Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

lowing the subtle reasonings of the common law, and regarded with a kind of reverence that complicated fabric, the construction of which has tasked so many acute and vigorous intellects, and which, whatever may be its recommendations or its defects, must be admitted to be a wonderful monument of human ingenuity.

At sixteen years of age he wrote the “ Bridal of Vaumond," a metrical romance, in the irregular measure of Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel; but the poem was not published till 1817. It was harshly criticised in a contemporary periodical; but had the reviewer known the extreme youth of its author, the facility of the versification, the brilliancy of many of the conceptions, and the daring wildness of the imagery in various passages, should have caused him to overlook the defects consequent upon an age when the best endowed and most highly cultivated minds have not yet learned to use skilfully their own powers and resources. Mr. Sands, of course, was not gratified with the kind of notice his poem had met with, and never seemed to refer to this early effort with pleasure.

In 1817, he contributed largely to a series of communications in prose and verse, entitled “The Neologist,” which were published in the Daily Advertiser, and attracted some attention. About the same time he engaged in a bolder undertaking. In conjunction with his early friend already mentioned, Mr. Eastburn, a young man of a richly graced and furnished mind, he planned a romantic poem, founded on the adventures of King Philip, the Pequod Chieftain. The fable was sketched in a brief interview between the two friends, and afterwards, while Mr. Eastburn was at Bristol, in Rhode Island, and Mr. Sands in New-York, the several portions undertaken by each were written, and transmitted to each other in letters. After the death of Mr. Eastburn, he revised the work, adding some portions, and published it with copious notes in 1820. In the North American Review, it was made the subject of one of the most eloquent and delightful articles of literary criticism, that has ever appeared in this country. The poem deserved the commendation it received—it was a work of high original power—a bold attempt to deal with new and untried materials of poetic imagery and interest—and the success justified the attempt. Mr. Eastburn died in the year 1819, and the surviving author of the work inserted an affecting monody on his death, in a series of papers published in the Commercial Advertiser, entitled “The Amphilogist.” Un

der this signature he also gave several translations of great merit from the Greek and Roman poets.

Mr, Sands was admitted to the bar in the spring of the year 1820, the day before he completed his twenty-first year. He then opened an office and commenced the practice of his profession in the city of New-York. The writer of this notice is not positive whether it was about this period that he revised his classical studies, and extended his acquaintance with the poets of antiquity. Certain it is, however, that after leaving college, he applied himself with great ardor to the reading of such of the old authors, as had engaged the least of his attention in the schools, particularly the Greek tragedians, with whose works he gained a rare familiarity. Having accomplished this, he acquired the Italian language, and read carefully all its great authors, from Dante downwards to Monti in our own times. At a subsequent period he studied the Spanish tongue critically, and made himself acquainted with its most celebrated writers. French he had learned early, and was at home in its literature; and a little before his death he had begun to read the Portuguese authors.

In 1822, and the subsequent year, he wrote much for the Literary Review, a monthly periodical, then published in New York, by Van Winkle, which received a great increase of reputation from the contributions of his pen. In the winter of 1823-4, some of his happiest efforts in the humorous style, of which he was a great master, appeared in the Tammany Magazine, a periodical which had not even the ordinary fortune of lasting to the end of the year. In May, 1824, the “ Analectic Magazine” was established in the city of NewYork, by E. Bliss & E. White, and placed under his charge. At the end of six months he gave up the work, but was afterwards engaged as one of the editors, when it had changed its name to that of " The New-York Review," and assisted in conducting it, until, in 1826, the year before its dissolution, it was united with the Literary Gazette, published in Boston, In 1827 he accepted an engagement to write for the Commercial Advertiser, which continued until his death.

The letters of Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, were published in this city, in 1828, for the S. American market. Mr. Sands wrote a life of that famous adventurer, compiled from the old Spanish historians, to which he was so fortunate as to obtain access, and from other authentic sources. It was translated by Mr. Dominguez, a learned Spaniard of this city, and pre

[ocr errors]

fixed to the letters. The original yet remains in manuscript, and is unquestionably the best biographical account of Cortes in the English language-perhaps the best that has been written.

In the course of the same year, Mr. Sands, along with two of his friends, one of whom was the Hon. Mr. Verplanck, projected a literary miscellany, entitled the Talisman, of which three volumes were published, the last in 1830. To this work he contributed about a third of the contents, and some of the articles furnished by him are among the best of his writings. The “Simple Tale” is a happy example of sly humor and concealed satire. In the “ Scenes at Washington,” a considerable portion of which was written by him, his talent for ludicrous description and narrative is employed with capital effect; and the “Dream of Papantzin,” a poem, the scene of which is laid in Mexico, is admirable for the solemn grandeur of the thought, the magnificence of the imagery, and the flow of the versification. Mr. Sands had an ear for poetic measure cultivated by a study of the varied and flexible rhythm of the ancient classics, by the reading of the old poets of our own language, and by an examination of the rules of versification adopted in the various modern languages with which he was acquainted. By those who consider metrical harmony as identical with monotony, who accuse Milton of not understanding the structure of blank verse, and who charge Spenser with ignorance of the art of versification, because he wrote

Unweeting of the perilous wandering waysMr. Sands may be said to have had a bad ear. But the fact was that he understood how to roughen his verse with skill, and to vary its modulations.

