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We have no sort of doubt that, should he ever conclude such a peace as England can with honour consent to, the hopes of carrying this plan into execution will be his primary motive; and we should wish the advocates for a peace with him to recollect, that in proportion to the necessary reduction which such an event would oblige us to make in our own naval establishments, will an opportunity be afforded to him of compassing with increased means, but with a smaller power, the paramount object of his daily and nightly wishes, the destruction and utter extirpation of the only free and enlightened nation now remaining to cast a practical reproach upon his own tyranny. We can afford to let him build as many ships as his contined means during a war will admit, because we can afford without serious danger that he should possess as many, or even a few more ships than ourselves. But we cannot afford to have his fleets instead of his ships outnumbering ours.
The nature of our power, and of our interests, scattered over the surface of the habitable globe, forbids it: and it is certain that if he can ever (to use his own phrase) force us by such means to ver our centre," we must be prepared for a succession of campaigns fought upon British soil, for the continuance of British independence.
Art. VII. The Poetical Works of Anna Seward, edited by
Walter Scott, Esq. 3 Vols. 8vo. 1810. Longman and Co. Letters of Anna Seward between 1784 and 1807. 6 Vols. 8vo.
1811. Constable and Co. Longman and Co. n looking into what Mr. Scott calls a biographical preface, we were struck with the propriety of his resolving to reduce the whole mass of his materials for publication to the compass of three volumes. In forming this resolution we think he has consulted the interest of the editor, the publisher, and most probably of the author. However great may have been the intellectual attainments of this lady, she does not seem to have been without, we will not say the vanity of the sex, but we may say the vanity of authorship. And though it may be true, as the preface tells us, that there was not a line in the whole mass of manuscripts which was bequeathed to the editor for publication, which did not in his opinion do honour to her memory; yet when we conjecture the quantity of materials which were committed to him,
from the general promptitude of her pen, and from the twelve quarto volumes in MSS. bequeathed by her to Mr. Constable, we cannot doubt that Mr. Scott's judgment suggested the expediency of suppressing a very large proportion of these literary accumulations for the ease of the reader, and to save the market from repletion. We, therefore, venture to diler froin the editor of these volumes in his opinion of the taste of the age, which he thinks he has not consulted by this abstinence of publication. Though we cannot go the length of agreeing with him in his general position, that noihing less than the ascertainment of historical fact justifies withdrawing the veil from the incidents of private life, (being of opinion that the private lives of some persons belong in a manner to posterity for instruction and exam; le) yet we are most ready to ailow the propriety of the remark as applicable to tie particular case. Considering, however, the editor's opinion of the taste of the age in this point, we rather wonder ihat he should not have indulged it by a more particular account of the part acted on the theatre of life by so distinguished a female performer, and enlarging a little on the scenes and characters comprehended within the verge of her literary intercourse. To an intelligent curiosity few things are so interesting as the history of an intelligent inind. The order of study, the influences of education and society on intellectual habits, the accidents which determine to particular pursuits, and the singular crises and fates of literary performances, are circumstances in the biography of a professed author very interesting to a quiet observer of life, and to one whose contemplative leisure is more agreeably occupied in rea soning than in wondering.
We would not be thought to admire the pruriency to biography which at present prevails, and which will scarcely permit dulness itself, if noble or wealthy, to escape out of existence without getting into print. We loathe the wretched pamphleteer who waits upon the obsequies of every man, woman, or child, whose life has been noisy or notorious. Some dozen or two of anecdotes, a few poetical attempts, and poetical failures, with a little familiar and sentimental correspondence, supply the matter of a memoir to those, whose scribbling propensity, or lust of bookmaking, or family pride, or pensioned flattery, undertakes the task of raising trophies to the forgotten or de spised. Mediocrity, vanity, and vice itself, thus obtain an apotheosis. The living dog becomes a dead lion. But the memorials of genius and worth are among the treasures of literature, and where they are preserved and dispensed by wise and dis
criminating hands, are better instruments of moral instruction than preceptive discourses, or ethical treatises.
It is a beautiful part of the character of our minds to be interested in the vicissitudes which can never personally affect ourselves, and to participate in the passions, sentiments, and emotions of others, from the influence of which we are far removed, and which we can only know from report, or the internal evidence of their writings. To cultivate, not to stimulate, to control, not to subdue, these generous sympathies, should be the aim of him who desires to spread the contagion of virtue. And on these grounds we consider that the biography of those whose lives have been important, is one among the most legitimate sources of entertainment, and availing instruments of instruction. The bounds to which we would confine the use of it are those prescribed by decency and duty. We would have nothing exhibited to the world either in the lives or posthumous productions of those who are gone from us, whereby they can be made to sin in their graves, or cover with their ashes the seeds of depravity or error. We would have what is immoral or indecent told, if it must be told, in such a manner as to produce aversion, and marked with a manliness of reprobation. And, lastly, we are of opinion, that there is an honour towards the dead which is faithlessly broken by publishing what the writer if living would probably have withheld, or by exposing to the world those petty details of domestic privacy, which serve only to lessen the dignity of virtue, and the force of example.
