Charles Dudley Warner typifies conservative American authors between 1865 and the advent of literary naturalism—popular because they were genial, witty, and somewhat shallow.
Warner’s parents were farmers. When Charles was five, his father died, leaving two hundred acres and admonishing Charles to attend college. In 1837, his mother took him to a guardian in Claremont, Massachusetts, and four years later to her brother in Cazenovia, New York.
In 1847 Warner attended the Oneida Conference Seminary in Cazenovia and a year later entered Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. His puritanical upbringing discouraged frivolity; his college years were therefore marked by scrupulous, protracted reading. He published a few articles in the Knickerbocker Magazine. During graduation ceremonies in 1851, he presented an eloquent address. After tedious work in printing and publishing establishments, Warner compiled The Book of Eloquence, featuring passages from British and American authors whose works he revered, and printed it privately in 1853 and commercially in 1866.
Warner improved chronically poor health by working from 1853 to 1854 as a railway surveyor in Missouri. He returned to New York State in 1855, living with an uncle in Binghamton, working in real-estate conveyancing, and reading law there and soon after in Philadelphia. In 1856 he married Susan Lee, a seminary classmate; the couple never had children. Warner earned his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania and passed the bar examination in 1858. A two-year stint of law practice in Chicago (1858-1860) was unprofitable, partly owing to the Panic of 1857, and convinced him that he should try writing, research, and editing.
Joseph Hawley, whom Warner had known at Hamilton, invited him to move to Hartford,...
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