Four Famous American Writers: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe,
Part 3 out of 3
house, the first thing that suggested itself was to climb upon a mound
which overlooked the swamp. Somewhere among the tufts of rushes and
the bladed leaves of the calamus, a little brown ball was sure to be
seen moving, now dipping out of sight, now rising again, like a bit of
drift on the rippling green. It was my head. The treasures I there
collected were black terrapins with orange spots, baby frogs the size
of a chestnut, thrush's eggs, and stems of purple phlox."
He loved his home with a passionate intensity; but he also had
yearnings for the unknown world beyond the horizon. "I remember," says
he, "as distinctly as if it were yesterday the first time this passion
was gratified. Looking out of the garret window, on a bright May
morning, I discovered a row of slats which had been nailed over the
shingles for the convenience of the carpenters in roofing the house,
and had not been removed. Here was, at least, a chance to reach the
comb of the steep roof, and take my first look abroad into the world!
Not without some trepidation I ventured out, and was soon seated
astride of the sharp ridge. Unknown forests, new fields and houses,
appeared to my triumphant view. The prospect, though it did not extend
more than four miles in any direction, was boundless. Away in the
northwest, glimmering through the trees, was a white object, probably
the front of a distant barn; but I shouted to the astonished servant
girl, who had just discovered me from the garden below, 'I see the
Falls of Niagara!'"
He was a sensitive child and had a horror of dirty hands, "and," says
he, "my first employments--picking stones and weeding corn--were
rather a torture to this superfine taste." In his mother, however, he
had a friend who understood and protected him. So his life on the farm
was as happy as it well could be, in spite of its roughness. He
himself has described it with a zest which no one else could lend it.
"Almost every field had its walnut tree, melons were planted among the
corn, and the meadow which lay between never exhausted its store of
wonders. Besides, there were eggs to hide at Easter; cherries and
strawberries in May; fruit all summer; fishing parties by torchlight;
lobelia and sumac to be gathered, dried and sold for pocket money; and
in the fall, chestnuts, persimmons, wild grapes, cider, and the grand
butchering after frost came, so that all the pleasures I knew were
incidental to a farmer's life. The books I read came from the village
library, and the task of helping to 'fodder' on the dark winter
evenings was lightened by the anticipation of sitting down to
'Gibbon's Rome' or 'Thaddeus of Warsaw' afterwards."
He was fond of reading, and especially fond of poetry, and his wife in
her biography says: "In the evening after he had gone to bed, his
mother would hear him repeating poem after poem to his brother, who
slept in the same room with him."
Bayard had the advantage of regular attendance at the country schools
near his father's home, with two or three years at the local academy;
but his father could not afford to send him to college. He enjoyed his
school life, and in after years wrote to one of his early Quaker
"I have never forgotten the days I spent in the little log schoolhouse
and the chestnut grove behind it, and I have always thought that some
of the poetry I then copied from thy manuscript books has kept an
influence over all my life since. There was one verse in particular
which has cheered and encouraged me a thousand times when prospects
seemed rather gloomy. It ran thus:
'O, why should we seek to anticipate sorrow
By throwing the flowers of the present away,
And gathering the dark-rolling, cloudy to-morrow
To darken the generous sun of to-day?'
Thou seest I have good reason to remember those old times, and to be
grateful to thee for encouraging instead of checking the first
developments of my mind."
You may easily guess from this letter that Bayard's school life was
very sedate and Quakerish. Nearly all the people in Kennett Square
were Quakers, and though Bayard's father and mother were not, they had
all the Quaker habits. Among other things, he was taught the
wickedness of all kinds of swearing. His mother "talked so earnestly
on this point that his mind became full of it; his observation and
imagination were centered upon oaths, until at last he was so
fascinated that he became filled with an uncontrollable desire to
swear. So he went out into a field, beyond hearing, and there
delivered himself of all the oaths he had ever heard or could invent,
and in as loud a voice as possible." After this he felt quite
satisfied to swear no more.
When Bayard was about twelve years old, his father was elected sheriff
of the county and went to live at West Chester for three years. The
young lad was sent to Bolmar's Academy at that place; and when the
family went back to the farm he was sent to the academy at Unionville,
three or four miles from his home. Here, at the age of sixteen, he
finished his regular schooling. During the last two years he studied
Latin and French, and during the last year Spanish. His Latin and
French he continued by private study for three years longer.
He now went back to work on the farm for a season, and, as he says,
"first felt the delight and refreshment of labor in the open air. I
was then able to take the plow handle, and I still remember the pride
I felt when my furrows were pronounced even and well turned. Although
it was already decided that I should not make farming the business of
my life, I thrust into my plans a slender wedge of hope that I might
one day own a bit of ground, for the luxury of having, if not the
profit of cultivating, it. The aroma of the sweet soil had tinctured
my blood; the black mud of the swamp still stuck to my feet."
After a few weeks of farm life he was apprenticed to a printer in West
Chester for a term of four years.
HIS FIRST POEM
It is the will and the spirit that makes every life seem happy or the
reverse. If Bayard Taylor had remained a farmer in Kennett Square all
his life, he would not have looked back on his early experiences with
so much pleasure as he did. Indeed, we may safely say that he would
not have liked his life so well at the time had it not been for his
buoyant and hopeful nature, which made him feel that he was destined
for higher and better things, for a world beyond the horizon.
Already he was a poet, with all a poet's aspirations and eagerness. A
year before he left the academy his first printed poem appeared in the
_Saturday Evening Post_ of Philadelphia. It is not wonderful as
poetry. Yet we read it with interest, because it shows so plainly the
earnest and ambitious, yet cheerful, nature of the boy. He did not
merely sit and hope; he was determined to _win his way_. It is
entitled, "Soliloquy of a Young Poet."
A dream!--a fleeting dream!
Childhood has passed, with all its joy and song,
And my life's frail bark on youth's impetuous stream
Is swiftly borne along.
High hopes spring up within;
Hopes of the future--thoughts of glory--fame,
Which prompt my mind to toil, and bid me win
That dream--a deathless name.
