1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Jerningham

Anna Seward to Edward Jerningham, 5 March 1796; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:181-84.



Lichfield, March 5, 1796.

Your letter interested and amused, even while it told me unwelcome intelligence; — that the mind of a certain lady, whose destiny excites general solicitude, does not promise that irradiation of the domestic circle which might induce her distinguished consort to consider her as its sun; — and that you ungratefully determine to desert the Muse, whose inspirations have been liberal. You desert her, not upon duty, but upon dogma, whose logical precision seems to condense the whole collection of reasons why a man, who has filled three volumes, ought to fill no more than three.

Let us try for an impressive axiom on the other side the question. If a man has written well, he will probably continue to write well, and six good books are better than three; — if ill, he should try to efface the recollection of past dimness by present lustre; — if moderately, let him try to be "like music, sweetest at the close."

As to my Aonian pregnancy, as you comically term it, I trust you have no mountain expectations; for, if you should, a mouse will certainly be the result. The publisher has orders to present you with an early copy. Mrs. M. Vernon, who is always and every way good to me, will receive a visit from my mouse-bantling at the same period. If you should both of you pet, and call it pretty love, its mother will be right proud.

Burke has proved himself on this occasion, as on all the past, a great luminary in genius and eloquence. I always admired the justness of his now-accomplished prophecies, and spirited philippics on the monstrous and unorganized democracy, with its inevitably ensuing guilt and misery; yet I cannot esteem the man, because of that excessive toryism which he unhappily blended with his reprobation of French principles.

There is no forgetting how incompatible his past and present maxims in British politics; nor can we avoid believing that, with him who stoops to receive pecuniary recompense for dereliction of recorded principles, the hope of pecuniary recompense was its motive, — but I am speaking, of his first work on the French revolution, — of this last, on the Duke of Bedford, I have seen only as yet a newspaper extract.

Do you not rejoice in Mr. Hayley's able and ample rescue of Milton's moral fame from the talons of the envious, unjust bigot in religion, in politics, and in poetic judgment?

You please me with what you say of our prince. Often have we heard of his graces; I am better pleased to hear you speak of his erudition. I used to be afraid that I saw in him another Charles II.; but it augurs a better resemblance that he reveres virtue; and, towards our amiable friend of his household, Mrs. Vernon,—

That he esteems the consecrated snow
On Dian's lap.

Adieu!