Campaigning for the Literary Marketplace: Nathaniel Hawthorne, David Bartlett, and the Life of Franklin Pierce
Roggenkamp, Karen, ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)
Since the 1824 presidential race, campaign biographies have constituted a distinct genre of American biographical literature. Awakened by the emerging power of a mass electorate, presidential candidates sought innovative strategies for delivering themselves and their political platforms to American voters, and the biography emerged to address an increasingly literate and print-bound nation. As M. J. Heale comments, biographies were "the most effective means of reaching a mass, generally literate audience," utilizing an increasingly sophisticated network of print distribution (160).
Within a few elections, biographies became fixtures in presidential campaigns (1)--party presses and independent writers and publishers churned them out every four years, sometimes spurring competition among writers and presses to craft a favored biography, one that would sell quickly and that party pamphlets and newspapers would excerpt widely. The 1840 election alone inspired no fewer than thirty biographies of William Henry Harrison, each striving to become principal, quotable, and marketable (Hart 33). But if the 1840 election is notable for the sheer number of competing biographies, 1852% election is conspicuous because of a biographical competition of another nature. For in this year, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Life of Franklin Pierce met David Bartlett's The Life of Gen. Frank. Pierce in a battle over eminence, authenticity, and literary capital.
The 1852 biography battle remains under-explored terrain. Scott Casper has outlined how Hawthorne's publisher Ticknor, Reed, and Fields actively subverted positive reception of Bartlett's book, which was published by the small Auburn, New York firm of Derby and Miller. Casper correctly posits that examination of the "other campaign of 1852" reveals important intersections between the political arena and the publishing industry (203). But another reading of the complex intersection between politics and publishing is due, for comparative examination of the Hawthorne and Bartlett biographies--along with inquiry into the publishers' motivations--reaches outside the narrow genre of the campaign biography to a larger print culture and literary marketplace evolving in antebellum America.
Because campaign biographies are something of a forgotten child in American letters, a survey of their predictable antebellum format precedes a comparison of the Hawthorne and Bartlett works. William Burlie Brown explains that these political narratives employ an "almost stereotyped method of appeal" in order to create the "correct" symbol of the candidate, one that consists of "the ideas, beliefs, images, ideals, and emotions that the American public reveres" (xiii). While the biographies described the candidate's past political involvement, they also illuminated his non-political life. Their prime objective was to convey the candidate's admirable personality and communicate what he represented in an imagistic sense. Heale outlines the principal biography tropes, identifying three headlining factors in the creation of the presidential image: the "primary or archetypal image," constituted by the generic presidential qualities important to American voters; the "personal or individual image," expressed in the candidate's particular personality and life; and the "party image," conveyed in the portrayal of the candidate as embodiment of the party's ideals and folklore (162).
An archetypal, antebellum presidential candidate--one who transcended particularized party lines--was a dedicated patriot, identifiable "with the cause of the republic itself" (Heale 162). The candidate's father invariably imparted that patriotism to his son, while his mother, in true Republican Mother fashion, nurtured a deeply-rooted Protestant moral ethos. Connection to the frontier was important, along with the rugged life associated with conquering the American wilderness and expanding the nation's borders. Military service was nearly mandatory, but a compassionate and peace-loving nature registered positively as well.
If all candidates were expected to share in such trans-partisan characteristics, party-specific qualities also emerged between 1824 and 1852. Thus, the ideal Democratic candidate, in a mold formed by Andrew Jackson and his principal biographers, demonstrated seamless, life-long party allegiance. Humble beginnings--with a corresponding unpretentious or even difficult childhood--were desirable, as were consistent connections with the "plain folk" of America, especially farmers. Eminence, wealth, fame, and noble statesmanship were liabilities for a Democratic nominee. Theoretically, a solidly middle-class candidate would keep populist interests in mind, and in fact a "degree of obscurity aided the identification with the democratic people, for it made the candidate one of them" (Heale 172). And, for many years, a personal relationship with Jackson himself--or at least a rhetorical blessing from him--necessarily framed the candidate's desirability.
