Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

A century ago the name of Bayard Taylor was familiar in most American households and in many homes in other parts of the world. Every cultured person in the United States at that time had read Bayard Taylor’s writings, or had heard him lecture. Old and young alike were enthralled by the tales he told, and no wonder, for Bayard Taylor had been everywhere and had done everything. When he died in 1878, those who had envied him in life and mourned his untimely demise knew that he would never be forgotten.

How wrong they were!

Pockets of literary awareness, where knowledge of Bayard Taylor lingers, do exist here and there. One such, and by all measures the most outstanding, is the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library at Kennett Square – a fitting tribute indeed to a native son. However, in most parts of the country, even in most areas of Pennsylvania, mention of Taylor’s name draws uncomprehending looks. It’s unfortun­ate, for Taylor, an eminent Pennsylvanian, deserves a better fate. As poet, novelist, world traveler, lecturer and diplo­mat, he made a vast contribution to the culture and educa­tion of nineteenth-century Americans.

He was born on January 11, 1825, in Kennett Square, son of a village shopkeeper and farmer who named the child for a political figure he greatly admired, U.S. Senator James A. Bayard of Delaware. Although he was thus a birthright Chester countian, Bayard Taylor’s roots were equally strong in adjoining Lancaster County – specifically in the little village of Maytown, in East Donegal Township. Bayard’s parents, Joseph and Rebecca Way Taylor, both had family ties with Maytown. Joseph’s ties were less direct. His father, John Taylor, had been an itinerant carpenter, employed by one Christian Bucher of Maytown to help build a barn. Be­fore the barn was finished, John eloped with Bucher’s daughter, Anna – on Bucher’s favorite horse! The young couple settled in Kennett Square, where their son Joseph was born.

Rebecca’s father, Caleb Way, a Quaker stonemason from Chester County, moved to Maytown as a young man and built a handsome stone house, still standing and occupied, on a corner of the village square. Rebecca was born there in 1799. By the time Rebecca was seventeen, both her parents had died and she went to Chester County to live with rela­tives of her father. There, by a coincidence perhaps less remarkable than it seems, she met and married Joseph Taylor, and later gave birth to Bayard and five other children.

Bayard went to school in Kennett, then attended Bol­mar’s Academy in West Chester and later the Unionville Academy at Unionville. If this seems to be more schooling than the average youngster received in those days, it is explained by the fact that Bayard’s parents recognized early that he was a far-above-average child.

As a teenager, instead of the rough manual labor that was the lot of most rural boys, he was apprenticed for a term of four years to a printer in West Chester. There, in his spare time, he wrote poetry. Some of these verses were accepted for publication by The Saturday Evening Post and other periodicals. After two years, Bayard arranged for his release from the apprenticeship to devote full time to his writing. By 1844, the young man had produced a book of poems with the unprepossessing title of Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and Other Poems.

Looking at yet another challenge, the young Taylor dis­covered an urge to travel which remained with him the rest of his life. After a hiking trip to the Catskill Mountains, he soon began dreaming of a trip to Europe. Although he lacked the funds for such a venture, he was able to persuade The Saturday Evening Post and the United States Gazette to jointly finance him to the extent of $140, a sum scarcely sufficient for his purpose even in those inexpensive times. In exchange for this funding, he was to write letters des­cribing his travels, mailing them home at frequent intervals for publication.

He was gone for two. years, wandering through England, Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland. The pieces he sent back, written in his careful script, were printed regularly and widely read. When the traveler returned and called on the editors who had backed him, they suggested he compile these letters for book publication. Within a few months, Views Afoot, or Europe Seen With Knapsack and Staff ap­peared in bookshops.

Now twenty-one with his wanderlust temporarily satis­fied, Bayard decided to settle down and began casting about for suitable employment. He didn’t have to look long. Frederic Foster, a printer with whom he had become acquainted during his apprenticeship in West Chester, urged Bayard to join him in publishing a weekly newspaper. They formed a partnership and bought out The Phoenixville Pioneer. By December 1846, Bayard was a shirt-sleeved editor of small-town trivia.

The job, however, proved irksome. Before long he was generously interlacing the columns of the little paper with original verses, travel sketches and editorials that most sub­scribers found too highfalutin for their bucolic tastes. The Pioneer lost circulation, money and readership. Before a year was up, Foster and Taylor had quarreled and Bayard walked out. He had lost something, but he had found some­thing else: an unbridled love for travel and adventure in faraway places, and talents as a roving correspondent that could not be stifled.

Wisely, he never again tried to stifle that talent. Instead, he settled for what was essentially a compromise between the passion for travel and the need to earn a living. He had, by this time, acquired something of a reputation and with­out much difficulty he obtained a position on Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, writing travel columns, essays and literary criticism. At the height of the great gold rush in 1849, Greeley sent Taylor to California to mix with the miners and record his impressions. It was a rough experi­ence, involving a terrible trip across the Isthmus of Panama (the canal was not yet in existence), and a side journey into Mexico, during which he was attacked by bandits, robbed and trussed up. After several hours of patient effort, he managed to extricate himself. Bayard Taylor had that rare combination of great physical robustness and artistic sensitivity. Both a dreamer and a man of action, he carried verses in his head and a pistol in his pocket.

