The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman
THE POEMS OF
EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN
EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1888, 1891, 1897, 1901, AND 1905, BY EDMUND C. STEDMAN
COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY LAURA STEDMAN
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
OF THIS FIRST EDITION ONE HUNDRED COPIES HAVE BEEN PRINTED AND BOUND WHOLLY UNCUT WITH PAPER LABEL
In the present volume are collected the poems formerly contained in the Household Edition of "Stedman's Poetical Works" and in "Poems Now First Collected," together with a number of pieces written since the publication of the last-named series. Shortly before his death Mr. Stedman gave directions for the preparation of a new volume, to contain all the poems which he deemed worthy of preservation, rearranged according to subjects, rather than, as is usual in collections of the kind, in the order of their original publication. The editors, in accordance with these instructions, have grouped the various poems, related either by subject or by the occasion which produced them, in eleven sections. Thirteen poems published in previous editions, most of them juvenilia, have been omitted entirely, and three others have been largely pruned. All the pieces published in "Poems Now First Collected" have been preserved, and seventeen, written since that volume was issued, have been included in this definitive edition. Among the latter are "Mater Coronata," the "Hymn of the West," "H. van D.," "To Dr. Waldstein on His Proposal to Excavate Herculaneum," and "John Hay." Translations of the thirteenth and a part of the tenth idyls of Theocritus have been added, not only because of their beauty and the faithfulness of the rendering from the Greek, but as examples of a work which Mr. Stedman had in mind to do and had in part accomplished—a metrical version of the Sicilian Poets, Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus. He was prevented by his other occupations from completing the work, and the two fragments here given are the only ones which he left in shape for publication.
October 5, 1908.
Edmund Clarence Stedman was the elder of the two sons of Edmund Burke Stedman and Elizabeth Clementine Dodge Stedman. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on the 8th day of October, 1833. Of his father, who was a major in the militia and a prosperous lumber merchant, there are few traditions extant, as he died in his thirty-fifth year, after less than five years of married life. He was of good New England stock, and, as his letters show, a devoted husband and father, and an ardent Christian, typical of an era when the religious life was more frankly the topic of talk and letters than it is to-day. Of his mother we know more. Elizabeth Dodge Stedman was a woman whose beauty, magnetism, and vital charm have enriched the traditions of her day. A poet and writer of great promise, if not of great fulfilment, vibrantly sensitive to every form of artistic expression, a temperamental exaltée of the first rank, she was permitted to bequeath to her son that combination of qualities, undefined but unmistakable, which the world has agreed to call by the name of genius. In some yet unpublished memoirs, greatly prized in the family annals, she gives a charming picture of the dawning of the poetic impulse in the baby Edmund: "He was a remarkably precocious child from birth, and a very strange one. As soon as he could speak he lisped in rhyme, and as soon as he could write, which was at the age of six years, he gave shape and measure to his dreams. He was a sedate and solemn baby, indeed he hardly ever even smiled in babyhood and seldom cried. When he was between five and six years, on being put to bed he would get on his knees, bury his head in the pillow, and if told to lie down and go to sleep, would answer, 'Let me alone, please, the poetry is coming.'"
When her son Edmund was six years old Mrs. Stedman married again, her second husband being the Hon. William Burnett Kinney, owner of the Newark "Daily Advertiser," who was shortly after appointed Minister to Sardinia. His wife accompanied him on his mission, leaving her two little sons, Edmund and Charles, in the care of their uncle, James Stedman, of Norwich, Connecticut. Here for fourteen years, and until his emancipation at the age of twenty, the battle was fought and re-fought between the just, but exacting and hot-tempered, guardian, a typical New England Puritan of the last century, and the high-spirited untamable lad, with his sore perception of an alien environment and his defiant struggles for ampler breathing space. Perhaps some such beginning as this was inevitable, and it is idle to speculate what different results a different milieu might have meant for the strong-willed boy. It may be noted in passing that he himself never alluded to those days without a flash of that spirit which renewed his youth to the last: "I was always a come-outer," he would say; "they couldn't do anything with me when I was a youngster, and it wasn't all beer and skittles for them either!" Perhaps pity for the trials of embryo genius need not forbid a pang for those harsh elders of a sterner day than ours, for whom truly it was not "all beer and skittles."
