The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: 19th Century Historical Figures

On Artist Edwin Percival, James Gates Percival’s Contentious Brother

Connecticut-born geologist and poet James Gates Percival is largely forgotten by today’s audience, although during his life he was known as a brilliant, albeit “mad,” reclusive literary figure and remarkable player in the scientific field. His even lesser-known siblings didn’t follow their brother’s literary path, although we can surmise each contributed well to their respective fields. Not a lot is known, aside from what might be revealed in letters (which I have severely limited access to at the moment), so this is going to be a pretty brief article, although I feel it necessary to be published.

J. G. P. had three siblings, one of whom died at age 17 (a sister). His other two siblings comprised of Edwin Percival, an artist and, briefly, an actor, and Oswin Percival, a farmer. Percival’s biography, J. H. Ward, has Oswin to thank for providing information about James and their family after James’s death, although that’s the extent of my knowledge about Oswin. Edwin’s a different story.

Edwin and James seemed to have a contemptuous relationship, which is evinced by letters from James to Edwin. For example, in a letter dated December, 1822, James berates his brother for involving himself in (several?) arrests; he feels frustrated with Edwin’s superiority complex; and he chastises Edwin for his luxurious and careless lifestyle. He opens this letter by stating, “I entirely disregard your opinions and your threats, and I am sincerely glad if it can be the means of a wide line between us. I have long seen enough of you to know that the less I have to do with you the better” (Uncollected Letters of James Gates Percival, Warfel, pg. 8).

After a presumedly failed acting career, Edwin took to painting, where he “[assigned] no reason for this sudden determination, but [evinced] much taste and considerable talent” (French 55).* This same article, mentioned in Arts and Artists in Connecticut, implies that Edwin had his own share of eccentricity, much like his brother. Not only did the two share this common trait, but more importantly they commonly shared a melancholic tendency. This despondency—depression—led to Edwin’s demise. After partnering with artist Henry Bryant in Albany, he removed to Troy, where he starved himself to death. According to French, “He was a man of excellent education and culture, but subject to attacks of the most depressing melancholy…under the influence of one of these despondencies, [he] resolved that he would eat nothing more” (55).

Born in 1793, Edwin died October 9, 1848, making him the second to go among the four siblings. I offer my exceptional gratitude to historian Ton Fafianie for finding Edwin’s obituary, which derives from the New York Tribune. It states, “DIED. At Troy, 9th inst. EDWIN PERCIVAL, brother of the celebrated Poet, Dr. James G. Percival.”

But what of his art and skill as an artist? French states, “His drawing was always good, and in color his pictures are pleasing. He excelled in ideal sketches” (55). A few of his paintings can be found here. It is purported he painted this portrait of James. Prior to his partnership with Bryant, he was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1832 (Art Price).

And what of Oswin? He outlived all three of his siblings. Born in 1797, he died August 30, 1871 (Connecticut Nutmegger, Vol. 4, pg. 246). It makes one wonder if he exhibited the same traits as his siblings, or if he was able to escape the melancholic affliction.

*I was able to trace back to a couple of billings for Edwin. He performed as Spruce in the Adopted Child at the Washington Garden Theatre in Boston, and as Alonzo in Pizarro; Or…the Death of Rolla at his benefit held, also, at the Washington Garden Theatre (Boston Commercial Gazette June 28, August 13, 1821).

“Records” by Henry William Herbert; and, on the Life of His Wife, Sarah Herbert (Barker)

 

 

Untitled

Sarah Barker, wife of Henry William Herbert, from Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert)

