He was a precocious child, and a morbid and impractical, though versatile, man, with a facility in writing verse on all manner of subjects and in nearly every known meter. His sentimentalism appealed to a wide circle, but his was one of the tapers which were extinguished by James Russell Lowell. He had also a reputation as a geologist. Percival entered Yale College at the age of 16, and graduated at the age of 20 at the head of his class. After graduating he was admitted to the practice of medicine and relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he pursued that profession. In 1824 he was briefly a professor of chemistry at West Point, where he resigned after a few months, and subsequently several years of his labor were devoted to assisting Noah Webster in editing his great American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828. In 1835 Percival was commissioned by the governor of Connecticut to prepare a geological survey of the state, which was completed and published in 1842. In 1854 he was appointed to make a similar geological survey for the state of Wisconsin, with the title State Geologist. The first annual report was issued in 1855, and while preparing the second annual report for the press he succumbed to illness and died in May 1856. Most of his life was spent at his home in New Haven, Connecticut. After his death he was the subject of an admiring biography by Julius H. Ward.
^Diana McVeagh, Elgar the Music Maker, p. 3 "Elgar composed the song 'The Language of Lowers' (1872) when he was not quite fifteen. The verses are by the American poet and botanist, James Gates Percival."}
McVeagh, Diana M. (2007). Elgar the Music Maker. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. ISBN978-1-84383-295-9.
Life and Letters of James Gates Percival, by J.H. Ward (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1866).