Nathaniel Parker Willis (also known as N. P. Willis) was a famous (and famously well-paid) writer during his time. He is especially known for his travel writing. His poetry has been set to music by John Duke, among others.
Photo: Nathaniel Parker Willis, mid to late 1850s, Mathew Brady's studio, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Born in Portland, Maine into a family of writers and publishers, Willis' father is known for having begun the first newspaper especially for children, Youth's Companion. His brother, Richard Storrs Willis, would become a composer (most known for writing the melody "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"). His sister Sara became a writer under the pseudonym Fanny Fern.
Willis studied at Yale and then embarked on a career as a writer, entering the literary culture in Boston by writing pieces for newspapers and magazines. He moved to Europe as foreign correspondent for New York Mirror, and it was through his travel writings, published in America, that he became popular. His writing style was romantic and written in a way that made them accessible to a wide public. He also became acquainted with many famous European writers, including Charles Dickens.
Upon his return to the United States in 1837, Willis continued to write and edit travel pieces. He also wrote the play Tortesa, the Usurer, which received a favorable review from Edgar Allan Poe. In 1842, he and George Pope Morris reorganized the New York Mirror successfully as the Evening Mirror. Later, the two would found the magazine that today is called Town and Country. Willis became a close friend of Edgar Allan Poe near the end of Poe's life and helped him with advice and finances.
Willis is also known for employing Harriet Jacobs, a former escaped slave, as a house servant and nanny. His relationship to abolitionism is ambiguous, especially as recorded by Jacobs in her fictionalized autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.