1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Seward

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 69 (May 1799) 439-40.



At his lodgings in Dean-street, Soho, of a dropsy, in the prime of life, William Seward, esq. F.R.A.SS. author of "Anecdotes of distinguished Persons," 5 vols. 8vo, 1795; and "Biographiana," 2 vols 8vo. 1799. This gentleman was the son of Mr. Seward, partner in Calvert's brewhouse, and was born in January, 1747. He first went to Charterhouse, whence he was removed to Oxford, where he finished his education. Being possessed of an easy fortune, he did not apply to any profession, but devoted his life to learned leisure, cultivating his talents for his own amusement, and the entertainment and instruction of the publick. He possessed uncommonly active benevolence, being always ready to promote the interest of his friends, and solicitous to relieve those who were in distress. His charity was unbounded; and it would be difficult to point out a person, with whom he was intimate, who had not obligations to acknowledge from him. He afforded the Whitehall Evening Post much assistance, particularly in supplying it with the Reminiscentia, of which a considerable portion remains yet to publish. He bore a lingering disorder with great fortitude and resignation, and quitted life with the regret of all who knew his virtues, or who respect worth and talents, all uniformly employed for the benefit of mankind. — Mr. S. was a great gleaner of information, and collector of a pleasing mass of intelligence, which he dealt out to the publick through the channels of the European Magazine and Cadell's Repository. Although he could not draw characters like Clarendon, yet he had a felicity of his own in hitting off the leading features of his subject. He was apt to dwell long and return often to certain names, not considering that telling a story is like driving a nail into a plastered wall; a few strokes fix it; after which, if you attempt to enforce it, it either gets loose, or recoils. Mr. S. dwelt much in locomotion, and often passed from from place to place in search of happiness, as he fondly imagined this was the best way to procure her if she were to be had on earth. During an excursion of this sort, being at Exeter, in order to have an interview with that singular character, William Jackson, musician and painter, he missed the man, but found his daughter, a young lady of a strong mind and discerning spirit, who, upon learning the general and particular objects of his visit, plainly told him, that she was surprized above measure how he, who had told the world that content was only to be fund in an elbow chair, should think of coming so far out of his way to look for it, before he had courted it in the same place in his own parlour. — From one of his friends, we have received the following character of Mr. Seward: "His education had been the most liberal which this country affords, improved by foreign travel, refined and embellished by an intimate acquaintance with man celebrated characters both at home and abroad. His characteristicks were humanity and beneficence, and an impartial admiration for merit, and active zeal for its success, with that candour and liberality which spurns local distinctions and academic prejudices; qualities highly becoming a gentleman and a scholar, yet not always to be found in persons assuming those respectable titles. He was fond of his joke, and would sometimes indulge it at the expence of his good-nature. His conversation was desultory, like his writings; and, by the flow of convivial merriment, he might be hurried into sayings which he did not believe, and sentiments which he did not approve; but he was incapable of deliberately hurting any living creature either by word or deed. As a writer, he is by far the most popular, and certainly one of the first in this country, in that walk of literature which he pursued. This acknowledgment is extorted from that public lampooner, that "avocato di diavolo," the invisible author of the "Pursuits of Literature," and is inserted in a note to one of the few intelligible lines in his execrable medley of impotent malignity and barren pedantry. That envious scribbler endeavours to degrade Mr. S. by calling him "the public bag-man;" an appellation far too dignified for himself, since the bag-man is at least a known character, and responsible for the whisper and the lie which he circulates." His remains were interred in his family-vault at Finchley May 1.