1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

Robert Anderson to Thomas Percy, 22 June 1811; Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 7:215-16.



Miss Seward's Works, especially her Letters, touch on persons and times interesting to your Lordship. They are written, almost throughout, with a disgusting affectation of verbal ornament, and are everywhere tinctured with personal, political, and poetical prejudices. Her illiberal treatment of Darwin and Hayley, the first objects of her idolatry, admits of no excuse. Sir Brooke Boothby re-assured me yesterday, that Darwin, to his certain knowledge, himself wrote the first fifty lines in the Botanic Garden, from a short copy of verses on his garden at Lichfield, but Miss S. sent them to the Gentleman's Magazine with her name, and reclaimed them when he printed printed the Botanic Garden. Sir Brooke also assures me, from his own knowledge, that Darwin either originated, or wrote over almost anew, the greatest part of the Elegy on Captain Cook. The internal evidence is strong proof of this account of the composition. Hayley is still living, and must have his feelings hurt by the malignant disclosure of his family differences, upon which it is not safe for a stranger to look, as they involve delicate circumstances which are only known to the parties themselves. Between the poetess and Scott and Southey, her latest idols, the commerce of flattery is extravagant, chiefly on her side. With a few exceptions, the praise of her contemporaries is sparing or invidious. Her strictures on Miss Bannerman's Poems, to which she returns with reiterated animosity in the fifth volume, are particularly harsh and acrimonious. My friend Park and I do not escape her censure for holding an opposite opinion; but mine she reckons of no value, after calling "the defunct Leonidas" a fine epic poem, which is not accurately true.