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.
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.
Willis wrote 27 volumes of poetry and prose, including: