October 21, 2013

Birth of John Gardiner Calkins Brainard

From his birth in New London, Connecticut, on October 21, 1796, it seemed that John Gardiner Calkins Brainard was destined to become a lawyer. His father was a judge on the superior court of Connecticut and the young Brainard was sent to his father's alma mater of Yale to study law. He passed the bar in 1819, started his own legal practice, and hated it. He particularly was displeased by the "personal altercation, contradiction and... hard collision" of his colleagues.

Instead, his genial, if not, timid, temperament pulled him to poetry, an interest of his since boyhood and into his college years. He retired from the life of a lawyer after three years and became an editor for the Connecticut Mirror based in Hartford. To write was his passion and, though he disliked the frequent controversy in the field, the world of journalism gave him a daily outlet. He dedicated space in the Mirror to his own poetry and from these writings published his first book, Occasional Pieces of Poetry. To Brainard's surprise, the book was a success and drew significant admiration.

He was, however, tempered by sudden gloominess before he could publish a second book. Though ambitious for success as a writer, he was never convinced of his own worth. Brainard turned his attention to religious themes. He left his editorship in 1827, already sick of the tuberculosis that would kill him at the age of 32.

His poem "The Robber" refers to a true-life incident wherein someone stole, of all things, two bags of newspapers from a mail coach:

The moon hangs lightly on yon western hill;
And now it gives a parting look, like one
Who sadly leaves the guilty. You and I
Must watch, when all is dark, and steal along
By these lone trees, and wait for plunder. —Hush!
I hear the coming of some luckless wheel,
Bearing we know not what— perhaps the wealth
Torn from the needy, to be hoarded up
By those who only count it; and perhaps
The spendthrift's losses, or the gambler's gains,
The thriving merchant's rich remittances,
Or the small trifle some poor serving girl
Sends to her poorer parents. But come on—
Be cautious. — There — 'tis done; and now away,
With breath drawn in, and noiseless step, to seek
The darkness that befits so dark a deed.
Now strike your light.— Ye powers that look upon us!
What have we here? Whigs, Sentinels, Gazettes,
Heralds, and Posts, and Couriers — Mercuries,
Recorders, Advertisers, and Intelligencers —
Advocates and Auroras. — There, what's that!
That's — a Price Current.
                                         I do venerate
The man, who rolls the smooth and silky sheet
Upon the well cut copper. I respect
The worthier names of those who sign bank bills;
And, though no literary man, I love
To read their short and pithy sentences.
But I hate types, and printers — and the gang
Of editors and scribblers. Their remarks,
Essays, songs, paragraphs, and prophecies,
I utterly detest. —And these, particularly,
Are just the meanest and most rascally,
"Stale and unprofitable" publications,
I ever read in my life.


  1. Like the hairdo!

    Interesting the frequent overlap in the 19th century of legal/writing professions.

  2. How could Brainard be tempted by sudden gloominess after his second book? It appeared in 1832, as Brainards Literary Remains, when he was four years in his grave.
    Dutch Historian.

  3. Thank you for catching that! I had intended to write "before he could publish a second book." Apologies to Mr. Brainard for the error.


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