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At the commencement of this year, the Editor of The Port Folio, animated by returning health and increased resources, ventured to speak with exultation of the brilliant prospects which dawned on his future labours. But the powers, even of the strongest, are precarious—and the hopes of the sanguine frail and delusive. A single montha few short days—have outlived not only all these fond anticipations, but the funcy tuothat indulged them; and it is now our melancholy duty to announce the sudden death of
JOSEPH DENNIE, ESQUIRE,
on the afternoon of the seventh of January. Subdued and humbled as we are, by witnessing the recent and unexpected dissolution of one who had so many titles to our esteem, we know not in what language to convey our sensibility to the merits of this amiable gentleman, and accomplished scholar, thus lost in the maturity of his genius, and the full career of his usefulness. Though his existence was limited to forty-four years, they had been years of various fortune. The dazzling successes which had flattered his early life, were for some time gradually darkening, and to these misfortunes had been more recently added the pangs of domestic affliction, which have peculiar power to wound the irritable and sensitive feelings of genius, and to weaken the energies of the most exalted understanding. But the soothing arts of reflection, and the affectionate sympathy of friends, had vanquished at last all these enemies--the dreary images of sorrow were hastily receding--the gloom of disease and care, which had so long oppressed him, was now passing away, and the light of fairer hopes broke upon his Slumbers. With renovated health, with a mind restored to ease, and a heart returning to all its affections, his friends gladly hailed the renewed and vigorous exertions of his genius. But it was only the hectic strength which wrestles over the tomb. On these
bright and cherished expectations the grave has suddenly closed. Scarcely had 'he returned thanks for the new health which the bounty of Providence assigned to him, when his gratitude for the possession of these blessings was interrupted by the loss of them. The glow of ambition--the high and generous flush of new pro jects of literature, or benevolence, was yet warm on his cheek, when the coldness of death invaded it. He had scarcely strewed on the recent grave of his father the offerings of filial reverence, when a similar duty to himself is thus feebly executed by the unsteady hand of mourning Friendship. It is on recollections like these, at once so painful and so consolatory, that the fondness of affection will long delight to dwell-and we reluctantly leave them to share with others our regret for his loss, and to speak of the deceased, not as a friend, but as he will be known to his country at large, and to posterity.
That country will be insensible of its obligations, unless it number Mr. DENNIE among its most meritorious citizens.Next, and next.only to those distinguished beings to whom heaven has given capacity to lead a nation's arms to freedom, or guide her councils to happiness, may be safely ranked the few, who contribute to purify her morals, and adorn her name by elegant literature. Their value is not always appreciated, because the gradual revolution they accomplish, may escape the eye of vulgar calculation, but their efficacy is not less certain, nor their utility less permanent. In our own country, more especially, the avenues to political fame are so wide, the interest of public concerns so overwhelming, that they absorb, perhaps, too much of our attention. For the distinction they confer is momentarythe honours they bring are very precarious; and often after a few years of feverish notoriety, that man subsides into a mortified and sullen politician, whose talents, otherwise directed, might have yielded honourable distinction to himself, and permanent lustre to his country. MR. DENNIE gave to the powers of his mind a far more useful application. The great purpose of all his exertions, the uniform pursuit of his life, was to disseminate among his countrymen a taste for elegant literature, to give to education and to letters their proper elevation in the public esteem, and reclaiming the youth of America from the low career of sordid in
terests, to fix steadfastly their ambition on objects of a more exalted character. In this honourable enterprize, he stood at first almost alone. But such is the power of a single mind in awakening the talents of a whole nation, so easily may the pliant materiais of public opinion Le moulded by the plastic hand of genius, that the establishment of his work may be considered as forming an æra in the literary history of America. His example had a magical power, not only over the circle who were influenced by attachment to his person, but on all who had the slightest tincture of learning. The attention of the people was excited by his brilliancy—the purest scholars of the country flocked to his standard, and the nation was seduced at once into the luxury of literature. This was the prominent object and the reward of his ambition--for no occasion was ever omitted to sustain our literary pretentions, and no man sought with more eagerness, or cherished with more enthusiastic kindness, the faintest glimmerings of American genius. The first efforts of the timid were encouraged by an attractive gentleness, their errors corrected with mildness, and none were repelled by superciliousness or dogmatism. How successful were his endeayours to purify the taste, and improve the morals of his countrymen-how long and how largely he contributed to their instruction and amusement, need not be told to any who are familiar with American society. Of the individual himself we may be permitted to speak with greater confidence. In the various acquireinents which compose the character of a man of letters, MR. Dennie had unquestionably no equal in this country, and few, if any, superiors in Europe. At a very early age he abandoned the ordinary pursuits of life to offer his undivided devotion on the altar of literature. The love of letters was, indeed, his darling passion-the light which had charmed his youth, which illuminated his manhood, which still threw its mellow and wavering beam on the sickness and sorrow even of his dying hour. In the indulgence of this enthusiasm he had been a most laborious student he had read every thing on every subject--so thar if the rigidly exact sciences be excepted, there was scarcely a topic of human knowledge with which he was not familiar. But he delighted most in the moral studies--in those inquiries which, diversified by a thousand hues, conduct us to the knowledge of man-of his history, his nature and his habits, the most splendid periods of his existence, the highest exertions of his intellect. These were the favourite studies to which he abandoned all his genius. He had ranged, indeed, with an excur. sive step over the entire field of literature; but he loved most to linger by those enchanting spots which the highest culture had embellished, and to gather from their exuberance the choicest flow. ers. So pure, indeed, was its texture, so delicate its conceptions, that his mind seemed, if we may speak so, to have been bathed at its birth in the very essence of literature to be daily fed with the celestial dews of learning The stores which his unwearied diligence had thus collected, were retained by a memory of extraordinary vigour, and animated by an ardent and almost oriental imagination. Such was the discipline to which his extensive acquirements had been subjected—so obedient to his will the powers of his mind, that we have never listened with so much fascination to the colloquial powers of any other individual. Abounding in felicity of expression, and a singular aptness of quotation, decorated with every ornament that did not border on gaudiness, it possessed a copiousness and elegance and had about it a captivating originality which we have never seen before united. His written style was but the transcript of his conversation. It was marked by the same attractive grace, the same affluence and even luxuriance, which, if it be considered as sometimes above its subject, erred only by its elegance-like some spotless virgin, who, whether in the splendour of society, or the humbler cares of the household, was always attired with fastidious delicacy. Of his works it would be superfluous now to speak, since they will shortly be collected by his friends, and must then vindicate their own pretentions. It was, however, his own and the public misfortune, that his literary exertions were, for the most part, occasional and desultory--that his mind had never yet been seen in all its development or occupied the high and ample space which its natural expansion would justify it in assuming. His works are therefore rather the promise of what he more seriously meditated, and what, but for his premature loss, he would not
have failed to accomplish. Yet, even imperfect as they now remain, they bear honourable testimony to his genius, and will always form a valuable addition to the literature of America—they will at least attest his sincere devotion to the great cause of religion and morals, and learning, which all his writings assisted to defend and dessiminate.
But his literary attainments, however distinguished, his works however honourable, were only subordinate parts of his estimable character. The most exalted powers are not always united with the kindliest tempers—and the flame of genius is too often discoloured by malignity. But in his harmonious composition the highest brilliancy of understanding was seen unshaded through the most transparent purity of heart. The fondness of friendship • here hesitates with distrust of its own partiality. Yet on those who have enjoyed an intimacy with departed worth, there seems to devolve with the peculiar power, a peculiar duty to declare its value. We will not, therefore, so far wrong ourselves, or the memory of him whom we love to honour, as to suppress the conviction that it was never our lot to know a being more emphatically pure and amiable. Far from impairing his natural goodness, the embellishments of education served only to give it a bolder relief, and a more striking contrast. With all its rich variety of ornament-its festooned columns, its Asiatic magnificence, the inner temple of the heart, was of the most chaste and Doric simplicity. There was indeed in his character something quite new and original to our experience. It was not the simplicity of Goldsmith—nor the artlessness of Lafontaine. It was more amiable than either-it' was the natural excellence of a heart occupied only with the honourable feelings of our nature, and shrinking intuitively from all the avenues by which the sordid passions might approach him. In the midst of the world, he did not seem to live so much in it, as above it-in his own abstract and unmingled sphere of goodness. Yet he was not negligent of his duties to society. In circumstances never beyond mediocrity, he gave with a generous disregard of himself to all who needed his bounty_in his least prosperous hour, he never withheld the li. beral, though linited charity, and even the few to whom retaliation would have been injury, received only kindness and oblivion. VOL. VII.