1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

Robert Southey to Mrs. Bray, 21 March 1833; Selections from the Letters, ed. Warter (1856) 4:335-36.



I once passed two days at her house, having known her before only by letters. A lady with whom I was very intimate, and who had a quick sense of the ludicrous, carried me to her door, and was present at the introduction. Miss Seward lived in the bishop's palace, a venerable old house, such as you might suppose a bishop's to be that had not been much, if at all, altered since Queen Anne's days. I was received on the wide oak staircase, which came down to the hall door, by one of the minor canons, a person whose short manner and speech savoured more of such characters in Ben Jonson used to conceive than of anything in real life. He, after some rapturous welcomes of such ridiculous solemnity that they put my good manners upon the rack to sustain them without laughing, ushered me into the presence. Miss Seward was at her writing desk; she was not far short of seventy, and very lame in consequence of frequent accidents to one of her knees. Her head-dress was quite youthful, with flowing ringlets: more beautiful eyes I never saw in any human countenance; they were youthful, and her spirit and manners were youthful too; and there was so much warmth, and liveliness, and cordiality, that, except the ringlets, everything would have made you forget that she was old. This, however, was the impression with which I left her. The first scene was the most tragi-comic or comico-tragic that it was ever my fortune to be engaged in. After a greeting, so complimentary that I would gladly have insinuated myself into a nut-shell, to have hidden from it, "she told me that she had that minute finished transcribing some verses upon one of my poems, — she would read them to me, and entreated me to point out anything that might be amended in them." I took my seat, and, by favour of a blessed table, placed my elbow so that I could hide my face by leaning upon it with my hand, and have the help of that hand to keep down the risible muscles, while I listened to my own praise and glory set forth, in sonorous rhymes, and declared by one who read with theatrical effect. Opposite to me sat Miss Barker, towards whom I dared not raise an eye, and who was in as much fear of a glance from me as I was of one from her.