Bayard Taylor (January 11, 1825 - December 19, 1878) was an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author, and diplomat. He was born at Kennett Square in Chester county, Pennsylvania, on the 11th of January 1825. The son of a well-to-do farmer, he received his early instruction in an academy at West Chester, and later at Unionville.
At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to a printer in West Chester. A little volume, published at Philadelphia in 1844 under the title Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and other Poems, brought its author a little cash; and indirectly it did him better service as the means of his introduction to The New York Tribune. With the money thus obtained, and with an advance made to him on account of some journalistic work to be done in Europe, "J. B. Taylor" (as he had up to this time signed himself, though he bore no other Christian name than Bayard) set sail for the East.
The young poet spent a happy time in roaming through certain districts of England, France, Germany and Italy; that he was a born traveller is evident from the fact that this pedestrian tour of almost two years cost him only £100. The graphic accounts which he sent from Europe to The New York Tribune, The Saturday Evening Post, and The United States Gazette were so highly appreciated that on Taylor's return to America he was advised to throw his articles into book form. In 1846, accordingly, appeared his Views Afoot, or Europe seen with Knapsack and Staff (2 vols., New York).
This pleasant book had considerable popularity, and its author now found himself a recognized man of letters; moreover, Horace Greeley, then editor of the Tribune, placed Taylor on the Tribune staff (1848) thus securing him a certain if a moderate income. His next journey, made when the gold-fever was at its height, was to California, as correspondent for the Tribune; from this expedition he returned by way of Mexico, and, seeing his opportunity, published (2 vols., New York, 1850) a highly successful book of travels, entitled El Dorado; or, Adventures in the Path of Empire. Ten thousand copies were said to have been sold in America, and thirty thousand in Great Britain, within a fortnight from the date of issue.
Bayard Taylor always considered himself native to the East, and it was with great delight that in 1851 he found himself on the banks of the Nile. He ascended as far as 12° 30' N., and stored his memory with countless sights and delights, to many of which he afterwards gave expression in metrical form. From England, towards the end of 1852, he sailed for Calcutta, proceeding thence to China, where he joined the expedition of Commodore Perry to Japan. The results of these journeys (besides his poetical memorials) were A Journey to Central Africa; or, Life and Landscapes from Egypt to the Negro Kingdoms of the While Nile (New York, 1854); The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily and Spain (1854); and A Visit to India, China and Japan in the Year 1853 (1855).
On his return (December 20, 1853) from these various journeyings he entered, with marked success, upon the career of a public lecturer, delivering addresses in every town of importance from Maine to Wisconsin. After two years' experience of this lucrative profession, he again started on his travels, on this occasion for northern Europe, his special object being the study of Swedish life, language and literature. The most noteworthy result was the long narrative poem Lars, but his "Swedish Letters" to the Tribune were also republished, under the title Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures (London, 1857).
His first wife, May Agnew, died (1850) within a year of her marriage, and in October 1857 he married Maria Hansen, the daughter of Peter Hansen, the German astronomer. The ensuing winter was spent in Greece. In 1859 Taylor once more traversed the whole extent of the western American gold region, the primary cause of the journey lying in an invitation to lecture at San Francisco. About three years later he entered the diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St Petersburg, and the following year (1863) became charge d'affaires at the Russian capital. In 1864 he returned to the United States and resumed his active literary labours, and it was at this period that Hannah Thurston (New York, 1863), the first of his four novels, was published.
This book had a moderate success, but neither in it nor in its successors did Bayard Taylor betray any special talent as a novelist. In 1874 he, went to Iceland, to report for the Tribune the one thousandth anniversary of the first settlement there. In June 1878 he was accredited United States minister at Berlin. Notwithstanding the resistless passion for travel which had always possessed him, Bayard Taylor was (when not actually en route) sedentary in his habits, especially in the later years of his life. His death occurred on the 19th of December, only a few months after his arrival in Berlin.
Taylor's most ambitious productions in poetry—his Masque of the Gods (Boston, 1872), Prince Deukalion; a lyrical drama (Boston, 1878), The Picture of St John (Boston, 1866), Lars; a Pastoral of Norway (Boston, 1873), and The Prophet; a tragedy (Boston, 1874) are marred by a ceaseless effort to overstrain his power. But he will be remembered by his poetic and excellent translation of Faust (2 vols., Boston, 1870-71) in the original metres. Taylor felt, in all truth, "the torment and the ecstasy of verse"; but, as a critical friend has written of him, "his nature was so ardent, so full-blooded, that slight and common sensations intoxicated him, and he estimated their effect, and his power to transmit it to others, beyond the true value." He had, from the earliest period at which he began to compose, a distinct lyrical faculty: so keen indeed was his ear that he became too insistently haunted by the music of others, pre-eminently of Tennyson. But he had often a true and fine note of his own. His best short poems are "The Metempsychosis of the Pine" and the well-known Bedouin love-song. In his critical essays Bayard Taylor had himself in no inconsiderable degree what he wrote of as "that pure poetic insight which is the vital spirit of criticism." The most valuable of these prose dissertations are the Studies in German Literature (New York, 1879). Collected editions of his Poetical Works and his Dramatic Works were published at Boston in 1888; his Life and Letters (Boston, 2 vols., 1884) were edited by his wife and Horace E. Scudder.
See also Albert H. Smyth, Bayard Taylor (Boston, 1896), in the "American Men of Letters" series; and W. D. Howells's Literary Friends and Acquaintances (1900).
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 26. pg. 467.