Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

GLEAMS NOW AND THEN A POOL SO SMOOTH AND CLEAR

84

[blocks in formation]

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

EDWARD ROWLAND Sill was born at Windsor, Connecticut, April 29, 1841, and died at Cleveland, Ohio, February 27, 1887. The forty-six years of his life furnish a record of quiet, modest service, unbroken by striking incident or conspicuous action. Teaching was his profession, though he did not at once adopt it. There was a period after his graduation from Yale, in 1861, when he was quite uncertain of his life work, He spent some years in California at various forms of business. Then, for a time, he attended the Divinity School at Harvard. Later, for a year, he tried the experiment of writing for a living. But in 1868 he determined upon teaching, and gave to it the best of his remaining years. He began characteristically at the bottom, taking a district school at Wadsworth, Ohio, later teaching at Cuyahoga Falls and at Oakland, California, and in 1874 he accepted the chair of English Literature at the University of California, where he taught until failing health put an end to his teaching, in 1882. He was happily married in 1867 to his cousin, Elizabeth Sill, who survives him. They had no children, which, perhaps, left him more completely free to devote himself, as he was fond of do

[ocr errors]

xviii

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

ing, to his students, who treasure his memory with an unusual and tender regard.

From his undergraduate years he had been writing, chiefly in verse, and contributing in a casual way to various periodicals, but keeping his authorship rigorously subordinate to his teaching. He was accustomed to say that he was “ a teacher who occasionally wrote verses," and there was no affectation in his modesty; for he seldom cared to sign his poems, but sent them out either unsigned or signed only by a nom de plume. Gradually, however, his work began to gain recognition and increasing attention. It had been done so quietly that few realized how considerable in amount it was. In fact it was not until after his death that anything like an appraisal could be made of it, and most of his readers will probably be surprised to find his work so extensive as is indicated by this volume.

The body of Sill's work has three stages — the first marked by the angry rhetoric and unrestrained melody of his « Class Poem,” the piece entitled “ Music,” and the poem of his first California period, “Summer Afternoon,” with its soft assonances which suggest the influence of Mrs. Browning. The work of this period is worth reading chiefly as showing the course of Sill's development. To it belong practically the whole of the first volume, “The Hermitage and Other Poems,” published in 1868.

The second period covers the years from 1867 to

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

xix

1880, including almost all the years of his teaching service. The poems of this period seem to have lost the sensuousness of the earlier time, and not yet to have gained the clear tone and firm texture of the later period. They are more subjective, more austere, and at times suggest the schoolmaster. Some are frankly pedagogic in tone and substance, as

6 The Schoolhouse Windows," “ The Clocks of GnosterTown,” and “ Berkeley Greets New Haven.” Among them are the keenest poems of irony, “Fantasy and First Love," “ The Tree of my Life” and “ Five Lives.” To this period belong also two or three of the strongest poems of ethical impulse that he wrote. The best known of all his poems,

" The Fool's Prayer," of which Professor Royce has made such impressive use in the concluding chapter of “The Spirit of Modern Philosophy,” was first published in “ The Atlantic Monthly” for April, 1879, and the other poem which is so often coupled with it, “ Opportunity,” appeared in “ The Californian ” in November, 1880.

“Five Lives” and “ The Fool's Prayer" are the two poems which, perhaps, best sum up the two tendencies of Sill's mind during the middle period, the time of crystallization of his philosophy of life. They show his keen sense of unwelcome truth, on the biological and the moral side; his courageous acceptance of it and his scornful rejection of subterfuges, which he put forcibly in “Truth at Last.”

« PreviousContinue »