Conversely, the ideal Whig candidate was an exceptional, uncommon man, and he turned to George Washington as his idealized predecessor. If his beginnings had been humble, he had eventually risen to eminence by raw talent and superior intellect, not necessarily by the industry and hard work favored by Democrats. Life-long party affiliation and loyalty were not vital attributes, for the Whig was a natural statesman, a distinctive man who could "rise massively above party or sectional considerations" (Heale 178). Inevitably a military hero, the Whig man nevertheless thirsted naturally for law and order, especially as a check upon populist zeal. He understood common Americans through the lenses of compassion and benevolence, but his connection with them invariably smacked more of noblesse oblige than of genuine "folksiness." Heale provides a telling and succinct summary of the Whig ideal: "order was to be maintained by an enlightened leadership, aided by the unifying forces of patriotism, religion, and public virtue" (185).
Hawthorne's Life of Franklin Pierce reveals intimate familiarity with these party images, and the text invariably rehearses "correct" Democratic virtues while assiduously avoiding Whig tropes. Hawthorne was asked to write the biography--or he volunteered his services to his good friend Pierce, depending on one's critical perspective--in early June 1852. (2) But David Bartlett, an aspiring twenty-four year old, had begun his biography of Pierce a few days earlier, work that the candidate had apparently sanctioned. For reasons that remain unclear, Pierce soon condemned Bartlett's work-in-progress, and Ticknor, Reed, and Fields--seizing a marketable opportunity--opened an active campaign promoting Hawthorne's biography at Bartlett's expense. Casper's study, drawing principally on the letters and cost books of Ticknor and Fields and on Pierce's correspondence, delineates this marketing campaign. In June Bartlett spent several hours with Pierce, gathering information about the candidate's childhood and career, and by the end of the month the young writer presented preliminary sections of the biography to Pierce for approval. Bartlett's draft displeased Pierce, however, and by the middle of July the candidate had distanced himself from the work. At roughly the same time, Hawthorne began earnest work on his book--but the lag between starting dates for the two authors meant that Bartlett's biography appeared in August, a month earlier than Hawthorne's. To counter the possibility that the earlier biography would be the one that gained national and critical attention--and garnered more sales--Ticknor, Reed, and Fields opened an aggressive advertising campaign, so that announcements of Hawthorne's upcoming work appeared adjacent to advertisements for Bartlett's already-released biography. The two publishing houses exchanged angry letters, accusing each other of sabotaging sales, and William Ticknor further undercut his competitors by under pricing the Hawthorne biography, advertising nationally, and criticizing Bartlett's work in letters to booksellers. Ticknor's efforts paid off, for Hawthorne's biography attracted numerous reviews and notoriety while Bartlett's work drew few reviews and remains little more than a footnote in political and literary history. (3)
Details of the publishing war instigated by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields are instructive, but, importantly, the publishers were not alone in capitalizing upon their author's name and the political campaign in their book-selling campaign. Derby and Miller also had a writer to promote, as well as a corner of the literary marketplace to protect, and this intersection between literature and politics gains new texture under further comparative analysis of the biographies and publishing houses. Critics have frequently asserted that Hawthorne's biography is an unremarkable piece of party hack work that gained prominence because of the literary import of the author's name in 1852, a name made even more prominent with the aggressive marketing undertaken by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields. While the latter part of these arguments may be true, a perusal of Hawthorne's biography reveals how he applied literary innovation to the partisan narrative form, connecting the campaign biography with the larger fiction-reading public of antebellum America. Examination of Bartlett's biography, on the other hand, reveals his obvious misunderstanding of how to construct a Democratic Party campaign biography. But the context of Bartlett's developing career--and his publisher's promotion of it--illuminates his finished product in the light of the literary marketplace. Investigation of these two authors and their works themselves, then, along with consideration of the publishing firms that produced them, ultimately enhances our understanding of intersections between political and literary marketplaces in antebellum campaign literature.
Hawthorne's Life of Franklin Pierce combines a conventional rehearsal of Democratic Party folklore and imagery with a less conventional gesture toward a literary culture existing outside of the narrow confines of partisan biographical forms. Hawthorne begins by revealing his abiding involvement in the Democratic Party through a self-conscious construction of every image central to antebellum Democratic ideology. The formula for a campaign biography must have been obvious and well-practiced by 1852, for Hawthorne captures these "required" scenes in his unfolding narrative. (4) Thus, after a predictably modest preface, which asserts the objectivity and authenticity of an observant friend, Franklin Pierce's life story begins not with him, but with his father. Benjamin Pierce, as Hawthorne explains, was a self-made man, both toughened and educated in the New Hampshire wilderness, a man "inflexibly democratic in his political faith" (9). The elder Pierce's work as soldier, farmer, and civil servant emerges, as do his personal qualities of kindness, generosity, and common sense. Hawthorne only glances at Mother Pierce's life, but he does reveal in stereotypical form, that "patriotism, such as it had been in revolutionary days, was taught" to Pierce by his father, while early on "his mother taught him religion" (11).
