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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Barlow, Joel

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BARLOW, Joel, author, b. in Redding, Conn., 24 March, 1754; d. near Cracow, Poland, 24 Dec., 1812. He entered Dartmouth college in 1774, but soon removed to Yale, where he was graduated in 1778, delivering the commencement poem, “Prospect of Peace” (published in “American Poems,” Litchfield, Conn., 1793). In 1780 he became chaplain of Poor's brigade of the Massachusetts line, having previously spent his vacations with the army, and fought at White Plains. On the disbandment of the army, in 1783, Barlow settled at Hartford, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1786. He founded with Elisha Babcock the “American Mercury,” a political and literary weekly, and, joining the Hartford wits, wrote much satirical verse. In 1785 he edited and imposed the “Book of Psalmody” then in use in the Congregational churches of Connecticut, contributing general versions of psalms never before attempted. Two years later he published at Hartford his epic poem, “The Vision of Columbus,” which made him famous. As a result he was offered the agency of the Scioto Land Company, which, under cover of the Ohio Land Company, had purchased the right of redemption to nearly 3,500,000 acres of government land in Ohio, which it now desired to sell abroad. Barlow accepted, and sailed for France in May, 1788. Not succeeding in his agency, he turned to politics and letters. As a Girondist he contributed largely to the political literature of France in 1789-'91. Becoming interested in English politics, he crossed over to England in 1791, and resided for nearly two years in London, one of a circle of artists, poets, wits, journalists, and pamphleteers who formed the Constitutional society, and were intensely republican in tone. West, Copley, Trumbull, Hayley, Horne Tooke, and Priestley were among his associates. In London he published several political works, the most important being his “Advice to the Privileged Orders,” which Burke attacked and Fox openly eulogized in parliament, and which the British government proscribed. Taking refuge in France, Barlow in 1792-'3 accompanied a deputation of the national convention into Savoy for the purpose of erecting it into the 84th department of France, and was there nominated for deputy, but was defeated. In Chambery, in this province, he wrote his “Hasty Pudding,” his most popular poem. Returning to Paris, Barlow forswore politics and devoted himself to advancing his private fortunes, and by mercantile pursuits and speculations soon became wealthy. He was appointed U. S. consul at Algiers in 1795, and spent a year and a half at the capital battling with the plague and the caprices of the dey, and succeeded in effecting the object of his mission, the liberation of American captives and the signing of a treaty. Returning to Paris, he lived for eight years the life of a man of letters, writing his poem “The Columbiad,” and making extensive preparations for a history of the American revolution and one work on the French revolution. During this period, too, he exerted himself to heal the rupture between the United States and France caused by the mutual jealousy and suspicion of the federal party and the French directory. In the heated political campaign of 1799-1800, in America, he addressed to his countrymen two forcible and dignified epistles on the measures of the party in power, which had their due effect in determining the result. Returning to America in 1805, he established himself at Kalorama, near Washington, and, declining all political honors, devoted himself to literary and pastoral pursuits and the society of eminent men. In 1807 his epic, “The Columbiad” — the “Vision of Columbus” enlarged — was issued at Philadelphia. Of this book an impartial critic has said: “It abounds in beautiful passages, but is overburdened with political and philosophical disquisitions, and disfigured by singularities of expression.” In 1811, his country being apparently on the verge of war with France, Barlow was prevailed on to accept the post of minister to the French court in the hope of preserving peace, and went there in the U. S. frigate “Constitution,” commanded by Capt. Isaac Hull, accompanied by Mrs. Barlow and her sister, Miss Baldwin. After nine months of diplomacy he was invited by Napoleon, then absent on his Russian campaign, to meet him at Wilna, Poland, where the treaty, whose provisions had been agreed on, would be signed. Barlow set out, but on reaching Wilna found the French army in full retreat on the town from Moscow. Becoming involved in the retreat, he was overcome by cold and privation, and died at Yarmisica, in Poland. See “Life and Letters of Joel Barlow,” by Charles Burr Todd (New York, 1886).