Narrative Summary of Eugene Field, a Study in Heredity and Contradictions — Volume 2

Overview: As a close friend and colleague of Eugene Field, I share personal anecdotes and insightful observations about his life, work, and peculiar personality. The text delves into Field’s writing habits, his love for collecting rare books and curios, his satirical political views, and his unique relationship with his family and friends. It also explores the development of Field’s writing style and the influences that shaped his literary creations.

Main Parts:

  • Comradeship: A detailed account of Field’s close friendship with the author, including their shared love for walking, dining, and bowling.
  • Colored Inks: The genesis of Field’s unique habit of writing with multiple colored inks, sparked by a playful artistic endeavor based on art critic Walter Cranston Larned’s writings on the Walters Gallery.
  • Epistolary Pranks: A collection of letters written by Field to the author during his visits to New Brunswick, showcasing Field’s whimsical use of language, colorful imagery, and elaborate letter-writing practices.
  • Publication of his First Books: The process behind the publication of Field’s first significant works, “Culture’s Garland” and his “Little Books,” which included his famous poem “Little Boy Blue,” and the challenges he faced in establishing himself as a literary figure.
  • Second Visit to Europe: A chronicle of Field’s trip to Europe, where he sought to improve his health and gather material for his writings. It captures his struggles with dyspepsia, his fascination with London and its book shops, his love for his children, and his encounters with other notable figures.
  • The Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner: The story of Field’s humorous creation of the “Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner” at McClurg’s bookstore, a fictional club dedicated to bibliomania and its devotees, which he used to satirize the eccentricities of book collectors and their obsession with rare editions.
  • Political Relations: An exploration of Field’s partisan Republicanism and his satirical approach to political writings, featuring examples of his humorous paragraphs and verses aimed at politicians and political issues of the day.
  • His “Auto-Analysis”: A humorous analysis of Field’s “Auto-Analysis,” a self-portrait written by Field in response to the constant requests for biographical details. It’s revealed to be a mix of truth and fiction, demonstrating Field’s playful and sometimes mischievous nature.
  • Last Years: A moving account of Field’s final years, marked by his desire to secure a home for his family, his struggles with ill health, his literary endeavors, and his continued fascination with books and curios.
  • Last Days: A poignant description of Field’s final days, filled with personal anecdotes and insights into his character. It culminates with a touching account of his peaceful death and the outpouring of sympathy from those who knew him.

View on Life:

  • Whimsical and Humorous: Field approached life with a playful and lighthearted attitude, embracing humor and satire as his primary tools for observing and commenting on the world.
  • Skeptical and Critical: He was critical of pretense and hypocrisy, finding amusement in exposing the foibles and contradictions of individuals and society as a whole.
  • Appreciative of Simplicity: He found beauty in simple things, particularly in the warmth of family relationships, the joy of children, and the pleasures of nature.
  • Reverent of Motherhood: He held a deep and abiding reverence for motherhood, as evidenced in his numerous poems dedicated to mothers and his stories celebrating the bond between mothers and children.


  • The Walters Gallery Incident: Field’s attempt to recreate famous paintings from written descriptions using colored inks, which resulted in humorous and whimsical interpretations of art.
  • “How Mary Matilda Won a Prince”: A whimsical, romantic tale Field wrote about a young woman named Mary Matilda and her encounter with a prince. It captures Field’s fondness for creating imaginative stories with eccentric characters.
  • The Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner: Field’s fictional meetings of book collectors at McClurg’s bookstore, where he satirizes the world of bibliomania with witty dialogues and humorous situations.
  • The “Golden Week”: Field’s record-breaking feat of publishing a column of original verse every day for a week, which showcased his versatility and creativity.
  • The Purchase of a Home: Field’s long-held desire to own a home for his family, his financial struggles, and the eventual fulfillment of his dream, as documented in his correspondence with Mr. Gray.
  • Field’s Death: A peaceful and unexpected death in his sleep, reflecting the gentleness of his spirit and the deep sorrow he evoked in those who knew him.


