Seward, Anna (1742–1809)

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Seward, Anna (1742–1809)

English poet. Name variations: "Swan of Lichfield"; Benvolio. Born in Eyam, Derbyshire, England, on December 12, 1742; died at the Bishop's Palace, in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on March 25, 1809; elder of two surviving daughters of Thomas Seward (rector of Eyam and later canon of Lichfield and Salisbury) and Elizabeth Hunter Seward (whose father had been headmaster of Lichfield Grammar School and the teacher of Dr. Samuel Johnson); never married; no children.

Anna Seward was born in 1742 in Eyam, Derbyshire, England, and grew up in the household of an aspiring writer. Her father co-edited the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, mingled with the literati, and encouraged his daughter's bookish ways. Seward began to write in her mid-30s and was a frequent contributor to the Gentlemen's Magazine. Having never married, she remained at home to care for her father after her mother's death in 1780. When her only sister died in 1764, Seward's affection turned to Honoria Sneyd (who later became the second wife of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and stepmother of Maria Edgeworth ). Seward also made many forays to London to visit a wide circle of writer friends. Toward the end of the 18th century, she was a well-known figure at literary salons.

It was Anna Seward who supplied Boswell with details about the early years of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had been a student of her father's. Her dislike for Johnson was well known when she parodied his letters in the Gentlemen's Magazine under the signature Benvolio. In 1782, she published her poetical novel Louisa, a work in which she took great pride. Her poem "Llangollen Vale," published in 1796, describes a visit she made to Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the Ladies of Llangollen .

Upon her death in 1809, Seward bequeathed her poetical works to Sir Walter Scott, who had them published with a memoir in three volumes in 1810. Though Scott declined to market her 12-volume manuscript of letters which she had meticulously revised for publication, the letters were printed by Archibald Constable in six volumes in 1811. Biographies of Seward include E.V. Lucas' A Swan and Her Friends (1907), Margaret Ashmun 's The Singing Swan (1931), and H. Pearson's The Swan of Lichfield (1936).