Sunday, December 1, 2019

Peter Parley's Christmas

Or, a festive story of Transatlantic literary piracy starring nineteenth century children's favourite Peter Parley.
Tales About Christmas by Peter Parley (London, 1838) and Peter Parley's Christmas Tales (1838) - spot the difference

Samuel Griswold Goodrich was a pioneer of American children's literature. His avuncular alter-ego Peter Parley first appeared in The Tales of Pater Parley About America in 1827 and then starred in countless sequels in the following decades following the same mixture of didacticism and narrative. Here's Pat Flieger's incredible attempt at a bibliography of his works. Evidently, he was as popular in England as he was in America, because pirated editions of his books began appearing across the Atlantic in the 1830s. More than that, books attributed to and featuring Pater Parley that Goodrich had not authored were also published in London. In his autobiography, Parley gave readers a list of the "most notorious" counterfeits to avoid and railed against the "utter disregard of respectable British authors and publishers, in this wholesale system of imposition and injustice."

Which brings us to Christmas. One particularly notable moment in the Peter Parley pirate wars came in 1838. That year, it seems that London publisher Thomas Tegg released a festive volume that he attributed to Peter Parley: Tales About Christmas. In the introduction, a note from the publisher pays tribute to Parley's popularity in England: "When fathers and mothers are seen lingering over pages addressed to childhood, they must possess more than common attraction. We wish that we could thoroughly Parleyize the rising generation, not only for our own interest, but, also for their advantage." With a bit of a knowing wink, the publishers also noticed that this was a different Peter Parley than readers might have previously encountered:
When Samuel Goodrich got hold of a copy of the book, he was unhappy with aspects of this version of his most famous creation. But he also clearly thought that a volume of Christmas stories made commercial sense. And so he decided to release his own. In a preface to the American edition of Peter Parley's Christmas Tales, Goodrich plainly laid out the genesis of the project to his American readers:
Remarkably, then, Goodrich took the counterfeit Peter Parley book produced in London, removed some sections that he found "decidedly objectionable", and rereleased the pirate version as an authentic Parley product for his American readers! One interesting moment of contrast comes in Goodrich's introduction to the American version, where he compares the illustrations of Peter Parley produced on different sides of the Atlantic:

Parley in London, Parley in Boston

Taken together, both volumes represent a fascinating and rather pioneering moment in the shared Transatlantic creation of Christmas for children on both sides of the Atlantic at this moment - and a missing link between the defining Christmas visions of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.

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