Osgood, Frances Sargent (Locke)

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OSGOOD, Frances Sargent (Locke)

Born 18 June 1811, Boston, Massachusetts; died 12 May 1850, New York, New York

Wrote under: Ellen, Florence, Kate Carol

Daughter of Joseph and Mary Foster Locke; married Samuel S.Osgood, 1835

Frances Sargent Osgood was the daughter of a Boston merchant. She was educated primarily at home. Osgood's parents encouraged her to write, and she also benefitted especially from the influence of a half-sister, Anna Maria Foster Wells, and an older brother, Andrew Aitchison Locke, both of whom became writers. Osgood began publishing verse at the age of fourteen in the first American children's monthly, Juvenile Miscellany.

Osgood lived in England (1835-40) with her husband, an artist; her success there in turn commended her to readers at home. She was estranged from her husband in 1844, but they were reconciled, even though there was much gossip about her literary "romance" with Edgar Allan Poe.

The major subject of Osgood's poetry and prose sketches is the relationship between men and women. Love—passionate, spiritual, seductive, secret, instant, eternal, consummated, holy, pious, true, false, forbidden, self-denying, transforming, transcendent, destructive—receives such a variety of expression it cloys the appetite.

Although she is adept in the traditional forms—songs, sonnets, ballads, rhymed narratives, and dramatic blank verse—her meters often lack the force or tension of the inevitable line; her rhymes are conventional, so blank verse is her best measure. Osgood frequently runs symbol and abstraction together. The poems are customarily straightforward; emotions are often stated directly.

More interesting are Osgood's verses about children. Several of the poems describe her own daughters: one of them sleeping with "beautiful abandonment" on a downy carpet; Fanny smiling for the first time; May trying to lift the sun's rays, or inquisitively playing with a watch. The best of these poems is "A Sketch," which describes two little careless girls—their straw bonnets flung among the leaves—as, silent with delight, they make garlands for one another, and think of nothing but their own sweet play.

It is also in poems about children and their fate that Osgood reveals a view of life she rarely allowed herself to express. In "The Daughter of Herodias," Osgood imagines Salomé, a light and blooming child, without trouble or care, suddenly bewildered and terror-struck as her revengeful mother snares her in an unspeakable woe. The change in Salomé's character is dramatically realized: "Now, reckless, in her grief she goes / A woman stern and wild." Chilled with fear, the once thoughtless girl curses her fatal grace.

During a period of literary nationalism, as well as an age of sentiment, Osgood was the most popular and most admired of American women poets. There is little of excruciating or evil design in her work; she wished "to live in blessed illusion." As a writer, she idealizes almost every image and sentiment that engages her attention. But Osgood deserves the appreciation she enjoyed for her verses about children.

Other Works:

Philosophical Enigmas (circa 1830). A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England (1838, reissued as Poems, 1846). The Casket of Fate (1839). Flower Gift (1840, reissued as The Poetry of Flowers and the Flowers of Poetry, 1841, reissued again as The Floral Offering, 1847). The Rose: Sketches in Verse (1842). The Snow-Drop (circa 1842). Puss in Boots, and the Marquis of Carabas (1844). The Flower Alphabet in Gold and Colors (1845). The Cries of New York (1846). A Letter About Lions (1849). Poems (1849, reissued as Osgood's Poetical Works, 1880).


Hewitt, M. E., ed., The Memorial: Written by Friends of the Late Mrs. Osgood (1851). Griswold, R. W., ed., The Literati by E. A. Poe (1850). Mabbott, T. O., Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Poems I (1969). Moss, S. P., Poe's Literary Battles (1963). Quinn, A. H., Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941).

Reference works:

American Female Poets (1848). FPA. NAW (1971). The Poets and Poetry of America (1847).

Other references:

Godey's (March 1846, Sept. 1846). Graham's (Jan. 1843). Southern Literary Messenger (Aug. 1849).