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Shepherd, Nathaniel Graham (1835-1869)

N.G., Daisy
Artist, Illustrator, Poet

Nathaniel Graham Shepherd (also Shepard) was born in New York City and grew up to study poetry there. Little information remains about his early life, but Shepherd was an artistically inclined youth. In pursuit of artistic growth, he moved to Georgia for a number of years to teach drawing. Upon returning to New York, Shepherd made his livelihood in the insurance business while still pursuing poetry in his leisure time. Among his better-received poems are "The Dead Drummer-Boy," "The Roll-Call," and "A Summer Reminiscence." Theater critic and Pfaff's biographer William Winter states that Shepherd's name is one among a list of "names that shine, with more or less lustre, in the scroll of American poets, and recurrence to their period affords opportunity for correction of errors concerning it, which have been conspicuously made" (Old Friends 292).

Shepherd was given to card playing and strong drink, frequently passing his time in raucous and sometimes violent company. In a June 25, 1859 edition of the Saturday Press, editor Henry Clapp printed two poems by Thomas Aldrich and Shepherd. The two poems shared a title and some resemblances in the opening stanzas. According to Clapp, such similarities constituted “obvious plagiarism” and he admonished Shepherd not to try to publish with the Saturday Press in the future (“Literary Notes,” The Saturday Press, June 25, 1859). After hearing of the accusation, Shepherd wrote to Clapp “hinting at cowhiding the hideous little editor” if he did not withdraw the accusation. Shepherd’s friends Cahull and Arnold confronted Clapp in person and “bullied” him with similar threats (Gunn Diaries vol. 11 pg 83-84). In an “Explanation,” printed on July 19, Clapp recanted his previously accusations of Shepherd as “entirely unfounded” (“Explanation,” The Saturday Press, July 19, 1859) Shepherd continued to publish with the Saturday Press for several years.

Winter names Shepherd as one of the Bohemians who frequented Pfaff's Cave and calls him "one of the most picturesque of human beings, a man of genius, whose poems, never yet collected, ought to be better known than they now are,--[who] was seldom absent from the evening repast, a festivity in which, contrary to general belief, the frugality of poverty was ever more clearly exhibited than the luxury of riches or the prodigality of revel" (Old Friends 88, 65). Shepherd was also later mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News" (Current Literature 479). Like fellow Pfaffian Theodore Winthrop, Shepherd served as a Civil War correspondent, penning accounts for the New York Tribune. Unlike Winthrop and Fitz -James O'Brien, he managed to survive the war.