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Stoddard, Richard Henry (1825-1903)

Editor, Journalist, Literary Critic, Poet

Richard Henry Stoddard's early years were rather Dickensian. After his sea-captain father was lost at sea, Stoddard endured a life of poverty that led him to move with his mother to New York City in 1835. There he worked at a number of odd jobs before being employed, at age eleven, in an iron foundry. An autodidact who read voraciously in his youth, Stoddard published his first book of poems, Footprints (1849), after befriending Bayard Taylor--who introduced Stoddard to his future wife, Elizabeth Drew Barstow, herself an author of both fiction of poetry. He published another volume of poems in 1852 and started contributing to the Knickerbocker. He also made the acquaintance of Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1853. It was Hawthorne who helped Stoddard secure a position at the New York Custom House, where he was employed from 1853 to 1870 (J. Derby 600). During this time he also worked as a literary critic for the New York World and contributed to the Round Table as well.

Some sources place Stoddard at Pfaff's as part of the Bohemian crowd, while Stoddard himself said in his 1903 memoir, Recollections, Personal and Literary: "I never went inside the place. Once I walked down the steps and stood at the door. I saw Walt Whitman and others inside, but through diffidence or some other feeling, I did not enter" (qtd. in Parry 59). Stoddard even attempted to "wean" his "valued friends" O'Brien, Stedman, and Taylor away from Pfaff's: "O'Brien resisted successfully, and died tragically, but Stedman and Taylor were easily led into respectability" (Parry 59). Joanna Levin describes Stoddard as one of the "mainstays of the 'genteel tradition'" who occasionally visited Pfaff's and later tried to dissociate himself from the group. This group's association with the Pfaffians "helped define the genteel Bohemianism that would come into fashion in the 1870's and 1880's" through their "antipathy towards bourgeois materialism" (21).

Whether he was a Pfaffian or not, Stoddard had much to say about Walt Whitman. In his Poets' Homes: Pen and Pencil Sketches of American Poets and Their Homes he positively reviewed several of Whitman's poems, including "Song of Myself" and "O Captain! My Captain!," which appeared in the Saturday Press. The relationship between Whitman and Stoddard soured, however, after Stoddard harshly reviewed William Douglas O'Connor's biography of Whitman, The Good Gray Poet in the Round Table.