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John Barton Derby


"JOHN B. DERBY, a native of Salem . . . was a poet of the class in Bowdoin College with which he graduated, read law in his native place, and wrote considerably in measure. He married, but his wife lived only a year, and his mind became clouded. Evidence of insanity runs all through his poems. He was for a while a patient in the McLean Asylum, with but little benefit. In 1834, he had a sickness, suffering greatly for a year, and losing temporarily the use of his legs. He afterward lived as a hermit in the wilds of New Hampshire, where he wrote a volume of poems, entitled 'Musings of a Recluse,' which was published in 1837. One of his poems, 'A Dream,' ends as follows: —

"Oh! let me spread my winds for flight,
    From pain and sorrow flee away;
Escape the sahdows of the night,
    And soar to realms of endless day."

[Sidney Perley, The Poets of Essex County, Massachusetts 199 (Salem, Massachusetts: Sidney Perley, 1889][Perley gives the date of Derby's birth as ca. 1808. Wallace provides a more definitive 1792, although there is little in the way of evidence to choose Wallace over Perley. See W. Stewart Wallace, A Dictionary of North Ameircan Authors 118 (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1951)]

"JOHN BARTON DERBY, born in 1793, was the eldest son of John Derby, a Salem merchant. In college he was musical, poetical, and wild. He studied law in Northampton, Mass., and settled as a lawyer in Dedham. His first wife was a Miss Barrell of Northampton. After her death he married a daughter of Horatio Townsend. They soon separated. A son by this marriage, Lieut. George Derby of the United States army, became well known as a humorous writer under the signature of 'John Phoenix.' For many years before his death Mr. Derby lived in Boston. At one time he held a subordinate office in the custom-house Then he became a familiar object in State Street, gaining a precarious living by the sale of razors and other small wares. He was now strictly temperate, and having but little else to do, often found amusement and solace in those rhyming habits which he had formed in earlier and brighter years, His Sundays were religiously spent -- so at least he told me -- in the composition of hymns The sad life which began so gayly came to a close in 1867." [Nehemiah Cleaveland & Alpheus Spring Packard, History of Bowdoin College With Biographical Sketches of Its Graduates, from 1806 to 1879, Inclusive 165 (J.R. Osgood & Co., 1882)] [online text]


John Barton Derby, Musings of a Recluse (Boston: Printed and published for the author, 1837) [online text]

______________, The Sea (Boston: Printed for the Author, by Kidder and Wright, 1840)

______________, The Village (Boston: Jones & Nelson, Printers, 1841)

______________, Bill Blowery: A Nautical Romance (Boston, 1845)

______________, Our Country (Boston: [s.n.] 1846)


John B. Derby, Political Reminiscences, Including a Sketch of the Origin and History of "Statesmen Party" of Boston (Boston: Printed for the author, by Homer & Palmer, 1835) [online text]

___________, Scenes in a Mad-house (Boston: Samuel N. Dickinson, 1838)

___________, Life Among Lunatics (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene, 1839)

___________, A Few Reminiscences of Salem, Massachusetts: Embracing Notices of Its eminent men known to the author forty years ago (Boston: Printed for the author, 1844) [online text]