Frederick Knight.

Thorn cottage, or The poet's home. A memorial of Frederick Knight, esq., of Rowley, Mass online

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Online LibraryFrederick KnightThorn cottage, or The poet's home. A memorial of Frederick Knight, esq., of Rowley, Mass → online text (page 1 of 6)
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47, Washingtoa Street.



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Al *>>7H. Cic^




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It is not the man of biisiness, surrounded from
morning to night with its ceaseless din, who can
hardly stay to notice the flowers which adorn the
pathway of life,-and perhaps tramples them under
foot, in his hasty course — nor yet the youthful as-
pirant for litercury fame^ flushed with past success,
and looking forward - with triumphant confidence
to a long and brilliant career, whose eye will be
attracted by these simple memorials of an unfor-
^nate son of genius.

But will not the Christian, who professes to be
a follower of Him who would not "break the
bruised reed,'' recognise in the subject of this
sketch a silent and humble but as we trust a sin-
cere disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus ? And
will not he, who has known what it is to shrink
with the sensitiveness peculiar to genius from too


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rough contact with an unfeeling world, pay the
tribute of sympathy to the memory of one who
was only prevented by such sensitiveness, unhap-
pily fostered by the influences of early education,
from becoming well-known and appreciated in the
world of letters ; who, like Scott's Wilfrid,

'^ docilo; soft and mild,
Was Fancy's wild and wayward child.

She, in some distant lone retreat,
Flung her high spells around his seat,
Bathed in her dews his languid head,
Her fairy mantle o'er him spread —
For him her opiates gave to flow.
Which he who tastes can ne'er forego ;
And placed him in her circle free
From every stem reality-
Till, to thfe visionary seem.
Her day-dreams Truth — and Truth a dream."

And may we not be permitted to borrow from
the touching and truthful melodies of the " Harp
of the North," the following warning to those
who are entrusted with the fearful responsibility
of training such minds :

" teach him while your lessons last.
To judge the present by the past —
Remind him of each wish pursued,


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How rich it glowed with promised good ;
Remind him of each wish enjoyed,
How soon his hopes possession cloyed—
Tell him we play unequal game,
Whene'er we shoot by Fancy's aim ;
And e'er he strip him for her race,
Show the conditions of the chase."*

Nothing could have been more repugnant to the
unfeigned humility for which the subject of this
sketch was so remarkable, than to associate his
name with that of the gifted bard who, on the
banks of the Ouse, in chosen retirement from a
busy world, poured forth strains which have, for
more than half a century, animated the faith of
the Christian, kindled the aspirations of genius,
and soothed with their touching harmonies the
agonies of the broken heart. Yet who can fail to
be reminded, by the untiring devotion of our poet
to the comfort of the aged widow, with whom for
the last ten years of his life he found a home, of
the close friendship which subsisted between Cow-
per and Mrs. Unwin. Enduring with uncomplain-
ing patience the trials with which such a life must
necessarily be attended, to one of his temperament
and education, he continued to fulfil the duties

*Rokeby, Canto 1st.


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assigned him by providence, until death released
him, leaving his aged friend desolate and solitary.
The many regrets expressed during his illness,
on account of his misimproved time and talents,
induced the wish, on the part of some of his
friends, to select, ifrom the numerous manuscripts
which he left, some few memorials of his genius
and taste, together with some extracts from his
miscellaneous writings.


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Frederick Knight, Esq., the subject of this
sketch, was born in Hampton, N. H., Oct 9, 1791.
His mother dying when he was very young, he
was taken, with his elder brother, to the residence
of his maternal grandfather,* in Rowley, Mass.,
where they had for many years a delightful home.
In reverting to that period, he thus expresses him-

^ How happy was my childhood's home,
The days before I learned to roam —
The friends and kindred there who came,
All dear to worth and some to fame —
Their smiles were like the beams of day,
Their voices, like the birds at play-
There stands the tree, and there the grove.
So dear to friendship and to love—
But home, and friends and grove and tree
Live but in memory now to me."

The love of nature was early developed in both
the brothers. ^The house of my grandfather,''
says the elder, ^^ was embosomed in trees of his

*Dr, Nathaniel Cogswell.


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own planting, with long avenues on each side^
where the singing birds, waked by the dawn,
filled the whole air with life and melody. It was
delightful to sit and watch the spreading button-
wood-trec; through whose tall branches, swaying
and shadowing down into the window above,
the annual goldfinch, darting like a ball of fire,
would drop into his hanging nest, or sit high-hid
amid the broad green leaves, pouring out his rich
and prolonged descant over his brooding mate ;—
or at decline of sun, to walk out back of the gar-
den, to the Gilead Grove, there to sit upon the
sylvan seats built, like the temple of old, without
the noise of hammer, grooved and deep-grown into
the trunks of the many-lettered trees, and mor-
alize upon the various fates of those whose names
were briefly immortalized in the smooth rind
around; or to watch the beauteous birds flitting
and chirping over their unmolested nests; the
droning bee, poised in the red honeysuckle, and
the freckled butterfly, wafting her light body
across the clear soft sunshine, here and there
touching and balancing her broad thin vans upon
the top of a tall tremulous spire of grass."