* * * * *
I know it all is vain,
That earthly honors ever must decay,
That all the laurels bought by toil and pain
Must pass with earth away.
But still my spirit high,
Longing for fame won by the immortal mind--
On fancy's pinion fain would scale the sky,
And leave dull earth behind.
Yes, I would write my name
With the star's burning ray on heaven's broad scroll,
That I might still the restless thirst for fame
Which fills my soul.
Bayard Taylor was not a great genius, and he did not succeed in
winning quite all of that high fame for which he struggled throughout
his life. He never expected to have earth's blessings showered upon
him without working for them; and the fact that he failed somewhat in
his highest ambition--to be a far-famed poet--makes his life seem
nearer to our own. We call him a great man because he did well what
came to him to do, working hard all his life. In this we can all
follow his example.
SELF-EDUCATION AND AMBITION
"The Village Record" (to the proprietor of which Bayard was
apprenticed) was printed upon an old-fashioned hand press, and it was
the business of the apprentices to set the type, help make up the
paper, pull the forms, and send the weekly issues off to the
The mechanical work was soon learned, and the young apprentice
found considerable time for reading. He now began that work of
self-education which he carried on through his whole life. Already,
before he left the academy, he had become acquainted with the works of
Charles Dickens, and had secured the great man's autograph. "I went to
the Academy," says he, "where I received a letter that had come on
Saturday. It was from Hartford; I knew instantly it was from Dickens.
It was double, and sealed neatly with a seal bearing the initials C.D.
In the inside was a sheet of satin notepaper, on which was written,
'Faithfully yours, Charles Dickens, City Hotel, Hartford, Feb. 10,
1842'; and below, 'with the compliments of Mr. Dickens.' I can long
recollect the thrill of pleasure I experienced on seeing the autograph
of one whose writings I so ardently admired, and to whom, in spirit, I
felt myself attached; and it was not without a feeling of ambition
that I looked upon it that as he, a humble clerk, had risen to be the
guest of a mighty nation, so I, a humble pedagogue [he was then pupil
teacher at the Academy], might by unremitted and arduous intellectual
and moral exertion become a light, a star, among the names of my
country. May it be!"
When he went to work at West Chester his reading was chiefly poetry
and travel. The result of his "fireside travels" we shall soon see.
The way in which he read poetry may be gathered from the following
extract from a letter to one of his comrades:
"By the way, what do you think of Bryant as a poet, and especially of
'Thanatopsis? For my part, my admiration knows no bounds. There is an
all-pervading love of nature, a calm and quiet but still deep sense of
everything beautiful. And then the high and lofty feeling which
mingles with the whole! It seems to me when I read his poetry that our
hearts are united, and that I can feel every throb of his answered
back by mine. This is what makes a poet immortal. There are but few
who make me feel so thrillingly their glowing thoughts as Bryant,
Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell (all Americans, you know), and these
I _love_. It is strange, the sway a master mind has over those who
have felt his power."
Another poet of whom he was an enthusiastic admirer was Tennyson. He
had read a criticism by Poe. "I still remember," he wrote afterward,
"the eagerness with which as a boy of seventeen, after reading his
paper, I sought for the volume; and I remember also the strange sense
of mental dazzle and bewilderment I experienced on the first perusal
of it. I can only compare it to the first sight of a sunlit landscape
through a prism; every object has a rainbow outline. One is fascinated
to look again and again, though the eyes ache."
He contributed several poems to the _Saturday Evening Post_, and then
wrote to Rufus W. Griswold, who, besides being connected with the
_Post_, was the editor of _Graham's Magazine_, the leading literary
periodical at that time. Those of us who know the life of Poe remember
Griswold as the man who pretended to be his friend, but who after
Poe's death wrote his life, filling it with all the scandalous
falsehoods he could hear of or invent. To Bayard Taylor, however, he
seems to have been a helpful friend.
"I have met with strange things since I wrote last," writes Taylor to
a school friend in March, 1843. "Last November I wrote to Mr.
Griswold, sending a poem to be inserted in the _Post_. However, I said
that it was my highest ambition to appear in _Grahams Magazine_. Some
time ago I got an answer. He said he had read my lines 'To the
Brandywine,' which appeared in the _Post_, with much pleasure, and
would have put them in the magazine if he had seen them in time. He
said the poem I sent him would appear in April in the magazine, and
requested me to contribute often and to call on him when I came to
town. I never was more surprised in my life."
He went to Philadelphia the next autumn, and consulted Griswold
regarding a poetic romance he had written--about a thousand lines in
length--and Griswold advised him to publish it in a volume with other
poems. He wrote to a friend to inquire how much the printing and
binding would cost, and finding that the expense would not be very
great, he concluded to ask his friends to subscribe for the volume.
When he had received enough subscriptions to pay the cost of
publication, he brought the volume out. It was entitled "Ximena; or,
The Battle of the Sierra Morena, and Other Poems. By James Bayard
Taylor." (The James was added by mistake by Griswold.) It was
dedicated "To Rufus W. Griswold, as an expression of gratitude for the
kind encouragement he has shown the author."
The poems contained in this volume were never republished in after
years. The book was fairly successful, and was distinctly a step
upward; but it did not fill the young writer with undue conceit. In
writing to a friend of his ambition at this time, he says: "It is
useless to deny that I have cherished hopes of occupying at some
future day a respectable station among our country's poets. I believe
all poets are possessed in a greater or less degree of ambition; it is
inseparable from the nature of poetry. And though I may be mistaken, I
think this ambition is never given without a mind of sufficient power
to sustain it, and to achieve its lofty object. Although I am desirous
of the world's honors, yet with all the sincerity I possess I declare
that my highest hope is to do good; to raise the hopes of the
desponding; to soothe the sorrows of the afflicted. I believe that
poetry owns as its true sphere the happiness of mankind."
