Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud: An "Imagination of No Common Order"

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud, poet (born 17 April 1812)

In the preface to Wayside Flowers: A Collection of Poems by "Mrs. M. St. Leon Loud," editor Park Benjamin describes the volume's intended readers as those who "love tenderness and purity of thought, joined to simplicity and grace of expression." 

Marguewrite St. Leon Barstow Loud,
frontispiece from Wayside Flowers, 1851
The poems are "like those 'wildlings of nature,' from which they borrow their title" (by the way, Benjamin has created the title). They are "the spontaneous productions of a fertile soil," "the free growth of an unartificial mind." They represent "nature's growth," not "exotics." And thus are better than "cultivated efforts."

Oh, dear. No work at all, then, right? The poems just happen????? Without intention, work, craft, effort?

In his last months of life, Edgar Allen Poe happily accepted the "relatively lucrative opportunity" to edit Wayside Flowers--he writes to a correspondent that he is on his way to Philadelphia to edit the work of the "poetess," whose wealthy husband had hired him. Poe writes, "[t]he whole labor will not occupy me 3 days." (Poe had been offered $100 by Marguerite Loud's husband--Poe had earned only $166 the entire year before.)*

Oh, dear. On the website of the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore, Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud is identified as a "minor American poet."

Aside from this rather disparaging information--and from Benjamin's preface in the volume of poetry, Wayside Flowers--not all that much is known about Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud. No Wikipedia entry, for example!!!

Marguerite St. Loud Barstow was born in Wysox, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Seth T. Barstow and his wife, Clarissa Woodruff. According to Benjamin, both parents were from New England, and Marguerite's father was a successful physician. 

In his preface to Wayside Flowers, Benjamin also indicates that Marguerite Barstow's education was an informal one--her mother was her teacher, her parents both loved poetry, and the home had an "ample library."

Her date of birth has been variously given. She died in Kenyon, Minnesota, and her gravestone indicates that she was born on 17 April 1812, but there are questions about this date, principally the fact that some sources indicate she was married in 1824--which would make her only twelve years old at the time of her marriage. Thus other dates for her birth are suggested--even a date of 1800 (see the University of Virginia's Collective Biographies of Women database, for example)!

But the preface to her volume of poetry specifically addresses the date of her marriage as well as explaining the source of the confusion--Marguerite Barstow was married in 1834, not 1824, an erroneous date that appeared in Caroline May's 1848 The American Female Poets.**

Title page of the 1851 Wayside Flowers
So there's no need for anyone to twist themselves into pretzels or question the date of birth on the headstone. Marguerite Barstow was born in 1812, and she married in 1834. Her husband, John Loud, was a successful piano manufacturer in Philadelphia. A daughter, Caroline, was born in 1834, and Clara was born in 1837. (There may have been other children born after Clara, perhaps a daughter named Danvina, born in 1842.)

Edgar Allen Poe died before he could travel to Philadelphia to edit Wayside Flowers. The book was finally published in 1851, and it did not sell well. Of the 550 copies that were printed, 360 copies were returned, unsold, to the Louds.

In his discussion of Poe's intention to edit Wayside Flowers and Poe's death, Matthew Pearl notes that "according to electronic library database Oasis, only fourteen original copies of the book are held by American libraries."

Which may account for the fact that Loud's elegy, "The Stranger's Doom," one of the earliest poems that seems to be about Poe's death, has "attracted little critical attention."

But, thankfully, you don't have to search out one of the few print copies of Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud's Wayside Flowers. It is now widely available online

Poe himself seemed to think well of Marguerite Loud as a poet. Of her he wrote in 1841:
Mrs. M. ST. LEON LOUD is one of the finest poets of this country; possessing, we think, more of the true divine afflatus than any of her female contemporaries. She has, in especial, imagination of no common order, and unlike many of her sex whom we could mention, is not content to dwell in decencies forever. 
While she can, upon occasion, compose the ordinary metrical sing-song with all the decorous proprieties in which are in fashion, she yet ventures very frequently into a more ethereal region. We refer our readers to, a truly beautiful little poem entitled the “Dream of the Lonely Isle,” lately published in this Magazine. 
Mrs. Loud’s MS. is exceedingly clear, neat and forcible, with just sufficient effeminacy and no more.
Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud died on 4 November 1889. She was seventy-seven years old. 

Detail from headstone of
Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud
(photo by Dave Vangsness,
posted at Find a Grave)

*The link here is to a .pdf version of Matthew Pearl's "A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allen Poe"--using the search function, you will locate all the references to Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud.

**The link here is to the edition of 1854, which reprints the 1824 date in its biographical note for "Marguerite St. Leon Loud."