The Ubiquitous Philip Vickers Fithian

On p.3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home I write: “One would be hard-pressed to find a book on eighteenth-century Virginia that does not mention him (Fithian).” I do not think I exaggerate the point when I say that Philip Vickers Fithian was one of the greatest diarists in early America. He commented on virtually everything!

I recently typed the name “Philip Vickers Fithian” into Google Books and found that he is cited in a variety of books on a variety of subjects, such as:

Early American Proverbs and Proverbial America(1977)
The Making of Our Middle Schools (1903)
Christmas in America (1995)
At the Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (2005)
A Documentary History of Conservation in America (1972)
A Social History of Wet Nursing (1996)
Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature (2008)
A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (1950)
People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo America (1986)
American Architects and their Books (2001)
Colonial Virginia’s Cooking Dynasty (2004)
Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (1988)
Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts (1983)
Sweet Songs for Gentle Americans: The Parlor Song in America (1980)
People of Chance: Gambling in American Society from Jamestown to Las Vegas (1986)

My favorite reference comes from the May 1, 1901 issue of the The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism. (If I am not mistaken, this is a later manifestation of the old transcendentalist journal founded by Margaret Fuller and edited at one point by Ralph Waldo Emerson). In his review of John Roger Williams’s published collection of Fithian letters and papers, Percy Favor Bicknell describes Fithian’s writings this way: “Ill-spelled, worse punctuation, and well-nigh without literary form or grace of style.” He starts his review by describing Fithian’s writings as “the crude material without which history could not be written.”

I would beg to differ with Bicknell’s assessment of Fithian’s style, but that argument must wait for another blog post.