OF 424 LETTERS BRYANT is known to have written between April 1809 and April 1836, 314 to 76 correspondents have been recovered, and are included in this volume. In addition, a brief journal entry and two contracts in his handwriting provide additional insights into Bryant's first European visit. Most of the letters to principal correspondents--his father, mother, wife, sister Sally, Richard Henry Dana, Charles Folsom, and Gulian Verplanck--survive in final form. For other, occasional letters to fellow-students and tutors, professional acquaintances, and travel companions, the editors have often depended on preliminary drafts Bryant made and then corrected, a habit gained in the careful revision of his poems.
Although their correspondence ended with Peter Bryant's early death in 1820, Cullen's letters to his father comprise a record of youthful hopes and the concerns of early manhood, showing great respect for his father's judgment in matters of literature as well as of practical living. All but one of the eighteen known letters he wrote to Dr. Bryant have been recovered.
Born in 1767 at North Bridgewater, Massachusetts, to Dr. Philip ( 1732- 1817) and Silence Howard Bryant ( 1738-1777), the fifth of nine children whose mother died when Peter was nine years old, Cullen's father was raised by a dour, dominating stepmother who kept him at farm labor until he rebelled. He managed through self-study to qualify himself, at the age of twenty, for entrance to Harvard College, but, lacking means of support, he withdrew almost at once, and went home to study medicine with his father. During two years as a self- styled "drudge" in his father's office, Peter audited a few medical lectures at Harvard, and spent some time with an unusually competent French surgeon, Louis Le Prilette, at nearby Norton. In 1792 he set out to practice medicine at Cummington, a newly settled hill town in western Massachusetts. Here he married Sarah Snell ( 1768-1847), daughter of one of the town's founders, Deacon Ebenezer Snell ( 1738-1813), a prosperous farmer and a justice of the peace.
Young Dr. Bryant soon met bitter opposition from an established practitioner, James Bradish, who was determined, Peter wrote his father, "to root me out if possible." There followed three precarious years, at the end of which Peter, by now the father of two infant boys, escaped debtors' prison only by signing on as a ship's doctor on a voyage to the Indian Ocean. During nearly two years there, for a part of which time his vessel was interned at Mauritius by the French revolutionary Directory, Peter Bryant gained much practical experience in hospitals on shore.
Home again in 1797, and freed from the rancor of his competitor, Dr. Bryant took up a practice which soon made him the leading physician and surgeon of his district. He was called away from Cummington to treat patients and to operate, first in neighboring towns, then at Northampton, the Hampshire County seat, and later at Worcester and Boston. Once, he traveled by sleigh in mid-winter three hundred miles westward to Palmyra, New York, to be con-