What could be nobler and more sensible than that! Even his earliest
poetry has in it no false, slipshod sentiment. Its subject is nature
and heroic incident, and is indeed a faithful attempt to carry out the
aim so well stated above. Some have doubted whether Bayard Taylor
really had the power which he says he thinks is given to all who have
the ambition which he felt. But none can fail to admire the spirit in
which he worked, and to feel satisfied with the results, whatever they
A TRAVELER AT NINETEEN
It was not as a poet, however, that Bayard Taylor was to win his first
fame. At the age of nineteen, when he had but half completed his four
years' term of apprenticeship, he made up his mind to go to Europe. He
had no money; but that did not appear to him an insurmountable
obstacle. He thought he could work his way by writing letters for the
newspapers. So he went up to Philadelphia and visited all the editors.
For three days he went about; but all in vain. The editors gave him
little encouragement. He was on the point of going home, but with no
thought of giving up his project.
At last two different editors offered him each fifty dollars in
advance for twelve letters, and the proprietor of _Graham's Magazine_
paid him forty dollars for some poems. So he went back to Kennett
Square the jubilant possessor of a hundred and forty dollars.
He succeeded in buying his release from the articles of
apprenticeship, and immediately prepared to set out on foot for New
York, where he and two others were to take ship for England. That was
the beginning of a career of travel which lasted many years, and
brought him both fame and money.
In a delightful essay on "The First Journey I Ever Made," he says that
while other great travelers have felt in childhood an inborn
propensity to go out into the world to see the regions beyond, he had
the intensest desire to climb upward--so that without shifting his
horizon, he could yet extend it, and take in a far wider sweep of
vision. "I envied every bird," he goes on, "that sat singing on the
topmost bough of the great, century-old cherry tree; the weathercock
on our barn seemed to me to whirl in a higher region of the air; and
to rise from the earth in a balloon was a bliss which I would almost
have given my life to enjoy." His desire to ascend soon took the
practical form of wishing to climb a mountain. By great economy he
saved up fifteen dollars, and with a companion who had twenty-seven
dollars (enormous wealth!) he set out for a walking tour to the
Catskills, with the hope of going even so far as the Connecticut
No doubt the feelings he experienced in setting out on that excursion,
at the end of his first year as an apprentice, would apply equally
well to the greater journey he was to attempt a year later.
"The steamboat from Philadelphia deposited me at Bordentown, on the
forenoon of a warm, clear day. I buckled on my knapsack, inquired the
road to Amboy, and struck off, resolutely, with the feelings of an
explorer on the threshold of great discoveries. The sun shone
brightly, the woods were green, and the meadows were gay with phlox
and buttercups. Walking was the natural impulse of the muscles; and
the glorious visions which the next few days would unfold to me, drew
me onward with a powerful fascination. Thus, mile after mile went by;
and early in the afternoon I reached Hightstown, very hot and hungry,
and a little footsore. Twenty-five cents only had been expended thus
far--and was I now to dine for half a dollar? The thought was banished
as rapidly as it came, and six cakes, of remarkable toughness and
heaviness, put an effectual stop to any further promptings of appetite
"The miles now became longer, and the rosy color of my anticipations
faded a little. The sandy level of the country fatigued my eyes; the
only novel objects I had yet discovered were the sweep-poles of the
wells....The hot afternoon was drawing to a close, and I was wearily
looking out for Spotswood, when a little incident occurred, the memory
of which has ever since been as refreshing to me as the act in itself
was at the time.
"I stopped to get a drink from a well in front of a neat little
farmhouse. While I was awkwardly preparing to let down the bucket, a
kind, sweet voice suddenly said: 'Let me do it for you.' I looked up,
and saw before me a girl of sixteen, with blue eyes, wavy auburn hair,
and slender form--not strikingly handsome, but with a shy, pretty
face, which blushed the least bit in the world, as she met my gaze.
"Without waiting for my answer, she seized the pole and soon drew up
the dripping bucket, which she placed upon the curb. 'I will get you a
glass,' she then said, and darted into the house--reappearing
presently with a tumbler in one hand and a plate of crisp tea-cakes in
the other. She stood beside me while I drank, and then extended the
plate with a gesture more inviting than any words would have been. I
had had enough of cake for one day; but I took one, nevertheless, and
put a second in my pocket, at her kind persuasion.
"This was the first of many kindnesses which I have experienced from
strangers all over the wide world; and there are few, if any, which I
shall remember longer.
"At sunset I had walked about twenty-two miles, and had taken to the
railroad track by way of change, when I came upon a freight train,
which had stopped on account of some slight accident.
"'Where are you going?' inquired the engineer.
"'Take you there for a quarter!'
"It was too tempting; so I climbed upon the tender and rested my weary
legs, while the pines and drifted sands flew by us an hour or more--
and I had crossed New Jersey!"
This little description may be taken as a type of the way in which he
traveled and the way in which he described his travels--a way that
almost immediately made him famous, and caused the public to call for
volume after volume from his pen.
TWO YEARS IN EUROPE FOR FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS
A journey to Europe was not the common thing in those days that it has
since become, and no American had then thought of tramping over
historic scenes with little or no money. So this journey, projected
and carried out by Bayard Taylor, was really an original and daring
undertaking. It was all the more remarkable from the fact that the
people of the community where he had been born and brought up had
scarcely ever gone farther from their homesteads than Philadelphia.
In New York he visited all the editors with an introduction from
Nathaniel P. Willis; but none of them gave him any encouragement,
except Horace Greeley, the famous editor of the _Tribune_. Here is
Bayard Taylor's own description of the interview: "When I first called
upon this gentleman, whose friendship it is now my pride to claim, he
addressed me with that honest bluntness which is habitual to him: 'I
am sick of descriptive letters, and will have no more of them. But I
should like some sketches of German life and society, after you have
been there and know something about it. If the letters are good, you
shall be paid for them, but don't write until you know something.'
This I faithfully promised, and kept my promise so well that I am
afraid the eighteen letters which I afterward sent from Germany, and
which were published in the _Tribune_, were dull in proportion as they
The journey was indeed to Taylor a serious thing. "It did not and does
not seem like a pleasure excursion," he writes; "it is a duty, a
On the 1st of July, 1844, Taylor and his two companions embarked on
the ship "Oxford," bound for Liverpool. They had taken a second-cabin
passage, the second cabin being a small place amidships, flanked with
bales of cotton and fitted with temporary and rough planks. They paid
ten dollars each for the passage, but were obliged to find their own
bedding and provisions. These latter the ship's cook would prepare for
them for a small compensation. All expenses included, they found they
could reach Liverpool for twenty-four dollars apiece.
