Maine: An Encyclopedia

Willis, Nathaniel P.

Selected works

American Scenery, Or, Land, Lake And River Illustrations Of Transatlantic Nature, Vols. I and II (1840)

Canadian Scenery Illustrated (1842)

The Convalescent (1859)

Dashes At Life With A Free Pencil (1845)

Famous Persons And Places (1854)

Fugitive Poetry (1829)

Fun-Jottings, Or, Laughs I Have Taken A Pen To (1853)

Health Trip To The Tropics (1853)

Hurry Graphs: Or, Sketches of Scenery, Celebrities, and Society, Taken From Life (1853)

A L’abri, Or, The Tent Pitched (1839)

Letters From Under A Bridge And Poems (1840)

Life, Here And There: Or, Sketches Of Society And Adventure At Far-Apart Times And Places (1850)

Loiterings Of Travel (1840)

Melanie And Other Poems (1837)

Memoranda Of The Life Of Jenny Lind (1851)

Out-Doors At Idlewild, Or, The Shaping Of A Home On The Banks Of The Hudson (1855)

Paul Fane, Or, Parts Of A Life Else Untold : A Novel (1857)

Pencillings by the Way: Written During Some Years of Residence and Travel in France, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Turkey and England (1844)

People I Have Met, Or, Pictures Of Society And People Of Mark, Drawn Under A Thin Veil Of Fiction (1850)

Poem Delivered Before The Society Of United Brothers At Brown University, On The Day Preceding Commencement, September 6, 1831 and other poems (1831)

Poems Of Early And After Years (1848)

The Poems, Sacred, Passionate, And Humorous, Of Nathaniel Parker Willis (1844)

The Prose Works Of N. P. Willis (1852)

Rural Letters And Other Records Of Thought At Leisure, Written In The Intervals Of More Hurried Literary Labor (1849)

Sacred Poems.(1868)

Sketches (1827)

Summer Cruise In The Mediterranean : On Board An American Frigate (1853)

The Token: A Christmas And New Year’s Present (1829)

Tortesa The Usurer: A Play (1839)

Trenton Falls, Picturesque And Descriptive (1862)

The Works Of The Late Edgar Allan Poe (1855-1856)

(1806-1867), a very popular poet and journalist in the mid-nineteenth century, was born in Portland on January 20, 1806, to a family of printers and publishers.

His great-grandfather was a printer in Boston; his grandfather, the proprietor of the Independent Chronicle, the Potomac Guardian, and the Sciota Gazette. Willis’ father, Nathaniel (1780-1870), established the politically important Eastern Argus in Portland in 1803, then returned to Boston to manage the Recorder, one of the earliest religious papers in the world. He also founded the Youth’s Companion in 1827, said to have been the first children’s newspaper.

Nathaniel Parker Willis graduated from Yale University in 1827. While there he wrote for his father’s paper a series of religious narrative poems under the pen name of “Roy.” After college, Willis edited two illustrated annuals, The Legendary (1828) and The Token (1829).

During 1829 he established The American Monthly Magazine, which after two years merged with the New York Mirror. Willis became a major contributor to this weekly devoted to art, literature, and society. Soon he was reporting from Europe. After financial difficulties with the Mirror, he and his partner changed the format and it became the successful Home Journal.

Although far from a handsome in person, Willis became known as a man of elegant manners who dressed in the extreme of fashion. His early career as a writer was one of remarkable success. His scripture versions quickly became well-known and were quoted from the pulpit. As a prose writer of ease and elegance, Willis was as an observant traveler who knew how to present his adventures in glowing colors. As a man of society he attracted and charmed the fashionable world.

Willis became controversial for exaggerating the truth and for publicizing information obtained from private conversations. His “celebrity journalism” eventually led to quarrels and personal conflicts. One biographer, Henry A. Beers, noted the relationship of his career to that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow born in Portland only one year after Willis.

In 1832, when Longfellow, then a young professor at Bowdoin College, began to contribute scholarly articles to the “North American Review,” [Willis] had been five years before the public, and was already well known as a poet, a magazine editor, and a foreign correspondent. . . . But there is no doubt as to which has proved the better continuer. Longfellow is still the favorite of two peoples; a singer dearer, perhaps, to the general heart than any other who has sung in the English tongue. His brilliant contemporary, after being for about fifteen years the most popular magazinist in America, has sunk into comparative oblivion. (p. 2)

The author William Makepeace Thackery, apparently noting that popular writing has its place, as well as the literary, asserted that “it is comfortable that there should have been a Willis.”

In the 1840’s, Edgar Allan Poe came to work for Willis’ Evening Mirror. They became friends and Willis supported him through the paper, including publishing Poe’s “The Raven” along with a with favorable review.

Willis died near Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, 20 January, 1867.

Additional resources

Auser, Cortland P. Nathaniel Parker Willis. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1969.

Baker, Thomas N. Sentiment And Celebrity : Nathaniel Parker Willis And The Trials Of Literary Fame. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999.

Beers, Henry A. American Men of Letters (series). Nathaniel Parker Willis. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. 1885.

Paston, George. Little Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century. Freeport, N.Y. Books for Libraries Press. 1969. [University of Southern Maine (Portland), The Albert Brenner Glickman Family Library]

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