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Writings of Gulian C. Verplanck. The venerable poet spoke of his friend, as in previous years he had spoken of their contemporaries, Thomas Cole, the painter, and the authors Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Fitz-Greene Halleck. These charming orations, together with various addresses, including those made at the unveiling of the Shakespeare, Scott, and Morse statues in the Central Park, were published in 1872 in a volume worthy of being possessed by all Bryant's admirers.
The literary life which began more than sixty years ago was crowned by his translations of Homer. He was more than threescore and ten, when he set himself to the formidable task of adding another to the many translations of the “Iliad” and "Odyssey." The former occupied most of his leisure hours for three years, and the latter about two ; being completed when Mr. Bryant was well advanced in his seventy-seventh year. The opinion has been pronounced by competent critics that these will hold their own with the translations of Pope, Chapman, Newman, or the late Earl Derby, of which latter Halleck said to the writer that “it was an admirable translation of the “ Iliad' with the poetry omitted !” *
To the breakfast-table at Roslyn I remember that Mr. Bryant one day brought some pages in manuscript, being his morning's work on Homer ; for, like Scott, he was always an early riser, and by that excellent habit he gained some hours each day. That Bryant, Bayard Taylor, and Longfellow should have, during the past decade, simultaneously appeared as translators of Homer, Goethe, and Dante, and that their work should compare favorably with any previous renderings into English of “Faust," the “Divina Commedia," and of the “Iliad" and " Odyssey," is certainly a striking illustration of advancing literary culture in the New World.
In 1873 Mr. Bryant's name appeared as the editor of “Picturesque America, a handsome illustrated quarto published by the Appletons ; and the latest prose work with which he was associated is a History of the United States,” now in course of publication by the Scribners, the second volume having been completed shortly before Mr. Bryant's death, the residue of the work remaining in the hands of its associate author, Sidney Howard Gay.
To the readers of this memoir a topic of especial interest will be Mr. Bryant's connection with the volume which incloses it—"The Library of Poetry and Song.” This began in 1870, with the origination of the book in its octavo form, and continued with constant interest, through the reconstruction and enlargement of the work in its more elaborate quarto form until its completion in 1878. His own words best show how it happened that Mr. Bryant became the sponsor of this book, which in its various editions has already taken his name into nearly a hundred thousand American homes. "At the request of the publishers," he says, “I undertook to
* Of Mr. Bryant's translations of the “ Iliad” and the Odyssey” the Athenæum remarks: "These translations are with Mr. Bryant, as with Lord Derby, the work of the ripened scholarship and honorable leisure of age, and the impulse is natural to compare the products of the two minds. Mr. Bryant's translations seem less laboriously rounded and ornate, but perhaps even more forceful and vigorous, than Lord Derby's ;" while the Lon
، don Times expresses the judgment that his performance fell flat on the ears of an educated audience, after the efforts of Lord Derby and others in the same direction."
write an Introduction to the present work, and in pursuance of this design I final that I have come into a somewhat closer personal relation with the book. In its progress.it has passed entirely under my revision.
I have, as requested, exercised a free hand both in excluding and in adding matter according to my judgment of what was best adapted to the purposes of the enterprise." Every poem took its place after passing under his clear eye. Many were dropped out by him ; more were suggested, found, often copied out by him for addition. In the little notes accompanying his frequent forwarding of matter to the publishers, he casually included many interesting points and hints of criticism or opinion : “ I send also some extracts from an American poet who is one of our best-Richard H. Dana.”' “I would request that more of the poems of Jones Very be inserted. I think them quite remarkable." “Do not, I pray you, forget Thomson's Castle of Indolence, the first canto of which is one of the most magnificent things in the language, and altogether free from the faults of style which deform his blank verse. lines are pretty enough, though there is a bad rhyme--toes and clothes ; but I have seen a similar one in Dryden--clothes pronounced as cloes--and I think I have seen the same thing in Whittier."
He was not a man given to humorous turns, yet he was not deficient in the sense of the comical. In forwarding some correction for an indexed name, he writes :
It is difficult always to get the names of authors right. Please read the inclosed, and see that Mrs. be not put into a pair of breeches." In specifying some additional poems of Stedman's for insertion, he says :
"I think Alectryon' a very beautiful poem. It is rather long. Old Admiral ’ should go in—under the head of 'Patriotism? I think; or, better, under that of "Personal.' The Door Step’ is a poem of “ Love ;' but it is pretty enough for anywhere," etc. “I do not exactly like the poem' To a Girl in her Thirteenth Year,' on account of the bad rhymes ; nor am I quite pleased with Praed's 'I remember, I remember,' printed just after Hood's—it seems to me a little flippant, which is Praed's fault.” The scrupulous care which Mr. Bryant exercised in keeping the compilation clean and pure was exemplified in his habitual name for it in correspondence and conversation-“The Family Book ;' ** The Family Library.” He writes: “I have made more suggestions for the omission of poems in the humorous department than in any other ; several of them being deficient in the requisite literary merit. As to the convivial poems, the more I think of it the more I am inclined to advise their total omission."
