Gamaliel Bradford was born in 1863 in Boston, Massachusetts, the sixth successive Gamaliel Bradford to take that name in an enduring family tradition. Despite being poor of health for much of his life, Bradford’s prolific writings became legendary. He authored an incredible 114 biographies during his career, earning him the moniker “Dean of American Biographers,” and wrote several poetry collections. He also found time to keep a daily journal, which, by 1930, just two years before his death, he estimated to have reached 1.4 million words. Within its pages, Bradford offered a window into his world, detailing not only the monumental moments but also the simple, profound pleasures of his life, such as this one.
The Diary Entry
August 20―There is something delicious to me in my little spot of garden, as the autumn approaches. Such a handkerchief of a garden, not more than perhaps seventy by forty feet, perhaps less, and I use no science whatever in the care of it, no modern methods, nothing but the old rudiments that I picked up from W., when I took the place from him thirty years ago. I have no patience to work out such things carefully, no strength, and no time from other avocations that I love better. Yet the quiet little corner is a delight to me. It is screened from the street so that I work there in utter solitude, seeing behind me a mass of tree-tops so thick that one might be in the old forests. I love it in the spring, when I plant in the warm brown earth. I love it in the hot summer, when the early vegetables are just coming into perfection. I love it most of all now and later, when the large full growth brings that sense of richness which one gets from Marvell’s ‘Thoughts in a Garden’ and still more from the Idyll of Theocritus which describes the harvest. The corn far higher than my head, the tomatoes in their scarlet and emerald profusion, the huge embrace of the squashes, reaching far out from their source and tangling in the long grass, encroaching on all the other fullness with their overmastering vitality; the huge parsnips, the deep-hued beets, the lima beans, their starlike blossoms twinkling among the heavy leaves. It all exudes life, abundance, careless, splendid, inexhaustible fertility. How I love it on these August afternoons, when the sun is getting low and the incessant hum of the crickets mingles with the dying song of the cicadas!
Bradford’s journals are held at the Houghton Library along with his other papers. A year his death, one seventh of those journals were included in The Journal of Gamaliel Bradford, 1883-1932, a fantastic book published by Houghton Mifflin Co. and edited by Van Wyck Brooks. It’s now out of print and copyright, but can be read online.