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 in the country but those imitative versifiers of an already antiquated English fashion whom Bryant was himself to characterize1 with quiet justice in the first critical appraisal of our “literature,” the first declaration of intellectual independence, antedating Emerson's American scholar by nineteen years. He compassed the generations of all that was once or is still most reputed in American poetry: the generations of Paulding, Percival, Halleck, Drake, Willis, Poe, Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, Lowell, Whitman, Bret Harte. Yet he was from very early, in imagination and expression, curiously detached from what was going on in poetry around him. The embargo is a boy's echo, significant only for precocious facility and for the twofold interest in verse and politics that was to be lifelong. Byron's voice is audible in the Spenserian stanzas and subject matter of the Phi Beta Kappa poem of 1821, The ages;2 the New York verses, so painfully facetious on Rhode Island coal and a mosquito, are less after Byron than after the town wit Halleck and his coterie. Wordsworth, at the reading of whose Lyrical ballads in 1811 , “a thousand springs,” Bryant said to Dana, “seemed to gush up at once in his heart, and the face of Nature of a sudden to change into a strange freshness and life,” was the companion into the woods and among the flowers who more than all others helped him to find himself; but Thanatopsis, so characteristic of Bryant, was written almost certainly some weeks before he had seen the Lyrical ballads,3 and, even if Bryant's eminence as poet of nature owed much to this early reinforcement, his poetry is not Wordsworthian either in philosophy or in mood or in artistry. Wordsworth never left the impress on Bryant's work that the realms of gold made upon the surprised and spellbound boy Keats. No later prophets and craftsmen, 3
1 North American review, July, 1818.
3 The time relations seem to have been as follows. Bryant's father purchased the Lyrical ballads in Boston during 1801, when the son was at college (till May, 1811); Bryant “had picked it up at home” (Godwin, Life, vol. I, p. 104) to take with him to Worthington (Dec., 81 I), where it was that, as a young law student, he first read it with such surprised delight. Thanatopsis had been written between May and December, apparently in the autumn (Godwin, Life, vol. I, pp. 97-99), and if (as likely) before 3 November, then written when Bryant was still a lad of sixteen. See Van Doren, C., The growth of “Thanatopsis,” nation, 7 October,
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