RILEY, JAMES WHITCOMB (1849-1916), American poet, was born, of pioneer stock, in Greenfield (Ind.), Oct. 7, 1849. "The poet of the common people," Riley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, was given several honorary degrees and in 1915 had his birthday declared an official holiday throughout his home State in honour of "Indi ana's most beloved citizen." After a happy boyhood, which he records in his poems, he found his father's profession of lawyer distasteful and spent several years as an itinerant sign-painter, en tertainer, and assistant to patent-medicine venders, all valuable experience, for it gave him the opportunity to compose songs and dramatic skits, to gain skill as an actor and to come into intimate touch with the rural folk of Indiana. His first reputation came through his poems contributed to newspapersóLeonainie, which purported to be a poem written by Poe, and the series in Hoosier dialect ostensibly written by a farmer, "Benjamin F. Johnson of Boone," which he contributed to the Indianapolis Daily Jour nal and later published in book form as The Old Swimmin' Hole and 'Leven More Poems (1883). Riley was for a short time local editor of the Anderson (Ind.) Democrat, but his later life was spent in Indianapolis, where he died, July 22, 1916. His verse is
sentimental and although he used, sometimes to excess, the con ventional devices of the humorist, the best of his verse has a sing ing quality and a simple charm which make it live.
Of Riley's numerous volumes, among the most outstanding are: The Boss Girl (1886; republished 1891 as Sketches in Prose), Pipes o' Pan at Zekesbury (1889), Old Fashioned Roses (1888), The Flying Islands of the Night (1892), A Child-World (1896), Home Folks (1900). Because of reprints under varying titles, it is most satisfactory to read him in one of the collected editions: Poems and Prose Sketches (Homestead ed., 16 vol., 1897-1914) ; the biographical edition prepared by his nephew and secretary E. H. Eitel (6 vol., 1913) ; and the Memorial edition of his Complete Works (Io vol., 1916). Hewitt Howland collected Riley's conventional English verse in The Lockerbie Book (1911) and his dialect poems in The Hoosier Book (1916).
See Clara E. Laughlin, Reminiscences of James Whitcomb Riley (1916) ; also The Youth of James Whitcomb Riley (1919) and The Maturity of James Whitcomb Riley (1922), both by Marcus Dickey, and "James Whitcomb Riley" by Edgar Lee Masters in the Century Mag. (Oct., 1927).