When the book appeared in 1870, it met with an instant and remarkable popular welcome, selling more than twenty thousand copies during the first six months, which, for a book costing five dollars in its least expensive style, was certainly unusual. In 1876 it was determined to give the work a thorough revision, although it had been from time to time benefiting by the amendments sent by Mr. Bryant or suggested by use. Mr. Bryant took a keen interest in this enlargement and reconstruction, and, as stated in the Publisher's Preface to the quarto edition, it " entailed upon him much labor, in conscientious and thorough revision of all the material-canceling, inserting, suggesting, even copying out with
his own hand many poems not attainable save from his private library ; in short, giving the work not only the sanction of his widely honored name, but also the genuine influence of his fine poetic sense, his unquestioned taste, his broad and scholarly acquaintance with literature.” Both the octavo and the quarto editions now contain his much-admired Introduction, in the form of an essay on " The Poets and Poetry of the English Language." Of this, Edmund Clarence Stedman, in an admirable paper on Bryant as “The Man of Letters," contributed to The Evening Post since the poet's death, says : “ This is a model of expressive English prose, as simple as that of the Spectator essayists and far more to the purpose. Like all his productions, it ends when the writer's proper work is done. The essay, it may be added, contains in succinct language the poet's own views of the scope and method of song, a reflection of the instinct governing his entire poetical career.
Bryant's prose has always received high commendation. A little collection of extracts from his writings has been compiled for use in schools, as a model of style. The secret of it, so far as genius can communicate its secrets, may be found in a letter addressed by Mr. Bryant to one of the editors of the Christian Intelligencer, in reply to some questions, and published in the issue of that journal, July 11th, 1878:
It seems to me that in style we ought first, and above all things, to aim at clearness of expression. An obscure style is, of course, a bad style. In writing we should always consider not only whether we have expressed the thought in a manner which meets our own comprehension, but whether it will be understood by readers in general.
“ The quality of style next in importance is attractiveness. It should invite and agreeably detain the reader. To acquire such a style, I know of no other way than to contemplate good models and consider the observations of able critics. The Latin and Greek classics of which you speak are certainly important helps in forming a taste in respect to style, but to attain a good English style something more is necessary--the diligent study of good English authors. I would recur for this purpose to the elder worthies of our literature --to such writers as Jeremy Taylor and Barrow and Thomas Fuller-whose works are perfect treasures of the riches of our language. Many modern writers have great excellences of style, but few are without some deficiency.
“I have but one more counsel to give in regard to the formation of a style in composition, and that is to read the poets—the nobler and grander ones of our language. In this way warmth and energy is communicated to the diction and a musical flow to the sentences.
I have here treated the subject very briefly and meagrely, but I have given you my own method and the rules by which I have been guided through many years mostly passed in literary labors and studies.”
Quite recently the writer has seen a document which, in these days of international copyright agitation, is of some interest. It runs thus : The British and American Copyright League is an association having for its object the passage of an International Copyright Law in America and in England, and in favor of such other countries as are willing to reciprocate, which shall secure to authors the same control over their own productions as is accorded to inventors, who, if they so elect, can patent their inventions in all the countries of Europe. This is the first organized atteinpt that has been made to bring about this very desirable result. As a preliminary step, it is proposed to get the approval of those immediately interested, and your signature to the inclosed circular is therefore respectfully requested." This is signed " Wm. C. Bryant, Secretary of the British and American Copyright League.” The “inclosed circular”' is a brief declaration of approval of the efforts of the League to secure the passage of an international copyright law, and bears the signatures of Bryant, Longfellow, Emerson, Whittier, Garrison, Beecher, Holmes, Mrs. Stowe, Miss Alcott, Prof. Dana, Howells, Aldrich, and other well-known authors. This excellent beginning was made in 1873, but for some reason was not pushed to any practical outcome. It was, however, one of the signs of the change now becoming manifest.
On Mr. Bryant's eightieth birthday he received a congratulatory letter with its thousands of signatures, sent from every State and Territory of his native land, followed soon after by the presentation, in Chickering Hall, New York, in the presence of a large and appreciative audience, of a superb silver vase, the gift of many hundred admirers in various portions of the country. This exquisite and valuable specimen of American silver work is now in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Standing before it, the spectator may fitly recall those noble lines of Keats upon a Grecian urn :
shall this generation waste
A few months later, the venerable poet presented to the citizens of Roslyn a new hall and public reading-room, having previously given one to his native town. It was the wish of his fellow-citizens that the handsome hall should be named in honor of Mr. Bryant ; but as he proposed that it should be known simply as “The Hall,'' that title was bestowed upon it by popular acclamation.
The “Centennial Ode," written by Bryant for the opening of the International Exposition at Philadelphia, is worthy of the great fame of its author. Another of his recent compositions, and one of his noblest, elicited from a prominent foreign journal the following mention : "The venerable American poet, who was born before Keats, and who has seen so many tides of influence sweep over the literature of his own country and of England, presents us here with a short but very noble and characteristic poem, which carries a singular weight with it as embodying the reflection of a very old man of genius on the mutability of all things, and the hurrying tide of years that cover the past as with a flood of waters. In a vein that reminds us of " Thanatopsis,' the grand symphonic blank verse of which was published no less than sixty-one years ago, Mr. Bryant reviews the mortal life of man as the ridge of a wave ever hurrying to oblivion the forms that appear on its surface for a moment.” In this worthy companion to “ Thanatopsis," written in his eighty-second year, the poet strikes the old familiar key-note that he took so successfully in his greatest poem in 1812, in “ The Ages” in 1821, and again in “ Among the Trees” in 1874. It originally appeared in Scribner's Magazine, and was subsequently pub
lished by the Putnams as a holiday gift-book in beautiful form, artistically illustrated by Linton, the famous engraver, from his own designs. It is entitled “ The Flood of Years.'
“A MIGHTY HAND, from an exhaustless urn,