Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
"A woman of the century"
"A woman of the century"
Born Sarah Morgan Bryan
August 11, 1836
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Died December 22, 1919(1919-12-22) (aged 83)
Caldwell, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting place Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation poet
Language English
Nationality American
Alma mater New Castle Female Seminary, Henry Female College
Notable works A Woman's Poems
John James Piatt
( m. 1861; death 1917)
Children 7

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (Sallie M. Bryan; August 11, 1836 – December 22, 1919) was an American poet. Sometimes publishing under "Sallie M. Bryan", she was a prolific and popular poet during her lifetime, associating with prominent literary figures in the United States and abroad.[1] During her career, she published some 450 poems across eighteen volumes and in leading periodicals of the day.

Piatt spent much of her life in Ohio, Washington DC, and Ireland.[2] George D. Prentice, the editor of the Louisville Journal, was an intimate friend of the family, and through his paper, Piatt's poems first received recognition.[3] In 1861, she married John James Piatt, who was a journalist, litterateur, and poet, as well as a federal employee who eventually served as an American Consul in Ireland. Her husband had been her chief critic, and was responsible for the publication of her work in book form.[4]

Though her work was cordially commended by many other well-known and capable critics in the U.S. and Europe, Piatt's foreign critics were, perhaps, more generous in their appreciation than even those of the U.S. Her name was often linked with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti by English reviewers, and in Great Britain, she had a greater following than in the U.S.

Early years and education

Sarah Morgan Bryan was born on her grandmother's plantation,[5] in Lexington, Kentucky, August 11, 1836.[6] Her parents, Talbot Nelson Bryan and Mary Spiers Bryan, both descended from slaveholding families. Further research needs to be done to determine whether they themselves owned human property. [7] Her paternal grandfather, Morgan Bryan, was one of the pioneer settlers of that State, a proprietor of "Bryan's Station," and a brother-in-law of Daniel Boone, whom the Bryans accompanied from North Carolina into Kentucky.[8][9][3]

At the age of three, the parents and three children[10] moved near Versailles, Kentucky.[4] Here, her mother, Mary, who was related to the Stocktons, Simpsons and other early Kentucky families, died at a young age, when Piatt, the older of two daughters,[11] was eight years of age.[9][3]

She then lived on various Kentucky plantations with Kentucky relatives, accompanied by her mother's nurse, a black slave.[12] For a time, this was with her grandmother, before she lived with her father again at the home of his wealthy new wife.[10] Eventually, Piatt's father placed her and a younger sister in the care of their aunt, Mrs. Annie Boone, who lived at New Castle, Kentucky.[9]

In New Castle, Piatt received her school education, the classical and literary schooling afforded to upper-class girls.[13] She became an eager reader of books, and had especial fondness for Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron, among British romantic poets of the day, though she also read Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Felicia Hemans, and the others of that period.[9] While a student at New Castle Female Seminary, Piatt started publishing her poetical works in the local newspaper.[14] In 1854, in New Castle, [15] she graduated from Henry Female College, an institution then under the directorship of a cousin of Charles Sumner.[3][8][9]



The sadness at the loss of her mother, was not easy to outgrow, and was observable in her early and late writings, though often in company with playful and humorous elements. It was in her young girlhood, in New Castle, her poetic temperament first manifested itself in the composition of verse.[9] Robert Browning was an inspiration.[16]

Some of her early verses, which often recalled and suggested such models, were shown by intimate friends to George D. Prentice, then editor of the Louisville Journal, and he praised them highly, recognizing what seemed to him extraordinary poetic genius and confidently predicting the highest distinction for their author as an American poet. He wrote to her: "I now say emphatically to you again . . . that, if you are entirely true to yourself, and if your life be spared, you will, in the maturity of your powers, be the first poet of your sex in the United States. I say this not as what I think, but what I know." Her early published poems, appearing in the Louisville Journal and the New York Ledger, were widely read and appreciated, and were perhaps more popular than her later and far better and more individual work.[9]

Washington, D. C.

