Anna Seward

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Anna Seward, Tilly Kettle, 1762

Anna Seward (12 December 1747[1] – 25 March 1809) was an English Romantic poet, often called the Swan of Lichfield.


Seward was the elder daughter of Thomas Seward (1708–1790), prebendary of Lichfield and Salisbury, and author. Born at Eyam in Derbyshire,[1] she passed nearly all her life in Lichfield, beginning at an early age to write poetry partly at the instigation of Erasmus Darwin. Her verses include elegies and sonnets, and she also wrote a poetical novel, Louisa, of which five editions were published. Seward's writings, which include a large number of letters, have been called "commonplace". Horace Walpole said she had "no imagination, no novelty."[2] She was praised, however, by Mary Scott.[3]

Between 1775 and 1781, Seward was a guest and participant at the much-mocked salon held by Anna Miller at Batheaston. However, it was here that Seward's talent was recognised and her work published in the annual volume of poems from the gatherings, a debt that Seward acknowledged in her Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller (1782).[4]

Sir Walter Scott edited Seward's Poetical Works in three volumes (Edinburgh, 1810). To these he prefixed a memoir of the author, adding extracts from her literary correspondence. He declined, however, to edit the bulk of her letters, and these were published in six volumes by A. Constable as Letters of Anna Seward 1784–1807 (Edinburgh, 1811). Seward also wrote Memoirs of the Life of Dr Darwin (1804).[2]

In an era when women had to tread carefully in society's orbit, Seward struck a middle ground. In her work, Seward could be alternately arch and teasing, as in her poem entitled Portrait of Miss Levett, on the subject of a Lichfield beauty later married to Rev. Richard Levett.[5]

A longtime friend of the Levett family of Lichfield, Seward noted in her Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin that three of the town's foremost citizens had been thrown from their carriages and had injured their knees in the same year. "No such misfortune," Seward wrote, "was previously remembered in that city, nor has it recurred through all the years which since elapsed."[6]

There is a plaque to Anna Seward (spelled "Anne", which is the spelling she used in her will) in Lichfield Cathedral.[7]


  • The Visions, an Elegy
  • Knowledge, a Poem in the Manner of Spencer
  • Portrait of Miss Levett
  • Ode to Content
  • Receipt for a Sweet Jar
  • Ode to the Sun
  • Ode to Poetic Fancy
  • To Remembrance
  • A Meditation
  • Hoyle Lake
  • Ode on Time

Sonnet to the Rev. Richard Polwhele, on his poem upon the influence of local attachment[edit]

POLWHELE, whose genius, in the colours clear
Of poesy and philosophic art,
Traces the sweetest impulse of the heart,
Scorn, for thy Muse, the envy-sharpen'd spear,
In darkness thrown, when shielded by desert
She seeks the lyric fane. To virtue dear
Thy verse esteeming, feeling minds impart
Their vital smile, their consecrating tear.
Fancy and judgment view with gracious eyes
Its kindred tints, that paint the silent power
Of local objects, deeds of high emprize
To prompt; while their delightful spells restore
The precious vanish'd days of former joys,
By Love, or Fame, enwreath'd with many a flower.

From: The Poetical Works of Anna Seward, ed. Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1810.


  •  Anonymous (1911). "Seward, Anna". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Ashmun, M. (1931). The Singing Swan: An Account of Anna Seward and her Acquaintance with Dr Johnson, Boswell and Others of Their Time. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  • Bowerbank, S. (2004) "Seward, Anna (1742–1809)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 5 February 2008 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Clifford, J. L. (1941–2). "The authenticity of Anna Seward's published correspondence". Modern Philology 39.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Constable, A. (ed.) (1811) Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols
  • Dick, M. "A Portrait of Anna Seward". Revolutionary Players. Museums, Libraries and Archives – West Midlands. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  • Heiland, D. (1992–3). "Swan songs: the correspondence of Anna Seward and James Boswell". Modern Philology 90 (3): 381–91. doi:10.1086/392085.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Lucas, E. V. (1907). A Swan and her Friends. London: Methuen. 
  • Martin, S. (1909). Anna Seward and Classic Lichfield. 
  • Pearson, H. (ed.) (1936) The Swan of Lichfield. Being a Selection from the Correspondence of Anna Seward
  • Moore, L. (ed.) (forthcoming July 2015). The Collected Poems of Anna Seward.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Pearson, H. (ed.) (1936) The Swan of Lichfield. Being a Selection from the Correspondence of Anna Seward
  • Roberts, M. (2005). "Anna Seward – 'The Queen Muse of Britain'". The Female Spectator, Chawton House Library. 9(2), Winter: 1–4. 
  • Schofield, R. E. (1963). The Lunar Society, A Social History of Provincial Science and Industry in Eighteenth Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Scott, W. (ed.) (1810). The Poetical Works of Anna Seward with Extracts from her Letter and Literary Correspondence. Edinburgh: James Ballantyne. 
  • Seward, Anna (1804). Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin. Philadelphia: W.M. Poyntell. 


  1. ^ a b Roberts, Marion. "Anna Seward". Women Writers. Chawton House Library. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Anon. (1911)
  3. ^ The Female Advocate (1774).
  4. ^ Bowerbank (2004)
  5. ^ Scott, W. (ed.) (1810)
  6. ^ Seward, Anna (1804). The three victims of the unfortunate carriage accidents were Dr. Erasmus Darwin, Lichfield town clerk Theophilus Levett and Anna Seward herself.
  7. ^ See the extracts from Seward's will published in The Lady's Monthly Museum, Wednesday, 1 April 1812: pg. 191.

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