Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
Nathaniel Evans (17421767)
NATHANIEL EVANS was born in Philadelphia, June 8th, 1742. He was educated at the Academy in that place, but not with a view to any liberal profession on the part of his parents, who after six years spent in his studies, bound him apprentice to a merchant. The business, however, did not suit his inclination, and the muses engrossed a great portion of those hours which should have been devoted to the affairs of the counting house. When his apprenticeship expired, he entered college, and pursued his studies with such application and success, that he was rewarded with a Masters degree without passing through the intermediate gradation of academical preferment.
The society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, which was then established in England, contemplated opening a mission in the county of Gloucester in New Jersey; and Evans was recommended as a fit person for this undertaking. He accordingly sailed for England in 1765, for the purpose of procuring the appointment. In this he was successful. The society nominated him for holy orders; and he was admitted by the lord bishop of London. He returned to Philadelphia in December of the same year, and entered immediately upon the business of his mission, but his labors were interrupted by death, ere they had completed a course of two years. He died on the 29th of October, 1767, at the age of twenty-five. He was the intimate friend of Godfrey, and after the death of that poet, prepared his works for the press.
Evans published two or three inconsiderable scraps in verse in the public prints, but gave to the world nothing during his lifetime, which could support a claim to any eminent rank as a poet. By his own directions a volume of his poems was published after his death. It is probable most of these were composed before he devoted himself to his clerical pursuits, as but a few pages among them contain anything of a devotional sort. A tone of cheerfulness and gaiety pervades the smaller pieces of the collection, which must strike the reader as a special rarity in the lucubrations of an American clergyman of that day. Evans appears to have possessed a lively temperament, with a considerable share of enthusiasm. He was evidently imbued with a strong love for poetry, and a nice conception and feeling of its beauties. The fragment of an unfinished preface to his works contains evidence that his mind was of that delicate and refined stamp, over which the imagination exercises a powerful sway.
Evans, like his friend Godfrey, was cut off at an age when few have sufficiently developed their powers to execute any work of great and permanent excellence. Yet from what he has left behind him, his poetical talent may be estimated highly. His taste was excellent, and his imagination vivid. The Ode on the Prospect of Peace is decidedly the most finished and elegant production which the literature of our country could exhibit at that date.