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by dohu thall
JOHN SHAW, the son of a respectable gentleman of Annapolis, was born in that city on the 4th of May 1778.
Of the earlier years of his life, the writer of these memoirs is acquainted with little but what has been gathered from the information of others. He is particularly indebted to one whose talents are the more to be admired, because they are always cheerfully employed in the service of friendship. By this gentleman he has been favoured with his recollections “ of those happy years spent in the closest intimacy with a friend who had all his regard and affec
The narrative of a collegiate life, the detail of boyish amusements and juvenile opinions, with whatever fondness they may be preserved in the memory
Francis Scott Key, esq. George-Town, district of Columbia.
of the individual, possess little interest for the world. Yet it is sometimes not unnecessary to describe the manner in which the twig was bent to those who are contemplating the inclination of the tree.
Shaw was initiated into the rudiments of the classics by Mr. Higginbotham, a man whose refined taste and profound learning in ancient lore, were daily invigorated by the delight with which he pursued those studies. Upon the establishment of St. John's College, at Annapolis, Shaw's class was removed to that institution. Their old preceptor followed his favourite class, and whenever he was visited by any of his literary friends who wished to amuse themselves, by hearing the boys recite a lesson, this class, which the old gentleman jocularly termed his tenth legion was ordered out for parade. At the head of this band, Shaw was placed by the judgment of his commander and the unanimous consent of his fellows; for none was better skilled in the mysterious artillery of nouns and verbs. No one ever ventured to dispute his title, but all acquiesced in a precedence which his abilities had acquired, with the greater cheerfulness because he bore his honours meekly. Like most others of a similar temperament, Shaw could not be persuaded to trudge along the beaten track to which boys are usually confined. In general he did not study his lessons very regularly, but in those branches of science which pleased him, his genius always displayed its promptitude and perspicacity: and such was the ardour of his pursuit that he was often familiar with a book, before the class
had commenced the perusal of it. This was particularly remarked in the study of the languages, in the acquisition of which he possessed an uncommon degree of facility. At college he probably acquired no more than the Latin and Greek, but at subsequent periods, and particularly during his residence abroad, he learned all the European polished languages, which he spoke with fluency: he taught the Arabian poets to sing in English numbers and could hold long talks with the Mohawks of Upper Canada.
His classmates report of him that he was rarely idle or negligent; but his excursive imagination could not submit to the rigour of the schools, and he was frequently detected in studying something which interfered with the task that had been imposed upon him.
Early in life his genius indicated its future excellence. At an age when most children read with dif, ficulty, he had become familar with a variety of authors and acquired a remarkable fondness for books. The glow of poetry began to thrill in his veins at the age of ten or twelve years. At about that period the French revolution amazed the world and misled wiser men than Shaw with the prostituted names of liberty and equality. In this South-sea bubble in political economy, this signal exhibition of every thing horrible and unnatural, people vied with each other in enthusiasm. To an ardent imagination, such as Shaw possessed, and with all the Roman and Grecian tales about patriotism and liberty warm in his mind, we may easily conceive how sensibly alive he must have been on such a subject. His “ Voice of
Freedom” has been discovered in the Baltimore Telegraphe, for the 13th of May 1795, and it may be preserved as an instance of no common precocity of talents. The earliest of Pope's productions is his “ Ode on Solitude,” which is said to have been written before he was twelve years old. But when it is remembered that this ode was not published until many years afterwards, and that scarcely any author was ever so fastidious in the correction of his writ. ings, we may safely assert that it owes much to the limæ labor of subsequent polish. But the “ Voice of Freedom" was published while the author was yet a boy: it has received no improvement from maturer age, and Shaw is therefore entitled to be ranked among those who have distinguished themselves by an early display of genius. This ode is formed on the model of Gray's Bard; a poem which Shaw frequently recited in his pensive moods, with a tone of melancholy wildness that was irresistibly touching to those who venerate the lyre and whose hearts can move in unison with its chords. To the pomp of imagery, which distinguishes this magnificent poem, Shaw made no pretensions. Who but a daring Cretan would venture to imitate such splendid descriptions as this?
Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
While, proudly riding o’er the azure realm,
Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm.
The enthusiasm which was kindled in the breast of
subsided. The delusion vanished, and he beheld the fungus tribe of cutthroats in all their hideous deformity.
As he early evinced the powers of versification, so were his habits marked by the peculiarities which are usually the concomitants of a warm imagination. There was nothing unsocial or reserved in his disposition, but he took no delight in the frolicsome pastimes with which boys amuse their hours of leisure. Yet he was always ready to join those whose object was congenial with his own taste, and on such occasions he was remarkably cheerful. On Saturdays the boys were discharged at eleven o'clock, and at that hour, when the crowd with healthful nerves and elastic spirits was scattered over the beautiful green which surrounds the college, Shaw was only to be enticed from his books, by a party which had been planned for some rural ramble. For his soul beat in unison with the warbling of the groves, and the wild garniture of the fields delighted his eye.
It has often been remarked with surprise at how early a period of life the ruling passion of the mind is exhibited. The wild spirit of adventure and love of rambling, which projected these little excursions, was instantly remembered by his friends, when they beheld it in maturer age seducing him from the comforts of home, and the fairest
pro fessional advantage. To the influence of this passion, rather than a desire of relieving " the tedium of many a vacant hour, while secluded from the world on the coast of Barbary," as he persuaded himself,