Have you heard of Fitz-Greene Halleck?
He was known as America’s Byron.
You’d think with a weighty title like that most English majors would know about him.
I hadn’t heard of him until I moved to Guilford, CT and started digging around in the library for some local literary history.
Halleck was born in Guilford in 1790 and died here in 1864. In between, he had quite the life and career in New York City. He struck out for the Big Apple when he was 20 or 21 and landed a job as the personal secretary of John Jacob Astor whose library was to become the foundation of the New York Public Library.
He was part of the Knickerbocker Group which included such literary luminaries as William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Washington Irving. In addition to poetry, Halleck also wrote essays.
And if sharing oxygen and page space with the guys mentioned above isn’t enough to signify Halleck’s importance as a writer, get this: He is the only American writer represented in Central Park’s Literary Walk.
The Poetry Foundation page on Halleck reports that 10,000 people attended the dedication of this statue in 1877, which was performed by President Rutherford B. Hayes.
I’ve read some of Halleck’s poetry and, at first glance, it is not my taste. It’s rather old-fashioned in both style and content. One of the reasons for his popularly back in the day seems to be that his poems were memorized by school children everywhere.
In doing some preliminary research on the internet about Mr. Halleck, I came across this book, which provides a huge clue as to why his star fell:
The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck by John W.M. Hallock.
I ordered a copy and look forward to sharing more in the future about this forgotten poet and Guilford native.