16 April 2010

Anna Seward (1747-1809), Lichfield, Staffordshire, England

Anna Seward was born in Eyam, Derbyshire. She was a Romantic poet who, after moving to Lichfield in 1750, spent the rest of her life there, latterly at the Bishop's Palace. She was close to the adopted Honora Sneyd, after whose marriage she produced some of her best work. She never married and spent years looking after her sick father. She was part of a literary circle that included Erasmus Darwin.

After her poem 'Elegy on Captain Cook' (1780), she was named 'the Swan of Lichfield', worked with Darwin on The Botanic Garden, and published a biography of him on his death in 1802. Among others, she was in correspondence with Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Her memorial in Lichfield cathedral bears a poem by Sir Walter Scott:

'Amid these Aisles, where once his precepts shew'd,
The heavenward pathway which in life he trode,
This simple tablet marks a Father’s bier;
And those he loved in life, in death are near.
For him, for them, a daughter bade it rise,
Memorial of domestic charities.
Still would you know why o’er the marble spread,
In female grace the willow droops her head;
Why on her branches, silent and unstrung,
The minstrel harp, is emblematic hung;
What Poet’s voice is smother’d here in dust,
Till waked to join the chorus of the just;
Lo! one brief line an answer sad supplies—
Honour’d, belov’d, and mourn’d, here Seward lies:
Her worth, her warmth of heart, our sorrows say:
Go seek her genius in her living lay.'

She has become something of a gay icon.

Also in the cathedral are the Chad Gospels in the chapter house, which were probably written by a monk from Lindisfarne in 730AD, and contain 236 pages on vellum. They include Matthew's and Mark's gospels, and the beginning of Luke's. Eight pages are illuminated, of which two are illustated here.

The Herkenrode glass is perhaps the most impressive feature of Lichfield Cathedral. Unfortunately, at the moment of writing, the windows are being preserved and cannot be seen by the public. The story behind the windows is interesting, as the minor poet Brooke Boothby (1744-1824), 6th Baronet of Broadlaw Ash in Derbyshire, was responsible for their being here.

In 1801 Boothby visited the Lowlands and discovered that the Herkenrode glass from the former abbey, which was closed and sold in 1797, had been removed by the owner. Boothby was much impressed by it, and negociated for the purchase for Lichfield Cathedral. He paid £200 for the glass, including transport, the Dean and Chapter later repaid him, and installation was complete in 1805.

Boothby moved in the Lichfield literary circle with the likes of Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward, and was reponsible for publishing Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions in Lichfield. The painting below is by Joseph Wright of Derby, and shows him holding a book by Rousseau.

A view of the nave facing east, where the Herkenrode glass is covered up for repairs.

The nave facing west from the choir.

The rood screen.

The font in the north transept.

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