1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cullen Bryant

Samuel Kettell, in Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 3:132-33.



William Cullen Bryant is the son of Dr. Peter Bryant of Cummington, Massachusetts, and was born in that place on the third of November, 1794. At ten years, he felt an inclination for poetry, and wrote various pieces in verse, one of which was published in the Hampshire Gazette, at Northampton. In 1810, he entered Williams College, where he studied a year or two, and obtaining a dismissal on his own application, he turned his attention to the law. After completing the usual studies, he was admitted to the bar at Plymouth, in 1815. He removed to New York in 1820, and was one of the editors of the United States Review and Literary Gazette. In 1828, he became associate editor of the New York Evening Post.

Mr. Bryant published in 1808, at Boston, a volume of poems with the title of The Embargo, or Sketches of the Times. Although the author was but fourteen years of age, the book was so well received, that it was reprinted the next year. In 1821, appeared the volume containing The Ages, Thanatopsis and other pieces. He also furnished many of the poetical articles in The United States Literary Gazette.

As a poet, he is entitled to rank with the most eminent among us for originality, and finished, chaste execution. He presents us with here and there a bold image, but the tenor of his poetry is even and sustained. He shows good judgment, and a careful study of the materials of his verse. He does not aim with an over-daring attempt at those lofty and bewildering flights which too often fills the poet's pages with cloudy and confused representations. His delineations are clear and distinct, and without any indications of an endeavor to be startling and brilliant by strange metaphors, or unlicensed boldness of phraseology. His writings are marked by correct sentiment and propriety of diction.

Mr. Bryant stands high in the general estimation, and his works have been the subject of frequent notice. The pages of our periodical criticism show the manner in which he is appreciated by the highest literary authorities. His poetry has been so justly estimated in The North American Review, that were to go into a further analysis of it, we should but repeat in another shape the opinions which that journal has given upon the subject [quotation from No. 51 of the North American Review omitted].