Paul Leicester Ford

Paul Leicester Ford (1865-1902) was an American bibliographer, editor, biographer, and novelist.

Paul Leicester Ford was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of a bibliophile whose superb collection of Americana was valued at $100,000. An injury to his spine hindered Paul's growth; he had to be educated by tutors. In time his omnivorous reading in his father's library (encouraged by a scholarly brother, Worthington), his life in a select social environment, and his extensive travels in North and South America and in Europe extended his cultural interests.

Ford's first publication, at the age of 11, The Webster Geneology (sic), accompanied by learned notes, was privately printed. He went on to publish several bibliographies—of books by and about Alexander Hamilton (1886) and Benjamin Franklin (1889), the Check-List of American Magazines Published in the Eighteenth Century (1889), and of literature relating to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution (1896). He reprinted in facsimile early books on colonial America by Thomas Hariot and John Brereton, John Milton's Comus, and Francis Bacon's Essayes. His major achievements were the editing of The Works of Thomas Jefferson in 10 volumes (1892-1899), The Political Writings of John Dickinson, 1764-1774 (1895), and The Federalist (1898).

Ford turned from bibliography to literary endeavors. His two popular biographical studies were The True George Washington (1896) and The Many-sided Franklin (1899). Less idolatrous than previous studies of the same men, Ford's biographies still made their subjects humanly attractive.

Ford also wrote a number of novels, two of which were very popular. The Honorable Peter Stirling (1894) was based upon Ford's brief foray into politics. Partly because the protagonist was thought to be modeled on Grover Cleveland, and partly because the book—almost uniquely in its time—pictured a "good" boss sympathetically, it became a best seller. In a corrupt world of city and state politics, Stirling stands out as "a practical idealist" who, at a time when he takes a stand that threatens to lose him votes, says, "Votes be damned!" Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution (1899) made use of Ford's historical knowledge. In a period when historical novels were flourishing, it sold 200,000 copies and was put on the stage in 1901-1902. Three other novels published between 1897 and 1902, though moderately successful, attracted less attention.

Despite his physical handicaps, Ford was very active socially. At the age of 37, at the height of his powers, having edited and written more than 70 books, he died tragically when a disinherited brother shot him.


Further Reading on Paul Leicester Ford

Gordon Milne, The American Political Novel (1966), discusses The Honorable Peter Stirling in its literary context.

Additional Biography Sources

Dubois, Paul Z., Paul Leicester Ford: an American man of letters 1865-1902, New York: B. Franklin, 1977.