The earliest phase of Edgar Albert Guest’s life reflected the hard times that the poet tried to obscure from, or at least soften for, his readers. He was born in Birmingham, England, the son of Edwin Guest and Julia Wayne—the former a speculator and broker in copper. When the elder Guest’s firm failed in the depression of the late 1880’s, the father emigrated to the United States, settled in Detroit as an accountant for a brewery, and then brought his wife and children over in 1891. Edwin Guest, however, again lost his position, this time in the financial panic of 1893, making it necessary for his eleven-year-old son to perform a variety of after-school jobs—running errands for a butcher and a grocer and attending to soda fountains. In 1895, young Guest secured a part-time job as office boy in the bookkeeping department of the Detroit Free Press; thus began an association that would continue for the next sixty-four years and end only with the poet’s death. Three years later, Edwin Guest died; this meant that young Edgar had to leave high school without a diploma and devote his full energies to assisting in the support of the family.
Fortunately for Guest, circumstances limited his tenure with the accounting department at the Detroit Free Press. A cub reporter’s position became available, and he began work at the news desk; then, on a temporary basis, he filled in at the exchange desk, where he clipped and filed light verse and feature items for future reprinting. Reacting to what he read—or, perhaps, against what he read—Guest began to compose his own filler verse, samples of which he submitted to the Sunday editor, Arthur Mosely. Thus, on December 11, 1898, “Eddie” Guest became a published poet. Other verses, all of a light and highly topical nature, followed; his pieces appeared regularly in a weekly column headed “Chaff,” later to be titled “Blue Monday Chat.” After a short term on the paper’s police beat (which really conditioned him against the negative side of humanity), he moved to the feature desk and began to produce his own daily column of homespun verse and witty observations titled “Edgar A. Guest’s Breakfast Table Chat” (obviously having been influenced by the work of the elder Oliver Wendell Holmes). The column...
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