Anna Seward

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Anna Seward
Anna Seward by Tilly Kettle.jpg
Seward by Tilly Kettle, 1762
Born12 December 1742[1]
Died25 March 1809(1809-03-25) (aged 66)
Resting placeLichfield Cathedral
NationalityEnglish
OccupationWriter, botanist
Notable work
Louisa (1784)
Parent(s)

(1708–4 March 1790)

  • Elizabeth Hunter
    (d. 4 July 1780)
(m. 27 October 1741)[2]
RelativesSarah ("Sally") (sister)
(b. 17 March 1744–d. 1764)[1]
Anna Seward, engraving 1799

Anna Seward[3] (12 December 1742[4][notes 1] – 25 March 1809) was an English Romantic poet, often called the Swan of Lichfield. She benefited from her father's progressive views on female education.

Life[edit]

Family life[edit]

Bishop's Palace

Seward was the elder of two surviving daughters of Thomas Seward (1708–1790), a prebendary of Lichfield and Salisbury and author, and his wife Elizabeth.[5][2] Elizabeth Seward later had three further children (John, Jane and Elizabeth), who all died in infancy, and two stillbirths.[1] Anna Seward mourned their loss in her poem Eyam (1788).[6] Born in 1742 at Eyam, a small mining village in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where her father was the Rector,[5] she and her sister Sarah, some 16 months younger, passed nearly all their life in that relatively small area of the Peak District of Derbyshire and in Lichfield, a cathedral city in the adjacent county of Staffordshire.[7][5]

In 1749, Anna's father was appointed a Canon-Residentiary at Lichfield Cathedral. The family moved there, where her father educated her at home. In 1754 they moved into the Bishop's Palace in Cathedral Close. When a family friend, Mrs Edward Sneyd, died in 1756,[4] the Sewards took in one of her daughters, Honora Sneyd, who became an adopted foster sister to Anna.[8] Honora was nine years younger. Anna Seward described in her poem The Anniversary (1769) how she and her sister first met Honora, on returning from a walk.[9] Sarah (known as Sally) died suddenly of typhus at the age of 19 in 1764.[10] Sarah was said to have an admirable character, though less talented than her sister.[11] Anna consoled herself with affection for Honora Sneyd, as she describes in Visions, written a few days after her sister's death, where she expresses a hope that Honora ("this transplanted flower") would replace her sister (referred to as Alinda) in her and her parents affections.[12][notes 2]

Anna Seward cared for her father in the last ten years of his life, after he had suffered a stroke. When he died in 1790, he left her financially independent with an income of £400 per annum. She spent the rest of her life at the Bishop's Palace until she died in 1809.[7]

Anecdotes[edit]

As a long-term 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 were thrown from their carriages and 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 3]

Education and career[edit]

Anna, a precocious, sensitive redhead, showed a bent for learning from early childhood. Canon Seward held progressive views on female education, having authored The Female Right to Literature (1748).[13] Encouraged by her father, she was said to be able to recite works of Milton by the age of three.[5]

Her gift for writing was clear at the age of seven, when the family moved to Lichfield. The family home in the Bishop's Palace became the centre of a literary circle that included Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, in which Anna was encouraged to join, as she later relates.[notes 4][14][11] Canon Seward's (if not his wife's) attitudes to educating girls was progressive for the time, but not excessively so. He was a poet himself, yet tried to curb Anna's passion for poetry, although she chose the composition of it for her own studies.[15] Among the subjects he taught were theology and numeracy, how to read and appreciate poetry, and how to write and recite it, although these deviated from the conventional drawing room accomplishments of the time. The omissions were also notable, including languages and science, although they could pursue then alone if they felt inclined.[16] However, Anna was not unskilled in the domestic sphere.[17]

Among the many literary figures she conversed with was Sir Walter Scott, who later published her poetry posthumously. Her circle included writers such as Thomas Day, Francis Noel Clarke Mundy, Sir Brooke Boothby and Willie Newton (the Peak Minstrel).[18] She came to be seen as heading a coterie of regional poets, influenced by writers such as Thomas Whalley, William Hayley, Robert Southey, Helen Maria Williams, Hannah More and the Ladies of Llangollen.[18][7] She was also involved in the Lunar Society in nearby Birmingham, which would sometimes meet at their home.[19] Both Darwin and Day belonged to it. Seward corresponded with other members such as Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.[18]

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. Her work was published in the yearbook of poems from the gatherings, a debt that Seward acknowledged in "Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller" (1782).[20]

Relationships[edit]

