Elbridge Streeter Brooks

Biographical Sketch and Memorial Exercises.

Elbridge Streeter Brooks, the subject of this memorial, was born in Lowell April 14, 1846. His father, Elbridge Gerry Brooks, was a prominent minister in the Universalist church, and one of the organizing spirits of that denomination. Later he became the first general secretary of the Universalist general convention. The elder Brooks, who had the reputation of being a fearless, upright, earnest, and eloquent preacher, received the degree of doctor of divinity from Tufts College. The mother, Martha Fowle (Munroe) Brooks, was a cultivated and homemaking Christian gentlewoman, descended from the Munroes, who fought so bravely at Lexington, and whose farm lands and grist mills were near the site of General Putnam's earthworks on Prospect hill.

The Rev. Anson Titus, in an appreciative article, printed in the Somerville Journal, February 21, 1902, thus speaks of Mr. Brooks' ancestors:—

Mr. Brooks was of rugged Puritan ancestry. His paternal family was of the best of ancient Kittery on the coast of Maine; his maternal ancestry was of Charlestown and Lexington stock. His father was a man forceful and eminent in the ministry of the

Universalist church. His grandfather, Oliver Brooks, was of Eliot, Me., but who, with his wife, Susan Home, resided in Portsmouth, N. H. The great-grandfather was William Brooks, who was among the first to respond to the alarm from Lexington, and [8] was a soldier on these hills of Somerville at Fort No. 1; probably at Bunker Hill, and certainly was present during the large part of the siege of Boston.

The patriot, William Brooks, was a private in Tobias Ferrold's company, the regiment of Colonel James Scammon, during those eventful days. Before the war of the Revolution closed, he married Mary Gowell. His other ancestors, Joshua Brooks and William Brooks, in ancient Kittery, allied themselves with the Fogg and Staple families, and wrought valiant service in defending the border lands between the civilization of the towns of New England and the wilderness.

Portions of Mr. Brooks' early boyhood were passed in Bath, Me., and Lynn, Mass., where his father had parishes, and when thirteen years of age he moved with his parents to New York city, when his father assumed charge of a parish in the metropolis.

In 1861 Mr. Brooks entered the Free academy, now the college of the city of New York, taking excellent rank in literature, history, and the classics, but left in the middle of his junior year to enter the publishing house of D. Appleton & Co. as a salesman.

We next find him in the publishing houses of J. B. Ford & Co. and Sheldon & Co. In the fall of 1876 he took charge of the English educational and subscription department of the German publishing house of E. Steiger & Co., remaining there until December, 1879, when he joined the editorial staff of the Publishers' Weekly, the organ of the book publishers' trade. From 1883 to 1885 he was connected with the staff of the Brooklyn Daily Times as reviser, literary editor, and dramatic critic, and in the latter year was invited to become one of the associate editors of the St. Nicholas.

Mr. Brooks removed to Boston in 1887, to join the newlyformed publishing corporation of D. Lothrop company as editor to the corporation. He remained there till the death of Mr. Lothrop, and the business troubles of the house in 1892. Upon the reorganization of the concern, in January, 1895, he returned [9] to the post of literary adviser, which he held up to the time of his death. He removed to Somerville in 1887, and had ever since lived here.

That Mr. Brooks' books should be mainly historical and patriotic naturally follows from the nature of his ancestry and the quality of the Yankee blood which flowed through his veins. Of the seventy minutemen in line at the battle of Lexington, eleven were relatives on his mother's side. Three of the names on the monument erected to the memory of the fallen heroes were those of blood relations; the first is that of Ensign Robert Munroe, his great-great-uncle. His great-grandfather also participated in the battle. His paternal grandfather was a jolly privateer in the war of 1812, and it is not to be wondered at that Mr. Brooks had his share of fighting blood. That he should spend his last years on such historic ground as Prospect hill is singularly appropriate.

Always during his business and editorial life he was a busy writer. His object seemed to have been to instruct and interest the young people. His first marked success was the series of ‘Historic Boys’ and ‘Historic Girls,’ which originally appeared in the St. Nicholas Magazine in 1885 and 1886. His first book was written as a labor of love, and presented the life of his father, who died in 1876. The volume was published in 1881.