At last they were actually afloat. "As the blue hills of Neversink
faded away, and sank with the sun behind the ocean, and I felt the
first swells of the Atlantic," he writes, "and the premonitions of
seasickness, my heart failed me for the first and last time. The
irrevocable step was taken; there was no possibility of retreat, and a
vague sense of doubt and alarm possessed me. Had I known anything of
the world, this feeling would have been more than momentary; but to my
ignorance and enthusiasm all things seemed possible, and the
thoughtless and happy confidence of youth soon returned."
The experiences of the next two years he has also told briefly and
tersely. "After landing in Liverpool," he says, "I spent three weeks
in a walk through Scotland and the north of England, and then traveled
through Belgium, and up the Rhine to Heidelberg, where I arrived in
September, 1844. The winter of 1844-45 I spent in Frankfurt on the
Main [in the family in which N.P. Willis's brother Richard was
boarding], and by May I was so good a German that I was often not
suspected of being a foreigner. I started off again on foot, a
knapsack on my back, and visited the Brocken, Leipsic, Dresden,
Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich, returning to Frankfurt in July.
A further walk over the Alps and through Northern Italy took me to
Florence, where I spent four months learning Italian. Thence I
wandered, still on foot, to Rome and Civita Vecchia, where I bought a
ticket as deck-passenger to Marseilles, and then tramped on to Paris
through the cold winter rains. I arrived there in February, 1846, and
returned to America after a stay of three months in Paris and London.
I had been abroad two years, and had supported myself entirely during
the whole time by my literary correspondence. The remuneration which I
received was in all $500, and only by continual economy and occasional
self-denial was I able to carry out my plan. I saw almost nothing of
intelligent European society; my wanderings led me among the common
people. But literature and art were nevertheless open to me, and a new
day had dawned in my life."
THE HARDSHIP OF TRAMP TRAVEL
Making a journey without money, without knowing the language of the
people, and without any experience in travel is not at all the sort of
thing it seems to one who has not gone through its toils, but only
sees the glow and glamour of success. We cannot pass on without giving
some of the details of commonplace hardship which Bayard Taylor
endured on this first European journey.
Taylor knew a little book French, but neither he nor either of his
companions could speak it or understand it when spoken, and they knew
nothing at all of German. When they reached Frankfurt they tried to
inquire the way to the house of the American consul. At first they
were not at all able to make themselves understood; but finally they
found a man who could speak a little French and who told them that the
consul resided in "Bellevue" street. It was in reality "Shone
Aussicht," which is the German for beautiful view, as Bellevue is the
French. But the young travelers knew nothing of this. They went in
search of "Bellevue" street, and though they wandered over the greater
part of the town and suburbs, they did not find it. At last they
decided to try all the streets which had a beautiful view, and in this
way soon found the consul's house.
Not only did they have very little money in any case, but they were
frequently obliged to wait months for remittances. While in Italy,
Taylor's funds ran so low, and he became so discouraged, that he gave
up going to Greece, as he had at first planned. He was expecting a
draft for a hundred dollars; but that would barely pay his debts. "My
clothes," he writes to one of his companions, "are as bad as yours
were when you got to Heidelberg, nearly dropping from me; and I cannot
get them mended. What is worse, they must last till I get to Paris."
Later he speaks of spending three dollars for a pair of trousers, as
those he wore would not hold together any longer. In despair, he
exclaims, "It is really a horrible condition. If there ever were any
young men who made the tour of Europe under such difficulties and
embarrassments as we, I should like to see them."
But all this only urged him to greater efforts. "I tell you what,
Frank," he writes almost in his next letter, "I am getting a real rage
in me to carve out my own fortune, and not a poor one, either.
Sometimes I almost desire that difficulties should be thrown in my
way, for the sake of the additional strength gained in surmounting
These words were written from Italy; but yet harder things were in
store for him. "I reached London for the second time about the middle
of March, 1846," he writes in his paper on "A Young Author's Life in
London," "after a dismal walk through Normandy and a stormy passage
across the Channel. I stood upon London Bridge, in the raw mist and
the falling twilight, with a franc and a half in my pocket, and
deliberated what I should do. Weak from sea-sickness, hungry, chilled,
and without a single acquaintance in the great city, my situation was
about as hopeless as it is possible to conceive. Successful authors in
their libraries, sitting in cushioned chairs and dipping their pens
into silver inkstands, may write about money with a beautiful scorn,
and chant the praise of Poverty--the 'good goddess of Poverty,' as
George Sand, making 50,000 francs a year, enthusiastically terms
her;--but there is no condition in which the Real is so utterly at
variance with the Ideal, as to be actually out of money, and hungry, with
nothing to pawn and no friend to borrow from. Have you ever known it,
my friend? If not, I could wish that you might have the experience for
twenty-four hours, only once in your life."
On this occasion Bayard Taylor went to a chop-house where he could get
a wretched bed for a shilling. The next morning he took a sixpenny
breakfast, and started out to look for work. By good fortune he met
Putnam, the American publisher, who lent him a sovereign (five
dollars) and gave him work that would enable him to earn his living
until he could get money from America for his return passage.
HIS FIRST LOVE AND GREATEST SORROW
At the very first school which Bayard Taylor attended there was a
little Quaker girl who would whisper with a blush to her teacher, "May
I sit beside Bayard?" Her name was Mary Agnew. As schoolmates and
neighbors the two children grew up together; and in time Bayard began
to confide to his diary his dream of happiness with her. Toward this
object, all his thoughts and plans were gradually directed.
Mary Agnew's father did not countenance this neighbor lover, however,
and when Bayard set out for Europe he was not allowed to write to her.
