1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Isaac Clark Pray, "Sketches of American Poets: Percival" Prose and Verse, from the Port Folio of an Editor (1836) 33-34.



PERCIVAL is the most learned poet of America; indeed, it may be doubted whether there can be found in the world, a more learned man, whose poetical rank is as high. Of that vast number whose names are, and have been, before the public, no one will be held perhaps, in higher estimation by posterity, than this writer; and to whomsoever shall fall the task of recording this man's character, there will on him rest a responsibility, such as has fallen, hitherto, upon no American biographer.

Percival's productions are so numerous, that to mention his particular character as a poet, is almost impossible. One of his great characteristics is power. This is in and throughout all his works. His imagination is free, almost unbounded; and he seems to soar with enthusiasm amid the elements of poetry; not totally heedless whither he goes, but hazarding too much, sometimes, by boldness. His descriptive verse is generally rich and delightful — always American where it is not too imaginative, and his perception of the beauties of nature is great — greater than that of any one of our poets who has gone before him, or who is contemporary with him.

His sentimental poetry, though less evident in some pieces than others, is often simple and dignified, though sometimes morose and solitary in its principle.

We are unable to tell to what Percival's poetry can be likened. Perhaps, though old, the best thing which can shadow out its character, is a river one of whose sources is a brook, over which willows hang silently, but which as we move downward and onward spreads out into a stream of brightness and beauty, till at last it empties itself into the ocean.