American Medical Biographies/Percival, James Gates

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Percival, James Gates (1795–1856)

James Gates Percival, whose fame as a poet and a scientist eclipses his reputation as physician, was born in Berlin, Connecticut, September 15, 1795. His father, James Percival, was a physician. Young James graduated at Yale University in 1815, when a tragedy, "Zamor," written by himself, formed part of the commencement exercises. He studied medicine, graduating at Yale in 1820. In 1824 he was appointed assistant surgeon in the United States Army and detailed to the West Point Military Academy as professor of chemistry. He resigned in a few months and was appointed a surgeon with the recruiting service at Boston, Massachusetts; in 1827 he settled in New Haven, Connecticut.

In 1835, with Charles Upham Shepard (q.v.), he made a mineralogical and geological survey of the state of Connecticut, the report of which was published in 1842. The American Mining Company engaged him to survey their lead-mining region in Wisconsin; in 1854 he was appointed state geologist of Wisconsin. He had unusual linguistic attainments and enjoyed imitating in English "all known metres in all accessible languages from the Sanskrit downwards."

As early as 1821 he published a volume of poems, which contained the first part of "Prometheus"; in 1822 the second part of Prometheus and the first part of "Clio" appeared; in 1823 he published a volume of poems (republished the next year in London in two volumes). He contributed largely to periodicals and in 1859 his poetical works were brought together and published in two volumes. His work was widely reviewed and he was regarded as a poet of a high order.

Percival never married, cared little for society and was said never to be so happy as when "with a book in his library, or the geologist's hammer in his hand," he set about acquiring knowledge.

He accumulated a large store of books, offered by his executor for $20,000, and sold in 1860. He died in Hazel Green, Wisconsin, May 2, 1856. A "Biographical Sketch" of Percival from the MSS. of Erasmus North, M. D., was published in the collection of Percival's works; another biography is, "The Life of James Gates Percival," by Julius H. Ward (1866).

American Biographical Dictionary, W. Allen, Bost., 1857.
Allibone's Dictionary of Authors.
Appleton's Cyclop. of Amer. Biography, 1888.