Page images

land. With his political opinions we have nothing to do ; they are adapted, no doubt, to the genius and the country in which they were produced, and to which they now seem to be solely dedicated.

Mr. Barlow was born in or about the year 1757, in the town of Reading, in the State of Connecticut, then a British province. His grandfather had emigrated from this country, and was among the first settlers of Fairfield in that colony. His father purchased a tract of new lands in Reading, on which he took up his residence, and which he cultivated himself. He reared a numerous progeny, and of these the subject of this memoir was the youngest.

. It would seem that genius in America, in opposition to the descent of fiefs in England, is the birthright of the latest born. Franklin was the youngest of twelve children ; Barlow of ten. He was a boy at school when his father died. The patrimonial estate was not very considerable; and being divided equally among the offspring, according to the custom of that country, the portion to each was but small. Joel, therefore, as he grew up, found his inheritance little more than sufficient to finish his education.

His guardian had placed him at Dartmouth college, in New Hampshire, of which he was entered a student in the year 1774.

But that institution, being then in its infancy, presented fewer advantages, in his opinion, than the college at New-Haven, in his native state. To this therefore he removed in the course of the same year; and after a considerable interval, took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1778.


We know but little of the juvenile history or early pursuits of Mr. Barlow; nor can we suppose that they could be interesting to the English reader, were we able to detail them. We have been told indeed, and have reason to believe, that his taste and talents for the belles letters, particularly for poetry, while an under graduate, were much noticed by his tutors. Some pieces, both in prose and verse, produced as college exercises, were published, and gained him considerable applause in that country, particularly a poem called, “ The Prospect of Peace,” printed before he left college ; and “ An Elegy on Mr. Hosmer," * which followed it at no great interval. But none of these, we believe, have reached this country, at least they have not come to our hands, and we can only speak of them from hearsay.

While Mr. Barlow was at college, the grand contest took place with England, which ended in the independence of America. With the guilt or merit of that measure, this age has but little to do; for nearly all the advisers of the war, which at least ought to be deemed impolitic, if not manifestly unjust, are no more. Of the present statesmen, many are too young to have been then in parliament ; but it is not a little creditable to those who were, that they all entered their solemn protest against it. The maiden speech of the present premier, Mr. Pitt, had this for its topic; the first effort of his eloquence within the walls of a British senate, was dedicated to liberty. Windham and Grenville, towards the latter end, came forward to oppose the suicidal conflict. Fox, from the very commencement, declared against hostilities, and, like Cassandra of old, prophesied of future evils in vain. Had we but retained possession of our colonies in the western hemisphere, in addition to our own force, we could now have wielded another continent against the new Alaric, and by the intervention of America, delayed, perhaps regulated, the fate of Europe.

* Member of Congress from Connecticut, and First Judge of the Supreme Maritime Court of Appeals for the United States.

While the British Senate, and even Britain herself, were divided into parties relative to this interesting question, the nalive Americans were nearly unanimous in their opposition. The antecedent dispute relative to the stamp act, in which they had eventually triumphed, taught them their own strength. They detested the suspicious doctrine of taxation without representation; they entered into non-importation agreements; they resisted the Boston port-bill; and finally, appealing to Heaven, they resorted to arms!

Such was the enthusiasm of the moment, that men of opulence enrolled themselves in the ranks, and boys desèrted their schools on purpose to become soldiers.

Mr. Barlow, of a temper naturally warm and enthusiastic, now lamented that his youth prevented him from taking a leading and elevated station in defending the cause of his country's freedom, of which he was no moderate admirer. He more than once, however, during the time of vacation from college, was accustomed to seize his musket and fly to the camp, where four of his brothers were in arms. He was present as a volunteer in a variety of skirmishes, and actually assisted at one of the severest conflicts that happened during the war. This led to the de. feat of the American army and the retreat from York Island in the year 1776. But as usual the victor ultimately profited but little by the disaster, while the vanquished soon recruited their ranks, and opposed an unbroken front to the foe.


His love of letters, rather than any abatement of ardour in respect to the unfinished contest, induced young Barlow to return from each of these excursions to his studies at New Haven. When he obtained a degree in 1778, the state of his finances required as speedy a preparation as possible for some profession which could yield him a support; and he accordingly applied himself to the study of the law. But his zeal in this pursuit was not remarkable; partly from his earlier and more decided attachment to the muses who never go to law; and partly from the still dubious and very interesting state of the military contest, during which his country was bleeding at every pore.

After one winter spent in the company of Coke and Blackstone, a vacancy happened to occur in the chaplaincy of a brigade in the Masaschussetts line of the army; and although Mr. Barlow was not of that province, yet his reputation for letters and morals rendered him an eligible candidate, so that


he was immediately invited to take upon him this office.

Among the presbyterians of New England, who commenced their priesthood in lay-ordination, and who do not even now believe that a man by undertaking this function renders himself for ever incapable of exercising any other, it is not uncommon to see young men preaching the Gospel for a temporary support, while they are preparing themselves for what they call a more permanent and profitable profession. Accordingly Mr. Barlow not only accepted this station, but was very glad to obtain it; as he calcu. lated that, while it afforded him an honourable maintenance, it would give him some leisure for his other studies ; if not for law, at least for literature, which with him was a favourite pursuit, although he saw but little prospect of being able to indulge his inclination so far as to make it a business for life. We believe he continued with the army, exercising the duties of his new appointment, until the close of the war in 1783. During this period he formed an extensive acquaintance among the chiefs of his nation, both civil and military: at the same time that he planned and nearly accomplished a poetical work, of which we shall soon have occasion to speak more at large. Some part of his leisure moments, during his clerical career, were doubtless devoted to the more interesting objects of forming a matrimonial connection. It was in 1781 that he married an amiable and well-educated woman, who is still his wife. She was daughter of Mr. Baldwin, of New Haven,


« PreviousContinue »