The following is a raw and lovingly woven dedicatory piece written by nineteenth-century author and sportsman Henry William Herbert, in memory of his wife Sarah Barker. The tribute mourns the anniversary of her death, and is a moving commemoration of both Barker’s life and Herbert’s grief. Barker, from Bangor, Maine, was the daughter of the town’s mayor and ship captain, George Barker. Herbert, who had gone to Maine on a hunting trip with Barker’s former fiance, Joseph A. Scoville, attended to the home of Barker, where both Herbert and Barker fell in love. Barker called off her engagement with Scoville and she and Herbert married in 1839 (White, Henry William Herbert and the American Publishing Scene, 1831-1858). Herbert’s poem paints a portrait of a devoted wife and mother, one who eagerly anticipated the return of her husband after his long excursions; one who devoutly loved him, despite his turbulent nature; one who most likely filled Herbert’s household with warmth and light. The dream of a lifelong marriage spent alongside Sarah did not last, however, following her death on March 11, 1844. According to White, “After giving birth to a daughter in July 1843, Sarah Herbert developed tuberculosis. In desperation, her husband carried her from one health resort to another, but she grew steadily worse. She was twenty-two years old when she died in Philadelphia…” (40). The aforementioned daughter, Louisa, died shortly after Sarah, on August 19 of the same year. The couple also had a son, William George, who, after the death of his mother, was sent off to England to live with Herbert’s extended family.

Although Herbert later found love in an Adela Budlong (a fleeting actress who may or may not have been swayed to marry Herbert because of his ties to royalty), their marriage crumbled due to its superficiality and Budlong’s unhappiness (as well as possibly Herbert’s uncontrollable temper). Despite the years of toil and grief that Henry endured after Sarah’s death—the financial hardship and the pains of his irreconcilable second marriage to Budlong—it seems the immortal image of Sarah never left his side, for, according to David Judd in the Life and Writings of Frank Forester (Henry William Herbert), “He suspended his dead wife’s portrait, an excellent oil painting, a veritable masterpiece by his friend Inman, in the most prominent position in his study, that his stray glances might constantly rest upon her features,” and, on the night of his death by suicide, “finally carried it with him to the chamber he destined to be that of his own death, that her countenance might catch his closing eyes as the dearest object upon the face of the earth” (85). This portrait by Inman is the one featured at the beginning of this post. For a vague comparison of her “live” presence with that of this painting, you can see her post-mortem photo here.

I feel I cannot properly attribute any further words to the loving union of Herbert and Barker; therefore, please allow Herbert’s own words in “Records” speak as testament to their love.

