Lorinda B. “Necessary Badness: Reconstructing Post-bellum Boyhood Citizenships in Our Young Folks and The Story Of a Bad Boy.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 29 (Spring, 2004): 5-31. Analyzes Aldrich’s novel The Story of a Bad Boy and Our Young Folks, a nineteenth century children’s magazine, to demonstrate how post-Civil War children’s literature began promoting the idea that American boyhood was a time when boys rebelled and rejected contemporary concepts of citizenship by engaging in pranks or taking trips into the wilderness.Cowie, Alexander. The Rise of the American Novel. New York: American Book Company, 1948. Classic work provides analysis of Aldrich’s narrative style and other aspects of his novels. Cowie calls Aldrich a vital writer whose contribution to American literature can be measured in terms of authenticity.Davidson, Cathy N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Comprehensive history of American fiction, including a chapter on nineteenth century Gothic fiction and individualism. Extremely useful for contextualizing Aldrich’s work. Bibliographic references and index.Greenslet, Ferris. The Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich. 1908. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1965. Comprehensive biography details Aldrich’s youth and apprenticeship, with significant attention given to Aldrich’s editorship of The Atlantic during the 1880’s and to his novels and poetry. Includes illustrations and an excellent bibliography.Greenslet, Ferris. Thomas Bailey Aldrich. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908. Official Aldrich biography contains numerous letters not available anywhere else. Describes Aldrich’s friendship with William Dean Howells, his influence on American literary life in the last half of the nineteenth century, and his editorship of The Atlantic.Jacobson, Marcia Ann. Being a Boy Again: Autobiography and the American Boy Book. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994. Focuses on a literary genre that flourished between the Civil War and World War I, the American boy book. Examines how the boy books differed from earlier and more didactic stories for boys, discusses how and why the genre developed, and explains why it disappeared. Includes discussion of works by Aldrich, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Booth Tarkington.Knight, Stephen Thomas. Crime Fiction, 1800-2000: Detection, Death, Diversity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Study of two hundred years of crime fiction, comparing the nineteenth and twentieth century practitioners of the genre. Sheds light on Aldrich’s work.O’Brien, Edward J. The Advance of the American Short Story. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931. The originator of The Best American Short Stories series discusses Aldrich’s responsibility for the vogue of the surprise-ending story in the early twentieth century. Says that although “Marjorie Daw” is flawless, many of Aldrich’s stories are “pure sleight of hand.”Pattee, Fred Lewis. The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1923. In this important early history of the American short story, Pattee summarizes Aldrich’s career and discusses the importance of “Marjorie Daw” in establishing an influential short-story type. Says that the story stood for art that is artless, that it has a Daudet-like grace and brilliance with the air of careless improvisation.Prchal, Tim. “The Bad Boys and the New Man: The Role of Tom Sawyer and Similar Characters in the Reconstruction of Masculinity.” American Literary Realism 36 (Spring, 2004): 187-205. Analyzes the depiction of adolescent boys in Aldrich’s The Story of a Bad Boy, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and other books from the mid-nineteenth century. Describes how their treatment of boyhood and masculinity reflected the cultural changes of their era.Samuels, Charles E. Thomas Bailey Aldrich. New York: Twayne, 1965. Literary biography provides a useful general introduction to Aldrich’s life and work, including information about his novels. Features chapter notes, index, and bibliography.Sattelmeyer, Robert, and J. Donald Crowley, eds. One Hundred Years of Huckleberry Finn: The Boy, His Book, and American Culture. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1985. Extensive collection of essays includes comparative analyses of Aldrich’s and Mark Twain’s works, especially in terms of Aldrich’s The Story of a Bad Boy. In his essay “’I Did Wish Tom Sawyer Was There’: Boy-Book Elements in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” Alan Gribben briefly but astutely argues that Aldrich’s novel has not received due analysis in terms of its influence on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.Yardley, Jonathan. “Thomas Bailey Aldrich.” The Washington Post, May 13, 2001. Discusses The Story of a Bad Boy, including its reception when it initially appeared, the novel’s view of adolescence as a time when boys behave badly, and how the concept of the American “bad boy” has changed since the book’s publication.
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