1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Seward

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 27:358-60.



WILLIAM SEWARD, a biographical writer, was the son of Mr. Seward, partner in the brewhouse under the firm of Calvert and Seward, and was born in January 1747. He first went to a small seminary in the neighbourhood of Cripplegate, and afterwards to the Charter-house school, where he acquired a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, which he improved at Oxford. Having no inclination to engage in business, he relinquished his concern in the brewhouse at his father's death; and being possessed of an easy fortune, did not apply to any profession, but devoted his time to learned leisure, and, among other pursuits, amused himself with collecting the materials for what he called "Drossiana," in the European Magazine, which he began in October 1789, and continued without intermission to the end of his life. After he had published in this manner for some time, he was advised to make a selection, which, in 1794, he began with two volumes, and these were followed in the three succeeding years by three more, under the title of "Anecdotes of some distinguished Persons, chiefly of the present and two preceding Centuries;" a work which met with general approbation, and has been since reprinted. In 1799 he published two volumes more on the plan of the former work, which be entitled "Biographiana." These were finished a very short time before his death.

Mr. Seward was in every respect a desirable acquaintance; he had travelled abroad with great improvement, and was known to most of those who had, distinguished themselves by genius or learning, by natural or acquired endowments, or even by eccentricity of character; and he had stored his memory with anecdotes which made his conversation extremely entertaining. But though he wished to observe the manner of eminent or extraordinary men, he did not indiscriminately form friendships with them. He knew many, but was intimate with few. He was the friend of Dr. Johnson, had conversed with Mr. Howard, and condescended to know Tom Paine. Party distinctions appeared to have but little weight with him. He visited and received the visits of many whose opinions were directly opposite to each other, and equally to his own.

He spent his time like an English gentleman, with hospitality and without ostentation. In the winter he resided in London; and of late years, in the summer, he varied his place of abode. At one time he resided at Mr. Coxe's house, near Salisbury; at another, near Reading; and the summer preceding his death, he made Richmond his residence. At all these places, and, indeed, wherever he came, he found acquaintances who respected and valued him for his amiable qualities. He bore a tedious illness with fortitude and resignation. Without expressing any impatience, he viewed the progress of his disorder, which he early discovered was a dangerous one; and continued his literary pursuits, and received his friends, until a few hours of his dissolution, which took place the 24th April 1799; and, a few days after, his remains were interred in the family vault at Finchley.