« ПредишнаНапред »
Another marked feature of Percival's poetry is philosophical thought. A kind of thoughtful and reflective melancholy pervades his productions, as is the case with regard to all minds
Rhine,) my own “den' this time was on the first floor of a neighboring building; the first floor, namely, by Hibernian reckoning-counting from the sky downward--[nor does it seem unbefitting that the starting point of our enumeration should ever be in the skies.] I owe it entirely to music, that to this first floor Percival was in the habit of climbing, far away from the cellar of things, as found in the lower world, to engage in delightful converse on matters musical. My ear soon learned to catch his soft, springy step on the stairs, as he leaped up two or three at a time in the ascent. Books were immediately thrown aside, and our sitting commenced, which sometimes lasted for hours ; for his mind, if once started on the track of a subject, was entirely oblivious to the lapse of time. This was the case whether within walls, or on the corner of a street on a cold, windy night; and the listener who could at any time tear himself away from such instructive and fascinating communication with this wonderful mind, (mysteriously vested in a long cloak that futtered in the wind,) though it lasted not unfrequently for hours, must have been more self-denying than I could ever find myself.
“But not I alone was betrayed by the morning; for Percival once incidentally related, that having seated himself at a desk one evening to commence a poem for a coming society celebration, he was suddenly aroused by what seemed to him a large conflagration, illumining his apartment. He started to the window and found it was the morning, breaking in the east. He had written all night--and his poem was finished at a single heat.
“But this singular man was now fast becoming a practical musician-yea, more, positively a composer: still more, even, the inventor of a musical theory. He could find, at that time, no intelligible musical system, and therefore he invented a singularly ingenious one of his own.
“ He also undertook to learn an instrumentthe accordion. This he ordinarily brought with him under his cloak. He had, as yet, only an appreciation of bare melody. Harmony confused his ear. The chords were therefore shut off from the instrument, and the soft breathing of the accordion in some plaintive air, which he had himself composed, was all that was heard. But his voice, even in conversation soft as the sighing of the west wind, in music was almost inaudible. Not master of the art of writing music, he ordinarily brought his compositions jotted down in illegible hieroglyphics of his own, and wished to have them reduced to shape. But the melodies were in such strange, wild measures, (like much of his poetry,) and the numbers were so irregular, that it was almost impossible to do this. Still in many instances, the attempt was successful.
“I recollect, that on one occasion our club was to sing at a little gathering of friends; and Percival, quite to our astonishment, had consented to accompany us-for he had shunned all general society for years. Still more were we astonished when he expressed his willingness while there to sing a song of his own. He had brought his accordion. In a retired corner of the room he sat, his gaunt,
of the highest order, the general effect of which is pleasing rather than otherwise, on the mind of the reader. This is particularly true of the poem of which we have already given an analysis—“ Prometheus.” His minor poems exhibit this trait, in a certain degree, blended with his descriptions of the objects of nature giving a peculiar ideal character to the delineation, which is its greatest charm. In this respect it resembles Wordsworth's poetry, save that while the one is the philosophy of elevated religious contemplation, the other inclines somewhat to the opposite type of religious doubt and despair. That the latter is not the predominant tone of the author's mind, as exhibited in his writings, we are happy to learn from those passages, already referred to, which evince a very different spirit and tendency, and which are found in his minor poems, as well as in “ Prometheus.”
And this brings us to the most serious charge which has sometimes been made against our anthor, viz, the skeptical tendency of his poems. As this is an important point, sur
, passing every consideration merely of literary merit, inasmuch as it regards the higher interests of morality and religion, we cannot pass over it without an observation or two. It
thin figure bent over the instrument. To me he had never looked half so weirdlike. That noble, Shakespearean head of his; the sharply cut, spiritual features; his eye, so full of the wild fire of genius ; the thin curling locks; all gave him the appearance of a minstrel come down from another age.
“We had already quieted the room for the expected song. Standing near him, I soon knew, by the motion of his lips, that he was singing. But no one heard him; for myself I could distinguish only the soft breathing of a melody of his, that was familiar to me. After a while, the company supposing he was not quite ready to begin, commenced talking again.
“The bard sang on and the song was finished: but few besides myself at all suspected that he had been singing ; most supposing, at last, that for some reason he had given up his intention. But his own soul had floated off upon bis melody; and he had that sufficient reward which many a bard has—the silent rapture of song. But I believe, and hope Percival was convinced that we had all shared the pleasure with him.
