Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur, remembers that the very first book he read as a child was by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, writing as Peter Parley; the scene he describes apparently inspired one in Ben-Hur, Wallace’s most famous novel. [My thanks to Gene Hatcher for telling me about this reader.]

Lew Wallace’s first book (from Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, by Lew Wallace. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1906. vol 1; pp. 20-21)

My first book! Ah, how distinctly it comes to me through the years! One of Peter Parley’s. A Yankee lad ran away and went to sea, and in the Mediterranean was taken, ship and all, by Algerines. But he escaped. The vessel lay close under the guns of a fort. The prisoners were to be sold for slaves next morning. A shipmate, looking through a port, saw a small boat loose on the water. The squeeze through the port was trying, but they made it and the small boat. By good luck, the oars were there ready. Better still, the pirates kept no watch. The two rowed to sea, and, after suffering hunger and thirst, were picked up by Christians. How it made me shiver, that crisis when the lad, afraid to drop, hung to the edge of the narrow window, thinking of home and mother, and muttering the prayer she had taught him. Then the dark water closing over him— Goodness! Would he rise? Could he swim? I

p. 21

got the tale nearly by heart. The craving it awoke is not yet satisfied.

My mother, meantime, made discovery that to keep me in bounds there was nothing like a book. So she bethought her of a long, good one—The Scottish Chiefs.

I was a slow reader, and Miss Porter’s pages lacked the charming simplicity of Mr. Goodrich’s. … [But Lew persevered, and soon was swept into the world of the book, acting out its battles with his friends.]

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