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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,
perhaps, by a change of place, he soon recovered his intellectual elasticity, and the tone of his spirits. Though his disposition seems to be melancholy, he has ever since, it is believed, been exempted from any peculiar sufferings of this sort the antidote of which, doubtless lies in the more business-like habits, which, as a scholar, he cultivates, and which the literary taste of the age solicits at his hand. A case, parallel in part to his experience as a sufferer, is again presented in the sad and desponding "prophet of the British lyre." Would that there had been similarity not in this, but in a happy and assured belief of the verities of the Christian Revelation.
Our poet's strongest sceptical tendencies, seem to have been manifested about this period, a fact which his candor led him to intimate, in the preface to the first volume of his poems. It may be proper to observe here, that whatever want of assurance he may have then felt of the truth of religion, it did not have the effect of relaxing the obligations of morality in his view. In his intercourse with his fellow-men, he has carried undoubted testimonials of a scrupulously honest, sincere, and kind man, with a peculiar gentleness and child-like simplicity of manners and character. These and other virtues, directed, as we may hope they will be, by settled and experimental convictions of religious truth, would leave little to wish for, in the character of one who is already an ornament of his country's genius and literature.
From the period of the publications already spoken of, which were brought down to the year 1822, the principal incidents of a public kind in his life, to the present time, were the printing of his select works in a neat edition in 1824, which were republished with a brief memoir the same year in London, in 2 vols. 12mo.; his appointment by the general government to a professorship at West Point in 1824; his relinquishment of that station, in consequence of ill-health; his employment as a surgeon in connexion with the recruiting service at Boston; his poetic contributions to the United States Literary Gazette; his editing several works for the press; a
few public performances before literary societies, besides his general studies; the writing of occasional fugitive pieces, and the publication of Clio, the last of his acknowledged poetical works, at New York in 1827. We may also add, that for the last two years he has been assisting Mr Webster in the preparation of his Dictionary for the press, a task for which his extensive and critical philological learning eminently qualified him. He has lately returned to his native village, where he now* resides. He is understood to be occupied in some prose work of magnitude, which will be given to the public at no distant period.
We believe Dr Percival has lately written little poetry, and, eminent as he is in this department of literature, standing certainly in the first rank of our native poets, still, we apprehend that he does not esteem poetry his forte, and that he will hereafter seek some other path of distinction. We incline to the opinion that should he do so, he will eclipse the reputation he has gained as a poet.
The character of Dr Percival has perhaps been sufficiently presented, though it may be added, that he is cold and diffident in his manners, yet steadfast in his feelings, frank and candid in the expression of his opinions, and particularly averse to display and noisy approbation, though keenly alive to the enjoyments to be derived from a delicate and considerate expression of public regard. His passion for study, and the reserve, and even timidity of manner, which characterizes him in mixed company, may naturally lead common observers to suppose that he has little aptitude for social intercourse, and little delight in it. But this opinion, if it be entertained by any, respecting the poet, is incorrect. He may never be known in mixed company, in all the intellectual superiority which distinguishes him, yet in the free communications of intimacy, few discover more ability, or are more entertaining; and none less dogmatic or mystical. His range of topics extends to every department in morals, science, politics, history, taste, and literature. On points as to which he differs from
others, he can be approached without the danger of offending even his strong sensibility. Arguments he seems to hear and weigh with much consideration; but his own opinions he maintains with great firmness: he is always ready and ingenious, and often convincing in his answers. He rarely ventures mere assertions, and few, perhaps, are more uniformly in the habit of maintaining their opinions by particular facts and strenuous and elaborate reasonings. One peculiarity may be observed in his manner of conversation, and that is, when he approaches a subject he enters deeply into it, views it on every side, and pursues it till it is exhausted, if it be exhaustible.
Dr Percival is a lover of rural walks, and rural retirement; especially have the external objects and scenery of his native parish thrilled his bosom with delight, as well from their variegated beauty, as from the associations of his childhood. In conversing of these rambles, however, the poet's remarks do not often turn on the beauties of nature, which are so apt to captivate a poetic mind. These beauties he has certainly felt exquisitely, but he reserves the expression of his feelings, for the chosen hours of solitude, and gives them to the public in verse. His conversation more commonly assumes a scientific cast, and turns frequently upon botany, mineralogy, geological appearances, and the phenomena of nature in general.
Of all our poets, it is not known that any surpass Dr Percival in learning. This perhaps appears in his poems. His scholarship is indeed of a high order, and for accuracy and extent, is probably exceeded by that of few professedly learned men, in this country. His information is universal, his mind is in itself a sort of encyclopedia. And notwithstanding he has found time to lay up in his memory so many treasures of learning, he is known to examine most subjects minutely, accurately, and fully; he observes and judges for himself—is perfectly independent in his opinions; possesses broad and comprehensive views, and is distinguished rather by generalization and method in his ideas, than by a splendid and con
fused mass of other men's knowledge. His attainments in literature may be judged of from the fact, that he reads more or less familiarly in ten or twelve languages, ancient and modern. An employment of the poet occasionally, has been to translate extemporaneously in the hearing of a friend, portions of the standard works in French, Italian, Spanish, German, and other continental languages of modern Europe; an exercise, in which he is surprisingly expert. His distinction in the severer studies is still more remarkable. In the sciences, particularly the physical sciences, he is known to have made an early and great proficiency. What attention he has bestowed upon them, or what advance he has made in them, during the latter part of his career, is not known to the writer; yet it is presumed he retains his early fondness for their attractions, and cultivates them with his usual success.
The poetry of Dr Percival has been sometime before the public; its merits are consequently well known. On this account, we need not dwell upon it at much length. It is, in general, more imaginative than sentimental, and from the profusion and stringing together of similes, the effect as to entireness of impression, is often weakened. His language is well selected and picturesque, bold and idiomatic; his verse is harmonious, and contains many of those sweet and hallowed forms of expression, which render poetry the repository of the most striking truths, as well as the vehicle of the finest emotions. His numbers seem to flow in the highest degree easily and naturally--and to be thrown off in moments of sparkling and salient feeling, with the greatest rapidity.* Hence it is, that careless lines sometimes occur, and a passage becomes obscure, rendered more so indeed, by the intenseness or depth of emotion, which is designed to be depicted. In Dr Percival's poetry, there is nothing like that neatness, that fastidiousness of language which is dictated by a taste, that takes and rejects a word by turns, and is long undecided what it shall finally fix upon, though the selected word often proves to
The "Wreck" a poem of about 40 pages, was written in three or four days.