The careful recitation of the Democratic campaign biography formula in the first chapter establishes a paradigm that the rest of the book follows. Hawthorne manipulates the obligatory stages of a presidential candidate's life--childhood, education, Democratic Party service in and out of office, civilian career, military involvement, the nomination itself--and girds each element with orthodox Democratic images. In school, for instance, Franklin immediately joins the "progressive or democratic" crowd, establishing his life-long loyalty to the party (15). He displays from childhood a "democracy of good feeling" to people of all classes, from the "rough countryman" to the "most wealthy classmate" (18). When failures meet Pierce in school, at law practice, and in Congress, he learns from adversity, proverbially pulling himself up by the bootstraps and industriously transforming himself into a new and improved Democratic man. He marks his loyalty to Old Hickory early in his career and later receives a ringing deathbed endorsement from the great general. He works (uncorrupted) for the common man behind the scenes of government, never flaunting his intellect like the more prominent and aristocratic (Whig) statesmen; and he labors tirelessly for working class Americans when he returns to a private (but still Democratically-involved) life. During the Mexican War, he displays courage and compassion equally, regarding "brotherly or paternal care for his men" as his foremost duty (106). And when the Democratic Party recognizes the consistency, loyalty, and character of this relatively unknown American, he accepts the nomination only with deep humility and typical self-effacement. He is, after all, and despite his fabulous characteristics (including, apparently, superhuman strength), only a common man laboring tirelessly for democracy in the great American experiment.
If such party images seem tedious to the modern reader, it is only because Hawthorne so thoroughly appreciates his objective: to craft the solid promotional literature that will sell both his candidate and his book. Yet what Hawthorne also achieves in the Life of Franklin Pierce is a subtle but constant reminder that while he may "merely" be a life-long observer of the candidate, he is also a well-known author. Hawthorne, in other words, adroitly employs narrative devices to refer to the world outside the campaign biography, where being a famous author matters, and where the number of books sold nationally--romances as well as biographies--also matters. The biography, again, begins with the conventional preface in which the writer introduces himself and presents his objective credentials. In Hawthorne's case, he coyly denies any ability--or any desire--to write politically, or to create a "representation of the principles and acts of a public man, intended to operate upon the minds of multitudes, during a presidential canvass" (3). Nothing intrinsically political exists in this narrative, Hawthorne insists. Rather, it is
the narrative of one who knew the individual of whom he treats, at a period of life when character could be read with undoubting accuracy, and who, consequently, in judging of the motives of his subsequent conduct, has an advantage over much more competent observers, whose knowledge of the man may have commenced at a later date. (3)
Hawthorne's "accuracy" implies transcendence of party affiliation. He modestly poses as an observer and recorder of humanity, the same man, the reader will doubtless recognize, who has used those representative powers quite competently in his romantic creations. This volume, moreover, is wholly autonomous: these are my personal words and "speculations," Hawthorne assures the reader, not a political party's (4).
But where other biographers make similar first-person claims (here couched in third-person rhetoric) and then drop from the narrative entirely (indeed, "I" invariably becomes royal "we" as the story begins), Hawthorne asserts his presence throughout the biography, reminding the reader at key moments that he, as the master authority, presides over the unfolding narrative and the representation of his protagonist. Hawthorne first reintroduces himself when describing Pierce's days at Bowdoin, where he notices his classmate's innate good will toward all people, along with his admirable patriotism and character. Soon after, he reminds the reader of his position by nostalgically painting Pierce as a fellow student: "His slender and youthful figure rises before my mind's eye, at this moment, with the air and step of a veteran of the school of Steuben; as well became the son of a revolutionary hero, who had probably drilled under the old baron's orders" (17). The men graduate and go their separate ways, but Hawthorne refuses to write himself out of the biography. His narrative character appears again when Pierce first enters the political arena, and the author realizes that his friend has grown as a man. "Studious days had educated him," Hawthorne reveals, and "his native habit of close and accurate observation, had likewise begun to educate him" (24). Later, Hawthorne meets with him when Pierce retires from the United States Senate, this time noticing that the statesman had "widened, deepened, and rose to a higher point," all without losing "the frankness of his nature" and his aversion to cunning and corruption (45). A final, timely meeting occurs prior to Pierce's departure for war, where Hawthorne observes that Pierce looks "so fit to be a soldier, that it was impossible to doubt--not merely his good conduct, which was as certain before the event as afterwards, but--his good fortune in the field, and his fortunate return" (68).
