In the decade that followed his arrival in the United States in 1851, the transplanted Irish- man Fitz-James O'Brien (1828-1862) was a prolific literary journalist, producing a steady stream of contributions to newspapers, week- lies, and monthly magazines, in New York and elsewhere. As poet, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, and critic, he won a reputa- tion as one of the ablest of the young writers in the city of New York.
The full range of O'Brien's talents was apparent only to his immediate contempo- raries, who encountered his latest produc- tions as they appeared in print from week to week, year after year. Soon after his early death the sense of wonder at his protean abilities began to dissipate. Readers during the Civil War fixed their attention on matters of more pressing concern, and meanwhile his works lay outside easy reach, buried in old periodical files. Although in 1881 William Winter brought out a one-volume selection of his poems and stories, for more than a century that single volume formed almost by itself the basis for O'Brien's continuing reputation.
The purpose of this work is to reintroduce Fitz-James O'Brien to modern readers, bringing together a selection of his writings which, though limited, at least suggests the range of his accomplishments. It includes thirty-four items, all but two of which are reprinted here for the first time. Fitz-James O'Brien: Selected Literary Journalism, 1852-1860 will promote renewed recogni- tion of the author as a man strikingly attuned to the fashions, enthusiasms, and concerns that manifested themselves in his adoptive city and country during the few years that preceded the Civil War. It makes the case that, not only for his vivid contemporaneity but also for his originality, range, and techni- cal skill, O'Brien's hope for lasting memory as a man of letters was well-founded.
The work is in four parts: a general introduc-tion, the selected writings, editorial notes, and a checklist of O'Brien's American writings. The introductory essay reviews the main facts of the author's career and character as set down by his contemporaries and brought to-gether by his biographer, Francis Wolle, in Fitz-James O'Brien: A Literary Bohemian of the Eighteen-Fifties. Information from Wolle is supplemented by material that has come to light in the more than half a century since his book appeared. Following the biographical sketch, the introduction briefly describes the works by O'Brien that have been brought together in this collection. The works them-selves are arranged in six sections, corre-sponding to six publications wherein he ex-pressed varying facets of his talent as a literary journalist: the New York Times, Putnam's Monthly Magazine, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Harper's Weekly, the New York Saturday Press, and Vanity Fair. The notes concluding the volume contain for each item by O'Brien a commentary on that work's place among the author's writings and the circumstances surrounding its publication; identification of the copy-text, with a list of emendations, if any; and exp lanatory notes identifying persons, places, events, and writ-ings mentioned, alluded to, or quoted from in the work. The "Checklist of Fitz-James O'Brien's Published Writings, 1852-1864" records the first printings of all the author's known works during the period specified. It lists numerous items that have been identified as his since the most recent listing and should serve as a useful basis for further inquiry.