1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode on a Lady's Illness after the Death of her Child.

London Chronicle (14 July 1758) 48.

Rev. Thomas Seward


Eight irregular Spenserians (ababcC), published in 1757 without a signature. The poem was later republished as Seward's in the Poetical Register for 1805 as "Ode on Mrs. Seward's Illnes after the Death of her Child," dated "Eyam, April 14, 1748." After considering several more appropriate targets for Death's dart, the poet deplores the condition of his beloved spouse: "My sweet Eliza ne'er in wish or thought | Lax'd the strong texture of her nuptial vow, | Her heart is all with truth and friendship fraught, | And Charity sits smiling on her brow." Mrs. Seward was the daughter of Samuel Johnson's schoolmaster at Lichfield School (Johnson later described Thomas Seward as a valetudinarian). Of the several Seward children, only Anna survived beyond the age of nineteen.

Headnote in Poetical Register for 1805: "When these Madrigals were written, their author had been recently married, and was residing at his living, Eyam, in the highest part of the Peak of Derbyshire. The succeeding Odes were composed a few years after. The Authoress, Anna Seward, is the fruit of that marriage. Two of her sisters died in their infancy, and one lived to attain the age of nineteen. Mr. Seward was the celebrated editor of Beaumont and Fletcher's Plays, in conjuction with a Mr. Simpson, of London. The ingenious and critical notes were chiefly Mr. Seward's. He afterwards became Canon of Lichfield, and made that city his home" (1807) 8n.

P. W. Clayden: "Mr. Seward of Lichfield, the father of Miss Seward the poetess, a man whom Johnson described as having the ambition to be a fine talker, and as going to Buxton and such places where he might find companies to listen to him" The Early Life of Samuel Rogers (1887) 174.



Cruel Disease, why do thy ghastly bands
War unprovok'd with gentle temp'rance wage?
And cannot Beauty's fair uplifted hands
Nor trembling innocence thy wrath assuage?
And must thy darts that lovely breast annoy,
By nature form'd for peace, serenity and joy.

Go fierce disease, and fire the drunkard's brain,
Go, cram the venom down the glutton's throat;
These are the destined subjects of thy reign,
Who upon vice, thy loathsome Sister dote,
Who to their palate soul and body fell,
Who make a league with Death, and covenant with Hell.

Or go, disease, the miser's sinews screw
With spasm convulsive and corroding smart,
Who ne'er for other's grief condolence knew,
Nor dares a mite e'en to himself impart,
The worthless soul from his starv'd carcase wring,
And his imprison'd hoards in circling bounty fling.

Or bid the fiercest of thy horrid crew
Seize the vile letcher in his midnight haunt,
And dark adulteress, whose sainted hue,
Of sun clad chastity makes outward vaunt,
Blast her proud beauties with contagion foul,
And be her face and fame as leprous as her soul.

My sweet Eliza ne'er in wish or thought
Lax'd the strong texture of her nuptial vow,
Her heart is all with truth and friendship fraught,
And Charity sits smiling on her brow:
When want implores, she ne'er withholds relief,
Her pity-dropping eye still melts at other's grief.

Is it a crime that Nature's tend'rest make
Should shrink beneath misfortune's rudest blow?
That nerves too delicately soft should quake,
With thrilling fear and agonizing woe?
That wrapt in heart-pierc'd extacy she stood,
And o'er her dying Babe fast stream'd a scalding flood.

O killing stroke! In my sweet Jenny's face,
A perfect model of her mother grew,
Nature ne'er gave a child more winning grace,
Nor Raphael, Nature's rival, ever drew.
Go, lovely Babe, to Heav'n's bright regions haste,
For there, and there alone, thy beauties are surpast.

But oh just God! if this affliction's sent
To my dear consort for her husband's sin,
In dust and ashes let my soul repent,
But let the poor's entreaties pardon win;
Th' uplifted dart let charity arrest
And hold th' impassive shield on dear Eliza's breast.

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