Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Halleck, Fitz-Greene
|←Hallam, William||Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography
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|Edition of 1892. Written by Jas. Grant Wilson. See also Fitz-Greene Halleck on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.|
HALLECK, Fitz-Greene, poet, b. in Guilford, Conn., 8 July, 1790; d. there, 19 November, 1867. His ancestors were among the earliest of the Pilgrim fathers. Some literary admixture was in his blood from both his paternal and maternal ancestry, he being descended from Peter Halleck, or Hallock, who landed at New Haven in 1640, and with eleven other heads of families settled at Southhold, on the eastern shore of Long Island, and on his mother's side from the Rev. John Eliot, the pious “Apostle to the Indians,” who arrived in Boston in 1631. The future poet was sent to school when he was six years of age; and when he was seven he took part in one of the public exhibitions, or “quarter-days,” as they were called in Connecticut — an honor not usually accorded to lads of his tender years. Said a venerable lady who was present: “He was the brightest and sweetest-looking lad I ever saw, and so intelligent and gentle in his manner that every one loved him.” He was no sooner taught to write than he took to rhyming. As one of his school companions remarked, “He couldn't help it.” In an old writing-book, dated 1802, on a page opposite to some juvenile verses, appears the following title, showing that the schoolboy indulged in dreams of literary distinction, “The Poetical Works of Fitz-Greene Hallock.” Two years later, when fourteen years of age, he changed the spelling of his name from Hallock to Halleck, and, having completed his studies by passing through the four departments which then existed in New England schools, he in 1805 entered the store of his kinsman, Andrew Eliot, of Guilford, with whom he remained as a clerk for six years, residing in his family, in accordance with the custom of that day. Here he learned to keep accounts by double-entry, and soon took entire charge of the books. They were kept in a correct, and business-like manner, were well written, for even at that early date Halleck wrote a neat and dainty hand; and it is related that the only mistake ever discovered in the young clerk's book-keeping at Andrew Eliot's was in opening duplicate accounts in the ledger with the same person.
In the spring of 1808 Halleck made his first visit to New York, being sent on business by Mr. Eliot. During his three days' sojourn he attended the Park theatre, where he saw young Oliff, the actor, afterward introduced by him in two of the “Croakers,” and also had pointed out by his companion the young banker Jacob Barker and John Jacob Astor, little thinking at the time that nearly all the business portion of his life would be associated with these prominent men. During the summer of the same year Halleck joined the militia, and was soon made a sergeant, filling the position to the satisfaction of his associates. His experiences in the Connecticut militia, as well as his later campaign with
“Swartwout's gallant corps, the Iron Grays,”
was a never-failing source of fun with him, both in his conversation and in his correspondence. During the following winter he opened an evening-school for instruction in arithmetic, writing, and book-keeping, and by thus adding to his limited income was enabled to indulge his passion for the purchase of books. Among his earliest and most prized possessions of this character were Campbell's poems, a copy of Burns, and Addison's “Spectator.” In May, 1811, Halleck left his native town to seek after fame and fortune in New York, and in June entered the counting-room of Jacob Barker, in whose service he remained for twenty years. In the spring of 1813 he became acquainted with Joseph Rodman Drake. The young men immediately became attached friends, ever after maintaining an intimacy severed only by death, an event that was mourned by the survivor in those tender and touching lines, so universally admired, beginning:
“Green be the turf above thee.”
