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Wallace, William Ross (1819-1881)

Lawyer, Poet

Poet William Ross Wallace was born in Kentucky to a Presbyterian minister of Scotch descent. He may have attended Hanover College in 1833-35 before moving to Bloomington, Indiana (Whicher). Wallace’s first printed poem was “The Battle of Tippecanoe” (1837). He practiced in Lexington before relocating to New York City in 1841, where he remained until his death. Wallace married twice and had three children (two daughters and a son); his marriage to his second wife, Miss Riker, was noted by the New York Post in October 1856.

Wallace contributed pieces to Harper’s Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the New York Ledger, Celtic Monthly, the Journal of Commerce, and the Louisville Daily Journal. His popular lyrics, odes, and love songs were collected as Meditations in America, and Other Poems (1851), and his long poetical romance Alban the Pirate appeared in 1848. His work was compared to the Romantic poetry of Shelley and Keats and he is responsible for penning the oft-quoted “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” William Cullen Bryant commended Wallace for his "splendor of imagination" and "affluence of poetic diction” and Poe, taking Wallace as his text, vigorously belabored the New England group for their failure to recognize any merit but their own (Whicher). Wallace’s most lasting poetic works are probably the patriotic poems he wrote in response to the Civil War such as "Keep Step with the Music of the Union" (1861), which achieved widespread popularity when they were set to music.

Wallace's connection to Pfaff's remains unclear. In "Our New York Letter," the author suggests that Wallace may have been a part of the Bohemian Club, which existed in the period after the heyday of Pfaff's; however, this source lacks substantial evidence to confirm a direct connection to Pfaff's (Stylus). Neverthless, Wallace shared relationships with several individuals who were associated with Pfaff's. Among his friends Wallace counted Pfaff’s visitor Thomas Dunn English and Pfaff’s favorite Edgar Allan Poe. Wallace befriended Poe when he returned to New York in 1844. It was Wallace who persuaded Poe to sit for M.B. Brady to have his daguerreotype taken in 1848. In fact, Wallace is described as "not unlike Poe in both temperament and habits. He was not a little like him in physique--in brightness of the eye, and in a superb courtliness of manner. He had the same, or a similar, irresolute will; but he was a delightful companion to meet if you met him at the right time" (J. Benton 732-33).