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George Edward Woodberry

George Edward Woodberry

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George Edward Woodberry, Litt. D., LL. D. (May 12, 1855–1930) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 literary critic and poet.


Woodberry was born in Beverly, Massachusetts
Beverly, Massachusetts
Beverly is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 39,343 on , which differs by no more than several hundred from the 39,862 obtained in the 2000 census. A resort, residential and manufacturing community on the North Shore, Beverly includes Beverly Farms and Prides...

, on May 12th, 1855. The Woodberrys or Woodburys—various spellings of the name exist—immigrated early and, since settlement took root on the North Shore, have been native to Beverly and neighboring seaport towns. Receiving his preparation at the Phillips Exeter Academy, he entered Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

 in 1872. Owing, however, to ill health, he was unable to continue with his class. He re-entered in 1875 and was graduated in 1877. Another distinguished member was the then Governor of Massachusetts. Woodberry took highest final honors in philosophy, and was awarded an Oration at Commencement. This essay, on the "Relation of Pallas Athene to Athens", owes its preservation in a permanent form to the fact that he was forbidden to deliver it, because of the disapproval of its substance by the Committee of the Faculty in charge. His college friends asked his consent to print for him a small edition, copies of which are now rare. This and his early college poems, of which there is a selection in ‘’Verses from the Harvard Advocate’’ (1876), were his first-fruits.


In 1877-78 he was acting Professor of English and History in the University of Nebraska. In 1878 he went to New York as an assistant editor on The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

, and in the following year, moved to Cambridge, where he continued his editorial work, besides contributing to the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's. In 1880 he was recalled to Nebraska, where for two years he held the English professorship; but at the end of that time, together with several associates in the Faculty, he was dismissed from his chair, as a result of one of those contests usual in the early life of Western colleges.


In the fall of 1882, the History of Wood-Engraving (Harpers) appeared, written, not in a technical manner, but in pleasing, cultivated sympathy with the subject as a study in art. The next two years were quietly but busily spent in Beverly. The North Shore Watch: a Threnody, was first printed in 1883 in a private edition of two hundred copies. One year later was published his Edgar Allan Poe, one of the marked successes of the "American Men of Letters Series", and the work by which its author is perhaps most widely known. It became almost at once the recognized authority on Poe, and did a true service to American literature in dispelling some myths of popular tradition.

Woodberry went to Italy in 1885, but soon returned, apparently disheartened with his journey, in which he saw much in foreign conditions of life to distress and disturb him. Soon after this experience, came his My Country. It first appeared in a very limited separate impression; then in the Atlantic Monthly and in 1888, Professor John K. Paine, using the poem as a libretto, composed a cantata, A Song of Praise, which was performed at the Festival at Cincinnati in that year. Woodberry again visited Italy in the winter of 1888-89, this time in happier mood. During 1890, the North Shore Watch, and Other Poems, and Studies in Letters and Life were published.

For twelve years, Woodberry was an almost constant writer to the literary portion of The Nation. He also, during Aldrich's editorship, was anonymously, and for this reason able, the more forcibly, to asser his critical strength in the Atlantic Monthly. He contributed one paper to the Fortnightly Review in 1882, and during 1888 wrote regularly, mostly upon literary topics, for the Boston Post.

In 1891–1904 he was professor of comparative literature at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a 250-member honor society; its goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art. Located in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan in New York, it shares Audubon Terrace, its Beaux Arts campus on...

. In 1930 he was posthumously awarded one of the first three Frost Medal
Frost Medal
The Robert Frost Medal is an award of the Poetry Society of America for "distinguished lifetime service to American poetry." Medalists receive a prize purse of $2,500....

s for lifetime achievement in poetry by the Poetry Society of America
Poetry Society of America
The Poetry Society of America is a literary organization founded in 1910 by poets, editors, and artists including Witter Bynner. It is the oldest poetry organization in the United States. Past members of the have included such renowned writers as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent...

. He wrote a number of books as well.

At home

His summers were spent in Beverly, his winters in Boston, where he lived quietly among a few friends. To him younger men go easily, sure that he remembers the days of his own youth and loves theirs the better for it.

“The critical reach of Mr. Woodberry's mind is well shown in the soundness and judgment of the study of Poe, in the essay on Keats, in the remarkable paper on the Byron centenary, and in the sober admiration for Shelley shot through nearly all he has written. In the Threnody, in his sonnets, and single poems like "Victor's Bird," we learn something of his strength and sweetness. It has been said of his poetry that there is no "love" in it, and yet the work of his fullest expression, "Agathon", is wholly of Love. The spirit of beauty, and a zeal for a wisely tempered democracy—these are on every page. In his prose he seems to deliver the burden of what he feels that he ought to say, whether in softness or in firmness; in his verses one may easily discover what most the poet cherishes. He takes nobody by storm; like the kingdom of heaven, but unlike so many of his craft, he does not come by violence, either in his personal appearance and manners or in the structure and form of his thought.”

Selected list of works

  • A History of Wood engraving (1883)
  • Studies in Letters and Life (1890)
  • Heart of Man (1899)
  • Wild Eden (1899)
  • Makers of Literature (1900)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1902)
  • America in Literature (1903)
  • Swinburne (1905)
  • The Torch: Eight Lectures on Race Power in Literature (1905)
  • Emerson (1907)
  • The Appreciation of Literature (1907)
  • Great Writers (1907)
  • Life of Poe (two volumes, 1909)
  • The Inspiration of Poetry (1910)
  • Wendell Phillips (1912)
  • A Day at Castrogiovanni (1912)
  • North Africa and the Desert (1914)
  • Two Phases of Criticism (1914)

Other publications:
  • Life of Edgar Allan Poe in the "American Men of Letters" series (1885)
  • The North Shore Watch, and Other Poems (1890)
  • Works of Edgar Allan Poe (ten volumes, 1895) With Edmund Clarence Stedman
    Edmund Clarence Stedman
    Edmund Clarence Stedman , American poet, critic, and essayist was born at Hartford, Connecticut, United States.-Biography:...

  • Collected Poems (1903)
  • The Kingdom of All Souls, poems, (1912)
  • The Flight and Other Poems (1914)

He edited The complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

(1892); Lamb's Essays of Elia (1892); The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, with E. C. Stedman (1894); and Select Poems of Aubrey de Vere
Aubrey De Vere
Aubrey De Vere may refer to:* Aubrey de Vere I * Aubrey de Vere II , master chamberlain of England* Aubrey de Vere III , first earl of Oxford* Aubrey de Vere IV , second earl of Oxford...

(1894). He wrote compositions in the "National Studies in American Letters," and Columbia University Studies in Comparative Literature, (nine volumes).


"Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure." - Quoted by Michael Zahler, distinguished gentleman of class and leisure.

"The sense that someone else cares always helps, because it is the sense of love"

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