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Two knights before thy fragrant altar bend,
Wooed with long care, Curcuma, cold and shy,
With vain desires the pensive Alcea burns,
And sunk enamoured on his sooty breast.
For me, ye Cissoids, round my temples bend
Lead the light Naiąds on fantastic toe ;
3 Turmeric; one male and one female, together with four filaments without anthers.
4 Double holly hocks.
Let shrill Acoustics tune the tiny lyre ;
Alas that partial Science should approve
And first the fair Parabola behold
Not thus Hyperbole ; — with subtlest art
Yet why, Ellipsis, at thy fate repine ?
So down thy hill, romantic Ashbourn, glides
ANNA SEWARD. LADY MILLER. THE DELLA CRUSCANS.
It must be regarded as a real misfortune for Dr. Darwin's fame, though a ludicrous one, that he should have had such a biographer
and commentator upon his works as Miss Anna Seward. Anna has herself a claim upon our notice as one of the poetical lights of this time. Besides various contributions to magazines, she emitted separately, and with her name, in the last twenty years of the century, a succession of elegies, monodies, odes, sonnets, poetical epistles, adieus, &c., about Captain Cook, Major André, Lady Miller of Batheaston, and other persons and things, which were generally read in their day, and were, after her death, in 1809, at the age of sixty-two, collected and republished in three octavo volumes under the care of Walter Scott, who had formed her acquaintance in the early part of his career, and upon whom she had imposed the honor of being her literary executor. A selection from her Letters, which she had bequeathed to Constable, the Edinburgh . bookseller, appeared about the same time in six volumes. But decidedly her most remarkable performance, and the one by which her name is likely to be the longest preserved, is the octavo volume she gave to the world in 1804, under the title of Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, chiefly during his residence at Lichfield, with Anecdotes of his Friends, and Criticisms on his Writings. Here we have Anna herself, as well as her friend the poetic Doctor, at full length. Anna’s notion is, that the Botanic Garden ought to have been her poem, not Darwin's, if matters had been fairly managed. The Doctor, it seems, about the year 1777, purchased “ a little, wild, umbrageous valley, a mile from Lichfield, irriguous from various springs, and swampy from their plenitude.” This he soon dressed up into a very neat imitation of Paradise, and then, having till now “restrained his friend Miss Seward's steps to this her always favorite scene,” he allowed her to visit it, when, the lady informs us, “she took her tablets and pencil, and, seated on a flower-bank, in the midst of that luxuriant retreat, wrote the following lines, while the sun was gilding the glen, and while birds of every plume poured their song from the boughs.” Now, be it observed, the Doctor was not even with her on the flower-bank : it was intended that they should have gone to see Paradise together, “ but a medical summons into the country deprived her of that pleasure.” The lines, therefore, were wholly the produce of her own particular muse and her own black-lead pencil. They are substantially the commencing lines of the First Book of the Botanic Garden. When the authoress presented them to Darwin, he said that they ought to form the exordium of a great
work, and proposed that Anna should write such a work - on the unexplored poetic ground of the Linnæan system,” to which he would provide prose notes. Anna answered, modestly, “ that, besides her want of botanic knowledge, the plan was not strictly proper for a female pen,” — but that she thought it was just the thing for “ the efflorescence of his own fancy.” It would appear that, soon after this, Darwin began the composition of his great poem ; but previously, the lady tells us, a few weeks after they were composed, he “sent the verses Miss S. wrote in his Botanic Garden (that is, the Lichfield Paradise, so called) to the Gentleman's Magazine, and in her name.” — “ From thence,” she proceeds, “ they were copied in the Annual Register (where we have not been able to find them]; but, without consulting her, he had substituted for the last six lines eight of his own. He afterwards, and again without the knowledge of their author, made them the exordium to the First Part of his poem, published, for certain reasons, some years after the Second Part had appeared. No acknowledgment was made that those verses were the work of another pen.
Such acknowledgment ought to have been made, especially since they passed the press in the name of their real author. They are somewhat altered in the exordium to Dr. Darwin's poem, and eighteen lines of his own are interwoven with them.” The lines having been only forty-six originally, and twenty-six of those in the Doctor's exordium being thus admitted to be of his own composition, it might seem that the theft was reduced to a somewhat small matter; but Miss Seward, not unreasonably, holds that in thus rifling her poem, probably of its best verses, Darwin did her the same injury as if he had appropriated the whole ; and therefore in returning, in a subsequent page, to this “extraordinary, and, in a poet of so much genius, unprecedented instance of plagiarism,” and quoting against him one of his own critical canons, that “a few common flowers of speech may be gathered as we pass over our neighbour's ground, but we must not plunder his cultivated fruit,” she bitterly charges him with having “ forgotten that just restraint when he took, unacknowledged, forty-six entire lines, the published verses of his friend, for the exordium of the first part of his work.” After all, it has been doubted by the world if that scene of the flower-bank and the tablets was anything more than a pleasant dream of Anna's, or if she had anything to do with the authorship of the forty-six verses
at all, beyond allowing them to be published with her name in the magazines. She has been proved to be incorrect in her recollections of other matters about which she was as obstinate as she was about this: her memory had the worst defect, of being apt to remember too much.
Miss Seward's own poetry, with much more sentimentality and much less sense and substance, belongs to the same school with Darwin's. Hers is the feeble commonplace of the same labored, tortuous, and essentially unnatural and untrue style out of which he, with his more powerful and original genius, has evolved for himself a distinctive form or dialect. This style has subsisted among us, in one variation or another, and with more or less of temporary acceptance, in every era of our poetry. It is mimicked by Pope, in his Song by a Person of Quality, written in the year 1733 ; it is the Euphuism of the Elizabethan age, gently ridiculed by Shakspeare, in his Love's Labours Lost, though then made brilliant and imposing by the wit and true poetic genius of Lilly; it is the same thing that is travestied by Chaucer in his Rime of Sir Thopas. Perhaps, however, it had in no former time made so much din, or risen to such apparent ascendancy, as at the date of which we are now speaking, the last years of the eighteenth century. Nor had it ever before assumed a shape or character at once so extravagant and so hollow of all real worth or power. The first impulse seems to have been caught from Italy, the foreign country whose literature has in every age exercised, for good or for evil, the greatest influence upon our own. The writers of what is called the Della Cruscan school had their predecessors and progenitors in the small manufacturers of rhyme, male and female, collected about her by Lady Miller, who, when she set up her Parnassus and Wedgwood-ware vase at Batheaston, and established the weekly competitions in elegies and epigrams, songs and sonnets, which went on through the instrumentality of the said mystic vase till her death in 1781, had just returned from a tour in Italy with her husband, of which she published an account, in three volumes of Letters, in 1776. Their performances were given to the world under the title of Poetical Amusements at a Villa near Bath, in a succession of volumes which appeared between 1770 and 1780. Miss Seward was one of the contributors to this Batheaston poetry. It does not seem, however, to have attracted much notice beyond the circle in which the writers and their patroness moved ; at most it