صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

then to be returned. James, by spelling along in his book, soon discovered that a portion of it treated of the starry heavens. He felt so solicitous to understand this, that he sought the aid of his friends at home, to make the piece intelligible to him. By persevering effort, aided by their instructions during the time he was permitted to keep the book, he surmounted every difficulty, and was able to read the chapter on Monday morning, with a good degree of fluency.


From that time his proficiency in his studies was great. was not long before he became so familiar with all that was to be learnt in the district school which he attended, that the exercises were extremely tedious to him. This circumstance, connected with his unquenchable ardor for reading, in which he could indulge at home, often made him reluctant to go to a place where his time was spent to so little purpose. His father's library at home, and not the common infirmity of children, caused him to creep, "like a snail, unwillingly to school."

At this period of his life, he lived, as he has informed the writer of this paper, in a world of his own,-an ideal world. He knew and he cared very little respecting the real world of mankind. His cast of mind was highly imaginative; and aided by his extensive recollections of history, geography, and other reading, he lived and acted very much according to the fancies which his knowledge enabled him to contrive. Some details of this sort, casually given by the poet in conversation, would surprise one as relating to a boy of his age, and instruct the student of human nature, in regard to the incipient workings of a creative and poetic mind. Enveloping himself under circumstances of Egyptian, Grecian, or Roman history, or perhaps the chivalry of the middle ages, or as it might happen, indulging some merely arbitrary creations of his fancy, and seated by a stream, or wandering in the woods, he delighted to call up around him those representations that corresponded with the realities of which he had read, or with the archetype of them existing in his own mind. He could feign to himself in perfect keeping, and in their true costume, the figures and the scenes of those ages past—could imagine himself to be

[blocks in formation]

conversant with them, with such a depth of interest, as scarcely suffered him to realize actual life and its wants. Indeed, in his poem on the Pleasures of Childhood, he has described in verses of great beauty, these wanderings of his fancy.

"A thousand wildering reveries led astray
My better reason, and my unguarded soul
Danced like a feather on the turbid sea
Of its own wild and freakish phantasies.
At times, the historic page would catch my eye,
And rivet down my thoughts on ancient times,
And mix them with the demigods of old.



* How I loved
To ascend the pyramids, and in their womb
Gaze on the royal cenotaph, to sit
Beneath thy ruin'd palaces and fanes,
Balbec or princely Tadmor, though the one
Lurk like a hermit in the lonely vales
Of Lebanon, and the waste wilderness
Embrace the other.

[blocks in formation]




Along the stream,

That flow'd in summer's mildness o'er its bed
Of rounded pebbles, with its scanty wave
Encircling many an islet, and its banks
In bays and havens scooping, I would stray,
And dreaming, rear an empire on its shores.
Where cities rose, and palaces and towers
Caught the first light of morning, there the fleet
Lent all its snowy canvas to the wind,

And bore with awful front against the foe.





There many a childish hour was spent; the world
That moved and fretted round me, had no power
To draw me from my musings, but the dream
Enthrall'd me till it seem'd reality;

And when I woke, I wonder'd that a brook
Was babbling by, and a few rods of soil,
Cover'd with scanty herbs, the arena where
Cities and empires, fleets and armies rose."

Such was his boyhood, and the commencement of poetic emotion or creation. His mind, however, has been otherwise tasked since, for although Dr Percival has appeared before the public, almost entirely as a poet, he is scarcely more dis

tinguished in that department, than in others that more especially put to the test the thinking and discursory powers.

At the customary age, he commenced the preparatory studies to a public education, and though according to his own opinion, the course of study was not very judiciously prescribed, yet he seems to have improved in a commendable manner, such advantages as he was permitted to enjoy. A mind like his, though comparatively neglected, or unhappily trained by others, will often preserve uninjured or unaltered, its own distinctive qualities. Indeed a great intellect will train itself, and from its own superior discernment, will remedy in a good degree the defects of inadequate or misdirected instruction. Yea more, like a magnet which attracts its promiscuous assemblage of ferruginous particles, a gifted understanding will draw to itself, from every surrounding object, whatever is congenial to its nature. It will select, if not in a regular, yet in an effectual manner, whatever can be of pleasure, of ornament, or of use.

