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given to making cider, and the number of barrels made and stored in the cellars of the farm-houses, would now seem incredible. A hundred barrels to a single farm was no uncommon proportion, and the quantity swallowed by the men of that day led to the habits of intemperance which at length alarmed the more thoughtful part of the community, and gave occasion to the formation of temperance societies and the introduction of better habits.
“ The streams which bickered through the narrow glens of the region in which I lived were much better stocked with trout in those days than now, for the country had been newly opened to settlement. The boys all were anglers. I confess to having felt a strong interest in that 'sport,' as I no longer call it. I have long since been weaned from the propensity of which I speak ; but I have no doubt that the instinct which inclines so many to it, and some of them our grave divines, is a remnant of the original wild nature of man.
“I have not mentioned other sports and games of the boys of that day ; that is to say, of seventy or eighty years since — such as wrestling, running, leaping, base-ball, and the like, for in these there was nothing to distinguish them from the same pastimes at the present day. There were no public lectures at that time on subjects of general interest; the profession of public lecturer was then unknown, and eminent men were not solicited, as they now are, to appear before audiences in distant parts of the country, and gratify the curiosity of strangers by letting them hear the sound of their voices. But the men of those days were far more given to attendance on public worship than those who now occupy their place, and of course they took their boys with them.
“Every parish had its tithing-men, two in number generally, whose business it was to maintain order in the church during divine service, and who sat with a stern countenance through the sermon, keeping a vigilant eye on the boys in the distant rews and in the galleries. Sometimes, when he detected two of them communicating with each other, he went to one of them, took him by the button, and, leading him away, seated him beside himself. His power extended to other delinquencies. He was directed by law to see that the Sabbath was not profaned by people wandering in the fields and angling in the brooks. At that time a law, no longer in force, directed that any person who absented himself unnecessarily from public worship for a certain length of time should pay a fine into the treasury of the county. I remember several persons of whom it was said that they had been compelled to pay this fine, but I do not remember any of them who went to church afterward."
Bryant's education was continued under his uncle the Rev. Thomas Snell,* of Brookfield, in whose family he lived and studied for one year; and by the Rev. Moses Hallock, of Plainfield, he was prepared for college. One of his surviving brothers remembers that when the young poet came home on visits from his uncle Snell's or “ Parson Hallock's,” he was in the habit of playing at games with them, and of amusing them in various ways; that he excelled as a runner and had many successful running contests with his college classmates; also that he was accustomed on his home visits to declaim, for the entertainment of the family circle, some of his own compositions, both in prose and verse. He was, when studying with the pastor, a small, delicate, and handsome youth, very shy and reserved, and a great reader, devouring every volume that he could meet with, and resembling the hero of Waverley in “driving through a sea of books like a vessel without pilot or rudder." He was, I am also told by one who studied with him at that time,-- now nearly seventy years ago, – a natural scholar like his father, and although but fifteen, he had already accumulated a vast stock of information. In a letter to the Rev. H. Seymour, of Northampton, Massachusetts, published since Mr. Bryant's death, he speaks as follows of his early studies of
* Dr. Snell was pastor of the North Parish of Brookfield for sixty-four years.
Greek. “I began with the Greek alphabet, passed to the declensions and conjugations, which I committed to memory, and was put into the Gospel of St. John. In two calendar months from the time of beginning with the powers of the Greek alphabet I had real every book in the New Testament. I supposed, at the time, that I had made pretty good progress, but do not even now know whether that was very extraordinary." He found more pleasure in books, and in silent rambles among the hills and valleys, than in the usual sports and pastimes of youth of that age.
In October, 1810, when in his sixteenth year, he entereil the Sophomore Class of Williams College. He continued his studies there during one winter with the same ardor as before, but not with the same enthusiasm or pleasure. He did not like his college life, some features of which were distasteful to his shy and sensitive nature, and so with his father's permission he obtained an honorable dismissal in May, 1811, and in due time he received the degree as a member of the class of 1813, of which there are now [July, 1878] but two survivors, the Rev. Elisha D. Barrett, of Missouri, and the Hon. Charles F. Sedgwick, of Connecticut. Dr. Calvin Durfee, the historian of Williams College, writes to me that Mr. Bryant “did not graduate in a regular course with his class; still, years ago, by vote of the trustees of the college, he was restored to his place in the class, and has been enrolled among the alumni.”
Judge Sedgwick, under date Sharon, July 3, 1878, writes:
"I have your favor asking me to give you some of my recollections of the college life of my classmate W. C. Bryant. It gives me great pleasure to comply with your request, so far as I am able; but the short time during which he remained a member of the college could not be prodnetive of many events of very great interest. Since his decease, many incorrect statements in relation to this portion of his history have gone forth, most of them intimating that he was a member of the college for two years. The truth is that, having entered the Sophomore Class in October, 1810, and then having continued his membership for two terms, he took a dismission in May, 1811, intending to complete his collegiate education at Yale College. As stated above, he entered our class at the commencement of the Sophomore year. His room-mate was John Avery, of Conway, Massachusetts, who was some eight years his senior in age. Bryant had not then attained to the physical dimensions which he afterwards reached, but his bodily structure was remarkably regular and systematic. He had a prolific growth of dark brown hair, and I do not remember ever to have known a person in whom the progress of years made so great a difference in personal appearance as it did in the case of Mr. Bryant. I met him twice near the close of his life at Williams College Commencements, and if I had not seen pictures of him as he appeared in old age, I would hardly have been persuaded of his identity with the Bryant I knew in early life.
