Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Charles Stewart Daveis


George Bancroft Griffith (ed.), The Poets of Maine 842 (Portland, Maine: Elwell, Pickard & Co., 1888):

Hon. Charles S. Daveis, only son of Capt. Ebenezer Daveis, a veteran officer of the Revolution, was born in Portland, Me., May 10, 1788. He took his degree at Bowdoin in 1807, with high honors. At his commencement he delivered the valedictory oration, and also a poem on "Tradition" . . . He practiced the profession of the law in Portland for many years, attaining eminence, and had the reputation of being one of the best Equity lawyers in the United States. In 1830 he was sent to the Hague by the Government to assist in preparing the American case in regard to the Northeastern Boundary, the controversy having been referred to the King of the Netherlands for arbitration. In 1840-41 Mr. Daveis was a member of the Maine Senate; was for many years President of the Massachusetts Branch of the Society of Cincinnati. He delivered orations on special occasions; a Latin address, in 1839, at Bowdoin, on the inauguration of President Woods, and began a life of Gen. Henry Knox which his failing health did not permit him to finish. He died, March 29, 1865, at the age of seventy-six years.

David Greene Haskins, Jr., A Sketch of the Life of Charles Stewart Daveis 3-4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11 (Boston: David Clapp & Son, Printers, 1897)(reprinted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for April, 1897):

The boy [Charles Stewart Daveis received his early instruction in Portland; and in June, 1802, went for one year to Phillips Academy, Andover. In 1803, he entered the newly-founded Bowdoin College, and was graduated in 1807, at the head of its second class. While in college he read widely and showed a marked fondness for literature and the classics,—receiving the sobriquet of "Grecian Daveis." [The Daveis class of 1807] numbered only three members. . . . Mr. Daveis, as the first scholar, delivered a valedictory oration on "The Infirmity of theory," and a poem on "Tradition." A year later, September 6, 1808, he delivered in the College Chapel, before the Peucinian Society, of which, while an undergraduate, he had been the principal founder, an oration on Greek literature, which established his reputation as a scholar. . . . The oration was published the next year in the Monthly Anthology, of Boston, then the leading literary publication in the country, with a most complimentary editorial introduction. The young orator was elected a corresponding member of the Anthology Club; and was invited to write for the magazine. The scholarship and ability displayed in the oration so impressed George Ticknor, that he sought an introduction to the author; and the acquaintance thus formed developed into a most warm and intimate lifelong friendship. In 1810, Mr. Daveis took the degree of Master of Arts, and delivered an oration on "The Genius of our Political Liberties," in which he combined poetical fancy with deep legal research.

In the meantime, immediately on leaving college, he had entered the law office of Nicholas Emery, afterwards a justice of the Supreme Court of Maine; and in 1810 was admitted to the bar in Portland, where he practised his profession for forty years with great ability and success until compelled by ill health to abandon it.

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In 1820, he was chosen one of the board of overseers of Bowdoin College, of which body he later became Vice President. He was also interested in military matters; and, in 1818, was appointed division inspector, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, on the staff of Major General Samuel Fessenden, commanding the twelfth division of Massachusetts militia; which position he retained till 1827, when his friend Enoch Lincoln became Governor of Maine, and Mr. Daveis was named as the senior aide on his staff.

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He returned to the active practice of his profession, in which in 1841 he associated his son, Edward H. Daveis, with himself in partnership. William Pitt Fessenden and Phineas Barnes were among the young men who studied in his office. And he resumed his literary avocations, for which, with tireless industry, he always found time. Judge Story, who had the highest opinion of his legal and literary attainments, characterizing him at another time as "an excellent lawyer, a thorough scholar, true to the Law, to all good principles, and to all good men," desired him to accept a professorship at Harvard Law School; but he felt it best, for various reasons, to decline the suggestion. In 1836, he was chosen a trustee of Bowdoin College, a position which he retained till 1864, when failing health caused him to tender his resignation.

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In 1839, he was the candidate of the Whigs for the State Senate, from Cumberland County: but failed of an election. In the following year he was nominated again and elected.

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Mr. Daveis sustained a shock of paralysis, April 28, 1850, which partly deprived him of the use of his right side. He recovered in some measure from the attack, but never resumed the practice of the law. He continued, however, his active literary labors and his extensive correspondence.

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H had a wide circle of friends, including such men as George Ticknor, Judge Story, Charles Sumner, Alexander H. Everett, and Stephen Longfellow, father of the poet; and it has been said of him that he never lost a friend except by death.

It is not clear, without further research, whether Daveis continued his efforts as a poet. He seems to have delivered a poem titled "Tradition" at his graduation from college and Haskins in his biographical "sketch" notes that: "Prose and poetry, law, literature, religion, history, public affairs,—all received his attention; and the newspapers and periodicals of the day, the North American Review, and Appleton's Cyclopaedia, contain abundant evidence of his literary ability and industry. . . . His literary and historical attainments wee recognized by his college, to whose interests he was always warmly devoted, and which made him President of the Phi Beta Kappa . . . ." We cannot, determine from these pronouncements exactly how much poetry Daveis may have written after his college day efforts.


Charles Stewart Daveis, An Address delivered at Portland : on the decease of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, August 9, 1826 (Portland: J. Adams, Jr., 1826) [online text]


David Greene Haskins, Jr., A Sketch of the Life of Charles Stewart Daveis (Boston: David Clapp & Son, Printers, 1897)(reprinted from the New-England Historical and Genealogical Register for April, 1897)

Research Resources

Charles Stewart Daveis Papers
Bowdoin Library
Brunswick, Maine