Billeder på siden

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 judgment, 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. Ad mitted 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 perma-. nently 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 sisters. 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 powers, 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.

In 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 gratification; 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 his 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 public 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 expressed 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

[ocr errors]

Hill. But we profess only to give a brief outline, and hasten to attend him to that high and responsible station in which he found an ample thcatre for the display of his vast powers, attained the summit of his usefulness, and closed his mortal career. Dr. Dwight was now in the meridian of life. The extensiveness of his acquisitions, the weight of his character, his well known talents for educating youth, and the celebrity of his name, combined to fix on him, with one consent, the public eye, to supply the vacancy occasioned at Yale College, by the lamented death of the Reverend President Stiles. To this station he was transferred in 1795.

As was universally anticipated, the Institution rose immediately to a degree of reputation quite unprecedented in former times. He altered so far as he thought necessary, and consistent with prudence, the whole tone of government. It was his aim to found it on the basis of affection--a source of influence which he deemed more consonant with the pursuits of learning and virtue, more salutary in its effects on the youthful disposition, and more effectual to the promotion of its object, than that distance of deportment, and severity of treatment which academical usages had previously sanctioned. How well he succeeded, the uninterrupt. cd tranquillity of his administration during a period of twenty-one years, the numbers he was instrumental in reclaiming from vice, and the indelible impressions that are still left on the minds of hundreds of his pupils, testify in a manner which no words can express.

But from the commencement of his Presidency, Dr. Dwight had great difficulties to contend with. The funds of the Coilege were small, and the views of the public were not sufficiently elevated to correspond with his own, or to second his exertions. He succeeded however, after many fruitless trials, in procuring means to extend the library and philosophical apparatus, and to establish two new professorships, one of Chemistry and Mineralogy, the other of Languages and Ecclesiastical History. Beside the advantages accruing from these new sources, the whole tone of education, has been, under his direction, greatly elevated; the sciences have been studied more systematically and extensively, the ancient classics have been perused more thoroughly, and rhe

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

foric and polite literature have imparted to the academical course, accomplishments unknown to former times.

As a relaxation from the arduous duties of the presidency, Dr. Dwight spent many of his vacations in making repeated tours through New-England and New-York. The peculiar interest he felt in the labours of the husbandman,--his taste for mingling in the active scenes of life,-his desire to know the world from observation as well as from books-his extensive acquaintance with the most intelligent part of the community,--and his uncommon qualifications for enjoying social happiness, conspired to render these excursions peculiarly salutary, profitable and delightful. He looked at nature also with the eye of a poet, a philosopher, and a Christian. The majestic mountain and roaring cataract, the morning twilight and evening cloud, the shady grove and flowery meadow, were objects which raised his soul to ecstasy, or filled him with eyer new delight. Nor were his views of nature limited to scenes of beauty and grandeur; he loved also to mark the laws that regulate the various works of God, from the minutest insect to the starry heavens. In them all, he saw proofs of His existence, power, and wisdom; and, with grateful praise recognised His goodness in the morning sun and falling shower and springing herb.

With such qualifications and such opportunities, it is difficult to conceive how he could have possessed more advantages for making a delineation of the regions through which he passed; and it gives us peculiar pleasure to reflect that what he could perform so well, he has actually done. A copious journal of these travels was just completed, which will soon be given probably to the public.

Advancing in this happy and useful career, he seemed like the sun, rolling indeed in his western orbit, but still with undimin. ished brightness, and far from “the dark mountains.” The uncommon vigour of his constitution, the salutary habits of living which he had established, and his exemption from the least mark of the infirmities of old age, seemed to furnish a strong security that he would long be continued in his important station, a blessing to his country and the world. But God, who seeth not as

[merged small][ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »