Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Critical and Biographical Notice
John Osborn (1713–1753)
 
JOHN OSBORN was born in the year 1713, at Sandwich, Massachusetts. His father, an educated Scotchman, was then a schoolmaster, but was afterward settled in the ministry at Eastham, where he devoted as much time to the education of his son as could be spared from his agricultural occupations, and his labors for the welfare of his little church. The destitute state of the section of the country in which he lived, rendered manual employment absolutely necessary for the support of every individual, and the worthy divine used alternately to ply his pen in the study, and his spade in the field. His counsel, we are told, was valued quite as highly in secular, as in spiritual affairs,—for he taught his parishioners the art of cutting and preparing peat for fuel; and under his instruction they were enabled to supply a necessity that had often been severely felt, in a region where a tree of spontaneous growth might be sought for with as little success as in the desert of Zahara. His pupil, the poet, meanwhile, was busy one week with his Latin and Greek, and the next in the clam and cod fishery; revelling today among the treasures of classic lore, and storing up the wealth of mighty minds, and digging tomorrow in a sand-bank for the shelly prey that was to be his sustenance during the ensuing winter. In his aquatic excursions, he imbibed those ideas which he has thrown into his celebrated whaling song,—once on the tongue of every Cape Cod sailor. At the age of nineteen, young Osborn entered Harvard College, where he was noticed as a lively and eccentric genius. When his collegiate term was expired, he repaired to his father’s house, at Eastham, and while yet undecided what profession to select, devoted a portion of his time to the study of divinity, though the levity of his disposition was such as to preclude all hopes of his prospering in a vocation that would require much gravity and self-denial. After two years spent in turning over the folios in his father’s library, he submitted himself to the examination of the neighboring clergy, assembled in solemn conclave, and read a sermon of his composition before them. They praised the ingenuity of his arguments, and the elegance of his composition, but ventured to surmise that his sentiments, as developed in his discourse, were not exactly orthodox. 1 From their scruples on this head, they refused to grant him a recommendation as a suitable candidate for the ministry. Thus debarred from the pulpit, he turned his thoughts in another direction, and began a course of reading on medicine and surgery. He was afterwards invited to accept a tutorship at Harvard College, but he declined the honor, on account of his intended matrimonial alliance, which would disqualify him for the station. He married a Miss Doane of Chatham, and removed to Middletown, Connecticut, where he commenced practice as a physician. In a letter to his sister, dated March 1753, he says, “Our family at present are in usual plight, except myself. I am confined chiefly to the house, am weak, lame, and uneasy, and never expect to be hearty and strong again. I have lingered along, almost two years, a life not worth having; and how much longer it will last, I cannot tell. We have six children; the eldest fourteen years old last November—the youngest two years, last January—the eldest a daughter, the next a son, and so on to the end of the chapter.”—He died soon after writing the above, at the age of forty.  1
  Mr Osborn possessed that cheerfulness of disposition, and those frank and agreeable manners which palliate many aberrations, and in some degree reconcile us to a volatile temperament. His morals were unimpeached, and his scholastic acquisitions respectable.  2
  His poetic style is rather polished, and his diction quite correct, considering the time and circumstances in which he wrote. It is believed that he never gave but two poems to the world, but his popularity among the people of a soil that has never been remarkably fruitful in poets, entitles him to a place in our collection.  3
 
Note 1. Osborn’s father had been dismissed from his church, for having embraced the docilities of Arminius. Perhaps the young man’s mind was too much distorted by the heresies of his sire, to entitle him to the approbation of tho examining committee. [back]
 
 
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