Academic journal article Journalism History

Eugene Field and His Age

Academic journal article Journalism History

Eugene Field and His Age

Article excerpt

Saum, Lewis O. Eugene Field and His Age. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. 324 pp. $50.

Eugene Field, a prolific poet, wit, and newspaper commentator in the late nineteenth century, deserves more than to be remembered only for his children's verse, which included "Little Boy Blue" and"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod." This new biography, by Lewis O. Saum, professor emeritus of history at the University of Washington, suggests that Field's writings, especially his political humor, need to be considered with those of contemporaries, such as Ambrose Bierce, Peter Finley Dunne, and MarkTwain.

Field wrote voluminously for newspapers in St. Joseph, Mo., St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and particularly Chicago, where his column, "Sharps and Flats," appeared for twelve years inthe Chicago Daily News and later the Record. Along the way, he turned his sharp wit to topics that included politics, baseball, western life, literature, the theater, and the Chicago world's fair. A lifelong Republican, he predicted the acquittal of bank robber Frank James in 1883, noting "as long as the Democratic Party remains in existence, train robbers, burglars, and murderers will find little diffitally in proving alibis." Bawdy doggerel was a specialty of his, and after the election of 1884, he wrote a collection of "White House ballads" aimed at "King Grover" Cleveland.

Locating and documenting Field's prodigious literary output proved to be a challenge for Saum. Not only were newspaper runs incomplete, but much of his material appeared unsigned, under fictitious titles or, occasionally, under the names of more famous writers, such as Henry Ward Beecher, for humorous purposes. …

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