RECORDS.
Henry William Herbert
From Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert)
THIS was a happy day a year ago,
As now most wretched. This day I returned
From absence of one little month—one month
That seemed a year:—returned to feel her heart
Beat against mine, that ne’er shall beat with joy,
Or leap in ecstasy to those blue eyes
So bright and beautiful, or throb again
To mine responsive,
Oh! I see her now,
As she upstarted from her chair in haste
To greet me, with the eloquent warm blood
Flushing her fair white brow, the lips apart,
And radiant with that sunny smile that spoke
The joyous mirthfulness of her pure soul—
Most innocent and artless, and the eyes
That flashed affection out in dazzling beams
Electrical. I hear her soft, low voice
Say, “Dearest, dearest, have you come at last?
Long have I waited for you, and last night
Watched till nigh morning. Had you not come home
To-day, I should have sickened with the ‘hope Deferred.'”
But it is I that now am sick,
Past thought to be relieved; sick not with hope,—
For that disease hath still some saving touch
Of consolation in’t, that nerves the soul
To bear its tortures,—but for very lack
Of anything to hope on earth again.
For she is gone—aye, gone! and that rare form,
Which I see now as palpably as though
It stood there, glowing in the perfect grace
And glory of young womanhood;—a dream,
A trick of memory, lighter than a shade,
And by no sense of mind to be enjoyed
Or apprehended.
Yes, I see her now
As she upstarted, in her purple robe,
Graced by the fair proportions of her shape,
Not gracing them—her bosom of pure snow,
Translucent, with its thousand azure veins
Matchlessly beautiful; her glorious hair
Clustered in many ringlets of rich brown
Lit with a sunny lustre, down her neck
Falling profuse.
I feel her clasping arms
Wound close about my neck; her soft, thick curls
Fanning my cheek; and her sweet, lovely face,
Burning with blushes, hidden on my breast.
I hear her fond voice faltering in my ear
Glad tidings—that our little one—our boy,
Whom I left mute as yet, had found his tongue,
And learned to lisp her name.
It is but one year
Of the threescore and ten which sum the toil,
The lengthened weariness, and transient joy,
Of man’s allotted time, and all is changed—
Withered and cold forever, as my heart;
Which is alone, and desolate, and void,
And hopeless. She was all I had on earth;
The one rare treasure that enriched a life
Quite barren else; the only being that loved
And cherished, aye! and honored me, whose course
Has ever lain among the storms of the world,
The blight of evil tongues, and rancorous spite
Of who, not knowing, load with ill report
That which they comprehend not. She was all—
All that I had or wished. Love, happiness,
Ambition, hope—all, all in her
Were centred; and with her they are all gone,
Ne’er to come back to me.
I have nor home,
Nor country, nor companions; and the grave
Will be a resting-place, a distant end,
Not shunned, but longed for, as the pleasant bourn
Of suffering, and perchance the gate of joy;
Beyond the perishable, where immortal souls
May meet and love each other with a love
Transcending aught mortality has felt
Of best affections.
Oh that it were so!
Oh that I could believe, and in that trust
Be confident and strong, that even now
She looks upon me, and, in perfect bliss,
With something of affection still regards
The lost companion of her mortal joys,
The last attendant of her painful bed—
Him on whose breast her head was propped, on whom
Her glazing eyes were fixed, that yearned to see
When sight had left them; him whose hand yet thrills
At recollection of the entwined caress
Of those poor fingers, in their dying spasm,
Affectionate to the latest; him whose name—
Never, ’tis like, again to greet his ear
From any lips on earth—her lips strove hard
To syllable, but could not!
Life itself
Were not all weary, could I deem that she,
Marking my ways, might see each step more near
To heaven and her; and feel her very bliss
Something augmented by the unchanging love
Of him she loved so fondly; that one day
She might come forth to meet me, as of old,
But robed in beauty that will never fade,
And, radiant with eternal joy, again
Say, “Dearest, dearest, you have come at last;
Long have I waited you; and see your love
Constant and faithful, and fidelity
Hath its reward; and we are met again,
Never to sorrow more, or sin, or die:”
Oh! might I trust in this, I could go on,
In confident humility secure,
And fearless of the future.
But who knows,
Except the Father, and the Son who dwells
Forever in his glory? Who may dare
E’en to dream of that, which He hath left
Obscure, nor by a word of his illumed
The utter darkness that enshrouds the dead?
But thou art merciful, and knowest, Lord,
The weakness of the mortal: banish thou
The cruel thoughts which terrify my soul,
Whispering that she, whose early grave hath closed
Over the sweetest of thy daughters, lies
Forgetful of the life that lived for her,
Or, in her happiness, sees not the woe
That steeps in utter gloom the heart whose light
She was, and is no longer; the dark doubt,
Never to be enlightened till that day
When all shall be revealed—the dread, dark doubt
That we shall meet no more, when but to meet
Would make earth heave—as her sweet smile of old
And soothing voice could win a charm from pain,
Make poverty seem wealth, and sorrow bliss!
Gentlest and mirthfullest of living things,
And sweetest in thy purity of youth,
Thine artless innocence, thy charity
That thought no harm, thy love that knew not self—
To minister with the angels thou art gone,
And never shalt come back to me again,
As the light cometh with the morn, the leaves
With the glad spring-time.
Grant it, God, that I
May go to thee, and know thee, and be known,
There, where the wicked from their troubling cease,
The weary are at rest.
I ask but this:
Could I but think it, I could go my way
Rejoicing, and look forward to my goal
Happy, nor faint nor falter on the road.

Further Details Surrounding the Infamous Henry William Herbert Brawl of 1836

In my brief absence, I found a few more followup articles on the Henry Herbert/McLeod and Neale/Tompkins skirmish at the Washington Hotel during May of 1836. I will post the four new articles in two separate posts. If this is your first time seeing this series, feel free to catch up with it by checking out the first and second entries.

From the Spectator, May 9, 1836

THE WASHINGTON HOTEL AFFRAY.—The Courier & Enquirer of this morning publishes not only the particulars of the scene on Monday night, and the names of the parties, but also a brief history of the intended duel between Messrs. Neale and Tompkins, out of which it grew, and the certificates furnished to Mr. Neale by his second on Montreal, Mr. Campbell Sweeny, and a British officer whose experience in the duello was invoked by the latter gentleman. The whole affair is silly, childish, and any thing but creditable to all the parties engaged in it.
Apropos to this last remark, we hold it proper to state that the Mr. Staples who was concerned in the affair at the Washington Hotel is a merchant; partner in the firm of Staples & Clark, and in no way related to the family of Seth P Staples, Esq., the eminent counsellor of this city.

From the Albany Argus, May 10, 1836

[From the New York Times.]
An affray occurred on Monday evening at the Washington Hotel, which from the nature of the events and the character of the parties excited very deep and general interest. It would be well if the affair could be buried in oblivion, but that is impossible; one newspaper has already published it, and will doubtless be followed by others who, unable to obtain accurate information, may give garbled or incorrect statements. It is but just therefore to all concerned that those who have the means should lay the facts truly before the community, however reluctant one might otherwise be to publish such an affair[.] The following is prepared from the accounts given almost unanimously shortly afterwards by the very large number of gentlemen who were present, and from other accurate sources of information.
For reasons sufficiently obvious, the narration can’t include events previous to those of Saturday last. The parties had been in controversy some time, and on that day, Mr. T. accompanied by Mr. S. called to demand of Mr. M. if he were responsible for a certain circular just put forth. Mr. M. declined to answer; Mr. T. said that he should then hold him to be the person, and therefore pronounced him a scoundrel. Mr. M. refused to notice any insult from Mr. T., alleging that Mr. T. was a disgraced man[.] During the afternoon he informed Mr. S. that he would notice any thing from him, if he (Mr. S.) chose to take Mr. T.’s place. Mr. S. replied that after the occurrences of that morning he could hold no communication with Mr. M., and so ended the campaign of the day.
On Sunday evening, Mr. H. a friend of Mr. M. referring to this reply, pronounced, in the public room of the Washington Hotel, Mr. S. to be a coward, and requested that Mr. T. might be told that he had done so.
On Monday evening, Mr. S. accompanied by Mr. T., and both unarmed, except that Mr. S. carried his usual walking stick which had a light sword within it, went to the Washington Hotel. Mr. H. coming in soon after, Mr. S. demanded whether it was true that he had pronounced him a coward. Mr. H. replied that he had; whereupon, Mr. S. waved his glove across the face of Mr. H., and pronounced him a liar.
Mr. H. drew out a pistol, but before he could fire it, his hand was arrested by Mr. T., who remonstrated against using such a weapon, and assured him he should have satisfaction. Mr. H. shook him off and retreated, presenting the pistol, and T. following to [?] it. They moved from the centre of the bar room across the hall into the reading room, H. threatening to shoot T. if he advanced, and T. defying him, and declaring he dare not fire. T. then dashed the pistol aside and struck H., when both were seized—T. by Capt. B. and H. by some young gentlemen. H. was directly released, however, and while T. was struggling with Capt. B. who held him against the door, and was nearly between the combatants, both barrels of the pistol were fired, the balls lodging in the door, above T. and the Captain.
The parties were separated, and for a few minutes the affray seemed to have ended. Mr. M. then ascended a chair in the front room, and proclaimed that Mr. S. and Mr. T. were both cowards and scoundrels; Mr. T. rushed upon him, and beat him severely before the by-standers could interfere—Those who seized Mr. T. forced him back across the room, he struggling to get free, when Mr. M. followed and struck him in the side with a dirk or knife. Upon that Mr. S drew the sword from his cane, and stabbed Mr. H. The effective hostilities were here arrested by the exertions of the gentlemen present, a second pistol being taken from Mr. H., and the parties soon separated, and retired for surgical aid.
Neither of the wounds are understood to be serious, or at all dangerous, and the parties have withdrawn from town.

