Davidson, Margaret Miller
DAVIDSON, Margaret Miller
Daughter of Oliver and Margaret Miller Davidson
Margaret Miller Davidson received the best education at home from her chronically ill mother. Anxious to assume the family poetic mantle bequeathed her by her dying sister Lucretia, she eagerly absorbed the ideas, tastes, and moral and religious standards of her mother toward whom she formed an exceptionally close attachment. This attachment was then reflected in innumerable verses.
Frequent extended vacations and changes of residence proved unable to arrest Davidson's fatal tuberculosis. Her verses, highly autobiographic, reflect her pathetic attempts to conceal from her family the extent of her suffering, and, despite a mature acceptance of death and strong faith in immortality, her wistful clinging to life: "Oh my dear, dear Mother, I am so young." She was fifteen when she died.
Mrs. Davidson who, three years earlier when negotiating for a new edition of Lucretia's poetry, had introduced her younger daughter to Washington Irving, now provided him with all that remained of Margaret's poems. She also gave him copious memoranda which he used, often verbatim, for his biographical introduction to Davidson's Poetical Remains (1841). A second edition was called for in the same year, one each in London and Philadelphia the following year, and by 1864, there were 20 editions in all.
Davidson's poems, as is hardly surprising, reflect two main influences: Lucretia whom she idolized and emulated as far as she could, and her mother whom she reflected so completely that it is difficult to determine if there was anything of her own. Davidson's poems are, on the whole, longer than most of her sister's, written in quatrains rather than rhyming couplets and express stronger religious faith and devotion. Many deal with her various homes and the flowers, trees, rivers, and mountains surrounding them. Despite her mother's disapproval of extensive memorizations, echoes (perhaps unconscious) of Cowper, Thomson, and Scott constantly recur. Among Davidson's better efforts are the paraphrases of the 23rd and 42nd psalms, the "Hymn of the Fire-Worshippers," and "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah"—but these are clearly inferior to Lucretia's handling of similar biblical material.
Faced with the task of evaluating her contribution to American literature and women's writing, one is apt (while making due allowance for her youth and narrowness of experience) to dismiss Davidson as a fainter echo of her more promising elder sister. Many believe she has been lifted to an entirely undeserved eminence because of the compassion of distinguished family friends like Irving and that this eminence has been perpetuated by the next quarter-century's sentimental bad taste.
Poets, as they mature, usually have the sense to destroy juvenilia. In Davidson's case, there was no time and her mother's blind urge to preserve every slightest memento of a beloved gifted child, inadvertantly did Davidson a disservice in exposing indiscriminately to the harsh glare of the judgement of posterity what should have been reserved for the loving, uncritical eyes of family and close friends.
Biographical and Poetical Remains of the Late Margaret Miller Davidson (ed. by W. Irving, 1841, revised edition, 1846, revised with Poetical Remains of the Late Lucretia Maria Davidson, 1857). Life and Poetical Remains (1945).
Griswold, R., Female Poets of America (1848). May, C., The American Female Poets (1848). Poe, E. A., Complete Works, Harrison, J., ed. (1902).