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Course & Subject Guides

Elizabeth Nesbitt Collection @ Pitt: Samuel Goodrich

This guide identifies some of the 12,000+ resources available in the Nesbitt Collection. Comprised of children's literature and material related to the history of children and their books, collection items date from the 1600's through the present.

Accessing the Collection

Many Goodrich titles are housed in the Special Collections Department at the University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library. 

For questions about the collection and location:

Hathi Trust

Many works of Samuel Goodrich are available from the HathiTrust digital library. Two ways to access this collection from Pitt include:

  1. After locating the PittCat record, select the Full Text Online option
  2. Start at the ULS's Database page, select the Hathi Trust Link, and search by Goodrich, Samuel

Samuel Goodrich Collection

Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793-1860) is best known as creator and publisher of the Peter Parley books and related magazines for children. His first Peter Parley book, Tales of Peter Parley about America, debuted in 1827 and produced prolifically thereafter.

Born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Goodrich was the sixth of ten children of a minister of the First Congregational Church. His earliest education was in a one room schoolhouse. He read the fairy tales which his father bought as toy books but thought Little Red Riding Hood and Jack the Giant Killer as gruesome and frightening. At 12, after reading the few text books that were available, he found his way to a copy of Robinson Crusoe and read voraciously thereafter. His favorite book was The Shepard of Salisbury Plain by Hannah Moore.

Goodrich quit school at 15 and worked first in his brother-in- law's country store and later at a Hartford dry goods store.  During that time he attended lectures on physical science. read Shakespeare, and sought to improve himself. He studied French, gained a benefactress through his uncle, a United States Senator (Parley p. 149). Goodrich began what would become lifelong difficulty with his eyesight, which he attributed to night-time reading.  By 18 his aspiration was to attend college, but this was not possible.  He continued his self-education with studies of Latin Grammar as well as philosophy. In his autobiography, Recollections of a Lifetime, Goodrich terms himself  "determined to pass no word without ascertaining its meaning, and I persevered in this, doggedly for five and twenty years".

In 1816, he entered a partnership with George Sheldon, a Hartford bookseller and publisher. Sheldon soon died and Goodrich continued alone for four more years. He had also begun writing his own material, publishing Tales of Peter Parley about America. Within a year it achieved popularity and he subsequently wrote The Tales of Peter Parley about Europe; Parley's Winter Evening Tales; Parley's Juvenile Tales and many other titles.

In Recollections of a Lifetime, Goodrich notes that he wrote for children before Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, or Jacob Abbot.  I "imagined myself on the floor with a group of boys and girls, and I wrote to them as I would have spoken to them" (Goodrich p.308). He often chose topics that worked well with illustrated content, believing that pictures allowed his audience to learn more readily. He selected the pen name because he was talking to children and the word parle in French means to talk. As for the dimensions of his books, Goodrich regarded large volumes as formal education, "proper for the learned, but not fit for me, and little books as nonsense, or worse than nonsense, worthy only of contempt or aversion" (173).

By 1826, Goodrich moved his publishing business to Boston, now the central of American literary society.. He wrote prolifically from 1828-1832, often for fourteen hours a day, dictating to his wife because of his chronic eye problems. Although his work appears conservative and didactic by today's standards, in the mid-eighteen hundreds it was revolutionary and controversial.  "The use of engravings in books for instruction, was deemed a fatal facility, tending to exercise the child in a mere play of the senses, while the understanding was left to indolence and emaciation" (312). In England, the sentiment against his work was great among conservatives who then wanted to revive old nursery books. About these, Goodrich says, "What I affirm is, that many of these pieces are coarse, vulgar, offensive, and it is precisely these portions that are apt to stick in the mind of a child" (318). Goodrich attributed much ill to nursery books, stating "I am convinced that much of the vice and crime in the world are to be imputed to these atrocious books put into the hands of children, and bringing them down, with more or less efficiency, to their owned debased moral standard" (169).He felt that "love of the horrible, the monstrous, the grotesque, is not indigenous to the youthful mind...." 

The Parley titles were popular in England, where printers such as Thomas Tegg routinely counterfeited his work. Goodrich had contracted with Tegg to write some books for him to publish. While Tegg happily published those books, he gave no royalties to Goodrich. He issued other books under Parley's name and had thus helped promote him, going so far as to assert that he thought he had done more for Parley than Parley had done for him! Tegg did eventually make some payment to Goodrich (294).  Another publisher, John Darton, printed many of Goodrich's books in England shipped them to the United States for sale. Darton reminded Goodrich that he (Goodrich) had also sold the English theologian, Thomas Scott's, Family Bible some years earlier in America without payment of royalties. Such issues stimulated Goodrich's interest in international copyright.

Text by Sally Michalski, updated by Clare Withers