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Recently, while walking along Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D. C., I paused at a bookstore and glanced over some old second-hand books, among which were the poems of James Gates Percival in two small volumes. I was at once interested, for, while having read some of his poems at intervals and having read a good deal about the man, I had never seen an edition of his poetical works. Quickly deciding to purchase the little volumes, which were published in 1859, I remarked to the dealer that they meant much to me in view of the fact that the author's grave was in the Wisconsin county from which I had come to Washington.

That grave at Hazel Green contains the remains of a man once famous. The monument, erected over it by admirers many years after his interment there, summarizes well the elements of his fame:


born in

Berlin Connecticut
September 15 1795

Graduated at Yale College
BA 1815 MD 1820

State Geologist

Connecticut 1833-1842
State Geologist

Wisconsin 1854-1856

Died in Hazel Green

May 2 1856






Surely, motorists with an historic and artistic appreciation, traveling near Hazel Green in Grant County, Wisconsin, should be cognizant of the fact that there was buried in 1856 a man who was once a figure in the literary and scientific life of this country. Some one has said that we get comparatively little out of Rome unless we take something to it a mind well stored with the facts of Roman history.

James Gates Percival was the son of a village doctor. He was a great linguist, having command of ten languages; a musician; a skilled botanist; a practical geologist. He was a physician, who failed in practice, and a poet widely read in his generation. It should be known, too, that he played a large part in the compilation of Noah Webster's dictionary, in which work his scientific learning and his knowledge of languages made his services very valuable; that he was for a time professor of chemistry at West Point Military Academy; army surgeon at Boston; a tutor, a lecturer, an editor; that he was offered a professorship of languages in HampdenSidney College in Virginia; that, a Universalist in religion, he thought of entering the ministry; and that he died in May, 1856, at Hazel Green, while investigating the mineral resources of Wisconsin. His was a career, therefore, of many-sided activity.

Disappointed in love, the poet never married. His lot was a hard one-of loneliness, poverty, disappointment, and ill health. He was shy, sensitive, egotistical, melancholy, and eccentric. In fact, when a young man he made two attempts on his own life. In financial matters he was shiftless. He was also, up to a certain point, inconstant, pursuing untiringly some line of endeavor for a time, only to turn suddenly to some other subject in which he would

become equally absorbed. But in his geological work, taken up after he had fully realized that poetry was not a source of profit to him, he was unremitting in his efforts. His character was of marked purity, and the love of nature was with him a passion. It will be seen, then, that the man's personality was far from simple. Indeed, what a puzzle he was! What vagaries, inconsistencies, and idiosyncracies we find! We read of his amazing memory, keen powers of observation, powerful reasoning faculties, uncommon versatility-in short, of his rich natural endowments, untrammeled by vices. Withal, his learning was profound. He was exceedingly industrious, no day ever being too long for his purposes; he had opportunities most favorable; and he had friends of marked devotion. These advantages were offset by a feeble body, a morbid sensitiveness and conscientiousness unfitting him for business success, excessive timidity, pronounced eccentricities, and a gloomy skepticism in spiritual matters. Thus equipped and thus handicappedoverlearned and lacking in practical judgment—he treated himself more cruelly than did any other. He has been called a "noble and mysterious shipwreck." With him many a crooked place might have been straight if he could have avoided extremes and thus have had a more harmonious development.

So, with the thought of his dying among strangers at the little town of Hazel Green, and with the thought of the lonely grave at that place, unmarked for years, I have gone sympathetically through his poems and have been amazed at the number he composed, the fluency with which he wrote, and the great learning he displayed. It is said that Percival, often too poor to buy nourishing food, left a library of a good many thousand volumes, which sold for $20,000.

The man must have had charm, for all through his life he had friends, who in spite of his peculiar personality

helped to get him positions, to retain his vast library, and to build that curious home in Connecticut, significantly having no door in front, for himself and his books—a home which he left in tears, it is said, when he went to Wisconsin to resume for the last time his geological work. We find, for instance, J. Fenimore Cooper, the novelist, taking him into his home in New York City for several weeks at a period when Percival's labors were proving unfruitful financially. And, after the grave at Hazel Green had been without a monument for many a year, admirers in another generation erected the stone from which the inscription above is quoted.

Percival's biography, published in 1866 and embracing five hundred seventy-nine pages, was the work of J. H. Ward, a young Episcopalian clergyman, who, while he never saw the subject of his book, had a tender regard for the man. The preparation of this interesting work is said to have been the labor of some years. It was reviewed in a number of magazines, and occasioned an unjust attack on Percival's literary career by James Russell Lowell, Mr. Ward wrote that very early in life he came under the spell of the poet's genius, and, after completing the biography with its intensive study, "the simple reverence for his genius and attainments which I had in boyhood has increased with a riper knowledge of his character.'

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Percival's life at New Haven, Connecticut, almost that of a hermit but having the solace of study, covered many years. About 1831, when he was thirty-six, his poetic period was practically over, his intellectual pursuits thereafter being along the lines of linguistics and natural science. However, being a Whig in politics, he wrote a number of songs during the presidential campaign of 1840 to further the candidacy of General Harrison. Leaving the life of seclusion, the congenial atmosphere of study, the vast library gathered at great sacrifice, he went into practical geological work with its hardships and drudgery, pursuing

his course with a determination truly heroic, and making Percival the geologist by some subtle metamorphosis strangely different from Percival the poet. Worn out by the labors of the geologic survey in Wisconsin, he died in 1856 in the home of Dr. J. L. Jenckes at Hazel Green. The Gazette of Galena, Illinois, a paper always having a large circulation in the vicinity of Hazel Green, stated after Percival's death that, having been bitten by a dog, he resolutely refused to take any liquid matter, imagining that hydrophobia was coming on and dreading convulsions. But Dr. Jenckes, in his contribution to Ward's biography, says nothing to substantiate this.

Hazel Green, the little hamlet figuring so largely in Percival's three years in Wisconsin and marking the place of his grave, has had a publicity, without doubt, beyond any other place in Grant County. I trust that, since distances formerly long are now short, the pilgrimages to that grave will become more numerous, and with the veil of obscurity lifted, also more significant. A few days after Percival's death, the Evening Post of New York City published "A Lament for Percival," in which occurred these touching lines:

Long as the dark green pines shall wave,
O'er breezy plain or towering steep,
The pilgrim oft shall seek thy grave,
And o'er the shrine of genius weep.

Having made this survey of the scholar's life, and remembering the limitations of space, I shall now briefly consider his efforts from the idealistic side as a poet-and from the very practical side as a geologist. He aspired to fame as a poet, but failing to achieve financial success in this field, he in later life, as has been shown, entered into the practical work of a geologist, where his services were valuable.

In a discussion of Percival's poetry, candor compels one to say that his longer poems, like "Prometheus," are

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