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Biography of William Cullen Bryant


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WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, one of the most distinguished of American poets, and scarcely less distinguished as a journalist, was born at Cummington, Mass., November 3rd, 1794. The first account that we have of his poetic gifts, is of a paraphrase of the first chapter of the book of Job, in his tenth year. At thirteen, he wrote the Embargo, a terse and vigorous political poem, which was published 1810. At sixteen he entered William's College as a sophomore, but left at the close of his second term. He intended to enter the junior class at Yale at the beginning of the next collegiate year, but the straitened circumstances of his father compelled him to forego his warmly cherished design. At eighteen, he wrote Thanatopsis, a poem which alone would have immortalized the name of its author. That such a majestic strain - a chant of such grand sweep and power - could be the work of a mere youth, has always been a marvel in ourliterature.

In 1815, he was admitted to the bar at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and for ten years practiced with diligence and success. In 1825, he removed to New York, and in association with a friend, established The New York Review, to which he contributed many of his best poems. In 1826, he became principal editor of The Evening Post, which he conducted up to the time of his death, a period of more than fifty years. During this time the most important conflicts in the history of the republic were waged, and in them he manfully participated. A model of good taste, correct English, and pure principles, the influence of his journal upon the thought and morais of the nation, was wholesome and helpful to a remarkable degree. The first collected edition of Bryant's poems appeared in 1832. In 1852, he published The Fountain, and other Poems. It was notable that some of his severest work was done in his old age. In his seventy-first year, he began the translation of the Iliad. This was finished December 1869, When the Odyssey was taken up and completed, December, 1871. In these translations he was more successful than any other author who had attempted the difficult task. The fire, the movement, the simplicity, of the old Greek bard is preserved in pure, idiomatic English. The Flood of Years, written in his eighty-second year, has all the grace, the strength, the statuesque beauty, the sublime movement that makes verse immortal.

As a poet, Bryant holds a place peculiarly his own. In his verse, nature is reflected with her subtle spirit, her largeness, and delicacy and mystery. There is no feature of day or night in the country which does not to a contemplative mind, recall the name of Bryant. He died June 12th, 1878.