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JOB DURFEE was born in Tiverton, Rhode Island, on the 20th of September, 1790. His father, the Hon. Thomas Durfee, was a selfmade man, who was born of a Rhode Island ancestry, and transmitted to his son a genuine love of his State. He was a soldier of the Revolution, engaged in the fight on Quaker Hill, and, by his reminiscences of those memorable days, imbued his son with his own glowing patriotism. He afterwards devoted himself to the study of Law, soon acquired the confidence of his fellow citizens, and, for several years previous to his death, was Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. A gentle, pious and affectionate mother watched over his childhood, and instilled into his bosom, both by example and precept, a single-hearted obedience to the duties of life.
His father's residence was situated near the Heights of Tiverton, overlooking the picturesque waters of Narraganset Bay
Ilere were passed his youth and early manhood, in view of a prospect, so magnificent and varied, that those who love to trace the influence of local scenery upon character, may, perhaps, regard it as no unmeaning symbol of his magnanimity and versatile powers.
His earliest years were passed in the common sports and labors of childhood. He recurred to them as the happiest of his life—“ the halcyon days of boyhood, teeming with present joys and bright hopes, when to outstrip my comrade in the race or to possess the swiftest shingle-boat was a triumph, and the frown of my schoolmaster was my only fear." As he grew older his pursuits were divided between the plough and the school. He was ambitious of excellence, and surpassed his companions scarcely less in athletic than in intellectual exercises His devotion to reading and talking upon grave subjects of literature and politics was remarkable; and, when a mere boy, he surprised and delighted his playmates by an attempt at authorship, in a "History of the Thumbs and Tits," describing a pigmy race and their contentions in founding their empire.
He found the materials of his first poem in his own neighborhood. At a shop, not far from his father's house, a small circle of toping quidnuncs nightly met to discuss politics and news, and repeat the oft-told anecdotes, which never failed to elicit the accustomed laugh. The bottle and the pipe were the Penates of the establishment; and under their influences, as their hearts expanded, they displayed many a lurking penchant, ludicrous foible, or queer prejudice, seasoned with the grotesque pungency of mother-wit—the motley oddities which then played over the surfaces of human life, but have since retired under the sober livery of temperance. These the young poet carefully noted, and once,
when the fist sided with the tongue to decide its contests, and the gossips parted with torn garments and blue noses, he took occasion to celebrate the affray in rhyme. The production was found posted to the shop-door, without signature. Each of the party was in high glee with the portraitures of his neighbors, declaring them as natural as life, while at the same time he thought himself outrageously caricatured and satirized. The shop-keeper, who possessed the manuscript, was very shy of showing it, and amused the author and those in his secret by his deprecatory criticisms and wild guesses at its authorship
It may not be amiss to add still another to the many anecdotes in the Lives of Authors, showing how often the attempt to represent some personal adventure reveals to them the bent of their minds. In the neighborhood was a man whose whole life had been a listless day-dream of enriching himself by money-digging. For three successive nights he had been directed to the place of a hidden treasure, but dared not visit it alone. He therefore obtained the assistance of Mr. Durfeewhose Latin fitted him to act the magician—and his brother, and at midnight proceeded to the haunted spot. The magician described his circle, pronounced the awful spells to exorcise the spirit who kept the money in charge, and then they commenced digging. Meanwhile some mischief-loving persons, previously let into the secret, had stationed themselves behind a rock near by, with phizes and sheets, the paraphernalia of ghosts and goblins. Soon some coins were produced, and the old man deemed his hopes realized. He cheered on the diggingwhen suddenly a hideous shrick, and the apparition of a sheeted spectre, sent a shudder through his heart. The magician boldly faced it, fulminated his gibberish, and waved his wand. Another, and another, and another, appeared; they yelled, they spit fire, they rushed furiously round the ring,
Before, behind, on every side,
To break the mystic spell;
Could scarce the demons quell. The circle was broken—the spectres rushed in, and the magician rushed out, followed by the money-digger, shrieking in talismanic jargon, “6 avamus! avamús!” nor did he stop till he reached a neighboring house, confused and shivering, his husky voice scarcely audible through his white lips. The visionary, uncured by his mishaps, lived on to dream again of hidden gold; the neighborhood found his adventures the source of ample merriment; his companion made them the foundation of a poem.