On June 18, 1861, she married John James Piatt, who went by "J.J.", and went with him to reside in Washington, D. C. They remained in that city, where Mr. Piatt was in governmental employment, until 1867, seeing somewhat of the great events of the time. where he held a patronage position as a clerk in the Treasury. It was the first of many such positions he would receive and lose.[7]


In July, 1867, they removed to Ohio, where, soon after, they made their home on a part of the old estate of William Henry Harrison, in North Bend, Ohio, a few miles south of Cincinnati, on the Ohio River. That home they left only for brief periods, until they went to reside abroad. It is the place most endeared to Mrs. Piatt, for there, several of her children were born and two of them were buried.[9] The family shuttled back and forth to Washington D.C. on a few occasions,[12] such as when J.J. worked for the postal service. Also, during the period of 1870–76, Piatt and the children joined J.J. in Washington D.C. in the winters where he was serving as librarian of the United States House of Representatives.[17]

It was after her marriage that Piatt's more individual characteristics as a poet distinctly manifested themselves, especially the quick dramatic element seen in so many of her best poems, and the remarkable sympathy with and knowledge of child life, which Prof. Eric Sutherland Robertson recognized in his volume entitled The Children of the Poets (London, 1886). The first volume in which her poems appeared was a joint volume by herself and husband, entitled, The Nests at Washington, and Other Poems (New York City, 1864). Her next volume, the first one which was independent, was A Woman's Poems (Boston, 1871), appearing without the author's name on the title page. This was her best known work, made famous by Bayard Taylor in his book, The Echo Club.[4] That was followed by A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles, etc. (1874); That New World, etc. (1876); Poems in Company with Children (1877); and Dramatic Persons and Moods (1878). All the last-mentioned volumes were published in Boston. At the same time, Piatt contributed to the various American magazines, the Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's Monthly, The Century Magazine, Harper's Magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine,[9] Irish Monthly, and The Independent.


In 1882, Piatt accompanied her husband to Ireland, where he went as Consul of the U.S. to Cork, and thereafter, resided in Queenstown (now Cobh). He served in the position for eleven years,[7] Since going to Ireland, Piatt, who perhaps had some remote Irish ancestry, as her maiden name might be held to indicate, published An Irish Garland (Edinburgh, 18S4); a volume of her Selected Poems (London, 1885), In Primrose Time: a New Irish Garland (London, 1886), The Witch in the Glass, and Other Poems (London, 1889), and An Irish Wild-Flower (London, 1891). The first, third and last of the volumes just mentioned contained pieces suggested by her experiences in Ireland. A little joint volume by herself and husband, The Children Out-of-Doors: a Book of Verses by Two in One House, was also published (Edinburgh, 1884), and all of those later volumes were issued simultaneously in the U.S.[18]

Personal life

Piatt was the mother of Marian (b 1862); Victor (1864); Donn (1867); Fred (1869); Guy (1871); Louis (1875); and Cecil (1878) as well as at least one infant child and possibly others in infancy or through miscarriage. Victor died in a tragic fireworks accident in 1874, and Louis drowned in a boating accident in 1884 while the Piatts were living in Ireland. [19]

After J.J.'s death in 1917, Piatt removed to her son Cecil's home in Caldwell, New Jersey, where she died of pneumonia December 22, 1919.[6][20] She and J.J. are buried at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio.[17]

Themes and reception

Children were a common theme in Piatt's poems.[5]

Her work was cordially commended by Bayard Taylor, William Dean Howells, John Burroughs, Hamilton Wright Mabie, and many other well-known and capable critics in the U.S. and Europe,[4] including England and Ireland.[3] Piatt's foreign critics were, perhaps, more generous in their appreciation than even those of the U.S.[18] English reviewers often linked her name with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's and Christina Rossetti's.[4]

Her biographer, in Richard Henry Stoddard's Poets' Homes, stated:—[8]

It is since her marriage, in June, 1861," says Mrs. "that her more individual characteristics of style have manifested themselves, especially the dramatic element, so delicate, subtle and strong, which asserts her intellectual kinship with Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Piatt's poems were characterized as introspective and personal to the last degree. They depict the essential life of woman, in its various phases, voicing her ambitions, longings, joys, disappointments, doubts, anguish, prayer. The tone of the verse is often sorrowful, sometimes deeply tragic. Writes William Dean Howells:—[21]

In the rush of these hopeless tears, this heart-broken scorn of comfort, this unreconcilable patience of grief, is the drama of the race's affliction; in the utter desolation of one woman's sorrow, the universal anguish of mortality is expressed. It is not pessimism; it does not assume to be any sort of philosophy or system; it is simply the bitter truth, to a phrase, of human experience through which all men must pass, and the reader need not be told that such poems were lived before they were written.

Another admirer of Piatt's verse, in a critical survey of the literature of Ohio, (1903) said of the author and her work:—[21]

Mrs. Piatt is a woman of original and exceptional genius — a poet whose name shines in American literature, 'Like some great jewel full of fire.' She is unrivaled, in her province of song, by any living writer of her sex, whether native to this country or of foreign birth. . . . She is inimitable in her own vivid, bold, and suggestive invention and manner. Whatever she writes has meaning — and the significance is often deep — sometimes strange and elusive — never commonplace. . . . Mrs. Piatt's rare artistic skill has been admired by many who appreciate the technical difficulties of the poetic craft.

