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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for July 2017

Archive Spotlight: Anna Seward and the Lichfield Record Office

Another ‘Archive Spotlight’ post for this week! Thank you to Francesca Blanch Serrat – PhD student from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona –  for this essay. Francesca’s research focuses on self-representation, maturity, and Romanticism in Anna Seward’s poetry. She tells us here about her trip to Lichfield, the location of Seward’s family home.

Do you want to write for us on studying Romanticism materials at an archive? We are now opening this series to contributors.  We’d love to hear from academics and postgraduates who would like to write a short blog on their experience of using an archive in the UK or elsewhere. You could use the space to discuss one or two things of interest you found there, perhaps things that are intriguing, but can’t fit into your thesis or other work. Suggestions welcome!

Please contact Anna Mercer for more information. 

 

Archive Spotlight: Anna Seward and the Lichfield Record Office

Although today she is not quite as well known, Anna Seward (1742-1809) was celebrated in her lifetime as one of the prominent lyrical voices of Great Britain. Strongly imbued by the cult of sensibility and classical poetic models, her style attests to the cultural and literary transition between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Due to the success of her patriotic elegies on national heroes, Monody on Major André (1781) and Elegy on Captain Cook (1780), she was considered by her contemporaries as a “British muse, spokeswoman for national anguish, pride, and resolve” (Kairoff 2012, 71), which contrasts with, and questions, our current notion of her career as provincial writer. Seward was at the centre of a network of scientific, social, political and literary relations, as her correspondence (12 manuscript volumes, out of which only 6 were posthumously published) demonstrates. She enjoyed a privileged position as confidante and mentor to the outstanding minds of her generation, such as Erasmus Darwin, Esther Thrale Piozzi, Hannah More, Robert Southey, Helen Maria Williams or Sir Walter Scott, to name a few. My thesis pays particular attention to the representation of maturity in Romanticism and investigates in what ways does Seward, from her old age, represent herself as a woman, writer, and ultimately, author.

 

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Anna Seward by George Romney. 1782. Detail.

 

After the death of her father, Anna Seward lived independently in her family home, the Bishop’s Palace, in Lichfield. She inherited her father’s shares in several business exploits which allowed her not to worry about her keeping. Thanks to that, she never envisioned writing as a way to earn money, but rather as an artistic and intellectual pursuit, and elevated form of art. Lucky her. As a young girl, Seward moved with her parents and younger sister from Eyam to Lichfield when their father was appointed canon-residentiary at the cathedral. There, the Sewards became immediately involved in the city’s intellectual and cultural life, and encouraged their daughters to actively participate in it. They would host meetings with personalities such as Erasmus Darwin -who praised her poetry and encouraged her to continue writing-, James Boswell or Samuel Johnson, as well as the Lunar Society of Birmingham.

On my first year of PhD research I went on a trip to Seward’s beloved Lichfield. After reading about it in her letters and poems, I had to know what all the fuss was about. Lichfield is indeed a beautiful town, ripe with history, and evidently very proud of its past.

 

View of the cathedral from The Swan.

View of the cathedral from The Swan.

 

My first appointment was with Clare Townsend, the manager of the Cathedral Library, who showed me the chapter house -the only one with two storeys in the UK!-, where the library has been housed since 1758. Its treasures include a hand-copied manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from the 15th century and a map of Tudor England by Christopher Saxton (one of the three surviving original copies). I was very lucky to be able to visit it before its closure for restoration work. Ms Townsend had prepared a working space for me on the left side of the building, which incidentally faced Seward’s home, now a school. The feeling of touching the first edition of her collected letters a mere street away from where she would sit and write is indescribable.

 

The Bishop’s Palace, behind the cathedral. Seward’s home.

The Bishop’s Palace, behind the cathedral. Seward’s home.

 

After the cathedral, I visited the Lichfield Record Office, where Henrietta Martinez, Kevin Briggs and Anita Caithness, the archive assistants, were incredibly kind and helpful. The Lichfield Record Office is part of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent’s Archive Service, which amounts to 6500 collections. It connects the databases of Staffordshire Record Office, the Lichfield Record Office, the Stoke on Trent City Archives, the William Salt Library and the Staffordshire County Museum under one single online catalogue, Gateway to the Past. Gateway to the Past contains an 80% of the Archive and Heritage Service’s holdings. [See here, and here]

In the Lichfield Record Office, I mostly came across letters and poems, but also legal documents and an unpublished portrait. In total I saw 33 documents. The first document I was given was LD127/7/15, which turned out to be a drawing, in pencil and ink, of Seward as a young woman. Although I knew of several versions of her most well known portraits and engravings, by Tilly Kettle and George Romney, I had never read about this one. The portrait is medium sized, smaller than an A5, and features Seward indoors, sitting down on an armchair, not looking directly at the person drawing her. The portrait presents signs of having been kept in a frame. It is not dated, but judging from Seward’s facial features, I would suggest it is from the late 1750s. Regrettably, its author is unknown.

