1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Charles Sands

F., Obituary in New-York Mirror: devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts 10 (29 December 1832) 206.



Of all the duties which fall to our lot, as conductors of a public journal, that of recording the death of the amiable and gifted among our fellow-citizens, as they go down, one after another, from the light of heaven, is the most painful and impressive. It is not only that we are startled by a selfish thought, reminding us that the great tyrant is ever busy, and that we are but one of a crowd daily diminishing in number; but we are shocked to miss our familiar friends from our sides — to go where they should be, and to find them not — to have their image vividly in our mind, and sit down coldly to the conviction that they themselves, although only yesterday we held their hand, and gazed in their faces as we spoke, will never again so stand before us — that all the business of life must be done without them — that they have passed the great crisis to which all things tend — that they read the awful secrets of another world. The subject of this little memoir was known to us all. It seems but yesterday — but this instant, when we were pleased and cheered by his ready wit and peculiar powers of conversation. Can we sit down to tell that he is dead, without cold shadow on our heart? It is indeed a sad duty, and we sketch even the few incidents if his quiet life with reluctance and hesitation.

Robert C. Sands was the son of the venerable Comfort Sands, the only survivor of the convention of 1777, in the state of New-York, for the formation of the state constitution. In 1815, he graduated from Columbia college, which he left with a high renown for the chaste elegance and uncommon power of his writings. The "Academic Recreations," a work extending to three hundred pages, he published at the age of fourteen. His first efforts were directed to the study of law, the practice of which he commenced, but his literary taste was too deeply marked to be eradicated; and we next find him, after having abandoned his profession, seriously engaged in literary pursuits. In 1817, with several literary friends, he produced a series of essays in the Daily Advertiser, under the title of the "Neologist," which were much distinguished among the writings of the daily press. In 1819, in connection with the same gentlemen, he produced another series of papers, under the signature of the "Amphilogist." "These," says Mr. Knapp, "gave their authors a high rank to the literary world; they were critical, moral, playful and instructive productions, but most remarkable for their purity of taste. Some of the translations from the Greek and Roman authors, were specimens of the highest order, evincing a thorough knowledge of the original, and a most felicitous command of language." In 1820, in connection with the late J. W. Eastburn, he published "Yamoyden," a work celebrated among the lovers of American poetry. In 1822, he was one of the editors of the "Atlantic Magazine," and afterwards, of the "New-York Review," two periodicals distinguished by great taste and talent. Mr. Sands came into the Commercial in 1827, and continued there as an assistant till his death, although he did not exclusively devote himself to its columns. He wrote for several literary periodicals. He want one of the three joint editors of the "Talisman," published by Mr. F. Bliss, a work very greatly and deservedly admired. To the New-York Mirror he frequently contributed. The description of the "View of Hoboken," contained in the first number of the present volume, was from his pen. As a writer, Mr. Sands certainly possessed a very unusual share of ability, which, if concentrated upon some single and worthy work, would doubtless have rendered him celebrated.

It is greatly to be regretted that he has not left his country some particular production, illustrating his mental power and learning. The waters of oblivion should not close over such a head. His "Yamoyden" will certainly retain its place among the best efforts of American poetry; but if he had been sufficiently disentangled from the cares of a daily press, to lay out his strength upon a work entirely his own, his name would be more widely known, and his sterling talents more clearly understood, and ardently praised. We do not think he has been properly known, even here, where he lived. There was about him a kind of modesty, which led him away from the glare of public notice. They admired and loved him the most, who enjoyed the best opportunities of discovering his real merit. They who met him at his residence at Hoboken, at once saw the peculiarly original cast of an uncommon mind, and a heart absolutely overflowing with every good and amiable feeling. It was not the ceremonies of one desirous of ingratiating himself, but the warm impulses of true kindness and hospitality. None who saw him thus will forget him — all who have enjoyed his society through these beautiful grounds, will mourn over the necessity that has hurried this ardent admirer of nature from those "Elysian fields" — his favourite walks, where, perhaps, he could be better appreciated than in a crowd. We remember well, on a rich and mellow afternoon in summer, one of the richest and mellowest by which that season sheds on earth the softened loveliness of Eden, we passed over with a friend to the shores of Hoboken, to visit him whose benevolent heart and amiable manners made him as universally an object of affection, as his highly cultivated mind, his offerings to the muses, and his general and well known ability as a writer rendered him one of curiosity and interest. Our companion was a stranger to the scene as well as to the man whom we were about to meet, and if this hasty sketch meet his eyes, he will find no difficulty in recalling the unusual gratification he derived from both. If summer is always lovely and rich, at Hoboken it is singularly so; whether it is that the place to us teems at every turn with early and delightful recollections, or that it derives fancied charms from its proximity to a great city, or whether it is intrinsically the most delicious spot in the world, we know not; but it is certain, that its shadowy and fragrant paths — its picturesque banks, washed with the murmuring waves of the Hudson — its hills, upheaved abruptly and clothed with foliage — its vales, delighting the eye with sylvan beauties, and the innumerable points from which upon the view of the enchanted stranger, break pictures remarkable for all that painters love — these soothe the mind into gradual pleasure, and fill it with pleasing thoughts and poetic images.

