1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 481.



A native of Berlin, Conn., son of a country physician, Percival (1795-1857) entered Yale College at sixteen, and, on graduating, began the study of medicine. He tried to establish himself in his profession at Charleston, S.C., but failed, and turned his attention to literature. In 1827 he revised the translation of Malte Brun's Geography, and assisted Noah Webster in his Dictionary. In both instances he quarrelled with his employers. He became a skillful geologist, and was employed in surveys by the States of Connecticut and Wisconsin. His poetry was not a source of profit to him, and he was always poor. An earnest student, he became quite an accomplished linguist. Constitutionally melancholy, he was shy of social distinction, and made few personal friends. His scholarship was remarkable, but unfruitful. He must be ranked among the true, natural poets, though there has been a disposition to underrate him among the admirers of modern fashion in verse. But had Percival been favored in his pecuniary circumstances, he might have left a far more imposing poetical record than he has; for there are evidences of high art, as well as flashes of genius, in some of his latest productions. An edition of his poems in two volumes was published in 1870 in Boston.