Speyer, Leonora von Stosch 1872-1956

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SPEYER, Leonora von Stosch 1872-1956


Born 1872, in Washington, DC; died 1956, in New York, NY,; daughter of Ferdinand (an officer in the Union Army) and Julia (Thompson) von Stosch; married Louis Meredith Howland (divorced); married Edgar Speyer (a banker), 1902 (died 1933); children: (first marriage) Enid Virginia Howland (Mrs. J. Robert Hewitt); (second marriage) Pamela Moy, Leonora, Vivien. Education: Attended Royal Brussels Conservatory.


Concert violinist, author, and poet. Soloist with Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1890, and New York Philharmonic; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor in poetry.


Poetry Society of America (former president).


Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1927, for Fiddler's Farewell; Gold Medal, Poetry Society of America, 1955.


(Translator and adaptor) Hans Trausil, Holy Night: A Yule-Tide Masque, Sunwise Turn (New York, NY), 1919.

A Canopic Jar, E. P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1921.

Oberammergau, B. Wall (New York, NY), 1922.

(Compiler) American Poets: An Anthology of Contemporary Verse, K. Wolff (Munich, Germany), 1923.

Fiddler's Farewell, A. A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1926.

Naked Heel, A. A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1931.

Slow Wall: Poems New and Selected, A. A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1939, expanded as Slow Wall: Poems Together with or without Music, 1946.

Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including New York Times, Freeman, Reedy's Mirror, Poetry, Contemporary Verse, Nation, Touchstone, and Century.

Author's papers are collected in the Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.


Leonora von Stosch Speyer was born in Washington, D.C. in 1872, the daughter of Ferdinand von Stosch, a former Prussian count who served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. As a teenager Speyer attended the Royal Brussels Conservatory of Music where she distinguished herself as a violinist at age sixteen when she received first prize. Beginning a career as a concert violinist, she performed as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1890, and also appeared with the New York Philharmonic. Speyer toured the United States and Europe for three years as a concert violinist, but this career ended with her marriage in 1902 to Sir Edgar Speyer, a British banker. The couple made their home in London until 1915, when Edgar Speyer had his citizenship revoked due to suspicions regarding his German business connections. The Speyers moved to New York City in 1915, and there Speyer began to write, earning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Fiddler's Farewell in 1927.

Speyer's most notable works include A Canopic Jar, Fiddler's Farewell, Naked Heel, and Slow Wall, all books of poetry. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiddler's Farewell, her body of work earned her a gold medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1956, a society for which she served as president for many years.

Reviewers frequently remarked on the influence of Speyer's musical training on her verse. Percy Hutchison, writing in the New York Times, described the effect as "that quality of musical composition which we have called self-sufficiency." He also commented that readers of Slow Wall will be "impressed with the quality in her work which makes it seem akin to music; … her metrical cadences [are] without a flaw," and that "Speyer has a gift for reproducing in a poem the movement of an object in action." He continued, noting that while "at times her work smacks a little of virtuosity," "one cannot read 'Slow Wall' through and not feel that Leonora Speyer has produced some exceptionally fine verse."



New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1939, Percy Hutchison, review of Slow Wall, p. 2.*



New York Times, February 11, 1956, p. 16; February 13, 1956, p. 27.