"...and touch the universal heart."
The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems

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Riley's position at the Indianapolis Journal provided him with a publication outlet for his poems. In 1883 he decided to publish his first book of poetry titled The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems. At the time Riley did not have a publisher and as the poems were in dialect, a genre just beginning to be popularized by Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories, none of the established publishing houses were interested in the venture. Undaunted, Riley and his friend at the Journal, George C. Hitt, formed George C. Hitt & Co. (with Riley as the company). Hitt arranged for the printing of 1000 copies by the Cincinnati firm Robert Clarke and Company. The book was registered on July 21, 1883 and sold out in three months. The profit was divided equally between Hitt and Riley. Each man pocketed $83.20.

A second edition was issued in October, 1883 by a new publishing concern in Indianapolis called Merrill, Meigs & Company-the firm which would later be known as The Bowen-Merrill Company and finally The Bobbs-Merrill Company. This was the first literary work published by the fledgling house. In 1886 a third printing with the statement "Second edition" appeared. Still another edition was published in 1891 under the title The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems Neighborly Poems on Friendship Grief and Farm-Life. Between the late 1880s and the early 1920s more than sixty Riley titles were printed by the Indianapolis firm. Riley had found his publisher.

As Riley's first book, The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems frequently has been republished for special occasions. A limited edition was brought out by the Bowen-Merrill Co. in 1895. The Indiana Society of Chicago commissioned a facsimile in 1909 and presented it to its members. In 1920 Marshall Field & Company produced a facsimile as a souvenir for its book fair; and for the observance of Riley Week in 1929 Bobbs-Merrill produced a facsimile of the 1883 edition.