Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: As a poet, Bryant is often described as a transitional figure because of his fluency in exploiting Romantic themes drawn from nature in conventional neoclassical verse forms. In his half-century as an editor for the New York Evening Post, he was a vigorous spokesman for American liberal thought.
William Cullen Bryant was born November 3, 1794, in Cummington, Massachusetts. His father, Dr. Peter Bryant, was a physician who left Cummington to escape his debts soon after Bryant was born. When he returned two years later, the precocious child had already begun to read the Bible under the tutelage of his mother, née Sarah Snell, and her father, who was a noted deacon in the Congregationalist church. The child was reared in an atmosphere of Calvinist piety and sober devotion to literature.
Bryant wrote his first notable poem when he was ten years old, a fifty-four-line celebration of American education composed for the commencement exercises at his school. In 1808, when the Embargo Act was creating a violent national controversy, he wrote a twelve-page poem, “The Embargo,” attacking Thomas Jefferson—a piece of youthful invective that the mature Bryant, a Jeffersonian Democrat, came to regret. Bryant continued to write verses and to study under tutors, and, in 1810, he entered Williams College. By then, Bryant was already known as a poet, a reputation romantically enhanced by his...
(The entire section is 1917 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
William Cullen Bryant was born on November 3, 1794, in Cummington, Massachusetts, to Peter Bryant and Sarah Snell Bryant. The poet enjoyed a close family life and, from an early age, benefited from the positive influences of both parents, as well as from those of his maternal grandfather, Ebenezer Snell. The latter’s Calvinist influence, though muted, is evident in the language of the poetry and in the recurrent image of an angry God threatening retribution for humankind’s sins. His mother’s gentler religious influence bore directly on his precocity as a reader in general, and of the Bible in particular, at the age of four. Bryant was later to remember those conducting the religious services of his very early childhood experiences as “often poets in their extemporaneous prayers.”
A counter, and as time passed more prevailing, influence was that of his liberal physician father, Peter Bryant, who encouraged the poet in his early experiments with satires, lampoons, and pastorals. Under that encouraging tutelage, Bryant published his first poem of substance, “The Embargo,” in 1808, at the age of thirteen; three years later, he set about translating the third book of the Aeneid. In 1817, Peter Bryant took copies of several of his son’s poems to his friend Willard Phillips, one of the editors of the North American Review. “Thanatopsis” and one other poem were published immediately in the journal’s September issue....
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
William Cullen Bryant spent his childhood under the opposing influences of his father, a liberal-minded physician who later became a Unitarian and a member of the state legislature, and his maternal grandfather, a sternly Calvinist farmer who was a deacon in the local church. Bryant, a precocious boy, showed an early interest in politics, religion, and literature, and his first volume of poetry, The Embargo: Or, Sketches of the Times, a Satire, was published before his fourteenth birthday. The principal poem in this volume, “The Embargo,” written in heroic couplets, attacked President Thomas Jefferson in all the ways that were current in New England at the time, to which he added a number of pious clichés in a childish imitation of the technique of Alexander Pope.
Bryant was also interested in nature and spent many hours roaming through the fields and woods near his home in western Massachusetts. His poetry gradually changed from measured heroic couplets to a style and diction more like those of William Wordsworth. He wrote several versions of the famous “Thanatopsis” while still in his teens, but, because the poem expressed many Unitarian ideas, it had to be hidden from his Calvinist grandfather. Bryant wished to study at Harvard University, and his father agreed, but when his grandfather insisted that it would be a needless...
(The entire section is 944 words.)