Journalist, Poet, Traveler
(LETTERS 223 TO 287)
DURING HIS EARLY YEARS IN NEW YORK, Bryant's income from editorial work barely supported his little family. But between 1829 and 1832 Evening Post profits increased steadily, and as Bryant's share of the paper's ownership doubled, from an eighth part to a quarter, his income was nearly trebled. The security thus provided led him to undertake several projects which promised greater satisfactions than he found in "drudging," as he termed it, for the Post.
First among his projects was one to gather in a single volume about ninety poems he had published during the past fourteen years, all but eight in ephemeral magazines and gift-books. He could only have been heartened, while preparing this collection at the close of 1831, by the comments of several critics, particularly a dictum in the New-England Magazine that Bryant stood "by common consent at the head of the list of American poets," and another in the New York American that "Mr. Bryant stands forth the first living poet in the language."
His Poems appeared in New York at the outset of 1832, in an edition of a thousand copies, half of which were sold within four months. Their early success encouraged the poet to approach Washington Irving, then living in England and at the height of his popularity, for help in securing a British publisher. Irving's sponsorship of the book, for which he wrote a generous preface, brought it cordial notices in several leading British periodicals. At home, the North American Review called Bryant's the "best volume of American poetry that has yet appeared." Such praise prompted Bryant, within two years, to bring out another edition to which only a handful of poems were added.
Never having seen more of his country than lower New England and the Hudson River valley, Bryant took his first trip southward in January 1832. During a ten-day visit in Washington under the guidance of Congressmen Cambreleng and Verplanck, he was entertained by cabinet members, heard remarks in the Senate by Clay, Hayne, and Webster, and in the House by John Quincy Adams and Edward Everett, and called on Andrew Jackson at the White House. In May he set out for Illinois to see his brother John, recently settled at Jacksonville. Traveling overland by stagecoach to the Ohio, and down that river and up the Mississippi and the Illinois by steamboat, he explored the prairie on horseback with John. Before turning back eastward, he bought Illinois land, in the half-formulated thought that he might one day move to the West. The following summer he and Frances traveled for the first time through northern New England, and visited Montreal and Quebec during a month's journey.
Before visiting Illinois Bryant had moved his family--enlarged the summer before by the birth of a second daughter, Julia--across the Hudson to