Gamaliel Bradford was the eighth in descent from colonial leader Governor William Bradford and the third Gamaliel in the family whose only son did not survive him. His father rebuilt the family fortune, wrote tracts and letters on political and financial matters, and bequeathed his son a fine library but very poor health.
A dropout from Harvard in his first year, the semi-invalid recluse in 1886 married into another long-established family. Helen Hubbard Ford Bradford created for him a scholarly retreat in their home ten miles from Boston. They had one son and one daughter.
Gamaliel Bradford was always interested in literature, but his own novels, plays, and poems were unsuccessful. He thereupon fashioned himself a career as a “psychographer,” originating a genre, as he defined it, of “condensed, essentially artistic presentation of character . . . a soul picture.” He haunted the library of the Athenaeum Society and in his later years, despite long periods of hypochondriacal illness, published one book a year. Critics consider his greatest book to be Damaged Souls, perhaps, as Newton Arvin suggested, because he himself was one. His journal, which was published after his death, suggests that he was “a quite recognizable younger contemporary of Henry Adams,” but his literary method was more like that of Henry James. He sought to extract the essentials, the motives, the permanent, and the vital from the souls he investigated. His letters reveal a wide range of reading and a quick interest in affairs of the world, and he numbered among his correspondents (though not among his acquaintances) Robert Frost, H. L. Mencken, Bliss Perry, Henry Seidel Canby, and Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Critic John Macy thought him a truly balanced mind with a rich, generous nature. Bradford was described by a contemporary as a “little, gray-bearded, bald-headed recluse with a large inherited fortune, no health, bad nerves, and an inquiring mind.”