Equally emphatic is the praise accorded by a contemporary English critic, who, in an article contributed to the London Saturday Review, commenting on the volume of select verse entitled A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles, and Other Poems, said:—[21]

Of all the concourse of women singers Mrs. Piatt is the most racy and, in a word, the most American. . . . The new selections of her poems should be most welcome to all who seek in American poetry something more than a pale reflex of the British commodity. . . . Her poems, with all their whim and inconstancy of mood, are charmingly sincere, artless, piquant, and full of quaint surprise.

In like commendatory strain, another English critic, reviewing the same book in the Pictorial World (London), pronounced her verse, "not easy to equal, much less to surpass, on either side of the Atlantic," and characterized her poetical achievement in the following words:—[22]

Mrs. Piatt studies no model, and takes no pattern for her work; she simply expresses herself; hence her verse is just the transparent mantle of her individuality. The natural refinement, the ready sympathy, the tender sentiment, the quiet grace of a thoroughly womanly woman reveal themselves quite unconsciously in every poem; and the musical quality of the verse increases the impression that the reader is listening to the heartutterances of one of the Imogens or Mirandas to be met with now seldom outside the radiant land where Shakespeare's imagination reigns supreme. . . . Mrs. Piatt will, we doubt not, as her poems become known to English readers, become popular, or, we should rather say, dear to a wide circle mainly composed of members of her own sex, for she supplies the adequate expression for women whose hearts are tender and true like her own.

Selected works

  • A Woman's Poems. 1871
  • A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles. 1874
  • That New World, & Other Poems. 1877
  • Poems in Company with Children. 1877
  • Dramatic Persons and Moods, With Other New Poems. 1880
  • A Book About Baby. And Other Poems in Company with Children. 1882
  • An Irish Garland. 1885
  • In Primrose Time: a new Irish garland. 1886
  • Mrs. Piatt's Select Poems. A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles and Other Poems. 1886
  • Child's-World Ballads: Three Little Emigrants, a Romance of Cork Harbour, 1884, Etc. 1887
  • The Witch in the Glass, Etc. 1888
  • An Irish Wild-Flower, Etc. 1891
  • An Enchanted Castle, and Other Poems: Pictures, Portraits and People in Ireland. 1893
  • Poems. 1894
  • Complete Poems 1894
  • Palace-Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt. Ed. Paula Bernat Bennett. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.


With her husband:

  • The Nests at Washington And Other Poems. 1864
  • The Children Out-of-Doors A Book of Verses, by Two in One House. 1885

With her husband and William Dean Howells:

  • The Hesperian Tree: An Annual of the Ohio Valley, 1903. 1903

Further reading

  • Matthew Giordano, "'A Lesson from' the Magazines: Sarah Piatt and the Postbellum Periodical Poet," American Periodicals, vol. 16, no. 1 (2006), pp. 23–51. In JSTOR
  • "Piatt, Sarah Morgan (Bryan)" in American Authors 1600-1900. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1938.


  1. ^ Wheelan, Bernadette. "Poets in Exile: The Piatts in the Queenstown Consulate, 1882-93". New Hiberia Review. 17 (1): 81–97.
  2. ^ Roberts, Jess. "Sarah Piatt". Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Logan 1912, p. 840.
  4. ^ a b c d e Townsend & Townsend 1913, p. 303.
  5. ^ a b Frank 2007, p. 134.
  6. ^ a b Stevenson 1922, p. 3893.
  7. ^ a b c Lauter, Alberti & Yarborough 2009, p. 741.
  8. ^ a b c Venable 1909, p. 183.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 569.
  10. ^ a b Haralson 2014, p. 328.
  11. ^ Radcliffe College 1971, p. 63.
  12. ^ a b Barrett & Miller 2005, p. 331.
  13. ^ Gray 2004, p. 103.
  14. ^ Larson 2011, p. 189.
  15. ^ Ridpath 1906, p. 289.
  16. ^ Renker 2016, p. 236.
  17. ^ a b James, James & Boyer 1971, p. 64.
  18. ^ a b Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 570.
  19. ^ Michaels 1999, p. 11-12.
  20. ^ McHenry 1980, p. 327.
  21. ^ a b c Venable 1909, p. 184.
  22. ^ Venable 1909, p. 185.



External links

Other Languages