Hawthorne's intrusions into the narrative function to re-verify his own authority. But letters to his editors suggest that his self-reference is not merely a narrative device. Hawthorne clearly recognized the weight of his career outside of the political world; he understood his name's import, and he wished to invest that capital to further sales of his book and his candidate. An August letter to Ticknor finds Hawthorne instructing his publisher in the advertising blitz then being carried out to counter Bartlett's book, even suggesting that the firm had not yet put enough force into the ads. Providing suggestions for headings and typefaces, he asks that the book be billed as "HAWTHORNE'S Life of GENERAL PIERCE" (emphasis original, Letters, 1843-1853, 588). "Go it strong," he tells Ticknor. "We are politicians now; and you must not expect to conduct yourself like a gentlemanly publisher" (Letters, 1843-1853, 588). The publisher took Hawthorne's advice and advertised in places as far away as Charleston, New Orleans, and Cincinnati (Tryon 225). Significantly, Ticknor only made the desired changes in advertising type faces and added remarks about Hawthorne's "high literary reputation" precisely where the author's name held the most import and where such emphasis might make the most impact: in Boston, "home" to Ticknor, Reed, and Fields and to Hawthorne alike (Letters, 1843-1853, 589).
Hawthorne's repeated self-reference proves important for another reason. Casper points out that Ticknor, Reed, and Fields adopted the project not out of political fervor, but out of the potential for cheap advertising for the firm's most important author, along with the publishers' other books and authors. Some editions of the biography presented notices for "HAWTHORNE'S WRITINGS, published by TICKNOR, REED, AND FIELDS," while the inside cover--preceding Pierce's portrait--offered more advertisements for "HAWTHORNE'S WRITINGS" (emphasis original qtd. in Casper 216). The campaign to undercut Bartlett's work and to place Hawthorne's biography in the hands of booksellers and readers simultaneously afforded opportunity "to explore the massive national distribution of campaign material to promote [the firm's] other works and especially its foremost author" (216).
Ticknor, Reed, and Fields may have exploited Hawthorne's name and the biographical form in some deft advertising, and Pierce may also have recognized the weight and audience that his friend's name carried. But to claim that such motivations alone prompted Pierce's dismissal of Bartlett ignores important features of Bartlett's The Life of Gen. Frank. Pierce and the self-interested context in which it was written. While initially Bartlett's biography of Pierce seems as conventional and orthodox as Hawthorne's, closer examination suggests that the young writer was trying to cash in on the campaign biography without fully understanding his task and without sufficient intimacy with Democratic images. Pierce's displeasure with the first sheets Bartlett submitted is instructive, and a look at the early chapters suggests that the aspiring writer was attempting this narrative form not out of political loyalty, but in order to increase his own nominal capital.
