Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
Charles Sprague (17911875)
CHARLES SPRAGUE was born in 1791, in Boston, where he has always resided. He was educated at one of the public schools in his native town, and during the early part of his life, gave his attention to mercantile pursuits. He is at present the Cashier of the Globe Bank, which situation he has held for several years. He has ever been actively devoted to business, and has cultivated letters only during hours of leisure.
Mr Sprague, we believe, was first introduced to the public, as a poet, on the occasion of obtaining a prize for a theatrical prologue. He has since written several others, which have not only been adjudged worthy of prizes, but are esteemed superior to all productions of the kind, excepting only those of Pope and Johnson. These, however they may be the principal things by which this author is known to the public at large, are not all that he has written, nor in our opinion, are they the best. The Winged Worshippers is one of the most beautiful little pieces in our language, and that entitled Art, is perfect in its way.
This author may be selected, as perhaps farther in his manner of writing from the prevalent taste of the day, than any other American poet. While the current poetry of the hour is diffuse, feeble, irregular, and pointless, his is condensed, forcible, sustained, and significant. He wastes no wordshe does not dilute his meaning, and expand one idea into a whole poem, lest some sickly appetite should be shocked at the disproportion between the sense and the sound. On the contrary, every sentence is bursting with thought; he deals in no dreamy obscurityhe allows no inharmonious line to passall is finished, and full of purpose. The lines of Roscommon, on another subject, will apply with great justice to this writer and some of his popular cotemporaries.
The weighty bullion of one sterling line,
Drawn in French wire, would through whole pages shine.
Yet Mr Sprague is a popular poet, and we think it even more creditable to the author than the public, that being characterised by such traits as these, he can obtain applause, when the fashionable minstrelsy is distinguished by opposite qualities. Those, who like ourselves regard the taste in poetry that reigns now over a large portion of readers, as an illusion destined soon to pass away, can have no difficulty in foreseeing the perpetuity of such reputation as that which belongs to the author under review.
Beside the few pieces of poetry which Mr Sprague is known to have written, are two prose compositions of merit. One is an oration written for the fourth of July, 1825, and an address before the Massachusetts Society for the suppression of Intemperance, in 1828. They are both beautiful compositions; the latter is a striking instance, in which the glowing pictures of the imagination, are made to serve the practical purposes of the understanding.