The next bundle of material contained two legal documents dating from 1763 (D15/12/60) and 1781 (LD88/7/7). Both documents, which when spread open occupied half the table, were sealed with royal wax stamps and handwritten in an elaborate, formal manner. They had evidently suffered from humidity. The first one was listed as “Settlement on wife and daughters by Canon Thomas Seward of The Close, Lichfield.” Signed by Thomas and Elizabeth, Anna Seward’s parents, it establishes the amount of money the Seward women would be left with in case of Thomas’s death. It also contains information on some of Thomas Seward’s shares, which his oldest daughter Anna would be in charge of during his illness, and eventually inherit. The other document, listed as “Lea Grange or Stychbrook Grange” contains the details of a lease and the parties involved. It is significant because it is signed by both Thomas and Anna, who is described as a “spinster” and “only child”. By 1781, Elizabeth and Sarah Seward had died. Both documents serve as a testament of Thomas Seward’s preoccupation with providing for his family, as well as the involvement the women of the family had in the financial movements carried out in the house.

If the settlement and the lease shed light on Seward as actively involved in her family’s finances, the following provides an insight into her relationship with the intellectual circle of Lichfield, which might had an influence in her development as a poet. D127/7/14 is a manuscript verse of a poem by Dr Erasmus Darwin “On a target at Drakelaw”, transcribed by Seward. The handwriting differs slightly from her own letters; it looks like she might have been to Darwin’s dictation. Scholarship has paid attention to the relationship between the two writers. We know Darwin encouraged Seward to continue writing, although there is also evidence that he did not behave as well as one might wish towards her, publishing under his name verses authored by Seward. Although some scholars have argued that in the Lichfield circle poetry was a collaboration and it is hard to discern authorship in a publication, Seward expressed, vehemently and repeatedly, her anger at Darwin’s plagiarism, both in her letters and in her biography of the scientist, Memoirs of the Life of Dr Darwin. Be as it may, what is clear is that Seward was actively involved in the intellectual and creative life of the city from an early age, both as an assistant to her mentors and as a poet in her own right; she was admired and celebrated by her contemporaries.

Although at this stage of my research I do not yet know how any of this information will fit within my thesis, these findings have allowed me to gain insight into Seward’s private life, which in turn sheds light on my understanding of Seward as a person and as an author. The work of the Lichfield record office in cataloguing and preserving these documents is invaluable, and I am certain it will prove equally helpful for the academics that decide to study Seward’s life and work after me.

– Francesca Blanch Serrat (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

 

Further Reading

Claudia T. Kairoff. Anna Seward and the End of the Eighteenth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.

Archive Spotlight: Mapping the Life of Johanna Dalrymple at the British Library

The Archive Spotlight series continues today with a post from Marissa Bolin, PhD candidate at the University of York. She tells us about her research visit to the British Library and what she uncovered there.

 

“Sacreed Promises and Engagements:” Mapping the Life of Johanna Dalrymple

 

My fascination with the 1811 Dalrymple v. Dalrymple trial arose from the examination of the legal context of Wilkie Collins’ 1870 novel Man and Wife. Collins recognizes the importance of the Dalrymple trial as background for the case between Anne Silvester and Geoffrey Delamayn when Sir Patrick claims that it is the “one case” where a Scottish marriage was “confirmed and settled by the English Courts.”[i] He links Anne Silvester and Geoffrey Delamayn’s marriage to the Dalrymple verdict when he clarifies that “[a]n English Court of Justice (sitting in judgment on the case I have just mentioned to Mr Moy) has pronounced that law to be good—and the decision has since been confirmed by the supreme authority of the House of Lords.”[ii] Reports by John Dodson and John Haggard as well as later references to the case in the 1868 The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage mark Dalrymple v. Dalrymple as the commencement for the debate for reformed ceremonial laws. The publicity that followed the case similarly served to educate the English population of the lack of formality of Scottish irregular marriages and sparked the debate to end the ways in which women fall victim to these inconsistencies.

 

marissa1BL 1131.g.1.

