Fellow in the Arts
(LETTERS 195 TO 222)
THE YEARS FROM 1828 TO 1831 were as happy as any Bryant had ever enjoyed and, despite growing responsibility for his newspaper, as carefree. Through his active part in the programs of the New York Athenaeum and the National Academy of Design, and his collaboration with writers and artists in preparing the successive Talisman volumes, he assumed a central role in the city's cultural life. And his fondness for satire, indulged as a youth in "The Embargo," and as a village lawyer in newspaper essays and in his farce "The Heroes," found targets among the city's fashionables in "The Legend of the Devil's Pulpit," published in The Talisman, and in jeux d'esprit in the Evening Post, such as a verse lampoon of Fanny Wright and repeated spoofs of editorial opponents.
As the second Talisman appeared at the close of 1828, its creators formalized their association in a "Sketch Club," or "Twenty-One," which provided convivial gatherings at the homes of its members in rotation, at which they exercised their artistic skills and put together another edition of their annual. The club's intimacy as well as its secrecy were fostered by its limitation to twenty-one members and its obscure announcements of weekly meetings published among the obituaries in the Evening Post. Its gatherings were for the most part frolicsome, with serio-comic themes proposed by the host for varied expression in sketches, verses, or prose articles. But its members also collaborated in more serious projects. Among these were a third Talisman early in 1830, and at the end of that year The American Landscape, a volume of landscape paintings by Cole, Durand, Weir, and others, engraved by Durand and accompanied by letterpress written by Bryant, and in 1832 two volumes of stories by Bryant, Leggett, Paulding, Sands, and Catharine Sedgwick, called Tales of Glauber-Spa.
Bryant's appreciation of other arts was likewise quickened by friendships with their practitioners. Lorenzo Da Ponte and Manuel Garcia drew him to the Italian opera and the oratorio, which led him to review their performances in the Post. He found a warm friend in the young tragedian Edwin Forrest; when Forrest offered a prize in 1829 for the best play on an American aboriginal theme, Bryant headed the committee which chose John Stone Metamora, providing Forrest with his most popular starring vehicle. The following year Bryant chaired a similar group which selected James Kirke Paulding The Lion of the West for the comedian James Hackett, who found, in Nimrod Wildfire, his most enduring role.
When the Evening Post's veteran conductor William Coleman died in July 1829 Bryant became at once the editor-in-chief, soon engaging as his assistant William Leggett, magazine editor and writer of tales, poems, and the