In the family of Dr. Cogswell were happily
united the embellishments of polished life and the
simplicity of rural occupation. Here were to be
found stores of intellectual wealth, and much to
charm the imagination and delight the eye, in the
profusion of gifts, coming from time to time across


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the waters-r— tokens of the love of a devoted son
residing in a foreign land.

' A taste for natural scenery seems to have been
inherent in the two brothers — their earliest asso-
ciations with their father being connected with a
little meandering stream in Rowley woods, where
"we amused ourselves," says the elder, "in pick-
ing up the long strings of evergreens which were
half concealed amid the tangled reeds and brake
I remember being taken by my father, when we
were very little boys, to his own Wicomb Spring,
there to slumber all night upon the yellow leaves
of Autumn." Of the vividness of these impres-
sions upon their youthful minds, as they walked
hand in hand, in these romantic solitudes, we may
form some idea from the lines that follow, which
were composed by the elder brother.*

" Low murmuring gales brush through the leafless trees,

Acquiring compass like the distant seas,

Folding gay draperies o'er the cherish'd spot,

While echo's voice responds within the grot.

For Windsor's forest, nor sweet Auburn's bowers,

Nor Cooper's hill, nor Clifton grove in flowers,

Can boast more tufted knolls, more mossy glens,

More wild deep-warbling nooks, more chiming fens,

Or more to feast the ear or taste can bring,

Than thou — old Rowley Woods — lov'd Wicomb Spring /"

The death of their father, which took place
while they were yet in their boyhood, greatly en-

*Rev. H. C. Knight.


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deared this spot in their after-life. It fcnrmed a
part of their patrimonial inheritance, and they
were often seen with the arm of each around the
neck of the other, bending their steps toward this
woodland retreat* Even the rustling of the forest
leares fell upon the ear of our poet like sweet
melody, and the little streamlet in the midst of
the surrounding forest beeame a source of high
enjoyment, and received firom him the name of
** Paradise Spring.'' ^tting upon its bank, new
charms presented themselves, as portrayed in a
little poem, entitled

"song to paradise 5i^ook"

" Say, what is this unwearied waste,
This ever bright, exhaustless tide 1
By reproduction still replaced,
By other drops its bed supplied ?

'Tis of Thyself— thou givest all,
All in thy service thus employed ;
Thou see'st them ceaseless rise and fall.
But not returning vain or void.

These water wreaths within thee strown,
Made by the naiads going down,
The floating pharos sinking low,
Lighting the way with lamps below.

The lily-stem, whose flower, with grace,
Floats gently on the water's face ;
How fine those little particles,
So nicely balanced in their bells ;


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That quiver one their pointed ends,
Ai^ tremble as the lily bends.
These gems, if gathered as they greet,
And but inserted as they meet,
How rich the page, how £M the sheet !'

The following brief iribute to the memory of
the father, is given by the elder son :

** I mourn a Friend to guide my erring youth
To honest fame in his own path of truth.
Thine was a soul not narrowed to a span.
Which scorned to do the thing beneath a man.
Wert thou ambitious or by fortune wooed ?
Not to be great but only to be good.

Sweet peace, my Father ! loved by all and blest,
But most by those who knew thy virtues best."

He regarded education as of greater value than
any pecuniary advantage, and the patrimony ao-
eroing to his three sons, (the younger of them, a
half brother, who is still living,) was, at his earnest
request, devoted to this object

The fraternal affection, which subsisted between
the two brothers after the decease of their father,
is thus delineated by the same pen :

^ how I joy to muse on, arm in arm,

While throbbing love and awed devotion warm y-^

Awe to my God — affection to another.

Frederick, to thee, my own congenial brother I

For thou alone my venturous strains wilt hear,

And while all scorn or pity, thou wilt cheer.

