47 irregular Spenserians (ababcC): a very long poem on a very minor literary personage. Lady Anne Miller, a noted hostess, was the cause and begetter of a good deal of society verse in the later decades of the eighteenth century: "To her gay dome, that decks the breezy vale, | Enlighten'd Pleasure led a jocund crew, | And youths and virgins in the vernal gale, | With eager step to her chaste revel flew" p. 4. Anna Seward catalogues some of the poets who contributed verses to Lady Miller's famous urn at Batheaston, source of the several volumes published as Poetical Amusements at a Villa near Bath. After their quarrel, Seward substituted for the stanza Samuel Jackson Pratt a stanza on Robert Potter, translator of Aeschylus.
This was the third elegy Anna Seward had published in as many years; her public reputation was founded on the Elegy on Captain Cooke (1780) and Monody on Major Andre (1781). This poem to Lady Miller was less successful (much of the literary world refused to take the Bath Easton circle seriously) though it seems to have done no harm to Anna Seward's reputation as a rising star. In the 1780s her only serious rival as a poet was William Hayley, with whom she shared a very public friendship.
Preface: "Lady Miller, of Bath-Easton, near Bath, held an Assembly at that elegant Villa once a Fortnight during the Bath Season. She rendered this Meeting a Poetical Institution, giving out Subjects at each Assembly for Poems to be read on the ensuing one. The Verses were deposited in an antique Etruscan Vase, and were drawn out by Gentlemen appointed to read them aloud, and to judge of their rival Merits. These Gentlemen, ignorant of the Authors, selected three Poems from the Collection which they thought most worthy of the three Myrtle Wreaths, decreed as the Rewards and Honours of the Day. The Names of the Persons who had obtained the Prizes were then announced by Lady Miller. Once a Year the most ingenious of these Productions were published. Four Volumes have already appeared, and the Profits have been applied to the Benefit of a Charity at Bath; so that Lady Miller's Institution was not only calculated to awaken and cultivate Ingenuity, but to serve the Purposes of Benevolence and Charity. It had continued about six Years, and ceased with the Death of its amiable Patroness. — That event happened in July 1781" i-ii.
Critical Review: "The same lively glow of imagination, and bewitching harmony of numbers, which shone so conspicuously in her Elegy on Captain Cook, and the Monody on Major Andre, seem to animate the performance before us, which, whilst it shews the brilliancy of her genius, and the correctness of her style, do honour to her heart and feelings by the praise which she gives to her contemporaries" 53 (March 1782) 230.
Edmund Cartwright: "It is not then to be wondered at that a poetess, who, like Miss Seward, was personally attached to the foundress of such a rational and benevolent institution, should once more invoke 'those plaintive powers of song,' whom she had on former occasions already found so propitious, to assist her in commemorating so respectable a character" Monthly Review 67 (July 1782) 46.
European Magazine: "The poem opens with asserting the propriety of the author's writing on the subject, to a contemplation of which she declares herself invited by friendship and justice. The subsequent verses describe not only the innocence and entertainment, but utility of her ladyship's institution. Our author's next design, and which she has executed very beautifully, is to offer a sketch of Lady Miller's character, which is equally honourable to her heart and her muse. After this very modest account of herself, she consecrates a complimentary stanza to some of the most distinguished bards who have been successful candidates for the myrtle" 1 (April 1782) 286.
Frances Burney: "Well, then, Lady Miller is a round, plump, coarse-looking dame of about forty, and while all her aim is to appear an elegant woman of fashion, all her success is, to seem an ordinary woman in very common life, with fine clothes on. Her manners are bustling, her air is mock-important, and her manners very inelegant. So much for the lady of Bath Easton; who, however, seems extremely good-natured, and who is I am sure extremely civil" 1780; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904) 1:382.