He sent messages through his mother, and occasionally heard from the
young girl in the same way. On his return, however, he grew more bold,
and soon became openly engaged to her. The romance is a sadly
beautiful one; for this fair girl who was his inspiration during the
years of his hardest struggles, finally fell into a decline and died
just as he was beginning to earn the money that would have made them
"I remember him," says a neighbor, speaking of the two at this time,
"as a bright, blushing, diffident youth, just entering manhood; and
with him I always associate that gentle and beautiful girl, with
matchless eyes, who inspired many of his early lyrics, and whose death
filled the nest of love with snow."
Mary Agnew reminds us of Poe's beautiful Virginia Clemm, his "Annabel
Lee." Grace Greenwood wrote of her as "a dark-eyed young girl with the
rose yet unblighted on cheek and lip, with soft brown, wavy hair,
which, when blown by the wind, looked like the hair oft given to
angels by the old masters, producing a sort of halo-like effect about
a lovely head."
And Taylor at this time was evidently her match in looks as well as
spirit. A German friend describes him thus: "He was a tall, slender,
blooming young man, the very image of youthful beauty and purity. His
intellectual head was surrounded by dark hair; the glance of his eyes
was so modest, and yet so clear and lucid, that you seemed to look
right into his heart."
On his return from Europe, young Taylor found that his letters to the
newspapers had attracted some attention, perhaps largely owing to the
fact that one who was almost a boy had made the journey on foot, with
little or no money. At the same time he had told his story in a
simple, straightforward way, which proved him to be a good reporter.
Friends advised him to gather the letters into a volume, which he did
under the title, "Views Afoot; or Europe Seen with Knapsack and
Staff." Within a year six editions were sold, and the sale continued
large for a number of years.
Yet this success, quick as it was, did not solve all his difficulties
at once. He was anxious to earn a good living as soon as possible,
that he might marry Mary Agnew. After looking the field over, he and a
friend bought a weekly paper published in Phoenixville, a lively
manufacturing town in the same county as his home. This, with the aid
of his friend, he edited and managed for a year. He not only failed to
make money, but accumulated debts which he was three years in paying
off. At the same time he found that he could no longer endure a narrow
country life. He tried to give his paper a literary tone; but the
people did not want a literary paper. They cared more for local news
and gossip, which he hated.
The old ambition and aspiration to be and to do something really worth
doing was still uppermost with him. In a letter to Mary Agnew he says:
"Sometimes I feel as if there were a Providence watching over me, and
as if an unseen and uncontrollable hand guided my actions. I have
often dim, vague forebodings that an eventful destiny is in store for
me; that I have vast duties yet to accomplish, and a wider sphere of
action than that which I now occupy. These thoughts may be vain; they
spring only from the ceaseless impulses of an upward-aspiring spirit;
but if they _are_ real, and to be fulfilled, I shall the more need thy
love and the gladness of thy dear presence."
He wrote to his friends in New York about getting work there, but they
did not encourage him much. Horace Greeley bluntly advised him to stay
where he was. The editor of the _Literary World,_ however, offered him
employment at five dollars a week. He thereupon sold out his interest
in his country paper at a loss, and went to try his fortunes in New
York. Before he had been there many weeks, Horace Greeley offered him
a position on the _Tribune_ at twelve dollars a week. The connection
thus begun lasted for the rest of his life. It was as the _Tribunes_
correspondent that he traveled all over the world. He was soon able to
buy stock in the _Tribune_ company, and this was the foundation of his
He had many literary and other distinguished friends in New York. And
during these first few years he worked very hard indeed, hoping soon
to earn enough money to provide for Mary Agnew. In 1850, after three
years in New York, he was able to set the date of their marriage. But
it was postponed from time to time on account of her illness. At last
he knew that she could never be well again; yet in any case he wished
the marriage ceremony performed. They were accordingly married October
24, 1850; and two months later she was dead.
"THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAVELER"
It had been Bayard Taylor's boyhood ambition to become a great poet;
but it seemed as if fate meant him for a great traveler. He was sorry
that this was so: yet he was fond of travel, and never refused any
opportunity to visit other lands. In 1849, when the California gold
fever was at its height, he was sent by the _Tribune_ to the Pacific
"I went," he says, "by way of the Isthmus of Panama--the route had
just been opened--reached San Francisco in August, and spent five
months in the midst of the rough, half-savage life of a new country. I
lived almost entirely in the open air, sleeping on the ground with my
saddle for a pillow, and sharing the hardships of the gold diggers,
without taking part in their labors."
On his return he gathered his letters into a volume entitled
"Eldorado, or Adventures in the Path of Empire: comprising a voyage to
California, via Panama; Life in San Francisco and Monterey; Pictures
of the Gold Region, and Experiences of Mexican Travel."
He now began to feel the strength and confidence of success; his brain
was seething with new ideas, and he felt as if he could do that which
would realize the destiny of which he had dreamed. But sorrow was
already at his door. His hopes were for the time broken and thrown
back by the death of Mary Agnew.
In the summer of 1851 he found himself worn out and depressed. His
health was shattered and his mind was overpowered. But a change and
rest were at hand. The editors of the _Tribune_ suggested his going to
Egypt and the Holy Land. In the autumn he set out, and spent the
winter in ascending the Nile to Khartoum. He even went up the White
Nile to the country of the Shillooks, a region then scarcely known to
Bayard Taylor fancied that he had two natures, one a southern nature
and one a northern nature. Of course the northern nature was his
regular and ordinary one. In one of his later journeys, when he had
entered Spain from France and was sitting down to a breakfast of red
mullet and oranges fresh from the trees, "straightway," he says, "I
took off my northern nature as a garment, folded it and packed it
neatly away in my knapsack, and took out in its stead the light,
beribboned and bespangled southern nature, which I had not worn for
eight or nine years."
He donned this southern nature for the first time on his trip to
California by way of Panama. Horace Greeley especially commended his
letter from Panama. But it was during his journey in Egypt that he
became most saturated with the south, and composed his "Poems of the
Orient"--perhaps the best he ever wrote. He had not been in Alexandria
a day and a half before he wrote to his mother that he had never known
such a delicious climate. "The very air is a luxury to breathe," he
said. "I am going to don the red cap and sash," he wrote from Cairo,
"and sport a saber at my side. To-day I had my hair all cut within a
quarter of an inch of the skin, and when I look in the glass I see a
strange individual. Think of me as having no hair, a long beard, and a
copper-colored face." So much like a native did he become that when he
entered the bank in Constantinople for his letters and money, they
addressed him in Turkish.