One good may be definitely claimed as a result of James Stedman's rule. The knowledge and love of the classics, both ancient and modern, which his nephew carried through life, was a direct result of his fostering care. This debt was recognized long ago by the late Augustus Rodney Mac, in an article appearing in the old "Scribner's." "Stedman's English," he said, "proves, by the purity of its selection and the neatness and conciseness of its turn, that if the literature of his mother tongue made any part of his training,—and it probably did, under the direction of his uncle, who was a scholar and a jurist,—he was guided to the fountain, and not to the manufacturer's rills." His first long poem, "Purgatorio," written for the Kappa Sigma Theta of his college when he was sixteen years of age, although rightfully to be dismissed under the head of "Juvenilia," is a rapid fire of classical allusion mixed with the coterie-sprach of the college, curiously mature in its immaturity, and already showing that security of beat and rhythm that was never to fail him. In the following year he took the first prize in a Yale literary competition, with a poem in twenty-nine stanzas entitled "Westminster Abbey."
At the age of fifteen Edmund Clarence Stedman entered Yale College. He was suspended at the end of his Sophomore year for a prank that has been too often the subject of dark allusion, yet one so forgivable compared with many forms of youthful outbreak, that after all these years it calls for no veil of silence. He ran away with a travelling theatrical company, taking, it is said, a part in their performances. As a result of this escapade his college was closed to him, though his love for her never weakened, and twenty years later she was proud to restore her brilliant scapegoat to his class membership and give him his degree of Master of Arts.
After a period of private study under a tutor in Northampton, he returned to Norwich and founded the Norwich "Tribune," and in 1853, wnen twenty years old, he married Laura Hyde Woodworth, a beautiful girl of the same age, with whom he lived for more than fifty years and by whom he had two sons, one of whom survived him, and a daughter who died in infancy. With this act Stedman took his fate into his own hands; although only a boy in years, he had given hostages to fortune, and it was not in him to cry for quarter. In 1854 he sold out his interest in the "Tribune" and bought the Winsted "Herald." Of this venture Macdonough says, "The spirit and ingenuity with which Stedman conducted his journal and the novelty of the correct literary tone which he took pains to impart to it, earned him a high reputation through the State." In 1855 he sold out again and moved to New York, where he soon became a member of the "Tribune" staff, besides contributing to the magazines of the day. When the war broke out he went to the front for two years as special correspondent for the "World." He then became private secretary to Attorney-General Bates of Lincoln's Cabinet, combining the duties of this post with the study of law. This proved to be the end of his career as a journalist. At the age of thirty he went into Wall Street, and six years later became a member of the New York Stock Exchange. This he did with the avowed purpose of making it a stepping-stone to the literary life. To quote his own words, "There was no such market for literary wares at that day as has since arisen, and I needed to be independent in order to write and study."
This deliberate choice by Mr. Stedman of a twofold career, so divided in its interests and apparently so antagonistic in its claims as that of poet and banker, has given rise to some critical comment from a portion of his audience, who have chosen to see in it a species of spiritual retreat. To this it may be urged that Mr. Stedman was essentially a man of affairs as well as poet; he was endowed with unusual executive powers, and in becoming a financier he undoubtedly gave scope to a genuine side of his nature. Furthermore, it must be remembered that he "made good," and while still in his early prime had reached his goal—the freedom of a modest competence—and was ready to devote the remainder of his days to literary work. This plan was frustrated by no fault of his own. A tragedy of errors on the part of one in whom he had put his trust undid the work of years and sent him back to an unravelled task,—sent him back with unbroken courage, it is true, but with lessened strength and added responsibilities. If character is to be gauged by the greater tests, then Edmund Clarence Stedman stands high indeed among his fellows for the fine spirit with which, at this supreme juncture, he accepted failure and rejected defeat.
Very soon after his arrival in New York the young writer began to attract the attention of the reading public and to make friends in the literary Bohemia of that day. His life-long friendships with Bayard Taylor, Stoddard, Curtis, Aldrich, Howells, Winter, and others of the guild, date from this time. Three poems published in the "Tribune"—"The Diamond Wedding," "The Ballad of Lager Bier," and "How Old Brown took Harper's Ferry"—captured the popular fancy with their young gusto, and his first volume, "Poems, Lyric and Idyllic," was published in 1860.