In 1819 they formed a literary partnership, and produced the humorous series of “Croaker” papers. Of this satirical and quaint chronicle of New York life, Halleck in 1866 said that “they were good-natured verses, contributed anonymously to the columns of the New York ‘Evening Post,’ from March to June, 1819, and occasionally afterward.” The writers continued, like the authors of Junius, the sole depositories of their own secret, and apparently wished, with the minstrel in Leyden's “Scenes of Infancy,” to
|“||Save others' names, but leave their own|
In the latter part of 1819 Halleck wrote his longest poem of “Fanny,” an amusing satire on the fashion, follies, and public characters of the day, which was the perpetual delight of John Randolph. The edition was soon exhausted, and a second, enlarged by the addition of fifty stanzas, appeared early in 1821. The following year he visited Europe, and in 1827 published anonymously an edition of his poems, two of the finest in the collection, “Alnwick Castle” and “Burns,” having been suggested by scenes and incidents of foreign travel. This volume also included his spirited lyric of “Marco Bozzaris.” In 1832 Halleck entered the office of John Jacob Astor, with whom he remained until 1849, when, the millionaire having died and made him rich with an annuity of “forty pounds a year,” the poet retired to his native town, and took up his residence with his unmarried sister in an ancient house built in 1786 on ground formerly belonging to the Shelleys, ancestors of Percy Bysshe Shelley. In this fine old mansion (see illustration), where Halleck lived for so many years, he wrote the admirable poem “Connecticut,” “Lines to Louis Gaylord Clark,” and his latest poetical composition of “Young America,” published in 1864. These, with a few translations from the French, German, and Italian, are the only fruits of his pen after his retirement to Guilford. When in 1866 a wealthy admirer wrote to the poet for a view of his country-seat, to be engraved for a privately printed edition of “Fanny,” Halleck, whose limited means did not permit him to possess the mansion mentioned in this notice, being merely a tenant, and who had too much manliness of character to allow any glorification of his poverty, replied: “I am gratefully sensible of the compliment your proposition as to the sketch pays me: but you must pardon me for begging that it may not be carried into effect, for, although born here in Connecticut where, as Lord Byron says of England, ‘men are proud to be,’ I shall never cease to ‘hail,’ as the sailors say, from your good city of New York, of which a residence of nearly fifty years made me a citizen. There I always considered myself at home, and elsewhere but a visitor. If, therefore, you wish to embellish my poem with a view of my country-seat (it was literally mine for every summer Sunday for years), let it be taken from the top of Weehawk Hill, overlooking New York, to whose scenes and associations the poem is almost exclusively devoted.”
In October, 1867, Halleck visited New York for the last time. He remained a week, but was too unwell to accept any invitations, which were always numerous on his semi-annual excursions to the city, and only left his hotel twice, to call upon his physician and for a short stroll on a sunny afternoon with the writer, to whom on parting he said with prophetic words: “If we never meet again, come and see me laid under the sod of my native village.” He lingered for a few weeks, and passed away, with his attached sister by his side, during the following month. Three days later he was laid by the side of his father's grave in the Guilford cemetery. On the eightieth anniversary of Halleck's birth, the ceremonies took place in his native town which dedicated the imposing granite obelisk erected in his honor by Bryant, Longfellow, Sumner, Whittier, and many others of the most eminent men of the country — the first public monument raised to an American poet. (See illustration on page 47.) A portion of the programme was an appreciative address by Bayard Taylor and a lyric written for the occasion by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
|“||He sleeps; he cannot die!|
|As evening's long-drawn sigh,|
|Lifting the rose-leaves on his peaceful mound,|
|Spreads all their sweets around,|
|So, laden with his song, the breezes blow|
|From where the rustling sedge|
|Frets our rude ocean's edge,|
|To the smooth sea beyond the peaks of snow,|
|His soul the air enshrines, and leaves but dust below!”|
Another honor was paid to Halleck's memory by the erection in the Central park, New York, of a full-length bronze statue, the first set up in the New World to a poet. (See illustration.) It was unveiled in May, 1877, by the president of the United States, who with his cabinet, the general of the army, and many eminent citizens, including the poets Bryant, Boker, and Bayard Taylor, were escorted from the residence of Halleck's biographer to the Central park by the 7th regiment. Appropriate addresses were delivered by the venerable Bryant and William Allen Butler, and a spirited poem read, written by John G. Whittier. The following year a sumptuously printed “Memorial of Fitz-Greene Halleck” was issued, containing the addresses and poems delivered at the monument and statue celebrations, together with numerous portraits of the poet and other illustrations.
