Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Are These Writers?

The rotunda above the second floor lobby & just outside the Bangor Room & the Lecture Hall features the names of twelve writers. At the time of the building's construction circa 1912-13, each of these writers held enough public interest to be worthy of current (and presumably future) reverence. Several of these authors, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson and Whittier, for example, remain easily recognizable to readers today. A few, however, required some light detective work to identify.Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Thomas Bailey Aldrich is one of the authors deemed prominent enough for etched-in-stone status when our building was constructed between 1912-13, but whose fame has apparently been fleeting ever since.

Aldrich, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was a poet, novelist, & editor born in 1836 who died in Boston in 1907. Ferris Greenslet's biography of him (available at Bangor Public Library) characterizes Aldrich as "the exquisite lyric poet, the inimitable story-teller, the accomplished editor, the witty, urbane man of letters." Aldrich's work as editor of The Atlantic Monthly from 1881-1890 established him as a mentor to many writers, including other writers such as Lowell, Longfellow & Holmes listed with him on the library's rotunda.
Aldrich's work was regarded as witty and humorous, which contributed to his being quite popular during the peak of his career. He was, in fact, at one point during his lifetime determined to be more popular than Mark Twain and Walt Whitman (source: http://harvardsquarelibrary.org/poets/aldrich.php). That Aldrich is linked to Twain is noteworthy since perhaps Aldrich's most famous book, The Story of a Bad Boy, is considered a forerunner to Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Story of a Bad Boy
, published in 1870, was a semi-autobiographical fictional story about growing up in Portsmouth, which Aldrich calls Rivermouth in this book. The book predates Huckleberry Finn by 14 years, leading critics to call "this novel ... the first realistic depiction of childhood in American fiction" (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bailey_Aldrich) . Twain himself commented that The Story of a Bad Boy was his inspiration for creating Tom Sawyer (source: http://seacoastnh.com/aldrich/bio.html) .
Greenslet's biography includes several letters written between Twain & Aldrich. These letters have a playful tone, that of two men who knew each other well. So well, in fact, that in an 1871 letter Aldrich makes fun of Twain having a pen name. Aldrich teases Twain that if Twain were to come to Boston & not come to see him, then Aldrich would "put a paragraph in 'Every Saturday' [a weekly illustrated Boston-based magazine which folded in 1874] to the effect that through you are generally known as Mark Twain, your favorite nom de plume is 'Barry Gray.'"

Bangor Public Library owns The Story of a Bad Boy and several other Aldrich works if you'd like to take a look. Aldrich would presumably be happy to have his works revisited since he is credited as saying, "Books that have become classics - books that have had their day and now get more praise than perusal - always remind me of retired colonels and majors and captains who, having reached the age limit, find themselves retired on half pay." [Source: unknown, but referenced extensively on the Internet]

Another Aldrich-attributed utterance, one which seems an apt axiom for adjourning this Aldrich analysis: "What is lovely never dies, but passes into other loveliness. " [Source: Aldrich poem, A Shadow of the Night]

Next up on the Who Are These Writers? series: Who is Fiske? Feel welcome to post any comments or questions about this & other Bangor Public Library Blog posts.

Patrick Layne


Bangor Public Library

Bangor Public Library
Bangor Public Library,
145 Harlow Street,
Bangor ME 04401