Howells, in his "Literary Friends and Acquaintances," gives a sketch of Stedman in these days: "I had already met, in my first sojourn in the capital, a young journalist who had given hostages to poetry, and whom I was very glad to see and proud to know.... I sat by his bed while our souls launched together into the joyful realms of hope and praise. In him I found the quality of Boston, the honor and passion of literature, and not a mere pose of the literary life; and the world knows without my telling how true he has been to his ideal of it. Afterwards when I saw him afoot, I found him of a worldly splendor in dress and envied him, as much as I could envy him anything, the New York tailor whose art had clothed him. I had a New York tailor, too, but with a difference. He had a worldly dash along with his supermundane gifts, which took me almost as much, and all the more because I could see that he valued himself nothing for it. He was all for literature and for literary men as the superior of every one."
Stedman's first book was followed in 1864 by "Alice of Monmouth, an Idyl of the Great War, and other Poems," and in 1869 by "The Blameless Prince, and other Poems." A bare enumeration of his literary output from this time until a few years before his death makes the fact of his divided energy seem almost incredible.
The "Complete Poetical Works" appeared in 1875; "Hawthorne, and other Poems, in 1877; "Lyrics and Idyls, with other Poems," 1879; "Poems Now First Collected," 1894; "Mater Coronata," 1900.
His principal critical works were "Victorian Poets," published in 1875; "Poets of America," 1885; "The Nature and Elements of Poetry" (first delivered at Johns Hopkins University as the inaugural course of lectures for the Turnbull Chair of Poetry, and repeated at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania), 1892.
He edited (in association with T. B. Aldrich) "Cameos from the Poems of Walter Savage Landor"; the "Poems of Austin Dobson"; a "Library of American Literature" in eleven volumes (with Ellen M. Hutchinson), 1888-89; "The Works of Edgar Allan Poe" in ten volumes (with Professor G. E. Woodberry), 1895; "A Victorian Anthology," 1895; "An American Anthology," 1900.
In 1891 Mr. Stedman succeeded Mr. Lowell as president of the American Copyright League. He also served as president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1904 and 1905.
In 1900, after thirty-one years of occupancy, Mr. Stedman gave up his seat on the Stock Exchange. He had already sold his town house and bought another home, named for his wife, the "Casa Laura," in Lawrence Park, Bronxville, a suburb of New York. Increasing years and failing health forbade the daily journey to and fro, and half impatiently, half humorously, he conceded that it was "time to be old and to take in sail." In the years that followed, though the zest of life never forsook him, the hand of destiny weighed heavy upon him. Friend after friend passed away, and each passing shook him sorely, for his loyalties were passions. He lost his wife in the summer of 1905; his eldest son died suddenly six months later. John Hay, Richard Henry Stoddard, T. B. Aldrich, all lifelong friends, were taken in swift succession. Henry Harland and William Sharp, best beloved of his juniors, fell in their prime. His superb vitality waned visibly, though he daily urged himself to the limit of his failing strength, and, well or ill, in work or in leisure, to one claim upon him he offered no resistance,—to the repeated call for guidance and advice from those who would write. The young writer, and especially the young poet, found in him a tireless friend. Erring perhaps, if he erred, in over-optimism, the very fact that youth would be at verse-making endeared it to him; and those who loved him best, loved best of all the cordial gravity with which he took every manuscript thrust at him and set himself to see what could be done about it. The tale of all he did about it will be fully told only in the literary output of the years ahead of us, for he never missed a sign of promise, and fundamentally, for all his leniency, he made no mistakes.
Soon after the death of his wife Mr. Stedman moved back to New York. He took an apartment up-town and settled himself for the last time with his beloved books around him. Here, in spite of loss, ill health, and increasing age, he enjoyed life as only life's inveterate lovers may, and at the end the gods were kind. There came three or four days and nights of unusual well-being and high spirits. The evening before he died some of his near relatives dined with him and his infectious boyish gayety was the life of the occasion. The next day, after a morning devoted as usual to literary work, he called up an old friend over the telephone and demanded that he dine with him, on the plea that his dinner was to be an unusually good one that night. The invitation was accepted, and he made gleeful preparation for an evening of the reminiscent talk that was his favorite form of entertainment. In the middle of the afternoon he fell without a word. "Give me to die unwitting of the day," he had sung: his prayer was granted, and for him who had fenced with death so long and with such gay courage the end came with one swift stroke.