Anna Seward, by Tilly Kettle, 1762
12 December 1742
|Died||March 25, 1809 (aged 66)|
|Resting place||Lichfield Cathedral|
(1708–4 March 1790)
|Relatives||Sarah ("Sally") (sister)|
(b. 17 March 1744–d. 1764)
Seward was the eldest of two surviving daughters of Thomas Seward (1708–1790), prebendary of Lichfield and Salisbury, and author, and his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth Seward later had three further children (John, Jane and Elizabeth) who all died in infancy, and two stillbirths. Anna Seward mourned their loss in her poem Eyam (1788). Born in 1742 at Eyam, a small mining village in the Peak District of Derbyshire where her father was the rector, she and her sister Sarah, some sixteen months younger than she was, passed nearly all their 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. In 1754 they moved to the Bishop's Palace in the Cathedral Close. When a family friend, Mrs. Edward Sneyd, died in 1756, the Sewards took in one of her daughters, Honora Sneyd, who became an 'adopted' foster sister to Anna. Honora was nine years younger than Anna. Anna Seward describes how she and her sister first met Honora, on returning from a walk, in her poem The Anniversary (1769). Sarah (known as 'Sally') died suddenly at the age of nineteen of typhus (1764). Sarah was said to be of admirable character, but less talented than her sister. Anna consoled herself with her affection for Honora Sneyd, as she describes in Visions, written a few days after her sister's death. In the poem she expresses the hope that Honora ('this transplanted flower') will replace her sister (whom she refers to as 'Alinda') in her and her parents affections.[notes 2]
Anna Seward continued to live at the Bishop's Palace all her life, caring for her father during 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 Palace, till her death in 1809.
A long-time 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 3]
In her early childhood, she was considered a precocious, sensitive redhead, and her bent for learning became evident from the beginning. Canon Seward held progressive views on female education, having authored The Female Right to Literature (1748). 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 later 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 4] Though Canon Seward's (but not his wife's) attitudes towards the education of girls was progressive relative to the times, they were not excessively liberal. Although her father was a poet himself, he attempted to suppress Anna's own passion for poetry. When given the liberty to choose her own studies, however, she decided to pursue composition of poetry. Amongst the subjects he taught them were theology and numeracy, and how to read and appreciate poetry, and also how to write and recite poetry. Although this deviated from what were considered 'conventional drawing room accomplishments', the omissions were also notable, including languages and science, although they were left free to pursue their own inclinations. However Anna was not unskilled in the domestic sphere.
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, Sir Brooke Boothby and Willie Newton (the Peak Minstrel), 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. Both Darwin and Day were members of the Lunar Society and the Lichfield coterie, while Seward would correspond with other Lunar members such as Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.
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).
Seward remained resolutely single throughout her life, despite many offers, and friendships, and was quite outspoken about the institution of marriage, not unlike her heroine in Louisa, 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 Aristotelian friendship, based more on equality and virtue. However she had friends of both genders, although only seeking romantic relationships with women. In 1985 Lillian Faderman suggested that her orientation was lesbian, although there is little known evidence of either the erotic or sexual, in her relationships, though the term relates more to twentieth rather than eighteenth century concepts of identity. However, since 1985 Seward remains within the lesbian poetic canon. However Teresa Barnard argues against this based more on examination of her correspondence than merely her poetry, while more recently Barrett has argued for it, based on other sources.
Much of the literature on Seward's relationship focusses 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 much 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].
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 1759 (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 publish her first poem till 1780 at the age of 38. 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.
A number of her poems, particularly the Lichfield poems, were directed towards her friend and 'adopted' sister, Honora Sneyd in a tradition described as 'female friendship poetry'.
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. Her work was widely circulated.
Anna Seward was a prodigious correspondent and her vast collection of letters was published in six volumes after her death (1811) revealing an encyclopaedic breadth of knowledge of English literature and its development and casting considerable light on the literary culture of the Midlands of her day. Early in life (1762–1768) she used an imaginary friend 'Emma' to express her thoughts, writing thirty–nine letters to her in all. She was recognised, to varying degrees, as an authority on English literature by her contemporaries, including Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson and Robert Southey. Seward also wrote a biography, Memoirs of the Life of Dr Darwin (1804).
