The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Caroline May/Lucretia and Margaret Davidson
LUCRETIA AND MARGARET DAVIDSON.
It would be wrong, merely for the sake of chronological order, to separate these sweet sisters, who, though not twins by birth, were twins in thought, feeling, loveliness, and purity. We will sketch them together, therefore, while their devoted mother and excellent father shall stand at their head.
Mrs. Davidson was a daughter of Dr. Burnet Miller, a respectable physician in the city of New York, where she was born on the 27th of June, 1787. Her mother was early left a widow, and removed to Dutchess county, where, at the age of sixteen, this daughter was married to Dr. Davidson. The greater part of her married life was spent at Plattsburg (on Lake Champlain), where all her children were born, ten in number—eight of whom passed before her into heaven. She resided in Plattsburg at the time of the battle, August, 1814. The fearful events of that season, and her own escapes and adventures, have been narrated by both Mrs. Davidson and Margaret, in a fictitious garb. She never could speak of them without great excitement; and invariably wept at the sound of martial music. An intimate friend writing of her, says—“Mrs. Davidson’s appearance and manner when talking enthusiastically, as she always did on a favourite subject, could never be forgotten. The traces of early beauty were still evident in her large dark eyes and her exquisite complexion; but the great charm of her countenance was in its mingled expression of intelligence and sensibility, varying not unfrequently from deep sadness to a playful vivacity of which you would not at first suppose her capable.” She possessed great elasticity of spirit and vigour of mind, which were not at all impaired by the constant pain and suffering she endured. During the last few years of her life, she resided alternately at New York, Ballston, and Saratoga Springs. At the latter place she died, on the 27th of June, 1844. She had long been thought a victim to consumption, but the fearful and agonizing disease which terminated her life was a cancer in the face. A year before her death, a volume, entitled “Selections from the Writings of Mrs. Margaret M. Davidson,” was published, with a short preface from her distinguished friend, Miss Sedgwick. Her poems, however, although they display that tenderness of feeling and romantic disposition which characterized her so strongly, are too inferior to her daughter’s to be quoted with any advantage.
Dr. Davidson was a man of extensive reading, and possessed a taste for natural science. His moral character, however, more than his intellectual, renders him worthy of notice. “He was one of the most guileless and pure-minded men I ever knew,” writes the friend we have before quoted. “He was entirely unpretending in his manners, and always exhibited a degree of affectionate devotedness to his wife, unusual and touching. His piety was simple, confiding, and unobtrusive; and his conduct in every situation unreproachable.” He died about a year ago.
Such were the parents of the inspired poet-children, Lucretia and Margaret Davidson.
Lucretia Maria was born on the 27th of September, 1808, and was distinguished almost from her birth by an extraordinary development of the imaginative and sensitive faculties. When she was four years old she went to the Plattsburg Academy, and was taught to read, and form letters in sand, after the Lancasterian method. She began to turn her infant thoughts into measured strains before she had learned to write; and devoting herself with tireless attention to her studies both at home and at school, she soon attained a wonderful amount of knowledge. It was only in her intellectual character that she was thus premature. In her innocence, simplicity, playfulness, and modesty, she was a perfect child. Her conscientiousness and dutifulness were remarkably prominent; as they were also with Margaret. Her health, always very feeble, began to decline in 1823, when she was taken from school, and accompanied her mother on a visit to some relatives in Canada. While there she finished “Amir Khan,” her longest poem, and began a prose tale, called “The Recluse of the Saranac.” It was about this time that the Hon. Moss Kent, an early friend of her mother, became acquainted with Lucretia, and so deeply interested in her genius, that he resolved, if he could persuade her parents to resign her to his care, to afford her every advantage for improvement that the country could afford. At his suggestion, in November, 1824, she was placed under the care of Mrs. Willard; in whose seminary at Troy she remained during the winter. The following spring, she was transferred to a boarding school at Albany; but while there her health gave way, and she was obliged to return home to Plattsburg. The strength of affection, and the skill of physicians, failed, however, to restore her. The hand of death alone gave her ease; and she gently fell asleep one morning in August, 1825; exactly one month before her seventeenth birthday. President Morse, of the American Society of Arts, first published her biography; and soon after, a delightful memoir from the able pen of Miss Sedgwick spread the name of Lucretia Davidson far and wide.
Margaret Miller was born on the 26th of March, 1823. She was therefore but two years and a half old when Lucretia died; an event which made a deep impression on her. Although so young, she seemed not only to feel her loss, but to understand and appreciate her sister’s character and talents; and from the first dawning of intellect gave evidence that she possessed the same. “By the time she was six years old,” says her mother, “her language assumed an elevated tone; and her mind seemed filled with poetic imagery, blended with veins of religious thought.” The sacred writings were her daily study. Devotional feelings seemed interwoven with her very existence. A longing after heaven, that her spirit might be free from the thraldom of earth, was as natural to her, as a longing for a holiday to be let loose from school is to other children. Yet she enjoyed most fully the quiet pleasures that surrounded her, and her heart was always swelling with love and gratitude. Sometimes, too, the consciousness of genius,—the inward assurance that she was a poet,—would make her think on what might be, were she to live; but the restless thoughts of fame were soon lost again, in happier, calmer hopes of an abiding heaven.
Dear child! she little knew that so soon both were to be hers—“an honoured name” on earth, and “a glorious crown” in heaven. Like all true poets, she had a keen relish for the beauties of nature, and fed upon them from her infancy. Her earliest home was upon the banks of the Saranac, commanding a fine view of Lake Champlain, and surrounded by the most romantic and picturesque scenery; but wherever she resided, she found something to admire and love, upon the earth or in the sky.
Margaret was always instructed by her mother, whose poetical tastes and affectionate disposition made her capable of appreciating and sympathizing with the warm impulses and aspiring thoughts of her sweet pupil. The love between this mother and daughter is a poem of itself. No one can read the memoir of Margaret, by Washington Irving, without feeling the heart, if not the eyes, overflow. But the links that bound them to each other on earth were soon severed;—for when she was but fifteen years and eight months old, this gentle girl died at Ballston, Saratoga county, in November, 1838. We could not wish that she should have stayed longer on earth, an exile from her native heaven; yet, as we listen to the soaring strains of her young genius, and are borne upward by their energy, we cannot help wondering what would have been its thrilling tones and lofty flights, had life unfolded its mysteries year after year to her poet’s eye. But we thank God she was spared the sight of them; for though we have lost the songs, she has missed the sorrow!