1807–1867

Introduction

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Born: Jan­u­a­ry 20, 1807, Port­land, Maine.

Died: Jan­u­a­ry 29, 1867, Corn­wall-on-Hud­son, New York. Four days lat­er, the day of his fun­er­al, all book­stores in the ci­ty were closed as a tok­en of re­spect. His pall­bear­ers in­clud­ed Long­fel­low, James Rus­sell Low­ell, Ol­iv­er Wen­dell Holmes, Sam­u­el Grid­ley Howe, and James Tho­mas Fields.

Buried: Mt. Au­burn Ce­me­te­ry, Cam­bridge, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

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Biography

Willis’ fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, both named Na­than­i­el Will­is, were well known pub­lish­ers.

His grand­fa­ther had been an ap­pren­tice in the same of­fice as Ben­ja­min Frank­lin, and his fa­ther founded the Bos­ton Re­cord­er—said to be the first re­li­gious news­pa­per ev­er pub­lished—and the Youth’s Com­pan­ion.

Nathaniel mar­ried twice, first to Mary Leigh­ton Stace, daugh­ter of Com­mis­sa­ry-Gen­er­al Will­iam Stace, an of­fi­cer who served at Wa­ter­loo. Af­ter her death in 1846, he mar­ried Cor­ne­lia Grin­nell, on­ly daugh­ter of Jo­seph Grin­nell of New Bed­ford, Mas­sa­chu­setts.

Nathaniel’s sis­ter, Jayne Pay­son Will­is, wife of his­tor­i­an James Par­ton, was a writ­er al­so, un­der the pseu­do­nym of Fan­ny Fern. His bro­ther was Ri­chard Storrs Will­is.

Before he en­tered col­lege, Will­is won a $50 prize for best po­em, in a con­test of­fered by pub­lish­ers of the time. Wil­lis at­tend­ed Yale Col­lege, New Ha­ven, Con­nec­ti­cut, and while there pub­lished a ser­ies of Scrip­tur­al Sketch­es in verse.

After gra­du­at­ing from Yale in 1827, he found­ed and wrote for a time for the Am­er­i­can Month­ly ma­ga­zine, and was an ov­er­seas cor­res­pond­ent for the New York Mir­ror. He was then at­tached to the Am­er­i­can le­ga­tion at the French court.

His stay in Eur­ope ex­tend­ed from 1831 to 1837, and on his re­turn, he be­came in 1839 an ed­it­or of The Cor­sair.

The same year, he and George P. Mor­ris es­tab­lished the Home Jour­nal (later re­named Town & Coun­try), to which Will­is con­trib­ut­ed un­til his death. He was one of the high­est paid ma­ga­zine writ­ers of his day.

Publications

Willis wrote 27 vol­umes of po­et­ry and prose, in­clud­ing:

Sources

Lyrics