On Mrs. Mary Noel M’Donald, or Mary Noel Meigs, along with her poem “Winter”

While looking through the 1853 volume of Graham’s Magazine, I was immediately presented with this Wintery poem, which served as the featured cover piece for January’s issue. Because the author’s name seemed unfamiliar, I took to researching. For those interested, here is what I found.

According to Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises, Volume 1, by William Cushing (what a curious book!), the name “Mrs. Mary Noel (Bleecker M’Donald) Meigs” appears, with an allusion to a poetry book entitled “Poems by…N.Y. 1845” (179). A quick search for Mary Noel Meigs reveals several titles by this authoress, including Lays of a Lifetime, Cousin Bertha’s Stories, Fanny Herbert, and Other Stories: A Holiday Gift, as well as the aforementioned Poems. Her works may also be found in Rufus Griswold’s The Female Poets of America. However, as one may question, what other information is there to support the notion that M’Donald and Meigs are the same person, other than Cushing’s source? According to this page, it is indicated that M’Donald, or Meigs, was married to both Pierre Edward Flemming McDonald [erroneous spelling in Graham’s?] as well as Henry Meigs, Jr., with Bleecker being her maiden name. Therefore, it’s safe to say this Mary Noel M’Donald, the author of the poem featured in my post, is Mary Noel Meigs—a no longer mysterious and obscure poet, but one who was well-published and favored during her time.

What more is to be known of her, though? According to The Cyber Hymnal online, she was born February 15, 1812 in New York, and died May 13, 1890 in New Jersey. Along with her published volumes of poetry and prose, she provided four notable hymns, which are posted on this website, including “Christmas Morning” and “Hark! A Burst of Heavenly Music.” Finally, in Griswold’s Female Poets, he states the following,

The father of Miss Bleecker (now Mrs. Meigs) was of the Bleecker family so long distinguished in the annals of New York, and among her paternal connexions were Mrs. Anne Eliza Blecker and Mrs. Faugeres, whose poems have been commented upon in an earlier part of this volume. Her maternal grandfather was the late Major William Popham, the last survivor of the staff of Washington. In 1834 Miss Bleecker was married to Mr. Pierre E. F. McDonald, who died at the end of ten years. In 1845 she published an octavo volume entitled Poems by M.N.M., and she has since written many poems and prose essays for the magazines, besides several volumes of stories for children, &c. In the autumn of 1848 she was married to Mr. Henry Meigs, of New York.

You may, therefore, find in the poem below a small example of the credence given to her work. However, if I may be critical, I find the following poem to be unorganized and messy. Sloppily displaced words and lack of punctuation in certain areas makes this a confusing and unnatural poem when read aloud. Perhaps her other works are nicer when read or spoken. Regardless, I hope others find enjoyment from this poem.

Winter

Mary Noel M’Donald

HID in the bosom of life-giving earth,
In darkness and in silence deep and still,
The buried seed to springing roots given birth,
That fix them in the mold with firmest will;
Strong hold have they below there in the soil
Before the leaves upshoot them to the light,
And beauty crowns the deep and hidden toil
With blossomed boughs that charm the gazer’s sight
So thou, oh soul, obscure and hidden long,
Uncared for and unknown must bide thy time,
And like the aspiring seed strike, deep and strong,
Roots that shall bear thee upward in thy prime,
So firm sustained, thou shalt the worthier be
For life’s fair flower that all men honor thee.