“It will not be thought strange that I looked upon it as a great triumph of music, that it was vindicating its eminently socializing and humanizing character, in thus drawing back to a regretting and appreciating world a spirit which had so long been unhappily alienated from it. Percival was approaching society again."
remarked that the poetry of the present age, compared with that of some preceding periods, is marked by moral purity and religious faith ; and whatever may be said of the productions of our American poets in a literary point of view, this may be affirmed, that they do not often willfully sin against the virtue and happiness of society by broaching false notions of man and his destiny. We do not deny that there are exceptions, and this circumstance we deeply deplore. When, therefore, an author of acknowledged poetic genius, who has acquired by his writings a degree of celebrity and consequent influence, is spoken of as giving utterance to skeptical sentiments, it is well to ascertain, if we can, how far such a view is sustained, by reference to the facts. In regard to Percival it is admitted that there are passages in some of his earlier works, particularly in that philosophical performance, “Prometheus,” originating in the constitutional melancholy of our author, which indicate an unsettled state of religious opinion and belief. We cannot excuse him herein, so far as there is ground for the accusation; yet, on the other hand, as though sounder views and better feelings strove for the mastery, even that poem contains passages which, as we have seen, might be called truly religous, not to say evangelical, in sentiment. It is thought that in the last period of Dr. Percival's life, his religious views underwent in some degree a favorable change—it will be seen that the expression of sentiments which have been considered as blemishes in his poems, is confined wholly to his earlier productions.
If it be said that it is not enough that a poet should not offend against the religious belief of the community-we require something more than mere abstinence from the expres · sion of views unfriendly to religion—we demand a positive influence in its favor—all this is of course admitted. It may be remarked, however, in extenuation of Percival, that his aberrations are those of youth and a morbid temperament; and that in regard to that portion of his poetry which is not professedly religious, the mere omission of evangelical topics, not called for from the nature of the case, should not subject him to the reproach of moral obliquity.
We are aware that this is a painful and delicate subject; yet our duty as impartial reviewers seemed to demand a reference to it in this place. We have not appeared here as apologists for Dr. Percival. We have only endeavored to hold an evenly balanced scale in determining the degree of his departure from right and truth. As an offset to the poet's mistake, we may place his life and deportment as a happy inconsistency in his case, between theory and practice. It is remarked of Percival, as the opinion of one who had an opportunity of knowing him well, that “ he had not a single vice." And his life we believe to have been one of most remarkable purity. On the whole, it becomes us in regard to the productions before us, in a moral point of view, to hope for the best, so far as they carry their own antidote with them, for the rest to throw the broad mantle of charity over errors, the concern and knowledge of which belongs to man chiefly as related to his Maker.
However it may be in relation to Dr. Percival's poetry, our opinion of the moral influence of which we have ventured to express, there is one circumstance which is gratifying to 11s, and inspires hope for the future. The poetry of the world is becoming every day more and more imbued with the spirit of Christianity. There have been in the ages past, and there will be still more in the ages to come, Christian poets who will strike their lyre to high and holy themes in the world's millennium. The “Zens" of the Greek, as an object inspiring poetry, not less than love and reverence, shall yield to the God of the Christian, the gardens of Atlas to the garden of Gethsemane, the fountain of Aganippe to the pool of Siloam, and the mountain of Parnassus to the steep of Calvary. To this last hallowed spot, our poet alludes in his verse:
“The stream of life that flowed on Calvary
To which devout utterance every reader of these poems and well-wisher to the happiness of the bard, now, alas ! passed away from earth, will add his fervent and reverent amen
In our notice of Dr. Percival's life we have referred to the influence of natural scenery upon the poet's education. We allude to it here for a specific object. It is well known that though he did not publish his poems till after his removal from his native place, most of his poetry was written before that time. Without endorsing the theory of Wordsworth, that it is important for every poet who would avail himself of the highest inspiration of the muse, “to connect himself permanently and domestically with some spot or tract of scenery the whole influence of which he may thoroughly exhaust and incorporate in his verse," and who was disposed to lay it down as a general rule, that the birth-place of
every human being is the appropriate spot of his activity through life,” it is certain that Percival's compositions were a practical illustration of this theory, the finest specimens of description in them being such as were suggested by the scenery of his native residence. His subsequent removal to New Haven, distinguished not less as the dwelling of the muses than for its venerable seat of science and learning, and fitted to be a home for a poet and scholar, was only another step in the same direction. His long abode in the environs of this beautitul city, as well as the walks which he was accustomed here to frequent, furnished him with a new and varied phase of nature, the influence of which is to be traced in all his subsequent verses.
The New Haven Journal, July 16, 1856, says: “There is a queer looking edifice fronting on Park Place, below George street, the design and object of which would sadly puzzle the inquisitive stranger. * * * This queer structure is the residence of the poet, James G. Percival. * * * The entrance is in the rear of the house, approachable by a path which his unfrequent footsteps have worn in the turf. The chief object of the building seems to have been to secure a safe place for his valuable library, which is arranged in a large library room occupying the entire front of the building. The comforts of a house are apparently incidental to the safety of this library, and are provided for in more restricted rooms in the rear of the house. At this place Mr. Percival, when