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 5]
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 (1798), although she escaped his personal criticism, being considered to have the proper attitude.
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. Scott's editing demonstrates considerable censorship and he declined to edit the bulk of her letters, which were later published in six volumes by Archibald Constable as Letters of Anna Seward 1784–1807 (1811). 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 early twentieth century criticism,  but later, particularly amongst feminist scholars, she was seen as a valuable observer of gendered relationships in late eighteenth century society, and played a transitional role between late eighteenth century principles and emerging romanticism. Likewise, her engagement with the political, cultural and literary issues of the time gives her a role in reflecting the responses of society to those issues. Kairoff, considering her "one of the - in a literal sense - ultimate eighteenth century poets".
There is a plaque to Anna Seward (spelled "Ann") in Lichfield Cathedral. The epitaffio has been written by her friend Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe.[notes 6] Seward appears as a character in the novel The Ladies by Doris Grumbach (1984).
Events from the year 1747 in Great Britain.1781 in poetry
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).André (play)
André; a Tragedy in Five Acts is a play by William Dunlap, first produced at the Park Theatre in New York City on March 30, 1798, by the Old American Company, published in that same year together with a collection of historic documents relating to the case of the title character, Major John André, the British officer who was hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780, for his role in the treason of Benedict Arnold. The play does not go into the historic details, but rather presents a fictionalized account of the American debate over whether to spare or hang him. Only three characters in the play are historic: André himself, George Washington (referred to throughout the text, except once in a passage inserted between the first two performances, simply as "The General"), and Honora Sneyd, who had been briefly engaged to André ten years earlier under the auspices of Anna Seward, who had done much to romanticize the affair in her Monody on Major André of 1781. (Actually, Honora Sneyd had died of consumption some months before André's death, and never went to America.)
Despite the fictionalization, the play genuinely shows the anguish felt by many on the American side over the necessity to hang the brilliant and charming young officer, and it is written in unusually supple verse for the 18th century.
Apart from its intrinsic merits, the play is noteworthy as the first American tragedy written on an American subject. However, despite being nowadays acknowledged as Dunlap's best piece of work, it was, unfortunately, not a great success at the time. Its lack of popularity stemmed from the controversial lionization of André. Moreover, at opening night, the crowd rose to its feet in anger and indignation when Bland, a soldier in the play, hurled his cockade to the ground at the prospect of André being sentenced to death. The controversy was twofold— not only was Bland losing composure over the fate of a British spy but the cockade (worn by Patriots and then later by the revolutionaries during the French Revolution to emulate their spirit) being tossed to the floor was interpreted by many as Dunlap attacking the American Revolution itself.
Dunlap later recycled much of André into his pageant-play The Glory of Columbia, Her Yeomanry, a piece resonating with the Populist tone in theatre at the time, and which continued to be regularly produced for fifty years.Anna Seward Pruitt
Anna (Seward) Pruitt (1862–1948), was born in Tallmadge, Ohio, on May 16, 1862, the daughter of John Woodhouse and Urania (Ashley) Seward. She traveled west in the early 1880s to teach school in Ojai, California; her letters about the trip were later published in the California Historical Quarterly (1937–1938). She was a Protestant Christian missionary in Northern China and belonged to the so-called "missionary generation" of Americans born between the years 1860 - 1885.Cicero Washington Pruitt
Cicero Washington Pruitt (1857–1946) was among the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Northern China. He was born in Barrettsville, Georgia, on January 31, 1857, the son of John Wesley and Hannah (Rodgers) Pruitt. He was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister at the age of 14 and began his evangelical work by preaching to Native Americans in Georgia. Later he attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He appears to have followed the ideals of Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission, dressing like the Chinese, learning the language and following Chinese customs. The Pruitt family has many pictures extent of him, dressed in Chinese garb.Eyam
Eyam ( ) is an English village and civil parish in the Derbyshire Dales. It lies within the Peak District National Park. The population was 969 at the 2011 Census.The village was founded and named by Anglo-Saxons, although lead had earlier been mined in the area by the Romans. After the loss of its industries in the later 20th century, the local economy now relies on the tourist trade and it is promoted as "the plague village", in reference to how it chose to isolate itself after bubonic plague was discovered there, so as to prevent the infection spreading.Francis Noel Clarke Mundy
