Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Birth of William Cullen Bryant

Born on November 3, 1794, William Cullen Bryant became one of the most well-known poets of his generation. His earliest poems, including "Thanatopsis" and "To a Waterfowl" remain his most enduring works. Like Poe, Bryant took full-time jobs with the press to make ends meet. His longest run was with the Saturday Evening Post; his affiliation with that publication lasted 50 years.

Poe first reviewed Bryant's work for the Southern Literary Messenger in 1837. Shortly after, Poe attended the Booksellers Dinner in New York's City Hotel. The guest list that day included not only Bryant but also Charles Fenno Hoffman, Washington Irving, Fitz-Greene Halleck, James Kirke Paulding, George Pope Morris, and Lewis Gaylord Clark. Poe proposed a toast to "The Monthlies of Gotham" and their editors.

Years later, in 1841, Bryant was one of the many "heavy-hitters" that Poe solicited for contributions upon taking the editorial reins at Graham's Magazine. A year later, Bryant was one of the top five poets Rufus Griswold used in his frontispiece to better sell The Poets and Poetry of America (in his review, Poe noted that Bryant deserved more attention and representation in the book itself). Bryant's son-in-law Parke Godwin later recalled that Bryant and Poe met face to face in 1845 and "Poe approached him as some Grecian youth might be imagined to approach an image of Plato — with a look and attitude full of the profoundest reverence." This account is almost certainly exaggerated, considering Poe had already corresponded with Bryant — not to mention they probably already met at the Booksellers Dinner eight years earlier.

Poe admitted that Bryant was one of America's most important writers, but noted that his popularity was due to his narrow, "safe" topics which were designed to be accessible to a broad audience. "It will never do to claim for Bryant a genius of the loftiest order," Poe wrote. Referring to Bryant's poem "June," Poe notes "the rhythmical flow, here, is even voluptuous — nothing could be more melodious... The impression left is one of a pleasurable sadness."

As a side note, Bryant was also an active proponent of copyright protection for authors and even founded the Copyright Club.

Happy birthday, William Cullen Bryant.

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