The preface to Bartlett's work provides the conventional claims to impartiality and reliability. Disclaimers about the author's personal responsibility resonate more loudly, of course, given Pierce's refusal to authorize the work. "We wish to say here, distinctly," Bartlett writes, "that General Pierce is not responsible for a line in this volume" (vii). If he read the rest of the book Pierce no doubt felt thankful for the disclaimer, for the Bartlett biography never succeeds in drawing a cohesively admirable portrait of Pierce as a candidate. Indeed, the introductory chapters, while gesturing toward the conventional campaign biography elements, in fact (though probably not intentionally) depict Pierce as a dimwitted bumpkin rather than as a potential president. In the second chapter, for instance, Bartlett sends Pierce to school and proceeds to portray him as a dismal student. An appendix to Hawthorne's own biography suggests that Pierce was, indeed, a poor student, but a biographer had to approach admission of such a fact with care. Hawthorne literally places the information at the back of his book and then draws from the Democratic Party image book in this situation, explaining how, in true Jacksonian fashion, a better character can grow from hard work and perseverance, arguing that Pierce became a stronger man precisely because he was once a struggling student. But Bartlett attempts another narrative tactic, one that he apparently thought would touch a collective nerve of admiration and understanding in his audience. In an anecdote about Pierce's academic problems at Bowdoin, Bartlett envisions a stumped and sweating Pierce cheating from his classmate's arithmetic slate. The teacher, expecting Pierce to have the incorrect answer, expresses surprise when he sees the young man has solved the problem. "Well, Pierce!" he exclaims. "Where did you get this?" Bartlett explains:
Now Frank Pierce could no more tell a lie than he could be guilty of any other wicked and mean action, and supposing that the tutor was soberly asking him a question which he wished answered, he replied: "Where did I get it? Why, from Stowe's slate, to be sure!" The reply came with such perfect sangfroid, that the class burst into merry laughter, while the tutor, if he was displeased with Pierce's want of study, became thoroughly convinced of his honesty of character.... He cannot lie--is never inconsistent. (24)
Obviously attempting to equate Pierce with already-proverbial folk characteristics of the first presidential candidate, Bartlett calls upon the lore of George Washington, disseminated by Mason Locke Weems. But, crucially, the allusion draws upon the "wrong" president (Washington being the traditional Whig ancestor) as it problematically apes an evolving, and invented, popular folk story rather than established Democratic Party icons. Portraying an already canonized and beloved president in such folksy and even morally questionable terms is one matter, but attempting a similar portrayal with an unknown candidate is more risky.
Bartlett draws meaning out of this yarn, but he offers other anecdotes early in the biography without explanatory context. He depicts Pierce, for instance, in a dispute with the college president over where the Bowdoin militia should march and drill. But lacking explanation of how this incident proves Pierce's presidential worth, the scene ultimately casts him as impudent and somewhat thick-headed. Later, when Pierce is teaching country school, that pesky arithmetic stumps him once again, and he can only solve an algebra problem for his class when he miraculously stumbles upon the problem already worked out by someone else. Once more, Bartlett presents the scene without a word of explanation, leaving the reader to conclude that Pierce is either decidedly dim-witted or else an unrepentant plagiarist. He cannot, after all, even solve math problems with the great Democratic perseverance he should inherently display.
Bartlett's first chapters invent Pierce's childhood in anecdotal terms, perhaps, as Casper suggests, in an attempt to give a "novelistic" or popular feel to the personal history. But the anecdotes ultimately serve to undermine Pierce's character rather than to define it politically or poetically. Bartlett's readers might laugh at young Pierce's antics, but would this be the man they-,wanted in the White House? The displeasure Pierce expressed upon viewing Bartlett's first samples of work might have arisen from fear of such public sentiments. But possibly more galling to Pierce, Bartlett's work--both in the early chapters and throughout the narrative--also misreads or avoids key elements of Democratic imagery that would have reinforced Pierce's portrait. Even more grievously, Bartlett continues to adopt pieces of Whig tradition in his partisan sketch of the candidate. Reference to Hawthorne's careful propaganda is instructive here in noting what Bartlett misses and misuses. Bartlett's Pierce seems to spring from a privileged background--nothing about his early life suggests rugged struggle or "naturalness." He lacks early and intense loyalties to patriotism and to his party. In Whig form, he is remarkably moral and religious, a point drawn with pains in the Bowdoin section and reinforced in his "solemnity and reverence" later in life (243). He experiences no difficulty in his early practice of the law, for his intelligence proves extraordinary and innate, leading him to immediate success. As a statesman, his connections with lower classes of people seem weak; indeed, he is a real "gentleman," a "favorite in the best circles of Washington society" (32). And if he is "clear-sighted" and "warm-hearted" toward common Americans, he nevertheless feels only "sympathies for popular rights" (122). This Pierce did support Jackson, but unlike that crass earlier leader, he is a "graceful, polished man" (124). The hallmarks of breeding and genteel character emerge through his speeches, which "resemble closely those of ... England's most-renowned parliamentary debaters" (121) and which, like the speeches of the French, are "full of brilliancy [and] animation" (211).
