John G. C. Brainard

Anonymous: "The Cabinet: Brainard" Philadelphia Album 3 (22 October 1828) 164.

We knew Brainard slightly — but with that slight knowledge we loved him much. He was a man to win hearts — as high-minded, and talented, and generous a being as ever lived under heaven. We do not know how to speak of him. We hate a measured eulogy of one who needed, or, if alive, would care for it, so little. To those who knew him, it is all unnecessary, and to those who did not, it is impossible to say what we would say if our feelings were articulate. Brainard did not make much noise in the world. He was an unassuming and an unambitious man; but he had talents which should have made him our pride. They were not showy or dazzling, and perhaps that is the reason why the general eye did not rest upon him; but he had a keen discriminating susceptibility, and a taste exquisitely refined and true. He was one of those very few, but very happy men, who learn early a fine inward reliance — a belief in the sufficiency of a severe intellectual worth, which makes the possessor enjoy the world in which he lives without leaning upon it. It turned the eye in upon himself, which might have been turned upon his ambition — and made him love better an hour with his own heart than ten with a world willing to do him honor. With all this, I never knew a man more fond of his friends, or pleasanter in company than John Brainard. The first time I ever saw him, I met him in a gay and fashionable circle. He was pointed out to me as the poet Brainard — a plain, ordinary-looking individual, careless in his dress, and apparently without the least outward claim to the attention of those who value such advantages. But there was no person there so much or so flatteringly attended to. He was among those who saw him every day, and knew him familiarly; and I almost envied him, as he went round, the unqualified kindness, and even affection, with which every bright girl and every mother in that room received him. He was evidently the idol, not only of the poetry-loving and gentler sex, but of the young men who were about him — an evidence of worth, let me say, which is as high as it is uncommon. There are very few men capable of leading and shining in society, who do not incur the ill-will of those in whose way they must sometimes come, and I took pains to find out what I now know, that Brainard had no enemy. It was not that his character was negative, or his courtesy universal. There was a directness in his manner, and a plainspoken earnestness in his address, which could never have been wanting in a proper discrimination. He would never have compromised with the unworthy for their good opinion. But it was his truth — his fine, open, ingenuous truth — bound up with a character of great purity and benevolence, which won love for hint. I never met a man of whom all men spoke so well. I fear I never shall.

When I was introduced to him, he took me aside and talked with me for an hour. I shall never forget that conversation. — He made no common-place remarks. He would not talk about himself, though I tried to lead him to it. He took a high intellectual tone, and I never have heard its beauty and originality equalled. He knew wonderfully well the secrets of mental relish and developement, and had evidently examined himself till he had grown fond — as every one must who does it — of a quiet, contemplative, self-cultivating life. He had gone on with the process till the spiritual predominated entirely over the material man. He was all soul — all intellect — and he neglected therefore the exciting ambitions and the common habits which keep the springs of ordinary life excited and healthy — and so he died — and I know not that for his own sake we should mourn.

I meant to have said something of his poetry. It is worthy of being brought out and placed high. It is pure and delicate, and sometimes sublime poetry. He wrote literally from impulse — never to get up rhyme, or make gain. His poetical talents were the ministers to his heart, and his friends and his relations had all its devotion. There is no one of them who has not some touching memorial of this kind which he had given them. Every incident which touched his feelings, or was of interest to those whom he loved, became the subject of his exquisite talent. It is a reputation worthy of a poet — worthy of more than a poet. I would rather live in the hearts of my friends as Brainard will live, than have the honor of the world. I would rather have been Brainard than Byron. I would rather be Brainard than, without his memory, have my name rung to the corners of the universe.

I say I meant to criticise his poetry. But it is like unfolding the garments of the dead. I cannot go over it and criticise it. I should not do it well. I will do it, one day, deliberately. — He is dead now, and fame will come too late — but he shall have it, and the glory that he did not covet while living, shall burn over his grave. — [Boston] Statesman.