Biographical / Historical
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) was born at Highgate, Vermont on the 2nd of June 1816, the second son of Peter Saxe and Elizabeth Jewett. He was graduated at Middlebury College in 1839, and was admitted to the bar at St. Albans, Vermont in 1843. He practiced law for seven years in Northern Vermont, and gained fame through regular contributions to Knickerbocker, the leading magazine of the day. One of these was "Rhyme of the Rail," in which the sound admirably echoes the sense, and upon which rested his early fame. From 1850 to 1856 he edited the Burlington, VT Sentinel. In 1860 he sold the paper and thereafter trusted to literature for his living. In 1859 and 1860 he was the candidate of the Democratic Party for governor of Vermont.
Saxe was famous and highly regarded for his mainly satirical poetry: "Progress" (1846), "Captain Jones's Misadventure" (1847), "Proud Miss MacBride" (1848). He was extremely witty and cheerful, full of humor and clever puns. A newspaper review of a lost poem that he delivered at the Commencement of Henry Female College at Louisville, KY, rhapsodizes, "It is a sad mistake to fancy that Saxe is merely the wittiest of poets. He is among the most poetical of wits."
In 1860 he moved to Albany, New York. He was at the height of his fame at this time, making regular contributions to Harper's and Atlantic Monthly as late as 1874. He spent 23 consecutive summers in Saratoga, at that time the summit of fashion and luxury, where he wrote many of his best verses ("Song of Saratoga"). In 1872, Saxe moved to Brooklyn, NY. Here he expected to live out his days with his children. In 1874, however, the tragic series of family deaths began.
Saxe was a happy and devoted family man, delighting in his three daughters and two sons. He was given to occasional bouts of "melancholy" we learn from a fond biography by Russell W. Taft, "John Godfrey Saxe. A Biographical Sketch of Vermont's Lawyer, Journalist, Lecturer and Rhymster." With the deaths of his daughters, all three of tuberculosis, his wife of 40 years, and his eldest son and his wife in a period of seven years, the cheerful, punning, happy John Godfrey Saxe was plunged into an all pervading sadness, deep depression and hopelessness. This may have been aggravated by the head injury sustained in a train wreck in 1875, after which, though only 59, he began aging rapidly and obviously. He seems never to have been able to grasp the tragedies that overtook him and, in the last 3 years of his life residing in the home of his son, Charles, would not leave his rooms and accepted only the companionship of his valet. Asked if he would receive his favorite sister-in-law, (his wife's younger sister), replied, "Tell her I would like to see her, but--I cannot, I cannot bear to be reminded of what I once was--of the days of my hope and strength, when the world had charms that are now dead to me; before sickness had deprived me of my health, and death had robbed me of my loved ones." After years of prolific writing Saxe never wrote another line in the last ten years of his life.