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Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833-1908)

Banker, Editor, Journalist, Literary Critic, Poet, War Correspondent

Born in Connecticut, Stedman’s merchant father died leaving the small child in the care of his mother, maternal grandfather, and lawyer uncle. Stedman’s childhood passed between his grandfather’s New Jersey farm and his uncle’s Connecticut residence. Much of Stedman’s literary education likely came from his mother, who herself was an author of both verse and essay. Stedman’s juvenilia consists of poetry inspired by the Romantics and Tennyson. He attended Yale University but was expelled after a youthful indiscretion. During this period he got married and began editing The Norwich Tribune and then the Mountain County Herald, after which he moved to New York and made a brief foray into the clock-making business (E. Bates "Stedman").

Around 1859, Stedman's poetry became popular and he made the acquaintance of several members of the Pfaff's coterie: travel writer Bayard Taylor, editor Richard Henry Stoddard, novelist and poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich, theater critic William Winter, and Walt Whitman. Stedman maintained a close friendship with Richard Henry Stoddard and his wife, Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard, throughout his life. When Richard Stoddard died in 1903, Stedman had spent the last year living with and helping care for the late author (“Richard Henry Stoddard,” Outlook, 217). Along with Henry Clapp and Edward Howland, Stedman founded the Saturday Press in 1858 (T. Miller 26). He joined the staff of the New York World in 1860. He was less than impressed with his job as a journalist. At one point he remarked that being a newspaper reporter "is a shameful to earn a living" (qtd. in L. Starr 6). At the outbreak of the Civil War, he became a war correspondent, but his experiences during the war did not change his opinion of newspaper journalism, and he quit in 1863.

He returned to New York City and embarked upon a career in the banking industry. He eventually opened his own brokerage firm and remained active in this occupation (despite the disapproval of the Bohemian crowd) all his life. He did not, however, give up his writing career; he published in a variety of venues, including Vanity Fair, Putnam's, Harper's, Scribner's, and the Atlantic Monthly. Stedman also contributed poems or "interesting literary essays" to the New York Independent and the North American Review (J. Derby 531). Stedman later helped craft the canon of British and American literature by editing several large literary anthologies. He devoted a full thirteen pages to Walt Whitman in his Library of American Literature (all other writers received no more than three pages) (G. Allen 534). He also wrote introductions for reprinted editions of Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard's work (J. Barry 184). Away from the publishing world, Stedman founded the Authors' Club and headed the American Copyright League and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Reflecting on their friendship, William Dean Howells stated that, in Stedman, "I found the quality of Boston, the honor and passion of literature, and not merely a pose of the literary life; and the world knows without my telling how true he has been to his ideal of it. His earthly mission then was to write letters from Washington for the New York World, which started in life as a good young evening paper, with a decided religious tone, so that the Saturday Press could call it the Night-blooming Serious" ("First Impressions" 70-71).

In 1877, Stedman visited Jersey City and renewed his acquaintance with Walt Whitman, whom he had met years earlier at Pfaff's. Gay Allen notes that after this visit Stedman "became an admirer and defender of the poet - though not always sufficiently ardent to satisfy him during his last years" (479). In the fall of 1880, Stedman wrote one the most important articles published about Whitman for Scribner's Magazine. Stedman attempted to "praise [Whitman] judiciously," but he could not avoid criticizing Whitman's use of sex and sexual imagery. Whitman seems to have been divided in his reaction, but never fully trusted Stedman afterward (490). Percy Boynton claims that in Stedman's critical work on Whitman "[h]e wrote no single essay which better demonstrated his wisdom, his sanity, and his charming suavity of mind and manner than his discussion of Walt Whitman. Although he felt a native distaste for much of Whitman's writing and for the way most of it was done, he succeeded in applying a fair mode of criticism, and he did it in the manner of an artist and not as a counsel for the plaintiff. Instead of beginning with cleverness and ending with truculence Stedman did himself the honor of coming out magnanimously with '...there is something of the Greek in Whitman, and his lovers call him Homeric, but to me he shall be our old American Hesiod, teaching us works and days'" (334).