1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:278.



Several other poetesses of this period are deserving of notice, though their works are now almost faded from remembrance. With much that is delicate in sentiment and feeling, and with considerable powers of poetical fancy and expression, their leading defect is a want of energy or of genuine passion, and of that originality which can alone forcibly arrest the public attention. One of the most conspicuous of these was Miss ANNA SEWARD (1747-1809), the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Seward, canon-residentiary of Lichfield, himself a poet, and one of the editors of Beaumont and Fletcher. This lady was early trained to a taste for poetry, and, before she was nine years of age, she could repeat the three first books of Paradise Lost. Even at this time, she says, she was charmed with the numbers of Milton. Miss Seward wrote several elegiac poems — an Elegy to the Memory of Captain Cook, a Monody on the Death of Major Andre, &c. — which, from the popular nature of the subjects, and the animated though inflated style of the composition, enjoyed great celebrity. Darwin complimented her as "the inventress of epic elegy;" and she was known by the name of the Swan of Lichfield. A poetical novel, entitled Louisa, was published by Miss Seward in 1782, and passed through several editions. After bandying compliments with the poets of one generation, Miss Seward engaged Sir Walter Scott in a literary correspondence, and bequeathed to him for publication three volumes of her poetry, which he pronounced execrable. At the same time she left her correspondence to Constable, and that publisher gave to the world six volumes of her letters. Both collections were unsuccessful. The applauses of Miss Seward's early admirers were only calculated to excite ridicule, and the vanity and affectation which were her besetting sins, destroyed equally her poetry and prose. Some of her letters, however, are written with spirit and discrimination.