Rev. Oliver William Bourne Peabody

George and Evert Duyckinck, in Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856; 1875) 2:67.


The twin-brothers named together at the head of this article, the sons of Judge Oliver Peabody of Exeter, New Hampshire, were born at that place July 9, 1799. They were educated together at the celebrated academy under the charge of Dr. Abbot, entered Harvard College together at the early age of thirteen, and were graduated together in 1816.

This close union of birth and education was accompanied by a similarity of outward form and inward temperament. Both were men of eminent natural endowment, of ripe scholarship, of gentle and affectionate tempers, and both eventually dedicated their lives to the same path of professional duty, thus laboring in spirit though not in actual bodily presence, side by side, and separated in death by but a brief interval from one another.

At the outset of life, however, their courses were for a time separate, Oliver studying law, and William theology.

Oliver, after passing some time in his father's office, completed his legal education at Cambridge, and returned to practise in his native town, where he resided for eleven years, serving for a portion of the time in the state legislature, and being also occupied at different periods as editor of the Rockingham Gazette and Exeter News-Letter. In 1823, he delivered a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard, and shortly after read a similar production at the celebration of the second centennial anniversary of the settlement of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In 1830, Mr. Peabody removed to Boston, where he became the assistant of his brother-in-law, the Hon. Alexander H. Everett, in the editorship of the North American Review. He was also for some years an assistant editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser. His connexion with the four periodicals we have named, was that of a contributor as well as a supervisor. The three journals contain many finished essays and choice poems from his pen, marked by a closeness of thought and elaborate execution, as well as a lively and humorous inspiration; while scarcely a number of the North American, during several years, was issued without one or more articles from his pen.

In 1836, Mr. Peabody was appointed Register of Probate in Suffolk county, a laborious office, which he resigned in 1842 in consequence of impaired health, and his acceptance of the professorship of English Literature in Jefferson College, an institution supported by the state of Louisiana. Finding a southern climate unsuited to his constitution, he returned in the following year to the North.

His views and tastes had been for some time turned in the direction of theology, and he now determined to enter the ministry. In 1845, he was licensed by the Boston Unitarian Association as a preacher, and in August of the same year became the minister of the Unitarian church of Burlington, Vermont, where the remainder of his life was passed in the discharge (so far as his delicate health would permit) of his parochial duties. He died on the sixth of July, 1848.

WILLIAM B. O. PEABODY, immediately after receiving his degree, entered upon a preparation for the ministry in the Divinity school of Cambridge; and was, soon after his ordination, called to the charge of the Unitarian church at Springfield. He entered upon his duties in this place in 1820, when not quite twenty-one years of age; and it was here that the whole of his ministerial life was passed.

In addition to a conscientious discharge of the literary duties of his profession, Dr. Peabody of Springfield is said to have contributed a greater number of articles to the North American Review and Christian Examiner than any other person. He was also the author of several choice occasional poems published in the last named and other periodicals; and of the Report of the Ornithology of Massachusetts, prepared in fulfilment of his duties as one of the commission appointed for the scientific survey of the state.

Dr. Peabody's health, another of the many points of assimilation between himself and his brother, was feeble. He suffered a severe deprivation in 1843 by the loss of his wife, and in the following year by that of a daughter, who in some measure supplied the place of the head of his household. Neither bodily nor mental sufferings were, however, permitted to interpose more than a temporary pause in his constant course of useful labor. He died, after a confinement to his bed of but a few days, May 28, 1847.

A selection from Dr. Peabody's sermons was prepared for the press by his brother Oliver, who had nearly completed a memoir to accompany the volume, when his own life, reached its termination. The work was completed by Everett Peabody, who, soon after its publication, prepared a selection from the contributions to the North American Review and poems of its author.