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Locke, Jane (Erminia) Starkweather

LOCKE, Jane (Erminia) Starkweather

Born 25 April 1805, Worthington, Massachusetts; died 8 March 1859, Ashburnham, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Jane E. Locke

Daughter of Charles and Deborah Brown Starkweather; married John G. Locke, 1829; children: seven

A deacon's daughter, Jane Starkweather Locke reflects in her work the religious and patriotic idealism nurtured in her childhood home. Her uncle Ezra was a Massachusetts state senator and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1820, as was Locke's father-in-law, John Locke. She was the youngest of 10 children. Locke followed her husband to New York shortly after their marriage. The first of their seven children was born there; three of the children were to die in early childhood, and only one, Grace LeBaron Upham, was to survive to adulthood. The family settled in Lowell (1833) and in Boston (1849). While John pursued a career in business and government service, Jane cared for the children and pursued her own literary interests.

Locke's first collection of poetry is Miscellaneous Poems (1842). In the preface, the author tells us that the poems were written "for the most part…to relieve the soul of what would cumber it unuttered." The poems range in subject from reminiscences of her childhood home to expressions of love and concern for husband and children, and beyond this family circle to acknowledgements of the genial accomplishments of others—mostly contemporaries.

One important aspect of Locke's poetry is the evidence of sincere personal concerns and beliefs pertaining to women. A poem entitled "To an Infant," dated 11 August 1837, commemorates the birth of her first daughter. However, rather than greet the child in cheerful language, Locke bemoans the estate the child inherits: the wearisome toil of woman's daily existence. Despite this pessimistic, recurrent theme, in other poems Locke stresses in stronger, more positive language another aspect of woman's existence: motherhood.

Two of the most notable examples of this latter theme can be found in the poems "Mount Holyoke Seminary" and "A Poem Adapted to the Times." In the former, Locke compares the glories of the school in Northampton to those of the Propylaea at Athens and says, "To learning's inner temple here / Pass mothers of the race." That Locke believes generations of educated women will produce generations of enlightened men, implicit here, is explicit in the latter poem, which also reflects her sympathy with the abolitionist movement: "An influence benign she will exert… In childhood hearts, that, hence, man's common acts / Will be but deeds of charity and love, / And the forged bands of the dark slave fall off, Spontaneous and uninvoked."

Locke's firm, patriotic vision is set forth in a 46-page poem entitled Boston: A Poem (1846), dedicated "to the names of Appleton and Lawrence." In it, Locke honors scientists, educators, and working men and women, as well as industrialists, all of whom, she believes, contributed to the economic and academic well-being of the "Athens of America."

In Rachel; or, The Little Mourner (1844), Locke touches with astute sensitivity the problematic situation of the Christian who must try to reconcile joyful belief in eternal life with very real sorrow and pain at the earthly parting. The Recalled, in Voices of the Past, and Poems of the Ideal (1854) is a collection of poetry that reflects the more mature mind at work. Rather than a random selection of poetry gathered almost at whim, Locke arranges this volume in four sections. "Voices of the Past" commemorates public occasions, historic events, and the achievements of prominent personages and includes "Requiem for Edgar A. Poe," whom Locke knew. The poems in "Passages from Life" are autobiographical, but Locke is more selective than in Miscellaneous Poems. Love filtered through Christian belief is reflected in personal poems such as "One Thousandth Imitation of an Old Song," written for her husband, and "Proverbs," written to her son.

Throughout all of her work, Locke alludes to the "ideal," which is also the subject of the third section in "Poems of the Ideal." Her most philosophical offering, "The Sisters of Avon," suggests at least an acquaintance with Hermetic philosophy. The final section, a tribute to Daniel Webster consistent with Locke's political sympathies, was first published separately as Daniel Webster: A Rhymed Eulogy (1854).

Between 1850 and 1854, Locke worked as a newspaper correspondent for the Boston Journal and the Daily Atlas. In the same period, she also worked for the James Monroe Publishing Company, writing prefaces for the English publications that they reproduced in this country. Locke's writing, prose and poetry, is lucid and straightforward. Her poetry is representative of the popular poetry of the 19th century in general, and of the varied interests of its women in particular.

Other Works:

Nothing Ever Happens (1938).

Bibliography:

Baldwin, J. S., Memories and Traditions (1909). Locke, J. G., Book of the Lockes (1853). Starkweather, C. L., A Brief Genealogical History of Robert Starkweather of Roxbury and Ipswich (1904). Upham, G. L., Contributions of the Old Residents' Historical Association, Lowell, Mass. (1891).

Reference works:

CAL.

Other references:

Lowell Historical Society (1940).

—ROSALIE TUTELA RYAN

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