Horace Walpole: "You must know, Madam, that near Bath is erected a new Parnassus, composed of three laurels, a myrtle-tree, a weeping-willow, and a view of the Avon, which has been new christened Helicon. Ten years ago there lived a Madam Riggs, an old rough humourist who passed for a wit; her daughter, who passed for nothing, married to a Captain Miller, full of good-natured officiousness. These good folks were friends of Miss Rich, who carried me to dine with them at Bath-Easton, now Pindus. They caught a little of what then was called taste, built and planted, and begot children, till the whole caravan were forced to go abroad to retrieve. Alas! Mrs. Miller is returned a beauty, a genius, a Sappho, a tenth Muse, as romantic as Mademoiselle Scuderi, and as sophisticated as Mrs. Vesey. The Captain's fingers are loaded with cameos, his tongue runs over with virtu, and that both may contribute to the improvement of their country, they have introduced bouts-rimes as a new discovery. They hold a Parnassus fair every Thursday, give out rhymes and themes, and all the flux of quality at Bath contend for the prizes. A Roman vase dressed with pink ribbons and myrtles receives the poetry, which is drawn out every festival; six judges of these Olympic games retire and select the brightest compositions, which the respective successful acknowledge, kneel to Mrs. Calliope Miller, kiss her fair hand, and are crowned by it with myrtle, with — I don't know what. You may think this is fiction, or exaggeration. Be dumb, unbelievers! The collection is printed, published. — Yes, on my faith, there are bouts-rimes on a buttered muffin, made by her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland; receipts to make them by Corydon the venerable, alias George Pitt; others very pretty, by Lord Palmerston; some by Lord Carlisle: many by Mrs. Miller herself, that have no fault but wasting metre; an Immortality promised to her without end or measure. In short, such folly, which never ripens to madness but in this hot climate, ran distracted, there never was anything so entertaining or so dull — for you cannot read so long as I have been telling" to the Hon. Mr. Conway and Lady Aylesbury, 15 January 1775; in Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 6:170-72.
Walter Scott: "Miss Seward's poetical powers appear to have lain dormant, or to have been only sparingly exercised, until her acquaintance with Lady Miller, whose fanciful and romantic institution at Bath Easton, was then the subject of public attention. A concise account of this poetical association, which was graced by the names of Anstey and of Hayley, forms the preface to a poem which Miss Seward afterwards dedicated to the memory of its accomplished foundress. The applause of this selected circle gave Miss Seward courage to commit some of her essays to the press; and the public received with great favour the elegiac commemorations of Andre and of Cook" Seward, Poetical Works (1810) 1:xi.
George Butt, one of the Bath-Easton poets, responded to Anna Seward's poem with "An elegiac Epistle on the Memory of Lady Millar" in Poems (1793) 1:218-21. An Elegy to Lady Millar, inscribed to Anna Seward, was published in the Bath Chronicle, 14 February 1782.
Not to your shades alone, ye martial Dead,
The scatter'd flow'rs of plaintive rhyme belong,
Tho' Valour, marching round your grave, may shed
The richest seeds of elegiac song;
Tho' Fame's proud chissel o'er your trophied tomb
Hangs the bright falchion high, and bends the warrior-plume.
When Death with silent footstep prints the plain,
And spreads o'er female worth his sable pall,
Shall Poesy renounce the mournful train,
Shall her melodious tears refuse to fall,
Where Friendship's sighs, where Love's deep groans invite,
And Virtue calls aloud to aid the solemn rite?
Ye, who essay'd to weave the golden thread,
And gem with flow'rs the woof of high applause,
The pious veil o'er shroudless ANDRE spread,
O'er ANDRE, murder'd in his country's cause;
Ye, who with foliage dun and plumage grey,
Rear'd high the sacred shade that wav'd o'er COOK'S Morai;
Ye Sister Nine, that weep departed worth,
Pour from your echoing strings the soothing lay,
Chaunt the slow requiem o'er this hallow'd earth,
That hides your LAURA'S life-deserted clay;
Hides the cold heart, which glow'd with all your fires,
The hand, that deck'd with wreaths your many-chorded lyres.
Oft have ye seen her, in her classic bow'rs,
Weave the rich myrtle round the early rose;
And grace with dearer joy the festive hours
Than vain parade, or idle mirth bestows;
While from her glance benign young Genius caught
Spirit to ope fresh mines of soul-exalting thought.
