Bayard Taylor Biography

The healing of the world is in its nameless saints. Each separate star seems nothing, but a myriad scattered stars break up the night and make it beautiful. – Bayard Taylor.

Bayard Taylor was born to Joseph and Rebecca Way Taylor on January 11, 1825, in the village of Kennett Square. At that time, the predominately Quaker village was only a crossroads with a few dwellings, including a tavern, a hotel, and the stone-plastered building of two-and-a-half stories where the Taylors lived. Bayard Taylor was named in honor of the esteemed Delaware senator James A. Bayard. Bayard’s mother had taught him to read at age four, and early in his life, he found his real refuge in books, never tiring of reading poetry and books about the countries he longed to visit.

Early Travels and Work

Bayard was a curious and voracious reader as a child, and by the time he finished his formal schooling and tutoring in 1842, Bayard knew that he wanted to be a poet. His desire for literary recognition also prompted him to begin a correspondence with Rufus W. Griswold in November, 1842. At that time, Mr. Griswold was the editor of Graham’s Magazine (1842-43) and the compiler of The Poets and Poetry of America (1842). It was Bayard’s first literary friendship, and by October 10, 1843, he had his first interview in Philadelphia. Griswold encouraged Bayard to publish a collection of his early poems, and in February 1844, Ximena; or, the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and Other Poems was published.

Around the same time, Bayard’s cousin Franklin was enticing him to accompany Barclay Pennock and himself on a forthcoming trip to Europe. Unfortunately, Bayard could not afford the journey. He hoped to finance his trip by persuading some local publishers to agree to pay him for sending back reports of his travels. This plan seemed doomed to failure until, at last, several individuals agreed to such an arrangement, including representatives from the Saturday Evening Post, United States Gazette, and Graham’s Magazine. On July 1, 1844, Bayard, Barclay Pennock, and Franklin Taylor, departed New York and sailed for Liverpool on the packet ship Oxford, and arrived in Liverpool on July 29th. The next two years were spent traveling through England, Germany, and Italy, living on approximately six cents per day. His letters tell of his delight and of the financial crises that occurred.

His letters to his newspapers were widely read, having been written in an insightful and engaging manner. On his return to America, he was advised to collect them into a book, which was published in 1846 as Views A-foot, or, Europe Seen with a Knapsack and Staff, with a preface by N. P. Willis. From the beginning, it was extremely popular, going through twenty-four editions within thirteen years. After his return from Europe, Bayard wished to marry and settle down with Mary S. Agnew, who had been his sweetheart since their early school days. Despite the objections of her parents, who thought Bayard lacked secure employment, Bayard and Mary became engaged soon after Bayard returned to Kennett Square. Immediately, Bayard began looking for employment that would provide a fixed income sufficient for him to marry. After a failed attempt at newspaper publishing, he went to New York in late November or December 1847. There, he obtained editorial work at the offices of the New York Tribune and Union Magazine. While working at the Union Magazine Bayard was visited by Horace Greeley, publisher of the Tribune. Greeley said to Bayard, “Now you must do something for this young man. His name is Thoreau. He lives in a shanty at Walden Pond, near Concord, on $37.21 a year, and he must be encouraged. Bayard read the manuscript, Katahdin, and the Maine Woods, and persuaded Greeley to pay Thoreau seventy-five dollars for it. Unfortunately Bayard’s good intentions were overshadowed by an editorial mistake that brought immense indignation from Thoreau. While in New York, he continued to write, and in December, 1848, published Rhymes of Travel, Ballads and Poems, which was approvingly criticized by Edgar Allan Poe, who enjoyed the glowing imagination and sonorous well-balanced rhythm… In June, 1849, Bayard sailed to California via the Isthmus of Panama in order to report on the gold rush for the Tribune. During the next five months, Bayard visited San Francisco and the mines of the Mokelumne River, Stockton, the Sonoma Valley, and Sacramento. An account of his experiences in California was published in May 1850 under the title Eldorado, or Adventures in the Path of Empire. This book has proven to be Bayard’s most enduring work. Many letters passed between Bayard and Mary Agnew during this period of separation, their marriage having been twice postponed because of Mary’s health problems. When Bayard visited her upon his return from California, he found her greatly weakened, and realized that their time together would be short. With this knowledge, they were married at her home on October 24, 1850 in the presence of her parents and his mother. Within two months, on Saturday, December 21st, Mary died of complications due to tuberculosis.

