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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Albert Henry Smyth (1863–1907)
 
BAYARD TAYLOR was born in Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania, January 11th, 1825. The story of his life is the history of a struggle. His career began in humble circumstances, and ended in splendor. The love of letters was awakened in him in childhood; he yielded passionate homage to the great names of literature. When he was seven years old he grieved over the death of Goethe and of Scott, and in the same year (1832) composed his first poems. His early surroundings tended to repress his enthusiasms. He inherited two strains of blood, German and English. By the first he was related to the Lancaster Mennonites who had migrated from East Switzerland, and who spoke the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect; by the other he was kin to the seventeenth-century Mendenhall family of Wiltshire, and the Cheshire Taylors. He was raised in a Quaker atmosphere which suppressed imagination and emotion. When he was nineteen years old, he said he felt as if he were sitting in an exhausted receiver, while the air which should nourish his spiritual life could only be found in distant lands. The courage, restless curiosity, and push of the country lad found a way to finer air. He published in 1844 a little volume of poems called ‘Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena.’ With the small profits of this literary venture, and a few dollars advanced by Philadelphia editors, Bayard Taylor, in company with two friends, left New York July 1st, 1844, bound for Liverpool. For two years he traveled on foot through Europe, eagerly studying the memorials of art and history, enduring every hardship and privation, often penniless and hungry, never without hope and courage, and always welcoming returning joy.  1
  “Born in the New World, ripened in the old,” Berthold Auerbach said of him. This first tramp trip abroad was symbolic of his whole life. It showed splendid energy, and acute sensibility; and it was really Bayard Taylor’s university education, supplying the deficiencies of his simple life and country schooling. Although a safe and at times brilliant literary critic, and although his wide reading qualified him for the professorship of German literature at Cornell University, he was not a scholar. He was never sure of his Latin, and Greek he did not begin to study until he was fifty. His education came largely from travel; he picked his knowledge from the living bush.  2
  It was as a traveler that he was most widely known, though it was the reputation that he least cared for. His great success as a public lecturer was largely due to his fame as a traveler. He published eleven books of travel, beginning with ‘Views Afoot, or Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff’ (1846),—a work so popular that it went through twenty editions in ten years.  3
  N. P. Willis introduced Bayard Taylor to the literary society of New York; and before the end of January 1848, Horace Greeley offered him a situation on the Tribune. In one capacity or another he continued to serve the Tribune until his death; and he was one of the most eagerly industrious and prolific writers on the staff. For the Tribune he visited California in 1849; and his letters from the gold fields were republished in ‘Eldorado, or Adventures in the Path of Empire.’  4
  Two years of distant travel, in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, proceeding by the White Nile to the country of the Shillooks, gave him the materials for ‘A Journey to Central Africa,’ ‘The Lands of the Saracen,’ and ‘A Visit to India, China, and Japan.’  5
  Subsequent journeys resulted in ‘Northern Travel,’ ‘Travels in Greece and Russia,’ ‘At Home and Abroad,’ ‘Colorado: a Summer Trip,’ and ‘Byways of Europe.’ The chief merit of Taylor’s books of travel is reporterial. They tell of adventure, of courage and persistence. They make no pretense to antiquarian knowledge, they attempt no theory or speculation; but simply and vividly they tell the visible aspects of the countries they describe. Architecture, scenery, and habits of life, stand in clear outline, and justify the criticism that has named Bayard Taylor “the best American reporter of scenes and incidents.”  6
