Lost Poet Series: J. Hector St. John

Lost Poet Series: J. Hector St. John

A poet, to whom may we call, if not in word, but of vision, seeking out the quaint simplicities of life, an observer of light and of times, not through any famous event, but through those unrecorded, at instants glowing and wavering on the faint landscape of experience? To J. Hector St. John may we attach the name of poet, though he wrote no verse; for on reading his work, and most notably his Letters, we envision the life of a poet, and ask ourselves, if but for a moment, what a man may raise himself to in nameless things.

Born in 1735 at Caen, in the Normandy region of France, he grew up with the name Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, descending from the noble line of that family. However, his fortunes lay not in the rebellious landscapes of a revolutionary France, but in the wild and undiscovered forests of North America. There he served honourably in the French and Indian War with Montcalm, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant. After the war, though, he began to wander through the new regions of Ohio and the Great Lakes, and finding therein a peace which serenely grew in his mind through a common and respectable experience with the Indians and frontiersman, he decided to move into the vast and sparsely settled regions of New York to become a farmer, adopting a new name--J. Hector St. John--and a new citizenship. It was here, but for only a few years, where grew his famous Letters from an American Farmer; for after some four or five years, wherein he had become an adopted member of the Oneida tribe and had taken a wife--Mehitable Tippet--the American Revolution broke out and the new-found immigrant found himself persecuted by both warring parties. He sailed to Europe after spending some horrid months in an English prison in New York city, on grounds that he was a spy, and arriving in London, published his Letters, which at once found immediate reception. Gaining an appointment as consul to three of the newly formed states in America, he returned to that country to find his house burned, his wife dead and his daughter and second son living with strangers in Boston. Though his stature had much diminished since the publishing of his Letters, he still wrote, translating his most famous work to his native tongue, before enlarging it with more letters and, after humbly returning to Europe, and publishing a book of travels on Pennsylvania and New York, he died in 1813.

Though born of France, Crèvecoeur is most notably recognized as an American and is credited with forming the idea of the 'American Dream'. Yet his writings hold in them a truth which serves a higher purpose, which speak of a philosophy, by many, desired to be undertaken, but of a melancholy which few have the confidence to defend. He was a sensible and sensitive man, cultivated and rugged, and spoke of the Indian as such. For of a man who sees the charms and advantages of society and links hand in hand to his fellow man, soon to turn from him, not out of spite, but out of love to create something higher, Crevecoeur noted in the wild regions of America the form and perception of a mind that has, and always will, live and sleep right beside us; and through us, and through him, should our thoughts desire, will its spirit live.

Douglas Thornton


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