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phrase) here, which became theirs by chance, and not by choice? There may now be few, possibly, who can recall that the public pulse was felt in our own State, as late as 1816, as to the trying an innovation after a like model. But the movement, which has left some memorials on our shelves, was made within the “ General Association of Massachusetts,” the Rev. Dr. Lyman of Hatfield, for years the highest Evangelical authority, perhaps, in its western section, being the then Moderator of that body. A committee, instructed to inquire into the history of a long-lost MS. of Cotton Mather, very well suited to the exigency in view, though written more than a century earlier, and to take into consideration the revival of its practical admonitions, led the way. But the report of the committee was the solitary fruit of this large preparation and proportioned rumor; for a damper was cast upon its ultimate aims by the alertness with which the friends of Christian liberty and conservatism at once met these embryo movements. Conspicuous among these tokens was a layman's (soon known to be the ever-vigilant John Lowell) “ Inquiry into the Right and Authority to change the Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Congregational Churches” of the State. The present writer has well known, at different periods, the Andover school of the prophets. He has been familiar on its high places with successive classes, and with some of the most promising minds of its alumni. Well does he remember, at the interval of many years, allusions from their lips, once and again, to the sarcasms which were always ready on the lips of Dr. Woods at the congregational system, as without life or energy. The pilgrim fathers of New England were, for the most part, nursed at the breast of Independency ; but if, instead of being the disciples of Owen and Howe, they had brought with them the lessons and polity of the Presbyterian Baxter, is it not certain beyond all doubt, that it would have been quite as welcome, to say no more, to that larger half of their successors in our day who rejoice in these names ? How much trouble it would in that case have spared! in one State, the awkward and abortive attempt to better the system they found ready to their hand; and in the other, the temptation to slur, with every good chance, at its impotence for discipline.
The Poetical Works of JAMES GATES PERCIVAL, with a Biographical
Sketch. In Two Volumes. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1859.
“ The poet's laurel grows upon his tomb.” This is eminently true of Percival. Since his death, there has been repeated demand for a new edition of his works. These volumes are the only ones which ever presented Percival in a form worthy of his merits. But various prose articles are missing, especially the prefaces of his earlier volumes, which, as they shed light upon his works, ought not to have been excluded. His theoretical essays on poetry are mostly retained, and will take rank with those of Wordsworth and Coleridge on the same subject. The Biographical Sketch gives much insight into his eccentric life, and enables the reader to form some definite idea of the man. Percival will now receive that measure of justice which was denied to him while living. We are almost indignant at the ignorance and stupidity of his early critics. While one denounced him as a moonstruck enthusiast, and another berated him for writing sceptical verses, and another found fault with his poetical theory, the majority passed him by in contempt. The North American Review alone set forth his claims, and watched his course with sympathetic care. The neglect into which he fell was doubtless owing partly to the fact, that he had no eminent publisher to look out for his interests; partly to the kindred fact, that the class was so limited of those who truly appreciated his poetry. Fifty years ago, our literature was mainly confined to theology and eloquence, political papers and practical essays, and our reading limited to the witty and heartless writers of Queen Anne's reign. But the Monthly Anthology, begun in 1803, had already in its service a body of young writers who have since gained high honors in literature; and when the North American Review took its place, in 1815, the country gave promise of general literary activity. It is worth our while to note this awakening of a new life in letters. Nearly all the men who made their mark at this time were born between 1790 and 1800, and first came before the public in the interval of 1812-21. Salmagundi, Irving's Knickerbocker, and Brown's novels had already been published. In 1812, Hillhouse produced " The Judgment”; and Allston, Irving, and Bryant soon followed, with volumes which have since become classic. In 1817, Professor Ticknor gave an impulse to letters, by his lectures on modern literature. Cooper was then about to initiate a new school of fiction; Dana was nursing that heartreading thought, which presently streamed out rich and full in “ The Idle Man”; Channing, with his fine taste, was just entering upon his famous controversy ; Drake was filling his fancy with those airy nothings, which afterward grew into form in “ The Culprit Fay”; Maria Brooks was slowly training her imagination for the impassioned scenes of “ Zóphiel” ; Everett had begun his work at Cambridge and in the North American; and Webster had just begun to grace statesmanship with the fruits of manly culture.
