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CONDUCTED BY OLIVER OLDSCHOOL, ESQ.
Various; that the mind
BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR OF THE REV. TIMOTHY
DWIGHT, S. T. D. L L. D.
The strong feelings excited throughout the United States, by the death of President Dwight, evince the high estimation in which he was held by his countrymen. Rarely have they united so generally, and with so strong manifestations of sympathy, in deploring the loss of an individual: rarely has an individual been removed from a station of greater usefulness.
Although a sketch of his life and character has been ably exhibited, both by the divine who addressed the assembly, that met to weep over his ashes, and by the orator who pronounced his Eulogy to the Academic body; yet the writer has waited long, with the hope that some abler hand than his own, would furnish a sketch adapted to the columns of a public paper. While the feelings of so many are awakened by this mournful event, it is hoped that the delay of others will excuse him for undertaking, with abilities so unequal to the subject, to supply a Memoir of this great and good man.
Timothy Dwight was born at Northamplon, Massachusetts, in 1752. He was the eldest son of Timothy Dwight, Esquire, a man distinguished for his piety, as a long line of venerable ancestors had been before him. His mother was daughter of the great President Edwards, and she is said to have inherited a large portion of the uncommon powers of her father. “To teach the young idea how to shoot,' was a task which she executed with uncommon care and delight; and it is not improbable that a mother so able and vigilant, contributed much to bring to early maturity those powers, which were destined to shinc with so resplendent a lustre.
He entered Yale College at the early age of thirteen. His tutor was the Honourable Stephen Mix Mitchell, late chief judge of the superior court of Connecticut. It is said that young Dwight, while he exhibited the lineaments of a very uncommon character, alarmed the fears of his instructer, lest his ardent mind and impetuous feelings, should receive a wrong bias, and prove his ruin. Ai this important period, that gentleman is said to have set before him, in a plain and affectionate manner, the capacity of his mind, and to have directed his aspiring views to the lofty eminence of learning and virtue, which he was capable of attaining To the abilities and fidelity of this excellent instructer, Doctor Dwight ever expressed himself under the strongest obligations, and ascribed in a great measure to his influence, the bent of his mind, and the formation of his character. He left college in 1769, with a very high reputation for classical attainments.
Two years afterwards, at the age of nineteen, he returned to the same place and entered on the office of Tutor. In this station, few if any ever surpassed him in abilities, either for government or instruction. Youthful as he was, he was regarded with the utmost deference by all the students; and by his own class in particular, he was eminently beloved and admired. The opportuni. ties which this situation afforded for the cultivation of polite literature, were not neglected. Indeed, that period was to our country a new *era in the department of letters and taste. The pre
* Professor Silliman's FuneralOration; to which excellent perforinance, the writer has been much indebted in delineating this imperfect sketch.
judices that were current against the studies of rhetoric and belles letters, even at our most distinguished Universities, were disregarded, and Dwight, Trumbull, Humphreys and Barlow, rose all at once, a new constellation, to cheer and adorn their native skies. When the subject of our remarks took his Master's degree, at the age of twenty, he pronounced at the public Commencement, an Oration, on the History, Eloquence and Poetry of the Scriptures. It was received with great applause, and speedily published; and it remains a monument of the valuable acquisitions which he had already made, the maturity of his judge ment, and the correctness of his taste. It proves also the early formation of the style which he carried through life. Soon after he entered on the office of tutor, he commenced the poem which he afterwards published under the title of “ The Conquest of Canaan.” This occupied a considerable portion of his leisure hours during the six years he remained at College.
It appears that he had directed his views towards the profession of law. Had he fulfilled these intentions, there can be little doubt that his extraordinary powers of gaining influence in popular assemblies, would have conducted him to the highest eminence in a political career. But Providence had destined him for a sphere of action, which, if less alluring to ambition and avarice, was probably far more useful to mankind. In his twenty-third year, he made a public profession of religion, and soon after commenced the preaching of the gospel.
