Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Davidson, Lucretia Maria

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DAVIDSON, Lueretia Maria, poet, b. in Plattsburg, N. Y., 27 Sept., 1808; d. there, 27 Aug., 1825. Her father, Oliver Davidson, was a physician, and her mother, Margaret Miller, was an author. A volume of selections from Mrs. Davidson's writings was published, with a preface by Miss C. M. Sedgwick, in 1844, after the poems of her daughter had made them famous. Lucretia, when four years old, was sent to Plattsburg academy, where she learned to read and to form the Roman letters in sand. Soon afterward her mother observed that her writing-paper was disappearing strangely, and finally discovered a pile of little blank-books, containing artfully sketched pictures, with descriptions in poetry, all printed in Roman letters, turned and twisted in curious fashion. The child was so mortified at the discovery of what she had been doing that she burned all her work. She learned to write in her seventh year, and developed a great fondness for reading. Before she was twelve she had read much history, and the dramatic works of Shakespeare, Goldsmith, and Kotzebue, with many popular novels and romances. She continued to write poetry, and, when nine years old, composed an “Epitaph on a Robin,” which is the earliest remaining specimen of her verse. She wrote poetry rapidly, when in the mood, but preferred to be alone while composing, often burning an unfinished piece that had been seen by others. She was fond of childish sports, but would often stop in the midst of them to write, when struck with an idea for a poem. When about fourteen years old she was allowed to attend a ball in Plattsburg, but, in the midst of her preparations, was found sitting in a corner writing verses on “What the World Calls Pleasure.” Her mother's friends advised that pen and ink be kept from her, and, hearing of this, she voluntarily gave up her favorite pursuit for several months, till her mother, seeing that she grew melancholy, advised her to resume it. In October, 1824, a gentleman visiting Plattsburg saw some of her verses, and offered to give her a better education than her parents could afford. She was accordingly sent to Mrs. Willard's school in Troy, N. Y., but her studies undermined her health, and she returned home. After her recovery she was sent to Miss Gilbert's school in Albany, but remained there only about three months before she was taken home to die. Miss Davidson was a small, delicately formed brunette. “She had all the elements of personal beauty,” wrote Mrs. Willard, “yet she was so shy that many a girl less perfectly endowed in that respect would be sooner noticed by a stranger.” Her poetical writings include, beside the numbers of pieces destroyed by her, 278 poems of various lengths. Among these are five pieces, of several cantos each. The poet Southey said of her: “In our own language, except in the cases of Chatterton and Kirke White, we can call to mind no instance of so early, so ardent, and so fatal a pursuit of intellectual advancement.” Her poems were collected and published, with a sketch by S. F. B. Morse, under the title “Amir Khan, and Other Poems” (New York, 1829; new ed., edited by her brother, M. O. Davidson, with illustrations by Darley, 1871). See a biography by Catharine M. Sedgwick in Sparks's “American Biographies,” vol. vii. — Her sister, Margaret Miller, b. in Plattsburg, N. Y., 26 March, 1823; d. in Saratoga, N. Y., 25 Nov., 1838, had the same sensibility and precocity, and began to write at six years of age. At ten, while visiting in New York, she wrote, in two days, a drama entitled the “Tragedy of Alethia,” and acted in it with some young friends, taking the principal part. Notwithstanding her sister's fate, her intellectual activity was not restrained. Her poems were introduced to the world by Washington Irving, and the works of the two sisters were afterward published together (New York, 1850). — Their brother, Levi P., b. in 1817; d. in Saratoga, N. Y., 27 June, 1842, was graduated at the U. S. military academy in 1837, assigned to the 1st dragoons, and after serving on frontier duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Fort Wayne, Indian Territory, was promoted 1st lieutenant in 1840. He wrote verses with elegance and ease.