  • Field’s Ill Health: He battled constant bouts of dyspepsia and other health issues, which impacted his lifestyle and professional career.
  • Financial Difficulties: Field was known for his inability to manage money, leading to ongoing financial struggles and a reliance on his friends for financial assistance.
  • Political Differences: His strong Republicanism often brought him into conflict with his colleagues and friends who held opposing political views.
  • The Demands of Fame: As Field’s fame grew, he faced increasing demands on his time and energy from readers, autograph hunters, and those seeking to capitalize on his popularity.


  • Field vs. The World: Field engaged in a constant battle against hypocrisy, pretense, and the mundane aspects of life, using humor and satire as his weapons.
  • Field vs. Himself: He struggled with his own weaknesses, including his dyspepsia, his inability to manage money, and his addiction to tobacco.


The text follows a chronological narrative of Field’s life, focusing on his personal and professional development, his struggles and triumphs. The story arc highlights his transition from a young reporter struggling to make his way in the world to a well-known writer and humorist, grappling with fame, ill health, and the desire for a stable home for his family.

Point of View:

The book is written from the perspective of the author, a close friend of Field, who shares personal memories and observations. This intimate point of view provides unique insights into Field’s personality and his life that would be difficult to find elsewhere.

How it’s Written:

The text is written in a warm and engaging style, filled with humor, wit, and personal anecdotes. The author uses a conversational tone, weaving together biographical details, letters, and poems, to create a multifaceted portrait of Eugene Field.


The tone is predominantly affectionate and nostalgic, with a touch of lightheartedness and gentle humor. It celebrates Field’s achievements while acknowledging his struggles and eccentricities.

Life Choices:

  • Writing: Field chose writing as his profession, embracing both the joys and challenges it brought.
  • Collecting: He indulged his passion for collecting rare books and curios, even though it sometimes led to financial difficulties.
  • Family: He devoted himself to his wife and children, even though he sometimes struggled to balance his professional ambitions with his domestic responsibilities.


  • The Importance of Friendship: Field’s life is a testament to the power of friendship and the importance of having people you can trust and rely on, both in times of triumph and adversity.
  • Embracing Life’s Whimsy: Field’s life teaches us to embrace life’s absurdities and to find humor in the unexpected.
  • Finding Joy in the Simple Things: His life reminds us that joy can be found in the most ordinary things, like the love of family, the laughter of children, and the beauty of nature.


  • Eugene Field: A talented writer and humorist, known for his whimsical wit, his love of children, and his passion for collecting. He struggles with ill health, financial difficulties, and a rebellious stomach, but remains a cheerful and generous friend to those around him.
  • Slason Thompson: The author, Field’s close friend and colleague, who shares personal memories and observations.
  • Melvin L. Gray: Field’s longtime friend and financial supporter, who helps him acquire a home and provides guidance and support throughout his life.
  • John F. Ballantyne: Field’s friend and colleague at The Daily News, who serves as a voice of reason and a source of support.
  • Walter Cranston Larned: An art critic whose writings inspire Field’s artistic endeavors with colored inks.
  • “Bill” Nye: A humorist and close friend of Field, known for his witty and often outrageous humor.


  • The Joys and Struggles of Creativity: The text explores the complexities of Field’s life as a writer, highlighting both the joy of creating and the challenges of finding success and dealing with the demands of fame.
  • The Importance of Family and Friendship: Field’s life is a testament to the enduring power of love and support, particularly those provided by family and close friends.
  • Embracing Life’s Absurdities: The text celebrates Field’s unique perspective and his ability to find humor in the unexpected and to expose the foibles of humanity.
  • The Value of Simplicity: Field’s life reminds us to find joy in simple things, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and to cherish the warmth of human relationships.


  • Truth Through Humor: Field believed that humor and satire were powerful tools for exposing hypocrisy and promoting truth.
  • The Importance of Simplicity: He valued honesty, sincerity, and simplicity in life and in writing.
  • The Power of Love: Field believed in the power of love to overcome challenges and to bring joy and meaning to life.

