Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879, to Garrett and Margarethe Stevens in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father’s law practice was sufficient to support the large family, which included Stevens’s older brother, younger brother, and two sisters, but not as well as Garrett Stevens would have wished. Constantly working to supply his family’s needs, he transferred to the young Wallace Stevens his sense that a man’s primary responsibility was to do well materially and support his family adequately. His mother, a strongly Christian woman who belonged to the Dutch Reformed church, provided her son with a respect for religious faith (though as a young man he rejected the practice of her religion) and a sense of the spiritual.
Growing up in Reading near the end of the nineteenth century, Stevens took part in all the activities available to the relatively privileged child. His earliest letters (home from summer camp in his teen years) show his powers of observation, his penchant for intellectual and word games, and his precocious and extensive reading. In 1897, he enrolled in Harvard College as a special student and tried to reconcile his father’s wish for him to be a lawyer with his own desire (or even compulsion) to write. The excitement of the Harvard intellectual atmosphere caught him up: He took classes from Irving Babbitt, had long conversations with George Santayana, and wrote poetry for the Harvard literary magazine. In 1900, he allowed his own inclinations to rule in defiance of paternal demands and went off to New York to become a journalist.
Although he worked both for The New York Tribune and as a freelancer, he was not able to support himself comfortably through journalism. After some months of struggle, he enrolled in New York Law School. The year he finished his law studies and was admitted to the bar, 1904, was also the year he met his future wife, Elsie Moll....
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