Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Biography and Poetical Remains of M. M. Davidson,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 174-178


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[page 174, continued:]

BIOGRAPHY AND POETICAL REMAINS OF THE LATE MARGARET MILLER DAVIDSON.(1) BY WASHINGTON IRVING. PHILADELPHIA, LEA AND BLANCHARD.

[Graham’s Magazine, August, 1841.]

THE name of Lucretia Davidson is familiar to all readers of Poetry. Dying at the early age of seventeen, she has been rendered famous not less, and certainly not more, by her own precocious genius than by three memorable biographies, — one by President Morse, of the American Society of Arts, another by Miss Sedgwick, and a third by Robert Southey. Mr. Irving had formed an acquaintance with some of her relatives, and thus, while in Europe, took great interest in all that was said or written of his young countrywoman. Upon his return to America he called upon Mrs. Davidson, and then, in 1833, first saw the subject of the memoir now before us — a fairy-like child of eleven. Three years afterwards he met with her again, and then found her in delicate health. Three years having again elapsed, the Mss., which form the basis of the present volume, were placed in his hands by Mrs. Davidson, as all that remained of her daughter.

Few books have interested us more profoundly. Yet the interest does not appertain solely to Margaret. [page 175:] “In fact, the narrative,” says Mr. Irving, “will be found almost as illustrative of the character of the mother as of the child; they were singularly identified in taste, feeling, and pursuits; tenderly entwined together by maternal and filial affection, they reflected as inexpressibly touching grace and interest upon each other by this holy relationship, and, to my mind it would be marring one of the most beautiful and affecting groups in modern literature to sunder them.” In these words the biographer conveys no more than a just idea of the exquisite loveliness of the picture here presented to view.

The Mss. handed Mr. Irving have been suffered, in a great measure, to tell their own thrilling tale. There has been no injudicious attempt at mere authorship. The compiler has confined himself to chronological arrangement of his memoranda, and to such simple and natural comments as serve to bind rather than to illustrate where no illustration was needed. These memoranda consist of relations by Mrs. Davidson of the infantine peculiarities of her daughter, and of her habits and general thoughts in more matured life, intermingled with letters from the young poetess to intimate friends. There is also a letter from the bereaved mother to Miss Sedgwick, detailing the last moments of the child — a letter so full of all potent nature, so full of minute beauty, and truth and pathos, that to read it without tears would be to prove one’s self less than human.

The “Poetical Remains” of this young creature, who perished (of consumption) in her sixteenth year, occupy about two hundred pages of a somewhat closely printed octavo. The longest poem is called “Lenore,” and consists of some two thousand lines, varying in metre from the ordinary octo-syllabic, to the four-footed, or twelve-syllabled iambic. The story, which is a romantic love-tale, not ill-conceived in its incidents, is told with a skill which might put more practised bards to the blush, and with occasional bursts of the truest poetic fire. But although as indicative of her future power, it is the most important, as it is the longest of her productions, yet, as a whole, it is not equal to some of her shorter compositions. It was written not long before her death, at the age of fifteen, and (as we glean from the biography) after patient reflection, with much care, and with a high resolve to do something for fame. As the work of so mere a child, it is unquestionably wonderful. Its length, viewed in connection with its keeping, its unity, its adaptation, and completeness, will impress the metaphysician most forcibly when surveying the capacities of its author. Powers are here brought into play which are the last to be matured. For fancy we might have looked, and for the lower evidences of skill in a perfect versification and the like, but hardly for what we see in Lenore.

Yet remarkable as this production is, from the pen of a girl of fifteen, it is by no means so incomprehensible as are some of the shorter pieces. We have known of instances — rarely to be sure — but still we have known instances when finer poems in every respect than Lenore have been written by children of as immature age; but we look around us in vain for anything composed at eight years, which can bear comparison with the lines subjoined: —

TO MAMMA.

“Farewell, dear mother, for a while

I must resign thy plaintive smile;

May angels watch thy couch of wo,

And joys unceasing round thee flow.

 

“May the almighty Father spread

His sheltering wings above thy head.

It is not long that we must part,

Then cheer thy downcast drooping heart.

 

“Remember, oh! remember me,

Unceasing is my love for thee!

When death shall sever earthly ties,

When thy loved form all senseless lies.

 

“Oh! That my form with thine could flee,

And roam through wide eternity;

Could tread with thee the courts of heaven,

And count the brilliant stars of even.”

Nor are these stanzas, written at ten, in any degree less remarkable: —

MY NATIVE LAKE.

“Thy verdant banks, thy lucid stream,

Lit by the sun’s resplendent beam,

Reflect each bending tree so light

Upon thy bounding bosom bright.

Could I but see thee once again,

My own, my beautiful Champlain!

 

“The little isles that deck thy breast,

And calmly on thy bosom rest,

How often, in my childish glee,

I’ve sported round them, bright and free!

Could I but see thee once again,

My own, my beautiful Champlain!

 

“How oft I’ve watch’d the fresh’ning shower

Bending the summer tree and flower,

And felt my little heart beat high

As the bright rainbow graced the sky.

Could I but see thee once again,

My own, my beautiful Champlain!

 

“And shall I never see thee more,

My native lake, my much-loved shore,

And must I bid a long adieu,

My dear, my infant home, to you?

Shall I not see thee once again,

My own, my beautiful Champlain?

In the way of criticism upon these extraordinary compositions, Mr. Irving has attempted little, and, in general, he seems more affected by the loveliness and the purity of the child than even by the genius she has evinced, however highly he may have estimated this latter. In respect, however, to a poem entitled “My Sister Lucretia,” he thus speaks, “We have said that the example of her sister Lucretia was incessantly before her, and no better proof can be given of it than in the following lines, which breathe the heavenly aspirations of her pure young spirit, in strains to us quite unearthly. We may have read poetry more artificially perfect in its structure, but never any more truly divine in its inspiration.” The nature of inspiration is disputable, and we will not pretend to assert that Mr. Irving is in the wrong. His words, however, in their hyperbole, do wrong to his subject, and would be hyperbole still, if applied to the most exalted poets of all time.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 174:]

1.  See Lucretia Maria Davidson, p. 221.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Biography and Poetical Remains of M. M. Davidson)