Throughout the narrative, Bartlett seems confused about which party folklore (and which nationalism) he should reproduce. And the biography reveals similar ambivalence about how best to engage the reader. Casper has suggested that of the two lives of Franklin Pierce constructed in 1852, Bartlett's is more "innovative," pointing toward popular narrative conventions of sentiment and sensation. But this reading overplays the extent to which Bartlett uses novelistic narrative devices in his biography and ignores Hawthorne's more skillful use of those same elements. Ultimately, Hawthorne, not Bartlett, creates a narrative that resonates in the extra-political literary marketplace, even though he couches those elements in obvious political discourse. For instance, seventy-five percent of Bartlett's 300-page tome consists of direct quotation--extensive passages lifted awkwardly out of the Congressional Globe, excerpts from letters and newspaper articles, and transcripts from court cases. More importantly, forty-four percent of the biography involves direct quotation of Franklin Pierce himself. The statistics are important for two reasons. First, the sheer number and form of quotations--which Bartlett fails to work into a larger "literary" frame--renders the book more documentary in nature than literary. Facts pile up endlessly and overwhelmingly, without a tone of fictive narrative to weave them into the fabric of a good story about a good candidate. Second, Pierce himself "narrates" nearly half of the biography, a trend that treads dangerously close to self-representation, anathema for the antebellum presidential candidate. Pierce's voice, not the voice of his supporters or his biographer, dominates the work.
Hawthorne, in contrast, does quote substantially (seventy percent of the 144-page book), but only a quarter of the book quotes Pierce directly. More importantly, Hawthorne scarcely presents direct quotation of Pierce as such. Rather, he weaves the quotations into a smooth narrative fabric so that the biography begins to read more like a romance than like an overly partisan text. Quotations become dialogue, not overt Democratic rhetoric. And the bulk of Pierce's direct quotation appears precisely where it can be sensational and effective: in the description of the Mexican War. In these scenes particularly, Hawthorne's narrative resonates with adventure, with drama, with sentimental dialogue, with elements of popular fiction, in other words, which readers might not expect to find in a campaign biography. Hawthorne sets the stage for war skillfully, then lets Pierce pick up the narrative thread, and here the work begins to take on the dimensions and tone of an epistolary novel. The stylistic comparison between Bartlett and Hawthorne is vital, for it again underscores which of the two was in fact innovative within the confines of a narrow form. Where Hawthorne, the skilled romancer, fleshes out character and setting in fictive fashion, Bartlett eschews explanation and contents himself with lists of facts or with awkwardly presented primary evidence. Brown confirms that most early campaign biographers adopted Bartlett's approach, sandwiching "huge slices of oratory into their narrative" (14). Hawthorne, by contrast, simply uses the skills that establish him as a romancer both in and out of political culture. He "concocts" and puts "other people's thoughts into [his] own words, and amalgamate[s] the whole into a mass" (Hawthorne, Miscellaneous Prose and Verse 655). Hawthorne's October 1852 admission to Horatio Bridge that "though the story is true, yet it took a romancer to do it" proves more telling than even he might have imagined (Letters, 1843-1853, 605).
If Bartlett lacked innovation, then, and if he also lacked sufficient intimacy with party knowledge and folklore, why did he offer his services to Pierce? The answer once again points outside the confines of political narrative to the broader 1850s literary market and to an aspiring writer's self-interest. The young writer demonstrated eagerness to break into the lucrative and growing literary market, and even a sketchy personal background illuminates his probable motivations to write an important antebellum biography. Bartlett had just begun crafting a name for himself before the American reading public. He journeyed to England in 1847 and 1850, spending a year in residence during each trip and sending home travel sketches that were printed in American periodicals. Then, during the summer of 1852, Derby and Miller published his first book What I Saw in London, or Men and Things in the Great Metropolis.
Bartlett was at Auburn, New York, reading the proof sheets for his London book in early June 1852 when Pierce won the nomination, and J. C. Derby approached the young man about writing the candidate's biography. If Hawthorne and his publishers undertook their biography with ulterior marketing designs, Bartlett and his publishers seemingly held similar motivations. The nearly simultaneous appearance of an author's first book with an attention-getting biography speaks less to party loyalty than to a desire to increase the writer's name value in a lucrative literary marketplace. Indeed, Derby's memoirs describe Bartlett as "a fiery 'Free-Soiler'" and "a rank abolitionist," political views of which Pierce was apparently unaware in 1852 (637). Unlike Hawthorne, who was inspired in great part to write a biography out of genuine friendship and party interest, Bartlett was willing to forgo his political beliefs in the name of book sales. The principal biography of a presidential candidate unquestionably would gather attention, as would the biographer, and Derby and Miller's immediate contact with Pierce after the nomination, along with Bartlett's willingness to complete the work, suggests a calculated business move. The firm could count on the biography to increase the prominence of Bartlett's name and to increase public awareness of the firm's genre specialties: popular history and biography (Kabelac 117). Unlike Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, which specialized in fiction, Derby and Miller contracted with only three popular novelists--Fanny Fern, Caroline Chesebro', and Mary Jane Holmes--and advertising in 1852 Derby and Miller books (one of which offers a revised edition of its campaign biography of Zachary Taylor) reinforces its corner on biography and history. If Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, then, capitalized on Hawthorne's name to promote its novelist and its fictional market share, Derby and Miller capitalized on the biographical form to promote its new non-fiction writer and its own market specialties.
