David Humphreys

Samuel Kettell, in Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 1:259-61.

DAVID HUMPHREYS was the son of a clergyman, of Derby in Connecticut, and was born at that place in 1753. He entered Yale College in 1767, where he formed an acquaintance with Dwight and Trumbull. He went into the army on the breaking out of the war, and in 1778 was attached to General Putnam's staff, with the rank of Major. In 1780 he was made a Colonel, and aide-decamp to Washington, in whose family he continued till the end of the war, enjoying the full confidence and friendship of the Commander in Chief. When the army was disbanded, and Washington had resigned his commission, Colonel Humphreys accompanied him in his retirement to Virginia.

In 1784 he was appointed Secretary to the legation for concluding treaties with foreign powers, and sailed for Europe where he passed two years, principally at Paris and London. On his return in 1786, he was chosen to represent his native town in the Connecticut legislature, and shortly after appointed by Congress to the command of a body of troops raised in New England, for the western service. While occupied in this business he resided for the most part at Hartford, and associated with Trumbull, Barlow and Hopkins in the literary and political writings which engaged their attention at that period. In 1788 his corps being broken up, his commission expired, and he made a journey to General Washington at Mount Vernon, and remained there till the organization of the federal government, when he attended the President to New York. He remained in his family till 1790. At this time he was nominated ambassador to Portugal, and in 1791 sailed for Lisbon, being the first American minister to that country. He subsequently received the additional appointment of minister plenipotentiary to the court of Madrid, and during the discharge of these duties, concluded treaties of peace with the government of Tripoli and Algiers. He remained abroad till 1802, and after his return lived principally in his native state, without taking any share in public measures except receiving the command of the veteran volunteers of Connecticut in 1812, with the rank of General. He died at New Haven, February 21st, 1818, at the age of 65.

Colonel Humphreys attracted much notice by his first poem, "An Address to the Armies of the United States of America," written in 1782, in the bustle of the camp, for the patriotic purpose of inspiring his brethren in arms with courage and perseverance in the struggle. This piece had a great popularity. It was published in England, and translated into French by the Marquis de Chastellux, the friend and fellow soldier of Humphreys. His other works are, A Poem on the Happiness of America, A Poem on the future Glory of the United States, A Poem on the Industry of the United States, A Poem on the Love of Country, A Poem on the death of Washington, and a few small pieces. Besides those, he was the Author of a life of General Putnam, and a translation of the French tragedy, The Widow of Malabar.

The poetry of Humphreys displays considerable talent, but the sameness in the character of the subjects which he has adopted throughout his different pieces, gives it an air of monotony which materially detracts from the interest we feel in going over his volume. Either of his larger performances, will give a fair specimen of his general manner and merits. His conceptions are elevated, his sentiments noble and warm with patriotic zeal, and his versification correct and harmonious.