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Bayard Taylor

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) achieved wide fame, yet never reached the distinction at which he aimed. He was renowned as a traveler and descriptive writer, was much sought as a lecturer, but he wished to be known as a great poet. He was born at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, of Quaker parents, learned to set type, and early showed strong desire for travel. At the age of twenty, after publishing a poem called "Ximena," he set sail for Europe, and supported himself during two years' wandering by writing letters to American newspapers. His "Views Afoot, or Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff" (1846) proved very popular. It led to his success as a popular lecturer, and to an engagement as writer for the "New York Tribune." On behalf of this paper he went on new travels to California, Russia, Syria, Central Africa, the Land of the Midnight Sun, India, China, and Japan. Ten more books of travel followed the first, besides "Rhymes of Travel," "California Ballads," "Poems of the Orient." His novels, "Hannah Thurston" and "A Story of Ken-nett" were intended to exhibit the scenery and life of his native Chester county in his own day and in the Revolutionary period. "John Godfrey's Fortunes" is partly auto-biographical, showing his early experience in New York city. But all the while Taylor was cherishing his ambition to be a great poet. He published altogether thirteen volumes of verse in a great variety of styles, from ballads to dramatic romances. His most laborious undertaking was the translation of Goethe's "Faust" in the original meters, and in this he was successful beyond the utmost expectations of critics. He married as his second wife a German lady and had indeed become perfectly saturated with German ideas. He wished to realize in himself the noble intellectual life of Goethe. When he was appointed American Minister to Germany in 1878, it seemed that his desire to write adequate biographies of Goethe and Schiller would be fulfilled, but his health had already failed and he died in Berlin in December of that year. His two great poems are "Prince Deukalion," which recites dramatically the progress of civilization, and "The Masque of the Gods," which shows vast movements in human affairs. His long narrative poem, "Lars," is a pastoral of Norway. But he was at his best in short lyrical pieces, whether relating to his native Pennsylvania, or to the distant Orient.

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