The immoralities and vices incident to a state of internal war began, at this time to display themselves in alarming features. At this period it was his lot, not only to be consecrated to the defence of religion and virtue, but to be transferred to the very scene of danger. He entered the army in 1777, as chaplain in the brigade of General Parsons. The opportunity which was here offered for the promotion of the great ends of his office, was duly improved. Mr. Dwight spent much time in instructing the soldiers more than was required by his specified duties; and many who knew him at this commencement of his ministerial functions, are ready to testify to the fidelity with which he discharged them, and to the respect and affection with which he was regarded. Admitted also to a near intimacy with the Father of his Country,
and witnessing the glorious struggle for Independence, he felt all the fire of patriotism, and, employed, in aid of the great cause the martial song as well as the fervent prayer. It was his talent, in a peculiar degree, to draw instruction from every new situation of life; and those who have been his pupils will remember, how often he dispensed the lessons of wisdom, which he had permanently treasured up during the year that he had spent in the army.
The melancholy tidings of his father's death, summoned him home to aid a widowed mother in the education of a young and numerous family. A new theatre now opened itself for the display of his virtues; and if the brilliant portrait of his public life exhibits this good man in more shining colours, none presents him in a more interesting light, than that which shows the dutiful son and affectionate brother, bursting the charms of ambition, and retiring to the vale of private life, to alleviate a mother's cares, and to watch over the tender years of fatherless brothers and sis. ters. But his usefulness was not confined to the discharge of these offices of filial duty, and fraternal tenderness. He commenced a grammar school, which he taught with his usual celebrity, and preached every sabbath in one of the adjoining towns.
While residing at Northampton, he was twice elected a Representative from that town to the Legislature of Massachusetts. We have before alluded to his peculiar qualifications for shining in popular assemblies. These occasions developed those pow. ers, and brought into action all that ardour of soul, that firmness of principle, that dignity of address, and that force of language which enabled him to delight, astonish, and carry captive a legis lative body.
En 1783, when the situation of his mother's family rendered his presence no longer indispensable, an invitation from the people of Greenfield, in Connecticut, induced him to fix his residence, as their pastor, in that beautiful village. Here, among many other peculiar enjoyments, his taste for horticulture had ample gratifcation; and in a little time a garden bloomed around him, filled with a rich variety of plants and fruit trees, which were reared by his own hands. This delightful scenery added to the lustre of bis name, and the charms of elegant literature, conferred on Greenfield Hill a splendour and beauty, which attracted, in great numbers, men of taste and letters, who resorted to this favourite retreat of the Muses, as ancient poets and sages to the groves of Academus. Here he opened a school, in which were taught the various branches of English and classical literature. It speedily acquired and uniformly maintained, a reputation probably unparalleled by any similar institution in our country. The manner in which he discharged his pastoral office, will be estimated from observations to be made hereafter.
At an early period of his residence at Greenfield, Dr. Dwight gave to the world “ The Conquest of Canaan.” At the close of the Revolutionary War, he had issued proposals for publishing the same work, and obtained a list of three thousand subscribers. But special reasons induced him to delay until the period under review, when he had the work printed at his own risk. The public patronage was not as great as had been anticipated, either because the voice of melody was drowned amid the tumults of political contests, or because the work itself did not satisfy publie expectation. It was shortly after republished in England, where it was commended by some of the critics, and severely censured by others, though it was noticed with marked approbation by Darwin and Cowper. It would carry us beyond our limits to enter into a particular discussion of its merits. We shall only add that, in our opinion it contains many fine examples of beauty and sublimity, particularly with respect to objects presented to the eye; and that, if it falls below Paradise Lost, it is still an ex. traordinary production for a youth of twenty-two. We cannot but coincide, however, with the opinion the author is said to have ex. pressed late in life, that "it was too great an undertaking for inexperienced years." After an interval of nine years, the Conquest of Canaan was followed by a poem written in a more familiar style, which he named, after his beautiful residence,“ Greenfield Hill.” Concerning this work, we have only room to say, briefly, that it contains much fine description, some striking delineations of life and manners, and many excellent moral precepts.
It will be the part of his biographer to paint the various interesting scenes which Dr. Dwight, after his removal from this delightful village, ever associated with the name of Greenfield