Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: March 4, 1873: James T. Fields

Posted on February 16, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, Feb. 27-Mar. 4, 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary,
Feb. 27-Mar. 4, 1873

The lecture series referred to in this and other entries, was a fund raiser for the Norton Public Library. The idea of Mary Briggs, Seminary teacher of History and Literature (1856-79), the series was organized by Miss Briggs and the Rev. Timothy Atkinson of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, on behalf of Norton's public library committee. Rushlight tells us that the lecturers' words "pleased the people mightily, so that they gave each of his money freely".

On this date, American publisher, editor, and poet James T. Fields’ (1817 – 1881) lectured at Wheaton on the British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. He had been offering this lecture at schools and lyceums since November 1872. The March Rushlight reported that the "hall was well filled and our high expectations were not disappointed. The lecture was exceedingly interesting and the character of the Poet Laureate presented to us so vividly, that we almost felt we had seen him. Tennyson's style of reading was finely imitated and we could almost hear the tones of the 'Giant of the Isle of Wight'".

Newspaper critics noted that, “Mr. Fields has done more than any other American to familiarize us with the men of letters of the old world and their works; and the nation owes him a debt of gratitude which will become greater as the ranks of our scholars increase.” And that the “mind which has been favored with the advantages of education in its more practical sense, may find a never-ending interest and pleasure in the labors of science, the studies of political economy, the pages of history, the puzzling problems of higher mathematics, or the wondrous progress of mechanical invention; yet unless the lights of modern English literature have beamed upon their libraries they must pass through earth-life in a shadow.”[1]

Publisher James T. Fields

Publisher James T. Fields

A partner in the Boston publishing firms of Ticknor and Fields, and later Fields, Osgood & Company, Fields was the literary (as opposed to the business) expert. Friendly and likable, he could identify creative talent, and promoted authors in a way that won their personal friendship and loyalty. He published the leading contemporary American and British writers,[2] and more important for international authors such as Dickens and Thackeray, Fields insisted that his firm pay royalties at a time when most American publishers simply pirated their works.

Lucy Larcom

Lucy Larcom

Fields’ connection to Wheaton went beyond the lecture circuit. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who had “discovered” her writing in the Lowell Offering while she was working in the mills, introduced our own Lucy Larcom to Fields.[3] Although Fields rejected Larcom’s first efforts, he later turned to her as compiler of Whittier’s poems, editor of magazines such as Our Young Folks, and ultimately published her own works. Larcom became as close a friend of James and his wife, author Annie Adams Fields, as she was with Whittier.[4]  Fields even left $5000 to Larcom in his will.[5]

Although no longer a teacher at Wheaton in 1873, Larcom continued to lecture at the Seminary annually. If she did not actually invite Fields to Wheaton, she probably introduced the Seminary to his lecture circuit.


[2] For the pantheon of authors published by Fields, see Every Saturday: an Illustrated Weekly Journal, 21 Jan. 1871.

[3] Although the image of Larcom is incorrect, the incident is described accurately.

[4] For more on Larcom’s friendship with the Fieldses, see Shirley Marchalonis, The Worlds of Lucy Larcom, 1824-1893, 1989. Wheaton Stacks: PS2223 .M37 1989; and Daniel D. Addison, Lucy Larcom: Life, Letters, and Diary, 1894.

[5] New York TImes, 2 May 1881.

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