The titles of other volumes which he has placed before the public, and which have been read so widely, are as follows: ‘In Leisler's Times,’ ‘In No Man's Land,’ ‘Storied Holidays,’ ‘The American Indian,’ ‘The Story of the American Sailor,’ ‘The American Soldier,’ ‘Chivalric Days,’ ‘The True Story of the United States of America,’ ‘The True Story of Christopher Columbus,’ ‘A Boy of the First Empire,’ ‘The Century Book for Young Americans,’ ‘The Children's Lives of Great Men,’ ‘The True Story of George Washington,’ ‘The True Story of Abraham Lincoln,’ ‘The True Story of U. S. Grant,’ ‘The True Story of Benjamin Franklin,’ ‘The True Story of Lafayette,’ ‘The Story of New York,’ ‘In Blue and White,’ ‘The Boy [10] Life of Napoleon,’ ‘Great Cities of the World,’ ‘Out of Doors with Tennyson,’ and ‘Longfellow Remembrance Book.’

Some of his latest books were ‘Under the Allied Flags: A Boy's Adventures in China During the Boxer Revolt’; ‘With Lawton and Roberts’; ‘In Defense of the Flag: A Boy's Adventures in Spain and Cuba in the War of 1898’; ‘The Story of the Nineteenth Century’; and ‘The Story of Our War with Spain.’

In a conversation several years ago, Mr. Brooks said that his favorite work was writing historical stories. ‘My point,’ he continued,

is that boys and girls have been the same in all ages of the world. They have grown better, of course, as the world has progressed—I and optimist enough to believe that—but their essential natures are the same. In writing for them, it is my endeavor to throw aside the dead bones of history, and to put a living, everyday interest into the historical story.

I believe in leading children gradually, and that you cannot begin too early with healthful and instructive reading, especially that of a patriotic nature. I like to work for the boys and girls; it is very satisfactory in many ways, though there are some discouragements. One thing I never do, and that is “write down” to children; they know more than their elders give them credit for, and the proper way is to write to lift them up.

Most of my books lean toward the boys. Girls will read a boy's book, but boys, as a rule, won't look at a book that is intended for girls.

I have now as many as fifteen books in my mind which I hope in time to write.

Since this remark, made nearly seven years ago, Mr. Brooks has completed about a score of books.

One of his most popular volumes, ‘The Century Book for Young Americans,’ an extremely readable book on the American government, which was issued a few years ago by the Century company, had the unprecedented sale of 20,000 volumes in the first three months after its publication.

In December, 1891, Mr. Brooks wrote a prize story, published [11] in the Detroit Free Press, entitled ‘A Son of Issachar,’ of which Mr. Brooks said: ‘It was written to see if a religious novel would have a chance with a secular public, and the result easily proved that such was possible. I maintained, as is seen in the case of “Ben Hur,” that there is no ground so favorable for a real romance as Bible history.’

Mr. Brooks was a member of the Authors' Club of New York, which includes the leading authors of the country, and also of several historical societies. At the time of his death he was first vice-president of the Somerville Historical Society. While his writings were very widely read, he was of a retiring disposition, and evinced a strong dislike of notoriety and display. He received the honorary degree of master of arts from Tufts College in 1887. He leaves a wife and two daughters, the Misses Geraldine and Christine Brooks, both of whom resided with their distinguished father. Miss Geraldine Brooks has already made a mark in historical literature, having published two volumes.

Mr. Brooks died Tuesday morning, January 7, 1902, at his home, 44 Walnut street. Funeral services were held on the following Thursday at 2 o'clock. In the large gathering of friends present were men and women prominent in literary walks of life. The services were conducted by the Rev. William H. Pierson, pastor of the First Unitarian church, and included reading from the Scriptures, the reading of extracts from Mr. Brooks' works, and prayer.

Among the floral tributes were those from the Somerville Historical Society, and a wreath of violets and roses ‘from a few of the many Somerville boys who loved his books.’

After the services the remains were taken to Mount Auburn for cremation. The pall-bearers were Irving Bacheller, Frank Hoyt, Henry Morill, the last two representing the Lothrop company, and Arthur T. Kidder, of Somerville.

