Anna Seward, by Tilly Kettle, 1762
|Born||12 December 1747
|Died||March 25, 1809
|Notable work||Louisa (1784)|
Seward was the eldest of two daughters of Thomas Seward (1708–1790), prebendary of Lichfield and Salisbury, and author, and his wife Elizabeth. Born in 1742 at Eyam, a small mining village in the Peak District of Derbyshire where her father was the rector, she passed nearly all her life in the relatively small area of the Peak District of Derbyshire and Lichfield, a cathedral city in the adjacent county of Staffordshire to the west, an area now corresponding to the boundary of the East Midlands and West Midlands regions.
In 1749 her father was appointed to a position as Canon-Residentiary at Lichfield Cathedral and the family moved to that city, where her father educated her entirely at home. They lived in the Bishop's palace, and Anna remained there caring for her father until he died in 1790. She spent the rest of her life at the Palace, till her death in 1809. Her sister Sarah, who was three years younger than her, died suddenly at the age of nineteen (1764). When her mother died in 1780, Honora Sneyd moved in with the family to care for her. When her father died, he left her financially independent with an income of ₤400 per annum. She remained resolutely single throughout her life, despite many offers, and friendships, and was quite outspoken about the institution of marriage.
A longtime friend of the Levett family of Lichfield, Seward noted in her Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin (Erasmus) 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."[notes 1]
Education and career
In her early childhood, she was considered a precocious, sensitive redhead, and her bent for learning became evident from the beginning. Encouraged by her father, she was said to be able to recite the works of Milton by the age of three.
Even at the age of seven when the family moved to Lichfield, she recognised she had a gift for writing. At Lichfield the family lived in the Bishop's Palace which became the centre of a literary circle including Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, to which Anna was exposed and encouraged to participate as she later relates.[notes 2] Among the many literary figures of the time with which she conversed was Sir Walter Scott who would later publish her poetry posthumously. Her circle also included writers such as Thomas Day, Francis Noel Clarke Mundy and Sir Brooke Boothby, and she was considered the leader of a coterie of regional poets, and was influenced by writers such as Thomas Whalley, William Hayley, Robert Southey, Helen Maria Williams, Hannah More and the Ladies of Llangollen. In addition to her literary circle she was involved in the deliberations of the Lunar Society in nearby Birmingham, that would sometimes meet at her father's home.
Between 1775 and 1781, Seward was a guest and participant at the much-mocked salon held by Anna Miller at Batheaston, near Bath. 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).
She began to write poetry beginning at an early age with the encouragement of her father, a published poet, but against the wishes of her mother. Although at sixteen her father altered his position out of fear she might become a 'learned lady'. Later she received encouragement from Dr Erasmus Darwin, who set up practice in Lichfield in 1756, although their relationship was complex and frequently conflicted.
Her verses, which date from at least 1764 (age 17), include elegies and sonnets, and she also wrote a poetical novel, Louisa (1784), of which five editions were published, however she did not published her first poem till 1780 at the age of 33. Seward's writings, which include a large number of letters, have been called "commonplace". Horace Walpole said she had "no imagination, no novelty." She was praised, however, by Mary Scott, who had written admiringly of her father's attitude to female education. She was recogmised, to varying degrees, as an authority on English literature by her contemporaries Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson and Robert Southey. Her work was widely circulated.
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. She contributed to Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) but was not particularly happy with the way her material was treated by Boswell.
Keenly interested in botany, she was closely associated with the Lichfield Botanical Society (despite the name, composed of only three men, Erasmus Darwin, Sir Brooke Boothby and John Jackson) and published as did the preceding members, anonymously under the name of the Society. Encouraged by Darwin she firmly rejected the conservative backlash to the revelations of Carl Linnaeus' sexual system of plant classification. This was considered unfitting for ladies, whose modesty had to be protected.
"I had heard it was not fit for the female eye. It can only be unfit for the perusal of such females as still believe the legend of their nursery that children are dug out of a parsley-bed; who have never been at church, or looked into a Bible, -and are totally ignorant that in the present state of the world, two sexes are necessary to the production of animals."[notes 3]
This attitude which was to prevail throughout most of the nineteenth century was typified by writers like the Rev. Richard Polwhele, in his poem The Unsex'd Females, although she escaped his personal criticism, being considered to have the proper attitude.
