1902 Encyclopedia > Bayard Taylor

Bayard Taylor
American author

BAYARD TAYLOR (1825-1878), one of the most pro-lific among American authors, was bom at Kennett Square in Chester county, Pennsylvania, on January 25, 1825. The son of a well-to-do farmer, he received his early in-struction in an academy at West Chester, and, later, at Unionville. At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to a printer in West Chester. A little volume, published in 1844 under the title Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and other Poems, brought its author a little cash; and indirectly it did him better service as the means of his introduction to Tlie New York Tribune. With the money thus obtained, and with an advance made to him on account of some journalistic work to be done in Europe, " J. B. Taylor " (as he had up to this time signed himself, though he bore no other Christian name than Bayard) set sail for the East. The young poet spent a happy time in roaming through certain districts of England, France, Germany, and Italy; that he was a born traveller is evident from the fact that this pedestrian tour of almost two years cost him only ¿£100. The graphic accounts which he sent from Europe to The New York Tribune, The Saturday Evening Post, and The United Slates Gazette were so highly appreciated that on Taylor's return to America he was advised to throw his articles into book form. In 1846, accordingly, appeared his Views Afoot, or Europe seen with Knapsack and Staff. This pleasant book had considerable popularity, and its author now found himself a recognized man of letters; moreover, Horace Greeley, then editor of the Tribune, placed Taylor on the staff of that journal, thus securing him a certain if a moderate income. His next journey, made when the gold-fever was at its height, was to California, as correspondent for the Tribune; from this expedition he returned by way of Mexico, and, seeing his opportunity, published (1850) a highly successful book of travels, entitled Eldorado, or Adventures in the Path of Empire. Ten thousand copies were said to have been sold in America, and thirty thou-sand in Great Britain, within a fortnight from the date of issue. Bayard Taylor always considered himself native to the East, and it was with great delight that in 1851 he found himself on the banks of the Nile. He ascended as far as 12° 30' N. lat., and stored his memory with count-less sights and delights, to many of which he afterwards gave expression in metrical form. From England, towards the end of 1852, he sailed for Calcutta, proceeding thence to China, where he joined the expedition of Commodore Perry to Japan. The results of these journeys (besides his poetical memorials, to which reference will be after-wards made) were A Journey to Central Africa, or Life and Landscapes from Egypt to the Negro Kingdoms of the Nile (1854); The Land of the Saracens, or Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily, and Spain (1854); and A Visit to India, China, and Japan in the Year 185S (1855). On his return (1854) from these various journeyings he entered, with marked success, upon the career of a public lecturer, delivering addresses in every town of importance from Maine to Wisconsin. After two years' experience of this lucrative profession, he again started on his travels, on this occasion for northern Europe, his special object being the study of Swedish life, language, and literature. The most noteworthy result was the long narrative poem Lars, but his " Swedish Letters" to the Tribune were also re-published, under the title Northern Travel (1857). In October 1857 he married Maria Hansen, the daughter of the well-known German astronomer. The ensuing winter was spent in Greece. In 1859 Taylor once more traversed the whole extent of the western American gold region, the primary cause of the journey lying in an invitation to lecture at San Francisco. About three years later he entered the diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St Petersburg, and the following year (1863) became charge d'affaires at the Bussian capital. In 1864 he returned to the United States and resumed his active literary labours, and it was at this period that Hannah Thurston, the first of his four novels, was published. This book had a moderate success, but neither in it nor in its successors did Bayard Taylor betray any special talent as a novelist: some of his characters are faithful studies from life, and he could describe well the aspects of nature,—but a good deal more than this is necessary for the creation of noteworthy romances. In 1874 he went to Iceland, to take part in the centennial celebration which was held in that year. In June 1878 he was accredited United States minister at Berlin. Notwithstanding the resistless passion for travel which had always possessed him, Bayard Taylor was (when not actually en route) sedentary in his habits, especially in the later years of his life ; and at Berlin he aggravated a constitutional liver affection by too sedulous devotion to literary studies and pursuits, in the intervals of leisure from his diplomatic duties. His death occurred on the 17th of December, only a few months after his arrival in Berlin.
The main drawback to the widespread acceptance of Bayard Taylor's poetry as a whole is its perpetual diffuseness. His most ambitious productions—his Masque of the Gods (1872), Prince Dcukalion (1877), The Picture of St John (1865), Lars (1873), and The Prophet (1874)—are marred by a ceaseless effort to overstrain his power. Lars is the least likely of his longer poems to survive any length of time: it lacks the grandiose eloquence and impressive " adjuncts " of the Masque or Prince Dcukalion, wdiile in theme and treatment it is, at most, only sedately agreeable. The Poems of the Orient contains his most genuinely satisfactory poetic writings. But probably long after even the most familiar of the poems just mentioned have ceased to be popular, when even the Views Afoot and Eldorado no longer hold the attention of the numerous public interested in vividly narrated experiences of travel, Bayard Taylor will be remembered by his poetic and excellent translation of Faust. Taylor felt, in all truth, "the torment and the ecstasy of verse"; but, as a critical friend has written of him, "his nature was so ardent, so full-blooded, that slight and common sensations intoxicated him, and he estimated their effect, and his power to transmit it to others, beyond the true value." He felt life as perhaps only the poetic temperament can experience the beaut}' of the world; single words thus became for him so charged with poetry that he overlooked the fact that to most people these were, simply in themselves, mere abstract terms—sunshine, sea, spring, morning, night, and so forth. Thus a stanza having absolutely nothing original or striking or even poetic in it would, because born of him, seem to be poetry unadulterate : to his mind, each line, each word, was charged with delightful significance, therefore —so he felt—wTould be so also to the sympathetic reader. He had, from the earliest period at which he began to compose, a distinct lyrical faculty : so keen indeed was his ear that he became too insistently haunted by the music of others, pre-eminently of Tennyson. But he had often a true and fine note of his own. His best short poems are "The Metempsychosis of the Pine" and the well-known Bedouin love-song, the latter a stirring lyric that ought assuredly to endure. In his critical essays Bayard Taylor had himself in no inconsiderable degree wdiat he wrote of as " that pure poetic insight which is the vital spirit of criticism." The most valuable of these prose dissertations are the Studies in German Literature.

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