The following is from the tribute of Sam Walter Foss. It appeared in the Somerville Journal for January 10, and our biographical sketch of Mr. Brooks is also quoted from that paper:—


Elbridge Streeter Brooks as a writer and friend

The death of Elbridge S. Brooks will be lamented throughout the English-reading world; for he was an author of established fame, at the height of his productive period, with an apparent prospect of producing as many good books in the future as he had already produced in the past. The gulf stream of his life had not as yet flowed into the Arctic winter of age. His powers were unabated, his literary designs many, and his genial enthusiasms and high ambitions as warm as ever. So it is natural for the literary world, and for the thousands who had learned to await the appearance of his successive books, to feel sorrow at his death. But sorrow for the author by the world at large cannot approach the grief of his friends, who knew the man himself. Of course the people who were brought into frequent contact with Mr. Brooks knew that he was an author of many works that had secured the approbation of the reading world. But we who knew him by intimate contact seldom thought of him as an author at all. He had none of the affectations of authorship; he was utterly without lettered pride; he never ‘talked like a book,’ and he never posed like a celebrity. Success that makes small men vain never contracted the largeness of his heart or soul. His heart was like a wayside inn, where every traveler could rest. Those who knew the man could understand why his books found so many responsive readers. He reached men because he loved men.

Mr. Brooks is chiefly known as the author of books for the young. This popular conception of him is based on good reasons, but we should not be misled by it. His books are certainly books very popular with the young, but no man or woman is too old to find them readable. He was wise enough to know that a healthy boy is a man in his hopes, and a good man is a boy in his memories. A man without a boy's heart in his breast is as [13] tragic a failure as a boy without a man's manliness in his nature. Mr. Brooks knew this, and so, very sensibly, he wrote for young people very much as he would write for older people. When he wrote a book the boy in his heart dictated to the man in his brain, and so the book was a book that either a man or boy would read. He knew, what some writers of juveniles never learn, that a boy becomes wise very young. So he knew better than to write patronizingly to his youthful readers. He never stood on a high pedestal and shouted moral platitudes down to them. He never told them to be good. He made them good, in the only way that a man or a boy can be made good, by making them think, good thoughts. His fiction, in the highest sense of the word, is true; but his history is never fiction. He took unusual pains to verify all historical statements and allusions. He was a voluminous writer, but he was not voluminous at the expense of accuracy and painstaking labor. He had a genius for hard work.

Somerville was honored in being the residence of such a man. He sent out work from here that traveled far and reached many firesides. Thousands knew him through his books and called his books good. We who knew the man also call his books good; but we call the man better than his books.

At a meeting of the council of the Somerville Historical Society, held Wednesday evening, January 8, to take action on the death of Elbridge S. Brooks, first vice-president of the society, a committee, consisting of President John F. Ayer, ex-President Charles D. Elliot, and Vice-President L. B. Pillsbury, was appointed to represent the society at the funeral; a committee was also appointed to prepare a suitable memorial of the deceased.

Under the auspices of this society a memorial service was held Sunday afternoon, February 16, in the Unitarian church, on [14] Highland avenue, in honor of the late Elbridge Streeter Brooks, story-writer and historian. Besides the other exercises there was prayer by President Capen of Tufts College; introductory remarks by John F. Ayer, president of the Historical Society; addresses by J. L. Harbour, one of the editors of the Youth's Companion; Hezekiah Butterworth, author and editor, and Rev. William H. Pierson, Mr. Brooks' pastor; and the singing of a hymn written by Sam Walter Foss.

Address by John F. Ayer

At the time of the organization of the Historical Society, Mr. Brooks was elected a vice-president. His work as a writer of historical books and his interest in all things historical in his adopted city clearly entitled him to this recognition.

His interest in the society never wavered. As a member of the council, his training, his occupation, and his practical ideas were of great and increasing value as the years went by.

Because of these things, primarily because of his acknowledged ability as a writer of authentic history for the young, presenting, as he did, the study of history in its most attractive form to the impressible minds of youth, because of his modesty and gentlemanly bearing, because of the honorable record he had made among his contemporaries, and more especially because of his upright and manly life in our midst, we, as an organization, have thought it eminently fit and proper to come up here to-day and lay upon this altar an offering of our appreciation and regard.