Of Halleck's poetical writings it has been well said that brilliancy of thought, quaintness of fancy, and polished energy of diction have given them a rank in American literature from which they will not soon be displaced even by the many admirable productions of a later date. In spicy pungency of satire, and a certain eloquence and grace of manner, without an approach to stiffness or formality, they have few parallels in modern poetry. Their tone is that of a man of the world, handling a pen caustic and tender by turns, with inimitable ease, leaving no trace of the midnight oil, though often elaborated with exquisite skill, and entirely free from both the rust and the pretension of recluse scholarship. Mr. Halleck was a man of a singularly social turn of mind, delighting in gay and cordial fellowship, brimming over with anecdote and whimsical conceits, with remarkable power of narration, unfeignedly fond of discussion and argument, and frequently carrying his ingenuity to the extreme verge of paradox. His personal bearing was in a high degree impressive and winning. His presence had a wonderful charm for almost all classes of persons. His wit, while keen and biting at times, was never ill-natured, and only severe when directed against ignorant and pompous pretension. The statements that have been frequently made since the poet's death in reference to his having become a convert to the Roman Catholic faith are erroneous. He was born, lived, and died in the Protestant Episcopal church, of which he was a member, having been confirmed in his youth, and he was buried from Grace (Episcopal) church, Guilford. “What men,” says Humboldt, “believe or disbelieve is usually made a subject of discussion only after their death after one has been officially buried, and a funeral sermon has been read over one.” So it was with Fitz-Greene Halleck. Halleck's portrait was painted by Jarvis, Morse, Inman, Waldo, Elliott, and Hicks. He published “Fanny” (New York, 1819; 3d ed., enlarged, 1821); “Alnwick Castle, with other Poems” (1827; 2d ed., enlarged, 1836; 3d ed., enlarged, 1845); “Fanny and other Poems” (1839); “The Poetical Works of Fitz-Greene Halleck, now first Collected,” illustrated with steel engravings (8vo, 1847); “The Poetical Works of Fitz-Greene Halleck” (12mo, 1852; new ed., 12mo and 24mo, 1858); “The Croakers,” by Halleck and Drake, No. 16, Bradford club series (1860); “Young America, a Poem” (1865). After his death appeared “The Poetical Writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck, with Extracts from those of Joseph Rodman Drake,” edited by James Grant Wilson (three editions, 18mo, 12mo, and 8vo, 1869). Halleck edited “The Works of Lord Byron in Verse and Prose, including his Letters, Journals, etc., with a Sketch of his Life” (1834); and “Selections from the British Poets” (1840). See articles and addresses by Frederick S. Cozzens, Evert A. Duyckinck, Henry T. Tuckerman, and William Cullen Bryant (1868-'9); “The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck,” by James Grant Wilson (two editions, 12mo and 8vo, 1869); “Fitz-Greene Halleck,” by Bayard Taylor (“North American Review,” July-August, 1877); and Wilson's “Bryant and his Friends” (1886). — His sister, Maria Halleck, b. in Guilford, 19 July, 1788; d. there, 21 April, 1870. She was the poet's only sister, and the last of her family. There is nothing more beautiful in literary biography than the devoted attachment that existed between Halleck and his sister — an attachment and devotion not surpassed by that existing between Charles and Mary Lamb. They were constant correspondents during the poet's career in New York, and when he left the great city in 1849 it was to return to his native place, and to reside with his accomplished sister until they were separated by death. She now sleeps by his side in Alderbrook cemetery, with ivy brought from Abbotsford growing on her grave. One of the inscriptions on the monument, seen in the illustration on a previous page, records her name and the year of her birth and death. Miss Halleck possessed those rare conversational powers that characterized the poet, and very strongly resembled him in disposition as well as in personal appearance.