John Howard Payne

1791–1852

A dramatist, actor, editor, writer, and author of “Home! Sweet Home!” John Howard Payne was born in 1791 and spent his early life in lower New York State, where his father taught elocution at the Clinton Academy in East Hampton. After the family’s relocation to Boston, Payne, who showed an early interest in theater, was sent by his father to work at an accounting firm in New York City. There, at the age of 14, he started the newspaper Thespian Mirror. He later attended Union College in Schenectady, New York, dropping out to work in theater to supplement his family’s income.

Payne led a colorful life. After early success in the theater in New York, he moved to England in 1813 and was one of the first American actors to earn acclaim there. He traveled to Ireland, lived in France, adapted French plays for the British theater, and spent time in debtor’s prison. Payne’s friends included Washington Irving, who was his roommate in Paris and an artistic collaborator. Payne was acquainted with Charles and Mary Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and suffered an unrequited love for Mary Shelley. In 1822, Payne wrote the lyrics to “Home! Sweet Home!” for the opera Clari, the Maid of Milan. The song’s popularity offered him little financial stability, however, and Payne later lobbied in the United States for copyright laws on behalf of writers.

Payne moved back to the United States in 1832. His travels in the South led to an interest in the Creek and Cherokee; he compiled a 14-volume history of the Cherokee and opposed their removal from tribal lands, an effort that led to his imprisonment by the Georgia Militia.

In 1842, Payne became the American consul in Tunisia. He died in the city of Tunis in 1852. 

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

LIFE SPAN 1791–1852

Biography

A dramatist, actor, editor, writer, and author of “Home! Sweet Home!” John Howard Payne was born in 1791 and spent his early life in lower New York State, where his father taught elocution at the Clinton Academy in East Hampton. After the family’s relocation to Boston, Payne, who showed an early interest in theater, was sent by his father to work at an accounting firm in New York City. There, at the age of 14, he started the . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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