And sure, o'er polished circles to diffuse
The new ambition, virtuous and refin'd,
To the light Graces lead the loftier Muse,
And their twin'd hands with rosy chaplets bind,
Not less deserves the meed of tuneful Praise,
Than Valour his proud wreath, than Wit his deathless bays.
To her gay dome, that decks the breezy vale,
Enlighten'd Pleasure led a jocund crew,
And youths and virgins in the vernal gale,
With eager step to her chaste revel flew;
While to the inspiring God that gilds the day,
Pure the devotion rose in many a glowing lay.
Propitious heard the Pow'r, and gaily beam'd,
Gilding the foliage of the verdant shrine;
And bending o'er her Vase, fair LAURA seem'd
The smiling Priestess of the sacred Nine,
As her green wreath she wove, to grace the Bard,
Whose sweet superior song might claim the wish'd reward.
But now, disastrous change! — alas! no more
Her gentle looks, and dulcet voice invite
The willing train their festive songs to pour,
And wing the passing moments with delight;
O'er the lone Vase, e'erwhile so gaily crown'd,
A dim hand draws the veil of sable lawn around;
And to her Shade the mingled dirge of woe
Ascends from HARRINGTON'S harmonious hand;
The plaintive sounds, with varied sweetness flow,
And thro' the scenes that feel her loss expand;
His melting notes impress with magic art
Her recollected worth on ev'ry generous heart.
Benignant LAURA! to the Muses dear,
Thy virtuous mind with bright ambition glow'd,
To tune the lyre, the votive shrine to rear,
By Science hallow'd in their fair abode;
From sterling wit to clear each base alloy,
And fill with purest fires the crystal lamp of Joy.
With high-soul'd pleasure, and ingenuous truth,
'Twas thine to nurse the hopes of young Renown;
'Twas thine to elevate the views of youth;
To look, with calm disdain, superior down
On Pride's cold frown, and Fashion's pointed leer;
On Envy's serpent lie, and Folly's apish sneer.
Wide thro' the murky shades by Malice shed,
To shroud its blossoms, and its foliage blight,
With rising strength thy verdant altar spread,
And bards of loftiest spirit join'd its rite;
And with their oaken, and their laurel crown
Inwove thy myrtle buds, fair wreath of fair Renown!
Tho' all unknown to Fame its artless reed,
My trembling hand, at thy kind bidding, tried
To crop the blossoms of th' uncultur'd mead,
The primrose pale, the briar's blushing pride,
And on thy vase with true devotion laid
The tributary flow'rs — too soon, alas! to fade.
Safe thro' thy gentle ordeal's lambent flame,
My Muse, aspiring dar'd the fiercer blaze,
Which Judgment lights before the hill of Fame,
With calm determin'd hand and searching gaze;
But for thy lib'ral praise, with awful dread,
Far from those burning bars my trembling feet had fled.
Clad in the fine Asbestos light attire,
By Elegance inwove with nicest care,
Of pow'r to pass unhurt the public fire,
Where critic Wit bids all his beacons glare,
The sprightly WINFORD, at her LAURA'S fane,
Pass'd thro' its milder flames, amid th' applauding train.
The Nymph of Dronfield there with snowy hand,
To gay Thalia swept the silver wires;
The frolic Muse attends her soft command,
And the free strain with many a charm inspires;
Long be it hers in lettered scenes to please,
By quick Invention's fire, and Nature's graceful ease.
Dear to the parent-source from whence I drew
The spark of life, and all that life endears,
Time-honour'd GRAVES! with duteous joy I view
Thy hollies blushing through the snow of years;
Their wintry Colours the chaste shrine adorn,
Vivid as Genius blends in Life's exulting morn.
Triumphant youth fann'd the poetic flame
Of noble FIELDING, whose energic soul
So early wing'd him up the steeps of Fame,
And gain'd, e'er manhood's dawn, the distant goal;
Still in his lays the wounded breast shall find
A charm, that sooths to rest each Vulture of the mind.
