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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860)

JAMES K. PAULDING was an accomplished man of letters, who as writer, statesman, and man of the world, cut a considerable figure in the life of his time. He is best remembered now for his association with Washington Irving; but his prose had a literary quality and finish which make it good reading to-day. He had a satiric humor, of the sort more familiar in Irving’s serio-comic Knickerbocker ‘History of New York.’ Had his activities been less diffused, had he stuck with more of single purpose to literature, his literary impress would have been deeper. As it is, he is an interesting part of the intellectual life of the early nineteenth century in the United States.

James Kirke Paulding was born at Nine Partners, Dutchess County, New York, on August 22d, 1778. He got a scanty schooling in his native place, and when only nineteen went to New York City, where his sister married Washington Irving’s elder brother William, with whom Paulding lived. This brought him into close literary and social communion with the Irvings, and led to the collaboration of the three young men in the famous Salmagundi, a semi-weekly periodical, the first numbers of which appeared in January 1807. The clever pages, satirizing the follies of the day with searching yet kindly humor, were very warmly received: the suspension of Salmagundi within the year was due to the publisher’s refusal to pay the authors for their services. The bulk of the papers was written by Paulding and Washington Irving, William Irving’s part being minor. In 1819 Paulding put out another Salmagundi, written solely by himself; but—perhaps because Irving’s magic hand was missed—its reception was comparatively cold. But in his other works—and his pen was prolific—Paulding was decidedly a popular writer. ‘The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan,’ in 1812, ran through many editions. For his best novel, ‘The Dutchman’s Fireside,’ published in 1831, and based on Mrs. Grant’s descriptions of the manner of the early Dutch settlers, he received the comfortable sum of $1500: six editions appeared in a year, and the story was republished in England and translated into French and Dutch. For the Kentucky story of ‘Westward Ho’ (1832) he was paid the same sum. Considering the time, these facts imply an established reputation. As a poet he was less successful. His most elaborate metrical writing is ‘The Backwoodsman’ (1818), a study of emigrant life. The ‘Life of George Washington,’ published in 1835 and addressed to the youth of the country, is his most important critical work.

In 1814 Paulding’s brochure on ‘The United States and England’ made him known to President Madison, and political preferment resulted. He was appointed secretary of the first board of Navy Commissioners, and in Buchanan’s administration served in the Cabinet as Secretary of the Navy. That he was a conservative, not quick to receive new ideas, is shown by his opposition to the introduction of steam in ships, and by the fact that one of his latest pieces of writing was a defense of slavery in all its workings. After retiring from public life, Paulding purchased a residence near Hyde Park on the Hudson River, and passed his concluding years in dignified ease, writing occasional magazine articles. He died on April 6th, 1860; his dear and long-time friend, Irving, having passed away but a few months before. ‘The Literary Life of James Kirke Paulding’ by his son William was published in 1867.

Paulding is most enjoyable for the present reader in his lighter papers, and the literary skits of his early days. As joint author of the Salmagundi papers he has a certain distinction which in literary history will preserve his name.