Nor would we forget the cherished family of our friend,— the home he loved, now, alas! so desolate; but, in so far as it is possible, we desire to extend our heartfelt sympathy, and so penetrate the gloom with a ray of sunlight, it may be, not incompatible with the changed conditions of the one, or the extreme unutterable loneliness of the other. [15]

Such a man, living in our midst, diligent, painstaking, unselfish, gifted with the power to interest and instruct the youth the country over in the great movements and events of the past, and able to clearly set before them the characters, the commanding greatness of the famous men of our nation, as fit objects for their respect and emulation, may peradventure be doing as much for the future of the country, for the city's good name at home and abroad, for the cause of good citizenship, as he who gives of his abundance to establish institutions of learning, or for philanthropic or charitable purposes,—as much as the individual legislator or statesman, it may be, or even as much as he who draws his sword in his country's defense, or for the cause of humanity.

The Somerville Historical Society was honored by the official connection with it of Elbridge Streeter Brooks. It desires to go upon record as appreciating his interest in the organization, his tireless industry in research, his devotion to and his success in the writing of many historical books.

Address by F. L. Harbour of the Youth's Companion

I feel it to be a great privilege to be given the opportunity of paying a brief tribute of affection and respect to the memory of a man like Elbridge S. Brooks. I wish that I might more fitly say all that I would like to say and all that ought to be said about him. I am glad that there are others here who can say better than I the true and tender words you have come to hear in memory of Mr. Brooks. I have but one thing to regret in connection with my acquaintance with Mr. Brooks, and that is the fact that I knew him for such a little while. But from the first day of my meeting with him I felt that I had known him for a long time, and we did not meet as strangers. And now that he has gone from us, I think of him as of some comrade of many [16] years, and I am sure that I shall miss him quite as much as many of you whose privilege it has been to know him long before that privilege was mine.

I have seen Mr. Brooks under varying conditions. I have been a guest in his home, and he has been a welcome guest in my own home. I have seen him at his desk and in the social world. I have seen him in health, and I have seen him when the precious heritage of health was no longer his. But I have never seen him when he was not brave, and cheery, and kindly. He knew, as I knew, the last time I saw him, that the end was not far distant, but there was no complaint and no repining. I remember that when I said good-bye to him the last time I saw him, and I added that I hoped that he would feel better very soon, he smiled, but shook his head. A less courageous man, a man of less self-poise, and serenity, and sweetness of spirit, would have made some outcry against the cruel hand of fate that held the decree of death for him at a time when life seemed fullest of hopes and of harmonies. The memory of Mr. Brooks' unfailing calmness and courage in those last days will give many of us more faith and more courage for our own battle. He seemed in his outward attitude to be verifying the words of one of our modern poets, who has written that:—

Death is delightful. Death is dawn—
The waking from a weary night
Of fevers unto truth and light.

It was but yesterday that I picked up a magazine for the young, and I found in it, under the title of “Safe books for the young,” several of Mr. Brooks' volumes. The world can ill afford to lose a man who is writing safe books for the young in an age when so many unsafe books for our boys and girls are being written. The world never needed a man like Elbridge Brooks more than it needed him when he was taken away. When he went out of this life, many a man lost a steadfast and [17] sympathetic friend, and the world of literature a potent power for good. The loss to those who were allied to him by ties of kinship and loved him best no man may measure.

A man of high ideals and tireless energy, Mr. Brooks could not be other than a useful man in the world. Interested in all that counts for anything in the uplifting of humanity, ready to give freely of his time, and glad to lend his influence to anything helpful in the town in which he lived, he attained to the high distinction of being a useful man in the community. That the community in which he lived appreciated his services and honored him is evidenced by this service to his memory.

The secret of the influence for good exerted by Elbridge Brooks lay in the fact that he always spoke and wrote out of his own best nature. His best self was not hidden. It is true that “no one can really speak to men the words that uplift and invigorate who does not first develop this inward force, this victorious faith in the truth as he sees it.”

