BENJAMIN TUPPER CUSHING was born at Putnam,
Muskingum county, Ohio, on the twenty-sixth day of January, 1825.
His ancestors were among the pioneer settlers of the North-West;—Rufus
Putnam and Benjamin Tupper, of the maternal stock, having, at
the close of the war for Independence, settled at Marietta, while
his paternal ancestors early emigrated from Plymouth, Massachusetts,
to the central part of the State of New York. His father, at the
age of sixteen years, came to Ohio, and settled at Putnam. When
five years of age, Benjamin was placed at school at Marietta.
Drilled with a class of boys superior to himself in respect of
years and mental discipline, he tired of the class routine, and
sought for himself a course of study more spirited and congenial.
At the age of twelve, upon the removal of his father's family
to Wisconsin, he entered a printing-office at Milwaukee. In 1839
he returned to Ohio, and pursued his trade in the Ohio State
Journal office, at Columbus. An eagerness to read whatever
fell in his way, and a searching inquisitiveness as to the reasons
for opinions expressed by authors whose works he perused, became
habits of his character. The result was a constant tendency to
clothe with verse the offspring of his quaint and sleepless fancy,
and many hundred folio pages, then written, bear witness to its
fertility and range, if not to its cultivation and discipline.
At Milwaukee and elsewhere, his verses were welcomed by the Press,
and answered with cordial encouragement of the author's aspirations.
The turning-point in his career came suddenly and decisively.
An incident, in itself unimportant, furnished the spur to his
forming purpose, and gave birth to the idea of a sacred poem,
which thenceforth became a vital element in his plans, and rapidly
unfolded the deep and tender sympathies that pervaded his character.
Resolved at last to fit himself for a station where he might "at
least enjoy the society, if he might not partake of free converse
with educated minds," he left the printing-office. Within eighteen
months he completed the freshman and sophomore routine of classical
study, and entered the junior class of Marietta College, in 1844.
His college career realized his ambition. He continued his analysis
of the British classics—finished the Iliad and Odyssey,
together with a partial law course, and graduated with the highest
honors of his class. He studied law with Joseph R. Swan and John
W. Andrews, at Columbus, during the year 1847. Upon admission
to the bar, he practiced his profession for a few months in the
office of Salmon P. Chase, at Cincinnati,
but returned to Columbus, during the year 1848, for the purpose
of making it a place of permanent residence. He had entered upon
his profession with energy, while at the same time pursuing his
literary tastes into the choicest fields of prose and verse, and
had just begun to enjoy the long-coveted access to men of cultivation,
and a wide-spread credit as a good writer, through contributions
to the standard magazines of the country, when bronchial difficulties
interrupted the regular practice of his profession. He devoted
several seasons to their removal, returning, after brief intervals
of medical treatment, to his literary and legal studies. The former
began more fully to interest his attention, and challenge his
energies. Though many qualities of his mind conspired to make
him more uniformly a good prose writer, the field wherein his
hopes were garnered was that of verse. Here, however, the rapidity
of his education had left his discipline imperfect, and he felt
that he wrote too copiously for that perfection of style which
he made his aim. Thus, when emotion was wanting, his hurried verses
became artistic only, or merely common-place. But when the heart
was touched, he wrote with taste and power. In the midst of self-examination
and discipline, the cherished idea of his sacred poem gained new
favor, and he regretted more and more that he had not selected
the sacred ministry as his profession—that thus he might have
been brought more intimately near the subject of his epic.
During the fall of 1849, Mr. Cushing's bronchial difficulties
returned, and in the January following, he visited Wilmington,
North Carolina, to seek, in a change of climate, their relief.
Hitherto, he had been cheerful under all trials, but the impression
that he must die young, at length broke with crushing weight upon
his spirits, and for a few days he failed rapidly. The "Lay of
the Improvisatrice," a poem of rare excellence, pathos and beauty,
then written, tells plainly the feeling that oppressed him.
"The Christiad"—the title which he had given his sacred poem—now
engrossed his attention. Shapes and scenes startled into being
by the influence of Milton, Dante, Homer, and Swedenborg, and
to which he had given whole nights of earnest contemplation-imagery
and sentiment, gathered from observation and reflection, now rose
before his mind like realities. The Bible, long studied in its
relations to his theme, became his constant companion. The prophecies
were examined, and their harmony with the Saviour's character
brought into requisition to enrich the sentiment "made perfect
through suffering." Urgent appeals to dismiss care and consult
health only, were answered cheerfully, but in the spirit of his
labors. At length, finding the Atlantic breezes only prejudicial,
he tried the hydropathic treatment, at Brattleboro, Vermont, but
without benefit. Pulmonary disease had already fastened upon his
vitals. But the mind was still active-too active. The night itself
was made his servant, and, as before leaving home, so at Brattleboro,
he would suddenly start from bed to record the more fantastic
and less studied fancies that played through the mind while the
body courted repose. He spent a month with friends at Wallingford,
Connecticut, and though too ill to pursue methodically his "Christiad,"
still indulged in random verses. He left Wallingford early in
September, and, after a long journey, reached his native home,
still full of hope and mental vigor, though sinking rapidly to
Such is the faint outline of a life devoted to a single purpose,
and one demanding for its fruition the energy of a mature life.
Its greatness was appreciated, and for its greatness he followed
it, confident that he might at least realize a high cultivation
and noble acquirements in its pursuit. In the community where
he lived, he was regarded as a man of good talents, energy, and
perseverance, and his manly aspirations interested many in his
success. His character was imbued with the spirit of true religion.
To its claims he sacrificed first impulses, if they shrank from
a test by its standard. From its sacred oracles he drew the great
lesson of our probation. In its precious encouragements, his hope
brightened. In its anticipated future, he had a foretaste of his
reward. In the study of the perfections and earthly experience
of its Author, he prepared for nobler and loftier ascriptions
of praise to his divine Redeemer. He lingered but a few weeks
at Putnam; yet his last thoughts were upon his life's great hope;
and the disposal of the unfinished "Christiad" was the burden
of his last whisper, as the spirit for a moment lingered, then
took its upward flight. May we not justly repeat the sentiment
so beautifully addressed by himself to the mother by whose side
we laid his remains? He "has learned the poetry of heaven from
the lyres of the archangels!"