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Parton, James (1822–1891)

Before establishing himself as a popular biographer in the 1850s, James Parton worked as a writer and editor for N.P. Willis's popular magazine The New York Home Journal. Parton chose to leave journalism in 1854 when he signed a contract to write The Life of Horace Greeley. The research and narrative methods that Parton subsequently developed earned him the epithet "father of modern biography." Parton's biography of Andrew Jackson (1860) is considered a classic of nineteenth-century historical writing. In reviewing Jackson's many biographers Robert V. Remini concludes that Parton "cut deeply into his subject . . . striking the hard bone of Jackson's personality" (xxx).

Parton and Whitman knew each other as members of New York's journalistic and literary community. Shortly after Parton's 1854 marriage to the newspaper columnist Fanny Fern (Sara Willis), Whitman became a frequent visitor in the Parton-Fern household. This friendship turned sour over a two-hundred-dollar loan which Parton made to Whitman in 1857. Whitman's failure to repay the loan led to a lawsuit in which some of his personal property was seized. This scandal embarrassed Whitman and, apparently, he blamed Parton's wife for the lawsuit and its outcome. When queried about the incident late in life, Whitman held that Fanny Fern "kept alive what . . . James Parton would have let die" (Traubel 236). Following Fern's death in 1872 Parton continued to write productively, focusing especially on historically important women, but never rekindled his friendship with Whitman.


Flower, Milton E. James Parton, The Father of Modern Biography. Durham: Duke UP, 1951.

Remini, Robert V. Introduction. The Presidency of Andrew Jackson. By James Parton. New York: Harper and Row, 1967. vii–xxx.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 3. New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914.

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