On the afternoon alluded to, nature seemed peculiarly lavish of her charms. The groves appeared more profusely than usual laden with heavy foliage, and the velvet fields spread with a more spotless and deep verdure. The superb bay and magnificently city opposite, shone with unwonted splendor through a motionless and transparent atmosphere, which led the pleased eye: to feel the distant beauties of the scene; and as the sun set, he lighted up all the earth, air, and heaven with a rich radiance, and filled the west with glowing fires.

In the midst of our admiration of this fine mood of nature, the subject of these observations joined us, and with him as our guide, we threaded the winding labyrinths of the place — enjoyed the fine prospects — visited the interesting parts, and so well beguiled the time, that the broad heavens were full of large, trembling stars, and the moon was hanging beautifully over the city, ere we turned our steps homeward. At such a time as this, Mr. Sands unfolded his true mind, so that the gazer might behold the rich things treasured within. The hours of that pleasant afternoon are vividly imprinted on the writer's memory; they were more gratefully impressed there by the gratification derived from communing with a strong minded and gifted man, than even by the singularly rich aspect of the season.

Since then, many a pleasant hour has been spent in company with the same individual, but the particular period was called to recollection by the intelligence of his sudden death, and the sad task of following his unconscious remains, in the depth and naked sterility of winter, along the very paths before trodden under circumstances of so opposite a kind.

The last poetical composition from the pen of Mr. Sands appeared in the Commercial of November thirtieth. It was entitled "The dead of 1832" — a singular and impressive coincidence. We extract these verses. The reader will peruse use them with a strange additional interest. Any last composition from such a hand appeals to the feelings with peculiar force. The last gift of a mind stricken from the roll of life — the last tones of one descended into the "blind cave of eternal night," but these lines, so fraught in every word with a deep and fearful meaning, which the writer himself knew not, must sink into every heart.

THE DEAD OF EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO.
Much yet remains unsung.
Oh Time and Death! with certain pace,
Though still unequal, hurrying on,
O'erturning, in your awful race,
The cot, the palace, and the throne.

Not always in the storm of war,
Nor by the pestilence that sweeps
From the plague-smitten realms afar,
Beyond the old and solemn deeps.

In crowds the good and mighty go,
And to those vast, dim chambers hie,
Where, mingled with the vale and low,
Dead Caesars and dead Shakspeares lie.

Dread ministers of God! sometimes
Ye smile at once, to do His will,
In all earth's ocean-severed climes,
Those — whose renown you cannot kill!

When all the brightest stars that burn
At once are banished from their spheres,
Men sadly ask, when shall return
Such lustre to the coming years?

For where is he — who lived so long—
Who raised the modern Titan's ghost,
And showed his fate, in powerful song,
Whose soul for learning's sake was lost?

Where he — who backwards to the birth
Of time itself, adventurous trod,
And in the mingled mass of earth
Found out the handiwork of God?

Where he — who in the mortal head
Ordained to gaze on heaven, could trace
The soul's vast features, that still tread
The stars, when earth is nothingness?

Where he — who struck old Albyn's lyre,
Till round the world its echoes roll,
And swept, with all a prophet's fire,
The diapason of the world?

Where he — who read the mystic lore,
Buried, where buried Pharoahs sleep,
And dared presumptuous to explore
Secrets four thousand years could keep?

Where he — who with a poet's eye
Of truth, on lowly nature gazed,
And made even sordid poverty
Classic, when in his numbers glazed?

Where — that mild sage, so hale and staid
The "greatest good" who sought to find,
Who in his garden mused and made
All forms of rule for all mankind?

And thou — whom millions far removed
Revered — the hierarch meek and wise—
Thy ashes sleep, adored, beloved,
Near where thy Wesley's coffin lies.

He too, the heir of glory — where
Hath great Napoleon's scion fled?
Ah! glory goes not to an heir!
Take him ye noble, vulgar dead!

But hark! a nation sighs for he,
Last of the brave who periled all
To make on infant empire free,
Obeys the inevitable call!

They go — and with them is a crowd
For human rights who thought and did!
We rear to them no temples proud,
Each hath his mental pyramid.

All earth is now their sepulchre,
The mind, their monument sublime—
Young in eternal fame they are—
Such are your triumphs, Death and Time.

On Sunday the sixteenth of December, at four o'clock in the afternoon, while engaged in writing an article for Mr. Hoffman's forthcoming "Knickerbocker," Mr. Sands was suddenly seized with an apoplectic fit, and at eight in the evening expired.

To the praise so frequently usurped by the undeserving, Mr. Sands had a just claim. He was truly a man of genius, as well as a scholar. His actions were all amiable. He was deeply beloved by his friends, and enemies he had none. In the social circle he was frank and free, but never forward. His wit enlightened it with many a flash, but never in unkindness. Around his grave gathered a numerous crowd, comprising much of the talent and learning of the city; and a more impressive moment than that which consigned to the earth one so universally beloved, can scarcely be imagined. There assembled men of various parties and characters — but there were no animosities to be sacrificed — no wrongs to be forgotten — no one came to forgive over the dead, the unkindness he would have resented against the living. He who was laid in his last sleeping-place, was remembered in every bosom only as one gentle and kind — one whose voice had been heard with pleasure — whose lips breathed no slanders — whose pen dropped no gall — who was just, not insolent — and superior, without being presuming.