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Rufus Dawes


Rufus Dawes was born in Boston, the son of Judge Thomas Dawes, Judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts and a poet. Dawes studied law and was admitted to the bar but never pacticed. He is the author of The Valley of the Nashaway, and Other Poems (1830); Athena of Damascus (1839)(a tragedy); Nix's Mate, an historical romance novel; and Geraldine, a long narrative poem, published in 1840.

"His ancestors were among the earliest settlers of Boston; and his grandfather, as president of the Council, was for a time acting governor of the state [of Massachusetts]. . . . His father Thomas Dawes, was for ten years one of the associate judges of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and was distinguished among the advocates of the Federal Constitution, in the state convention called for its consideration. He was a sound lawyer, a man of great independence of character, and was distinguished for the brilliancy of his wit, and for many useful qualities.

Rufus Dawes was born in Boston, on the twenty-sixth of January, 1803, and was the youngest but one of sixteen children. He entered Harvard College in 1820; but in consequence of class disturbances, and insubordination, of which it was afterward shown he was falsely accused, he was compelled to leave that institution without a degree. This indignity he retaliated by a severe satire on the most prominent members of the faculty—the first poem he ever published. He then entered the office of General William Sullivan, as a law-student, and was subsequently admitted a member of the Suffolk county bar. He has however never pursued the practice of the legal profession, having been attracted by other pursuits more congenial with his feelings.

In 1829 he was married to the third daughter of Chief Justice Cranch, of Washington. In 1830 he published 'The Valley of the Nashaway, and other Poems,' some of which had appeared originally in the Cambridge 'United States Literary Gazette;' and in 1839, 'Athenia of Damascus,' 'Geraldine,' and his miscellaneous poetical writings. . . . '[N]ix's Mate,' an historical romance, appeared in the following year.

With Mr. Dawes poetry seems to have been a passion, which is fast subsiding and giving place to a love of philosophy. He has been said to be a discipline of Coleridge, but in reality is a devoted follower of Swendenborg; and to this influence must be ascribed the air of mysticism which pervades his later productions. He has from time to time edited several legal, literary, and political words, and in the last has shown himself to be an adherent to the principles of the old Federal party. As a poet, his standing is yet unsettled, there being a wide difference of opinion respecting his writings."

[Source: Rufus Wilmot Griswold, The Poets and Poetry of America 308 (New York: James Miller, Publisher, 1872)] [online text] [Rufus Wilmot Griswold] [Rufus Wilmot Griswold—Wikipedia]

[See also, [William Thomas Davis, Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 293 (Boston: Boston History Co., 1895)(vol.1)(a short biographical entry)]

Edgar Allen Poe commented on Mr. Dawes poetics as follows:

MR. DAWES has been long known as a poet ; but his claims are scarcely yet settledhis friends giving him rank with Bryant and Halleck, while his opponents treat his pretensions with contempt. The truth is, that the author of "Geraldine" and "Athenia of Damascus" has written occasional verses very wellso well, that some of his minor pieces may be considered equal to any of the minor pieces of either of the two gentlemen above-mentioned. His longer poems, however, will not bear examination. "Athenia of Damascus" is pompous nonsense, and "Geraldine" a most ridiculous imitation of Don Juan, in which the beauties of the original have been as sedulously avoided, as the blemishes have been blunderingly culled. In style, he is, perhaps, the most inflated involved, and falsely-figurative, of any of our more noted poets. This defect, of course, is only fully appreciable in what are termed his "sustained efforts," and thus his shorter pieces are often exceedingly good. His apparent erudition is mere verbiage, and, were it real, would be lamentably out of place where we see it. He seems to have been infected with a blind admiration of Coleridgeespecially of his mysticism and cant."

[Source: Edgar Allan Poe, "A Chapter on Autography (Part I)," Graham's Magazine, November 1841, pp. 224-234]

"The later years of Mr. Dawe's life were passed as a clerk in one of the Government departments at Washington, in the District of Columbia. He died in that city, at the age of fifty-six, Novmeber 30, 1859." [Evert A. & George L. Duyckinck, The Cyclopedia of American Literature (Philadelphia: William Rutter & Co., 1880)]

Rufus Dawes
Early American Fiction
University of Virginia

Edgar Allen Poe on Rufus Dawes

A Retrospective Criticism
by Edgar Allen Poe


[Sunrise From Mount Washington] [To An Infant Sleeping in a Garden]
[Love Unchangeable]


Rufus Dawes, The Valley of the Nashaway: and Other Poems (Boston: Carter & Hendee, Waitt & Dow's Printers, 1830)

__________, Geraldine, Athenia of Damascus: And Miscellaneous Poems (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839) [online text]


Rufus Dawes, American Dramatic Library: Comprising Athenia of Damascus, Bianca Visconti, Tortesa the Usurer (New York: J.P. Giffing, 1839)

__________, Athenia of Damascus, a tragedy (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839) [online text]

__________, Nix's Mate: An Historical Romance of America (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839)(2 vols.) [Vol. 1, online text] [Vol. 2 online text]

Research Resources

Rufus Dawes Collection
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia