Rufus Wilmot Griswold

Rufus Wilmot Griswold bigraphy, stories - 19th century American editor, literary critic, anthologist, and writer.

Rufus Wilmot Griswold : biography

February 15, 1815 – August 12, 1857

Rufus Wilmot Griswold (February 13, 1815 – August 27, 1857) was an American anthologist, editor, poet, and critic. Born in Vermont, Griswold left home when he was 15 years old. He worked as a journalist, editor, and critic in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere. He built up a strong literary reputation, in part due to his 1842 collection The Poets and Poetry of America. This anthology, the most comprehensive of its time, included what he deemed the best examples of American poetry. He produced revised versions and similar anthologies for the remainder of his life, although many of the poets he promoted have since faded into obscurity. Many writers hoped to have their work included in one of these editions, although they commented harshly on Griswold’s abrasive character. Griswold was married three times: his first wife died young, his second marriage ended in a public and controversial divorce, and his third wife left him after the previous divorce was almost repealed.

Edgar Allan Poe, whose poetry had been included in Griswold’s anthology, published a critical response that questioned which poets were included. This began a rivalry which grew when Griswold succeeded Poe as editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe’s. Later, the two competed for the attention of poet Frances Sargent Osgood. They never reconciled their differences and, after Poe’s mysterious death in 1849, Griswold wrote an unsympathetic obituary. Claiming to be Poe’s chosen literary executor, he began a campaign to harm Poe’s reputation that lasted until his own death eight years later.

Griswold considered himself an expert in American poetry and was an early proponent of its inclusion on the school curriculum. He also supported the introduction of copyright legislation, speaking to Congress on behalf of the publishing industry, although he was not above pirating other people’s work. A fellow editor remarked, "even while haranguing the loudest, [he] is purloining the fastest".Moss, 80–81

Reputation and influence

Engraving from an 1855 edition of The Poets and Poetry of America Griswold’s anthology The Poets and Poetry of America was the most comprehensive of its kind to date. As critic Lewis Gaylord Clark said, it was expected Griswold’s book would "become incorporated into the permanent undying literature of our age and nation". The anthology helped Griswold build up a considerable reputation throughout the 1840s and 1850sMeyers, 126 and its first edition went through three printings in only six months. His choice of authors, however, was occasionally questioned. A British editor reviewed the collection and concluded, "with two or three exceptions, there is not a poet of mark in the whole Union" and referred to the anthology as "the most conspicuous act of martyrdom yet committed in the service of the transatlantic muses".Bayless, 90 Even so, the book was popular and was even continued in several editions after Griswold’s death by Richard Henry Stoddard.

In more modern times, The Poets and Poetry of America has been nicknamed a "graveyard of poets" because its anthologized writers have since passed into obscurityBayless, 247 to become, as literary historian Fred Lewis Pattee wrote, "dead… beyond all resurrection". Pattee also called the book a "collection of poetic trash" and "voluminous worthlessness".Pattee, 363

Within the contemporary American literary scene Griswold became known as erratic, dogmatic, pretentious, and vindictive. As historian Perry Miller wrote, "Griswold was about as devious as they came in this era of deviousness; did not ample documentation prove that he actually existed, we might suppose him… one of the less plausible inventions of Charles Dickens".Miller, 168 Later anthologies such as Prose Writers of America and Female Poets of America helped him become known as a literary dictator, whose approval writers sought even while they feared his growing power.Quinn, 351 Even as they tried to impress him, however, several authors voiced their opinion on Griswold’s character. Ann S. Stephens called him two-faced and "constitutionally incapable of speaking the truth".Silverman, 216–217 Even his friends knew him as a consummate liar and had a saying: "Is that a Griswold or a fact?"Miller, 204 Another friend once called him "one of the most irritable and vindictive men I ever met". Author Cornelius Mathews wrote in 1847 that Griswold fished for writers to exploit, warning "the poor little innocent fishes" to avoid his "Griswold Hook".Miller, 211 A review of one of Griswold’s anthologies, published anonymously in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum on January 28, 1843, but believed to have been written by Poe,Quinn, 354 asked: "What will be [Griswold’s] fate? Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust."James Harrison, ed., The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1902, vol XVII. 220–243