1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Elihu Hubbard Smith

Charles W. Everest, in Poets of Connecticut (1843) 105-07.



ELIHU HUBBARD SMITH, son of Dr. REUBEN SMITH, was born at Litchfield, on the 4th of September, 1771. When a mere boy he entered Yale College, where he was regularly graduated in 1786. After leaving college, he connected himself for a time with the Greenfield Academy, then under the charge of Dr. DWIGHT afterward President of Yale College, under whose excellent tuition SMITH finished his classical studies. After the completion of his academic education, he commenced the study of medicine, and attended a full course of lectures in Philadelphia. He received his diploma, and commenced the practice of his profession in the town of Wethersfield, where he resided for about the space of two years. It was during this period that Dr. SMITH first became known in a literary character. He had given early proof of the possession of poetical talents, and while in Philadelphia had contributed to the periodical press a few articles under the signature of ELLA. His present residence was more favorable to the cultivation and exercise of his literary taste, from its contiguity to the city of Hartford, where he was often a visitor. He was received by the celebrated poets of that city to their most intimate society; and although associated but in a slight degree with their literary labors, he was nevertheless a member of their brotherhood. He contributed a few passages to some of the earlier numbers of The Echo, and wrote also for the newspapers of the city.

In 1793, appeared from the Litchfield press, American Poems, Selected and Original, edited by Dr. SMITH. The volume contained articles by TRUMBULL, DWIGHT, BARLOW, HUMPHREYS, HOPKINS, ALSOP, and various other authors, whose names are given, as also many anonymous poems, selected from the newspapers of the day, as possessing peculiar merit. It was the first general collection of poetry ever attempted in the country, and the literature of that day is indebted to its editor for the preservation of many interesting effusions which otherwise would doubtless have been lost.

During the following year, 1794, our author removed to the city of New York, where he devoted himself with great zeal to the cultivation of medical science and of literature. He soon became distinguished for his attainments, and obtained extensive practice.

In 1796, he was elected one of the physicians of the hospital, and during the same year in conjunction with Drs. MILLER and MITCHILL, commenced the publication of The Medical Repository, to which he contributed many valuable papers. In 1797, Dr. SMITH published Edwin and Angelina, or The Banditti, an Opera, in Three Acts, and in 1798 edited the first American edition of DARWIN'S Botanic Garden, to which he prefixed a poetic address to the author, correctly describing the rise, process and use of the art of Printing as connected with Science, and particularly its effect in spreading the Botanic Song throughout the world. This was the last of our author's literary labors. In September of the same year, during the prevalence of the Yellow Fever which so fearfully ravaged New York, he fell a victim to his untiring benevolence in the exercise of his professional duties, and his humane attention to an unfortunate foreigner of distinguished literary acquirements, Dr. I. B. SCANDELLA, of Venice. Dr. SMITH had received his friend into his own house, on the return of the latter from Philadelphia, bearing with him the infection. SCANDELLA died, and SMITH followed him. In The Political Green-House for the same year, Mr. ALSOP thus touchingly alludes to his friend, in describing the work of the Pestilence:

Nor bright endowments of the mind
With learning fraught and taste refined,
Nor pitying heart for others' woe,
Can turn aside the fatal blow:
Else had his shafts that winged the sky
Passed thee, O SMITH, uninjured by—
Thy friends' delight, thy parents' stay,
Fond hope of their declining day:
Nor had those floods of sorrow burst,
Lamented COOPER, o'er thy dust;
Nor mourning Science wept forlorn
O'er learned SCANDELLA'S timeless urn.

The above-mentioned Opera, and the Epistle to DARWIN, are the chief literary remains of our author. He wrote an irregular poem, somewhat after the manner of GRAY'S Bard, descriptive of Indian character and manners, which was never published. A gentleman of high literary reputation, and of nice critical judgment, to whom it was submitted, assures us that it was a poem of great merit, and decidedly the best of Dr. SMITH'S productions. This poem, together with all the author's manuscripts, we regret to say, was destroyed by accident, after his death.

Edwin and Angelina is an opera, founded upon the celebrated ballad of GOLDSMITH. Though not published until 1797, it was in part written in 1791, and was brought out upon the stage in 1794. It was highly successful, but as a poem it cannot claim any superior merit. Its story is this: Earl ETHELBERT cherishes an improper passion for EMMA, a peasant girl. To accomplish his base purposes he imprisons SIFRID, the betrothed lover of EMMA, to whom he is indebted for the preservation of his life, and then bears EMMA to his castle. SIFRID escapes, and becomes the chief of a company of forest banditti. ETHELBERT, repulsed by EMMA, becomes enamored of ANGELINA, daughter of a neighboring Earl, who refuses his suit. The tears of the captive EMMA at length soften his heart. He offers her, though in vain, half of his wealth, and makes fruitless efforts to discover the retreat of her lover. Meanwhile ANGELINA, having discarded the suit of the humble EDWIN, whom she loves, flies distractedly, habited as a pilgrim, to the forest, where EDWIN has already taken refuge in a Hermitage. This forest is infested by SIFRID and his band, and thither ETHELBERT also comes in pursuit of ANGELINA. He falls into the power of his old enemy, SIFRID, to whom he declares his penitence, with the assurance of EMMA'S safety, and his willingness to restore her to her lover. The Chief forgives him, and promises his assistance for the recovery of the lost ANGELINA. She meantime has wandered to the Hermitage of EDWIN, and a hearty reconciliation is effected. There they are surprised by ETHELBERT, SIFRID, and the band. EDWIN resists, and ETHELBERT, who owes to him also his life, yields his claim to the disputed lady. SIFRID and his comrades are persuaded by the advice and proffers of ETHELBERT to abandon their unlawful pursuits, and return to virtuous life; and a joyful chorus closes the piece. With this explanation the reader will readily understand any selections we may present.