Philadelphia: At the Classic Press, for the Proprietors Wm. Poyntell, & Co., 1804. First American edition, published the same year as the first. Board edges rubbed, front joint cracked, but sound. Marginal dampstain to title and first and last couple of leaves. Old printed bookseller's label ("Sold by J. Gray"), several early ownership signatures and annotations, in ink and in pencil, one dated 1828 and another 1839. Light foxing and browning, as is usual with American books of this period, bottom corner of front free endpaper torn away. A good, attractive copy. Contemporary tree sheep, gilt spine with red morocco label. Octavo. xii, 313 pp. Item #15860
Anna Seward (1742-1809), called the “Swan of Lichfield,” was “the mistress of a kind of ornate verse that revealed the excesses of eighteenth-century sentimentalism” (Mary Pharr in Schleuter’s Encyclopedia of British Women Writers). As a teenager, she showed an early aptitude for poetry, which was encouraged and influenced by Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), then a young Lichfield doctor. Her grandfather had taught Samuel Johnson, and she furnished Boswell with many details of Johnson’s early life, while admitting that she did not like him. She was raised with Honora Sneyd, whom her parents adopted. Sneyd became the second wife of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, whom Seward also disliked. Her literary friends included Thomas Day (author of Sandford and Merton), William Hayley, and Sir Walter Scott. After her death, Scott edited a three-volume set of her works.
Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin was one of Seward’s last books. It was immediately attacked by the Edinburgh Review, not to mention Darwin’s family because of Seward’s claim that Darwin had appropriated some of her poetry in The Botanic Garden. The extent of Darwin’s borrowing remains a controversial point. The Memoirs are of great interest as a first-hand account of Darwin’s circle, whose members were precursors of the Romantic movement and had brought the teachings of Rousseau to the British Isles.