April 3, 2010

Irving and Bryant

William Cullen Bryant paid homage to his fellow New York writer Washington Irving in honor of the latter's birthday on April 3, 1860. Irving had died only five months earlier and Bryant was invited to present a speech by the New York Historical Society. He began:

We have come together, my friends, on the birthday of an illustrious citizen of our republic, but so recent is his departure from among us, that our assembling is rather an expression of sorrow for his death than of congratulation that such a man was born into the world. His admirable writings, the beautiful products of his peculiar genius, remain, to be the enjoyment of the present and future generations.

As early as 1827, Irving showed an appreciation for Bryant's poetry. In a letter to his friend Henry Brevoort, he wrote, "I have been charmed... with what I have seen of the writings of Bryant," calling him one of the "masters of the magic of poetical language."

Irving and Bryant were both members of the Bread and Cheese Club, an informal social group which met at the Washington Hotel on Broadway in New York. Other members included the poet Fitz-Greene Halleck, the politician Gulian Verplanck, and the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.

In 1832, Irving served as the editor to the collected Poems of William Cullen Bryant, An American in London. In his dedication, dated March 1832, Irving praised Bryant as "essentially American." The poems, he said, are "characterised... by a purity of moral, an elevation and refinement of thought, and a terseness and elegance of diction." The highest praise Irving could offer was saying Bryant's poems appear "to belong to the best school of English poetry" and added that if the British liked Cooper, they'd love Bryant.

*The images depict a young Washington Irving (upper image) and a young William Cullen Bryant (lower image).

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