  Bayard Taylor’s literary triumphs were not made in English literature alone. His inclinations were toward German life and letters. Goethe was his chief literary passion. Like him he yearned after “the unshackled range of all experience.” The calm self-poise and symmetrical culture of Goethe fascinated him. He craved intellectual novelty, and continually wheeled into new orbits; seeking, as he wrote to E. C. Stedman, “the establishing of my own Entelecheia—the making of all that is possible out of such powers as I may have, without violently forcing or distorting them.” Astonishing versatility is the chief note of his life and of his inclusive literary career. He was famous as a traveler, and successful as a diplomatist in Russia and in Germany. To his eleven volumes of travels he added four novels, several short stories, a history of Germany, two volumes of critical essays and studies in German and English literature, a famous translation of ‘Faust,’ and thirteen volumes of poems comprising almost every variety of verses,—odes, idyls, ballads, lyrics, pastorals, dramatic romances, and lyrical dramas.  7
  For seven years he worked upon his translation of ‘Faust,’ which he completed in 1870. The immense difficulties of the poem he attacked with unresting energy, and with a singularly intimate knowledge of the German language. He undertook to render the poem in the original metres, and in this respect succeeded beyond all other translators. The dedication ‘An Goethe’ which Taylor published in his translation is a masterpiece of German verse. It can stand side by side with Goethe’s own dedication without paling a syllable. Taylor was completely saturated with German literature; and in his lectures upon Lessing, Klopstock, Schiller, and Goethe, his illustrative quotations were the genuine droppings from the comb. He was widely read and appreciated in Germany. When he delivered in German, at Weimar, his lecture upon American literature, the whole court was present; and among his auditors were the grandchildren of Carl August, Goethe, Schiller, Herder, and Wieland. When he was minister to Berlin, every facility was given him to pursue those studies in the lives of Goethe and Schiller which would have resulted in the crowning work of his life, but which were destined never to be completed.  8
  It was partly with the hope of working a lucrative literary vein that would take the place of the repugnant lecturing trade, that he turned his attention to the novel. ‘Hannah Thurston’ and ‘The Story of Kennett’ are attempts to interpret the life of his native region in Pennsylvania. The beautiful pastoral landscapes of the Chester valley, and the homely life of its fertile farms, he dwells affectionately upon; but the curious crotchets and fads of the Quaker community in which he grew up are ridiculed and rebuked. Spiritualism, vegetarianism, teetotalism, and all the troop of unreasoning “isms” of the hour, enter into the plot of ‘Hannah Thurston.’ ‘John Godfrey’s Fortunes’ is constructed out of the author’s literary and social experiences in New York about 1850, and is to a considerable extent autobiographical.  9
  Bayard Taylor’s darling ambition was to be remembered as a poet. However he might experiment in other fields of literature, and however enviable the distinctions he might win in statecraft and in scholarship, nothing could reconcile him to the slightest sense of failure in his poetic endeavor. He had real lyric genius, as is abundantly shown in the ‘Poems of the Orient’: ‘The Bedouin Song’—paralleled only in Shelley—and ‘The Song of the Camp’ are two lyrics that will last as long as anything in American poetry. The sadness of Bayard Taylor’s life was its frustrated purpose. It was a full and happy life as a whole, for his work was a joy to him, and he dwelt always in an atmosphere of generous and noble thoughts; yet the reward often seemed inadequate to the high endeavor. He had a generous plan of life, he was ambitious for himself and family. He acquired a large estate, and built an expensive house,—Cedarcroft,—at Kennett Square, and lived an open, generous, hospitable life. Involved in heavy domestic expenses, he never knew the value of freedom. His life became a struggle for the means to live, and he had neither time nor opportunity to refine his exquisite sense of lyric harmony.  10
  He planned great poems like ‘Prince Deukalion’ and ‘The Masque of the Gods,’ which insensibly convey the impression of vast movements in human affairs, of the strange stirrings of nations and races, but which are distinctly poems of the intellect. He had splendid rhetoric, and his verse was sonorous, resonant, and at times—as in the ‘National Ode’—stately. Had he devoted himself to song, he would have been a noble poet; but he had a dozen kinds of talent, and he had restless curiosity and ambition. His health failed under the stress of labor and the strain of care. In 1878 he was appointed minister to Germany. At last success seemed to be attained, and the long struggle was over. But his vital powers were overtaxed. He took the ovations of his friends with an abandon which left him physically exhausted long before he sailed. He died in Berlin, December 19th, 1878.  11
 
 
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