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Taylor, Bayard (1825-1878)

Essayist, Lecturer, Novelist, Poet, Translator, Travel Writer, War Correspondent

Born in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania, Bayard Taylor's ancestors were Quakers with ties to William Penn. Taylor began writing poems as a child and served an apprenticeship at the West Chester Village Record. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, editor of Graham's Magazine, encouraged Taylor to publish his first volume of poetry, Ximena (1844). He traveled to Europe soon after; before leaving, he visited New York and met Nathaniel Parker Willis, a frequenter of Pfaff's and an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe. Willis introduced him to Horace Greeley and later wrote an introduction to Views Afoot (1846), Taylor's account of his experiences abroad. Taylor's excursion, for which he wrote letters detailing his travels and experiences, was funded by the Saturday Evening Post, the United States Gazette of Philadelphia, and the New York Tribune (Van Doren, "Bayard Taylor").

In the wake of his successful book, Taylor spent some time in Pennsylvania running the Gazette (rechristened the Pioneer) and then returned to New York in December 1847, possibly following Willis' suggestion that he "[b]e willing to go in at a small hole, like a lean rat, trusting to increase so much that you cannot be got out without destroying what took you in. This is fair play, where the property of an establishment is made by your underpaid industry. The town is full of five-dollar-a-week men, but they don't stand at all in your way. Your book has made you a name which would give your union to any paper great value" (Willis, "Personal Letter" 101). Taylor took this advice to heart, writing to New York editors including Horace Greeley, Rufus Griswold, and William Cullen Bryant. While in New York Taylor contributed a weekly column to the Literary World and then managed the literary department at the Tribune. His travels to California, to report on the gold rush, Panama, and Mexico inspired him to publish Eldorado (1850). Taylor resumed his travels after the death of his wife; he left New York in 1851 and traveled in Africa and the East, visiting Egypt, India, China, and Japan. He eventually published three books about his experiences and gave lectures about them as well (Van Doren, "Bayard Taylor").

Embarking on another European excursion in 1856-58, Taylor produced several volumes describing his travels. At this point he remarried and settled down near his childhood home, building a retreat called Cedarcroft. His inherent restlessness led him to serve as a Civil War correspondent for the Tribune in Washington, D. C. His novel, Hannah Thurston (1863), grew out of his diplomatic mission to Russia; it was followed swiftly by two more novels. During this period he embarked upon diverse literary projects, translating Faust (1870-71), teaching German at Cornell University, composing national odes, and writing literary parodies featuring a Bohemian character who resembled Whitman in The Echo Club and Other Literary Diversions (1876). Upon his death in 1878, he lay in state in New York's city hall and was buried in Pennsylvania; this death brought "a keen sorrow" to Aldrich, who discusses Taylor's death in a letter, "...My heart is heavy just now with the death of Bayard Taylor, my dear friend, without a cloud, for twenty-five years. It is like losing an arm. It is worse than that -- it is losing a loyal heart. He was a man without guile" (Greenslet 136). Though originally recognized as a poet, Taylor is recognized today chiefly for his travel writing and his novels.