In the 1820s, James Gates Percival was the foremost poet in the United States. But by the time he died in 1856, his verses had all but vanished, and he was known primarily as a failure. This essay examines Percival’s strangely precipitous decline from celebrity to obscurity in order to reinvestigate the critical paradigms shaping our expectations for early nineteenth-century American poetry. Following the meager reception of his work up to the present day, it considers the limits and prospects of current recovery scholarship for writers like Percival. The sudden availability of historical texts through large-scale digitization projects changes the very concept of recovery and allows for a different mode of appreciation that takes a more comprehensive view of its subjects. Percival may be seen as more than simply the author of some once-praised poems.