1805
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Note on Akenside as an imitator of Spenser.]

Works of Edmund Spenser with the Principal Illustrations of Various Commentators. 8 Vols [Rev. Henry J. Todd, ed.]

Anna Seward


Anna Seward suspects that Mark Akenside dropped a passage from his Pleasures of Imagination lest his source be traced to Spenser. Henry John Todd does not give a source for this remark, which may have been offered by Miss Seward herself.

Anna Seward to Henry Francis Cary: "I once thought that there was a prejudice against Spencer in my mind, and that not having endured to do more than dip into his poems, too little of him was known to me to judge him fairly; but now [after reading Todd's Spenser] I am self-acquitted for scorning to turn from the statues of Apollo and Antinuous to pore over the blocks of a barber's shop, with a few primroses, violets, and cowslips stuck about their bald pates. So here is a three-month's blister upon my patience, and a four-guineas obligation upon my gratitude! You, dear Cary are, I think, an admirer of Spencer, and will deem this epistle heretical" 8 August 1805; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 6:229-30.

About this time Anna Seward was preparing her works for posthumous publication; on 27 April 1808 she wrote to Archibald Constable offering the whole her writings for the then large sum of 1000 guineas: "My published and unpublished works, already arranged for the press, as observed above, would fill at least six volumes of verse and four of prose, besides thirteen half-bound quarto volumes, closely written, of my own letters, selected from my correspondence through the last twenty-two years, with a variety of friends, some private and some public characters. The subjects of the said letters are critical, political, moral, and characteristic, interspersed with incidental themes of the day. Not one of them was written with a view to publication. But it is my custom to look over every letter I have written. When such review teaches me to believe it worth the attention of the public, I hastily, and too slovenly, transcribe it into these volumes. Not more than one in ten were so transcribed, though the collection is large. From each epistle, now in these repositories I weeded the passages of trivial egotism and of tiresome enumeration of bodily maladies, either of my own or of my correspondents" in Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents (1873) 2:21.

Todd's note drew a letter objecting to the criticism of Akenside in The Champion (February 18 1816) 54.




I except, at the suggestion of Mrs. Anna Seward, the following descriptive scenery of Akenside; and I will subjoin the elegant and judicious criticism contributed by that lady. It is necessary to premise that Akenside is indebted to the Faerie Queene, B. 5. C. 3. st. 19. The description in Akenside is this:

—As when a cloud
Of gathering rain, with limpid crusts of hail
Inclos'd, and obvious to the beaming sun,
Collects his large effulgence; straight the heavens,
With equal flames, present, on either hand,
The radiant visage. Persia stands at gaze,
Appall'd; and, on the brink of Ganges, doubts
The snowy-vested seer, in Mithra's name,
To which the fragrance of the South shall burn,
To which his warbled orisons ascend.
Pleasures of Imagination, B. 3. ver. 426.

"Here is a great transcendence of poetic beauty, on the part of the modern. First, by the philosophick truth, which, in extremely harmonious numbers, accounts for the phenomenon. Next, in the happiness with which he introduces a graceful picture of the Persian worship. And lastly, in the exquisite musick of the two closing lines. So Milton borrowed from his great predecessors, and rose above the sources which supplied him.

It is curious that Akenside should have excluded so lovely an imitation from the last edition of his great work. If it was not pride, revolting from a conscious debt to Spenser, it would be difficult to account for this as for many other instances, in which the matured poet has thrown away the gems of his youthful fancy.


[Todd, Works of Spenser (1805) 1:clxv-vin]