The Letters of William Cullen Bryant - Vol. 1

By William Cullen Bryant II; Thomas G. Voss et al. | Go to book overview

Editorial Plan

THE TEXTS OF THE 314 available letters written by Bryant between April 1809 and April 1836 are included in this first volume. Wherever possible, they are printed from the original manuscripts. In some instances they are reproduced from authenticated holograph or typewritten copies. In others, only the published texts have been preserved, and are used here.

Bryant's frequent practice of drafting and then revising letters before making final copies provides a number of preliminary texts not known to have survived in another form. Where final copies of such letters have been recovered they are reproduced, with occasional marked differences from the preliminary drafts indicated in footnotes.

The letters are arranged chronologically, and grouped to reflect significant periods in Bryant's life. Each period is prefaced by a brief account of its principal events. Letters of uncertain date are placed conjecturally. When both month and day can be assigned with reason, they appear in the chronological sequence. If only the month can be determined, they are put at its end; where they can be placed with assurance only within a longer period, a like procedure is followed.

Bryant's frequent use of foreign languages in the letters suggests that their translation in footnotes, or occasionally between square brackets in the text, will be a welcome accommodation to many readers. The inclusion of an introductory sketch of frequent correspondents relieves the textual footnotes of much biographical material, and provides a summary of other background detail. This device is useful in acquainting readers with the several members of the Bryant family, about whom little coherent information is elsewhere available. Wherever applicable, reference is made in the footnotes to this essay, "Bryant's Correspondents." Cross-reference by letter, or by letter number and footnote ("see Letter 37," or "see 74.5"), provides a means of identifying recurrent names and topics. The names of persons mentioned in the letters, footnotes, and introductory matter are listed in the Index. Canceled matter in Bryant's letter drafts has been silently removed, except in a few instances where its inclusion reveals significant revision, in which case it appears within 〈angle brackets〉 immediately before the later version. Where manuscripts are so badly worn that textual content can only be conjectured, it is placed between [square brackets].

Usually in firm control of his syntax, Bryant was sparing in punctuation. In his letter drafts, a dash often stands for other medial and terminal marks, and is retained. Final copies are usually punctuated with care, and only occasionally require additional marks for clarity. Their insertion has been made silently. Bryant's orthography needs little correction. He was, it is true, lax in spelling proper names: even his close friends Robert Weir, William Leggett, and Horatio Greenough, appear for some time after he meets them as "Wier," "Legget," and "Greenhow." And certain aberrational forms persist, such as his use of "birth" for "berth," and his preference for "i" before "e" even after "c," as in "recieve" for "receive," to which he invariably clung. Since their retention would be both tedious and pointless, these forms are noted on their first appearance and silently corrected thereafter. Occasional misspellings and departures from conventional usage are indicated in footnotes, as are misdatings, but obvious inadvertencies are usually corrected silently. Spellings and usages now considered archaic, but current in Bryant's day--or at least acceptable then-- are retained without comment. Such inconsistencies in spelling and punctuation as are evident between manuscript and printed sources will be recognized as unavoidable.

In the descriptive notes, addresses of recipients are given in run-on style as they

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