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William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen BryantBorn: 3-Nov-1794
Birthplace: Cummington, MA
Died: 12-Jun-1878
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Accident - Fall
Remains: Buried, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Poet, Editor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Editor, The New York Evening Post

American poet and journalist, born at Cummington, a farming village in the Hampshire hills of western Massachusetts, on the 3rd of November 1794. He was the second son of Peter Bryant, a physician and surgeon of no mean scholarship, refined in all his tastes, and a public-spirited citizen. Peter Bryant was the great-grandson of Stephen Bryant, an English Puritan emigrant to Massachusetts Bay about the year 1632. The poet's mother, Sarah Snell, was a descendant of Mayflower pilgrims. He was born in the log farmhouse built by his father two years prior, at the edge of the pioneer settlement among those boundless forests. By parentage, by religious and political faith, and by hardness of fortune, the earliest of important American poets was appointed to a life typical of the first century of American national existence, and of the strongest single racial element by which that nation's social order has been moulded and promoted. Rated by the amount of time given to school books and college classes, Bryant's early education was limited. After the village school he received a year of exceptionally good training in Latin under his mother's brother, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Snell, of Brookfield, followed by a year of Greek under the Rev. Moses Hallock, of Plainfield, and at sixteen entered the sophomore class of Williams College. Here he was an apt and diligent student through two sessions, and then, owing to financial reasons, he withdrew without graduating, and studied classics and mathematics for a year, in the vain hope that his father might yet be able to send him to Yale. But the length of his school and college days would be a very misleading measure of his training. It is his own word that, two months after beginning with the Greek alphabet, he had read the New Testament through. On abandoning his hope to enter Yale, the poet turned to and pursued, under private guidance at Worthington and at Bridgewater, the study of law. At twenty-one he was admitted to the bar, opened an office in Plainfield, presently withdrew from there, and at Great Barrington settled for nine years in the attorney's calling, with an aversion for it which he never lost. His first book of verse, The Embargo, or Sketches of the Times; A Satire by a Youth of thirteen, had been printed at Boston in 1808.

At the age of twenty-six Bryant married, at Great Barrington, Frances Fairchild, with whom he enjoyed a happy union until her death nearly half a century later. In the year of his marriage he suffered the bereavement of his father's death. In 1825 he ventured to lay aside the practice of law, and removed to New York City to assume a literary editorship. Here for some months his fortunes were precarious, until in the next year he became one of the editors of the New York Evening Post. In the third year following, 1829, he came into undivided editorial control, and became also chief owner. He enjoyed his occupation, fulfilling its duties with an unflagging devotion to every worthy public interest until he died in 1878, in the month of his choice, as indicated in his beautiful poem entitled "June."

Though Bryant's retiring and contemplative nature could not overpower his warm human sympathies, it yet dominated them to an extent that made him always, even in his journalistic capacity and in the strenuous prose of daily debate, a councillor rather than a leader. It was after the manner of the poet, the seer, that he was a patriot, standing for principles much more than for measures, and, with an exquisite correctness which belonged to every phase of his being, never prevailing by the accommodation of himself to inferiors in foresight, insight or rectitude. His vigorous and stately mind found voice in one of the most admirable models of journalistic style known in America. He was founder of a distinct school of American journalism, characterized by an equal fidelity and temperance, energy and dignity. Though it is as a poet that he most emphatically belongs to history. His renown as a poet antedated the appearance of his first volume by some four or five years. "American poetry", says Richard Henry Stoddard, "may be said to have commenced in 1817 with... [Bryant's] 'Thanatopsis' and 'Inscription for the entrance of a wood.'"

This poem, "Thanatopsis", which revealed a voice at once as new and as old as the wilderness out of which it reverberated, had been written at Cummington in the poet's eighteenth year, and was printed in 1817 in the North American Review; the "Inscription" was written in his nineteenth, and in his twenty-first, while a student of law at Bridgewater, he had composed his lines "To a Water-fowl", whose exquisite beauty and exalted faith his own pen rarely, if ever, surpassed. The poet's gift for language made him a frequent translator, and among his works of this sort his rendering of Homer is the most noted and most valuable. But the muse of Bryant, at her very best, is always brief-spoken and an interpreter initially of his own spirit. Much of the charm of his poems lies in the equal purity of their artistic and their moral beauty. On the ethical side they are more than pure, they are -- it may be said without derogation -- Puritan. There is scarcely a distempered utterance in the whole body of his poetical works, scarcely one passionate exaggeration. He faces life with an invincible courage, an inextinguishable hope and heavenward trust, and the dignity of a benevolent will which no compulsion can break or bend.

Father: Peter Bryant (doctor)
Mother: Sarah Snell
Wife: Frances Fairchild

    University: Williams College (dropped out)
    Administrator: Founder, New York Medical College (1860)

    The New York Evening Post Editor-in-Chief (1829-78)
    Century Association Co-Founder (1846-)

Author of books:
The Embargo (1808, poetry)
Poems (1821, poetry)
The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems (1844, poetry)
Thirty Poems (1864, poetry)
Poetical Works (1876, poetry)


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