Poets Time Left Behind

Laura E. RichardsThe 19th century produced many writers who were very famous during their lives, but are not so well known today except for a few pieces of poetry that continue to endure. In some cases, these may not even have been the works they might have imagined would survive.

One woman who was famed and admired for much more than her children stories and poems was Laura E. Richards. She was one of the daughters of poet and abolitionist, Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Laura Richards wrote “Captain January”, which is now associated more with Shirley Temple than Laura. She penned quite a bit of poetry during her long life. Laura was 11 years old when the Civil War began and died a year before the end of World War II. She also wrote several biographies, most notably her mother’s. Laura and her sisters, Maud and Florence, were the first female recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1917. Laura also wrote a biography of her famous father, Samuel Gridley Howe and one of Florence Nightingale. She is most remembered today for her nonsense poems, such as “Antonio” (was tired of living a-lonio), and “Eletelephony” (Once there was an elephant who tried to use the telephant). Laura was never quite as famous as her mother. On the other hand, how many people these days know much about Julia Ward Howe besides “The Battle Hymn”?

Edwin Arlington RobinsonLaura E. Richards also was a mentor to struggling poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, who went on to win 3 Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry in 1921, 1924 and 1927. To date, this record has only been surpassed by Robert Frost. Mrs. Richards and her husband’s cousin helped Robinson get his second volume of poetry, “Children of the Night”, published. Aware of his struggles with depression, she also wrote to him every week until he died in 1935. Robinson’s works are still considered to be worthy of a place on the bookshelf by serious students of poetry. To the casual student, his most remembered poems will continue to be “Miniver Cheevy” (child of scorn) and “Richard Cory” ( who “glittered when he walked.”).

Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune was an extremely prolific writer who lived from 1830 to 1922. Writing under the pen name Marion Harland, she published over 75 works of fiction, poetry such as “But Once” (a “we shall not pass this way again” poem), scads of magazine articles, short stories, and she even had a series of syndicated newspaper advice columns. Her cookbook “Common Sense in the Household” was an enormous financial success and translated into several languages. Amazon has some of her cookbooks, ranging from about $40 all the way up to a cool grand (or you can look her up on Google Books for free).

Frances S. Osgood was a highly popular poet, at least up until the late 1840s when she became embroiled in a scandal with Edgar Allan Poe. Another poet, Elizabeth F. Ellet, played a big part in fanning the flames of the scandal, allegedly because she was jealous of Poe’s affections for Mrs. Osgood. “Mrs. E,” as Poe called her, not only managed to tarnish the names and reputations of Osgood and Poe, she is also said to have been the author of anonymous letters about the affair to Poe’s sick wife, Virginia. Poe had this to say: “I scorned Mrs. E simply because she revolted me, and to this day she has never ceased her anonymous persecutions.” Osgood’s poetry eventually faded out of schoolbooks and anthologies. Ellet’s most enduring work “The Women of the American Revolution” continues to be studied by historians to this day.

As for Edgar Allan Poe, his story was the quite the opposite of the above writers. Rarely solvent or admired for long during his short lifetime, the popularity of his works began to increase in the decades following his death. Only 25 years later, his letters and original manuscripts were being offered for sale at prices 5 times that of Byron’s, twice as great as Shelley’s and 100 times as great as Longfellow’s.

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