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Dim memories cast their shadow, sudden tears
A few moons passed
" Oh! bitterest trial!"
There was a struggle in that warrior's soul
ANNA SEWARD AND DOCTOR DARWIN.
Doctor Darwin's transplantation of the poetical flowers of Anna Seward into his “ Botanic Garden," is one of the most curious incidents in literary history. That a man like Doctor Darwin, who had a moral and literary character to support, and who had such original resources in his own imagination, should have appropri. ated to his own use, and without any kind of acknowledgment, the production of a contemporary poet whose vanity was so little likely to forgive the fraud or preserve a self-denying silence, is indeed surprising, and would not be credited on ordinary evidence. The fact, however, is perfectly well known. Thomas Campbell in the notice of Doctor Darwin, in his “Specimens of the British Poets," very unjustly treats Miss Seward's claim with incredulity and contempt. There is something even spiteful in his allusion to her. "Miss Anna Seward,” he says, “ in her Life of Darwin, declares herself the authoress of the opening lines of the poem, (the Botanic Garden,) but as she never had the courage to make this pretension during Doctor Darwin's life, her veracity on the subject is exposed to suspicion.”
Towards the conclusion of his notice of Darwin he has another fing at the poetess. “Darwin's Botanic Garden," he says, "once pleased many better judges than his affected biographer.” Thomas Campbell is, undoubtedly, a true poet, and when he has no personal prejudices to blind his judgment, he is as true a critic. We cannot help thinking, however, that in this instance he is any thing but impartial. There is a passage in one of Anna's letters which was not calculated to secure the favourable judgment of the author of the Pleasures of Hope. “You ask me,' she writes to one of her correspondents, "my opinion of the new poem, The Pleasures of Hope, and observe, that it is thought an ingenious counterpart to The Pleasures of Memory. It was lent me for a short time, and my perusal was single and hurried. I rose from it without any impression of having found on its pages much of the strength of original genius.” This is not a very just criticism, but it is a hasty one; and, we are to remember, that Miss Seward had not seen Campbell's maturer and more energetic productions—his inimitable lyrics. At the time these letters were published Miss Seward's fame stood pretty high, and as they were edited by his friend Scott, it is more than probable, that Campbell had either read or heard of this off-hand condemnation. Campbell is, we believe, the only writer who has insinuated against Miss Seward herself a still severer charge than that which she brought against Darwin. A daring misappropriation like that of Darwin's is a far less disgusting crime than a felonious attack upon the character and property of the defenceless dead. But, we are convinced, that in the present case Mr. Campbell is either a less cautious or less candid judge than he ought to be in a matter so seriously affecting the moral reputation of a female, who was always greatly respected in private life. We admit, that there is no direct evidence that Miss Seward had spoken personally to Doctor Darwin upon the subject of his plagiarism; and this circumstance is undoubtedly remarkable, as she occasionally corresponded with her spoliator even subsequent to his literary theft, and continued to speak of his poetry to all her correspondents with most enthusiastic commendation. That she was not likely to refrain from speaking on such a subject from any delicacy or tenderness to Darwin, or any want of boldness and candour, we may gather from the tone of some of her letters to Hayley, to Mrs. Piozzi and to Henry Hardinge. Nothing can be more frank and fearless than these. But if there is no evidence that she complained to Doctor Darwin on this subject, neither is there any strong reason to believe the contrary. At all events, some of Mr. Campbell's statements are
undoubtedly inaccurate. He tells us, for instance, that Darwin published the first part of his Botanic Garden (the exordium of which is Miss Seward's) in the year 1781. He is evidently not aware of the fact, that the second part of the poem was published before the first; and that the first part did not appear till 1792. This is an important error. Miss Seward gave the lines to Doctor Darwin in the year 1779. A friend of Doctor Darwin's, (Mr. Stevens) sent them to the Gentleman's Magazine in 1783, in the May number of which year they were published with her name, and were copied, also with her name, into the Annual Register of the next year.
They were also inserted with her signature in Shaw's History of Staffordshire in 1798, four years before the death of Doctor Darwin.
They were thus claimed by her signature (and the claim remained undisputed) in two of the most popular periodicals of that day, eight or nine years before Doctor Darwin transferred them to his Botanic Garden ! Then again, if we have no direct information of her having addressed Darwin on the subject orally, or by letter, we know that Miss Seward made no secret of the matter even in the Doctor's life-time. In a letter to Mr. Repton, dated July, 1789, she observes, “ One of the notes to the part which Doctor Darwin has just published, induces me to believe he retains his design of opening his first part with my sketch of the valley. Surely he judges wrong ; so great a work ought not to contain lines, especially in the exordium, which are known to have been written by another.” From this paragraph we gather two conclusions—the one is, that Miss Seward was aware that Doctor Darwin had some intention to use her lines, though she might naturally have expected that he would compliment her with an acknowledgment; and the other is, that she looked upon
parentage of them as too well known, at least to her correspondent, to make it necessary for her to enter into any argument or explanation to support her claim. In the same let
ter there is an observation which seems to hint that Darwin had some sinister design in the order of his publication of the Botanic Garden ;—" For some reason inscrutable to me, he publishes the second part first." Is it possible that he could have acted under the impression, that Miss Seward might not live to see the first part, and to claim her share of it? We would not willingly believe it. We forget what were Darwin's avowed reasons for not beginning the publication of his work with the first part. The next mention that Miss Seward makes of the matter is in a letter to Mr. Jackson, dated August, 1792, the same year in which the first part of the Botanic Garden was published ;—“ He (Doctor Darwin) retains without the least acknowledgment, not even the quotation marks, and places, as the exordium of this his resplendent poem, a copy
of verses of mine which I wrote in his Botanic Garden, near Lichfield, in the year 1779, when he himself was an inhabi. tant of Lichfield. My verses had the honour of suggesting to the Doctor the first idea of this exquisite composition.” She repeats the same complaint to Mr. Thomas Park, in a letter dated
before Darwin died. After this what are we to think of Campbell's assertion, that she had never the courage to make this pretension during Doctor Darwin's life? The verses in question, though upon the whole amongst her happiest efforts, are not so superior even to ber worst performances as to excite any suspicion on the ground of incapacity. There are two or three of her other pieces that are quite equal to them, and in the same style. The following description of the sea round the North Pole, in her Elegy on Captain Cook, though not without its faults, was honored with the praise of Dr. Johnson :
“ From the rude summit of yon frozen steep,