Frederic Ogden Nash was born in a suburb of New York and was raised in various East Coast cities where his father’s business moved. He completed high school in Newport, Rhode Island, and spent a year at Harvard before financial pressures drove him to seek work. He held a series of jobs in New York—teaching, selling, and writing advertising copy—before landing a job in publishing with the firm of Doubleday. He began writing humorous poems in 1929, contributing them to the daily newspaper column written by Franklin P. Adams.
Nash’s light humor was a tonic for hard times, as the United States entered a decade of economic depression. In 1930, he sold his first poem to The New Yorker, averse comment on the war on “smut” recently waged by a senator named Smoot. Senator Smoot came from Utah (commonly abbreviated Ut.), but the endless stream of rhymes came from Nash. Soon he was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, where he appeared alongside great humorists such as James Thurber and S. J. Perelman. He was paid the princely sum of one dollar a line for his verses. Before long he was ready to collect a treasury of Nash; he wanted to call it a “trashery of Nashery,” but his publishers found a more conventional title for this highly unconventional writer.
Nash married in 1931, after having published a first volume of poetry, and enjoyed a happy family life as the father of two loving daughters. After a second volume appeared, he left his job in publishing to devote his time to writing. Thereafter he commanded top dollar for his occasional poems, which appeared in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Harper’s, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. He also made frequent appearances on radio and television. As he and the century approached middle age, he realized that he spoke for a large number of Americans. His fame brought him contracts to edit anthologies and allowed him to help out struggling poets. However, he realized with some bitterness that he was a victim of his own success, always commissioned to write more “Nashery,” and would never become a “major” poet.
To the end, Nash remained a typical American: a proud grandparent; a world traveler by rail and ship, though never by air; and a reluctant user of medical services. He kept up with the new names in modern culture and wrote a poem on the existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre for The New Yorker when he was nearing his own end (“One Man’s Opium,” 1970). He died from a massive stroke after surgery in 1971.
Although Frederic Ogden Nash was probably the most popular, best-selling writer of verse in the twentieth century United States, he received little serious critical attention because he limited himself to light, particularly comic, verse. In the course of four decades, Nash wrote thirty volumes of verse, not counting his poetry for children, and several volumes were published after his death. He began writing poetry for The New Yorker magazine when, under editor Harold Ross, it was establishing its reputation for urbane, sophisticated literary wit—a reputation Nash helped to create.
Though born in Rye, New York, in 1902, Nash’s family moved back and forth between Rye and Savannah, Georgia, the sites of the two offices of his father’s naval stores business. Nash attended various schools and was for a while educated at home by his mother because of a deterioration in his eyesight. At age fifteen he was sent to St. George’s boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island, and matriculated to Harvard University in 1920, though he left after his freshman year.
Family connections secured for Nash entry-level jobs on Wall Street, which he hated. The only writing job he could find was producing advertising copy for streetcar signs. When he and his friend published a children’s book in 1925, the publisher, Doubleday, asked him to work in their advertising department. While at Doubleday, Nash began selling poems to Harold Ross at The New Yorker , who lured him away...
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