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A Forgotten American Poet
by [?]

I have written the title, “A forgotten American poet,” and I shall let it stand, though I am not sure that he was ever well enough known to be spoken of now as forgotten. Ten or a dozen years ago a friend of mine who was working on an anthology of American poetry, at the John Carter Brown library in Providence, wrote to me with great enthusiasm of a poet he had “discovered,” and of whom he had never heard before. “His name is Frederick Goddard Tuckerman,” my friend said, “and you will not find him in Stedman’s anthology, though it seems incredible that Stedman left out anybody or anything. Get a copy of his poems if you can–Ticknor and Fields, 1860.”

I sent in my order for the book, to Goodspeed’s, and then forgot the incident. But Goodspeed didn’t. A year later the book came. Evidently it is an infrequent item at the auctions. The copy I received was a second edition, dated 1864 (which seems to indicate the poems had found some readers), but still in the familiar brown of Ticknor and Fields, matching my first American editions of The Angel in the House. This copy was of special interest because it was a presentation copy from the author to Harriet Beecher Stowe. The leaves had been opened, but if Mrs. Stowe read, she had made no marginal comments. The only addition to the book was an old newspaper clipping pasted in the back–a condensed history of the Beecher family! I read the volume myself with increasing interest and enthusiasm, and at the close I desired to learn more of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, not of the Beechers. Mr. Stedman’s complete omission of these poems could only have been explained, I felt, by an equally complete ignorance of their existence. Compared to the poems of Henry T. Tuckerman, included by Stedman, the verses of his unknown cousin were as gold to copper. Why, I wondered, had this man been so completely obliterated by Time, or why had he failed in his life to reach a niche where Time could not utterly efface him?

I wrote to Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who, I discovered, had been a classmate of Tuckerman’s at Harvard, and who of course knew practically everybody of consequence in the literary world of his generation. Colonel Higginson was able to supply some data, but not much. Tuckerman was born in 1821, of a rather well-known Boston family. Joseph Tuckerman, philanthropist and early Unitarian clergyman, was his uncle. He was a younger brother of Edward Tuckerman, long famous as a professor of botany at Amherst College, and who gave his name to Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington. Frederick Goddard Tuckerman entered Harvard with the class of 1841, but remained only a year, passing over to the Law School a little later where he secured his LL.B. in 1842, and for a period evidently practised law in Boston. “I remember he came back among us at some kind of gathering during our college course,” Colonel Higginson wrote, “and seemed very friendly and cordial to all. I remember him as a refined and gentlemanly fellow, but did not then know him as a poet. I see him put down as a lawyer in Boston (in Adams’s Dictionary of American Authors), but I have no recollection of that fact.”

It was not until I had written and published in the Forum magazine a little appreciation of his poetry that I learned from his son, now a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts, that Frederick Tuckerman, even as his verses seemed to imply, early moved away from cities to the beautiful valley under the shadow of the Holyoke Range, and there passed his days, evidently the world forgetting, and by the world forgot. He issued his single volume of poems in 1860, when he was thirty-nine, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, but no shadow of that coming contest crosses their pages, as it crossed the pages of Whittier and Emerson, or as it affected the active life of his classmate Colonel Higginson. The second edition, in 1864, was still unaffected by the great struggle. He produced his slender sheaf of poems amid the fields, in quiet introspection, and he might well be accused of a species of Pharisaism, were these poems not so artlessly and passionately sincere, and often so tinged with religious awe. His withdrawal, in his verse, from the life of his times was the act of a natural recluse.