From woodland scenes, in Stamford's flow'ry vale,
With Learning, Peace, and Virtue, fond to dwell,
And ring his wild Harp to the passing gale,
While DRYDEN'S spirit hover'd o'er the shell,
Invention led her musing Son among
Sweet LAURA'S Delphic shades, that crown'd his mystic song.
And graceful JERNINGHAM benignly brought
His gentle Muse, of Bigot-Rage the foe;
And skill'd to blend the force of reasoning Thought
With Sensibility's enamour'd glow;
Skill'd o'er frail Love to draw the sacred veil,
Whose mournful texture floats on Fancy's buoyant gale.
There tender WHALLEY struck his silver lyre
To Love and Nature strung, — as mingled flows
With elegiac sweetness epic fire,
In the soft story of his Edwy's woes;
Its beauteous page shall prompt, thro' distant years,
The thrill of generous joy, the tide of pitying tears.
Near him a Bard, of many a fair design,
On the crown'd Vase the varied treasure pil'd,
And Oh! let moral Truth, and Fancy join,
To grace sweet Sympathy's poetic Child!
That his rich chaplet with the verse may vie,
Which throws the roseate ray on Nature's social tie!
ANSTEY himself would join the sportive Band,
ANSTEY, enlivener of the serious earth!
At the light waving of whose magic wand,
New fountains rose, and flow with endless mirth;
Pouring on Fancy's soul a glow as warm,
As Bath's rich springs impart to Health's reviving form.
Immortal Truth, for his salubrious song,
Pluck'd the unfading laurel from her fane;
Since oft, amid the laugh of Momus' throng,
Wisdom has gravely smil'd, and prais'd the strain;
Pleas'd to behold the Fools of Fashion hit
By new, unrival'd shafts of Ridicule and Wit.
Bright glows the list with many an honour'd Name,
Whom Taste in LAURA'S votive throng surveys;
But HAYLEY flashes in a type of flame,
Trac'd by a sun-beam the broad letters blaze!
Rapt Britain reads the long-recording fire,
Claps her triumphant hands, and bids her realms admire!
While check'd by gen'rous Friendship's modest frown,
That will not hear the praise it joys to give;
My fingers quit the chords of high renown,
On which his young, but deathless glories live;
Yet with these lays one grateful wish shall blend,
And on Devotion's wing to list'ning Heaven ascend.
Thro' lengthen'd years that pass, and passing shine,
While Health and Joy, on their bright moments wait,
May his pure mind, with all its warmth benign,
Set late and cloudless in the depths of fate;
Not early, like fair LAURA'S spirit, fly
From this dark earthly scene, to its congenial sky!
Stay the white radiance of thy silver car
O'er LAURA'S hallow'd turf, fair Queen of Night,
From the mild orb of thy prelusive star,
Feeding its pensive flow'rs with dewy light!
For so her gentle spirit oft' wou'd shed
Soft Pity's light and dews on Pain's deserted head.
When Fashion o'er her threw the shining vest,
When Pleasure round her trill'd the Syren song,
The sighs of Pity swell'd her polish'd breast,
The tones of Mercy warbled from her tongue;
She bade the fires of classic lore pervade
With Charity's kind warmth, Misfortune's barren shade.
Not in the wealth of Andes' glitt'ring mines,
Not in the charms the zone of Love bestows,
The female Form so exquisitely shines,
Tho' Empire binds the circlet on her brows,
As when Compassion sheds her lustre meek,
Swims in the moisten'd eye, and wets the glowing cheek.
O witness Thou, so eminently good,
That in the regal robe, and beauty's pride,
At Calais' conquer'd gate, sweet smiling stood,
By thy victorious Edward's awful side!
In martial ire War's sable cloud he seem'd,
And thou the radiant bow, that o'er its darkness beam'd.
Boast of thy sex, and glory of the throne!
O'er all thy form what matchless graces spread,
When thy fair eyes in moist suffusion shone,
And from thy cheek the changing crimson fled,
As on the neck of Edward's captive foes
To thy afflicted sight th' opprobrious cord arose!
