Collecting Delaware Books
Go to his poetry
One of the rarer books of Delaware literature is Stanford E. Davis's Priceless Jewels, published by the Knickerbocker Press, New York, in 1911. It contains 135 pages of poetry plus front and back matter that give some information about the poet.
Davis was an African-American from Georgetown, Del. He apparently went to school there, since one of his "letters of honor" included in the back matter is signed by "John D. Brooks, Superintendent of free schools, white and colored, of Sussex County, Delaware." Brook's letter says in part, "You have an exceptional Poetical talent. To find a Poet gives me greater pleasure than to find a nugget of gold among the sands of Sussex. . . . May the shades of Dunbar rest heavily upon thee."
("Dunbar" refers to Paul Lawrence Dunbar, 1872-1906, poet and novelist who was, incidently, briefly married to Alice Dunbar Nelson, a teacher at Wilmington's Howard High School. Several of Davis's poems honor Dunbar.)
Brooks is credited with editing at least some of Davis's manuscript. The forward of the book says Dr. and Mrs. V. S. Collins were also instrumental in encouraging and facilitating Davis's education. Others Georgetown people who helped were Dr. James Chipman, a druggist Dr. J. Hammond lawyer Daniel Layton, jr. ex-mayor Charles Moore and Miss Emma Wright.
Davis attended Princess Anne Academy in Somerset County, Maryland, from 1905 to 1907 and graduated in that year. The academy was a college chartered by the Delaware Conference of the Methodist churches in 1886. (The Delaware Conference was for African-Americans the Peninsula Conference was for whites.)
About 1890, the federal government pressured Maryland to adequately support education for all races. At some point, the state acquired the academy. Eventually it became the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
Just when Davis wrote the poems is unclear. A few were written while he worked at the Hotel Dennis in Atlantic City, N.J, some at the academy, and some following Dunbar's death. His portrait in the frontispiece shows a man perhaps in his twenties or thirties. A portrait of his mother is the only other illustration in the book.
The book's forward also acknowledges support from several people in Atlantic City. It also gives a tantalizing hint of an earlier, smaller book, Lyrics of Consolation. Some of the poems in Priceless Jewels are religious, others are inspirational, and still others celebrate the everyday life of his rural childhood. Frank Trigg, his patron at Princess Anne Academy, urged him to write more race poems, though several in the book clearly are.
Like Dunbar, Davis wrote in both standard English and dialect. Today, the dialect is off-putting. It seems too cute. However, dialect was used by many popular writers and poets at the turn of the century. James Whitcomb Riley is a prime example. Here is are four samples of Davis's poetry.
Dey is timz you git so tickle, Dat chou don't kno' what to do! You an' joy des go a leapin' Down som' distant avenue. When dose echoes com' ah sendin', All dem meanin's you don' co't, When you heahs yo' mammy callin', An' de grub is steamin' hot. I haz seen som' childuns la'fin, An' a jumpin' fit to bust. Den des all take out a runnin' Ges to see who git dare fust. Some lose all der bref ah runnin', Odders kin' ah slack an' trot, Fer dey kno' whem mammy cals 'em, Dat de grub is steamin' hot. When you feel ah lil' gloomy, An' you jes don' 'ont no play, 'En you sees de childuns comin', You des drizes dem 'ite away. But dat gloomy feelin' leazes you, When you see de table sot, Kase you kno' yoah ma' don call'd jou, An' de grub is steamin' hot. When youah in de fiel' a ploug'in', Kiny sposin' it is noon, An' yoah mule begins a blatin', Den you kno' it's comin' soon. An' you fin' yo' se'f ongearin', 'Fo'e you take de secon' tho't, Kase you knoes yo' mammy call'd jou, An de grub is steamin' hot. When you heahs de cows a lowin', 'En you gain yore appetite, 'En you sees de sun a set'in', An' you kno' its comin' nite. Den you feels dat 'lectric feelin' Dat jes' 'Pears yo' greatis lot, When you heahs yo' mammy callin', An' de grub is steamin' hot. When you go an' gits de basin, Fo' to wash yo' hanz an' face, An' you kiny glance de table, See 'f de fings is at yo' place, When yo' mammy ax de blessin's, All yore washin' you 's forgot, You is set'in' at de table, An' de grub is steamin' hot.
Come on! Come on! Darkness slowly steals the day. Come on! Little birdies in the bush Roosting, give their chirping wish Give thyself a little push, Come on! Be on! Be on! Evening yet is very young, But on! With your crown of honor to Stealing thru the sky so blue, God himself is sliding you Pass on! Slide on! Slide on! Earth is still and all is well Slide on! For the air is chilly cold And the night is growing old Slide, you burning lumb of gold Slide on! Glide on! Glide on! Queen of Heavens in the night, Glide on! Let me take just one more peep At you on your course so steep Then when I am soft asleep, Glide on!
[Ham probably refers to the second son of Noah, said to be the progenitor of the Egyptians and hence all African peoples. -- JPR]
Regardless of the Prejudice, Regardless jim-crow cars! Though law and justice fail to stand, Behind the pleading bars. Though all the World may wrongfully Hold back him in command Amid trials and temptations, There 's hope in breast of Ham. The 're heavy clouds of grief sometimes, Rise o'er this distant way. His shaking head with discourage At time waits justice sway. But facing hopes of victory With Jesus the World's lamb, In hardest strife with all his foe There 's hope in breast of Ham. Old Ethiopia did Pay well, The Price of Slavery's chain. She bore the toil in mournful songs, And then endured the Pain. How God was pleased! Then said to her "Ye shall stretch forth your hand!" Though Powers may rise against her There 's hope in breast of Ham.
Why do you hold God's priceless gems In your filthy slums, Procrastination? How many rubies and diamonds Have been lost in your fascination? I glance your mold sods and spacious hems, Your sinful caves daily sink millions! How many talents lay dormant In your soothing beds of ease contented Why not let them arise and shine? How long will you hold them down lamented? Let them come forth for God, and grant His blessings to nations who wait them! There may be a Shakespeare, a Burns, Whittier, or Dunbar held in your lands Or some other Moses the world Has not yet seen, covered in your sands, Hindered by your dares and cruel spurns, Which forces them to sleep deeper!