June 12, 2010

Clark: Farewell to life!

Barely in his 30s at the time of his death on June 12, 1841, Willis Gaylord Clark is hardly a well-remembered figure in American literary history. His contemporary writers might be surprised. Washington Irving recalled that the short career of Clark was "useful, honorable, popular... and he has left behind him writings which will make men love his memory and lament his loss." Rufus Wilmot Griswold predicted that his writings would "long be remembered for their heart-moving and mirth-provoking qualities." Edgar A. Poe implied that Clark should be counted the first of Philadelphia poets.

Clark began his journalistic career with the New York Mirror, then the Columbian Star, and the Philadelphia Gazette. It was in Philadelphia that he met Anne Poyntell Caldcleugh, whom he married in 1836. Soon, however, she was sick with tuberculosis and died shortly after marriage. Clark was deeply affected — especially when he began showing symptoms of the disease as well. His poetry became distinctly morbid, including his poem "The Dying Poet." Its second-to-last stanza reads:

Farewell to life! its morning hour
  Was like a golden paradise;
Hope sprang like some luxuriant flower,
  Where youth's enchanted visions rise!
I have had peace — its hour was brief:
  I have had care — it lingered long!
Joy's tree sent down its faded leaf,
  On Pleasure's lip expired the song!

Some of his last works, signed with the name "Ollapod," were newspaper columns about his observations on life, literature, and sentiment. These "Olladopania," which proved very popular, were published by his twin brother Lewis Gaylord Clark (pictured).

After the death of Willis, Lewis stepped up his presence in the literary world, especially in New York.Years earlier, he purchased the floundering Knickerbocker magazine (first edited by Charles Fenno Hoffman). He served as its editor until 1861. Lewis also oversaw the publication of The Literary Remains of Willis Gaylord Clark (1844).

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