In 1821, Percival came into company with these men, by publishing a small, dingy-looking volume, containing the first part of his “ Prometheus”; “ Zamor,” a tragedy which he rejected from his later volumes; and a large number of other poems, more varied in character and versification than had yet come from the pen of any native poet. Although it met with a kind reception, yet works of a purely literary character, like “The Sketch-Book,” and “ The Idle Man,” were not enough in demand to make their publication remunerative; those of cultivated tastes were few in number, often widely separated from each other, and too much occupied with professional life to give more than a glance at the literature of the day, while many who were thus devoting themselves to literature had struck upon veins of thought quite new to that generation. Here we date the rise of whatever is original and peculiar in American letters. The reproach so often cast upon us by European critics, that we are wanting in originality and grasp of thought, seems like random talk when we carefully study the literature of this period. In the writings of Dana, the novels of Brown and Cooper, the essays of Irving, and the poetry of Drake, Bryant, and Percival, we find a certain freshness of thought and individual sentiment, which, however much resembling English writers of the same age, are as different in
their essence, as new habits of national life, and a return to nature and individual experience and thought, could make them. Percival's little volume, made up from poems he had printed in 1820, in “ The Microscope,” a periodical published in New Haven, and from the earlier contents of his portfolio, shared the fate of “ The Idle Man,” and brought no pecuniary return to the poet. But this did not yet damp the energy of his genius. In 1822, while at Charleston, S. C., he published the first number of “ Clio”; in the preface of which he speaks of being “indebted to Irving for the plan of combining elegant essays and pleasing narrations, which do not issue from the overdrawn fountains of monthly and quarterly literature, but roll on in vigorous fulness, when the burdened spirit lets loose its overflowings”; and again, touching upon “ Clio,” he says, “ It remains to be learned, how the public will tolerate a periodical poet, who, like the wandering minstrel of old, will take them in his round at certain seasons, and demand for his airy, unsubstantial offerings a quantum sufficit of more tangible existences.” He declares it his object, “ not to give satires on the living manners as they rise, but to delineate, as well as may be, the beau ideal.” He then speaks of the nature and uses of poetry, – a topic upon which he writes at length in the second number of “ Clio,” published in the same year at New Haven. These volumes had no sale corresponding to their merits; and the poet grew weary of writing for a public who did not give him that hearty recognition which he thought his works worthy of. The last number of “ Clio” was published at New York, in 1827. He also delivered a Phi Beta Kappa oration at Yale College, in 1822, on “ Some of the Moral and Political Truths derivable from the Study of History"; and a Phi Beta Kappa poem, entitled “ Mind,” at the same place, in 1825. His last volume, “ The Dream of a Day, and other Poems," appeared at New Haven, in 1843; and with it, so far as the public were concerned, closed his literary life. There is yet unpublished a large number of translations, including the Prometheus of Æschylus, which are perhaps quite as good evidence of his genius as any of his original poems. His geological reports, though valuable in themselves, are unreadable, save by the men of physical science.
VOL. LXVII. — 5TH S. VOL. V. NO. II. 20
The events of his life are few and without special interest. He was born in Berlin, Conn., September 15, 1795. His father was the physician of the place; and until he entered Yale College, in 1810, his time was chiefly spent in his native village. Soon after his graduation, he studied medicine with Dr. Eli Ives, of New Haven. He then engaged in his profession, both in his native town and in Charleston, S. C., but soon exchanged it for literary studies. Early in 1824, he received, through the aid of Mr. Calhoun, the appointment of Professor of Chemistry at West Point; but resigned in July of the same year, because its duties left him no time to devote to his chosen pursuits. He then went to Boston, and became surgeon of the recruiting service at that place. About 1827, he came back to New Haven, and henceforth made it his home. In the same year, he was engaged on Webster's Dictionary, then nearly ready for publication. In 1835, Governor Edwards appointed him to make a geological survey of Connecticut. He made his report in 1842. For several years, he was busy with various surveys of no great importance, save one among the coal mines of Nova Scotia. In 1853, he accepted a request to survey the lead-mining regions of Wisconsin, and in the following year was appointed geologist of that State. He was busily engaged in his explorations till within a short time of his death, which took place at Hazel Green, Wisconsin, May 2, 1856.
So far we have seen Percival only as he was known to the world at large; the outward events of his literary and public life hardly distinguish him from the mass; any one, gifted with sensibility and tact in the use of words, may write poetry, though not of the highest order; it does not need great breadth of mind to become a successful geologist, success depending rather upon industry and method than genuine insight; but not a tithe part is known of Percival, when we have given the bare record of his outer life. If we may succeed in giving a picture of him as he lived, thought, and acted in his retirement; if we can win the secrets of his inner life, which few were ever conscious of; if, in short, we can understand his genius and sympathize heartily with his peculiar struggles, — we shall show that Percival was not an unfeeling