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Bristed, Charles Astor (1820-1874)

Essayist, Journalist, Novelist

Charles Astor Bristed was born in New York City to Rev. John Bristed and Magdalen Astor, daughter of John Jacob Astor II. He was educated by tutors until age fifteen when he entered Yale College. After graduating in 1839, Bristed spent another year pursuing graduate work at Yale before transferring to Trinity College in Cambridge, England. He graduated in 1845 and then took time off to travel through Europe.

After returning to the United States Bristed began writing, occasionally using the pseudonym Carl Benson. As Benson, Bristed regularly contributed to Wilkes's Spirit of the Times . Algernon Tassin called Bristed "a writer for American magazines, who was what few New York writers of the period were, a cosmopolitan with a point of view limited neither to America nor to Broadway" (150). Though not a very active member within Pfaff’s, we do know that Bristed was interested in the Bohemian movement. Joanna Levin asserts that though Bristed translated the German ballad, “Three Gypsies,” (a ballad that appeared within the Knickerbocker ) he was a “writer only tangentially acquainted with the ‘gypsy camp’ at Pfaff’s (17). Bristed’s connection to the Bohemians seems to be connected more with his moderate class origins. For Bristed desired to introduce his readers to “the real respectable, fashionable exquisite part of New York society, the very cream of cream” (Bristed 37). During this period, Bristed also published a number of standalone works, including Selections from Catullus, for School Use (1849), A Letter to the Hon. Horace Mann (1850), The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of American Society (1852), Five Years in an English University (1852), Pieces of a Broken-Down Critic (1858), Now is the Time to Settle It (1862), No Surrender (1863), The Cowards' Convention (1864), The Interference Theory of Government (1867), Anacreontics (1872), and On Some Exaggerations in Comparative Philology (1873).

Generally speaking, Bristed's writing "showed a trained mind and fastidious taste, but considerable self-consciousness. His desire for accuracy caused too great detail and timidity in drawing conclusions from facts" (Bowerman). Between writing projects Bristed found time to marry. He married Laura Brevoort in 1847 and, after her death in 1860, Grace Sedgwick in 1867. He spent most of his final years in Washington, D. C. "where he was known in literary circles as a scholar and to his friends as a hospitable but not indiscriminate host" (Bowerman).