1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John G. C. Brainard

Samuel Griswold Goodrich, in Kettell, Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 3:198-99, 202.



Brainard was a native of New London, Connecticut, and son of the Hon. Jeremiah G. Brainard, who has been for several years one of the Judges of the Superior Court of that state. He was graduated at Yale College in 1815, and having fitted himself for the bar, he entered into practice at Middletown, Conn. Not finding the degree of success that he wished, he returned in a short time to his native town, and thence in 1822 he went to Hartford, to undertake the editorial charge of the Connecticut Mirror. In this capacity he was occupied until about a year before his death, when marked by evident symptoms, as a victim of consumption, he returned once again to the paternal rood, where he died, September 26, 1828, at the age of thirty two.

There are few men more richly gifted than was the subject of this memoir. The collection of poems, that were published by him in a volume, and which will carry his name down to futurity, were all composed for the columns of a weekly newspaper, and were only regarded by the writer as light and trifling productions, serving to fill his columns and discharge his obligations to furnish something original for his readers. They were always written in haste — usually at the last moment to which he could delay, and while the printer was at his elbow, dunning for copy; they were also written without expectation of fame, and with none of the stimulus derived from a feeling of responsibility to public opinion. They always appeared in the paper as communications, and seem to have been thrown off as freely, as with as little consideration of their value, as the trees resign their leaves to the autumn winds. They were also written at a period when the author had already ceased to think of ambition — when he was depressed by despairing views of his lot in life, and while he bent beneath a vague sense of unhappiness, seeming to spring up from everything around him to put forth its harvest of mortification, disappointment, and sorrow. Yet these productions, so little elaborated, and written under such causes of enervation, are stamped with an originality, boldness, force, and pathos, illustrative of genius, not perhaps inferior to that of Burns, and certainly much resembling it in kind. What could not such a man have done, had be been sustained by fortune equal to his merit, and incited by those impulses which give energy and efficiency to the exertions of other men! . . .

The originality of Brainard has the more merit, in an age, when imitation is stamped upon almost all the new poetry we read. Mrs. Hemans' rhymes are perpetually chiming in our ears — the conceits of Shelley come forth again and again, each time in a new mask — and Wordsworth's ghosts and shadows of thought haunt us like spectres in the night. But Brainard either disdained imitation, or the gushing fountain of his own genius left him little temptation to borrow from others. No man ever thought his own thoughts more independently than he did....