Francis Noel Clarke Mundy 1739 – 1815 was an English poet. His most noted work was written to defend Needwood Forest which was enclosed at the beginning of the 19th century. He was the father of Francis Mundy.Honora Sneyd
Honora Edgeworth (née Sneyd; 1751 – 1 May 1780) was an eighteenth-century English writer, mainly known for her associations with literary figures of the day particularly Anna Seward and the Lunar Society, and for her work on children's education. Sneyd was born in Bath in 1751, and following the death of her mother in 1756 was raised by Canon Thomas Seward and his wife Elizabeth in Lichfield, Staffordshire until she returned to her father's house in 1771. There, she formed a close friendship with their daughter, Anna Seward. Having had a romantic engagement to John André and having declined the hand of Thomas Day, she married Richard Edgeworth as his second wife in 1773, living on the family estate in Ireland till 1776. There she helped raise his children from his first marriage, including Maria Edgeworth, and two children of her own. Returning to England she fell ill with tuberculosis, which was incurable, dying at Weston in Staffordshire in 1780. She is the subject of a number of Anna Seward's poems, and with her husband developed concepts of childhood education, resulting in a series of books, such as Practical Education, based on her observations of the Edgeworth children. She is known for her stand on women's rights through her vigorous rejection of the proposal by Day, in which she outlined her views on equality in marriage.Ladies of Llangollen
The "Ladies of Llangollen", Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, were two upper-class Irish women whose relationship during the late 18th and early 19th century scandalized and fascinated their contemporaries.List of early-modern women poets (UK)
This is an alphabetical list of female poets who were active in the United Kingdom before approximately 1800. Nota bene: Poetry is the focus of this list, though many of these writers worked in more than one genre.Needwood Forest
Needwood Forest was a large area of ancient woodland in Staffordshire which was largely lost at the end of the 18th century.Sabrina Sidney
Sabrina Bicknell (1757 – 8 September 1843), better known as Sabrina Sidney, was a British foundling girl taken in when she was 12 by author Thomas Day, who wanted to mould her into his perfect wife. Day had been struggling to find a wife who would share his ideology and had been rejected by several women. Inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's book Emile, or On Education, he decided to educate two girls without any frivolities, using his own concepts.
In 1769, Day and his barrister friend, John Bicknell, chose Sidney and another girl, Lucretia, from orphanages, and falsely declared they would be indentured to Day's friend Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Day took the girls to France to begin Rousseau's methods of education in isolation. After a short time, he returned to Lichfield with only Sidney, having deemed Lucretia inappropriate for his experiment. He used unusual, eccentric, and sometimes cruel, techniques to try to increase her fortitude, such as firing blanks at her skirts, dripping hot wax on her arms, and having her wade into a lake fully dressed to test her resilience to cold water.
When Sidney reached her teenage years, Day was persuaded by Edgeworth that his ideal wife experiment had failed and he should send her away, as it was inappropriate for Day to live with her unchaperoned. He then arranged for Sidney to undergo experimental vocational and residential changes—first attending a boarding school, then becoming an apprentice to a dressmaker family, and eventually being employed as Day's housekeeper. Having seen changes in Sidney, Day proposed marriage, though he soon called this off when she did not follow his strict instructions; he again sent her away, this time to a boarding house, where she later found work as a lady's companion.
In 1783, Bicknell sought out Sidney and proposed marriage, telling her the truth about Day's experiment. Horrified, she confronted Day in a series of letters; he admitted the truth but refused to apologise. Sidney married Bicknell, and the couple had two children before his death in 1787. Sidney went on to work with schoolmaster Charles Burney, managing his schools.
In 1804, Anna Seward published a book about Sidney's upbringing. Edgeworth followed up with his memoirs, in which he claimed Sidney loved Day. Sidney herself, on the other hand, said she was miserable with Day and that he treated her as a slave.Sir Brooke Boothby, 6th Baronet
Sir Brooke Boothby, 6th Baronet (3 June 1744 – 23 January 1824) was a linguist, translator, poet and landowner, based in Derbyshire, England. He was part of the intellectual and literary circle of Lichfield, which included Anna Seward and Erasmus Darwin. In 1766 he welcomed the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Ashbourne circles, after Rousseau's short stay in London with Hume. Ten years later, in 1776, Boothby visited Rousseau in Paris, and was given the manuscript of the first part of Rousseau's three-part autobiographic Confessions. Boothby translated the manuscript and published it in Lichfield in 1780 after the author's death, and donated the document to the British Library in 1781.