He made the journey up the Nile on a boat with a wealthy German
landowner, a Mr. Bufleb, who became to him like a brother, though he
was nearly twice the age of Taylor. Some years later the young man
married Mrs. Bufleb's niece.
When he reached Constantinople he received a letter from the managers
of the _Tribune_ suggesting that he go across Asia to Hong-Kong,
China, and join the expedition of Commodore Perry to Japan. As the
expedition would not reach Hong-Kong for some months, however, he had
time to visit his German friend and go on to London. From London he
returned through Spain and went by way of the Suez, Bombay, and
Calcutta to China, stopping on the way to view the Himalayas.
Commodore Perry made the young journalist "master's mate," and gave
him a place on the flagship. This was necessary, because no one not a
member of the navy was allowed to accompany the expedition.
There is not space to detail the wonderful sights he saw or the
interesting experiences he had. He reached New York, December 20,
1853, after an absence of more than two years, and found that in his
absence he had become almost famous. His letters in the _Tribune_ had
been read all over the country, and everybody wanted to know more of
the "great American traveler."
He at once prepared for the press three books. They were "A Journey to
Central Africa; or, Life and Landscapes from Egypt to the Negro
Kingdoms of the Nile "; "The Land of the Saracens; or, Pictures of
Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily, and Spain"; and "A Visit to India,
China, and Japan in the Year 1853."
He had hundreds of calls to lecture; and thereafter for several years
he made lecturing his principal business. From his books and his
lectures he received large sums of money, so that before he was thirty
he had accumulated a modest fortune.
In 1856 Bayard Taylor took his two sisters and his youngest brother to
Europe. He left them in Germany, while he himself carried out a plan
long in his mind, of visiting northern Sweden and Lapland in winter.
The following summer he visited Norway, and later published the
results of these journeys in "Northern Travel."
While in Germany, after his trip to Sweden, he became engaged to Marie
Hansen, daughter of Prof. Peter A. Hansen, the noted astronomer and
founder of Erfurt Observatory. They were married in the following
autumn, October 27, 1857.
He now hurried home with his wife and prepared to build a house and
lay out the country estate which he called Cedarcroft. The land had
belonged to one of his ancestors, and he was very proud of his fine
country house; but he found it a rather expensive enjoyment.
We have seen how in youth Bayard Taylor conceived the ambition to be
known as one of his country's great poets. He saw his books of travel
sell by the hundred thousand; but while this brought him money and
notoriety, he clung still to his poetry. He even felt annoyed when he
heard himself spoken of as "the great American traveler" instead of
the great American poet. The truth is, he had not been able to give to
poetry the time or energy he could have wished; and he afterwards
worked with desperate energy to recover those lost poetic
Yet in his busiest days he was always writing verses, which in the
minds of excellent judges are the best he ever did. From time to time
he published volumes of poetry, and with certain of his intimate
friends he always maintained himself on the footing of a poet.
We remember the publication of his first volume, entitled "Ximena,"
which he never cared to reprint in his collected works. During his
first European trip he wrote a great deal. Some of his shorter poems
he afterwards published under the title "Rhymes of Travel." The fate
of a longer poem we must hear in his own words.
"I had in my knapsack," he says, "a manuscript poem of some twelve
hundred lines, called 'The Liberated Titan,'--the idea of which I
fancied to be something entirely new in literature. Perhaps it was. I
did not doubt for a moment that any London publisher would gladly
accept it, and I imagined that its appearance would create not a
little sensation. Mr. Murray gave the poem to his literary adviser,
who kept it about a month, and then returned it with a polite message.
I was advised to try Moxon; but, by this time, I had sobered down
considerably, and did not wish to risk a second rejection.
"I therefore solaced myself by reading the immortal poem at night, in
my bare chamber, looking occasionally down into the graveyard, and
thinking of mute, inglorious Miltons.
"The curious reader may ask how I escaped the catastrophe of
publishing the poem at last. That is a piece of good fortune for which
I am indebted to the Rev. Dr. Bushnell, of Hartford. We were
fellow-passengers on board the same ship to America, a few weeks later,
and I had sufficient confidence in his taste to show him the poem. His
verdict was charitable; but he asserted that no poem of that length
should be given to the world before it had received the most thorough
study and finish--and exacted from me a promise not to publish it
within a year. At the end of that time I renewed the promise to myself
for a thousand years."
Of other poems written at that time he thought better. In the preface
to his volume he says of them,--"They are faithful records of my
feelings at the time, often noted down hastily by the wayside, and
aspiring to no higher place than the memory of some pilgrim who may,
under like circumstances, look upon the same scenes. An ivy leaf from
a tower where a hero of old history may have dwelt, or the simplest
weed growing over the dust that once held a great soul, is reverently
kept for memories it inherited through the chance fortune of the
wind-sown seed; and I would fain hope that these rhymes may bear with
them a like simple claim to reception, from those who have given me their
company through the story of my wanderings."
Soon after he went to New York he began a series of Californian
ballads, which were published anonymously in the _Literary World_, and
attracted considerable attention. They appeared before he had made his
trip to California; but while on that trip he wrote still others. At
the same time he began several more ambitious poems, among them
"Hylas," and just before he set out for Egypt he had another volume of
poems ready for the press. It was entitled "A Book of Romances, Lyrics
and Songs," and was published in Boston just after he set out on his
Eastern journey. But while his volumes of travel sold edition after
edition his volumes of verse scarcely paid expenses.
The previous year, however,--1850,--he had had a bit of success which
caused him no end of annoyance. Jenny Lind had been brought to America
to sing, and her manager had offered a prize of $200 for the best song
that might be written for her. "Bayard Taylor came to me one
afternoon early in September," says Mr. R.H. Stoddard, "and confided
to me the fact that he was to be declared the winner of this perilous
prize, and that he foresaw a row. They will say it was given to me
because Putnam, who is my publisher, is one of the committee, and
because Ripley, who is my associate on the _Tribune_, is another.'"