Ticknor, Reed, and Fields (reorganized as Ticknor and Fields in 1854) and Derby and Miller both pursued the lucrative campaign biography market after 1852. Ticknor and Fields's 1856 biography of John Fremont (written, ironically, by Hawthorne's Custom House enemy Charles Wentworth Upham) constituted nearly twenty-five percent of the annual print output for the firm, becoming its most profitable work for 1856 and selling twice the number of copies of Hiawatha (Winship 13, 18). Letters indicate that once again Ticknor and Fields engaged in a publishing war to undermine the reception of other biographies, emphasizing to booksellers that "we have at our command letters from the highest authority" to prove claims of authenticity and endorsement (18). In this campaign, they capitalized not on a top author's name, but on the contentious issue of an emerging Republican party. Derby and Miller editors--in their later corporate affiliations--continued their pursuits in the competitive field of campaign literature as well, publishing 1856 biographies of Buchanan, Fremont, and Fillmore, as well as Cass, Houston, and Law (Miles 56-57, 61-62). Obviously, party loyalty held little importance in the publishing world by now.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's adventure in the wide world of campaign biographies ended with Franklin Pierce's election and with his own consular appointment to Liverpool, but he established a precedent for distinguished writers entering the fray. John Greenleaf Whittier, Lew Wallace, and William Dean Howells (who also earned a consulship for his efforts) all wrote campaign biographies for later elections (Hart 105). And if a defeated Bartlett sat out the 1856 race, he was back in full swing during 1860 when he wrote a general work for the election audience (Presidential Candidates: Containing Sketches, Biographical, Personal and Political, of Prominent Candidates for the Presidency in 1860) as well as a principle biography of Lincoln (The Life and Public Services of lion. Abraham Lincoln--finally an "authorized edition"). While it is difficult to know precisely how much Bartlett's efforts in 1852 increased his name-recognition and literary worth, he did enjoy a long career writing non-fiction, producing a biography of Lady Jane Grey and some political commentary between 1852 and 1865, and continuing with a career as a Washington correspondent for the New York Evening Post and the New York Independent (Derby 638). (5)
Ultimately, investigation into one case where politics, authorship, and publishing intersect underscores the increasing importance and power of the publishing industry in antebellum America. As Michael Winship observes of the antebellum book trade more generally, such cases of election-year marketing wars confirm that publishing "is a social and cultural institution situated in history," for neither publishers nor the books they publish can "usefully be studied or fully understood in isolation. Publishing is part of--both acted on and acting on--the social and cultural environment in which it exists" (19). Comparison of Hawthorne's Life of Franklin Pierce with David Bartlett's The Life of Gen. Frank. Pierce loses its texture and nuance without the contextualization of book marketing. The knowledge, methods, and motivations of each author serve initially to underscore the conventions of the narrow literary genre which campaign biographies constitute. But the other campaign of 1852--that which took place in the expanding antebellum publishing market--points relentlessly outside of the text to the social contexts where biography, imagery, politics, and publishing intersect.
Texas A & M University-Commerce
Bartlett, David W. The Life and Public Services of Hon. Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia, 1860.
--. The Life of Gen. Frank. Pierce of New Hampshire, the Democratic Candidate for President of the United States. Auburn, NY, 1852.
--. Modern Agitators: Or, Pen Portraits of Living American Reformers. New York, 1855.
--. Presidential Candidates: Containing Sketches, Biographical, Personal and Political, of Prominent Candidates for the Presidency in 1860. Philadelphia: J. W. Bradley, 1860.
--. What I Saw in London: Or, Men and Things in the Great Metropolis. Auburn, NY, 1852.
Boyd, Richard. "The Politics of Exclusion: Hawthorne's Life of Franklin Pierce." American Transcendental Quarterly 3 (1989): 337-51.
Brown, William Burlie. The People's Choice: The Presidential Image in the Campaign Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1960.