Oh! while the Fair, with soul-subduing pow'r,
On her bent knee their forfeit-lives implor'd;
When, like two stars seen thro' a rushing show'r,
Her watry eyes gaz'd earnest on her lord,
'Twas then thy virtues, loveliest Queen, outshone
Thy Edward's victor-plume, waving o'er Gallia's throne!
Thus while with fervent zeal the auspicious Nine
O'er LAURA'S form the classic cestus threw,
Hung all their golden harps within her shrine,
And ting'd her wreaths with undecaying hue,
Yet, Charity, thy soft seraphic flame
A purer glory shed around her spotless name.
And harmonizing sweet with Friendship's lyre
The grateful blessings of the Poor shall blend,
And borne on Angel-wings to Heaven's full choir,
Sublime the breath of Gratitude ascend;
With strains more dulcet swell the aspiring gales,
Than rise from Pindus' grove, than float in Thespian vales.
Nor yet that worth, which shunn'd the public view,
Wilt thou, O mournful Muse! refuse to sing;
Each virtue rather to its shade pursue,
And stoop from shining heights thy trembling wing;
Teach the soft sex whence genuine transport flows,
Tell them, domestic joy the fullest bliss bestows.
This beauteous lesson may they wisely read
In the white page of LAURA'S vital state;
And emulate each great, each gentle deed,
That crown'd her fame, or that disarm'd her fate;
For sky-rob'd Innocence can smiling brave
The dart of instant Death, and triumph o'er the grave.
O, born to smooth the rugged path of life,
For all who trod with thee its mazy round!
Where neither gloomy Care, nor noisy Strife,
Dark Spleen or haggard Jealousy were found;
For Chearfulness and Love, with potent sway,
The Lares of thy hearth, chas'd ev'ry Fiend away.
Since well thou knew'st, nor Pomp nor festal show,
In the gay revel of their gorgeous night,
On Youth's warm breast cou'd breathe so pure a glow,
As sweet domestic Comfort's chearing light;
For soft she sheds, on halcyon pinions borne,
Her poppies o'er the Night, her roses on the Morn.
In Dissipation's giddy circle whirl'd,
One joy sincere can erring Beauty prove,
A Rake's loose homage or a flatt'ring world,
Supply the Sweetness of connubial Love;
Where fix'd Esteem shall lasting joy inspire,
And blend the Husband's faith with all the Lover's fire?
Nor less that bliss the virtuous bosom knows
Whilst its fond care a Parent's woe beguiles;
When Life's pale winter, with the filial Rose
Adorn'd and happy, still serenely smiles;
Lulls the chill gale of each repining sigh,
And basks in Joy's warm gleam when the lov'd Child is nigh.
Thus duteous LAURA hung, with Vestal Care,
O'er the dim trembling light of waning Age;
The waste of Time and Sickness to repair,
And steal attention from each dark presage;
Discharging thus Affection's vast arrears
Of countless debts incurr'd thro' Childhood's helpless years.
And thus her Infants, in a distant hour,
With fairest worth parental hopes had blest;
Strew'd her declining path with ev'ry flow'r,
Her fost'ring hand had planted in their breast;
But ah! that hand is cold! and points no more
The surest path of Peace, on Virtue's sacred shore!
Ye lovely Innocents, whose loss severe
The Muse with tender sympathy surveys,
If such memorials as her Love can rear,
May catch, in future years, your filial gaze,
Here shall your Parent's pure emblazon'd name,
Light you to fairest deeds by Emulation's flame!
Yet must this Verse thy kind indulgence crave,
THOU, who wilt most perceive its failing art;
Who view'st, slow wand'ring round thy LAURA'S grave,
Her juster Image in thy widow'd heart;
For the fond wish to bid her merits live,
Forgive the fainter tints, the erring line forgive!
O faithful Memory! may thy lamp illume
Her honour'd Sepulchre with radiance clear;
Connubial Love shall rest upon her tomb,
And Infant Duty shed its April tear;
There, with veil'd brows, Parental Fondness mourn,
Bend o'er the holy Earth, and consecrate her Urn!