Thursday, July 26, 2012

Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833-1908)

Poet, Critic, Editor, Essayist, Journalist, Inventor, Banker
Born October 8, 1833, Hartford, Connecticut
Died January 18, 1908, New York, New York

As I read about these American writers from the nineteenth century, I find each more interesting than the last. I can't do justice to their lives and accomplishments in this blog (or for that matter, anyone's life or accomplishments), but I will write what I can. Edmund Clarence Stedman, "the banker-poet," was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Colonel Edmund Burke Stedman and Elizabeth Clementine Dodge Stedman, "a woman of poetic gifts and high culture" to whom her son later dedicated a book of verse. Stedman matriculated at Yale University at age sixteen but was suspended for "his disinclination to brook restraint," a euphemism whose meaning may now be lost. Over the years, Stedman worked as a journalist, critic, and editor. During the Civil War he was a war correspondent in Virginia. Before the war was over, he returned to New York and a career in finance, serving on the New York Stock Exchange from 1865 to 1900.

Stedman was an indispensable figure in the literature of nineteenth century America. In addition to authoring several volumes of his own poetry, he assembled large collections of verse and prose by fellow authors, including a ten-volume collection of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Stunned and unfit to speak upon Stedman's death in 1908, Mark Twain wrote:
Mr. Stedman was for a lifetime like an elder brother to me, and it is difficult to respond to your [the New York Times'] request for a word about him to-night [sic]. As poet, critic, leader in all matters pertaining to the interests and honor of literature, and as a helpful, loyal and generous friend of men of letters, his position was unique. He will be greatly missed and widely mourned.
I would like to offer another quote on an interesting topic. This one is from Wikipedia:
In [February] 1879, [Stedman] proposed a rigid airship inspired by the anatomy of a fish, with a framework of steel, brass, or copper tubing and a tractor propeller mounted on the craft's bow, later changed to an engine with two propellers suspended beneath the framework. The airship never was built, but its design foreshadowed that of the dirigibles of the early decades of the 20th century.
Stedman was not the originator or inventor of the dirigible, but in 1879, the craft was in development in different places, mostly in Europe. Just seventeen years later, however, sightings of dirigibles or "airships" set off the first UFO flap in the United States. The year was 1896, arguably the birth year of popular culture in America.

Note: The quotes are from Edmund Clarence Stedman's obituary in the New York Times, January 19, 1908.

Edmund Clarence Stedman's Poem in Weird Tales
"Salem" (July 1926)

I had a hard time finding an image related to Edmund Clarence Stedman. Then I came upon this one and I couldn't have asked for anything better or more appropriate. It's the headpiece of "Witchcraft," a feature written by Stedman and published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in December 1884. The artist was Howard Pyle, the father of American illustration. I am indebted to blogger Ian Schoenherr, son of science fiction illustrator John Schoenherr, for the image. Mr. Schoenherr writes about his father and about Howard Pyle on separate blogs. Click them for links. By the way, Howard Pyle died in Italy and his body was placed in a cemetery mausoleum south of Firenze (Florence). Pyle's resting place is unremarkable. I would venture to say few have seen it, and the staff of the cemetery probably doesn't know who he was--undeserved obscurity for one of our great illustrators. 
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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