These few general observations were suggested to us by some of the sentiments which occurred in Mr. Scott's biographical preface; which seems to have acquired this descriptive appellation, not by combining what belongs to preface with the merits of biography, but by performing the office of neither with effect; or, in other words, by failing to bring the reader acquainted either with Miss Seward or her works. As we have now before us the volumes of letters published by Mr. Constable, as well as the poems edited by Mr. Scott, with his biographical preface, we will endeavour, within the short compass which our limits allow us, to pick out some account of this distinguished lady for the gratification of our readers.
Anna Seward was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Seward, rector of Eyam in Derbyshire, and during the principal part of his daughter's life canon residentiary of Lichfield; but hest known to the public as editor of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 1750. Her mother was daughter of Mr. Hunter of Lichfield, Dr. Johnson's school-master. She was born in Dec. 12, 1743, (not 1747, as erroneously printed in the preface to her Poems) and passed the first eight years of her life in the mountainous district of Eyam, where the scenery was well fitted to invigorate a poetical imagination, and where she is said to have given early indications of her genius. It is certain, that her descriptive powers are those on which her fame has the best claims to survive the shocks to which egotism, affectation, and very questionable principles expose
it. That rural objects had impressed themselves not only on her fancy but her heart, her prose and poetry afford the most vivid proofs. Her father, who seems to have been quite a creature of artificial society, and who if he possessed either sentiment or imagery, took very successful pains to keep them from appearing in his compositions, could do very little towards laying up in her mind the furniture of the poet. Some praise, however, is due to him for directing her early attention to the writings of Pope as affording a model of perfect numbers and the correctest poetical diction. Had she continued always to regulate herself by that model, she would probably have escaped those shining absurdities and ambitious faults which are more or less to be remarked in all her writings, but more particularly in all her later compositions.
Her removal to Lichfield, which Johnson's fame had now rendered propitious to literature, soon enabled her to attract the notice of Dr. Darwin, who at that time was practising physic in that city, while he was cherishing the seeds of that poetical promise which some years afterwards sprung up and blossomed with such a splendour of efflorescence. It is apparent, that the peculiarities of style learned in this school adhered to her through the remainder of her life.
Mrs. Seward it seems disapproved her daughter's poetical propensity, and was very earnest in her endeavours to suppress it. The best account of her at this time will be found, in her own words, in an early letter inserted in Mr. Scott's publication, and it will be the more proper to introduce it, as it exhibits a proof as well of the natural force, as of the cultivated state of her mind, while it affords also some interesting passages regarding one of the great glories of English literature.
“ You insist upon my saying more of myself in this letter ; observe, that you
hear I have often written verses, and question me concerning their subjects. There will be no great difficulty in obeying you. Self-love, which has neither soul-harrowing sorrow, por cutting mortification, to reveal, seldom finds the paths of egotism thorny.
Your partial estimation of my talents, and your question about my verses, now point to that path. If your attention should grow weary in following me through its mazes, you must thank youself.
“ It is true that I have written verses, but it is not true that I have written them often. A propensity of that sort appeared early in my infancy. At first my father encouraged it, but my mother threw cold water on the rising fires; and even my father ceased to smile encouragement upon these attempts after my
in which Dr. Darwin unluckily told him, that his daughter's verses were better than his; a piece of arch injustice to my father's muse, which disgusted him with mine.
“ Some few people, besides yourself, have fancied that I had genius. Whether they are or are not mistaken, it cannot be for me to determine; but certainly Lichfield is now an inauspicious soil for nourishing to maturity that sensitive plant.
“ It is true I dwell on classic ground. Within the walls which my father's family inhabits, in this very dining-room, the munificent Mr Walmesley, with the taste, the learning, and the liberality of Mæcenas, administered to rising genius the kind nutriment of atten. tion and praise. Often to his hospitable board were the school-boys, David Garrick and Samuel Johnson, summoned. The parents of the former were of Mr. Walmesley's acquaintance; but those of the latter did not move in his sphere.
“ It was rumoured that my mother's father, Mr. Hunter, had a boy of marked ability upon his forms. The huge, overgrown, mis. shapen, and probably dirty stripling was brought before the most able scholar and the finest gentleman in Lichfield, or its environs, who, perceiving far more ability than even rumour had promised, placed him at his table, not merely to gratify a transient curiosity, but to assure him of a constant welcome.
“ Two or three evenings every week, Mr. Walmesley called the stupendous stripling, and his livelier companion David Garrick, who was a few years younger, to his own plentiful board. There, in the hours of convivial gaiety, did he delight to wave every restraint of superiority formed by rank, affluence, polished manners, and the dignity of advanced life; and there, as man to man, as friend to friend, he drew forth the different powers of each expanding spirit, by the vivid interchange of sentiment and opinion, and by the cheering influence of generous applause.
« Another circumstance combined to heighten the merit of this patronage. Mr. Walmesley was a zealous whig. My grandfather, then master of the free-school, perceiving Johnson's abilities, had, to his own honour, taken as much pains with him as with the young gentlemen whøse parents paid an high price for their pupilage ; but my grandfather was a Jacobite, and Sam. Johnson had imbibed his master's absurd zeal for the forfeit rights of the house of Stuart; and this, though his father had very loyal principles; but the anxiety attendant on penurious circumstances probably left old Johnson little leisure or inclination to talk on political subjects.