“When he entered college, it was known that he was the reputed author of two or three short poems which had recently been published, and which indicated decidedly promising talent on the part of their anthor. When spoken to in relation to these poetical effusions, he was reticent and modest, and in fact his modesty in everything was a peculiar trait of his character. It was very difficult to obtain from him any specimens of his talent as a poet. One exercise demanded of the students was the occasional writing of a composition, to be rend to the tutor in presence of the class, and once Bryant, in fulfilling this requirement, read a short poem which received the decided approval of the tutor, and once he translated one of the Odes of Horace which he showed to a few personal friends. Those were the only examples of his poetry that I now remember of his furnishing during his college life. It may be stated here that the tutor who instructed Mr. Bryant in college was the Rev. Orange Lyman, who was afterwarıls the Presbyterian clergyman at Vernon, Oneida County, New York.
"Bryant, during all his college experience, was remarkably quiet, pleasant, and unobtrusive in his manners, and studious in the literary course. His lessons were all well mastered, and not a single event occurred during his residence which reccived the least disapproval of the faculty.
“Your letter reminds me of the fact that there are but very few persons left who knew Mr. Bryant in college. “The Flood of Years' has swept them all away except the Rev. Herman Halsey, of the class of 1811, who yet survives in Western New York, and my classmate the Rev. E. D. Barrett, of Missouri, and myself. If I live to see the first day of September, I shall have completed eighty-three years of life."
The Rev. E. D. Barrett, under date Sedalia, Missouri, July 9, 1878, writes: —
“I well remember Bryant's first appearance at college in my Sophomore year. Many of the class were assembled in one of our rooms when he presented himself. A friendly greeting passed round the circle, and all seemed to enjoy the arrival of the young stranger and poet. News of Mr. Bryant's precocious intellect, his poetical genius, and his literary taste had preceded his arrival. He was looked up to with great respect, and regarded as an honor to the class of which he had become a member, and to the college which had now received him as his alma mater. I was the poet's senior by more than four years, having been born in January, 1790, and am, with the single exception of Charles F. Sedgwick, the sole survivor of the Williams College class of 1813."
No American poet has equalled Bryant in early poetic development. In that particular he surpassed Pope and Cowley and Byron. At the age of nine we find him composing tolerably clever verses, and four years later writing The Embargo, a political as well as a poetical satire upon the Jeffersonian party of that day. The poem is also remarkable as having manifested at that early age a political order of mind which continued to develop in an equal ratio with his poetical nature through life. That mind, indeed, taking higher range, was not active in the turmoils and schemes of politicians; but it investigated the great questions of political economy, and grappled with principles of the gravest moment to society and humanity.
The Embargo; or, Sketch of the Times, a Satire, we could easily imagine had been written in 1878, instead of seventy-one years ago, when, our fathers tell us, demagogism was unknown.
“E'en while I sing, see Faction arge lier claim,
Mislead with falsehood, and with zeal inflame;
And darkness perches on her dragon wings.” This poem, printed in Boston, attracted the public attention, and the edition was soon sold. To the second edition, containing The Spanish Revolution and several other juvenile pieces, was prefixed this curious advertisement, dated February, 1809:--
“A doubt having been intimated in the Monthly Anthology of June last, whether a youth of thirteen years could have been the author of this poem, in justice to his merits, the friends of the writer feel obliged to certify the fact from their personal knowledge of himself and his family, as well as his literary improvement and extraordinary talents. They would premise that they do not come uncalled before the public to bear this testimony: they would prefer that he should be judged by his works without favor or affection. As the doubt has been suggested, they deern it merely an act of justice to remove it ; after which they leave him a candidate for favor in common with other literary adventurers. They therefore assure the public that Mr. Bryant, the author, is a native of Cummington, in the county of Hampshire, and in the month of November last arrived at the age of fourteen years. The facts can be authenticated by many of the inhabitants of that place, as well as by several of his friends who give this notice. And if it be deemed worthy of further inquiry, the printer is enabled to disclose their names and places of residence.”
In September, 1817, appeared in the North American Review the poem entitled Thanatopsis, which Professor Wilson said " was alone sufficient to establish the author's claims to the honors of genius.” It was written in a few weeks, in his eighteenth year, and but slightly retouched during the time that elapsed between its composition and its first appearance in print. The poem created a marked sensation at the time of its appearance, not unlike that caused by the publication of Halleck’s Marco Bozzaris, a few years later. Richard H. Dana was then a member of the committee which conducted the Review, and received the manuscript poems Thanatopsis and the Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood. The former was understood to have been written by Dr. Bryant, and the latter by his son. When Dana learned the name, and heard that the anthor of Thanatopsis was a member of the State legislature, he proceeded to the Senate-chan,ber to observe the new poet. He saw there a man of dark complexion, with iron-gray hair, thick eyebrows, welldeveloped forehead, with an intellectual expression, in which, however, he failed to find
“The vision and the faculty divine." He went away puzzled and mortified at his lack of discernment. When Bryant in 1821 delivered at Harvard University his didactic poem entitled The Ages, - a comprehensive poetical essay reviewing the world's progress in a panoramic view of the ages, and glowing with a prophetic vision of the future of America, — Dana alluded in complimentary terms to Dr. Bryant's Thanatopsis, and then learned for the first time that the son was the author of both poems.
