1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John G. C. Brainard

Anonymous, Obituary in New-York Mirror and Ladies' Literary Gazette 6 (22 November 1828) 158.



The subjoined notice of the lamented Brainard was communicated by a lady, to the columns of the Connecticut Mirror.

The recent death of this interesting man, taken from life, as the germ of genius had begun to give the promise of rich fruit, brings with it the painful feeling of disappointed hope. It is one of those mysterious dispensations of Divine Providence, which, without strong faith in the wisdom and benevolence of the Deity, might lead us to scepticism. The dull plodder, whose imagination soars no higher than to anticipations of worldly gain, the cold-hearted, whose visions of happiness all centre in himself, and the devotee of pleasure, who knows no purer enjoyment than is connected with his grosser nature — these we see passing uninterruptedly down the current of life, adding nothing to the general amount of knowledge, happiness, or virtue. But how often do those who are highly gifted with intellectual endowments, who seem formed for the delight and improvement of society, depart like the transient meteor, which dazzles for a moment, and then fades away for ever.

Connected with genius there exists too often a sentiment which not unfrequently destroys the happiness and usefulness of those whom nature seems to have formed for mental greatness. It is difficult to analyze this sentiment; it is perhaps composed of disappointed expectation and mortified pride, which, united, produce universal disgust. How often does a noble spirit, fresh and glowing as if just sprung from its divine Creator, enter upon the stage of life, ardent to promote the happiness of mankind, and conscious of his own worth and elevation, expecting love and esteem from others. But, alas! the enthusiastic hopes of youth fall before the blighting influence of the selfish policy of the world; the noble-minded being sees itself passed by with cold neglect; it sees that intellectual wealth, that the treasures of the heart are not to be put in competition with silver and gold; it seems that the favours of the world are seldom conferred upon deserving merit, but are gained by low dissimulation and successful intrigue. It cannot stoop to these, but, like the dove sent forth from the ark, finding on earth no resting-place, the spirit takes its flight whence it came; "it returns to God who gave it."

But let not the high-minded, the intellectual, and moral, entertain the belief, that there is no merit in mingling with mankind; that it is noble to withdraw in disgust from social life, because it exhibits marks of selfishness and low-minded views. To the mind walking upright, in the consciousness of its own integrity, there is an internal sunshine which cannot be obscured by clouds from without. Let Christian humility be engrafted upon the lofty aspirations of genius, and it will subdue those feelings of mortified pride, and induce pity and the desire to improve, rather than disgust, and a wish to avoid mankind.

The above remarks have naturally arisen as connected with the history of many of the favoured, or more properly, the unhappy children of genius; but Brainard was, in many respects, an exception. His talents received the encouragement of public approbation, and whatever he wrote was regarded with no ordinary degree of complacency; but still he possessed the eccentricities and imprudences of genius, and had his life been spared to old age, he would not perhaps have arrived at that distinction which is often attained by far humbler talents.

The first poetical publications from the pen of Brainard, it is believed, appeared in the Connecticut Mirror, while it was under the editorial charge of one, who, though less known to the public in the character of a poet, was no less gifted with deep-toned sensibility, and poetic enthusiasm. An acquaintance between them commenced by Brainard's sending to the editor of the Mirror occasional poetical articles. These, although the public had not pronounced Brainard a poet, were valued, and considered as indications of no ordinary talents. It is too often the fault of authors, that they feel an unwillingness to submit to the criticism, still less to the alterations of others. That the subject of this article was superior to this, and diffident of his own abilities, appears by letters to the editor of the Mirror, in one at which, dated January, 1822, he says, "I received yours this morning, and in reading it, had to regret that you should have thought it necessary to offer the slightest apology, on account of the very proper and necessary alterations in the lines I sent you. For, if I remember right, you was not only authorized, but requested to make such use of them as would best answer the purpose of the Mirror. From the solemn tone of your letter, I feared that you was hypochondriacal, or that you was not so well acquainted with me as I could wish. Why, my dear L—, when you was about it, did you not apologise for thinking me a conceited fool, who knows his verses are none of the best, and yet quarrels with his friend for coming to the same conclusion? Upon my word, I did not expect to see so much of them printed as I found in your last Mirror." There is something which makes us feel as if it were almost sacrilege to bring forward to the public what was only designed for the private eye of friendship; but it also seems as if the public had a kind of property in the private thoughts of men of genius; and when we find talents united with modesty and good humour, we are constrained to love where we before admired. But Brainard and the friend to whom he wrote, are now both removed beyond the frown or favour of the world.

In the spring of 1822, the editor of the Mirror, leaving for agricultural pursuits, a situation not harmonizing with a contemplative and retiring mind, was succeeded in the editorial department by Mr. Brainard. In the space of little more than one year the latter was called to the melancholy duty of announcing the death of his predecessor. Five years after that, on the anniversary of the same day, his successor announced the death of Brainard. Thus passes the world away! But amidst the regret, which must be felt at his departure, is the consoling hope, that as his spirit, solemnised by sickness and the proximity of death, found at last the only ark of safety, its separation from the body was an introduction to glories which "eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive."

We will close this article in Brainard's own beautiful language.

Who shall weep when the righteous die?
Who shall mourn when the good depart?
When the soul of the godly away shall fly,
Who shall lay the loss to heart?

He has gone into peace — he has laid him down
To sleep till the dawn of a brighter day;
And he shall wake on that holy morn
When sorrow and sighing shall flee away.