Elbridge Brooks was a man who tried to do his full duty as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a citizen, and as a writer whose work must influence for good or evil, and, as Phillips Brooks once said, “This truth comes to us more and more the longer we live, that on what field or in what uniform, or with what aims we do our duty matters very little, or even what our duty is, great or small, splendid or obscure. Only to find our duty certainly and somewhere, somehow do it faithfully, makes us good, strong, happy, and useful men, and tunes our lives into some feeble echo of the life of God.”

We are here to-day to honor the memory of a man who did his duty, and who lived a faithful, earnest, and sincere life, and who made the world better because of his sojourn in it. To have done this is to have lived worthily and to have made the most and the best of life. To have done this is to live long in the affections of those we leave behind when we have crossed the bar; and the name of Elbridge Brooks will linger long in the memory of those who knew him best.


Address by Mr. Butterworth

After a very touching solo by Miss Clark, entitled ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,’ Hezekiah Butterworth spoke words of eloquent eulogy. ‘A builder of men,’ he said, ‘has gone from among us. A man who lived for what he could do for others, whose one desire and ideal was that he might make an impression upon the young man of America and lift him to higher standards, has joined the choir invisible.’

Continuing, he said: ‘I am not going to speak of his forty or more books, or the work that he did on the St. Nicholas or the Wide Awake, but of him as an inspirer of young life,—of a man, himself inspired, who was the cause of inspiration in others.’

Mr. Butterworth told how William Lloyd Garrison had touched John G. Whittier, then a young man, on the shoulder, and said, ‘You are a poet,’ and how Whittier, in turn, said the same to Lucy Larcom in her early life, and the results which followed from the words of encouragement. N. Parker Willis and James T. Fields were others who inspired young writers. In the same way, he said, Mr. Brooks had words of encouragement for young authors, and helped them along the difficult pathway to success. Among the cases he cited without giving names was

one whose works have outsold nearly all others in the last ten or twenty years, and who had been told by Mr. Brooks what to do, and how to do it, in order to make his writings a success. Mr. Brooks told this man how to make the imperfect perfect, and so was produced one of the most popular books ( “Eben Holden,” presumably) of the present age.

Men who build, men who have influence like Mr. Brooks, live on and on, and their influence continually increases. Mr. Brooks once said to me: “My desire is to write historical books that will make the past live again.” [19]

His name may be swallowed up in the great number of names of persons writing for beneficent purposes, but Elbridge S. Brooks has fulfilled his ideals, and done a work in this generation whose influence will never perish. To write a book of influence is the greatest contribution a man can make. Mr. Brooks wrote forty such books. The memory of Elbridge Brooks is one that “will smell sweet and blossom in the dust,” as one who helped and blessed mankind.

Address by Rev. Mr. Pierson

Rev. William H. Pierson, pastor of the church, spoke interestingly of the life and character of Mr. Brooks. ‘Mr. Brooks,’ he said,

has done an intellectual work of great value to mankind. He knew, as many do not dream or imagine, something of the burden, the care, and anxiety of intellectual toil, and also of the joy and pleasure of its success.

His death seems untimely, and sometimes we ask why should he be stricken down. Though his years seem cut prematurely short, his life was well lived, and his work well done. He sought to inspire in the young the great deeds of those who have gone before.

How nobly he did his work! I fear he put too much of his strength into it. Still, through his volumes he speaks and will speak to the young for generations.

He was brave, patient, sensible, and lovable in the disappointment that came with the loss of sight and broken health.

Dead he lay among his books,
The peace of God was in his looks.

The following hymn, written by Sam Walter Foss, was then sung by the congregation:— [20]

His were the tales of olden days,
Of patriot deeds, in valor's praise;
Tales of the men who made us great,
And broke our bonds and built the state.

Strong words of hope he scattered wide
To many a listening fireside,
Of civic worth in days gone by,
Of names and fames that will not die.

He told of mighty fames, hard won,
To those whose work is but begun;
And fed the young heart with the praise
Of deathless deeds of deathless days.

With fair romance he gilded truth,
And fed the hungering heart of youth,
And his strong words new years will see
Bloom in strong actions yet to be.

The exercises closed with the benediction by Dr. Capen, and the organ postlude, Marche Funebre.

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