List of works
Selected works include;
- Elegy on Captain Cook (1780) (first published poem)
- Monody on Major André (1781)
- Louisa (1784) (epistolary novel)
- Llangollen Vale (1796) (volume of poems)
- Original Sonnets (1799) (one hundred sonnets)
- Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin (1804)
- 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
- The Backwardness of the Spring Accounted For 1772 (unsigned but attributed)
- To Remembrance
- A Meditation
- Hoyle Lake
- Ode on Time
Seward wrote many sonnets, such as this one:
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.
After her death 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). Her reputation barely lasted beyond her life, although there has been a renewed interest in the twenty first century. There was a tendency to be dismissive of her work in twentieth century criticism, but later, particularly amongst feminist scholars she was seen as a valuable observer of gendered relationships in late eighteenth century society. Kairoff, considering her "one of the - in a literal sense - ultimate eighteenth century poets".
- The three victims of the unfortunate carriage accidents were Dr. Erasmus Darwin, Lichfield town clerk Theophilus Levett and Anna Seward herself. (Seward 1804)
- "and being canon of this cathedral, his daughter necessarily converses on terms of equality with the proudest inhabitants of our little city" (Scott 1810, Letter February 1763. vol. I p. lxxiii)
- Seward is defending Erasmus Darwin for attacks on his Temple of Nature (1803), which had been labelled as indecent.
- The Rev. Polwhele, author of The Unsex'd Females was one of the opponents of female education scorned by Seward. (Shteir 1996, p. 27 ff.) His poem Influence of Local Attachment was written in 1796.
- See the extracts from Seward's will published in The Lady's Monthly Museum (Lady's Monthly 1812, Miss Seward's Will Wednesday 1 April 1812 pp. 190–195)
- Roberts 2015.
- Roberts 2010.
- Macdonald, & McWhir 2010, Anna Seward 1742–1809 pp. 82–84.
- Williams 1861, Anne Seward pp. 239–255.
- Barnard 2004.
- deLucia 2013.
- Schofield 1963.
- Bowerbank (2004)
- Moore et al. 2012, Anna Seward pp. 319–322.
- EB 1911.
- Radcliffe 2015, Mary Scott, "Verses addressed to Miss Seward, on the Publication of her Monody on Major Andre" Gentleman's Magazine 53 (June 1783) 519.
- Scott 1775, p. 38.
- Foster 2007, Lisa Moore: The Swan of Lichfield pp. 259–264.
- Scott, W. (ed.) (1810)
- Constable 1811, Letter to Mrs. Jackson August 3 1792 Vol.3 p. 156.
- George 2014.
- Shteir 1996, p. 28.
- Constable 1811, Letter to Dr. Lister, June 20 1803. vi. 83.
- George 2005.
- Shteir 1996, Chapter 1, note 4, p. 240.
- Scott 1810.
- Seward 1804.
- Kairoff 2012, p. 11.
- Bowerbank, Sylvia (2004). Speaking for nature: women and ecologies of early modern England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9780801878725. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
- Foster, Thomas A., ed. (2007). Histories of same-sex sexuality in early America. New York: New York Univ. Press. ISBN 9780814727508. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Gottlieb, Evan; Shields, Juliet, eds. (2013). Representing place in British literature and culture, 1660-1830 : from local to global. Farnham. ISBN 9781409419303. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
- DeLucia, JoEllen. Mundy’s Needwood Forest and Anna Seward’s Lichfield Poems. pp. 155–172. in Gottlieb & Shields (2013)
- Lysons, Daniel; Amott, John (1865). Origin and progress of the meeting of the Three Choirs ... Commenced by ... D. Lysons and continued down to the present time by J. Amott. To which is prefixed a view of the condition of the parochial clergy of this kingdom, from the earliest times. London: Cooks & Co. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
- Moore, Lisa L.; Brooks, Joanna; Wigginton, Caroline, eds. (2012). Transatlantic feminisms in the age of revolutions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199743490. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
- Radcliffe, David Hill (2015). "Welcome". English Poetry 1579-1830: Spenser and the tradition. Virginia Tech. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
- Rounce, Adam (2013). Fame and failure 1720-1800 : the unfulfilled literary life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107042223. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
- Schofield, R. E. (1963). The Lunar Society, A Social History of Provincial Science and Industry in Eighteenth Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Scott, Mary (1775). The Female Advocate; a poem occasioned by reading Mr. Duncombe's Feminead. London: Joseph Johnson. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- A Society of Ladies, ed. (1812). "Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction". The Lady's Monthly Museum, New Series 12. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Macdonald, D.L.; McWhir, Anne, eds. (2010). The Broadview anthology of literature of the Revolutionary period, 1770-1832. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. ISBN 9781551110516. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Sitter, John, ed. (2001). The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521658850. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Staves, Susan (2006). A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain, 1660–1789. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139458580. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Williams, Jane (1861). The Literary Women of England: Including a Biographical Epitome of All the Most Eminent to the Year 1700; & Sketches of the Poetesses to the Year 1850; with Extracts from Their Works, and Critical Remarks. London: Sunders, Otley and Co. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- 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.