Casper, Scott. "The Lives of Franklin Pierce: Hawthorne, Political Culture, and the Literary Market." American Literary History 5 (1993): 203-30.
Derby, J. C. Fifty Years Among Authors, Books, and Publishers. New York, 1884.
Hart, James D. "They All Were Born in Log Cabins." American Heritage 7.5 (1956): 32+.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Letters, 1843-1853. Ed. Thomas Woodson, L. Neal Smith, and Normal Holmes Pearson. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1985. Vol. 16 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. William Charvat, et al. 23 vols. 1962-94.
--. Life of Franklin Pierce. Boston, 1852.
--. Miscellaneous Prose and Verse. Ed. Thomas Woodson, Claude M. Simpson, and L. Neal Smith. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1985. Vol. 23 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. William Charvat, et al. 23 vols. 1962-94.
Heale, M. J. The Presidential Quest: Candidates and Images in the American Political Culture, 1787-1852. London: Longman, 1982.
Jenkins, William. "Nathaniel Hawthorne, Politician." Cimarron Review 74 (1986): 37-44.
Kabelac, Karl. "Derby and Miller." American Literary Publishing Houses, 1638-1899. Detroit: Gale, 1986. Vol. 49 of Dictionary of Literary Biography. 343 vols. 1978-2008.
Miles, William. The Image Makers: A Bibliography of American Presidential Campaign Biographies. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow P, 1979.
Tryon, Warren S. and William Charvat, eds. The Cost Books of Ticknor and Fields and Their Predecessors, 1832-1858. New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1949.
Winship, Michael. Ticknor and Fields: The Business of Literary Publishing in the United States of the Nineteenth Century. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1992.
(1) One reason for the rapid market growth for campaign biographies is the tradition of the "Mute Tribute." Since George Washington's election, presidential nominees had adopted traditionally self-effacing attitudes, remaining invariably behind the public scenes of the race. In the absence of the actual man, verbal and pictorial images of the candidate emerged as vital campaign elements, for these images conveyed a message about the nominee without his personal involvement. The new genre of the campaign biography fit well into the Mute Tribute tradition, for it packed a web of images into one compact form, furnishing, as William Burlie Brown suggests, "the most extensive amount of information about the candidate" to American voters "in a single package during the campaign" (xii). The information reached the national reading audience directly, and, importantly, it maintained distance between the candidate himself and the communication of his worthiness for public office. The biography introduced itself as "the unsolicited testimonial of a knowledgeable admirer," and while the actual candidate remained cloistered from public consumption, "his literary partisans went to work" on his textual persona (Heale 160).
(2) The letter in which Hawthorne raises the topic of the biography--reprinted in Letters, 1843-1853--has proven ambiguous to critics. Writing to Pierce on 9 June 1852, Hawthorne acknowledged that his friend might ask him to write "the necessary biography," but he also suggested the name of another author better equipped for the job. Some critics (see Casper, Boyd, and Claude M. Simpson and Thomas Woodson, in their editorial notes for Hawthorne's Miscellaneous Prose and Verse) argue Hawthorne's self-effacement masks a pointedly self-interested first offer to write the biography. Conversely, William Jenkins reads Hawthorne's comments more literally, suggesting that Pierce had already sent word of his request through a mutual acquaintance and that Hawthorne, quite genuinely, asked Pierce to contact an alternative biographer first.
(3) See Casper 207-12 for a more exhaustive description of this phase of the competition between the two publishing houses.
(4) Hawthorne was obviously aware of the conventions, and he expressed his self-consciousness in his almost parenthetical remark that Pierce taught in country school, and that "so many of the statesmen of New England have performed their first public service in the character of pedagogue, that it seems almost a necessary step on the ladder of advancement" (18).
(5) Interestingly, much of Bartlett's post-1852 work directly opposed Democratic Party policies. In 1855, for instance, Miller, Orton, and Mulligan published his collection of biographies entitled Modern Agitators: Or Pen Portraits of Living American Reformers, a book that enthusiastically celebrates the anti-slavery efforts of such contemporaries as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greeley, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Campaigning for the Literary Marketplace: Nathaniel Hawthorne, David Bartlett, and the Life of Franklin Pierce. Contributors: Roggenkamp, Karen - Author. Journal title: ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly). Volume: 22. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 2008. Page number: 365+. © 1999 University of Rhode Island. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.