April 18, 2012

Birth of Richard Harding Davis

Rebecca Harding Davis, best remembered for her 1861 book Life in the Iron Mills, married Lemuel Clarke Davis in 1863. A year and a month later, on April 18, 1864, she gave birth to their first child, Richard Harding Davis. While a student at Lehigh University, the young Davis became interested in literature and experimented with writing poetry. The day before his 19th birthday in 1883, his mother wrote to him a series of quotes meant to inspire him. As she told him, "Maybe, this year, or some other year, when I am not with you, they may give you, sometimes, comfort and strength."

While at Lehigh, Davis also helped start the football team and also founded a social organization, the Pipe and Bowl Club, which would "sing, read, eat and box until midnight" every Saturday. As he promised his father, however, it would not interfere with his schoolwork. Alas, Davis never graduated and was asked to leave for focusing too much on his social life.

Davis traveled for a bit before attempting the life of a journalist, much like his father, and covered important stories including the Johnstown Flood. Shortly after, he followed his mother's footsteps and published short stories; one published in St. Nicholas in 1888, which earned him $50 (the same amount, his mother noted, that she received for her Life in the Iron Mills). In the story in question, "Midsummer Pirates," denizens of a seaside resort town (who stay at the old Chadwick) are dismayed by the influx of new tourists (who stay at the Atlantic House) drawn in by corporations developing the area. So, the two groups prepare a boat race to end their rivalry; the race evolved into a game they called "Pirates and Smugglers." When an older man of the town is asked which side he expects to win, he answers:

"...Though these boats the Chadwick boys have is five years old, they're good boats still; and those boys know every trick and turn of 'em — and they know every current and sand-bar just as though it was marked with a piece of chalk. So if the Atlantic folks win, it'll be because they've got the best boats; and if the Chadwick boys win, they'll win because they're better sailors."

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