Woman of the Century/Susan Archer Weiss
WEISS, Mrs. Susan Archer, poet, author and artist, born in Hanover county, Va . 14th February, 1835, on the plantation of her paternal grandfather, who was of French Huguenot descent, and had served in the famous Lee's Legion of the Revolutionary War. Her maiden name was Talley. Her father, a gentleman of fine talents and literary taste, was bred to the profession of the law. He was early married to Miss Archer, of one of the oldest families of the old burrough of Norfolk, in Virginia. On the plantation Susan Archer Talley passed the first eight years of her life, where she delighted in the freedom of outdoor life. The family moved to Richmond, Va., when she was eight years old. In her tenth year scarlet fever so impaired her hearing that it was found necessary to remove her from school. She had been quick at learning, and in the brief period of her school life had been rapidly advanced, so that the slight knowledge thus acquired served as a foundation for her future self-education. She was an insatiable reader and student. When she was ten years old, she developed a remarkable talent for drawing, which her father took pains to cultivate. Her crayon drawings, many of them original in design, and especially her miniature portraits, are remarkable for their execution and finish. She manifested equal skill in water-colors and oil painting. She became interested in the work of her cousin, the young sculptor, Alexander Gait, and spent many hours in his studio. One day he gave her a small block of plaster, out of which, without assistance or model, she cut with a pen-knife a female head so plainly the work of genius that Mr. Gait took it with him to Italy, where it was seen by Crawford and Greenough, who were enthusiastic in their desire that she should devote herself to sculpture, but her father's death hindered her from doing so. She had meanwhile developed another and greater talent. She was but eleven years of age when, by accident, some of her little verses fell under the observation of her father. He showed them to Benjamin B. Minor, editor of the "Southern Literary Messenger," who published them in his magazine, where in a few years her contributions attracted much attention. Her name was included among those of young writers in "American Female Poets," Mrs. Hale's "Woman's Record." and other similar works. Her family removed from Richmond to a suburban residence, where, absorbed in her pictures and her writing and in the society of a choice circle of friends, she led a happy life During the great struggle between the North and South, she was in a position to be much exposed to the vicissitudes and cruel experiences of the war. Deprived of her beautiful home, which it had been necessary to convert into a fortification for the defense of the city, she was for some time a resident between the two opposing armies. During the war she became the wife of Colonel Weiss, of the Union army, with whom she for some years resided in New York City. The marriage proved an unhappy one, and Mrs. Weiss was compelled to sue for divorce and possession of their only child. As she declined to accept alimony, and had been by the war deprived of nearly all her property, she bent her energies to the support of herself and child, in the field of prose and story-writing. She succeeded in that new exercise of her talents. She contributed to New York newspapers, to "Harper's," "Scribner's" and other magazines, until incessant application to writing brought on a painful affection of the eyes, which for some years incapacitated her for the use of her pen. Of late years she has published little. She now resides with her son, in Richmond. In 1859 she had a volume of her poems printed in a very small edition and distributed among editors and critics, by whom it was received with flattering notice, but the commencement of the war troubles, interfering with literary enterprises, prevented the publishing of a second edition, so that the book was never offered to the public.