February 7, 2012

Birth of Hoffman: takes away a hope from life

Born in New York City on February 7, 1806, Charles Fenno Hoffman later had a short-lived career of influence among the New York literati as a novelist, poet, and editor. His life was full of hardship, certainly, and he outlived his fame.

In 1831, however, Hoffman was 25 years old and still unknown. Though he had passed the bar, he only rarely practiced law and instead hoped to become a writer. His poem "Birthday Thoughts" reflects his aspirations and, more importantly, his worry that fame will be fleeting, if it is ever achieved at all:

At twenty-five—at twenty-five,
  The heart should not be cold;
It still is young in deeds to strive,
  Though half life's tale be told;
And Fame should keep its youth alive,
  If Love would make it old.

But mine is like that plant which grew
  And wither'd in a night,
Which from the skies of midnight drew
  Its ripening and its blight—
Matured in Heaven's tears of dew,
  And faded ere her light.

Its hues, in sorrow's darkness born,
  In tears were foster'd first;
Its powers, from passion's frenzy drawn,
  In passion's gloom were nurs'd—
And perishing ere manhood's dawn,
  Did prematurely burst.

Yet all I've learnt from hours rife
  With painful brooding here
Is that, amid this mortal strife,
  The lapse of every year
But takes away a hope from life,
And adds to death a fear.

Despite his youth at the time, Hoffman already pessimistically considers his approaching death. Two years later, Hoffman was one of the founders of The Knickerbocker, a literary magazine that boasted contributions from Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, Fitz-Greene Halleck, and others. Hoffman relinquished his editorial duties to Lewis Gaylord Clark after only three issues. Two years after that, he published his first book, A Winter in the Far West, which documented his travels to Missouri and elsewhere. His work was cut short when, in 1849, he was declared insane.

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