Dial Essays (1843)
The Dream of a Day
The Dream of a Day, and other Poems. By JAMES G. PERCIVAL. New Haven. 1843.
Mr. Percival printed his last book of poems sixteen years ago, and every school-boy learned to declaim his "Bunker Hill," since which time, he informs us, his studies have been for the most part very adverse to poetic inspirations. Yet here we have specimens of no less than one hundred and fifty different forms of stanza. Such thorough workmanship in the poetical art is without example or approach in this country, and deserves all honor. We have imitations of four of the leading classes of ancient measures, — the Dactylic, Iambic, Anapestic, and Trochaic, to say nothing of rarer measures, now never known out of colleges. Then come songs for national airs, formed on the rhythm of the music, including Norwegian, German, Russian, Bohemian, Gaelic, and Welsh, — Teutonian and Slavonian. But unhappily this diligence is not without its dangers. It has prejudiced the creative power,
"And made that art, which was a rage."
Neatness, terseness, objectivity, or at any rate the absence of subjectivity, characterize these poems. Our bard has not quite so much fire as we had looked for, grows warm but does not ignite; those sixteen years of "adverse" studies have had their effect on Pegasus, who now trots soundly and resolutely on, but forbears rash motions, and never runs away with us. The old critics of England were hardly steadier to their triad of "Gower, Lydgate, and Chaucer," than our American magazines to the trinity of "Bryant, Dana, and Percival." A gentle constellation truly, all of the established religion, having the good of their country and their species at heart. Percival has not written anything quite as good on the whole as his two fast associates, but surpasses them both in labor, in his mimetic skill, and in his objectiveness. He is the most objective of the American poets. Bryant has a superb propriety of feeling, has plainly always been in good society, but his sweet oaten pipe discourses only pastoral music. Dana has the most established religion, more sentiment, more reverence, more of England; whilst Mr. Percival is an upright, soldierly, free-spoken man, very much of a patriot, hates cant, and does his best.