Stedman, Edmund Clarence 1833-1908
STEDMAN, Edmund Clarence 1833-1908
PERSONAL: Born October 8, 1833, in Hartford, CT; died of a heart attack January 18, 1908; son of Edmund Burke (a lumber merchant) and Elizabeth Clementine Dodge (later Kinney: a poet and novelist) Stedman; married Laura Woodworth (a seamstress), 1853; children: two sons. Education: Attended Yale University, 1849-51.
CAREER: Poet, essayist, critic, editor, anthologist, journalist, and publisher. Norwich Tribune, Norwich, CT, editor, 1852-53; New York Evening World, New York, NY, day editor, 1860. Also held various positions as a real estate agent, banker, railroad clerk, clockmaker, and clerk for U.S. Attorney General Edward Bates.
AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary M.A., Yale University, 1871.
Poems, Lyrical and Idyllic, Scribners (New York, NY), 1860.
Alice of Monmouth: An Idyl of the Great War, with Other Poems, Carelton (New York, NY), 1863.
The Blameless Prince and Other Poems, Fields, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1869.
The Poetical Works of Edmund Clarence Stedman, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1873, enlarged edition, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1884.
Victorian Poets, Houghton, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1875, revised and enlarged edition, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1887.
Favorite Poems, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1877.
Hawthorne and Other Poems, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1877.
Lyrics and Idylls, with Other Poems, Kegan Paul (London, England), 1879.
Edgar Allan Poe, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1881.
Poets of America, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1885.
(Editor with Ellen M. Hutchinson) A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, eleven volumes, Webster (New York, NY), 1888-1890.
The Nature and Elements of Poetry, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1892.
(Editor with George E. Woodbury) The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ten volumes, Stone & Kimball (Chicago, IL), 1894-1895.
(Editor) A Victorian Anthology, 1837-1895, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1895.
Poems Now First Collected, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1897.
(Editor) An American Anthology, 1787-1900, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1901.
(Editor) The New York Stock Exchange; Its History, Its Contribution to National Prosperity, and Its Relation to American Finance, two volumes, Stock Exchange Historical Company (New York, NY), 1905.
The Poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1908.
Genius and Other Essays, Moffat, Yard (New York, NY), 1911.
Stedman's letters were collected by Laura Stedman and George M. Gould and published in two volumes as The Life and Letters of Edmund Clarence Stedman, Moffat, Yard, 1910. Stedman's correspondence also appears in Edmund W. Gosse's Transatlantic Dialogue: Selected American Correspondence, edited by Paul F. Matthiesen and Michael Millgate, University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 1965.
SIDELIGHTS: Though Edmund Clarence Stedman remains best known for his poetry, his most valuable literary contributions have been his critical writings and anthology work. His views on contemporary poetry and his support for "unpopular" artists such as Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman were a shaping force in American literature. Stedman, called "the Bard of Wall Street," balanced a career as a stockbroker with his literary pursuits. He published five book-length volumes of criticism. Stedman, finding the Victorians and English poets too restrained, urged American writers to forge a new identity. In the essay "English Poetry of the Period," Stedman criticizes contemporary English poets as hidebound to their age, which he describes as critical, intellectual, and introspective English poetry, according to Stedman, was "lacking in freshness, synthetical art, and sustained imaginative power." Notably, he excepted Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold. In another influential essay titled "Elements of the Art of Poetry," Stedman again stresses that poets should not merely reflect their times. In Victorian Poets, a collection of essays written for Scribner's Monthly, Stedman examines Tennyson, Arnold, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, among others. Critics praised the book, which treated the entire literary period, as objective. Stedman's orderly, almost scientific approach spawned a new system of criticism in America. Among other things, he advocated a shift toward dramatic poetry for his contemporaries. Victorian Poets was republished regularly for more than four decades.
As he had done for English poetry with "English Poetry of the Period" and Victorian Poets, Stedman then turned to a complete critical study of American poetry and literature. In Poets of America, Stedman's most influential work, he named Ralph Waldo Emerson and the much-maligned Poe as the forefathers of American poetry. Again, finding his own stale, he called for dramatic poetry. As Robert J. Scholnick noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Here he did help point the way; in the 1890s the work of such young poets as Edwin Arlington Robinson and Stephen Crane was notable for its strongly dramatic qualities."
In addition to supporting Whitman and Poe, Stedman was instrumental in defining a unique American literary tradition. As an anthologist, Stedman produced a full-length study of Poe and two collections, the eleven-volume A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time and An American Anthology, 1787-1900. These works "did much to establish both a finer appreciation of and a greater interest in American literature," a critic noted in the Oxford Companion to American Literature.
In A Library of American Literature, Stedman argues that it is unfair to judge American literature against British and European traditions. To illustrate that America had forged its own literature, Stedman cites Captain John Smith, Cotton Mather, William Bradford and others, as well as folk songs, sermons, diaries, travel accounts, and spirituals to establish his conception of literature. Unlike other critics of his time, he showed American literature as creative and varied. As Stedman wrote, A Library of American Literature "is not a collection of masterpieces: it is something more than you and me. It is America."
According to Robert L. Gale in The Gay Nineties in America, Stedman's "best criticism appears in Poets of America, which anticipates early twentieth-century critics by focusing on the text and, in addition, deploring the didacticism so pervasive in establishment literature." Additionally, Stedman's essay on Walt Whitman, written in 1880, "marks the beginning of Whitman's acceptance by the establishment." Whitman himself considered Stedman "our most generous man of letters" and the best critic of his time, Scholnick reported. Gale added that Stedman was a "mentor to younger and better writers" including such figures as Hamlin Garland, Richard Hovey, Emma Lazarus, Percy MacKaye, Harriet Monroe, William Vaughn Moody, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Charles Warren Stoddard.
Some critics believe Stedman's own poetry fell short of the standards he set for others. An Oxford Companion to American Literature writer said that "later critics have considered his several volumes of verse, collected in Poetical Works, to be rather frigid reflections of the genteel tradition, or echoes of Tennyson and other contemporary poets." A Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography critic agreed, saying he "wrote rather imitative sentimental poetry."
Despite his demands as a stockbroker and critic, Stedman regularly published volumes of poetry. As Scholnick noted, not specializing in poetry meant that Stedman's "creative work would continue to disappoint him." Nevertheless, he drew his share of praise. Two of his better-known poems are "Pan of Wall Street" and "John Brown's Invasion." As a critic commented in Review of Reviews on the Life and Letters of Edmund Clarence Stedman, "Stedman's personality was in itself interesting and the account of his career as war correspondent, struggling writer, and Wall Street stock broker yields material for half a dozen novels."
Through his early support of Whitman and Poe, and his work as a critic and anthologist, Stedman helped shape how the world viewed American literature. His unbiased approach formed the foundation for modern literary studies. Despite his current reputation as a poet, a Nation reviewer in 1911 eulogized him as as "probably the most distinguished poet and critic" of his day.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bowman, John S., editor, Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 64: American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1850-1880, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Downs, Robert B., and Jane B. Downs, Journalists of the United States, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 1991.
Gale, Robert L., Gay Nineties in America, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1992.
Hart, James D., Oxford Companion to American Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Perkins, George, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger, editors, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Roth, Mitchel P., Historical Dictionary of War Journalists, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.
Nation, January 12, 1911.
Outlook, February 18, 1911.
Review of Reviews, December 10, 1910.*