Seward remained resolutely single throughout her life, despite many offers and friendships. She was outspoken about the institution of marriage,[14][5] not unlike her heroine in Louisa,[21] a position that would later be echoed in the novels of her step-niece, Maria Edgeworth. She shunned both marriage and sexual love as inferior to the equality and virtue of Aristotelian friendship. However she had friends of both genders, although only seeking romantic relationships with women.[22] In 1985 Lillian Faderman suggested that her orientation was lesbian,[23] but there is little known evidence of the erotic or sexual in her relationships, though the term relates more to 20th than to 18th-century concepts of identity. Since 1985 Seward remains within the lesbian poetic canon,[22] but Teresa Barnard argues against this, based more on examination of her correspondence than her poetry,[14] while more recently Barrett has argued for it, based on other sources.[22]

Much of the literature on Seward's relationships focuses on her childhood friend Honora Sneyd, the sonnets revealing her passion for her when they were together and her despair when Sneyd married Richard Edgeworth. Compared to the correspondence, her sonnets display more intense emotion, such as Sonnet 10 ("Honora, shou'd that cruel time arrive") describing her feelings of betrayal. When the Edgeworths returned to Ireland, despair turned to rage, as in Sonnet 14 ("Ingratitude, how deadly is thy smart").[22]

Work[edit]

Anna Seward: bottom row, 2nd from left; Writers:twenty portraits. Engraving by J.W. Cook, 1825. Wellcome V0006820

Poetry[edit]

Seward began to write poetry at an early age with encouragement from her father, a published poet, but against the wishes of her mother. When Anna was 16, her father revised his position, fearing she might become a "learned lady".[13][14] Later she received encouragement from Dr Erasmus Darwin, who set up a practice in Lichfield in 1756,[24] although their relations were complex with frequent conflicts.[14]

Her verses, which date from at least 1759,[14] include elegies and sonnets, and a poetical novel, Louisa (1784), of which five editions were published. However, she did not publish her first poem until 1780, at the age of 38. Seward's writings, which include many letters, have been called "commonplace". Horace Walpole said she had "no imagination, no novelty",[25] although she was praised by Mary Scott,[26] who had written admiringly of her father's attitude to female education.[27]

Several poems, particularly Lichfield ones, concerned her friend and adopted sister Honora Sneyd, in a tradition described as "female friendship poetry".[18] Seward struck a middle path in a period when women had to tread carefully. Her work could also be arch and teasing, as in her poem Portrait of Miss Levett, on a Lichfield beauty later married to Rev. Richard Levett.[28] She contributed to Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), but was less than happy with the way Boswell treated her material.[14] Her work circulated widely.[29]

Authorship has been a continuing problem with assessing her work.[14] She was known to suggest others had used her work as their own: "a charge of plagiarism must rest somewhere."[30]

Correspondence and biography[edit]

Seward was a prodigious correspondent. A vast six volumes of her letters appeared after her death (1811)[31] revealing a broad knowledge of English literature and casting light on Midland literary culture in her day.[18] Early in life (1762–1768) she used an imaginary friend, Emma, to express her thoughts, writing 39 letters to her.[32] She was seen to varying degrees as an authority on English literature by contemporaries such as Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson and Robert Southey.[18] She also wrote a biography: Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin (1804).[33]

Science[edit]

Keenly interested in botany, she associated closely with the Lichfield Botanical Society (despite the name, composed of only three men: Erasmus Darwin, Sir Brooke Boothby and John Jackson) and published anonymously in the Society's name.[34] Encouraged by Darwin she rejected the conservative backlash to the revelations of Carl Linnaeus's sexual system of plant classification. This was seen as unfitting for ladies, whose modesty had to be protected.[35]

"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."[36][notes 5]

This attitude, still prevalent through most of the 19th century, was typified by writers such as the Rev. Richard Polwhele, in his poem The Unsex'd Females (1798), although she escaped his personal criticism, being considered to have the proper attitude.

Selected works[edit]

Selected works include;[14][37]

  • The Visions, an Elegy (1764)[38]
  • The Anniversary (1769)[9]
  • Lichfield, an elegy (May 1781)[39]
  • Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller (1782)
  • Eyam. (August 1788)[40]
  • Louisa, A Poetical Novel in Four Epistles (1784)
  • Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin (1804)
  • Original Sonnets on Various Subjects: And Odes Paraphrased from Horace (1799)
    • Sonnet 10. To Honora Sneyd. [Honora, shou'd that cruel time arrive]
    • Sonnet 14 [Ingratitude, how deadly is thy smart]

Legacy[edit]

After Seward's death, Sir Walter Scott edited her Poetical Works in three volumes (Edinburgh, 1810).[28] To these he prefixed a memoir of the author and extracts from her correspondence. Scott's editing shows considerable censorship[41] and he declined to edit the bulk of her letters, which later appeared in six volumes from Archibald Constable as Letters of Anna Seward 1784–1807 (1811).[25][31] Her reputation barely outlived her, but interest has revived in the 21st century, after some dismissive views among early 20th-century critics.[42] Later, feminist scholars in particular have seen Seward as a valuable observer of gendered relationships in late 18th-century society, playing a transitional role in its principles and emerging romanticism. Her engagement with the political, cultural and literary issues of the time likewise reflects the responses of society to such issues.[7][43] Kairoff sees her as "one of the — in a literal sense — ultimate eighteenth-century poets".[44]

There is a plaque to Anna Seward (spelled "Ann") in Lichfield Cathedral.

