Richard B. Kimball

The author of "St. Leger" was by that admirable work placed in the leading rank of the new generation of American writers. The appearance in the Knickerbocker for the present month, of the commencement of a sequel to "St. Leger," makes it a fit occasion for some notice of his life and genius.

Mr. Kimball is by inheritance of the first class of New-England men, numbering in his family a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a President of the Continental Congress, and several other persons honorably distinguished in affairs. He is a native of Lebanon, in New Hampshire, where his father is still living—the centre of a circle bound to him by their respect for every public and private virtue. Though he had completed his preparatory studies before he was eleven years of age, he did not enter college until he was nearly thirteen. Four years after, in 1834, he graduated at Dartmouth, and upon devoting one year to the study of the law, he went abroad; travelled in England, Scotland, and Germany; and resided some time in Paris, where he attended the lectures of Majendie, Broussais, and Louis, in medicine, and those of the elder Dupin, and Coulanges, in law. Returning, he entered upon the practice of the law, at Waterford, in this state, but soon removed to New-York, where a year's devotion to his profession made him familiar with its routine. In 1842 he went a second time to Europe, renewing the associations of his travel and student-life in Great Britain and on the continent. Since, for seven years, he has been an industrious and successful lawyer in New-York.

Although but few works are known to be from the pen of Mr. Kimball, he has been a voluminous author. The vigorous and polished style of his avowed compositions, is never attained but by long practice. He has been, we believe, a contributor to every volume of the Knickerbocker published since 1842. He printed in that excellent magazine his "Reminiscences of an Old Man," "The Young Englishman," and the successive chapters of "St. Leger, or the Threads of Life." This last work was published by Putnam, and by Bentley in London, about one year ago, and it passed rapidly through two English and three American editions. It was not raised into an ephemeral popularity, as so many works of fiction easily are, for their lightness, by careless applauses; it arrested the attention of the wisest critics; commanded their study, and received their verdict of approval as a book of learning and reflection in the anatomy of human life.

Mr. Kimball had been eminent in his class at college for a love of Greek literature, and he studied the Roman also with reverent attention. It was his distinction that he had thoroughly acquainted himself with the philosophy of the ancients. At a later day he was attracted by the speculation of the Germans, and a mastery of their language enabled him to enter fully into the spirit of Spinosa, Kant, and Fichte, as he did into that of the finer intelligences, Göethe and Richter, and pervading he found the passion to know Whence are we? What are we? Whither do we go? In "St. Leger," a mind predisposed to superstition by some vague prophecies respecting the destiny of his family—a mind inquisitive, quick, and earnest, but subject to occasional melancholy, as the inherited spell obtains a mastery of the reason—is exposed to the influences of a various study, and startling experiences, all conceived with a profound knowledge of human nature, and displayed with consummate art; having a metaphysical if not a strictly dramatic unity; and conducting by the subtlest processes, to the determination of these questions, and the flowering of a high and genial character; as Professor Tayler Lewis expresses it, "at rest, deriving substantial enjoyment from the present, because satisfied with respect to the ultimate, and perfect, and absolute."

Aside from its qualities as a delineation of a deep inner experience, "St. Leger" has very great merits as a specimen of popular romantic fiction. The varied characters are admirably drawn, and are individual, distinct, and effectively contrasted. The incidents are all shaped and combined with remarkable skill; and, as the Athenaeum observes, "Here, there, everywhere, the author gives evidence of passionate and romantic power." In some of the episodes, as in that of Wolfgang Hegewisch, for example, in which are illustrated the tendency of a desperate philosophy and hopeless skepticism, we have that sort of mastery of the feelings, that chaining of the intensest interest, which distinguishes the most wonderful compositions of Poe, or the German Hoffman, or Zschokke in his "Walpurgis Night;" and every incident in the book tends with directest certainty to the fulfilment of its main design.

The only other work of which Mr. Kimball is the acknowledged author, is "Cuba and the Cubans;" a volume illustrative of the history, and social, political, and economical condition of the island of Cuba, written during the excitement occasioned by its invasion from the United States, in 1849, and exhibiting a degree of research, and a judicial fairness of statement and argument, which characterizes no other production upon this subject. As it was generally admitted to be the most reliable, complete, and altogether important work, upon points commanding the attention of several nations, its circulation was very large; but it was produced for a temporary purpose, and it will be recalled to popularity only by a renewal of the inevitable controversies which await the political relations of the Antilles.

"A Story of Calais," in the following pages, is an example of Mr. Kimball's success as a tale writer. Though less remarkable than passages in "St. Leger," it will vindicate his right to a place among the chief creators of such literature among us.