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The Bay State Monthly — Volume 2, No. 6, March, 1885   By:

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[Illustration: William Lee (Signature)]


A Massachusetts Magazine .


MARCH, 1885.

No. 6.


By George L. Austin, M.D.

For a quarter of a century the firm name of Lee and Shepard has been familiar to the public. During this interval of time it has been printed upon millions of volumes, which have gone forth on their two fold mission of instruction and entertainment. Few publishing houses in America have achieved a more honorable record, or have more indelibly left their impress of good intentions and of deeds nobly done upon the minds of increasing generations. It is of the individual members of this firm, both of whom have grown gray in the business, that I purpose to speak in this article. First of the senior partner of the house.

Born at the "North End," in Boston, on the seventeenth of April, 1826; early put to school, and taken out of it at the age of eleven, at which time he was left fatherless, the eldest of six children; with a good mother to whisper words of encouragement in his ear, when everything in the world and the future before him looked dark, such was the start of William Lee in life. Thousands before him, and since, have had the same infelicitous experience; but how few have had the courage to overcome the obstacles which he succeeded in overcoming? While other young men of his age, many of them his playmates, were planning to fit themselves, by a long course of study, for the duties of life, he was at once confronted with the duties and burdens of life, without such advantages as an education affords, and he met them with a manliness and a self reliance which now seem truly marvelous. I have often heard him tell of these early days; but I will pass by the recollections for fear that the recital of them might discourage many who read these lines.

After leaving school young William was offered a situation in the bookstore of Samuel G. Drake, then located at No. 56 Cornhill. Mr. Drake was himself a famous "book worm," was familiar with the authorities and the history of Boston, and, in after life, achieved a reputation as an author. He was what one would term now an "old fashioned bookseller," but what he did not know of the book trade in his day was not worth knowing. William Lee entered his employ for two purposes to learn the trade and, in a very small way, to help support the family which was, in a large sense, dependent upon him. During the three years of his apprenticeship he showed himself an apt scholar, a patient worker, and gifted with indomitable will and ambition.

The next two years were passed in the country. On returning to Boston he again entered a book store, and, when eighteen years of age, he became a clerk in the then prosperous publishing house of Phillips and Sampson, located on Winter street. His connection with this house afforded him increased advantages; he was no longer an apprentice filling a menial position, but was conscious of occupying a responsible station in the business, where his integrity and intelligence were appreciated at their real value. He enjoyed the fullest confidence of his employers, and was soon looked upon by them as their "best" clerk. Selling by auction, especially in the evenings, was at that time a leading feature of the trade, and William Lee soon became an expert in that way, as well as in the general character of salesman to the country trade. There was scarcely a detail in the book trade with which he did not make himself personally familiar; he sought to post himself upon the character and contents of every book that was kept in stock, in order that he might be able to speak intelligently of them to his customers. This habit of general familiarization is one which, in the lapse of subsequent years, has proved of incalculable service to him; it is one which cannot be too earnestly commended to the attention of all young men who are to day "working" up in the trade... Continue reading book >>

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