November 28, 2011

Mr and Mrs Taylor: glad words

"These will be glad words for thee to read, I know, because they are probably the last I shall write to thee from San Francisco," wrote Bayard Taylor on November 28, 1849. The recipient of the letter, Mary Agnew, was engaged to become his wife and hadn't seen Taylor in months. Taylor was in California as a correspondent for the New York Tribune amidst the gold rush. "The stay here has been in the highest degree valuable to myself," he wrote.

He warned Agnew, however, that he would travel through Mexico on his way home, which would deter him for four weeks longer; he predicted he would not see her until February. He assured her he would be safe during the trip. In fact, Taylor made a career off of traveling for the rest of his life, in one form or another. As he broke down his experience as a sojourner in the west in this letter to his betrothed:

I wish thou couldst see me as I am now, — fat, brown, and rough as a mountaineer, heavier by fifteen pounds than I ever was before, and with the rugged feeling of health and strength I have so long coveted. I am fitted for three years' encagement in New York, without grumbling. I can make glorious use of my rough experience in this country, as thou shalt see anon. It will give me such a lift as I could not have attained by years of labor at home. 

Sure enough,Taylor wrote of his experience in El Dorado; or, Adventures in the Path of Empire, which is said to have sold 10,000 copies in its first two weeks. "My life is not all roughness here," he assured Agnew. He described the "warm, genial airs, skies soft and blue, sunsets far surpassing Italy, mountains green with springing grass, and glorious moonlights" of life in California. In fact, the experience was invigorating to his health: "Heaven has greatly blessed me, while nearly every one I know has been more or less ill. I have enjoyed from the first the most vigorous and exulting health."

After returning home, Bayard Taylor and Mary Agnew married in October 1850, though she was already sick with the disease that would kill her. "My future has tumbled into ruin," he wrote to his friend George Henry Boker shortly before his wife's death. Their married life lasted about two months.

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