Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gotham Yankee

I found this book (copyright 1950!) on eBay way back when, just 'discovered' it when I was looking for something to read...
the deb version of what I've learned so far...
William Cullen Bryant's official biographer was his son-in-law Parke Godwin.

on both sides of his childhood home lay four generations of Puritan ancestors...Stephen & Ichabod & Philip Bryant, & his maternal forbears-the Howards.

Cullen (as they refer to him in the book) was born undersized, had colic & the pulmonary problems that were common in the New England climate. he had an abnormally large head, his father Dr. Peter Bryant prescribed regular immersions in a spring near the house when Cullen was 4. Cullen ended up being one of the longest living Bryants!

his mathernal grandfather Ebeneezer Snell lived with them & lead regular family prayers.

His mother discouraged all bad habits in her household-drinking-tobacco chewing & smoking-idleness-profanity.

Peter Bryant signed on as a surgeon on a Yankee Merchant ship...they were shipwrecked, captured by French privateers, & spent months on the island of Mauritius.

Peter & Sarah's children were Austin, Cullen, John, Arthur, & Sarah

Cullen was the most gifted & most delicate of the Bryant boys. He clearly wouldn't be a farmer, they held a family meeting & decided he should be educated. Peter himself had qualified to go to Harvard but couldn't afford it. he was sent to study with his uncle Rev. Tom Snell at North Brookfield. he found a dusty gothic romance in the closet "Romance of the Forest" by Mrs. Ann Radcliff. his uncle said reading novels was a pernicious habit. Years later Cullen went to great pains to find this book & read it cover to cover.

he then studied with Rev. Moses Hallock of Plainfield.

he tested into William's College as a sophomore at age 16, where he was in the Philotechian Literary Society, at one program he "made an ass out of himself" (direct quote, folks!) laughing at the Washington Irving Knickerbockers he was presenting a program or whatever on.
He appeared on another program reading an original poem.

he wrote a letter to his father about going to Yale. his father told him to withdraw from Williams & he could apply for Yale in the fall. but the economy was bad, as a Dr. his patients weren't able to pay him, so they couldn't send Cullen on to Yale. while tramping thru the woods in autumn 1811 he came up with the idea for "Thanatopsis", went home & wrote it, hiding it in a desk drawer, then later putting it in his fathers desk for him to find. His father sumitted it to the North American Revue when he found it summer 1817.

Stephen Bryant was the first ancestor in America, he came to Plymouth Colony early int eh reign of Charles I.

Dr. Peter Bryant was the son of Dr. Philip Bryant & the grandson of Dr. Abiel Howard. he knew there wasnt' much money in being a doctor, so decided that Cullen should study lasw under Judge Samuel Howe in 1811. Cullen came home in Dec. 1811 & fell in love with Eveline, the beautiful & accomplished daughter of his fathers friend from Rhode Island. It didn't go well.

in 1814 he went to his Grandfather Bryant's in Bridgewater to study law under Honorable William Baylies. he wrote to his father wanting to study law in Boston. Peter replied that he had already spent $400 on him, there were other Bryant children, his health was far from good, be thankful for the advantages of studying in Bridgewater.

Cullen passed his bar exam before his 20th birthday. the certificate cost $6. at August term 1815 he qualified as an attorney.

he wrote to his dad in OCtober 1814 wanting to join the militia. he ended up going home very sick with pulmonary problems. August 25 1816 he was made an adjutant (Lt.) in Mass. Militia, didn't sign back up after his 6 month stint.

he walked 7 miles to Plainfield carrying his knapsack of belongings to hang his shingle. on the way he was inspired by a bird & wrote "To A Waterfowl." which was printed in the North American Review March 1818.

he became a partner of George H. Ives, he walked from Plainfield to Great Barrington, some 30 miles away. in a few months he bought out his partner & owned a practice worth more than $1000 a year.

March 9 1819 he was elected tithing man--preventing unseemly conduct in church & enforcing proper observance of the Sabbath. he was elected town clerk, that paid $5 a year. he was also elected a Justice of the Peace & performed at least 2 wedding ceremonies.

he was scrupulously & neatly dressed, citified & dandified, danced gracefully, played whist, flattered comely young ladies, moderately partook of wine, port, & sherry.

he was a pew holder & regular church goer.

he wasn't altogether happy with his profession & surroundings (is this where I get this from? lol) & complained to Judge Baylies that legal practice left him no time or energy to cultivate the muse. he also complained to his dad about wanting to go to Boston.

in late March 1820 the mail coach brought a letter from Cullen's mother, his father had died at age 53 after suffering from years of pulmonary problems. so, he can't move to Boston, he needs to send regular money to his mother & siblings.

he wrote "Green River" shortly after his fathers death about one of his favorite walking spots.

he attened Congregational "sociables" where he met Mrs. Hendersons sister, the orphan Miss Frances Fairchild. she lived with her sisters, traveling between the two. she was a small blonde about 23 but looked younger than 20. she liked poetry & had heard of Cullen. her mother was distantly related to Alexander Pope.

he wrote "Rural Maid" about Frances. they were married Monday June 11 1821 in the paneled SE room of the Henderson house on Taconic Street. he didn't tell his mother they were getting married, writing her a letter several days after the wedding describing the clergyman, & his wife's virtues...she had goodness of heart, ingenuous & affectionate disposition, good understanding..a character frank & single hearted.

as town clerk, he had to publish wedding banns. he was frightened of reading them to the church, so he nailed them to the church door.

they set up house in 2nd story rooms at Mr & Mrs Ralph Taylors home close to her sister & his office. their daughter Frances was born there. he was also working as a literary critic for North American Review.

he was friends with Catherine Sedgewick, who with her brother he knew from William's College talked him into writing five lyrics for a Unitarian Hymnal.

he was invited to write & read a poem at Harvard graduation in Boston! his wife told him he must go, she was proud of him & his poetic abilities. so he finally got to see Boston.

a 44 page booklet of his Poems bound in brown paper was published in autumn 1821.

that's as far as I've gotten..... more to come~!

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