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NATHANIEL PARKER WILL.S.
NATHANIEL Parker Willis was born in Portland, Maine, January 20, 1807.' After being fitted for college at Phillips Academy, Andover, he entered Yale, at sixteen years of age, and soon distinguished himself as a poet of true genius by writing a series of pieces on scriptural subjects,-pieces which have not been surpassed by any thing he has subsequently written, and which gave him at once a wide-spread and enviable reputation. On leaving college, in 1827, he was engaged by S. G. Goodrich (" Peter Parley") to edit “The Legendary" and " The Token." In 1828, he established the "American Monthly Magazine,” which he conducted for two years and a half, when it was merged in the “New York Mirror," and Mr. Willis went to Europe, and travelled through Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Turkey, and England, in which latter country he was married to Mary Leighton Stace, daughter of Commissary-General William Stace, then having charge of the arsenal at Woolwich. The letters he wrote while abroad prere first published in the “New York Mirror," under the title of Pencillings by the Way. In 1835, he published Inklings of Adrenture, a series of tales which appeared originally in a London magazine. In 1837, he returned home, and retired to a beautiful place on the Susquehanna, near Owego, New York, which he named Glenmary in compliment to his wife. In 1839, he became one of the editors of the “Corsair," a literary gazette in New York City, and towards the close of that year again went to London, where he published Loiterings of Travel, and two tragedies, Tortesa the Usurer and Bianca Visconti, under the united title of Two Ways of Dying for a Husband. In 1840 appeared an illustrated edition of his poems, and Letters from under a Bridge. In 1843, in conjunction with General George P. Morris, he revived the “ New York Mirror," but withdrew from it upon the death of his wife in 1844, and again visited England. On his return home the next year, he issued a complete edition of his works, in an imperial octavo of eight hundred pages. In October, 1846, he was married to a daughter of the Hon. Joseph Grinnell, member of Congress from Massachusetts, and removed to his present country home of Idlewild. He is now associated with General Morris as editor of the “Home Journal," a weekly literary paper, which is always enriched, more or less, with pieces from his pen, and which is hailed by its numerous readers, every week, as a genial and instructive fireside companion.
Though Mr. Willis's prose writings are full of beauty and wit, of rich paintings of natural scenery, and delicate and humorous touches of the various phases of social life, it is by his poetry, especially by his sacred poetry, that he will be chiefly known and prized by posterity. There is a tenderness, a pathos, and a richness of description in it which give him a rank among the first of American poets.2
His father was Nathaniel Willis, who, a few years after the birth of Nathaniel, removed to Boston, and projected and edited the " Boston Recorder," the first religious journal established in this country.
2“No man has appeared in our literature, endowed with a greater variety HAGAR IN THE WILDERNESS.
The morning broke. Light stole upon the clouds
All things are dark to sorrow; and the light,
of fine qualities. He possesses an understanding quick, acute, distinguishing even in excess; enriched by culture, and liberalized and illuminated by much observation, He commands all the resources of passion, at the same time that he is master of the effects of manner. The suggestions of an animated sense are harmonized by feeling, and are adorned by a finished wit. His taste is nice, but it is not narrow or bigoted, and his sympathies with his reader are intimate and true. His works exhibit a profusion of pointed and just comment on society and life; they sparkle with delicate and easy humor; they display a prodigality of fancy, and are fragrant with all the floral charm of sentiment. He possesses surprising saliency of mind, which in his hasty effusions often fatigues, but in his matured compositions is controlled to the just repose of art. But distinct from each of these, and sovereign over them all, is the vivifying and directing energy of a fine poetical talent,--that prophetic faculty in man whose effects are as vast as its processes are mysterious; whose action is a moral encbantment that all feel, but none can fathom. This influence it is which, entering into and impregnating all his other faculties, gives force to some, elevation to others, and grace and interest to them all.”—Literary Criticisms, by Horace Binney Wallace.
Read a good review of Willis's writings-prose and poetry-in the “North American Review,” xliii. 384, in which he is ably defended from the attack in the fifty-fourth volume of the "London Quarterly.” This paper was written by Lockbart, who, in condemning Willis for his personalities in his Pencillings by the Way, forgot that he himself was far more open to the same charge in his “ Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,” in which he makes very free with the society at Edinburgh.
Into his mother's face until he caught
Why bends the patriarch as he cometh now
He gave to her the water and the bread,
Should Hagar weep? May slighted woman turn,
She went her way with a strong step and slow,Her press'd lip arch’d, and her clear eye undimm’d, As it had been a diamond, and her form Borne proudly up, as if her heart breathed through. Her child kept on in silence, though she press'd His hand till it was pain’d; for he had caught, As I have said, her spirit, and the seed Of a stern nation had been breathed upon.
The morning pass'd, and Asia's sun rode up In the clear heaven, and every beam was heat.