Thou art the favored rival of my lays,

Who sing'st unenvied and deserv^st my praise ; —


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Thou know'st the frenzies of the sons of song ;
Their pride of right, their jealousy of wrong ;
The throbbing temple and the burning eye,
The sinking of the heart, the wasting sigh ;
The starts in bed, the peaceful sleep denied.
The nervous hand and twinges in the side.
Thou know'st them seldom bom to get or save ;
Perchance their shattered Harp is all they have !
Oft from the busy world they turn in pain.
To sing their fluttered spirits calm again.
Titles, wealth, power, they are content to lose,
For one kind answer of the maiden muse.
Once, such thy brother ! ere all-sobering truth
Broke through the gay- wove visions of his youth—
Once his vain wish, when to his burial gone.
That his fond Harp were graven on his stone.
But, if redeemed and raised where seraphs glow,
And twin-like spirits may each other know ;
Then loftier breathings must engage the ear.
Tuned to the hymnings of a holier sphere."

In the years 1808 and 1809, after the usual pre-
paratory course, they entered Harvard University,
but the same want of decision which characterized
their after-life, prevented them from receiving the
honors of their Alma Mater. " I could not find,**
says the elder, "the right branch of the tree of
knowledge by which to climb up. I seemed, as
Burns says of himself, ' unfitted with an aim.' " I
began to find out, that both my brother and my-
self had too much sensibility and too little sense.
I was ever in my study, but gave myself too much
to general reading, and instead of diagrams of


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geometry, was found pondering a heavy quarto of
Pliny. I was prompt at each college exercise, but
poetry was my easily besetting sin. I sent some
translations to the Anthology, amid whose balmy
•leaves my brcrther had often warbled — and at the
•end of . my freshman year, I had written a volume
for the press; I began to write before I had
learned to think, and began to publish before I
had learned to write. I wished I could stray into
the wilderness, where there was no breeze of Par-
nassus nor any rill of Helicon.

"I was among" the students but hot of them.
In college we find as wide a difference of mental
and moral as of corporeal physiognomies. There
are some who seem to possess knowledge by intu-
ition, there are others to whose nature nurture will
not adhere. The germs of some miinds, like the
voilet, blossom spontaneously with beautiful but
transient productions; those of others, slow and
almost hopeless in their budding, at last yield
nothing of consequence ; while the few, Hke the
cedar in the cliff, gradually rise in the mightiness
of their strength. While some at midnight have
their spirits awake, holding deep communion with
the sages of other years, others, of more sensation
than reflection, lounge off at early eve to their
slumbers, with no spirit warring against the flesh.
While some are preparing to hold even the scales
of justice on the bench or to thunder conviction in



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the Senate chamber, there are others in some hid-
den conclave of blasphemous dissipation.

" Sometimes, when I mused on myself and on
others of my own age, the comparison was so im-
perceptibly wide that I was lost in the intevval.
Obstacles to literary ambition multiplied upon me.
Few authors succeed in this country except com-
pilers, and yet an author who draws ten pages of
rich matter from his own brain has more merit
than one who extracts ten hundred from another.
One has modified, the other has created ; one has
^ven a new body, the other a new soul. I do
wish that authors had more confidence in their
own individual tastes, and were not so easily
frightened by a dissecting review. This yielding
up to one standard and modeling to another's
fancy, destroys all the freshness of originality.
No mocking birds for me ; give me to listen to the
wood-notes wild. There are a hundred that are
thus made to write verse, who can never write
poetry. Confidence is necessary in a young author.
Nothing will so damp the fervour of enterprise as
a self-distrust of ability; at the same time this
distrust is often a pleasing evidence of sufficiency.

" But, after all, what is literary ambition ? It is
like trying to take hold of a slippery ball. It is a
melancholy idea, that not only one's own works
may not survive his present existence, but that
even the most immortal. Homer and Virgil and
Pindar, Shakespeare and Milton and Spencer,




must perish with this earth — ^that their writings
are limited to time. Some wish to get upon the
top-round of ambition's ladder without the knowl-
edge of others. They must not be startled at the
approach of Fame, knowing her to be a shadow.
Alas, I am sorrowful concerning them. The high
road to fame is exceedingly thronged and the by-
paths are not easily found — if found by those who
press through the crowd, why, what then ?

"Fame is a bitter blast — a head wind, that
blows directly in one' face, chilly and cold. To
be famous is like stirring up the dust and travel-
ling in the midst of it. An ambitious life is a life
of perpetual perplexity and unsparing anxiety.
How many are out of breath in their course and
fall by the way-side, and how many adventitious
attacks arrest us in our progress. With such
thoughts^ I now renounced poetry. When one
writes, he should be sure to touch the heart, or the
head at least. The touchstone of one's own heart
is perhaps generally true, when its native influ-
ence is permitted, not controlled. Let imagina-
tion originate and complicate, and let fancy delin-
eate and decorate.

" My favorite study was criticism ; now I loved
to turn the pages of heathen mythology, and now
to bend over the pure spring of nature ; now to
llJbricate a marvellous tale, and now to delineate
a natural one. I never liked mere description.


