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Letters to His Daughter

Following their return from Europe in September of 1836, Mrs. Frances Bryant and her two daughters, Frances (1822-1893) and Julia (1831-1907), spent the spring and summer of 1837, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, near old friends and family. Mr. Bryant remained in New York City to take care of business at the New York Evening Post newspaper and to cover the banking crisis then afflicting the country.

In letters to his oldest daughter, Frances, we have a rare look at Bryant, the father, concerned with the moral and spiritual development of his fifteen year old child. Five years later, in 1842, Frances married Parke Godwin, an associate of her father. The full text of these letters can be found in vol.2 of “The Letters of William Cullen Bryant,” NY: Fordham Univ. Press, 1977 and is available in the Bryant Library’s Local History Collection.

May 22, 1837

My dear daughter.

“Your mother in her letter of last week led me to believe that you were immediately to write to me and I have been looking for a letter ever since. If you have not sent it before you receive this I hope you will let me have an answer soon. You should write me at least once a fortnight. I want to hear how you like your new dwelling, the country the people what studies you pursue &c. Your mother makes no complaint and I therefore presume she is satisfied with you. It would be a shame if you did not give her reason to be for with your good understanding, of which however you must not be conceited you might make yourself exceedingly amiable agreeable and useful. One the great uses—the great use I should say of a good intellect is to enable us to control our temper and teach us to fulfill the law of kindness towards one another. But enough of this—A word to the wise. Let me hear a good report of you I beseech you….”

September 9, 1837:

My Dear Daughter

“I send you as you desire a German book—the first three numbers of a series of selections from the German Classics now publishing in this city. Do not suffer them to be defaced or lost for I wish to preserve them.

I am glad that you have asked for such a book, as it shows that you are disposed to retain what you have already acquired. You will not I hope allow a dislike of useful exertion and a love of amusement or frivolous occupations to obtain the ascendancy over you. You are now arrived at “years of discretion” as they are called, -- the time of life when your own reason is strong enough if you will follow it to show you what you ought to do to form your own character and intellect. You have three enemies to contend with and overcome—laziness, selfishness, and ill-temper—and you must master them or they will master you. Now is your time to put them in chains for the rest of your life. After you have once fairly subdued them they will give you little trouble. If allowed to get the ascendancy, they become the parents of almost every kind of wickedness and every kind of suffering. I do not speak of them thus because I think you more in danger, than many others, from these evil propensities. You have your share of them I know—but I bless God that you have strength of mind, which rightly employed will enable you to overcome them. In this work you will find great support from religious motives, from cultivating a reverence for the supreme being, and a desire to do what is pleasing to him—from recollecting the rewards which follow goodness and the misery which follows misconduct and from studying the beautiful and affecting example of virtue given in the life of Jesus. On your return for the winter I hope to see you improved morally as well as in other respects.

I am sorry that I have nothing to tell you about your friends or of what is going on in the city. The letters which I have written to your mother lately have quite exhausted my little sack of gossip. I will soon write you a longer and more entertaining letter but first I hope to receive one from you.”

Yours affectionately,

W C Bryant

A version of this article by former LHC Archivist Myrna Sloam was originally published in the September/October 2013 Bryant Library Newsletter.


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