But he was early called to mingle the passionate wailings of elegy with the fantastic sports of his muse. His father was a votary of the occult sciences, and sometimes excited the fears and curiosity of the credulous by his mystic drawings and necromantic jargon.* At the birth of his son he had drawn his horoscope, and foretold, from the configuration of the celestial signs, his premature death by drowning In this instance, at least, his prophecy came near being sadly verified. His son, with his sister, a lovely girl to whom he was tenderly attached, was with a young party sailing in the bay by moonlight. In the midst of their pleasure the boat suddenly sprang a leak, and in spite of all their efforts, filled and overturned. Mr. Durfee caught the lady nearest him by the arm, and with her clung to the keel. As soon as the instinct of self-preservation gave way to reflection, he gazed about him, but saw only one of his companions, who swam for the shore. The waters lay around unruffled, glassing the sky and stars, but his cyes searched vainly for any living form. His sister and three others were drowned, and his grief was uncontrollable. The hurried passing to and fro of lights upon the shore, the quick paddling of the boats that came to his aid—the stifled agony of the bereaved relatives—the subdued voices of the gathering neighbors—the anxious raking for the bodies of the dead—and the funeral procession that attended the remains to their home, produced, indeed, a scene that filled the most
* Judicial Astrology still retained the shadow of its former reputation; and, though Mr. Durfee studied it merely as an amusement, far from practising the jugglery of a muuntebank, he doubtless shared the common curiosity and interest in the results of his calculations.
indifferent with solemn thoughts and gloomy speculations. But the afflicted brother was distracted by a phrenzy of anguish, which seemed for a while to threaten the derangement of his intellect. In after years, though hidden from common eyes, his sorrow survived all the intercourse of the world unprofand--a sacred spot in his memory, flowing with the sympathies of kindred sufferings at the bereavements of others. Nor is the story without higher import. Whatever in man's heart is beyond the profanation of earth, becomes the source of moral beauty and exaltation-an avenue for the influx of divinest influences.
I anticipate the course of my narrative to relate a similar danger to which he was afterwards exposed. He was crossing the pond, in front of his house, on the ice, and broke through where no one dared to come to his relief. His struggles to get out only widened the breach, and finally, when almost exhausted, he barely escaped by pushing himself forward horizontally until he reached firm footing. These hair-breadth escapes may have contributed to inspire his partial faith in astrology. He believed it one of those general truths, untrue when applied in its whole extent to individual cases, because no fixed ratio can be found by which the eccentricities of free-agency may be calculated; but that its predictions, if they embraced the epochs of national existence instead of the lives of individuals, would not be found unworthy of attention.
In 1809, after a brief schooling in Bristol, he entered Brown University, which was then under the presidency of Dr. Asa Messer, a man more remarkable for the strength and solidity of his talents and erudition, than for elegant and finished scholarship. The man was a type of the institution. Its discipline was relaxed, a rough freedom pervaded the manners of the students, and men were valued more for vigor of thought and expression, than for varied attainments, polished diction or graceful elocution. Its requirements were neither so liigh nor so varied as in later times—many which are now preparatory studies constituting then a part of the collegiate course.
Mr Durfee's proficiency in Mathematics and Greek must have been inconsiderable; but in Latin he acquired such skill as made the perusal of Virgil and Cicero one of the purest pleasures of his maturer years. lic became yet more thoroughly imbued with the spirit of classical antiquity by a diligent study of Ancient History, and contracted an almost passionate admiration of the moral philosophy of the Stoics and the iron republicanism of the Spartans. Ilis indolence and early acquired predilection for politics, doubtless, exposed him to many interruptions ; for, in that period of stormy excitement, the quiet haunts of the student often resounded with partisan debates and fierce invective, and he afterwards regretted that many an hour, sacred to the chastening influences of literature, was profaned by political animosities. Yet he found this species of instruction not without use, when, at the close of his academical career, he gave it an appropriate vent in a Fourth of July Oration, which met with such hearty applause among his fellow-townsmen, that it was published. He graduated with high honors, respected among his classmates for his vigorous powers of reasoning and imagination.
From College he returned to study law under the direction of his Father. He still found time, however, to devote to literature. The next Commencement he delivered, before the Society of the United Brothers, a poem entitled the Vision of Petrarch, which met with a flattering reception and was published at the request of the Society It represents Petrarch on a visit at Rome, which he finds in ruins, its heroes and sages dead-their laws and empire gone, and their spirit almost faded from the memories of men. Whilst in despair he prediets the extinction of learning and art, and of humanity itself, the Genius of Poetry appears to him-bears him to a phantom world and shows to him the forms of future poets. They pass before him sounding their lyres, while their various styles of poetry are symbolized by the diverse forms of nature, which come and go with the changes of their music. The poem has some fine passages, a melodious versification and a luxuriant imagery, but still is rather a promise than a manifestation of superior excellence. He borrowed his plan from Virgil, but without catching those life-like and dramatic touches, which have made the fable of Æneas' descent into Hades almost a matter of belief.
In 1814, he was elected representative to the State legislature. He made his entrance in political life in hot party times, and was a candidate of the Republican party, in whose principles he had been nurtured from boyhood. As soon as he had become familiarized with his new environment and had worn off the diffidence natural to one bred in rural retirement, he introduced a resolution to tax the banks as a consideration for the privileged process which they enjoyed. He urged his resolution in a speech of such eloquence and power, as raised him immediately to a level with the best debaters of the house. Mr. Searle paid him what coming from so thorough a master of public businessmay be thought a flattering compliment, by moving that the resolutions should be deferred until the next session, alleging that Mr. Durfec had