Seward Anna Hunter 17421809

Anna Seward's father was the Reverend Thomas Seward, rector of Eyam, Derbyshire. Her father, described as witty and agreeable, matriculated through Westminster and Cambridge and served as private chaplain to the duke of Grafton, whose son he tutored. Anna's mother, described as a handsome woman, was Elizabeth Hunter, daughter of a rector who taught Samuel Johnson in school, who would later become an important person in Anna Seward's career.

After the late marriage for both the Sewards settled at Eyam near the peak featured in the novel Peveril of the Peak by Sir Walter Scott. Seward later began corresponding with Scott, who would also play a crucial role in her later life. Anna, also listed as Anne and Nancy in various accounts, was the first of four children, one of whom died as an infant; her mother also experienced two stillborn births. At age seven Seward moved with her family to Lichfield, Staffordshire, where her father became prebendary of Salisbury and canon residentiary of Lichfield, allowing him to become a permanent part of the local clergy. He entertained many important people, exposing his daughter to social graces and expected behavior. A writer, Mr. Seward contributed to Dodsley's Collection (1748), one piece titled "The Female right to Literature." He also served as editor for Works, a 10-volume collection of writings by Beaumont and Fletcher.

Seward's desire to read and write alarmed her parents, who knew a "scribbling woman" often acquired a dubious reputation. They also felt concern over what would be a lifelong weight problem for Seward, although, according to her biographer Margaret Ash-mun, Sir Walter Scott would chivalrously describe her as "a majestic presence." When the Sewards offered to provide foster care for a friend's five-year-old daughter, Honora Sneyd, they hoped the child's presence would occupy Anna's energies and shape her into a young woman desirable as a wife. The scientist Dr. Erasmus Darwin, a friend and neighbor, advised Mr. Seward that "no more verses were to be allowed," advice that Seward followed. However, when Darwin read verses by Anna so well done that he at first believed them written by her father, he changed his mind and encouraged her writing. Darwin and Anna Seward remained lifelong friends; in 1804 she published Life of Dr. Darwin, which would be roundly criticized as a poor presentation, a charge that she would counter. Seward's father, in some accounts jealous of her talent, upheld his edict against her writing, insisting that she spend her time in more suitable pursuits, such as needlework. Just before the age of 20 Seward lost her closest companion and older sister, Sarah, who died just prior to her wedding. Supposedly Seward had been involved at one point with Sarah's fiancé, setting a pattern for future complicated relationships. While she would enjoy several romances, about which she wrote in correspondence, she would never marry.

Seward visited London and began her writing career in earnest, encouraged by Darwin and other fellow writers in the neoclassicist school. As was her foster sister Honora, Seward was judged by many to have "more intellect than was deemed actually necessary for feminine perfection." By 1770 she enjoyed interacting with a broad intellectual circle who became familiar with her poetry, although she had not yet published. Samuel Johnson dubbed her "the Swan of Lichfield," as her career later flourished. She published "A Rural Coronation" in F. N. C. Mundy's Needwood Forest in 1776 and began to attend poetry sessions led by Anna Miller at Bath-Easton. Encouraged by Miller, in 1778 Seward entered a poetry competition with "Invocation of the Comic Muse," a poem influenced by John Milton's "L'Allegro." Her "Elegy on Captain Cook" followed the death of the adventurer in 1779 and sold for one shilling and sixpence, although a theory that Dr. Darwin had written the poem later emerged. However, the rumor began in writings by the novelist Maria Edgeworth, whose relative Richard Lovell Edgeworth had married Honora after having been rejected by Seward. This fact leads some critics to believe that the hard feelings in the Edgeworth family may have contributed to the claim.

By the mid-1770s Seward's father suffered poor mental health, and his care contributed to the 1780 death of her mother. Honora also died that fall, leaving Seward again to grieve what she felt to be a great loss; she later wrote several odes to honor her foster sister. She continued to produce poetry including elegies, and the Gentleman's Magazine described Seward as "a poetess of the age, in whom almost every poetical excellence seems to be united." In 1781 she published a poem mourning the loss in the American Revolution of Major Andre, a soldier and purported spy who had a relationship with Honora. She attacked George Washington in her Monody on the Unfortunate Major Andre, who had been executed as a spy. Washington would years later through an emissary defend himself to her for his part in the major's death.

Seward's reputation grew, and her name appeared in multiple references in the 1780s into the 1790s, particularly as she often commented critically on work by her fellow poets. Her popular verse novel in four epistles titled Louisa (1784) enjoyed five editions. The year of its publication she became close friends with the poet William Hayley, and the two were popularly conceived for a short time as the best poets of the day. However, readers quickly tired of their letters written in support of one another.

In 1785 Johnson's famous companion and biographer James Boswell contacted Seward for quotations to include in his Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). Although he rejected what she wrote, Boswell interviewed Seward in order to collect additional facts about Johnson. Seward continued to care for her father, whose health declined until his death in 1790. She had lived in the family home supported by the bishop in Lich-field in a type of servitude attending to his needs, only briefly escaping in 1788 to visit her birthplace. There she wrote her most often-anthologized poem "Eyam," a somber remembrance of her father in better days. After her father's death she stayed on at Lichfield, well sup


ported on an annuity of £200 that allowed her comfortably to continue her highly visible existence.

In one of her many public literary criticisms, Seward responded to what she viewed as a hagiographic presentation of Johnson in Boswell's biography in letters printed in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1793 and 1794. Later critics termed her efforts foolish, the product of an irritable and bored woman, who published her criticism far too long after the biography's publication for it to be meaningful. Boswell's response was swift, described as "malicious and insulting," and Seward backed out of the public debate after a few exchanges with the formidable biographer. She followed a visit to Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby with a collection containing an entry about her visit, Llangollen Vale, With Other Poems (1796).

Seward printed some sonnets in 1799, which she hoped would secure her lasting fame. Increasingly melancholy, she continued her year's-long correspondence with Sir Walter Scott. While he described her letters as too sentimental for his tastes, he wrote, "When I did see her, however, she interested me very much." Confident that subsequent generations of readers would remain interested in her work, in 1784 Seward wrote to Scott's publisher, Mr. A. Constable. She informed him that he would receive after her death "exclusive copyright of Twelve Volumes, quarto, half-bound" of her correspondence. She followed with a proposal for a posthumous collection of her poems, which would result in the two-volume Poetical Works, its introduction written by Scott. Scott would refuse to contribute to the collection of her correspondence, as he, as did others, believed that she had considerably altered the letters through careful editing. Despite failing health, Seward continued to read avidly. She wrote public commentary and private correspondence about poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, to whom she referred as "Our rising stars."

Contrary to her expectations, Seward remained mostly forgotten after her death until she caught the interest of 20th-century feminist critics. While she was not considered a major poet, her participation in criticism and publication during an era when such activities remained the prerogative of men gained Seward well-deserved attention.

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