In the beginning of November last, the work entitled “ Tales of the Glauber Spa,” was published in New-York. The introduction and two of the tales, namely “Mr. Green," and “ Boyuca,” were furnished by Mr. Sands, and they bear strongly the impress of his mind—the peculiar vein of humor and satire in the two former, and the imagery of the latter, so wild and vivid, that the narrative seems to the reader like the recollection of some strange dream, give them a character which could not be mistaken by those who are at all familiar with his writings. One of his latest compositions was a little poem, entitled “The Dead of 1832," which, a few days before his death, appeared anonymously in the Commercial Advertiser. It was an enumeration of the trophies reaped by Death and

Time, in the distinguished men who had been gathered to their graves in the year which has just ended, and with whom, though unconscious of the fate impending over him, he was, within few remaining days of that year, to be numbered.

Mr. Sands, just before his death, had engaged to furnish, for this Magazine, an article on Esquimaux Literature. He had consulted, for this purpose, all the common books containing any thing which related to that singular race of people; and on the sixteenth of December, had procured a history of Greenland, in two volumes, written by David Crantz, a German missionary, who, in the year 1761, was sent to Greenland by the United Brethren, and resided there a twelvemonth, for the express purpose of compiling a description of the country, and whose work is full of curious and minute information respecting those frozen latitudes and their inhabitants. He immediately gave himself, with his usual intense applieation, to the perusal of this book, in order to fill his mind with ideas of the Esquimaux modes of life, their traditions and their mythology. He had already finished an introduction to the article, which was a review of an imaginary book of translations from the Esquimaux language, and had written two fragments, which he intended for supposed specimens of Greenland poetry. After another interval of close reading, he again, on the seventeenth of December, about four o'clock in the afternoon, sat down to the work of composition. He merely wrote with a pencil the following line, suggested probably by some topic in the Greenland mythology,

Oh think not my spirit among you abides, when he was suddenly struck with the disease which removed his own spirit from its material dwelling. Below this line, on the original manuscript, were observed, after his death, several irregular pencil marks, extending nearly across the page, as if traced by a hand that moved in darkness, or no longer obeyed the impulse of the will. He rose, opened the door, and attempted to pass out of the room, but fell on the threshhold. On being assisted to his chamber and placed on the bed, he was observed to raise his powerless right arm with the other, and looking at it, to shed tears. It was soon discovered that the disorder was an apoplectic stroke; he shortly after relapsed into a lethargy, from which he never awoke, and in less than four hours from the attack expired without a struggle.

Mr. Sands had qualities of the heart no less admirable than those of the intellect. He possessed an uneommon and wholly unaffected humanity of disposition; he loved his friends with a strong and unwavering attachment, and few men ever succeeded in attaching their friends so strongly. He was particularly kind to those whom fortune had placed in an inferior station, and seemed to study to make up by the gentleness and generosity of his conduct, for the inequalities of accident. He reverenced religion, and all good and moral influences, wherever they were found to exist.

His intellectual character has already been drawn in the course of this narrative. With great activity and versatility of mind, he possessed a large share of what is commonly called talent, or the power of vigorously directing the faculties of the mind to any given purpose. His fancy was surprisingly fruitful of new and varied combinations of ideas; and if his vein of humor, peculiar and original as it was, had any fault, it was only that of excessive and unrestrained exuberance. His conversation was full of wit and knowledge, and the quaint combinations of language, and grotesque associations of ideas, that seemed to suggest themselves to his mind unsought, made him an amusing, as his learning and originality of reflection rendered him, an instructive companion. Delighting as he did im the work of composition, he was disposed to make it a social and not a solitary enjoyment; he loved to write in conjunction with his friends; and he had this peculiarity, that the presence of others, which most authors feel to be a restraint on the free course of their thoughts and fancies, was actually to him a source of excitement and inspiration.

A collection of his writings to be published by subscription, consisting of such as he himself might have thought worthy of preservation, has been spoken of, and it is hoped that the plan may be carried into effect.

Subjoined is the fragment of the article begun by him for this magazine. In this unfinished state it derives its principal interest from the fearful catastrophe by which it was interrupted. The little poem, on page twenty-nine, by another hand, was originally written to form a conclusion for the article which follows. The first of the poetic passages seems to have been intended as the introduction to an heroic poem, on the ancient settlement of Greenland by the Esquimaux. Two or three notes have been added from Crantz's book, by the writer of this memoir. The second is the beginning of an Anar

« PreviousContinue »