His collegiate course, on which he entered at 16 years of age, was marked by studiousness, and uncommon distinction as a scholar. His proficiency drew from President Dwight, an accurate judge of worth, and diviner of the destinies of his pupils, a justly merited encomium. That great man also administered to young Percival a well-timed caution, to engage in some active pursuit, upon finishing his studies.

The ne

glect of this caution at times, subjected our author, from his desponding temperament and intense mental application, to no common infelicities. These dark shades in his experience, with a thousand apprehensions of yet gloomier scenes, are too faithfully drawn by our poet's pencil, on several occasions.

He closed his collegiate career by receiving the customary honors of Yale, and by the very respectable literary exercises which he performed on the day of commencement. The tragedy of Zamor, which was acted on that occasion, was written by Percival, and afterwards published with some emendations in the early volume of his "Poems." This play, though it can neither be ranked among his happier efforts

nor be remembered in the history of the drama, was no unpromising production for a youth of 19 or 20 years.

It was while our author was a member of college, that he composed a few of the poems that appear in his first published volume, the earliest date of which is 17 years. Like most distinguished men, his powers were early developed, though his prudence doubtless has suffered but a small part of the productions of that period to see the light. Indeed, so precocious were his poetic talents, that he is known to have composed a regular poem of many hundred lines in heroic measure, the summer before he entered college; and so far, in the ardor of literary ambition, did he anticipate the course he has since pursued, that he meditated its publication, at that time.

The year succeeding his graduation, seems to have been peculiarly prolific in the effusions of his muse, since nearly one half of the volume before mentioned is indicated to have been composed in that year. The time that intervened between his leaving college, and the year 1820, when he published his first collection of poetry, was spent in various literary studies, in poetic and other compositions, in the instruction of youth, and in preparations for professional life. As an instructer, he was engaged in one or two private families in Philadelphia, at different times. The profession which he finally adopted was that of medicine; but well qualified as he is for his profession, by a knowledge of the healing art, he has scarcely engaged in the practice of it, at any period since. His own inclination, as well as the voice of the public, has assigned to him a more exclusively literary vocation. His volume before adverted to, together with two numbers of his Clio, and another little volume in continuation of the first, all of which followed in two years, brought him conspicuously before his countrymen.

These works established his poetic character, and placed him in the foremost ranks of American genius. It is however due to the sacred interests of religious truth, to say that some passages of his writings, on account of their sceptical character, gave a just offence to the pious sensibility of many readers. This error, if we are not mistaken,

he has avoided in later productions, and it is hoped he has done so, from convictions of its impiety, as well as of its impolicy, and its detriment to his lasting fame.

It is not our design to detail all the particulars of Dr Percival's life, since propriety would forbid it, in the living subject. The delicacy and reserve, not to say the sacredness, that attaches to private life in the contemporaneous author, can allow the communication only of slight and general notices in such a case. More particular and minute sketches, as well as bolder criticisms belong to the professed biographer, when he gives to the public, the character and doings of those, who can no longer claim to be shielded from the censure, or whose modesty might incline them to shrink from the admiration of the community for whom they wrote, and whom they corrupted, improved, or delighted. Dr Percival's course, contrary to the fate of most authors, has been various in incident, and exhibited not a little of the moral romance. As has already been observed in a public account of him, "his career has been marked by traits of great eccentricity." At some future day, it is probable that a better understanding of the circumstances which attended his early life, will convince the public that many of the causes of this eccentricity are to be traced back beyond the reach of any voluntary control, on his part.

The year preceding the publication of his poems, owing, it is believed, to incessant studies, and consequent delicacy of health, he sunk into a despondency and morbid mental excitement, which affected him with the keenest sensations of misery. It seemed as if the operations of an ever accumulating understanding, were really too powerful for a frame, finely tempered indeed, but not remarkable for robustness or strength. In this situation, he sought the alleviations of friendship, and obtained them in a measure, at least. At a time when he mistakingly, but sincerely, supposed himself to be forsaken by almost every one, he was surprised to find, yet he gratefully received, the sympathies of friends and neighbors. Under these manifestations of regard, aided,

[blocks in formation]
« السابقةمتابعة »