Royall Tyler was an American poet, playwright and member of the legal profession.
He was born on the 18th June 1757 in Boston, Massachusetts into very comfortable circumstances, his father being a wealthy merchant. He was sent to Boston Latin School and then on to Harvard University where he was a popular student and a friend of the future lawyer and politician Christopher Gore. Tyler’s graduation in 1776 coincided with the momentous events of the American Revolution and, for a while, he had a brief spell in the Massachusetts militia.
A career as a lawyer beckoned as he went through law studies in 1778 until being called to the bar two years later for practice first in Portland, Maine and then on to Braintree, Massachusetts. He courted the sister of John Quincy Adams in Braintree, although it did not come to anything in the end. Tyler was considered unsuitable for marriage by the Adams family.
Another taste of military service came his way in 1878 where Tyler was engaged as aide de camp to Benjamin Lincoln. His legal services were required at the end of a campaign called “Shay’s Rebellion” and it was Tyler’s task to negotiate for the arrest of some of the rebels involved. Marriage finally came his way in 1796 and his wife Mary bore him eleven children. His professional career flourished as well and he worked his way up to Chief Justice, a post which he held for five years from 1807 onwards. He also tried for office but failed to gain election to the United States Senate in 1812.
As an aside to his legal career, Tyler was an accomplished writer of plays and poetry. He had the honour of getting his comedy play The Contrast on stage in New York City and this proved to be the first American comedy to be performed by professional actors. He received much acclaim for this piece of work and was his entry into literary celebrity status. In collaboration with the author and journalist Joseph Dennie, Tyler wrote a satirical column for The Farmer’s Weekly Museum, a newspaper run by Dennie.
A number of other plays were written plus at least two long poems and, in 1809, he published The Yankey in London which was described as a semi-fictional travel narrative. For a man who openly admitted that, as a young man, he had been arrogant and profligate in his conduct, Tyler did remarkably well and only regretted that he might have done even better had he moderated his behaviour when younger. His sexual profligacy, for example, was scandalous to many. Numerous affairs came into the public domain and he was accused of the illegitimate fathering of a number of children, this in addition to the eleven he had legitimately with his wife.
Perhaps written slightly tongue in cheek, one of his poems was written to perhaps glorify his sexual exploits though, at the end, he recognises the error of his ways. It is called My Mistresses and is reproduced here:
His riotous behaviour was immortalised in The House of the Seven Gables, a novel by Nathanial Hawthorne. The character Jaffrey Pyncheon was said to be based on Tyler. He suffered from ill health in later life, being diagnosed with facial cancer around the year 1816.
Royall Tyler died on the 26th August, 1826 at Brattleboro, Vermont. He was aged 69.