Seward, Anna (1742–1809)

The ‘swan of Lichfield’– a poet, encouraged in youth by Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; DNB). Her writings included Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (1760), Elegy on Captain Cook (1780), Monody on Major Andre (1781) and Louisa: A Poetic Novel (1784). Walter Scott edited her Poetical Works for Ballantyne in 1810; her voluminous correspondence was published in 1811. Seward was quick to recognise Southey as a poet to be watched: her 1797 ‘Philippic on a Modern Epic’ condemned the ‘Baneful’ politics of his Joan of Arc, but simultaneously heralded it as the work of ‘sun-born Genius’. She continued to follow Southey’s career with some interest. In 1802 she wrote to the Poetical Register, lauding him as a ‘genuine Poet’, though cautioning the reader against adopting ‘his capricious systems’. She read Madoc shortly after its 1805 publication and published a lengthy defence of it in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1808. When Southey got wind (via a letter sent by Seward to Charles Lloyd) of her high opinion, he wrote to her. This initiated a correspondence that lasted until Seward’s death and that led to their one meeting in Lichfield in summer 1808. Late in life, Southey provided a comic account of the ‘jubilant but appalling solemnity’ of this encounter. However, his attitude to Seward was more ambivalent than this suggests. He was keenly aware of – and attentive to – her place in literary history, noting that she ‘was not so much over-rated at one time, as she has been since unduly depreciated’ (Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), V, pp. xv–xviii).