JOHN GARDNER CALKINS BRAINARD was a son of the Hon. JEREMIAH G. BRAINARD, one of the Judges of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and was born at New London, on the 21st of October, 1796. He pursued his preparatory studies under the direction of his elder brother, WILLIAM F. BRAINARD, and entered Yale College at fifteen years of age. Here he was a universal favorite, and gave evidence of the genius which afterward distinguished him, but acquired little celebrity for application or scholarship. He was graduated in 1815, and soon afterward entered the office of his brother, in his native town, as a student at law. On being admitted to the bar in 1819, he established himself in the city of Middletown, in the practice of his profession. But it proved an uncongenial occupation, and, in the early part of the year 1822, he removed to Hartford, and assumed the editorial charge of The Connecticut Mirror. Through the columns of this periodical, principally, he became known to the public in a poetical character. During his residence in Middletown he had devoted a part of his time to literary compositions; but he had published few articles, and was, for the most part, unknown as an author, prior to his connection with the Mirror.
In 1825, BRAINARD published at New York a small volume, entitled, Occasional pieces of Poetry, comprising about forty articles, most of which had already appeared in his newspaper, and had enjoyed a wide-spread popularity. Its motto, from BUNYAN, was apt and quaint:
Some said, "JOHN, print it;" others said, "Not so;"
Some said, "It might be good;" others said, "No."
The volume was well received by the public, and the friends of the author urged him to undertake a poem of such length as should enable him to concentrate all his poetical talents — a task which he could not be induced to attempt. He still continued his editorial labors, contributing occasional poems to the press, until the spring of 1827. His health had been for some time failing, and he now resigned his connection with the Mirror, though, as he deemed, only for a little time, and returned to New London, in hope that relaxation and domestic quiet would soon enable him to resume his duties. During the following summer he spent a short time on Long Island, where he composed the well-known sketch, The Invalid on the East End of Long Island; but no beneficial result followed the change — and he returned to New London, convinced that he must abandon all thought of resuming his editorial labors, though he still continued to write occasionally for the Mirror, as a poetical correspondent. His disease soon assumed the character of consumption, and the work of life which now remained for him was to prepare for his final change. He devoted much of his time to religious study and meditation, and united himself to the communion of the Congregational Church at New London. His religious feelings seemed of a true and healthful character, and he looked forward to the approach of death not only without fear, but even with an earnest desire. He lingered until the 26th of September, 1828, when his spirit passed peacefully away. His death was widely deplored, and caused an universal expression of sympathy from his brethren associated with the press. Many lyres were strung to notes of lamentation; and we cannot forbear an extract from a feeling monody by his friend, Mrs. SIGOURNEY:
Each sylvan haunt he loved, — the simplest flower
That burned heaven's incense in its bosom fair,
The crested billow with its fitful power,
The chirping nest that claimed another's care,
All woke his worship, as some altar rare
Or sainted shrine doth win the pilgrim's knee;
And he hath gone to rest where earth and air
Lavish their sweetest charms, — while loud and free
Sounds forth the wind-swept harp of his own native sea....
Youth with glad hand her frolic germs had sown,
And garlands clustered round his manly head;
Those garlands withered, — and he stood alone,
While on his cheek the gnawing hectic fed,
And chilling death-dews o'er his temple spread:
But on his soul a quenchless star arose,
Whose hallowed beams their brightest lustre shed
When the dimmed eye to its last pillow goes;
He followed where it led, and found a saint's repose.
And now, farewell! The rippling stream shall hear
No more the echo of thy sportive oar;
Nor the loved group, thy father's halls that cheer,
Joy in the magic of thy presence more;
Long shall their tears thy broken lyre deplore;
Yet doth thine image, warm and deathless, dwell
With those who love the minstrel's tuneful lore,—
And still thy music, like a treasured spell,
Thrills deep within our souls. Lamented bard, farewell!
In private life, BRAINARD was most highly esteemed. He was fond of social intercourse; and superior powers of conversation, and a fund of cheerful humor, often rendered him the delight of the circle. His feelings were peculiarly sensitive — a circumstance which often proved a source of uneasiness to his friends. His character through life was marked at times by a shade of melancholy, and his verse is often imbued with a spirit of pleasing sadness. As an editor, he seemed little better adapted to the rougher tasks of political partizanship than to the abstractions of law. Aside from a constitutional aversion to such duties as would bring him into a bold and public intercourse with his fellow men, he ever manifested a reluctance to engage in high and continued effort. Thus his taste and feelings inclined him rather to the literary than the political department of his paper, and in this character consisted its chief charm.
The poems of BRAINARD have won a degree of favor both at home and abroad, which has been extended to but few of our native bards They were hastily written, and revised with too little care, but are distinguished by a high order of beauty. An entire originality, a true and deep and natural vein of feeling, a love of all things beautiful, a rich humor, and a character purely American, have rendered him a universal favorite, and have peculiarly endeared his memory to his native commonwealth.
In 1832, the Literary Remains of our author, with a sketch of his life by JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, was published by P. B. GOODSELL, and in 1842, a more authentic collection of his poems, with a memoir of his life, was published by EDWARD HOPKINS. This last edition is one of great beauty, and well worthy the character of him whose genius it commemorates.