On That Time When Edward Carey of Carey & Hart Beat a Man With His Umbrella

In keeping up with published scandals of the 19th century, I am happy to provide the following account, copied from The Publishers’ Circular of August 08, 1891 (no. 1310, pg. 133). In this amusing article, we find two epistles recounting a time when Edward L. Carey of Carey & Hart, a 19th century American publishing company, involved himself in a scuffle while overseas in London. I find it amusing that this gentleman, whom I’d imagined to be genial and well-mannered, instigated the commotion! Check this obscure article out and feel free to comment. Who do you think was truly in the wrong here? I’m siding with Mr. Carey. -Ann

The Publishers’ Circular
The following correspondences regarding the series of articles on “Annuals of Sixty Years ago” explains itself, and is not, we think, without interest.
To the Editor of the PUBLISHERS’ CIRCULAR
AND BOOKSELLERS’ RECORD,
SIR,—Your interesting article, “The Annuals of Sixty Years Ago,” in your June 27 number, revives graphically in my recollection a tradition in the history of our house.
Away back in the thirties my immediate predecessors, E. L. Carey and A. Hart, bought from the publishers in London, with the exclusive American market, 1,000 copies of one of the “Annuals” named in your list. For these books they paid cash with the order. At the time these books arrived in New York, they received a letter from a New York merchant, not a bookseller, stating that he had received by a certain ship—the same which had brought Carey & Hart’s one thousand copies—from the publishers of this book a certain number of copies of the book which they offered to Carey & Hart.
Finding themselves thus treated, and knowing that those London publishers had dealings with a bookseller in Philadelphia who was a large importer of English books, and ascertaining that this bookseller was indebted to the London house in a considerable sum, they employed a lawyer who took out a writ of foreign attachment of a debt due to the London house, and commenced legal proceedings under that writ. These whole proceedings in the premises, when the case came to be tried in the court in Philadelphia, proving to be irregular, Carey & Hart were non-suited.
In the meantime, the debtor of London publishers became bankrupt, and accordingly those publishers lost their claim, when in turn they brought suit against Carey & Hart for the amount of this lost claim, but after years of litigation, way into the forties, it having been proven that the debtor of the London home was bankrupt when the claim was attached by Carey & Hart, the London house was in turn non-suited. Thus this litigation of perhaps ten years, came to an end, and both Carey & Hart and the publishers of the London “Annual” lost their money.
Subsequently to this transaction by the London publishers, Edward L. Carey was in London, and, calling on the firm, had some pretty high words with one of the partners, which resulted in blows, which would probably have further resulted in an arrest, if Mr.Carey had not left London on the following morning, and sailed immediately thereafter for the United States.
Yours truly,
HENRY CAREY BAIRD.
Philadelphia: July 15, 1891


Sir,—I can give you a very clear answer to your inquiry respecting the firm of London publishers referred to by Mr. Henry Carey Baird in his letter of July 15.
One morning, it must have been in 1838 or 1839, I was in the front room of Mr. Charles Tilt’s office at 86 Fleet Street, when Mr. Carey, the Philadelphia publisher, came in, as he had been in the habit of doing for several days, and walked through to speak to Mr.David Bogue[?] (Mr.Tilt’s partner),in the counting-house. Soon afterwards, Mr. Fisher, of the firm of Fisher, Son & Co., of Newgate Street, the publishers of ‘The Drawing Room Scrap Book,’ followed and asked to speak to Mr. Carey, evidently by appointment. The two gentlemen met in my presence (I do not think they had ever seen one another before), and commenced an earnest conversation in a low voice; presently, however, words became higher, and I heard Mr. Fisher say, in a loud and emphatic tone ‘That’s a lie.’ The words had hardly escaped his mouth before I saw and heard a tremendous blow given by the American gentleman fall on the Englishman’s broad breast. I must tell you that Mr. Fisher was a burly man, six feet in height, and Mr. Carey a slim man not half his weight. Of course Mr. Fisher retaliated, and for a few seconds there was a free fight, Mr. Carey using his umbrella when he had a chance. Fortunately they were in a very narrow space between a high desk and a table, and could not do each other much harm. I got in between them as soon as I could, protesting against their unseemly [?] (not without receiving a blow from the umbrella), and very quickly three or four clerks came from the inner rooms, the strife was ended, and Mr. Fisher left. I remember that we took the part of the American, but, out of all who were then present, I am the only survivor, and it is a curious coincidence that you should have applied to me for information.
Yours obediently,
JOSEPH CUNDALL
Wallington: Aug. 3, 1891