The well-known portrait of Boothby by Joseph Wright of Derby, from 1781, shows him reclining in a wooded glade with a book carrying on its cover simply the name Rousseau, indicating Boothby's admiration and promotion of the writer and his work generally.Several portraits were also made of Boothby's daughter, Penelope — by Henry Fuseli and Joshua Reynolds and in sculpture by Thomas Banks. She died young, and was the subject of a book of poetry by her grieving father.Theophilus Levett
Theophilus Levett (1693–1746) was an attorney and early town clerk of Lichfield, Staffordshire, a prominent early Staffordshire politician and landowner, and a member of a thriving Lichfield social and intellectual circle which included his friends Samuel Johnson, the physician Erasmus Darwin, the writer Anna Seward and the actor David Garrick, among others.Thomas Levett (priest)
Rev. Thomas Levett (baptised 25 February 1770 – 9 October 1843) served as rector of Whittington, Staffordshire, for 40 years, and as a large landowner in addition to being a clergyman, played a role in the development of Staffordshire's educational system. He was also a member of one of Staffordshire's longest-serving families in ecclesiastical circles, having produced three rectors of the parish of Whittington. The Levett family also produced members of parliament, High Sheriffs of Staffordshire, Lichfield town recorders and businessmen who were friends and contemporaries of Samuel Johnson, Erasmus Darwin, writer Anna Seward, actor David Garrick and other local luminaries. Several streets in Lichfield are named for the family.Thomas Seward
Thomas Seward (1708 – 4 March 1790) was an English Anglican clergyman, author and editor who was part of the Lichfield intellectual circle that included Samuel Johnson, Erasmus Darwin and his own daughter Anna Seward, amongst others.William Newton (poet)
William Newton (1750–1830), a labouring class poet often referred to as 'the Peak Minstrel', was born near Abney, in the parish of Eyam, Derbyshire, on 28 November 1750. He was well regarded by other more notable writers and made his fortune as owner of Cressbrook Mill, near Tideswell. He died on 3 November 1830.William Small
William Small (13 October 1734 – 25 February 1775) was a Scottish physician and a professor of natural philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where he became an influential mentor for Thomas Jefferson.
William Small was born in Carmyllie, Angus, Scotland, the son of a Presbyterian minister, James Small and his wife Lillias Scott, and younger brother to Dr Robert Small. He attended Dundee Grammar School, and Marischal College, University of Aberdeen where he received an MA in 1755. In 1758, he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, then one of Britain’s American colonies.
Small is known for being Thomas Jefferson's professor at William and Mary, and for having an influence on the young Jefferson. Small introduced him to members of Virginia society who were to have an important role in Jefferson's life, including George Wythe a leading jurist in the colonies and Francis Fauquier, the Governor of Virginia.
Recalling his years as a student, Thomas Jefferson described Small as:
a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and a large and liberal mind... from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science and of the system of things in which we are placed.
In 1764 Small returned to Britain, with a letter of introduction to Matthew Boulton from Benjamin Franklin. Through this connection Small was elected to the Lunar Society, a prestigious club of scientists and industrialists.
In 1765 he received his MD and established a medical practice in Birmingham, and shared a house with the physician John Ash who was the chief campaigner for the Birmingham infirmary. Small was Boulton's physician and became a close friend of Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, James Keir, James Watt, Anna Seward and others connected with the Lunar Society. He was one of the best-liked members of the society and an active contributor to their debates.
He helped to bring the Theatre Royal to Birmingham in 1774 and together with Ash was involved in planning and building a hospital that was not completed until 1779, as Birmingham General Hospital.
Small died in Birmingham on 25 February 1775 from malaria contracted during his stay in Virginia. He is buried in St. Philip's church yard, Birmingham.
The William Small Physical Laboratory, which houses the Physics department at the College of William & Mary, is named in his honour.