Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Seba Smith


George Bancroft Griffith (ed.), The Poets of Maine 37 (Portland, Maine, Elwell, Pickard & Co., 1888):

Seba Smith . . . was born Sept. 4, 1792, in a loghouse put up by his father in the woods of Buckfield. In his early youth the family removed to Bridgton. At the age of eighteen he had made so good use of his scanty opportunities for learning as to be employed in teaching school. He went to the new academy in Bridgton, and the principal perceiving his talents, suggested a collegiate course. Entering Bowdoin College, he was highly successful: studied law in the city of Portland, was admitted to the bar and commenced practice. When about thirty-two years old, he married Miss Elizabeth Oakes Prince, a beautiful and accomplished girl of sixteen, who had attracted his attention and won his heart by her beauty and precocious talent. As editor of the "Eastern Argus," he made it one of the most popular journals in the State. In 1830 he started the Portland Daily Courier. Soon after this he removed to the city of New York, and renewed the practice of his profession. As a prose writer he acquired a very high reputation, and also wrote excellent verse. . . . Mr. Smith died July 29th, 1868, at Patchogue, Long Island.

Oddly enough, the editors of the American Authors 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature biographical sketch of Smith make no mention of Smith's association with the legal profession. In that sketch, Smith's birth is given as September 14 rather than September 4 and the following information is provided:

As the father's income as a post-rider was very meager, the boy [Seba Smith] had to work alternately in a grocery store, on a farm, in a brickyard, and in a cast-iron foundry, while going to school in Bridgton, where the family had moved in 1799. After he had taught, since the age of eighteen, in Bridgton and neighboring towns for several years and had supplemented his education in North Bridgton Academy, a loan from a Portland gentleman enabled him to enter Bowdoin College as a sophomore in 1815. Upon graduation with the highest honors in 1818, he taught again for a year in Portland, where he also wrote several poems that were published in the Portland paper, the Eastern Argus. Because of ill-health he went, however, on a journey through New England and the Atlantic States, and also crossed over to Liverpool. On his return at twenty-eight, he became connected with the Eastern Argus, first as an editor and then as a joint proprietor.

* * * *

In 1826 he sold his share in the Eastern Argus. For three years he devoted himself to literary work, and then in 1829 began to publish two non-partisan papers, the Family Reader, a weekly, and the Portland Courier, the first daily east and north of Boston.

* * * *

Because of losses in land speculation in 1837, he had to sell his interest in the Courier. He went South as an agent for a cotton cleaning machine, invented by his brother-in-law. The device was rejected, and in 1839 he, with his wife and four sons, came to New York. At first with the help of his wife's literary work, he made a living as a contributor to a number of leading literary magazines, and from 1843 to 1845 as editor of a New York daily, American Republican, and of two weeklies, Bunker Hill and the Rover.

[Stanley J. Kunitz & Howard Haycraft (eds.), American Authors 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature 700-701 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1938)]

In the ensuing years, Smith would editor a number of other magazines and start one of his own, but it was to last only a year. With various failures in the publishing business he retired to Patchogue, Long Island and continued his writing, humorous stories, poetry, and scholarly works. He is considered one of the first political satirist. [American Authors 1600-1900, id.]

Seba Smith

Seba Smith
S. Herbert Lancey, The Native Poets of Maine 159-166
(Bangor: D. Bugbee & Co., 1854)

Seba Smith
Early American Fiction
University of Virginia


Seba Smith, Powhatan: A Metrical Romance, in seven cantos (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1841) [online text]


Seba Smith, The Life and Writing of Major Jack Downing [pseud.] of Downingville, away down East in the state of Maine. Written by himself (Boston: Lilly, Wait, Colman & Holden, 1833)(2nd ed., 1834)(3rd ed., 1834) [online text] (1884) [online text]

________, The Life of Andrew Jackson, President of the United States (Philadelphia: T. K. Greenbank, 1834)(Major Jack Downing [pseud.])

_________, John Smith's Letters, with 'picters' to match. Containing reasons why John Smith should not change his name; Miss Debby Smith's juvenile spirit; together with The only authentic history extant of the late war in our disputed territory (New York: S. Colman, 1839)

_________(ed.), Dew-drops of the Nineteenth Century: Gathered and Preserved in Their Brightness and Purity (New York: J. K. Wellman, 1846) [online text]

_________, Jack Downing's Letters (Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson & Brothers, 1845)(under the pseud. Jack Downing)(1859)(New York: Bromley & Co., J.F. Feeks, 1864)

_________ (ed.), The Keepsake, or, Token of Remembrance for 1848 Dew Drops of the Nineteenth Century (New York: J. Levison, [1848?])

_________, Way Down East; Or, Portraits of Yankee Life (New York: Derby and Jackson, 1857) [online text]

_________, My Thirty Years Out of the Senate (New York: Oaksmith & Company, 1859)(Major Jack Downing [pseud.]) [online text] (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860)

_________, New Elements of Geometry (New York: G.P. Putnam / London: R. Bentley, 1850) [online text]

_________, Way Down East: or Portraitures of Yankee Life (Philadelphia: Potter, 1854)(New York: Derby & Jackson, [etc., etc.], 1857)(Philadelphia: J.E. Potter, 1866)(Philadelphia: Keystone Publishing, 1890)

_________, Speech of John Smith, Esquire not delivered at Smithville, Sept. 15th, 1861 (New York: Wm. C. Bryant, Printers, 1864)