Bayard found it difficult to write after the death of his wife and began to consider the possibility of traveling again. After a short period of grief, he departed Philadelphia on August 22, 1851 with his brother William. They arrived in Liverpool and traveled to London and then the continent, parting company in Vienna. From November 4, 1851 to April 14, 1852, Bayard traveled through Egypt with August Bufleb, a wealthy German of forty-five, whom he met in December. They shared adventures and became good friends on a trip that was full of good fortune and camaraderie.

After he departed Egypt, he journeyed to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor, finally arriving in Constantinople. While in Constantinople, Bayard learned that he would be traveling to the Far East on assignment for the Tribune . He journeyed throughout India, and then went on to China, touching at Singapore, and arriving at Hong Kong on March 16, 1853. In 1853, he received an appointment as master’s mate in the United States Navy in order to travel to Japan with Commodore Perry on the U.S.S. Mississippi. This trip resulted in A Visit to India, China and Japan, in the Year 1853.

Bayard found on his return from the Orient, that through the Tribune letters, his name had become widely known. Invitations to lecture poured in, and a new and prosperous career opened before him. His unusual experiences and engaging stage manner made him a popular speaker. The next few years were spent in lecturing, writing of his Eastern adventures, and revising the books he had already published.

In July 1856, he departed New York once again for Europe in order to travel through the northern countries and gather material for a future book. On December 6, 1856 Bayard arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, and after a week, departed for a two-month tour of Lapland and the Arctic regions. Bayard writes in his journal that the temperature was minus 47 at noon on January 28, 1857. Before continuing his northern travels, he briefly visited Germany and England. While in England, he spent two days with Alfred Lord Tennyson. Bayard and Tennyson spent their time together discussing poetry, religion, politics, and geology. After this brief visit, Bayard joined his friend August Bufleb in Norway, were they spent the summer traveling together. The experiences of these trips, sent back to the Tribune as letters, formed the basis of his book, Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures of Sweden, Denmark and Lapland, which appeared in the fall of 1857.

After Bayard’s trip to Norway he returned to Gotha, were he to Bufleb’s home in Gotha, were he became acquainted with Mrs. Bufleb’s niece, Marie Hansen. In June 1857, they became engaged, and on October 27, 1857, they were married. That winter, they made a trip to Greece, a place he longed to visit. He and his wife returned to Gotha in the spring of 1858 to await the birth of a daughter, Lilian, and on October 1, 1858, the family sailed for America.

After settling the family, Bayard departed on a lecture tour to obtain money to begin the building of Cedarcroft, his future country estate north of Kennett Square. The estate was finished in the summer of 1860, and was dedicated with great celebration on Saturday, August 18, 1860 with a production of a comedy, Love at a Hotel , written by Bayard and his friend, Richard Henry Stoddard. Guests included Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell and Horace Greeley, among others.

His new home proved to be an expensive luxury (it cost $15,000 to build), and it was frequently necessary to set aside the poetry that he loved for more lucrative writing, as well as continuing with his lecture tours. In 1862, he accepted an appointment as chargé d’affaires of the Russian legation in St. Petersburg. In December 1863, Bayard was in Washington, D. C. for a series of three lectures on the topic of Russia, its people and place in history. President Abraham Lincoln attended Bayard Taylor’s lecture in Willard’s Hall. The President, impressed by Bayard’s lecture, wrote him a brief letter of admiration. Later, in 1869, Bayard published his Ballad of Abraham Lincoln , “one of the earliest compositions in verse about Lincoln, prepared especially for children.”