 

Scotland’s marriage laws had few restrictions and caused a great deal of legal confusion. According to the 1868 Commission’s account of the requirements of marriage legality in Scotland, “[n]o form or ceremony, civil or religious, no notice before or publication after, no consummation or cohabitation, no writing, no witnesses even are essential to the constitution”[iii] of irregular marriages. Commissioners were astounded that so few requirements were needed to define “the most important contract which two private parties can enter into.”[iv] The obscurity of Scottish marriage laws led the Commission and recent historians such as Leah Leneman and Lawrence Stone to ask “what defined a marriage in Scotland?”[v] Scottish marriages could be separated into two categories—regular marriages and irregular marriages. It was Scotland’s protection of irregular marriages that caused great confusion.

The Report defines irregular marriages as then separated into two sections, per verba de praesenti and per verba de futuro, subsequente copula. Promises per verba de praesenti were a type of mock ceremony in which a couple would pronounce themselves married from that point forwards “without any ecclesiastical ceremony, parental consent, or physical consummation, provided the consent was notified in words of the present tense.”[vi] Such marriages could be proven through letters signed “wife” or “husband” or the testimony of a credible witness who had witnessed these terms verbally declared. On the other hand, per verba de futuro marriages are characterized by the presence of “a promise of future marriage without any present interchange of consent to be husband and wife, followed at a subsequent time by carnal intercourse.”[vii] Both variations of informal marriage led to a great deal of legal confusion.

It was this legal ambiguity, and the many women who were negatively affected by such obscure requirements for marriage, that led the Commission to focus on Scottish laws. The Dalrymple case provides one of the most well-known cases of Scottish irregular marriages at that time, and is referenced by the Report to support the Commission’s position that “writings, secretly exchanged between a gentleman and lady in Scotland, without the knowledge of any other person, were held by the English Court Matrimonial to have constituted a valid marriage.”[viii] Twenty letters written by Johanna Dalrymple were used as evidence. John refused to provide any letters that he received from Johanna, claiming that they were missing or have been destroyed. Johanna had luckily kept all the correspondences during their relationship, clearly aware of the uncertainties of Scottish marriages. Dodson asserts the significance of the letters presented by Johanna’s lawyers on the verdict, by stating that “[i]t is much more natural that they should be left in the possession of the lady, she being the party whose safety is the more special object of protection.”[ix] Married women were unable to represent themselves within marriage trials and yet it was their respectability and virtue that was on the line. Therefore, women’s possession of written evidence was of the utmost importance.

The Dalrymple case provides an extensive examination of the influence that women’s writings play in marriage laws of the period. The letters presented during the trial dated back to 1804, when John Dalrymple became acquainted with Johanna Gordon during his time as a Dragoon Guard in Edinburgh. John frequently visited her at her family home and in May began writing passionate letters declaring his love and hopes for their future together.[x] They had been acquainted for approximately one to two months prior to the start of their correspondences but few letters were of importance to the case due to the fact that verbal passionate discussions were most likely taking place. Thus, the letters presented during the trial were written after an irregular marriage had occurred, as revealed in letter No. 1, and secured proof of their marriage. The first letter recorded in the Dalrymple v Dalrymple case, entitled “A sacreed promise,”[xi] consists of both John and Johanna’s written agreements to marriage.

 

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BL 1131.g.1.

 

It is clear that at this point John and Johanna had consented to a marital union by the terms of Scottish irregular marriage per verba de praesenti. Because of John’s family and the fear of “being disinherited,”[xii] the marriage had to be an irregular one and kept in secrecy, not even known to Johanna’s family. John assured Johanna that she was his wife and, thus, obtained all the rights as his wife. These rights included his responsibility to pay for any purchases she wished to make, for he frequently assured her that, “I insist on your ordering every thing you want, and drawing on me for whatever money you stand in need of as it is but your right, and in accepting of it you will prove your acknowledgment of it.”[xiii] He also saw it to be her responsibility to perform all duties as his wife, such as sexual intercourse. The plaintiff stressed the importance of the consummation of marriage, as it remained a legal stipulation of marriage at the time. Although John would later deny that sexual intercourse occurred, the court agreed that his letters proved otherwise. The prosecution argues that his letters were “expressive of the most ardent and eager affection on his part, which can leave no room for the slightest doubt that he was at that time most devotedly attached to her person, and desirous of the pleasures connected with the enjoyment of it.”[xiv] At the end of July 1804, John was forced to leave Edinburgh and return to London because of his father’s suspicions of her relationship with Johanna.

 

marissa3

BL 1131.g.1.

 

Both John and his “Dearest Wife”[xv] continued to write to one another during this absence and after he was stationed in Malta in 1805. With less frequent letters, the death of John’s father in 1807, and his final return to England in 1808, the relationship between the couple became ultimately altered. Using John’s lawyer, Samuel Hawkins, as a transmitter of letters during this three year period, Johanna warns Hawkins that:

were he to think of forming any of the connexions that have been talked of [in gossip], or any connexion whatever, I will immediately come forward with my claims, which must put himself and the unfortunate woman in a most disagreeable situation […] I am convinced he will force me to strong measure ere long.[xvi]

On the 2nd of June 1808, she was forced to call her bluff after John marries a woman by the name of Laura Manners and, within a few days of the marriage, Johanna’s legal battle begins.

