Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/40

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36 Son tin r/i ///.v/o/v'iv// Nor/,///

bright sun, and the dews begin to fall softly upon the green earth. True, he labored more than most men, but he labored as he frolicked, because his mind could not be idle, but burst into work as by the irrepressible instinct with which he sought occupation as an outlet to intellectual excitement, but what he accomplished was nothing to the measure of his powers. He studied more than he seemed to study, more, probably, than he cared to have it believed he studied. But he could accomplish with only slender effort the end for which less gifted men must delve and toil and slave. But the imitators, the many youths of warm passions and high hopes, ambitious of distinc- tion, yet solicitous of pleasure, blinded by the glare of Prentiss' elo- quence, the corruscations of a wit and fancy through which his speeches were borne as a stately ship through the phosphorescent waves of a tropical sea what example was it to them to see the re- nown of the forum, the eloquence of the hustings, the triumphs of the senate associated with the faro table, the midnight revel, the drunken carouse, the loose talk of the board laden with wine and cards ? What Prentiss effected they failed in compassing. Like a chamois hunter full of life and vigor and courage, supported by the spear of his genius potent as Ithuriel's Prentiss sprang up the steeps and leaped over the chasms on his way to the mount where the 'proud temple' shines above cloud and storm, but mediocrity, in essaying to follow him, but made ridiculous the enterprise which only such a man with such aids could accomplish. And even he, not wisely or well; the penalty came at last, as it must ever come for a violation of natural or moral laws. He lived in pain and poverty, drooping in spirit, exhausted in mind and body, to lament that wast- ing of life and health and genius, which, unwasted, in the heyday of existence, and in the meridian luster of his unrivaled powers, might have opened for himself and for his country a career of usefulness and just renown scarcely paralleled by the most honored and loved of all the land.

" If to squander such rare gifts were a grievous fault, grievously hath this erring child of genius answered it. But painfully making this concession, forced alone by the truth, it is with pleasure we can say, that, with this deduction from Prentiss' claims to reverence and honor, there yet remains so much of force and brilliancy in the character, so much that is honorable, and noble, and generous, so much of a manhood whose robust and masculine virtues are set off by the wild and lovely graces that tempered and adorned his strength, that we feel drawn to it not less to admire than to love.