Intentions of the Characters:

  • Eugene Field: To create a body of work that would be both entertaining and thought-provoking, to express his love for his family and friends, and to expose the follies of the world.
  • Slason Thompson: To honor his friend’s memory and to share his unique perspective on Field’s life and work.
  • Melvin L. Gray: To offer financial support and emotional guidance to Field.
  • John F. Ballantyne: To maintain Field’s creativity while keeping him grounded.
  • Walter Cranston Larned: To educate the public about art and to provide insightful criticism.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Sharps and Flats”: Field’s humorous column in The Chicago Record.
  • “Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner”: A fictional group of book collectors at McClurg’s bookstore.
  • “The Good Knight, sans peur et sans monnaie”: Field’s self-deprecating nickname, reflecting his impecuniousness.
  • “The Fair Unknown”: A fictional character representing a woman who provides financial assistance to Field.
  • “The Bugaboo”: Field’s fictional creation, a monstrous bug representing fear and anxiety.
  • “The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac”: Field’s final collection of writings, a series of essays reflecting on the world of book collecting.


  • The Christmas Stocking: Field surprises the author with a stocking full of gifts on Christmas morning. This showcases his playful nature and his affection for his friend.
  • The Walters Gallery Incident: Field’s humorous attempt to recreate famous paintings using colored inks based on art critic Walter Cranston Larned’s descriptions of the Walters Gallery.
  • “How Mary Matilda Won a Prince”: A whimsical story written by Field about a young woman who wins the heart of a prince. It highlights his fondness for creating imaginative tales.
  • “The Golden Week”: Field publishes a column of original verse every day for a week, demonstrating his versatility and creativity.
  • The “Saints’ and Sinners’ Corner” Meetings: Field’s humorous and often satirical accounts of fictional gatherings of book collectors at McClurg’s bookstore.
  • The Acquisition of a Home: Field’s long-held desire to own a home for his family, his financial struggles, and his eventual success in purchasing a house, with the help of Mr. Gray.
  • The Farewell to “Bill” Nye: Field’s emotional farewell to his friend, “Bill” Nye, after the latter is attacked by a crowd.


  • The Power of Humor and Satire: Field uses humor and satire to expose hypocrisy and to challenge conventional thinking.
  • The Importance of Family and Friendship: Field’s writings emphasize the value of close relationships and the importance of finding support and love in life.
  • Embracing Life’s Absurdities: He encourages readers to embrace the unexpected and to find amusement in the quirks of life.

Facts and Findings:

  • Field’s Early Life: Detailed biographical information about Field’s childhood and education, including his family background, his schooling, and his early forays into writing.
  • Field’s Writing Career: Chronological documentation of his literary career, including the publication of his books and his notable contributions to newspapers and magazines.
  • Field’s “Auto-Analysis”: A self-portrait written by Field, revealing both his personal views and his playful sense of humor.
  • Field’s Love of Children: Field’s dedication to writing for children, evident in his popular lullabies and poems about childhood.


  • Field’s Use of Colored Inks: The author notes that Field used as many as five different colors of ink in a single letter, highlighting his meticulous attention to detail and his whimsical writing style.
  • “The Golden Week”: Field published a total of 2,300 words of original verse during his “Golden Week,” demonstrating his prolific writing ability.
  • Field’s Book Collection: The author estimates that Field owned approximately 3,500 books, highlighting his passion for collecting and his deep immersion in the world of literature.

Points of View:

  • The Author’s Perspective: The book is written from the point of view of a close friend, providing a unique and intimate perspective on Field’s personality and his life.
  • The Bibliomaniac’s Perspective: Field’s writings often reflect the views and preoccupations of book collectors, while also satirizing their eccentricities.
  • The Partisan Republican’s Perspective: Field’s political writings reveal his strong Republican beliefs and his humorous criticism of opposing political viewpoints.


The book offers a multifaceted perspective on Eugene Field, exploring his personal life, his writing habits, his unique sense of humor, and his profound love for family, friends, and the beauty of the world. It presents him as a complex and contradictory figure, a talented writer with a mischievous spirit, and a man who found joy in the simple things in life.

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