1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Charles W. Everest, in Poets of Connecticut (1843) 237-38.



JAMES GATES PERCIVAL, son of Dr. JAMES PERCIVAL, was born in Kensington, a parish in the town of Berlin, on the 15th of September, 1795. He began to write verse while very young, and composed a regular poem, of several hundred lines, in heroic measure, during the summer preceding the commencement of his collegiate course. At sixteen years of age he entered Yale College, where he was distinguished by studious habits and high attainments in scholarship, and where he still continued his poetical writings, contributing frequently to the periodicals. In 1815, he was regularly graduated, and on that occasion Zamor, a Tragedy, which he had composed a short time before, was performed by the students. It was afterward revised, and published in a volume of poems.

After leaving college, Mr. PERCIVAL devoted himself, for several years, to literary pursuits, being also engaged at times in the instruction of youth. In 1820, he published a volume of poems at New Haven; and during the following year appeared at Charleston, whither he had gone on account of ill health, the first number of Clio. This, like the following numbers, was composed partly of articles which had before been published in a scattered form. Soon after his return to Connecticut, he published the second number of Clio, and Prometheus, a poem of more than three thousand lines, in the "Spenserian" measure.

In 1823, having pursued the requisite studies, Mr. PERCIVAL received the degree of Doctor of Medicine, but has scarcely ever been engaged in the practice of his profession, save only when connected with the army. During the same year, appeared an edition of his select writings, from a New York press, which was re-published shortly afterward, with a brief memoir, in London, in two duodecimo volumes. In 1824, he was appointed a Professor in the Military Academy, at West Point, but from ill health was compelled to resign the office. He removed to Boston, where he was for some time connected, in the capacity of surgeon, with the recruiting service at that station. While here, he was a frequent contributor to The United States Literary Gazette, and also edited several works for the press. In 1825, he delivered a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, of Yale College, and, in 1827, published in New York the last number of Clio, and the last of his poetical volumes.

For the past few years Dr. PERCIVAL has made New Haven his principal residence, devoting his time wholly to literary and scientific pursuits, and dwelling as much apart from men in the bustling metropolis as he could do in a desert solitude. He is a man of eminent learning, versed in the ancient classical literature, familiar with the chief modern languages of Europe, a proficient in the natural sciences, and has extended his researches into Oriental philology. He rendered valuable aid to Dr. WEBSTER, in preparing his Dictionary of the English language, and has translated MALTE-BRUNE'S Universal Geography, and various well-known works, besides editing several other publications for the press. His poetical writings, also, have not been entirely intermitted, as he has continued to be an occasional contributor to the periodical literature of the day. In 1835, he was appointed by the Governor of Connecticut to make a geological survey of the state, which he accomplished with persevering diligence, and in such a manner as to sustain his scientific reputation.

The poetical celebrity of our author is widely extended. The amount of his writings has scarcely been equalled by any American poet. He is certainly a man of genius, and unites to the vivid imagination of the bard, the observing eye of the minute naturalist. But his fancy is under very little regulation or restraint. His verse, though it flows in a melodious stream, seems without art; in his descriptions, objects of greater and less importance are thrown together without proportion, and, notwithstanding all his beauties, the reader is overwhelmed even to weariness with the multitude of his images. But whatever faults severe criticism may lay to his charge, the public voice has long since proclaimed Dr. PERCIVAL a true poet, and has assigned him a place with the few choice spirits who grace the upper walks of our national literature.