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were it ever so picturesque — ^it called up no emo-
tiqns. To describe still life, is marking the pro-
perties and beauties of a bird on the perch ; but to
investigate the mutable customs and passions of
men, one must possess the happy dexterity and
native acumen of discerning the peculiarities of
the bird on the wing.

" At college attachmente are formed which last
through life, but my habits were too much like
those of a recluse."

But notwithstanding these peculiarities, which
in a degree marked the characters of the two
brothers, they were much esteemed and respected
by their classmates. The warm and faithful friend-
ship which subsisted between Mr. Frederick Knight
and one of his fellow-students in the Law School,
does honor to the hearts of both. We shall have
occasion hereafter to advert to this unusual in-
stance of personal attachment, which was un-
broken by the lapse of time and unimpaired by
change of circumstances. This gentleman, on re-
ceiving intelligence of his death, thus writes : —
" I feel sensibly the loss of my friend Knight, than
whom a more guileless man never lived. 1 was
on the most intimate terms with him for two
years in Litchfield, Con., where we attended the
law lectures of Judges Reeve and Gould, and I
never knew any one so entirely free from all the
follies of youth — so perfectly correct in his deport-


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St and in all the social relations of life. There
^re then more than one hundred students— some
from every state in the Union — many of whom
were talented young men ; some have since filled
distinguished positions in public life ; and he was
regarded as inferior to none. The principal de-
fect in his character, if indeed it may correctly be
so called, was the want of a proper degree of self-
confidence and self-reliance. He was too timid,^
too retiring a man, to attract the attention of the
superficial observer. Those alone with whom he
was intimate could discern his mental capacity
and the qualities of his heart."

Mr. Knight's consciousness of his own defic-
iencies, led him to shrink with nervous timidity
from the society of those who had begun life with
the same advantages as himself, but had far out-
stripped him in its busy race, and was led to
imagine himself more harshly judged by others,
than was really the case.

His retiring and sensitive habits led him, at one
period of his life, to construct for himself a rude
hermitage, where he spent much time in solitude,
devoting himself with ardor to his favorite literary
pursuits. He seldom received visitors and rarely
left his beloved retreat, except as necessity requir-
ed. The following is his own description of his
rural abode :


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In a thicket of pines, on the brow of a knoll,
On the side of a hill, by the Indian com patch.
Where you just see the road and hear the wheels roll,
Kot far from the spring, is my Cottage of Thatch.

From my little table, whose foot was a tree,
To you, my dear Uncle, a line I despatch.
To tell you how happy I am and how free.
And how Pm contriying my Cottage of Thatch.^

With the edge of my saw I dissevered the stock,
And in it inserted a leaf with a catch ;
Before it I builded a chimney of rock.
And round it erected my Cottage of Thatch.

Through the rafters above the green tassels hang down,
From the boughs that are spread and the trees that attach^
'Tis as pretty a ceiling as any in town }
Will you come, Sir, and dine in my Cottage of Thatch? i

The flowers are my pictures, the trees are my* books ;
The spring is my mirror, the sun is my watch ;
My musicians the breezes, the birds and the brooks,
My tapers the stars, o'er my Cottage of Thatch.

Here with pleasure I rise, in my green grassy cove,
And the fragrance I breathe and the music I catch,
With the velvet below and the verdure above.
The well-spring of joy, is my Cottage of Thatch.

'Tis the harbor of ease, in tiie isle of content,—
Now look through the lattice, now lift up the latch ;
The good may come in and the wise here may rest,
'Tis for such I have builded this Cottage of Thatch.


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It is drinking the wave — ^not digging the well ;
Not beating the bush— but the warbler to catch ;
^Tis eating the kernel, not cracking the shell ;
The skill that is leam'd in my Cottage of Thatch.

Where embowered like a dove in these precincts of love,
From the bleak wild around me my branch I detach,
By its breath undisturbed, like the blue arch above
By the billows below, in my Cottage of Thatch.

As faint through the tre^-tops t^e sun shoots his ray,
My casement seems glad the bright glimpses to catch,
And fond is the minstrel to pour forth his lay.
As he sits or reclines in his Cottage of Thatch.

Where the trees and the fields, like crystallized glass.
Reflecting more hues than my vision could catch,
To the sun and the breeze did they twinkle and dance,
• And smiled as they fell round my Cottage of Thatch.

And it seemed, as they glistened and rose to my view,
In all colors and figures that fancy could match.
That the gems of Brazil and the plates of Peru
Were all gathered to garnish my Cottage of Thatch.

And large ancient andirons used for the fire.

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Online LibraryFrederick KnightThorn cottage, or The poet's home. A memorial of Frederick Knight, esq., of Rowley, Mass → online text (page 1 of 6)