- Barnard, Teresa (2004). "Anna Seward and the Battle for Authorship". Corvey Women Writers on the Web 1796–1834 (1 Summer). Retrieved 28 February 2015.
- Barnard, Teresa (2013). Anna Seward: A Constructed Life: A Critical Biography. Farnham: Ashgate. ISBN 9781409475330. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Grundy, Isobel (4 February 2010). "Anna Seward: A Constructed Life, A Critical Biography". Times Higher Education Book Reviews. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- 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). "The authenticity of Anna Seward's published correspondence". Modern Philology 39. (1941–1942)
- Dick, M. "A Portrait of Anna Seward". Revolutionary Players. Museums, Libraries and Archives – West Midlands. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
- Kairoff, Claudia Thomas (2012). Anna Seward and the end of the eighteenth century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9781421403281. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Lucas, E. V. (1907). A Swan and her Friends. London: Methuen.
- Martin, Stapleton (1909). Anna Seward and Classic Lichfield. Deighton and Co. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- North, Alix (2007). "Anna Seward 1747-1809". Isle of Lesbos. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- 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.
- Roberts, Marion (December 2010). Close encounters: Anna Seward, 1742–1809, A Woman in provincial cultural life (Master of Letters Thesis, School of Humanities, University of Birmingham). University of Birmingham.
- Roberts, Marion (2015). "Anna Seward". Biographies of Women Writers. Chawton House Library. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- George, Sam (June 2005). "‘Not Strictly Proper For A Female Pen’: Eighteenth-Century Poetry and the Sexuality of Botany". Comparative Critical Studies 2 (2): 191–210. doi:10.3366/ccs.2005.2.2.191. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
- George, Sam (30 January 2014). "Carl Linnaeus, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward: Botanical Poetry and Female Education". Science & Education 23 (3): 673–694. doi:10.1007/s11191-014-9677-y. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
- Shteir, Ann B. (1996). Cultivating women, cultivating science: Flora's daughters and botany in England, 1760-1860. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6175-6. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
Works by Seward
- Constable, Archibald, ed. (1811). Letters of Anna Seward: written between the years 1784 and 1807 (6 vols.). Edinburgh: Ramsay.
- Heiland, D. (1992). "Swan songs: the correspondence of Anna Seward and James Boswell". Modern Philology 90 (3): 381–91. doi:10.1086/392085. (1992–1993)
- Moore, Lisa L., ed. (2015). The Collected Poems of Anna Seward (forthcoming July, 2 volumes)ISBN 978-1848935631.. Pickering and Chatto.
- Scott, Walter, ed. (1810). The Poetical Works of Anna Seward with Extracts from her Literary Correspondence (3 vols.). Edinburgh: James Ballantyne.
- Seward, Anna (1804). Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin: Chiefly During His Residence in Lichfield: With Anecdotes of His Friends, and Criticisms on His Writing. Philadelphia: W.M. Poyntell. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Archival material relating to Anna Seward listed at the UK National Archives
- Works by Anna Seward at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Anna Seward at Internet Archive (optimized for the non-Beta site)
- Works by Anna Seward at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- The poetical works of Anna Seward; with extracts from her literary correspondence, Volume 1
- The poetical works of Anna Seward; with extracts from her literary correspondence. Volume 2
- The poetical works of Anna Seward; with extracts from her literary correspondence, Volume 3
- Portrait of Anna Seward, National Portrait Gallery
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