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Tabb, John Banister


Priest, poet; b. near Richmond, Va., March 22, 1845;d. Ellicott City, Md., Nov. 19, 1909. His father, Thomas Yelverton, a plantation owner in Amelia County, Va., married Marianna Bertrand Archer, a first cousin. Tabb was tutored at home, and enlisted in the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was captured in June 1864, and sent to Point Lookout prison camp, where he formed a lasting friendship with the musician and poet, Sidney Lanier. After his release in February 1865, he went to Baltimore, hoping to become a concert pianist. Here he became a close friend of Alfred Curtis, an Episcopalian ministerlater the Catholic bishop of Wilmington, Del.whose religious practices turned his thoughts toward the Catholic Church, though he first thought of becoming an Episcopalian clergyman.

Tabb taught English (1870) at Racine College, an Episcopalian institution in Michigan. Called home because of his sister's illness, he stayed until he resolved his own religious crisis. He was baptized conditionally by Bp. James Gibbons in the Richmond Cathedral, Sept. 8,1872. In November he was enrolled at St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md. He graduated in 1875, then taught at St. Peter's School in Richmond from 1875 to 1877 and at St. Charles' College from 1877 to 1881, where he also studied philosophy. He entered St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, in 1881, was ordained on Dec. 20, 1884, and returned to St. Charles. There he taught until blindness forced his retirement in 1907.

His first book, Poems, was privately printed in 1882. The poems written between 1882 and 1890 evidenced his critical renouncement of his earlier Victorian poetic style. Many of them were rejected by magazine editors, chiefly because their metaphysical and imagistic qualities were new and puzzling. After 1890 his poems found ready acceptance; An Octave to Mary (1893) was followed by Poems (1894), which won immediate acclaim and assured the success of his subsequent volumes. These include: Lyrics (1897), Child Verse (1899), Two Lyrics (1900), Later Lyrics (1902), The Rosary in Rhyme (1904), Quips and Quiddities (1907), and Later Poems (1910). His priestly character pervades his poetry; the New and Old Testaments, the liturgy, theology, and hagiography furnish the functional metaphors and symbols for his lyric and epigrammatic presentation of the world of nature and man.

Bibliography: f. e. litz, Father Tabb: A Study of His Life and Works (Baltimore 1923). j. b. tabb, LettersGrave and Gay, and Other Prose, ed. f. e. litz (Washington 1950).

[f. e. litz]

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