by Theodore Tilton
1865 / New York: Sheldon & Co.
Pictorial wraps / 16 pages plus covers / 5.25" x 6.75"
9 different woodcut illustrations
Personally inscribed by Theodore Tilton to the son of Samuel Welsh Tubbs, an intimate family friend of the Tiltons, and the escort of Theodore's wife Libby during the so-called Beecher-Tilton Scandal court trial in 1875 when Rev. Henry Ward Beecher was charged by Theodore with "criminal intimacy" with Libby Tilton. Inscription reads: "To Henry Sumner Tubbs / With the love of his great-grandfather / Theodore Tilton"
Theodore Tilton (1835-1907) was an important newspaper editor, poet and abolitionist. Initially the assistant of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher at the influential newspaper The Independent and then taking over as primary editor, Tilton's newspaper work was fully supportive of abolitionism and the Northern cause in the American Civil War. In 1874, Theodore and Elizabeth Tilton, and Rev. Beecher, who was the most famous religious figure in the United States, became entangled in the most prominent and publicly reported sex scandal of the 19th century.
The book offered here was part of Tilton's first foray into having his children's literature published as stand-alone volumes under his by now nationally-recognized name. As it turned out, The Fly became the most well-known and long-lived of all his poems and stories for children, reprinted in countless magazines and schoolbooks well into the 20th century.
Tilton had three more children's titles published following the end of the Civil War: Golden-haired Gertrude (1865), The Two Hungry Kittens (1866), and The King's Ring" (1867).
In his autobiography, Tilton relates that the origin of The Fly came from a conversation he had with Dr. Carroll Dunham, a friend who was an avid naturalist:
"He was a great lover of natural history, and a daily devotee to the microscope. We used to ride together over the Newburgh hills, examining every nook and corner to find strange flowers and insects. One day he burst out with great indignation at the flimsy and inaccurate use of scientific facts in the prevailing literature for children.
He had bought an illustrated book for his little boy, and was disgusted to find in it a picture of a spider with six instead of eight legs. The annoyed scientist tore out the offending page and flung it away.
I was much impressed by this act. So I immediately set at work and wrote The Fly. After the verses were finished, I handed them to him. "Let us see," he said, "if they will bear the test of the microscope — or, at least, let us see if you have given your fly his six proper legs — which is the number he ought to have — instead of eight — which would change him from an insect and make him insectivorous." Dr. Dunham decided that my little piece did not violate the facts of nature, and that it contained no stanza to be angrily torn out and flung away..."
I think it's interesting that Tilton saw himself as striking a blow for realism in children's literature with this elegantly illustrated volume.
Let's now turn our attention to the rather cryptic inscription Tilton left in this book:
"To Henry Sumner Tubbs / With the love of his great-grandfather / Theodore Tilton"
Obviously, Theodore Tilton is not the boy's great-grandfather — so he is in essence dedicating his gift in honor of the man who was. Theodore (and the Tubbs family as well) must have held that man in high esteem. My research has yielded two candidates. See the family tree diagram above in order to better understand the following.
The first candidate is Major Samuel Tubbs, who served in Bradford's Massachusetts Continental Regiment during the Revolutionary War. The evidence supporting this possibility is that the 1912 edition of the Official Bulletin of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution contains a notice of new membership on page 30 for Clarence Brown Tubbs, the brother of Henry Sumner Tubbs. It explicitly states that he is the "Great Grandson of Samuel Tubbs, major and captain in Bradford's Mass. Continental regt."
The second possibility is Reverend Gideon Farrell, who was the head of the Welsh Tract Baptist Church in Iron Hill, Delaware, the oldest "Old School" Baptist church in America. Although this possibility at first glance does not seem as likely as a Revolutionary War soldier and patriot, there is an interesting coincidence that makes one wonder if perhaps this is the correct choice: Rev. Gideon Farrell's daughter (in other words, Henry Sumner Tubbs' grandmother) died on September 1, 1865, in Brooklyn, New York — precisely where and very likely when this gift book was inscribed.
It seems quite possible that Tilton had in mind honoring the father of a woman who had just died, with his inscription to the family's youngest member.
A highly desirable and worthy acquisition for an advanced collection of historically significant juvenile literature.