Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
John Shaw (1778–1809)
DR JOHN SHAW was born at Annapolis in Maryland, May 4th, 1778. He was educated at St John’s college in that place, where he received a degree in 1795. He began the study of medicine in Annapolis, and in 1798 removed to Philadelphia to attend the medical lectures there. At this time a fleet was fitting out at Philadelphia for the Mediterranean, and Shaw who had a natural desire for rambling, was tempted by a vacancy in the office of surgeon of the fleet, to join the expedition. This resolution was hastily adopted, without consulting his father, and against the remonstrances of his friends, and caused him no little regret afterwards. The fleet arrived at Algiers in February 1800, and afterwards visited Tunis, where Shaw remained as secretary to the American consul, General Eaton. He was induced to accept this station, by the hope of profit in the practice of physic, but the negotiations between our consul and the Bey, were thrown into such difficulties that Shaw was soon despatched to London, to consult the American minister there. During his stay at Tunis he appears to have made pretty diligent observation of the state of the country and manners of the people, the result of which he has given in his journal. “In my inquiries respecting poetry and literature,” he remarks, “I was surprised to find that they have in Tunis a translation of the well known song of Marlborough. This simple, melancholy air is said to please all nations that are in a state of nature. An instance of it is given in Cook’s voyages, and Captain Geddes assured me that he had seen it have the effect of engaging the earnest attention of the natives of Madagascar, when all other tunes failed in exciting any emotion.”  1
  The vessel in which he sailed from Tunis, met with bad weather, and after being driven about the Mediterranean, put into Gibraltar, from which place Shaw returned to America. In 1801 he embarked for Europe, and completed his medical studies at Edinburg. In 1803 he accompanied Lord Selkirk upon his expedition for forming a settlement on St John’s island in Upper Canada. Selkirk’s account of this colony speaks in high terms of the conduct of Dr Shaw in his labors to restore health to the settlement, which at the time of his arrival was languishing under the attacks of an infectious fever. In 1805 he returned to Annapolis and began the practice of physic, in connexion with Dr Shaaf his former preceptor. In 1807 he married a lady to whom he had been long attached, and shortly after removed to Baltimore, not meeting with a sufficiency of business at Annapolis for his maintenance. At Baltimore he soon grew into credit, and was appointed one of the physicians to the dispensary, and Professor of chemistry in the new college. In 1808 while making some chemical experiments, he took a violent cold which brought on a consumption. With the hope of improving his health he sailed for South Carolina in the autumn of 1808. From Charleston he embarked for the Bahama islands, and died on the passage, January 10th, 1809. His poems were published after his death.  2
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