Peck, Harry Thurston 1856-1914 (Rafford Pyke)

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PECK, Harry Thurston 1856-1914
(Rafford Pyke)

PERSONAL: Born November 24, 1856, in Stamford, CT; committed suicide March 23, 1914; son of Harry and Harriet Elizabeth (Thurston) Peck; married Cornelia M. Dawbarn, April 26, 1882 (divorced 1908); married Elizabeth Hickman DuBois, 1909 (separated); children: (first marriage) two daughters. Education: Peck's Military Academy, Greenwich, CT; Columbia College, 1881; Cumberland University, Ph.D., 1883; Columbia University, L.H.D., 1884.

CAREER: Writer. Columbia University, New York, NY, tutor, 1882-86, professor, 1886-1910; Bookman, editor, 1895-1907; New York Commercial Advertiser, literary editor, 1897-1901; New International Encyclopaedia, co-editor, 1902-04; Munsey's Magazine, staff member, 1907-11.


The Semitic Theory of Creation: A Study of Language, Barclay, White (Chicago, IL), 1886.

(Editor) Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, American Book Co. (New York, NY), 1896.

(Under pseudonym Rafford Pyke) The Adventures ofMabel, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1897.

The Personal Equation, Harper (New York, NY), 1898.

(Editor with others) Masterpieces of the World'sLiterature, Ancient and Modern, 20 volumes, American Literary Society (New York, NY), 1898-1899, revised and enlarged as The World's Greatest Masterpieces; History, Biography, Science, Philosophy, Poetry, the Drama, Travel, Adventure, Fiction, etc., American Literary Society (New York, NY), 1901.

Greystone and Prophyry, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1899.

What Is Good English? and Other Essays, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1899.

(Editor with others) The New International Encyclopaedia, 17 volumes, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1902-04, enlarged to 20 volumes, 1904.

William Hickling Prescott, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1905.

Twenty Years of the Republic, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1906.

Hilda and the Wishes, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1907.

Literature (criticism), Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1908.

Studies in Several Literatures (criticism), Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1909.

The New Baedeker; Being Casual Notes of an Irresponsible Traveler, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1910.

A History of Classical Philology from the SeventhCentury B.C., to the Twentieth Century, A.D. (nonfiction), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1911.

Contributor to various periodicals, including Bookman, Cosmopolitan, Independent and Munsey's Magazine.

SIDELIGHTS: Though Harry Thurston Peck published more than a dozen books, he is best remembered for his periodical publications and his accomplishments as an editor, most notably of Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature. As Theodore R. Hovet wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Peck instructed a great number of American readers at the turn of the [twentieth] century on the importance of the realistic and naturalistic movements and kept them abreast of the latest developments in Continental literature."

Hilbert H. Campbell, also in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, argued that much of Peck's prolific output "has not stood the test of time," due largely to a lawsuit by a former stenographer who sued him in 1910 over breach of promise and released his intimate letters to the press. The ensuing scandal led to his dismissal from Columbia University, where he had taught Latin literature and language since 1886. Publishers and journals refused his work, and he declared bankruptcy. He eventually committed suicide.

"His reputation and even his name passed rapidly into obscurity," wrote Campbell, who cited a refusal at Columbia even by those who had known Peck intimately, to speak of him.

Peck's contributions to Bookman, which he edited from 1895 to 1907, earned him the most recognition. Peck's "versatility and personality emerge most clearly" in his Bookman works, according to Campbell. Several of his books, including the popular Twenty Years of the Republic, 1885-1905, were published serially in Bookman before appearing in book form.

Campbell said many of Peck's contemporaries and students considered Twenty Years of the Republic, 1885-1905 his best work. The Adventures of Mabel, a children's book Peck first wrote for the entertainment of his daughter, Constance, has proved to be more enduring, however. Dodd, Mead kept the book in print for about seventy years, and as late as 1960 was still selling a few hundred copies per year.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 71: American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1880-1900, 1988, pp. 201-205, Volume 91: American Magazine Journalists, 1900-1960, 1990, pp. 264-270.

Hart, James D., The Oxford Companion to AmericanLiterature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Perkins, George, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger, editors, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991, p. 835.*