Mr. Stoddard kindly suggested to him that if he feared the results, he
might substitute his (Stoddard's) name for the real one, and take the
money while Stoddard got the abuse. He did not choose to do this,
however, and the indignation of the seven or eight hundred
disappointed contributors was unbounded. Taylor bore their abuse well
enough, but he was heartily ashamed of the reputation which the poem
"POEMS OF THE ORIENT"
During the months he spent in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, Bayard
Taylor wrote his "Poems of the Orient," of which Mr. Stoddard says, "I
thought, and I think so still when I read these spirited and
picturesque poems, that Bayard Taylor had captured the poetic secret
of the East as no English-writing poet but Byron had. He knew the East
as no one can possibly know it from books."
Certainly these poems of the East have a haunting ring that can never
be forgotten. What more stirring than this Bedouin love song!
From the desert I come to thee
On a stallion shod with fire;
And the winds are left behind
In the speed of my desire.
Under thy window I stand,
And the midnight hears my cry:
I love thee, I love but thee,
With a love that shall not die,
_Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgment
Or what more grand and affectionate than this from "Hassan to his
Come, my beauty! come, my desert darling!
On my shoulder lay thy glossy head!
Fear not, though the barley-sack be empty,
Here's the half of Hassan's scanty bread.
Thou shalt have thy share of dates, my beauty!
And thou know'st my water-skin is free;
Drink and welcome, for the wells are distant,
And my strength and safety lie in thee.
Bend thy forehead now, to take my kisses!
Lift in love thy dark and splendid eye:
Thou art glad when Hassan mounts the saddle,--
Thou art proud he owns thee: so am I.
Let the Sultan bring his boasted horses,
Prancing with their diamond-studded reins;
They, my darling, shall not match thy fleetness
When they course with thee the desert plains!
Let the Sultan bring his famous horses,
Let him bring his golden swords to me,--
Bring his slaves, his eunuchs, and his harem;
He would offer them in vain for thee.
We have seen Damascus, O my beauty!
And the splendor of the Pashas there:
What's their pomp and riches? Why, I would not
Take them for a handful of thy hair!
Another stirring poem of the East is "Tyre."
The wild and windy morning is lit with lurid fire;
The thundering surf of ocean beats on the rocks of Tyre,--
Beats on the fallen columns and round the headlands roars,
And hurls its foamy volume along the hollow shores,
And calls with hungry clamor, that speaks its long desire:
"Where are the ships of Tarshish, the mighty ships of Tyre?"
In his "L'Envoi" at the end of these poems, Bayard Taylor gives us a
hint of his meaning when he spoke of his "southern nature" as
distinguished from his "northern nature."
I found, among those Children of the Sun,
The cipher of my nature,--the release
Of baffled powers, which else had never won
That free fulfillment, whose reward is peace.
For not to any race or any clime
Is the complete sphere of life revealed;
He who would make his own that round sublime,
Must pitch his tent on many a distant field.
Upon his home a dawning lustre beams,
But through the world he walks to open day,
Gathering from every land the prismal gleams,
Which, when united, form the perfect ray.
BAYARD TAYLOR'S FRIENDSHIPS
A biography of Bayard Taylor would not be complete without some
account of his friendships. He was always on the best of terms with
all living beings, and this subtle attraction of his nature was an
important part of his greatness.
In "Views Afoot" he tells of a charming little incident which is
enough in itself to make us love the man. It occurred in Florence,
Italy, where he was a stranger, a foreigner; and this makes the
incident in itself seem the more wonderful. "I know of nothing," he
writes, "that has given me a more sweet and tender delight than the
greeting of a little child, who, leaving his noisy playmates, ran
across the street to me, and taking my hand, which he could barely
clasp in both his soft little ones, looked up in my face with an
expression so winning and affectionate that I loved him at once."
We recall the girl with the tea-cakes whom he met on his first journey
while tramping across New Jersey. There was also something of human
love and fellowship in his familiarity with wild animals in Egypt. In
a free, joyous letter to his betrothed, Mary Agnew, he tells a curious
incident of a similar kind, which occurred while he was editing the
paper at Phoenixville. "On Sunday," says he, "I took [Schiller's] 'Don
Carlos' with me in our boat, and rowed myself out of sight of the
village into the solitude of the autumn woods. The sky was blue and
bright as that of Eden, and the bright trees waved over me like
gorgeous banners from the hilltops. I sat on a sunny slope and read
for hours; it was a rare enjoyment! As I moved to rise I found a
snake, which had crept up to me for warmth, and was coiled up quietly
under my arm. I was somewhat startled, but the reptile slid
noiselessly away, and I could not harm it."
A pretty story is told of Taylor by one who called on him when he was
on one of his lecture tours. He was a stranger in the house of
strangers, and no doubt as much a stranger to the cat as to any of the
people; but it did not take him long to slip into easy intercourse
with men or animals. "I had listened for some time to his intelligent
descriptions, enunciated with extreme modesty in the modulated tones
of his pleasing voice, when Tom, a large Maltese cat, entered the
room. At Mr. Taylor's invitation Tom approached him, and as he stroked
the fur of the handsome cat, a sort of magnetism seemed to be imparted
to the family pet, for he rolled over at the feet of his new-made
friend, and seemed delighted with the beginning of the interview. In
the most natural manner possible, Mr. Taylor slid off, as it were,
from the sofa on which he had been sitting, and assumed the position
of a Turk on the rug before the sofa, playing with delighted Tom in
the most buoyant manner, still continuing his conversation, but
changing the subject, for the nonce, to that of cats, and narrating
many stories respecting the weird and wise conduct of these animals,
which are at once loved and feared by the human race."
He even felt a sort of personal tenderness for the old trees on his
place at Kennett. He said that friends were telling him to cut this
tree and cut that. To him this would have been almost a sacrilege. The
trees seemed to depend on him for _protection_, and they should have
it. Writing from this country home which he had built, he says, "The
birds know me already, and I have learned to imitate the partridge and
rain-dove, so that I can lure them to me."
