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Congdon, Charles Taber (1821-1891)

Essayist, Journalist, Poet

Born April 7th, 1821 in New-Bedford, Massachusetts, Charles Taber Congdon began his journalistic career early in his life by cleaning the floors of the New Bedford Courier and delivering papers. Describing this period of his life, Congdon states that “a considerable portion of my infant untidiness was of printer's ink” (Congdon 10). Reflecting on these early morning deliveries, Congdon comments that, “the task was easy enough in the cool summer mornings, and I strolled along pleasantly, thinking of the book which I had read the night before, or of the other book which I intended to read in the evening. The very first verses which I wrote-- ‘Ode to Commerce,’ ‘Elegy on the Death of Chatterton,’ ‘The Seasons: in Four Parts’ were meditated during my pedestrian labors” (12-13). Later in 1837 Congdon attended Brown University (he provides details of this experience in his 1880 memoir Reminiscences of a Journalist ), but left the program after three years and returned to New Bedford. There he first worked as a reporter for the Daily Register and later as editor of the Daily Bulletin and associate editor of the Daily Mercury .

In 1857 Horace Greeley personally asked Congdon to come to New York City and work for the New York Tribune . During this time, he became known as "Greeley's right hand man." Other Tribune reporters noted that "Congdon wrote from the head while Greeley wrote from the heart" (J. Lee). Congdon was an avid supporter of the abolitionist movement. He is listed by Louis Starr as one of the Tribune men who "lived to destroy slavery root and branch" and who helped to fill the columns of the Tribune "with allusions like 'the Land of the Legree and the Home of the Slave,' items on runaways and slave auctions culled by the Southern press, [and] indictments of human bondage" (18). While working for Greeley, Congdon also found time to publish articles in Artemus Ward's Vanity Fair , the North American Review , and the Knickerbocker Magazine . Under the alias "Paul Potter," Congdon contributed to the Boston Courier . As a poet, he is best known for "The Warning of War" (1862).

Congdon was acquainted with many of the Bohemians, and he spent a great deal of time with them at Pfaff's. According to Tice Miller, "The low ceilings, walls of stone, stacks of barrels, buxom waitresses, and eccentric clientele" of the Pfaff's basement "reminded journalist Charles T. Congdon of Auerbach's Cellar in Faust" (15). He was also one of the "friendly contributors" to the Saturday Press who "were glad to furnish articles for nothing, being friendly toward the establishment of an absolutely independent critical paper, a thing practically unknown in those days" (Winter, Old Friends 294-295).

William Winter described Congdon as a "fine, erratic genius . . . many years afterward one of my colleagues and friends" (Old Friends 130). Congdon, "beloved by all newspapermen," spent his final years in a hotel near Washington Square in New York City (J.Lee). He died of heart failure in 1891 and was buried in New Bedford, Massachusetts.