It is related that when the father showed a copy of Thanatopsis in manuscript, before its publication, to a lady well qualified to judge of its merits, simply saying, “ Here are some lines that our Willie has been writing,” she read the poem, raised her eyes to the father's face, and burst into tears, in which Dr. Bryant, a somewhat reserved and silent nian, was not ashamed to join. “And no wonder," continues the writer ; "it must have seemed a mystery that in the bosom of eighteen had grown up thoughts that even in boylood shaped themselves into solemn harmonies, majestic as the diapason of ocean, fit for a temple-service beneath the vault of heaven.”
Mr. Bryant continued his classical and mathematical studies at home with a view to entering Yale College ; but, abandoning this purpose, he became a law student in the office of Judge Howe, of Worthington, afterwards completing his course of legal study with William Baylies, of West Bridgewater. He was admitted to the bar at Plymouth in 1815, and began practice at Plainfield, where he remained one year, and then removed to Great Barrington (all these towns being in the State of Massachusetts). At Great Barrington he made the acquaintance of the author Catherine M. Sedgwick, who afterwards dedicated to him her novel, Relvood, and of Miss Frances Fairchild. The lovely qualities of this litter lady the young lawyer celebrated in verses which, for simple purity and delicate imagery, are most characteristic of our poet's genius. They are elsewhere given in the Library (on page 130), and it will be of interest to read them in connection with the incidents of their origin. They are entitled 0 Fairest of the Rural Maids.
Miss Fairchild became Mr. Bryant's wife in 1821, and for more than twoscore years was the “good angel of his life.” She is mentioned in many of the poet's stanzas. The Future Life (see page 275) is addressed to her. “ It was written,” says Mr. Bryant in a note to me, “during the lifetime of my wife, and some twenty years after our marriage, that is to say, about 1810, or possibly two or three years after.”
A few months after the young poet's marriage a small volume of forty-four dingy pages was published by Hilliard & Metcalf, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, entitled Poems by Tilliam Cullen Bryant. A copy is now lying before me. It contains The Ages, To a Waterfowl, Translation of a Fragment of Simonides, Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood,
The Yellow Violet, Song, Green River, and Thanatopsis. In this rare little volume the first and last paragraphs of the latter poem appear as they now stand, the version originally published in the North American Review having commenced with the lines,
“Yet a few days, and thee The all. beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course ;" and ended with the words,
“And make their bed with thee."
Last winter I met Mr. Bryant in a Broadway bookstore, and showed him a copy of this early edition of his poetical writings, which the dealer in literary wares had just sold for ten dollars. He laughingly remarked, “Well, that's more than I received for its contents."
"This little life-boat of an earth, with its noisy crew of a mankind, and their troubled history, will one day have vanished ; faded like a cloud-speck from the azure of the all. What, then, is man? He endures but for an hour, and is crushed before the moth. Yet, in the being and in the working of a faithful man is there already (as all faith, from the beginning, gives assurance) a soinething that pertains not to this wild death-element of time; that triumphs over time, and is, will be, when time shall be no more." -- THOMAS CARLYLE.
LITERARY CAREER – AUTHOR, EDITOR, AND POET -- FOREIGN TRAVELS — SEVENTIETH
BIRTHDAY FESTIVAL --- COUNTRY Houses — EIGHTIETH BIRTHDAY – POETICAL AND PROSE WRITINGS - PUBLIC ADDRESSES.
In the year 1824 Mr. Bryant's picturesque poem, A Forest Hymn, The Old Man's Funeral, The Murdered Traveller, and other poetical compositions appeared in the United States Literary Gazette, a weekly journal issued in Boston. The same year, at the suggestion of the Sedgwick family, he made his first visit to New York City, where, through their influence, he was introducel to many of the leading literary men of the metropolis. From the first, Bryant was averse to the dull and distasteful routine of his profession,
“Forced to drudge for the dregs of men
And scrawl strange words with a barbarous pen."
He could not like it, and his aversion for it daily increased. With Slender he could say, “If there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance." His visit to New York decided his destiny. Abandoning the law, in which he had met with a fair measure of success, having enjoyed for nine years a reasonable share of the local practice of Great Barrington, he determined upon pursuing the career of a man of letters, so well described by Carlyle, the “Censor of the Age,” as “an anarchic, nomadic, and entirely aërial and ill-conditioned profession," and he accordingly, in 1825, removed to New York, which continued to be his place of residence for more than half a century. Here he lived from earnest youth to venerable age – from thirty-one to eightyfour -- in one unbroken path of honor and success.