In his restless lifetime, he went to Europe many times, tramped over much of the continent on foot, roamed the British Isles, explored the Nile Valley in Egypt, prowled through remote parts of India and China, and once finagled a brief enlistment in the U.S. Navy in order to sail with Commodore Perry to Japan. In 1867, he was off to France to cover the Paris Exhibition. In 1874, he journeyed to Iceland for the Millennial Celebration. The Lowell Thomas (would it be more accurate to say, the Richard Halliburton?) of his day, Taylor was a globetrotter without rival in a day when globetrotting wasn’t easy.

Taylor’s visit to the Orient in 1851-53 forms a chapter of his travels that, while in many respects disappointing to him because he found so much of it uncongenial, is considered to be the most important of his sojourns. Few people at that time knew much about that part of the world. Taylor hoped to write about Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong and other exotic places in a way that would make them real to readers of his columns in the Tribune. He also had a larger purpose in mind. Wanting to study the commerce of the East, he suggested in his writings ways in which it could be stimulated and expanded. Toward that end, he made detailed observations of the coffee port of Mocha, of shipping in the port of Aden, and of traffic on the Red Sea and the Isthmus of Suez, where prepara­tions were being made to dig a canal.

Bayard Taylor was not only a young man of boundless curiosity; he was patriotic and wanted American trade to flourish around the world. Frequently, however, his efforts along this line subjected him to considerable hardship. In Egypt, for example, where there were no railroads, he had to ride eighty miles across desert country in a rough horse­drawn cart in order to visit Suez. Traces of the qualities that later carried him into diplomatic affairs can be seen in this willingness to mingle with foreign populations, to try to understand the economy of other countries.

Possessing a gentle and genial manner, and a knack for making and keeping friends, he socialized with famous per­sons everywhere he went. In England, he hobnobbed with Thackeray and Robert Browning. At Copenhagen, he had long talks with Hans Christian Andersen. In Paris, he forged a lasting friendship with Victor Hugo, and in Frank­furt visited Mendelssohn. Everyone he met, everything he saw, was grist for his mill.

Beside the innumerable columns he wrote for the Tribune and other newspapers, he gave countless lectures throughout the country – as many as 270 in one span of eighteen months. Spellbound audiences liked him because he did the things they only dreamed of doing. Lecturing, however, aside from its pecuniary rewards, had little appeal for Taylor. He disliked the monotony of repeated perfor­mances. During a long lecture season he chafed at his inability to devote full time to writing, for poetic meter and expression constantly welled up inside requiring restraint until platform appearances ended.

Between lectures and newspaper assignments, Bayard was writing books – travel reports, novels and, of course, poetry – in all, some forty volumes. Most are out of fashion today, though some of his poems survive, notably his “Bedouin Song” with its romantic refrain:

Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgment Book unfold!

One of his novels, The Story of Kennett, has long been regarded as a sort of regional epic of Chester County. Among his most scholarly achievements was the translation of Goethe’s Faust in the original meters of its composer.

It is doubtful if a complete collection of Taylor’s works could be found anywhere today except at the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library in Kennett Square. To the visitor there who is privileged to examine them, their lack of appeal in modern times should be readily apparent. The world he wrote about has changed so much. Geographic lines have shifted. Descriptions he wrote are no longer valid. Like his poetry, his travel books are outdated, obsolete; for he wrote in the florid style of his day and with an expression of sentiment to which modern readers do not respond.

This is not to say that he was not a competent crafts­man. None but a real poet could write lines like these from “Autumnal Vespers,” which he penned shortly before the death of his first wife:

The light is dying out o’er all the land,
And in my heart the light is dying. She
My life’s best life, is fading silently
From Earth, from me, and from the dreams we planned.

Bayard Taylor was, perhaps, too good a newspaperman to become a really great poet or novelist. Or perhaps he was gifted in too many fields, so that his talents kept colliding with each other.

A gifted man, Taylor also demonstrated the ability to take full advantage of the opportunities which came his way. One of the most interesting phases of his career oc­curred during the Civil War, when he was invited to serve as U.S. Secretary of Legation in Russia. Thirty-seven years old and ineligible for military service, he no doubt seized this opportunity eagerly to perform a patriotic duty. The post, offered to him through Simon Cameron, former Secretary of War in President Lincoln’s cabinet, involved the sensitive business of interpreting the Civil War to Czar Alexander II and maintaining equable diplomatic relations between the two nations.

While in Russia, Taylor labored over Hannah Thurston, a novel he vainly hoped would become his masterpiece. He had also contemplated writing a travel book, so it is safe to assume that his motives in accepting the post were not entirely patriotic. More than likely, the compelling factor may have been the opportunity to visit a new country and get to know its people.

