Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com advises that these 19th Century
biographies, although edited, still contain period bias.
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Maria, poet, born in Plattsburg, New York, 27 September 1808 ;
died there, 27 August 1825. Her father, Oliver Davidson, was a physician, and
her mother, Margaret Miller, was an author. A voucher 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 she 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, New York, 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 in-elude, 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.
--Her sister, Margaret Miller, born in
Plattsburg, New York, 26 March 1823; died in Saratoga, New York, 25 November
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. Davidson, born in 1817; died in Saratoga, New
York, 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
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