Following Two Professions
(LETTERS 34 TO 80)
HAVING BEEN ADMITTED TO THE BAR on August 15, 1815, Byrant--as he put it to a former fellow-student--"lounged away" three months at his home in Cummington. His phrase was surely imprecise, for during this time he wrote the first draft of "Thanatopsis" and an incomplete version, or "Fragment," of the poem later entitled "Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood." And he busily hunted a community in which to locate his legal practice.
Bryant's problem was troublesome. To settle in a large town or a city, such as New Bedford or Boston, which he saw as the most attractive prospect, would require capital his father could not provide. William Baylies urged on him, as offering a young lawyer the best opportunities, certain rural towns such as Truro on Cape Cod, or Freetown, between Bridgewater and New Bedford, but to Cullen these seemed to promise only more of the isolation in which he had once been unhappy at Worthington. Northampton, where his father's friends Samuel Howe and Judge Joseph Lyman might have helped, was the Hampshire County seat and already well served by attorneys. Having explored possible openings in towns nearer home, such as Williamsburg and Ashfield, Bryant finally accepted, in December 1815, what seemed the least attractive choice, the little farming village of Plainfield just north of Cummington where he had prepared for college under Moses Hallock.
Six unhappy months at Plainfield, which Bryant describes rather bitterly in the first letter written thereafter which is now recovered, ended with his receiving through Samuel Howe an invitation to enter into partnership with an established lawyer, George Ives, at Great Barrington in the Housatonic Valley, forty miles from Cummington. Here, after eight months with his more experienced partner, Bryant bought Ives out and began practice by himself.
The young poet who had now "mixed with the world" and been "stained" by its "follies" could still look only "coldly on the severe beauties of Themis," as he told Baylies a few days after parting from Ives in May 1817. Meanwhile, Peter Bryant furthered his son's literary interests. In a desk drawer in his office he happened on some of Cullen's verses. Taking them to Boston when he attended the legislature in June, he left them with his friend Willard Phillips, then an editor of the North American Review. The anonymous appearance in that journal in September 1817 of "Thanatopsis" and "A Fragment" ( "Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood"), incomplete as they then were, encouraged Cullen four months later to submit two finished poems to the North American Review, one of which was "To a Waterfowl."
Soon afterward, at Phillips' invitation to contribute a prose article to his journal, Bryant produced a critical essay on American poetry which showed him to be a perceptive student of his own craft. Several more of his articles were ac-