Fitz-greene Halleck was born on July 8, 1790, in Guilford, Connecticut. The descendant of a long line of Americans dating back to the pilgrims, he was a prominent poet and essayist, heavily influenced by Scottish and English Romantic poets with a particular fondness for Byron. When he was 21 years old, he moved to New York City and worked in various banks, writing primarily as a pastime. During this time, he found work as the personal secretary of philanthropist John Jacob Astor. Halleck was eventually made an original trustee for the Astor Library, which would later become the foundation for the New York Public Library.
Though his writing was principally recreational, Halleck contributed (along with his close personal friend Joseph Rodman Drake) the satirical “Croaker Papers” to the New York Evening Post in 1819. His other works, such as “Alnwick Castle,” “Burns,” “Marco Bozzaris,” “Red Jacket,” and “Young America” were also popular favorites of the time, with his poems being frequently recited in classrooms.
An active member of the Knickerbocker group, which was a loose and somewhat indistinct group of writers, Halleck was known for his satirical and romantic verses. His love of Byron led to him being partially regarded as the American Byron. His poems have been explored for their underlying homosexual themes and it has been speculated that Halleck himself was homosexual, with comparisons being drawn to Walt Whitman’s poetry. He never married and returned to Guilford in 1849 where he lived with his sister until his death in 1867. Halleck’s will instructed that Joseph Rodman Drake, who had died many years earlier from tuberculosis, be disinterred and buried with him. Halleck is the only American writer honored in Central Park’s Literary Walk; President Rutherford B. Hayes dedicated his memorial there in 1877 before a crowd of 10,000 people.
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