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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE SUBTLE alchemy of Time, which by imperceptible degrees transmutes youth into age, takes us often unawares, and startles us by the completion of the process which we deemed had hardly been begun. Only a few years ago, one thought of our American poets as forming two groups: that of the old men, with Whittier and Holmes as leaders of the chorus, and that of the young singers, with Mr. Stoddard, Mr. Stedman, and Mr. Aldrich in the foremost rank. Now the old poets are no more, and we realize with a sort of surprise that many of the young singers have in their turn passed on. If England came to look upon Mr. Swinburne as an undoubted veteran, America had a still stronger reason for viewing Mr. Stedman in the same light; for he was nearly four years the senior of his English contemporary.  1
  Edmund Clarence Stedman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on the 8th of October, 1833. He entered Yale in 1849, but did not remain with his class to the end. In 1852 he took up the profession of journalism, and followed it with varying fortunes, first in the country, afterwards in New York, for twelve years. During the first period of the Civil War, he acted as a newspaper correspondent from Washington and the Army of the Potomac. In 1864 he obtained a seat in the New York Stock Exchange, and from that time doubled the pursuit of literature with the life of a man of active affairs. His home was in the city of New York until 1896, when he removed to Bronxville for a decade, returning again to New York for his last years.  2
  Mr. Stedman’s first published volume was the ‘Poems, Lyric, and Idyllic’ of 1860. This was followed by ‘Alice of Monmouth and Other Poems’ (1864), ‘The Blameless Prince and Other Poems’ (1869), and ‘Hawthorne and Other Poems’ (1877). The contents of these four volumes were brought together in a ‘Household Edition,’ published in 1884 in a single volume. Meanwhile, he had been devoting a growing amount of attention to critical work, which bore fruit in two important volumes,—‘The Victorian Poets’ (1875), and ‘The Poets of America’ (1886). In 1892, a third volume was added to this section of his works in the shape of the course of lectures on ‘The Nature and Elements of Poetry’ with which he had, in the year preceding, inaugurated the Percy Turnbull memorial lectureship at the Johns Hopkins University. During the year 1897, Stedman published as ‘Poems Now First Collected’ the verse that had accumulated since the appearance of the ‘Household Edition.’ A few words about his activity as an editor and commentator will complete this account of his more important work, although a number of minor publications have been left unmentioned. From 1888 to 1890 he was engaged, in collaboration with Miss Ellen M. Hutchinson, in preparing ‘A Library of American Literature’ in eleven volumes; a work so thoroughly and so conscientiously done, it may be said in passing, that it is not likely to have a rival. In 1895 he brought out, in connection with Professor G. E. Woodberry, the much-needed complete edition of Poe, supplying careful notes and extensive critical essays. In that year also he published his judiciously chosen ‘Victorian Anthology,’ which was followed before long by an ‘American Anthology’ upon a similar plan.  3
  As a poet, Mr. Stedman occupied a very high place in our literature. His earlier work had suggestions of the things he most loved,—of the Tennysonian idyl, the Landorian cameo, the delicate trifling and the “occasional” felicity of Holmes or Mr. Dobson; but it soon became evident that his essential utterance was to be his own, and the expression of a strong alert individuality. Some of his poems—such as ‘How Old Brown Took Harper’s Ferry,’ ‘Pan in Wall Street,’ and ‘Wanted—A Man’—are among the most familiar productions of American authorship. During the dark days of the war he devoted many a well-remembered and fervently patriotic strain to the cause of the Union. And after that, upon many a celebration of civic or social interest, he expressed the dominant ideas and emotions of the occasion in rarely felicitous numbers. His voice was often raised in behalf of many a noble cause; and we find him forty years ago pleading for both Crete and Cuba, at that time struggling to be free. The quality of his genius is mainly lyrical, and his poetical utterance that of an eager clear-sighted spirit, responsive to both natural impressions and the appeal of culture, and finely attuned to all the complex life of the modern world. As a critic, he is in the highest degree suggestive and helpful. His sense of the beautiful in literature is almost unerring, and he stimulates the reader to share in his own raptures. His three volumes of criticism constitute the most important body of opinion that has yet been produced by any one man on the subject of modern English poetry. Other critics have given us purple patches of such discussion; Mr. Stedman alone wove for us a continuous web. And his critical writing combines, in nice adjustment, the two elements that are usually represented by different men. It is at once academic in its deference to the recognized æsthetic standards, and subjective in its revelation of the play of poetry upon a receptive and sympathetic mind,—thus escaping formalism upon the one hand, and inconclusiveness upon the other. It need hardly be added that the mind thus trained in both the composition and the criticism of literature brought almost ideal qualifications to the tasks of editor and anthologist, and that Mr. Stedman’s work in these fields was no unimportant part of his great services to literature.  4
  A more indirect service to the same cause may be made the subject of this closing word. The younger generation of American writers owe Mr. Stedman a debt that is not wholly accounted for by the enumeration of his books. Busy as the exigencies of his twofold life ever kept him, he never proved too busy to extend sympathy and the helping hand of personal criticism and counsel to those who had come to him for aid. Stedman thus gave of himself so freely and so generously that it must have proved in the aggregate a heavy tax upon his energies. But he had the reward of knowing that the tribute paid him as poet and critic by his readers was, to an exceptional degree, mingled with the tribute of the personal gratitude that they feel for him as counselor and friend. He died January 18, 1908.  5
 
 
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