1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

Jane West to Thomas Percy, 22 August 1811; Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-1858) 8:432.



I trust your Lordship need not be told that neither myself nor the excellent friend whose early loss I shall ever deplore, subscribed to the political or religious tenets of Miss Seward. In many points he corrected my formerly erroneous notions. My Letters to my Son were perused, corrected, and most warmly approved by him; especially in the theological part. Indeed I think so ill of this lady's principles, and in some points of her moral conduct too, that I allow she richly deserves even the severe punishment of your anathema. As to her prose style I know not what to call it; I agree with you it is not English: and as to her abuse of Johnson, granting that he was the malevolent creature she asserts, (which I never thought, and fully take your testimony to the contrary,) still in her vindictive enmity she out-Herods Herod. Yet the sweetness and sublimity of the most part of her poetry; her wit and taste, not always pure indeed, but always original and ingenious; the ardour with which she supports the cause of genius; her perfect freedom from envy — witness her zeal for Mr. Scott, Southey, Jephson, &c. — her acute sensibility, and elegant manners, entitle her I think to as high a place as the Ninon de l'Enclos, or Madame Deffand, of France. Suffer me then, my dear Lord, to beg that your critical ban may be confined to Anna Seward, awkwardly tricked out in the Jacobin scratch and smallclothes of Catherine Macaulay and Mary Woolstonecroft; but let candour pity and taste admire the British Sappho, "her loose locks waving in the wind," hanging up her votive harp in the Temple of Apollo. There was a Phaon, I know; and after his death Sappho settled 100 a-year on his widow, and amply provided for his daughter. Her fortune was very handsome, and in her latter years she lived at Lichfield in an elegant hospitable way, much admired by strangers patronising genius, and quarreling with all who contradicted her.