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John Bannister Tabb

John Bannister Tabb

An American poet and educator, born at "The Forest" near Richmond, 1845; died at Ellicott City, Maryland, 1909. Descended from one of the oldest and wealthiest Virginian families, he wa carefully trained by private tutors. At the age of fourteen his sight was so poor that he had to give up his books, and for three years spent much time at the piano, becoming proficient in music. On the breaking out of the Civil War he enlisted under the Confederacy and served in the navy till taken captive, 4 June, 1864. He was sent to the "Bull-Pen" at Point Lookout, where he formed an enduring friendship with Sidney Lanier. Released from prison the following February, he was penniless. He undertook to fit himself for a musical career and to that end practised seven hours a day. His patron failing, he was obliged to maintain himself, as a teacher, securing a position at St. Paul's School, Baltimore. While there he fell under the influence of the Rev. Alfred Curtis, who later on was converted from Episcopalianism to the Catholic Church. Tabb followed his master into the fold in 1872. A few years later he entered St. Charles's College to prepare for the priesthood. On completing his classical studies he was retained by the faculty as teacher of English. Thus interrupted, his theological studies were not completed till the Christmas of 1884, when he was ordained. He continued to teach English Grammar at St. Charles's till a short time before his death and till he had become totally blind. His "Bones Rules" is counted a valuable contribution to his art. It is his only prose work. Father Tabb consecrated all his energies to the vocation of teacher. His poems were written here, there, and everywhere; but every one of them bears the stamp of a highly cultivated and gifted mind. They were contributed to the foremost magazines and were read with avidity. Concise and suggestive, these literary gems cling to the fancy and thus realize the modest ambition of their author as expressed in the opening poem of his "Later Lyrics":

"O little bird, I'd be

A poet like to thee

Singing my native song,

Brief to the ear, but long

To love and memory."

In the lyric field he was greatly admired. Under his muse inanimate things took on life and beauty and the abstract became concrete and personal. His poems are collected in five volumes which were published in the following order: "Poems"; "Lyrics"; "Child Verse"; "Later Lyrics"; "Sonnets".


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