1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Bingham Tappan

Rufus Wilmot Griswold, in Poets and Poetry of America (1860) 199.



The late Rev. WILLIAM B. TAPPAN, the most industrious and voluminous of our religious poets, was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, on the twenty-ninth of October, 1794. His ancestors were among the earliest of the settlers from England, and for one hundred and fifty years had furnished ministers of the gospel in nearly uninterrupted succession. His father was a soldier during the revolution, and afterwards many years a teacher. Upon his death, at Portsmouth, in 1805, WILLIAM, then in his twelfth year, was apprenticed to a mechanic in Boston. He had already acquired an unusual fondness for reading, though the books to which he had access were comparatively few. The Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and The Surprising Adventures of Philip Quarles, constituted his library, and of these he was thoroughly master. At nine years of age he commenced rhyming, and he occasionally wrote verses during his apprenticeship, which lasted, by agreement, till he was twenty. There were then none of the lyceums, apprentices' libraries, Lowell lectures, or other means of self-education which are now so abundant in Boston, and he had no resource for intellectual improvement or amusement, except a neighbouring circulating library, the novels, romances, and poems of which he was never weary of reading. What little he had gained, at home, of the common elementary branches of knowledge, he lost during these years; but, master of his business (which however he never fully loved) and with high hopes, he proceeded to Philadelphia, where there seemed to he an opening for him, in 1815, and permanently established himself in that city. He frequently indulged his propensity to write, but was so diffident of his powers, that until he was twenty-three years old he never offered any thing for publication. He then permitted a friend to give several of his pieces to a newspaper, and was subsequently as much surprised as delighted to find that they were widely copied and much praised. Thus encouraged, he began to look for a more congenial occupation, and determining to become a teacher, entered an academy at Somerville, New Jersey, in his twenty-fourth year, to prosecute the necessary preliminary studies. Unfaltering industry and a strong will, with good natural abilities, enabled him to make very rapid advancement, so that in 1821 he was fairly entered upon his new profession, in which he had prospects of abundant success. In 1822 he was married, and four years later he entered the service of the American Sunday School Union, with which society he was connected the rest of his life, a period of more than quarter of a century. For the prosecution of its business, he resided four years in Cincinnati, and in 1837 removed to Boston. He was ordained an evangelist, according to the forms of the Congregational churches, in 1841, and died at West Needham, Massachusetts, on the eighteenth of June, 1849, greatly respected by all who knew him.

Mr. TAPPAN published his first volume of Poems in Philadelphia, in 1819, encouraged to do so by Mr. ROBERT WALSH, then editor of the American Quarterly Review, and Mr. JOSEPH R. CHANDLER, the accomplished editor for many years of the United States Gazette. He subsequently gave to the public more than a dozen volumes, the contents of which are for the most part included in the five comprising his complete Poetical Works, with his final revisions — The Poetry of Life, The Sunday-school and other Poems, The Poetry of the Heart, Sacred and Miscellaneous Poems, and Late and Early Poems, which appeared in 1848 and 1849. He wrote with great facility, and many of his pieces are pleasing expressions of natural and pious emotion.