The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Johnson, Rossiter
|The Cyclopædia of American Biography (1918)
JOHNSON, Rossiter, author and editor, b. in Rochester, N. Y., 27 Jan., 1840. His father, Reuben Johnson, a native of Norwich, Conn., was a member of the small force that beat off the barges and defeated the fleet of the British commodore, Hardy, when Stonington was bombarded, 9 Aug., 1814. His mother was Almira Alexander, a native of Stonington. Reuben Johnson studied at Williams College, emigrated to western New York, and became a teacher. His two most noted pupils were Lewis Swift, the astronomer, who received special honors for his discovery of comets, and Col. Patrick H. O'Rorke, who led his class at West Point and fell at the head of his regiment in occupying Little Round Top, Gettysburg. Rossiter Johnson received his early education in the common schools and was graduated at the University of Rochester in 1863. He read the poem on class day, and in later years was three times called to deliver the poem before the University in commencement week. He received the degree of Ph.D. in 1888, and that of LL.D. in 1893. In 1864-68 he was on the editorial staff of the Rochester “Democrat,” associated with Robert Carter, author of “A Summer Cruise on the Coast of New England,” who had been Lowell's partner in editing “The Pioneer,” a short-lived but famous magazine. Dr. Johnson attributes largely to the wise and kindly tutelage of Mr. Carter whatever editorial skill he has developed. In 1869-72 he was editor of the Concord, N. H. “Statesman.” He removed to New York City in 1873, and from that date till 1877 was an associate editor with George Ripley and Charles A. Dana in the revision of the “American Cyclopædia.” That work being completed, he made a tour in Europe with his wife, going as far north as Scotland, and as far south as Pompeii. In 1878 he was associated with Clarence King in editing the “Report of King's Survey of the Fortieth Parallel”; in 1879 he edited “Loyall Farragut's Biography of the Admiral.” Then he removed to Staten Island, to assist Sydney Howard Gay in the preparation of Volumes III and IV of the Bryant and Gay “History of the United States.” The year 1881, when he removed to New York, was spent upon a new revision of the “American Cyclopædia,” which had to be discontinued because the census of 1880 had been so overloaded that its statistics were not promptly available. In 1883 William J. Tenney, editor of “Appletons' Annual Cyclopædia,” died and Dr. Johnson succeeded him, continuing that editorship till 1902. In May, 1886, he was engaged as managing editor of “Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography” ( 6 vols.). He collected the necessary library, chose the staff of writers, laid out and systematized the work, and supervised it constantly till the book was completed, early in 1889. He sometimes speaks proudly of the fact that in the process of producing those six volumes the waste was only two per cent., whereas a waste of forty to fifty per cent. is not uncommon in such work. In 1889, with his wife and daughter, he made an extensive tour across the continent and on the Pacific slope, from the Yosemite to the Canadian Rockies. Meantime, while attending to those heavier tasks, he edited some works of lighter literature. These include “Little Classics,” which he revised and edited (18 vols., 1875-76); “Lives and Works of the British Poets, from Chaucer to Morris” (3 vols., 1876); “Play-Day Poems” (1878); “Famous Single and Fugitive Poems” (1880); and “Fifty Perfect Poems,” with Charles A. Dana (1882). He contributed several notable short stories to “Oliver Optic's Magazine” and to “St. Nicholas,” and his first long story, “Phaeton Rogers,” ran as a serial through the latter in 1881 and then appeared in book form. To the series entitled, “Minor Wars of the United States” he contributed two volumes — “A History of the French War Ending in the Conquest of Canada” and “A History of the War of 1812-15 Between the United States and Great Britain” (both in 1882). His other original works include: “Idler and Poet,” poems (1883); “A History of the War of Secession” (1888; fifth edition, enlarged, 1910; quarto edition, with 1,000 illustrations, 1894); “The End of a Rainbow” (1892); “A Short History of the War Between the United States and Spain” ( 1899 ); “The Hero of Manila” (1899); “Morning Lights and Evening Shadows,” poems (1902); “The Alphabet of Rhetoric” (1903); “The Story of the Constitution of the United States” (1906); “The Clash of Nations” (1914); “Captain John Smith” (1915); “A Simple Record of a Noble Life” (1916); and “The Fight for the Republic” (1917). He devised the book of the Authors' Club, entitled “Liber Scriptorum,” and chose John D. Champlin and George Cary Eggleston as his associates in editing it. A committee of the board of managers of the Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, invited bids from publishers for the authorized history of that enterprise, stipulating that, by whatever house published, the work must be edited by Rossiter Johnson. It was finished in 1897 in four sumptuous volumes beautifully illustrated (D. Appleton & Co.), For a year and a half Dr. Johnson contributed to the “Overland Monthly,” a serial entitled “The Whispering-Gallery,” and he was an associate editor of the "Standard Dictionary.“ He edited ”The World's Great Books" (40 vols., 1898-1901); Fortier's “History of Louisiana” (4 vols., 1904); “The Great Events, by Famous Historians” (20 vols., 1905); “The Literature of Italy,” with Dora Knowlton Ranous (16 vols., 1906-07); and “Author's Digest: the World's Great Stories in Brief,” with Dora Knowlton Ranous (20 vols., 1908). He edited and largely wrote, the historical volume in the “Foundation Library for Young People” (1911). He has lectured extensively on American historical subjects, and has contributed frequently to periodicals. Though he has edited political newspapers and has made popular addresses in political campaigns, he never has aspired to any political office. In the Authors' Club he has been successively secretary, chairman, and treasurer; and he has held the office of president in the Quill Club, the Delta Upsilon Fraternity, the Association of Lecturers, the Rochester Associated Alumni, and the New York Association of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1898, with J. Eugene Whitney, he founded in New York “The People's University Extension Society,” of which, from that date to the present, he has been president. His wife, Helen Kendrick Johnson (b. in Hamilton, N. Y., 4 Jan., 1844; d. in New York City, 3 Jan., 1917), was a daughter of Prof. Asahel C. Kendrick, the noted Greek scholar and author. She married Mr. Johnson 20 May, 1869, and began life with him in Concord. She was author of “The Roddy Books” (3 vols., 1847-76); “Raleigh Westgate,” a novel (1889); “Woman and the Republic” (1897, third edition, enlarged, 1913); and “Woman's Peace in Nature,” which was completed in manuscript shortly before her death. She edited “Our Familiar Songs, and Those Who Made Them” (1881); “Poems and Songs for Young People” (1884); “The Nutshell Series” (6 small vols., 1884); and “The American Woman's Journal,” a monthly magazine (1893-94). She founded, in 1886, The Meridian, a club of women, which meets monthly at noonday. Mrs. Johnson was a notable opponent of woman suffrage, wrote and spoke much on the subject, and addressed legislative committees in Albany and Washington.