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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867)

FITZ-GREENE HALLECK did his share, as an American poet, in giving dignity to the native literature during the first half of the nineteenth century. Like his friend and fellow-worker Drake, he wrote polished and pleasing verse at a time when such work was rare and not fostered by the social conditions.

A New-Englander of good Puritan stock, he was born July 8th, 1790, in the old Connecticut coast town of Guilford. He had such schooling as the place afforded, but at fifteen became a clerk in his uncle’s store, where he remained until his majority. His bookish ancestry, or the writing ichor of a man predestined to letters, led him while yet a school-lad to scribble verses, practicing a ’prentice hand. When twenty-one he went to New York, entering a counting-room and only leaving it, after twenty years of service, for a similar position with John Jacob Astor, held for sixteen years,—a long life of mercantile employment. But Halleck’s interests lay in another direction. All his spare money went for books, and soon after arriving in the great city he formed the friendship with Drake which lasted until the latter’s death in 1820, and inspired what is perhaps Halleck’s best short lyric. Halleck and Drake were collaborators in the clever satiric ‘Croaker’ papers, which, appearing during 1819 in the New York Evening Post, caught the public fancy, as Irving and Paulding caught it with the ‘Salmagundi’ papers. The same year Halleck’s long satirical poem ‘Fanny’ was published, and met with success. A European trip at the age of thirty-two broadened his culture; and in the ‘Poems’ issued in 1827 several pieces show this influence, including the familiar martial lay of ‘Marco Bozzaris.’

In 1849, Mr. Astor having granted him a small annuity, the poet returned to his native Guilford to live with his sister in one of the town’s old-time houses, and to lead a life of quiet, studious retirement. Between brother and sister, neither of whom had married, a tender and beautiful friendship existed. Not much literary work was done by Halleck during the last twenty years, though his poem ‘Connecticut’ belongs to this period, and reflects his love for his own State. He died at Guilford, November 19th, 1867, aged seventy-seven. Full honor has been awarded him since. On the eightieth anniversary of his birth a fine obelisk, erected through the efforts of leading men of letters, was dedicated with imposing ceremony at Guilford, and was the first monument to an American poet, as the statue to Halleck in Central Park, New York, set up in 1877, is the first memorial of its kind. An address by Bayard Taylor and a poem by Dr. Holmes on this occasion indicated the quality of the respect felt for the poet. His ‘Poetical Writings’ have been edited by James Grant Wilson (1869), who at the same time prepared his biography.

Fitz-Greene Halleck will always have a place in the American anthology. His verse to-day strikes the ear as somewhat academic and confined; the body of his work is slender, nor was his range wide. But as a forerunner of greater singers, and within his limitations, he produced poetry that is felicitous in diction, skillful in the handling of metres, and possessed of feeling in the lyric vein and of fire in the heroic. Two or three of his compositions certainly have vitality enough for a prolonged existence. He cannot be overlooked in tracing the development of letters in the United States.