Charles Dudley Warner (1829 – 1900)

Charles Dudley Warner

Charles Dudley was born on a farm in Plainfield, Massachusetts. When Warner was five years old, his father died. Three years later, his mother moved the family to Cazenovia, New York where she had relatives. There, Warner attended the Oneida Conference Seminary, a Methodist-sponsored preparatory school, and graduated from Hamilton College in 1851. It was at Hamilton College that he met Joseph Roswell Hawley who became his lifelong friend. Warner worked at various jobs during his school years. Warner was physically frail, and in 1853 he traveled to Missouri where he became a railroad surveyor. He married accomplished musician Susan Lee in 1856 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1858.

 Warner spent two unhappy years practicing law in Chicago. When his old friend, Hawley, invited him to become co-editor of The Evening Press in Hartford, he quickly accepted. The Warners became a part of the Nook Farm circle and built a home on Forest Street. In 1868, Warner and Hawley sold the Press to concentrate solely on the recently acquired The Courant. It was in that year that the paths of Twain and Warner first crossed. Twain was in Hartford at the invitation of his would-be publisher, Elisha Bliss. During his visit, he tried to buy a share of The Courant. For unknown reasons, Hawley and Warner turned him down. Perhaps the brash young writer was a bit too crude for the cultured Nook Farm set. By the following year, however, Innocents Abroad was a rousing success, and Twain was gloating that The Courant now wanted him! Mutual interests in writing and journalism soon created close ties between Twain and Warner.

In 1870, The Courant published a series of Warner’s essays about working in his garden. A quote from one reads, “The thing generally raised on city land is taxes.” Their light humor and philosophical tone impressed Henry Ward Beecher. He recommended they be published and volunteered to write the preface. My Summer in a Garden was a bestseller. The following year, Warner sent The Courant a series of essays about his travels in Europe. A third collection of essays about homely events at Nook Farm became Backlog Studies, published in 1872. Backlog Studies contained many characters easily recognizable to Hartford readers. Joe Twichell, of course, was the “Parson.” The source of the unconventional opinions of the “next-door neighbor” could only have been Twain.

Although Warner’s skills as an essayist and editor were greater than Twain’s, the book for which he is best remembered is The Gilded Age, a collaboration of the two writers. In true fashion, Twain later wrote to a friend, “I think you don’t like The Gilded Age, but that’s because you’ve been reading Warner’s chapters.” It was Twain’s first novel.

By 1880, Warner had become one of the country’s most popular writers. He continued to travel and write and acted as a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine. Upon learning that Harper’s paid Warner $100 a page for his work, Twain demanded $200, quipping, “If I ain’t worth double what Warner is I want to be finding it out right away.” In 1884, a survey of the nation’s literary “immortals” ranked Warner 15th, immediately behind Twain.

On October 20, 1900, Warner died after collapsing during an afternoon walk. He was laid to rest at Cedar Hill on October 23 with the Rev. Joseph Twichell officiating at the ceremony and Twain serving as a pall bearer.

American Literature Sites.  Accessed at on July 26, 2010.
Fields, Annie.  Charles Dudley Warner.  Contemporary Men of Letters Series.  New York: McClure, Phillips, & Co., 1904.  Accessed at on July 26, 2010. 

Photo credit: Charles Dudley Warner, Library of Congress, #LC-USZ62-51930