1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Seward

Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, "Verses addressed to Miss Seward on reading an ill-natured Criticism on her Louisa" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (3 February 1785).



Her bosom burning with unwonted fire,
Again the teeming Muse attunes her lyre;
Beneath the name of Seward flies to earth,
And, lo! proclaims the sweet Louisa's birth:
To make her worthy of that high renown,
Which Seward long, as with a radiant crown,
By her enamour'd country had been grac'd,
The Muse, to deck her offspring, summons Taste;
Energic Genius, with his ardent eyes;
Imagination, bright with changing dies;
And Sensibility's magnetic power;
And prays them to adorn the natal hour
Of this her darling with each various grace
Expressive of her high Parnassian race,
And meet, without a fear, or blush, to claim
The glorious patronage of Seward's name.
Glad they assent; and soon the lovely maid,
Beneath their fost'ring cares, each charm display'd,
That prove, in concert join'd, their sovereign art
To win the judgment, and enslave the heart.
Within her eye the fires of Genius play,
Temper'd by Sensibility's soft ray,
Glow on her cheek, in every smile appear,
Give strange electric force to every tear;
Inform each step, each gest; and mingle fair
The timid Graces, with her noble air;
Imagination the rich robe supplies,
That dazzles with a thousand lustrous dyes;
And every ornament is aptly plac'd
To give the whole its full effect, by Taste.
Shewn to the World, thus form'd, and thus array'd,
All eyes were fix'd upon the matchless Maid;
Her melting powers touch'd every generous breast;
The Wise admir'd her, and the Good caress'd.
This Envy saw, and saw with sick'ning heart,
As in her lurking place she writh'd apart:
"And shall it be, thou arrogant! she said,
That undisputed laurels deck thy head?
Thy head alone from Envy's blastings free,
Nor on proud leaf untimely fall by me?
Then vainly are my lips with cankers hung,
And vain the baneful poisons of my tongue!"—
She said, and, saying, beckon'd to her side
Three fiends in nature to herself allied:
Coward Revenge, who shuns a noble war,
And from his secret batt'ry shoots afar,
Base Jealousy, who loaths a rival's praise,
And, whilst he dreads his fame, dissects his lays:
With private rancour, who pretends to be
From every taint of secret malice free;
But through a native dread of piercing light,
Wrapt up herself and them in veils of night;
And, heedless of a publick censor's fame,
Borrow'd and borrowing, damn'd the sacred name.
Then to each other toss'd the taunting head,
"And did ye ever see," paly Envy said,
So mere a mawkin as the vaunted maid?
Look how she walks, is that her nobler air,
And can ye find in that unmeaning state,
The melting grace, the animating fire,
That all are touch'd with, and that all admire?"
"She walks on stilts," dark Jealousy reply'd,
"Which all her art would vainly strive to hide.
Look, look too, how she labours to obtain
The long'd applauses of her gaping train."
"Oh, what forc'd action! oh, what tortur'd grace,
Moves every limb, and grins upon her face!"
Cries private Rancour. — "See her tawdry taste,
How daub'd she is with tinsel, fringe, and paste!"
"But, midst her glittering shreds," Revenge replied,
"Her native rags are easily espied;
And while she proudly boasts her race divine,
And claims extraction from the sacred Nine,
How easy to detect her vulgar birth
From some poor, base, plebeian stock of earth!"
More had they rail'd; but, with disdainful eye,
Candour cut short the scurrilous reply:
And whilst her scornful hand indignant tore
The darkling veil whose skulking glooms they wore,
And shew'd the monsters to the public gape,
Each in its own deform'd and hated shape.
"Hence! hence to hell!" she cry'd, "detested crew;
There your base projects, your dark plots pursue;
There spend your venom where you took your birth,
And cease to harrass and pollute the earth:
Senseless as vile, in your attempts to blast
The glorious sensibility and taste
Genius and radiant Fancy join to shed
With mingled lustre on Louisa's head.
Hence!" — At the word Truth's brilliant shield she rear'd,
In whose bright mirror at its length appear'd
Each bloated fiend to its own loathing sight:
Banning they fled, and, in the shades of night
Hiding their foul deformity, left Worth
T' enjoy a while unpoison'd praise on earth.