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JAMES GATES PERCIVAL.
DR PERCIVAL was born on the 15th of September, 1795, in Kensington, a parish of Berlin, Connecticut. That parish had long been the residence of his paternal ancestors—the family of the Percivals having removed to that place from East Haddam in the same state, two generations before. His maternal ancestors had lived in the town of Kensington, so called at first, from the time of its earliest settlement. The father of the poet, whose name was James, was a highly reputable physician in Kensington, where he died 1807, in the midst of life, much lamented by the inhabitants. He left a widow and four children, one daughter and three sons, with a valuable estate, which he had acquired by his profession. The daughter, who was the eldest child, died two or three weeks after her father, and the three sons, all of tender age, were left to the assiduity and care of a mother.
Dr Percival is the second of the sons, and the only one that received a liberal education. From the earliest period at which he could read, he was fond of books; and in a short time treasured up in a remarkably retentive memory all the stores of echvol-boy learning. Among his companions at school, he was distinguished by the case with which he could learn his lessons, by superior intelligence, by a gentle and retiring disposition, and by an abstracted turn of mind. He seldom engaged in the common sports of the school, even with the boys of his own age. He possessed also a share of that distressing diffidence, and sensibility to suffering from the rudeness of the older members of the school, which Cowper has so feelingly depicted in his own case.
The occasion of his learning to read, and the rapidity of his progress in the art, show strikingly the bent and powers of his understanding. At a time when he could only spell his words with difficulty, he received a book at school, which it was customary for the master on a Saturday to give to some deserving scholar, to be kept till the following Monday, and
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. It 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 bis 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
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
How I loved
Along the stream,
There many a childish hour was spent; the world
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. 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
The nenor be remembered in the history of the drama, was no utipromising 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 inentioned 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,