1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens

Anna Seward to William Bagshaw Stevens, 27 April 1796; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 4:198-202.



Lichfield, April 7, 1796.

Slight circumstances, dear Sir, cannot induce me to suspect my friends of any thing resembling ingratitude. If, which sometimes happens, they never acknowledge the little rhyming tributes of my esteem which I may send them, I conclude they cannot like the verses, and are too sincere to flatter me on their subject. That your kind assurances of a better fate for my late publication were impeded, by the disabling influence of your constitutional fiend, excites my concern and my sympathy. Most of us, when the healthy springtime of life is past, have some corporal demon, that takes up his cruel residence in our perishable frames, robbing us of the comforts of ease, the energies of cheerfulness, and of all the powers of intellectual exertion. Beneath its persecution, often do I wish "to doze out what remains of life." At such periods, I could as soon build temples as write verses, which should not prove the mere lees of imagination. But, under every impression of pain and weakness, your sonnet, tremblingly inscribed by your left hand, has the bright wine of the fancy in its first sprightly running.

Warmly do I thank you for this gratifying exertion. These are the more than golden recompenses for the anxious and irksome bustle of publication — for the cold neglect of some we bad fondly hoped would have been pleased with our attempts, and for the ignorance, impertinence, or secret yet personal enmity of anonymous criticism.

The picture of former ages, in the beginning of the sonnet ["Cambria exult! again a voice divine"], is sublime. — Freedom bending from her shrine, amid the Cambrian rocks, and listening to her white-robed bards.

Elegant are the lines of kind encomium on the strains which endeavour to retouch the time-faded tints of Langollen's early hours, and to paint, in Aonian hues, those which now result to her from the taste and literary pursuits of the Rosalind and Celia of real life, as Mr. Hayley, with felicity of allusion, calls them.

Your epithet, "haunted," for the Deva, is happy; — so is the imputed mixture of aerial strains with those thus highly flattered. The float of the sounds from glen to cliff, by one of the refined arts of true poetry, presents the romantic features of the scene, while it seems only praising the lays that hymn them. This sonnet is of the higher orders of verse. If the second edition of my late work had not been printed off, I should have requested your permission to have prefixed it with Cary's.

I can truly say, that I never read any verses of yours which did not breathe the genuine spirit of Delphic inspiration. Often do my literary friends hear me express regret, that the stupid malignity, the Midas-decision of the Critical Review should have had power, as, by your long inexertion it seems to have had, of robbing the present period of compositions that must have considerably augmented its poetic fame.

I have sent this lovely sonnet to the fair Recluses, who will perceive all its beauty. It was accompanied by these exquisite stanzas, which you wrote many years ago in one of our inn windows. Involving my little muse in their fine eulogium on my darling city, I consider them as forming one of the most precious garlands that ever poetic talent wove for it, or for me.

I hope you are by this time emancipated from the "durance vile," and are enjoying the youth of the year. May you rejoice in very many of its blooming renovations! Adieu!