Celebrated local travel writer takes his place among literary giants at KU
By Mike Downing
“The healing of the world is in its nameless saints. Each separate star seems nothing, but myriad scattered stars break up the night and make it beautiful.”
— Bayard Taylor (1825-1878)
One day, not long ago, as I walked past Schaeffer toward Old Main, I looked up to my right and noticed several names carved into the east side of the KU Graduate Center. I saw “Longfellow,” which, of course, is American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
I saw “Emerson,” and made the easy connection with the well-known American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Then I saw “Taylor.”
Wait a minute. Who is Taylor?
The first appellation that came to mind was “Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” but I doubt they would carve the middle name of a British author on the side of a building featuring two other prominent, American authors.
Taylor Swift? Doubtful, even though she hails from Berks County. Definitely not old enough. Jk.
As a literary scholar, I began to investigate, and after researching American writers with the last name “Taylor” that would potentially fit the bill, the one name that continuously—and compellingly—shows up is “Bayard Taylor.”
According to the Kennett Square Library website (formerly the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library,) Bayard Taylor was a decorated travel writer and lecturer from Kennett Square, Pa., only 70 miles south of Kutztown.
Things started to make sense: He was local, he was well-known at the time, and he died approximately 35 years before the Graduate Center was built.
So, who was he? According to “Biography for Bayard Taylor” on the Pennsylvania Center for the Book website, Taylor was born in Kennett Square, Pa. on Jan. 11, 1825 to Joseph and Rebecca Way Taylor and was named after Delaware Senator James A. Bayard.
After learning to read at the early age of four, his love for letters began clear, it was difficult for Taylor’s parents to keep him away from books and poetry. He finished formal schooling at age 16, and began to pursue a career in writing.
Around the time of his graduation, Taylor befriended Rufus W. Griswold who was an editor of Graham’s Magazine and the compiler of “The Poets and Poetry of America.” Griswold would become an influence on Taylor and would push him to publish.
Soon after they began working together, Taylor published his first collection of poems in February 1844 titled, “The Battle of Sierra Morena and Other Poems.”
As Taylor’s reputation grew, aspirations of traveling and writing tales of his adventures in foreign countries became his primary focus.
He eventually convinced numerous publications to finance a trip to Europe where he would travel through England, Germany and Italy, sending letters of his experiences back to America.
These letters were published in the Saturday Evening Post, United States Gazetter and Graham’s
Magazine and were widely read and provided vivid details that engaged American readers.
The popularity of the letters convinced Taylor to assemble them all and publish these journeys in a book he would later publish in 1846, titled “Views A-Foot” or “Europe Seen with A Knapsack and A Staff.”
According to the 1920 edition of Encyclopedia Americana, his translation of Faust was recognized for its scholarship and remained in print through 1969:
“It is by his translation of Faust, one of the finest attempts of the kind in any literature, that Taylor is generally known; yet as an original poet he stands well up in the second rank of Americans. His Poems of the Orient and his Pennsylvania ballads comprise his best work. His verse is finished and sonorous, but at times over-rhetorical.”
Taylor lectured and toured widely in his lifetime and would continue publishing and lecturing until he fell ill soon after arrival in Berlin and died there on Dec. 19, 1878. His body was returned to the United States and he is buried in Longwood Cemetery in Kennett Square.
His proximity to KU, along with the fact that he was a well-known author in his time, make him the most likely candidate to claim the name on the Graduate Center.
Although his star has faded, Taylor’s impact on American writing is clear. He is now honored not only by the library in Kennett Square but also a school in Philadelphia. His home, known as Cedarcroft, is a National Historic Landmark.
1) Maverick Stock contributed to this article.
2) To sample some of Taylor’s writing, visit Project Gutenberg and search for “Bayard Taylor.”
“LAND AND SEA”
From Views a-foot
Europe Seen With Knapsack and Staff
By J. Bayard Taylor
There are springs that rise in the greenwoods heart, Where its leafy glooms are cast, And the branches droop in the solemn air, Unstirred by the sweeping blast. There are hills that lie in the noontide calm, On the lap of the quiet earth; And, crown’d with gold by the ripened grain, Surround my place of birth.
Dearer are these to my pining heart, Than the beauty of the deep,
When the moonlight falls in a bolt of gold On the waves that heave in sleep. The rustling talk of the clustered leaves That shade a well-known door, Is sweeter far than the booming sound Of the breaking wave before.
When night on the ocean sinks calmly down, I climb the vessel’s prow, Where the foam-wreath glows with its phosphor light, Like a crown on a sea-nymph’s brow. Above, through the lattice of rope and spar, The stars in their beauty burn; And the spirit longs to ride their beams, And back to the loved return.
They say that the sunset is brighter far When it sinks behind the sea; That the stars shine out with a softer fire— Not thus they seem to me. Dearer the flush of the crimson west Through trees that my childhood knew. When the star of love with its silver lamp, Lights the homes of the tried and true!