Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
John Lathrop (17721820)
JOHN LATHROP was born in Boston, in January, 1772, and was the son of the Rev. John Lathrop of the same place. He studied at Harvard University, and commenced business in Boston as a lawyer. He afterwards removed to Dedham, where he was appointed clerk of the court for that county. He held the office only for a short time, and returned to Boston. He met with so little success in his profession, that he determined to leave his country, and seek his fortune in India. It does not appear that he had any very distinct views or expectations in that quarter, but we are told that he met with disappointments, and after some time, opened a school in Calcutta, in which, however, he was not allowed to pursue so extensive a system of education as he contemplated. He presented to the Marquis Wellesley, Governor General of India, a plan of a literary institution in which the youth of India might be educated without going to England to prosecute their studies. The proposal was rejected from the apprehension that such an establishment would tend to weaken the dependence of British India upon the mother country, and lay the foundation for a revolt.
He passed ten years in India, employed in the cares of his school, and in writing for the public journals, but without realizing any of those golden prospects of success, the anticipation of which had enticed him from his home. The government was jealous of foreigners, the public press was under severe restrictions, and the paths to wealth and distinction were occupied by more adventurous and fortunate competitors. He returned to this country in 1809, and at first meditated the establishment of a literary journal, but the period was most unfavorable to such an enterprise. The violence of party disputes which occupied the public attention, had nearly banished all taste and inclination for literary pursuits, and hardly anything was relished which did not relate in some shape or other to the local politics of the day. Lathrop had little partiality for such avocations, besides that his absence from home had estranged him from all interest and familiarity with most of the prominent topics of political debate. The design of the journal was dropped, and as he was prevented by the long interval which he had passed out of practice, from resuming his profession of the law, he betook himself to his later employment of teaching. He superintended a school in Boston for several years, besides delivering scientific lectures, addresses and orations. He was enabled to gain a support in this manner, but after a while the prospect of better success induced him to remove to the south. He pursued the business of instruction, delivered lectures, and exercised his pen in that quarter, and finally obtained a situation in the post office. He died January 30th, 1820.
Lathrop possessed talents which might have secured him wealth, and distinction, but his facility of disposition, his want of foresight, and his improvidence, hindered them from being exerted much to the emolument or renown of the possessor. His benevolent feelings prompted him to acts of kindness which threw him into embarrassments, and materially hindered the accomplishment of many of his plans.
His poems consist mostly of occasional pieces, on miscellaneous topics, published in the newspapers in this country and India. We believe no collection has ever been made of them. His longest piece is the Speech of Canonicus, written on the voyage to India, and first published at Calcutta. It was reprinted in Boston, in 1803, but has been so little known among us, that a biographer of the poet was ignorant that it had ever passed through the American press. This poem is a sort of Indian Theogony, made up of the aboriginal traditions.