Johanna was able to convince the jury that a marriage had occurred and that John was legally responsible as her husband. As a result, John’s second marriage was annulled. Although Johanna and John Dalrymple were from thenceforth married, they agreed to live separately. Due to the fact that the Matrimonial and Divorce Act would not come into action for another 46 years, a legal divorce or separation was not possible.

Unfortunately, little is known of Johanna Dalrymple’s fate after the 1811 trial. My archival research at the British Library enabled me view the widespread distribution of trial reports on the Dalrymple court proceedings. It wasn’t until further research led me to the National Archives in Kew that I discovered an 1827 Inquisition of Lunacy of Johanna and the declaration of her insanity. It is unclear if Johanna self-admitted herself after years of legal and marital sufferings or if this inquisition was called for by John as a reasoning for divorce.

While I’ve had to pause further research into what happened to Johanna Dalrymple after her triumph in the 1811 trial and this 1827 Inquisition due to other research focuses, I fully plan to dedicate future research into uncovering the misfortunes of this legally symbolic woman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

 

Marissa Bolin is a doctoral candidate and tutor in the Department of English & Related Literature at the University of York. Her dissertation entitled “Women, the Law, and the Novel, 1838-1885: Representations of Bigamy, Property Law, Ceremonial Law, Divorce and Separation in the Victorian Novel” examines the use of women’s physical writing, such as letters, marriage certificates, and diaries within Victorian novels as a way of providing women’s testimonial and circumstantial evidence in the debate for marriage law reform.

 

[i] Wilkie Collins, Man and Wife ed. Norman Page (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995), 523.

[ii] Collins, Man and Wife, 523.

[iii] The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage (London: HMSO, 1868), 16.

[iv] Ibid.,16.

[v] Leah Leneman, Promises, Promises: Marriage Litigation in Scotland 1698-1830 (Edinburgh: Nation Museums of Scotland Enterprises Ltd., 2003), xi.

[vi] John H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), 179.

[vii] The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage, 17.

[viii] Ibid.,18.

[ix] John Dodson, A Report of the Judgment, Delivered in the Consistorial Court of London, on the 16th of July 1811, By the Right Honorable Sir William Scott, Chancellor of the Diocese, in the Cause of Dalrymple the Wife, Against Dalrymple the Husband (London: J. Butterworth, 1811), 66.

[x] Ibid., 1.

[xi] Ibid., 243.

[xii] Ibid., 253.

[xiii] Ibid., 245.

[xiv] Ibid., 69.

[xv] Ibid., 245.

[xvi] Ibid., 264-265.

Two-day symposium: ‘Byron Among the Poets’

Please see below for an announcement from Matthew Ward (University of Birmingham).

 

‘Byron Among the Poets’

A symposium at All Souls College, University of Oxford

Saturday 13th – Sunday 14th January 2018

 

Registrations are invited for a two-day symposium on Lord Byron’s literary relationships to poets from Virgil to Auden. In a series of papers by leading scholars, we will be mapping out the range and richness of Byron’s connectivity: what other poets meant to him, and what he meant to those who came after. Join us to explore the ways Byron might be thought to be – perhaps more than most – ‘among’ the poets: alluding and alluded to; collaborative; competitive; parodied; worked and reworked in canons, anthologies and editions. Papers will focus on the contours of individual literary relationships (what did Byron get from Pope? how did Eliot read Byron?), as well as exploring larger questions about the nature of poetic exchange, technical influence and generic formation.

Speakers: Dr Clare Bucknell (Oxford), Dr Madeleine Callaghan (Sheffield), Dr Anna Camilleri (Oxford), Professor Richard Cronin (Glasgow), Professor Nicholas Halmi (Oxford), Professor Simon Kövesi (Oxford Brookes), Dr Tom Lockwood (Birmingham), Professor Michael O’Neill (Durham), Dr Fred Parker (Cambridge), Professor Seamus Perry (Oxford), Professor Christopher Ricks (Boston), Professor Jane Stabler (St Andrews), Dr Matthew Ward (Birmingham), Dr Ross Wilson (Cambridge), Mr Andrew Wynn Owen (Oxford).

Registration is free and includes lunch on both days. To express your interest, or for further details, please email the convenors Clare Bucknell and Matthew Ward at byronsymposium2018@gmail.com. The closing date for registrations is December 1st.