And Bayard Taylor was the accepted friend of nearly all the
distinguished men of letters of his time. He knew Longfellow, Lowell,
Whittier, and Holmes in Boston, and even in his early years, when he
first went to New York to work, he was able to pay them such flying
visits as he describes in the following to Mary Agnew: "Reached Boston
Sunday morning, galloped out to Cambridge, and spent the evening with
Lowell; went on Monday to the pine woods of Abingdon to report
Webster's speech, and dispatched it to the _Tribune_; got up early on
Tuesday and galloped to Brookline to see Colonel Perkins; then off in
the cars to Amesbury, and rambled over the Merrimac hills with
Whittier; then Wednesday morning to Lynn, where I stopped a while at
Helen Irving's; back in the afternoon to Cambridge, where I smoked a
cigar with Lowell, and then stayed all night at Longfellow's."
In New York his enjoyment of his friends, whom he met often and
familiarly, was of the keenest. Says Mr. R. H. Stoddard, "I recall
many nights which Bayard Taylor spent in our rooms.... Great was our
merriment; for if we did not always sink the shop, we kept it solely
for our own amusement. Fitz-James O'Brien was a frequent guest, and an
eager partaker of our merriment, which sometimes resolved itself into
the writing of burlesque poems. We sat around a table, and whenever
the whim seized us, we each wrote down themes on little pieces of
paper, and putting them into a hat or box we drew out one at random,
and then scribbled away for dear life. We put no restriction upon
ourselves: we could be grave or gay, or idiotic even; but we must be
rapid, for half the fun was in noting who first sang out, 'Finished!'"
The reader will remember Taylor's joy when a boy at receiving the
autograph of Dickens. The time was coming when he should be on terms
almost of intimacy with all the leading poets and writers of London.
"I spent two days with Tennyson in June," he writes to a literary
friend in 1857, "and you take my word for it, he is a noble fellow,
every inch of him. He is as tall as I am, with a head which Read
capitally calls that of a dilapidated Jove, long black hair, splendid
dark eyes, and a full mustache and beard. The portraits don't look a
bit like him; they are handsomer, perhaps, but haven't half the
splendid character of his face. We smoked many a pipe together, and
talked of poetry, religion, politics, and geology.... Our intercourse
was most cordial and unrestrained, and he asked me, at parting, to be
sure and visit him every time I came to England."
A similar tale might be told of his relations with Thackeray and a
score of others.
But an account of his friendships would not be complete without a
reference to Mr. Bufleb, whom he met on his journey up the Nile.
Taylor writes to his mother from Nubia: "I want to speak of the friend
from whom I have just parted, because I am very much moved by his
kindness, and the knowledge may be grateful to you. His friendship for
me is something wonderful, and it seems like a special Providence that
in Egypt, where I anticipated the want of all near sympathy and
kindness, I should find it in such abundant measure. He is a man of
totally different experience from myself: accustomed all his life to
wealth, to luxury, and to the exercise of authority. He was even
prejudiced against America and the Americans, and he confessed to me
that he was by nature stubborn and selfish. Yet few persons have ever
placed such unbounded confidence in me, or treated me with such
devotion and generosity.... For two days before our parting he could
scarcely eat or sleep, and when the time drew near he was so pale and
agitated that I almost feared to leave him. I have rarely been so
moved as when I saw a strong, proud man exhibit such an attachment for
me.... I told him all my history, and showed him the portrait I have
with me [that of Mary Agnew]. He went out of the cabin after looking
at it, and when he returned I saw that he had been weeping."
Surely, there must have been something peculiarly noble and sweet in
Bayard Taylor's nature to have drawn to him so powerfully a man of
another nation and another race. The friendship was lasting, and
Taylor spent many happy weeks at Mr. Bufleb's home in Gotha, Germany.
The latter even bought a little house and garden adjoining his own
estate, which was for the special use of his friend, and he closes the
letter which describes it by saying: "You see how I have written to
you, my dear Taylor. In spite of our long separation and remoteness
from each other, your heart I know could never tell you of any change
in my feelings and thoughts. On the contrary, this _rapport_ which we
enjoy has for me a profound meaning; whilst you were dedicating your
glorious work on Central Africa to me, I was setting in order for you
the most cherished part of my possessions."
With the building of Cedarcroft, and the publication of his "Poet's
Journal," Bayard Taylor's fame and fortune reached their height. The
Civil War was now on the point of breaking out. He entered into the
Northern cause with ardor, and even sold a share of _Tribune_ stock to
raise a thousand dollars with which to fit out his brother Frederick
and provide arms for his neighbors to defend their homes.
But the war put an end to his lectures, and cut off other sources of
his income. In 1862 he was appointed secretary of legation at the
court of St. Petersburg, and not long after was left there as _charge
d'affaires_. The cause of the Union had received some heavy reverses,
and France had invited England and Russia to join her in intervening
between the combatants. But, perhaps owing to Bayard Taylor's
diplomatic skill, Russia refused to take part in such an enterprise
without the express desire of the United States.
About this time, also, Taylor began to write a series of novels, in
the hope of bettering his fortunes thereby. The books brought him some
reputation, but to-day "Hannah Thurston" and "John Godfrey's Fortunes"
are seldom read.
A more important undertaking was his translation of "Faust," which was
accepted abroad as a monument of his scholarship, and remains to-day
one of the best translations into English of the great Goethe's most
Other books of travel were written and published, and various fresh
volumes of poems. During this period of his life he produced most of
his longer descriptive and philosophic poems, such as "The Picture of
St. John," "Lars," and "Prince Deukalion"; but his songs and ballads
have proved more popular than these, though he threw into them all his
energy and ambition.
On July 4, 1876, he delivered his stately National Ode at the
Philadelphia Centennial, and the same year he returned to his desk at
the _Tribune_ office. But failing health compelled him to give up this
drudgery, and in the following year he was nominated United States
minister to Berlin. A grand banquet at which Bryant presided was given
him in New York, on April 4, the eve of his departure; but before the
year was finished he died in Berlin--December 19, 1878.
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