The Middle Years

Bayard’s first novel, Hannah Thurston: a Story of American Life, was published shortly after his return to America in 1863, and was followed with John Godfrey’s Fortunes; Related by Himself: a Story of American Life in 1864. Both of these novels sold very well, and were popular long after their initial publication. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to Bayard about Hannah Thurston and called the book “an admirable one, new, true, and striking,—worthy of such a world-wide observer as yourself, and with a kind of thought in it which does not lie scattered about the world’s highways.” He also spent the year of 1865 working alternately on his poem, The Picture of St. John, and a novel, The Story of Kennett , which were published in 1866. Both of these works also received favorable reviews. Then, in June and July of 1866, he made a trip west to Colorado, which resulted in the publication of his travel work, Colorado: a Summer Trip , in early 1867. By this time, Bayard was becoming weary of traveling and found it increasingly difficult to carry on any sustained work away from Cedarcroft . He became determined to give up lecturing and depend solely on writing. Although Bayard was never in debt, Cedarcroft proved to be a drain on him financially. In 1869, he purchased more land and completed the first draft of his translation of Faust , but again it was necessary to embark on a lecture tour. In early September 1869 Bayard accepted an emeritus position at Cornell University in German literature. For the next several years he delivered lectures on Goethe, Humboldt, Lessing, Schiller, and others. Bayard enjoyed these lectures and the friendships he developed at Cornell, but he was grateful when they were over so that he could return to his writing. In 1870, his last novel, Joseph and His Friend: a Story of Pennsylvania , was published. Bayard considered this to be his most successful novel, although it was not well received by the general public.

The Final Years

By the time the Taylors departed once again for Europe on June 6, 1872, they had decided to give up Cedarcroft. The Taylors remained in Europe until September 1874, when they returned to Kennett, and in November, the Taylors returned to New York and made it their permanent home. In 1877, he began to write what was to be his last work, the poem Prince Deukalion: a Lyrical Drama. Once the poem was finished, he had decided to begin a life of Goethe and a life of Schiller. Fortunately, he was given the opportunity when he was appointed Minister to Germany in 1878. He knew the country and its people well, had a deep interest in German literature, and as he said, he would also be in the midst of the material he most needed. This appointment gave him a new hope of being able to complete his contemplated biographies.

Before leaving New York for Berlin, Bayard was able to visit Kennett Square. There was a reception for the author in Borough Hall on the evening of February 27, 1878. Bayard and his family departed for Europe on April 11th. During the voyage, Bayard spent some time with Mark Twain, who was also aboard the ship. Twain called Taylor “a genial, lovable, simple-hearted soul,… happy in his new dignity… He was a poet… and had also made the best of all English translations of Goethe’s ‘Faust.'” Unfortunately, shortly after meeting Twain, Bayard became seasick, and was forced to remain in his cabin until they arrived in Germany. The new Minister found a cordial welcome in Berlin and Bayard wrote enthusiastic letters about his experiences in Berlin to the people at home, but he was never really well after arriving in Germany. Extremely conscientious about his official work, he was unwilling to allow illness to interfere. That previous August, he had already lost twenty to thirty pounds, and on October 12, 1878, he was diagnosed with a liver condition and edema. On the December 19th, about 2:00 pm in the afternoon, he fell asleep in his chair, and by 4:00 pm, he had passed away quietly in his sleep. He was temporarily buried in Berlin, and then in March 1879, his body was transported back to America, where it arrived in New York on March 13, 1879. His remains lay in state in the Governor’s Room at New York’s City Hall, and the next day his casket was taken to the railway station, loaded on a special train, and transported to Kennett Square. The train arrived at the Kennett station at 5:30 pm, whereupon the casket was carried through the village of his birth, returning once more to Cedarcroft , where he was laid out in the library. On the following day his neighbors and literary associates followed in a funeral procession to his final resting place in Longwood Cemetery.