The Letters of William Cullen Bryant - Vol. 1

By William Cullen Bryant II; Thomas G. Voss et al. | Go to book overview
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63. To Henry D. Sewall

Great Barrington Nov. 1, 1820

Dear Sir

I intended when I received yours of the 29th of August to have given it an earlier answer and to have accompanied my answer with further contributions to your new work. 1 --But I did not get your communication till the 12 of September and since that time we have had a Term of the Supreme Court which lasted a fortnight--one of the Court of Sessions and another of the Court of Common Pleas and these together with my other engagements and some ill health have obliged me to delay it till it was too late for any thing but apologies.--

I felt obliged to you for pointing out those topicks which have not been often touched upon by writers of devotional poetry. 2 Your conjecture was right that the choice of a subject was more difficult than the composition of the hymn. I made some attempts to write but could not satisfy myself, and I would not send you impromptus nor the stale efforts of languor and lassitude--nothing which was not written in moments of enthusiasm and excitement and carefully corrected at my leisure--

I ought to thank you for the good opinion you are pleased to express concerning my hymns. "Praise" says a poet, is "the poets best reward,"3 and I should forfeit my pretensions to be considered one of the fraternity were I to deny that I am pleased with the commendations of literary [. . . whose applause confers?] reputation--

[unsigned]

MANUSCRIPT: NYPL-GR (draft).

1.
A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Social and Private Worship, ed. Henry D. Sewall ( New York, 1820). In July Catharine M. Sedgwick (see "Bryant's Correspondents") had reminded Bryant of his earlier promise to compose hymns for this collection, designed to honor William Ware at his ordination in 1821 as pastor of the new Unitarian church in New York City. Catharine M. Sedgwick to Robert Sedgwick, May 17, 1820, Life, I, 163; Miss Sedgwick to Bryant, [July] 17 [1820], NYPL-BG. She forwarded to Sewall five hymns which Bryant sent her, and Sewall wrote Bryant on August 29 thanking him and soliciting further contributions. NYPL-BG.
2.
Sewall proposed additional hymns on neglected subjects, such as the paternal character of God and the duties of parents and children, because, he wrote, "A minister discussing on these obvious topicks will find it difficult to select a hymn at all adapted to them." He went on to list changes he had made in Bryant's verses, concluding abruptly, "I have no room to enter into a critical defense of these alterations --nor am I disposed." Bryant ignored these changes when in 1864 he printed these and others of his hymns privately.
3.
The source of this quotation is uncertain.

-96-

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