There is a plaque to Anna Seward (spelt "Ann") in Lichfield Cathedral. The epitaph was written by her friend Walter Scott.[notes 6] Seward appears as a character in the novel The Ladies by Doris Grumbach (1984).[45]

Archives[edit]

A collection of letters relating to Seward can be found in the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.[46]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Often wrongly given as 1747.
  2. ^ Scott chose to open his collection of Seward's poetry with this poem.
  3. ^ The three victims Dr Erasmus Darwin, Lichfield town clerk Theophilus Levett, and Anna Seward herself.(Seward 1804)
  4. ^ "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)
  5. ^ Seward defends Erasmus Darwin against attacks on his Temple of Nature (1803) as indecent.
  6. ^ See extracts from Seward's will in The Lady's Monthly Museum (Lady's Monthly 1812, Miss Seward's Will Wednesday 1 April 1812 pp. 190–195)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Barnard 2013, p. 26.
  2. ^ a b Bancroft 2015.
  3. ^ Williams 1861, Anne Seward pp. 239–255.
  4. ^ a b Williams 1861, Anne Seward pp. 239–255.
  5. ^ a b c d e Roberts 2012.
  6. ^ Scott 1810, Eyam, vol. III p. 1.
  7. ^ a b c d Roberts 2010.
  8. ^ Edgeworth & Edgeworth 1821a, p. 233.
  9. ^ a b Scott 1810, The Anniversary, vol. I p. 68.
  10. ^ Macdonald & McWhir 2010, Anna Seward 1742–1809 pp. 82–84.
  11. ^ a b Edgeworth & Edgeworth 1821a, p. 232.
  12. ^ Scott 1810, The Visions, vol. I p. 1..
  13. ^ a b Dodsley 1765, Seward, T. The Female Right to Literature Volume 2, pp. 309–315.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Barnard 2004.
  15. ^ Rowton, Frederic (1848). The Female Poets of Great Britain, Chronologically Arranged: With Copious Selections and Critical Remarks. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. p. 195. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  16. ^ Barnard 2013, p. 36.
  17. ^ Barnard 2013, p. 95.
  18. ^ a b c d e f deLucia 2013.
  19. ^ Schofield 1963.
  20. ^ Bowerbank 2015.
  21. ^ Barnard 2013, p. 14.
  22. ^ a b c d Barrett 2012.
  23. ^ Faderman 1985.
  24. ^ Moore et al. 2012, Anna Seward pp. 319–322.
  25. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Scott 1775, p. 38.
  28. ^ a b Scott 1810.
  29. ^ Foster 2007, Lisa Moore: The Swan of Lichfield pp. 259–264.
  30. ^ Constable 1811, Letter to Mrs. Jackson August 3 1792 Vol.3 p. 156.
  31. ^ a b Constable 1811.
  32. ^ Barnard 2013, 1. 'My Dear Emma': The Juvenile Letters, 1762–1768 pp. 9–38.
  33. ^ Seward 1804.
  34. ^ George 2014.
  35. ^ Shteir 1996, p. 28.
  36. ^ Constable 1811, Letter to Dr. Lister, June 20 1803. vi. 83.
  37. ^ Moore 2015.
  38. ^ Scott 1810, The Visions, vol. I p. 1.
  39. ^ Scott 1810, Lichfield, an Elegy May 1781, vol. I p. 89.
  40. ^ Scott 1810, Eyam, vol. III, p. 1.
  41. ^ Barnard 2013.
  42. ^ Clarke 2005.
  43. ^ Kairoff 2012, Preface p. ix–xi.
  44. ^ Kairoff 2012, p. 11.
  45. ^ Grumbach 1984.
  46. ^ "UoB CALMVIEW2: Overview". calmview.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 1 December 2020.

Bibliography[edit]

Historical sources[edit]

Literary surveys[edit]

Anna Seward[edit]

Botany[edit]

Sexuality[edit]

Works by Seward[edit]

Reference materials[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Teresa Barnard: Anna Seward : a constructed life; a critical biography, Farnham [u.a.] : Ashgate, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7546-6616-5

External links[edit]