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anchorite, but one of those elect spirits who seldom appear
“ The truly great
Save as it worketh for them, they in it." It is perfectly true that Percival was not appreciated when he published his first poems, perhaps is not generally appreciated now. But the reasons are obvious. The country was not ripe enough to prize such mental gifts as his ; — nor was he one who could desecrate his genius by indulging the whims and passions of the crowd. He loved truth better than men, and his knowledge of human nature came to him rather through imagination than experience. From such causes it happened of course that his life was a struggle, and, compared
with his real power, seems like a failure. For while he had such memory, such quick perception, such intellectual grasp as few men have, he had also all the tremulous sensitiveness of another Keats. He had the humility of a peasant and the modesty of woman united with an ambition which, while it was wholly unselfish, would allow nothing to stop its progress. He had such penetration that he mastered every subject which he once took up, - such activity of thought and sight that nothing escaped him; and yet he had so little of executive ability, that he has made public but little from that treasure of vast acquisitions and wide-ranging thought which his friends knew he had in store. A wild impetuosity was strangely mingled in him with extreme delicacy of feeling; and a mystic spirituality dwelt in a mind which did not tire of the minute details of science. Although he had all his faculties in command, it is easy to see that a man whose life was made up of such delicate contrasts was not well fitted to meet the trials of life. If such a man devote himself to literature, without a fortune, he is sure to suffer. The struggles of Johnson, Hood, and Jerrold were not more torturing to the spirit than Percival's in his earlier years. He was modest in his wants, and never married; yet when we read that his entire income for 1830 and 1831 was only sixty-five dollars a year, and are told that he was often whole days without food, and consider that he was rich in treasures which men of the largest culture might covet, and which would doubtless have been rightly valued in Europe, we confess that the heart grows sick.
Percival came before the world as an author, - a poet,at the age of twenty-five. His early volumes were very popular, and his poetry much quoted in the prints of the day; but his books did not earn him a living, and he soon grew disgusted with the coining of his choicest thoughts and memories into what would buy his daily bread. His property, small at the start, had been invested in a valuable library; and now came a struggle in which he had no weapons to fight with. In a letter to a friend, written May 28, 1823, he says: “It is altogether impossible for me to gain anything for my poems; I have, unwisely and against your advice, though in this I have followed the advice of grave and reverend seniors, relied somewhat on my literary efforts. The consequence is, I have emptied my pockets, and can get nothing in return; so that I have been driven to put my name to a newspaper even for my daily bread.” In another letter, written about this time, he says: “I do not write now to complain or upbraid. The world may value me as they choose, and I will value myself as I choose. I never will take anything without rendering an equivalent, neither will I give anything without an equal return. Consequently, unless I am paid well, I shall publish nothing more. In that I am resolved. Whatever I may write shall never see the light, until I receive that without which the highest talents only make one a higher sort of beggar. But I have written enough on this. I know what is before me. I must be wretchedly poor, or abandon literature. I must have a profession of the common sort, and perhaps I may not wholly fail.” In still another letter, dated the same year, he says: “I sometimes feel bitter towards a public that leaves authors of real merit unrewarded. If I deserve all the North American says of me, I deserve something. But I forget that the public will not buy what does not please it, and will not be pleased with what is not of its own order. “Like loves like,' all the world over, in England as well as here; and if I cannot come down to the public, I must sit above them, cold and hungry...... I have said enough of my circumstances. They are low and sad enough, and have made my spirits low. I could tell a tale of embarrassments, joined to a bad constitution, injured health, and a neglected orphanage, which would do much to excuse the wrong that is in me.”* We find him again, in 1832, writing to Professor Ticknor, to obtain employment. After stating his situation, he says: “Under such circumstances, I feel myself compelled to plead for employment, and with a compensation suited for me, and as is fit for a literary man who deserves encouragement; I have no wish for anything more. Only give me light and room, and I am sure I can exert myself still with as much effort and diligence as any, and, I doubt not, with sufficient effect.” † During these years his chief sup
port came from several books which he edited, but it was only a pittance at the best. In 1836, he began his survey of Connecticut, and from the money paid him for that purpose was able to live more easily. About 1843, we again find him so poor, that, unable to pay for his board, he was driven to live by himself. His poverty thus forced him into retirement; and so completely did he withdraw himself from the world, that, although he was frequently employed in scientific matters, and was always courteous to those who came to see him on business, many, even in New Haven, thought he was no longer among the living. His dress showed, plainly enough, his wretched condition. Garments patched by himself, his old camlet cloak, and the leather cap, by which alone so many knew him, were in strange keeping with the earnest, spiritual nature which shone out in his pale features and quick-glancing eye. His condition roused the sympathy of literary men, and the late Rufus W. Griswold, as their spokesman, offered to Percival, through the kindness of a mutual friend, a very liberal sum for all the poetry he chose to write; but the offer was refused. Publishers, too, frequently entreated him to write for magazines and annuals, and would pay him highly to just allow his name to be printed on a title-page; but he took no notice of them, even when in absolute want. We may perhaps find an explanation of his conduct, partly in his estimate of a public who had indeed praised him in his youth, but gave him a stone when he demanded bread, and partly in his idea of the poetic calling. In a letter to Professor Ticknor, after giving his Credo, he writes: “ With such feelings I can no longer look to poetry as a source of emolument; I cannot consent to use it for such a purpose; I can only regard it as the vestal fire in the Adytum ; I must meet the .world with weapons of more earthly temper."* While at the West, his condition grew much easier, and after his death, his property was found more than enough to repay his indebtedness to friends. When his extreme sensitiveness, intellectual pride, and strong love of literary pursuits are compared with the poverty which beset him, it seems to us that
no man of eminent ability, in our time, has yet been called to go through severer trials.
We find in the incidents of his boyhood the shadowy outline of the future man. His father was a man of resolute and energetic character; his mother, one of those who have exceeding tenderness of feeling in union with rare mental development. While Percival inherited his father's strength of character, he was endowed with an organization sensitive to the gentlest touch, and a reach, grasp, and activity of mind which early marked him, among his schoolmates, as one who had their feelings but not their thoughts. He loved to be by himself; and the little stream by his home was one of his frequent resorts in his solitary boyhood. He built paper navies to sail upon it, made fortresses of its pebbles, marshalled armies upon its banks, and became so absorbed in realizing, through imaginative sympathy, the history and fiction which he read in his father's library, that he often quite lost his consciousness of time or place. His poetry is the best revelation of such imaginings, and shows, even at this time, the self-educating process of his mind. He had, too, a passion for collecting, arranging, and giving names to old bones, bits of rock, and flowers. At school his progress was marked, and he soon compassed all which its limits permitted. Among his companions he was cheerful, and whenever meeting them on his return from solitary walks across the fields, had a genial smile and kind word. Later, when preparing for college at Wolcott, Conn., he never joined in holiday rambles with his fellows; but if they happened to stray among the wild and solitary regions near by, they would find Percival communing with himself, at the foot of a cliff, or upon the banks of a secluded stream. The impressions made upon his imagination in these rambles were so vivid and distinct, that, years after, he wrote them out as if from inspiration, thus imparting to his descriptive poetry a peculiar freshness and originality. As soon as he knew how to read, his father's library had a charm for him beyond everything else. His parents found, on telling him to begin the study of geography, that he had already made his way in it much further than it was studied at schools in those days. He early betrayed a shy, shrinking habit, never resenting, but