The Life, Travels, and Literary Career of Bayard Taylor
Library of Alexandria
The nearness and magnitude of Bayard Taylor’s life make it one exceedingly difficult to comprehend and classify. His adventures were so many, his struggles so severe, his experience so varied, and his final success so remarkable, that the materials are too abundant, and often serve to clog and confuse the student of his career. An artist who views the mountain from its base, loses many of the finest effects and most charming outlines, because of his very close proximity to them. So, in looking upon the wonderful career of such a versatile and gifted man, at a time so near his death, we are less able to form a comprehensive idea of his life, as a symmetrical whole, than we shall be when the years have carried us farther away from him, and the outlines of his greatness are more distinct. Whether it were better to wait until a part of the life has been forgotten, and until the more harsh and angular features have been lost in the general outline, or whether it were more desirable to describe the life in all its actual details, and in the natural ruggedness which the close view reveals, is, however, a mere matter of taste. To those who love to read of a man in whose work there was no unevenness and in whose experience nothing unbroken is seen, the life of one so long dead that the writer is compelled to fill up the forgotten years with ideal events and motives may furnish the choicest theme. But to those students who love scientific scrutiny, who would estimate the life for what it is really worth as an example, the biography which is written amid all the facts, and by one who comes in actual contact with them, is perhaps esteemed the most valuable, although, as a whole, less symmetrical. Bayard Taylor’s life was rugged and cragged with startling events, when viewed from the kindly poetical stand-point of his character. He felt all the extremes of joy and sorrow. He knew all the pains and honors of poverty and wealth. He was loved by many, he was betrayed by many. He lived in the most enlightened lands, he also sojourned among the most barbarous people. He saw man in peace and in war. He rode the ocean in calm and in storm. He was the welcomed guest in the lowliest huts, and in the most gorgeous palaces. He sweltered in the sands of tropical deserts, and he was benumbed by the fierce winds of the Northern ice-fields. He boldly entered the haunts of wild beasts, and loved the company of harmless and faithful domestics. He was a man of many virtues and some faults, each of which made his life more eventful and fascinating. The literary position which he held at the time of his death, and which was so romantically attained, was one of almost universal favor. He was respected by all and loved by many. As a writer of fiction he attained but little celebrity, and it appears that he had little expectation of achieving any high honors in that field. As a writer upon travels, and as a delineator of human character as found in strange places, and in but partially known countries, he was second to none. His books upon travel will be read for a century to come, whether thousands or few visit the localities and tribes he has described. As an orator, he never held a high rank. He was chaste, concise, and clear in his choice of words, and had an incisive, pungent way of stating his ideas. He could instruct the student and amuse the populace, but had not the power to agitate and carry away large bodies of men, and seems never to have been very ambitious to do so. As a translator of German literature, he was fast becoming recognized in all English-speaking countries as an excellent authority, and it is deeply to be regretted that he was called away with so many uncompleted translation, and unfinished plans for translations, from the standards of German literature.