1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Willis Gaylord Clark

Charles D. Cleveland, in Compendium of American Literature (1858) 263-64.



WILLIS GAYLORD CLARK was born in Otisco, Onondaga County, New York, in the year 1810. His father was an intelligent farmer, and early saw the indications of that poetic talent which manifested itself in many beautiful effusions while he was yet a youth. After completing his scholastic course, when about twenty years of age, he repaired to Philadelphia, where his reputation as a poet had already preceded him, and under the auspices of his friend, the Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely, D.D., he commenced a weekly miscellany, similar in its design and character to The Mirror of New York. He soon found, however, that the profits were disproportioned to the labor, and was induced to abandon it. He then assumed, in conjunction with the Rev. Dr. Brantley, the charge of the Columbian Star, a religious and literary periodical of a high character. While connected with this, he published numerous fugitive pieces of very decided merit.

After being associated a few years with the editor of the Colombian Star, he was solicited to take charge of the Philadelphia Gazette, one of the oldest and most respectable daily papers of the city. He ultimately became its proprietor, and conducted it with great ability to the time of his death. In 1836, he was married to Anne Poyntell Caldcleugh, a lady of great personal attractions and rare accomplishments. But of a naturally delicate constitution, consumption soon marked her for his prey, and after a period of protracted suffering she was taken away in the very prime of her youth and happiness. The blow fell with a crushing weight upon her husband, and from this time his health gradually declined. He continued, however, to write for his paper until the last day of his life, the 12th of June, 1841.

"Mr. Clark's distinguishing traits are tenderness, pathos, and melody. In style and sentiment he is wholly original; but, if he resemble any writer, it is Mr. Bryant. The same lofty tone of sentiment, the same touches of melting pathos, the same refined sympathies with the beauties and harmonies of nature, and the same melody of style, characterize, in an almost equal degree, these delightful poets. The ordinary tone of Mr. Clark's poetry is gentle, solemn, and tender. His effusions flow in melody from a heart full of the sweetest affections, and upon their surface is mirrored all that is gentle and beautiful in nature, rendered more beautiful by the light of a lofty and religious imagination. He is one of the few writers who have succeeded in making the poetry of religion attractive. Young is sad, and austere, Cowper is at times constrained, and Wordsworth is much too dreamy for the mass; but with Clark religion is unaffectedly blended with the simplest and sweetest affections of the heart. His poetry glitters with the dew, not of Castalia, but of heaven. No man, however cold, can resist the winning and natural sweetness and melody of the tone of piety that pervades his poems" [American Quarterly Review 22:462].