The Literary Life of James K. Paulding

Compiled by his Son, WILLIAM I. PAULDING. New York: Charles Scribner and Company.
JAMES K. PAULDING was born in 1778 at Great-Nine Partners, in Dutchess County, New York, and nineteen years later came to the city of New York to fill a clerkship in a public office. His family was related to that of Washington Irving by marriage ; he was himself united to Irving by literary sympathy and ambition, and the two young men now formed a friendship which endured through life. They published the Salmagundi papers together, and they always corresponded; but with Irving literature became all in all, and with Paulding a favorite relaxation from political life and a merely collateral pursuit. He wrote partisan satires and philippics, waxing ever more bitter against the party to which Irving belonged, and against England, where Irving was tasting the sweets of appreciation and success. He came to be Navy Agent at New York in 1823, and in 1838 President Van Buren made him his Secretary of the Navy. Three years later he retired from public life, and spent his remaining days in the tranquil and uneventful indulgence of his literary tastes.
Dying in 1859, he had survived nearly all his readers, and the present memoir was required to remind many, and to inform more, of the existence of such works as “ The Backwoodsman, ” a poem ; the Salmagundi papers in a second series ; “ Koningsmarke, the Long Finne, a story of the New World,” in two volumes ; “ The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham,” satirizing Owen’s theories of society, law, and science ; “ The New Mirror for Travellers, and Guide to the Springs,” .a satire of fashionable life in the days before ladies with seventy-five trunks were born ; “ Tales of the Good Woman,” a collection of short stories ; “ A Life of Washington ” ; “ American Comedies”; “The Old Continental,”and “ The Puritan and his Daughter,” historical novels ; and innumerable political papers of a serious or a satirical sort. As it has been the purpose of the author of this memoir to let Paulding’s life in great part develop itself from his letters, so it has also been his plan to spare comment on his father’s literary labors, and to allow their character to be estimated by extracts from his poems, romances, and satires. From these we gather the idea of greater quantity than quality; of a poetical taste rather than poetic faculty; of a whimsical rather than a humorous or witty man. There is a very marked resemblance to Washington Irving’s manner in the prose, which is inevitably, of course, less polished than that of the more purely literary man, and which is apt to be insipid and strained in greater degree in the same direction. It would not be just to say that Paulding’s style was formed upon that of Irving ; but both had given their days and nights to the virtuous poverty of the essayists of the last century; and while one grew into something fresher and more original by dint of long and constant literary effort, the other, writing only occasionally, remained an old-fashioned mannerist to the last. When he died, he passed out of a world in which Macaulay, Dickens, Thackeray, and Hawthorne had never lived. The last delicacy of touch is wanting in all his work, whether verse or prose ; yet the reader, though unsatisfied, does not turn from it without respect. If it is second-rate, it is not tricksy ; its dulncss is not antic, but decorous and quiet ; its dignity, while it bores, enforces a sort of reverence which we do not pay to the ineffectual fire-works of our own more pyrotechnic literary time.
Of Paulding himself one thinks, after reading the present memoir, with much regard and some regret. He was a sturdy patriot and cordial democrat, but he seems not to have thought human slavery so very bad a thing. He is perceptibly opinionated, and would have carried things with a high hand, whether as one of the government or one of the governed. He was not swift to adopt new ideas, but he was thoroughly honest in his opposition to them. His somewhat exaggerated estimate of his own importance in the world of letters and of politics was one of those venial errors which time readily repairs.