Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gotham Yankee cont...

his son in law Parke Godwin, native of New Jersey, graduate of Princeton, came to the Evening Post in 1837, age 21, & grew up with the paper. his editorials "had not the eloquence or finish of Bryant's". they saw eye to eye on everything. Yes, Parke Godwin was an editor & a man after Bryant's own heart. he was constitutionally a bit lazy, but Fanny had made an excellent choice.

with Fanny's failing health, he decided to buy back the family farm at Cummington, it was only a story and a half,too small for comfort. but it could be enlarged & remodeled. the plans pictured a beautiful two and a half story Dutch colonial house of white clapboards, with a new wing on each side. she was excited about the move.
Dr Gray pronounced Fanny Byrant's ailment a liver obstruction, complicated by water on the heart, neither drugs or surgery could cure. she lingered & suffered 10 weeks with Cullen or Julia almost constantly at her side. On July 27 the end came. she had been his constant companion & helpmeet for 45 years. he wrote his most beautiful memorial poem to her.

as summer wore on, he was worried about the ordeal Fanny's illness & death had upon Julia, a NY homeopathist prescibed a complete change of scenery, especially a sea voyage. In October they sailed from New York on one of the new screw steamers of the day, the Periere. letters he wrote home complained about the trip. in Germany suffered a severe cold & a touch of fever. In Dresden he received a telegram from Geneva, informing him of the death of his six year old grandson Walter Godwin.

In England he found a book of Spanish Homer, which he decided to translate....Iliad & Odyssey.

he had slipped and fell on icy Broadway pavement & now had a limp. he was proud of Central Park, he had editorialized for years about the need ofr a metropolis public park. he had served upon the first board of Park Commissioners.

the week of Jan. 1875 was exceedingly cold. Julia thought it was too cold for him to go. He put on his caped ulster & artic galoshes. at the Governor's Mansion Senator Robinson presented the guest of honor as "the most distinguished citizen of our state-I might say of our country-William Cullen Bryant."

Bryant did a commencement address at William's College about the controversial evolutionary hypothesis set forth by Charles Darwin. Bryant did not like Darwinism.

MArch 1876 Bryant consented to write a brief centennial hymn.

"By gracious!" was the strongest oath he ever used.

he had at one time been mentioned as a Presidential candidate. he was liberal & idealistic. his low tariff attitude would appeal to intelligent Democrats, his staunch Unionism, to intelligent Republicans, his anti carpetbagism to fair minded independents, his anti Tweedism to decent citizens in & out of NY. he was a gentleman of poise & dignity, a gentleman who would grace the highest of official offices, a gentleman who would command universal respect at home & abroad.

in 1876 he wrote on of him most excellent & noteable poems...The Flood Years.

the years dealt kindly with the poet-editors heart & mind & body. sound in health, clear in mind, serene & benevolent in spirit. he had a nationwide circle of admirers. he didn't life fan mail or autograph hunters, he did enjoy being a guest of honor & making a few well chosen remarks. at age 84 he was a joint guest of honor at at German-American kommer at the Clergymen's Club, a NY Episcopal organization held April 8 1878.

3 weeks later he attended a Episcopal Clergyman's Club breakfast.

"Whatever you do," he once cautioned his brother John, "don't commit the folly of marrying a woman whose religious notions are fanatical. Such a woman would be a plague to you."

May 29 1878 a considerable crowd had gathered at the West 72 nd St entrance to Central Park for an unveiling of a statue of Guiseppe Mazzini, the great Italian patriot & liberator. WCB was a bit unwell that afternoon, suffering from a cold, his voice & vitality were low. he went to the office to work that morning. Julia was in Atlantic City recuperating from an illness of her own. it was unseasonably warm weather, but he dressed for the calander, not the weather: a high silk hat, a long black frock coat, striped gray trousers.
He was the speaker & started out feebly & hoarsely. nervous energy lifted him to wonted eloquence, surely as vibrant & moving as any speech he had ever delivered.
immediately following the ceremony, he wanted to return to his townhouse at 24W 15th. General Wilson insisted Bryant accompany him home for a short rest first, he lived only a few steps from that section of the park. at the very door of the Wilson house Cullen collapsed, hitting his head upon a stone step, rendered unconscious. carried by the General & a servant to a divan in the sitting room, revived by a glass of sherry, he complained of severe pains in the head, & begged to go home.
he had come to the park in his own carriage, but sent the driver home. he wanted to get home. he wanted his own trusted homeopathic physician, Dr John F Gray. General Wilson helped him into a Madison Street Horseca & accompanied him home. the long slow ride downtown must have been a great tribulation. when he got home, he didn't quite know his whereabouts. he didnt' remember the events of the last hour. automatically he pulled out his latch key, opened the door, demaned to know whether the General had come to see Miss Fairchild (Fanny's brother's daughter) who was acting as the Bryant Housekeeper in Julia's absence.
Miss Fairchild sent for Dr Gray, the same Dr who had attended Fanny Bryant in her last illness. he consulted specialists. The patient regained consciousness, rallied, within the next few days even walked about the room & sat in his favorite chair. Julia came home. Fanny & family were in Europe & couldn't get home.
8 days after the accident, hemorrhage of the brain set in & he never rallied. lapsing into a coma,he peacefully breathed his last June 12. in "June"a lyric written early in his career, he had averred that it would be pleasant to be laid at rest
in flowery June,
When brooks send up a cheerful tune
And groves a joyous sound.

Dec. 30 1878 crowds gathered at the Academy of Music at Eleventh St. & Irving Place for a memorial tribute to the late William Cullen Bryant sponsored by the NY Historical Society, which he was a member of. the orator George William Curtis praised Bryant as "the oldest of our poets, a scholar familiar wtih many languages and literatures", a lover & interpreter of nature, a serious musing country boy turned metropolitan editor & political leader, public servant devoid of selfish ambition, our Patiarch, our Mentor, our most conspicious citizen. How much greater was than the scholar...his character was as fine as his genius!

posterity if not likely to reverse that verdict. As Vernon Parrington said of William Cullen Bryant in 1927, " He may not have been a great poet, but he was a great American."

Betsey Gurney is not mentioned by any previous biographer of Bryant. papers presented to the Geauga County Ohio Historical Museum by Betsey's granddaughter reveal :
1. she lived in Cummington when she & William Cullen Bryant were in their late teens
2. she was considered the prettiest girl in the village.
3. Cullen was for a time infatuated with her
4. she greatly admired him
5. a few years later she left Cummington, married Luther Snow & migrated to the Western
Reserve of Ohio.
6. in 1836 while out west, Cullen went 25 miles from Cleveland to Chesterland, to call on
7. learning that Betsey had died 2 years previously he walked to the cemetery & tenderly
placed flowers on her grave.

and that's the end!

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