Williams, Anna (1706–1783)

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Williams, Anna (1706–1783)

English poet . Born in 1706 in Rosemarket, England; died on September 6, 1783, in London, England;daughter of Zachariah Williams (a physician and inventor); educated at home.

Anna Williams was born in 1706 in Rose-market, near Milford Haven, England, but moved with her widowed father to London when she was in her early teens. The daughter of a physician and inventor, Williams was unusually well educated for a young woman of her time, and through her father's efforts as an inventor—he worked, unsuccessfully, for many years on a method of determining precise longitude while at sea—she came into contact with several scientists. While supporting her now-impoverished father by taking on embroidery piecework, Williams also assisted Stephen Grey with his rudimentary experimentation with electricity. Fluent in several languages, she earned much-needed funds with her translation of The Life of the Emperor Julian (1746) from its original French. However, by middle age, Williams developed cataracts which caused her sight to diminish significantly. The family's troubles increased again when Williams' father lost the rooms he and his daughter had been living in; fortunately they were provided support by her father's friend, the eminent Dr. Johnson, and his wife Elizabeth "Tetty" Porter Johnson . Johnson also arranged for Williams to have an operation to restore her vision, but that operation—not surprisingly, given the times—was not a success, and instead rendered her totally blind.

In 1755, Zachariah Williams died, leaving his 49-year-old daughter blind and penniless, but fortunately not friendless. A benefit performance of the play Merope provided her with £200. In the meantime, Williams had developed a close relationship with Johnson, and resided with him, off and on, after his wife died in 1752. Several of her poems, which she had written throughout her life, were collected and published in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1766), a volume which also included contributions from both Johnson and the poet Hester Thrale (Hester Lynch Piozzi ). Sales of her Miscellanies, received through subscriptions promoted by Johnson, earned Williams enough money to live in reasonable comfort for the rest of her life. Her health declined during her 70s, and she died at Johnson's house in 1783. She willed what few funds she had left to a home for deserted women, this reportedly at Johnson's suggestion.


Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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