At any rate, Taylor acquired the post when Cameron fell out of favor in Washington and was “exiled” by Lincoln to the office of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipoten­tiary of the United States to Russia. Having never before been out of the country, Cameron naturally would have wished to have such a seasoned cosmopolite as Bayard Taylor to be his Secretary of Legation. Though by today’s standards they may seem to have been an oddly assorted pair, the two were longtime friends, largely because their roots sprang from the same soil. Cameron had been born in a log house in Maytown (on the site of the present-day Lutheran parsonage), a stone’s cast from the Caleb Way house where Taylor’s mother was born.

Cameron, however, was unhappy in Russia and returned to the United States on furlough, leaving the legation in the hands of Bayard Taylor as charge d’affaires. Shortly there­after, Cameron resigned. Taylor remained in his post until the spring of 1863 when Cassius Clay, who had been minister to Russia before Cameron, was reappointed. His arrival was a bitter blow to Bayard, who had hoped to get the appointment himself. No doubt Cameron tried to recommend his friend to the State Department, but the best he could do was obtain the promise of another diplo­matic assignment at a later date.

The promised diplomatic assignment did not materialize until fifteen years later, when President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Taylor to be Minister to the German Empire. Bayard, who had traveled much in that country, made many friends there (including the woman who be­came his second wife, Marie Hansen) and spoke the lan­guage fluently, gladly accepted the post. In April of that year, 1878, he left New York for Berlin. He remained there for only a short time, however. Toward the year’s end he became ill with a kidney ailment, and on December 19 he died suddenly, at the age of 53, with his wife and daughter Lillian at his side.

His death was mourned almost as much in Germany as in America, for he was greatly loved by the German people. Impressive funeral rites were held in Berlin, but severe winter weather delayed shipment of the body to America for burial. Meanwhile, a great service of mourning was held in Boston’s Tremont Temple, with the Rev. Russell H. Conwell (“Acres of Diamonds”) presiding and the cream of American literati present. The aging Henry W. Longfellow wrote a poem for the occasion which Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes read to the distinguished gathering. President Hayes had hoped to attend but at the last minute wired his regrets.

Finally, on March 13, 1879, nearly three months after Taylor’s death, the coffin arrived in New York. A com­mittee of prominent citizens met the steamship at the wharf and conveyed the coffin to City Hall. There it was placed in the Governor’s Room, attended by an honor guard of Union Army veterans. For the ceremonies that followed, delegations were present from Congress, from the New York State legislature and from many official .depart­ments of city and state government. The Hon. Algernon S. Sullivan, eloquent New York attorney, delivered an address. Several German singing societies sang dirges. Outside, flags hung at half-mast and, while the honor guard stood at at­tention, salutes were fired in the harbor. Few men, except those in the highest echelons of public service, have been accorded such posthumous tributes.

The final tribute was to come from the rural countryside that Taylor knew and loved best. The special train carrying the coffin reached Kennett Square at 5:30 P.M., Friday, March 14. Members of the Taylor family and close personal friends took their sad burden to Cedarcroft, the country mansion Taylor had built as a shelter for his later years. (The house still stands, a short distance north of Kennett on what is now Route 82.)

A brief service was held next morning – a cold, gray Saturday – at Cedarcroft. The cortege then moved to Long­wood Cemetery, a few miles east of Kennett near the present entrance to famed Longwood Gardens. There poet Edmund Clarence Stedman of New York delivered a grave­side eulogy and a few brief tributes were voiced, one by Pennsylvania Governor Henry Martyn Hoyt. The list of pall­bearers was right out of Who’s Who – among others, George H. Boker, Philadelphia poet, playwright and diplomat; Richard H. Stoddard, literary editor of the New York World; Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune; and Marshall Swayne of Kennett, nationally-known sculp­tor. On the lid of the coffin lay a great floral wreath sent by Empress Augusta of Germany.

As a mark of America’s appreciation Congress voted Bayard Taylor’s widow a gift of $7,000. President Hayes sent his personal condolences, pointing out that Taylor was “more American than Pennsylvanian.” Messages of sym­pathy poured in, not only from Chester and Lancaster counties but from all over the country, from England and from Europe.

Thousands of words were written about Bayard Taylor after his death; it seems strange today that a few lines can suffice to accurately describe him! He was a poet – a roman­tic, clever and prolific one-who knew “the torment and the ecstasy of verse” but whose creations are now almost entirely forgotten. He was a novelist whose novels have al­most completely vanished. He was an author of travel books that no longer survive. He was a faithful servant of his country but not outstanding in any historic sense. Yet, he was a man far greater than the sum of his parts – a crea­tive, sensitive, always restless soul who deserves a larger place both in American letters and in the hearts of Penn­sylvanians.

 

George H. Straley, a native of the Lancaster County town where Bayard Taylor’s mother was born, has long been in­terested in Taylor’s life and work. The author is a retired newspaperman and magazine editor now engaged in freelance writing at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. His work, much of it on historical subjects, has been widely published in the U.S., England and Europe. He is co-author (with the late Dr. Henry Pleasants, Jr.) of Inferno at Peters­burg, a Civil War book.