When William Cullen Bryant signed the first of 314 letters in the present volume, in 1809, he was a frail and shy farm boy of fourteen who had nonetheless already won some fame as the satirist of Thomas Jefferson. When he wrote the last, in 1836, he had become the chief poet of his country, the editor of its principal liberal newspaper, and the friend and collaborator of its leading artists and writers. His collected poems, previously published at New York, Boston, and London, were going into their third edition. His incisive editorials in the New York Evening Post were affecting the decisions of Andrew Jackson's administration. His poetic themes were beginning to find expression in the landscape paintings of Robert Weir, Asher Durand, and Thomas Cole.
Here, in essence, is the first volume of the autobiography of one whom Abraham Lincoln remarked after his first visit to New York City in 1860, "It was worth the journey to the East merely to see such a man." And John Bigelow, who of Bryant's many eulogists knew him best, said in 1878 of his longtime friend and business partner, "There was no eminent American upon whom the judgment of his countrymen would be more immediate and unanimous. The broad simple outline of his character and career had become universally familiar, like a mountain or a sea."