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Bryant, William Cullen (1794-1878)
Collection of Letters from William Cullen Bryant mainly to his brother John H. Bryant, 1815 – 1866

eight letters (plus two faded letters), 15 pages, some letters damp-stained, and spotted, as well as being a bit brittle, in generally good condition, and readable.

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William Cullen Bryant, American romantic poet, journalist and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post, here writes his brother, (the earliest letter 1815 is written to his father), concerning business affairs and family news. His brother John had removed to Princeton, Putnam County, Illinois, and the two brothers apparently were partners in land and real estate there. Bryant mentions difficulties with the Post in two letters, which he was hoping to sell amidst the financial difficulties of 1837. Bryant did not sell the paper but remained its editor in chief for  half a century (1828-1878) The Evening-Post became not only the foundation of his fortune but also the means by which he exercised considerable political power in New York City, and State but nationally as well. The letters also mention Bryant’s botanical interests which included the nurture of specimens of trees and shrubs from around the world at his home on Long Island at Roslyn.


October 25, 1837, New York, W. C. Bryant to John Bryant

“Dear Brother,

I am very much obliged to you for your kind offer and if I were at liberty I should like nothing better than to pass a year in Illinois. But I am fastened here for the present The Evening Post cannot be disposed of in these hard times, and, on account of the difficulty of making collections, its income does not present an appearance which would enable me to sell it for its real value even if I could find a purchaser. I am chained to the oar for another year at least. The prospects of the journal are however improving, though I am personally no better for it at present. I am very much perplexed by the state of my pecuniary affairs.

I have taken a house in town at as moderate a rent as I could find and expect my family from the country in a very few days. I am obliged to practice the strictest frugality – but that I do not regard as an evil. The great difficulty lies in meeting the debts in which the purchase of the paper has involved me….”


August 30, 1850, New York W. C. Bryant to John H. Bryant

“Dear Brother,

I thank you for the statement you have given me of my account with you. I wish I had mentioned to you that I should be glad to know how many bushels of wheat you had received from Gales at different times and what prices the wheat brought in market. In order that I might judge what sort of bargain I made in selling him the land. I should also like to know how much is yet coming to me on his notes. Will you be so kind as to inform me when you receive this?

With regard to the building of a house, your advice I doubt not is judicious. I do not see, however, that I can send out any money for the purpose this fall – money is not so plenty with me as that. I had been in hopes that Gales would pay enough on his notes to buy the timber for the building. If that cannot be done I think the building of the house must go over to another year at least. I had thought of offering you, if you would build the house, the first years rent, which I suppose would be about ten per cent on the value. I did not offer any thing for the trouble taken in building the first house, because I made an abatement from the interest stipulated in the notes.

The terms on which you wish to exchange lands with me I am not sure that I perfectly understand. I have no objection to any arrangement of that kind however, on fair business principles. If you will give me for my lands near the village lands the same value in lands elsewhere within a reasonable distance. I am content and I am willing that Mr. Olds shall say what amount of land I shall take for what I transfer to you.

The monument for our mother’s grave certainly ought to be attended to and I take shame to myself that it has been so long neglected. I must see for what a simple monument of good marble can be had and order it to be made. I have but at hand the memoranda of the day of the death, though I have I believe that of her birth. Will you send it to me?

I had entertained some thoughts before you wrote of coming out to Illinois in the last half of September. If I do, I shall bring out my wife with me, but it is uncertain yet. I thank you however, and so does my wife for your hospitable invitation.

The plum trees you sent me succeeded very well and now make flourishing little trees. Of the gooseberry cuttings some appeared to start root; they put forth leaves, but last winter the frost threw them nearly out of the ground, and the spring rains while I was absent in town, washing away the earth completed the mischief. One only yet maintains a starveling existence with two or three little leaves, but it must inevitably die. I should like use of the gooseberry cuttings this fall.

… We are all well – my wife is at our place in Roslyn & Julia on Staten Island and Fanny with her three children at her cottage by the water where they have the benefit of a dip now and then in the salt water, which keeps them strong and hearty. Part of the summer has been uncommonly hot, but it is now rather cooler than usual. Last week I took my wife and Julia to Easthampton and Montauk Point, the eastern extremity of Long Island. Easthampton consists of large ancient banks, and green level farms with a ridge of sand hills on the sea shore and a belt of sandy woods on the other three sides. Montauk Point is a peninsula of grassy hills, bare of trees, pastured by cattle and separated from the rest of the island by an isthmus of sand. It is very cool in the summer time and the sea views are fine…”


New York, September 22, 1860, W. C. Bryant to John H. Bryant

“Dear Brother,

I enclose you the receipt which you have written for.

As to the purchases I wish you to make the one for $ 1600 by all means if you can. If you should be able to do this it will be well I think to let that be the limit of your purchases.

In case that cannot be done I think it might be well to buy the farm for $ 2300 which you say is to be very cheap, unless some advantageous bargain for a smaller sum should come in your way. I leave that to your discretion.

We are all well. Frances has been generally better this summer than she was last year. We expect to go to Boston for a short visit next week.

The season is favorable. The grass is abundant, and so is the fruit; the Indian corn good and the potatoes fair. The political harvest is no less promising New York is free for Lincoln the other factions are discouraged.”


Roslyn, May 10, 1861, W. C. Bryant to John H. Bryant

“Dear Brother,

I was in town yesterday and got your letter which Mr. Hendersen after we had consulted together answered.

I am sorry not to be able to do better by you. If I had not laid out all the money I have and made arrangements for paying out what you owe the firm I might have taken your debt to myself. But we have engaged to pay money to Mr. Bigelow of whom Mr. Godwin has bought a third part of the Evening Post, we cannot do without the money due from yourself and Mr. Dee. It was supposed that the note would without question be paid at maturity. I hope the sixty days will answer your purpose.

As to coming out if I were to come alone I could fix a day; but Frances comes with me and it is her whose convenience I must consult. I can only say now that we mean to set out some time in the beginning of week after next that is probably on the 21st (Tuesday) or 22d or 23d – that we shall stop at Rochester the first night, and the next night somewhere else and get to Chicago in three days, and Princeton in four….”


American National Biography, vol. 3 pp., 825-827

Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 2, pp., 200-205