April 6, 2012

Death of Paulding: no waters can cure

In 1859, James Kirke Paulding told his son that he was in constant pain, day and night. "My disease I fancy is pretty much old age," he wrote, "which no waters can cure, except the Fountain of Youth in Florida." He died a few months later on April 6, 1860. He was 81 years old.

Paulding is most remembered today, if at all, as a former Secretary of the United States Navy, a post he held during the presidency of Martin Van Buren. As a literary figure, his most enduring project is probably Salmagundi (1807-1808), a series of humorous magazines originally written with his partner and friend Washington Irving. As he recalled "one day in a frolicsome mood, we broached the idea of a little periodical merely for our own amusement, and that of the town, for neither of us anticipated any further circulation."

Additionally, Paulding wrote several novels, prose sketches, and even poetry. Much of his work is based in American history or scenery, and he often shows his comedic side. Perhaps no better tribute on the anniversary of his death is his poem "The Old Man's Carousel":

Drink! drink! to whom shall we drink?
To friend or a mistress? Come, let me think!
To those who are absent, or those who are here?
To the dead that we loved, or the living still dear?
Alas! when I look, I find none of the last!
The present is barren — let's drink to the past.

Come! here's to the girl with a voice sweet and low,
The eye all of fire and the bosom of snow,
Who erewhile in the days of my youth that are fled,
Once slept on my bosom, and pillow'd my head!
Would you know where to find such a delicate prize?
Go seek in yon churchyard, for there she lies.

And here's to the friend, the one friend of my youth,
With a head full of genius, a heart full of truth,
Who travell'd with me in the sunshine of life,
And stood by my side in its peace and its strife!
Would you know where to seek a blessing so rare?
Go drag the lone sea, you may find him there.

And here's to a brace of twin cherubs of mine,
With hearts like their mother's as pure as this wine,
Who came but to see the first act of the play,
Grew tired of the scene, and then both went away.
Would you know where this brace of bright cherubs have hied?
Go seek them in heaven, for there they abide.

A bumper, my boys! to a gray-headed pair,
Who watched o'er my childhood with tenderest care,
God bless them, and keep them, and may they look down,
On the head of their son, without tear, sigh, or frown!
Would you know whom I drink to? go seek mid the dead,
You will find both their names on the stone at their head.

And here's—but, alas! the good wine is no more,
The bottle is emptied of all its bright store;
Like those we have toasted, its spirit is fled,
And nothing is left of the light that it shed.
Then, a bumper of tears, boys! the banquet here ends,
With a health to our dread, since we've no living friends.

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