The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999

MINSTRELS AND POETS

Miss Anna Seward, the well-known poetess, was born at Eyam; she was baptised December 23, 1742. In the literary world she is still distinguished not only for her poetical powers, but for her biographical and epistolary talents. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Seward, Rector of Eyam, Prebendary of Salisbury, and Canon Residentiary of Lichfield, was a man of rather extraordinary learning and taste. He wrote and published many works. At the age of three, before she could read, he had taught her to lisp the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton; and in her ninth year she could repeat from memory, with varied and correct accent, the three books of ‘Paradise Lost’. In her seventh year she left Eyam; and a few years after she removed from Lichfield to Bishop's Place, where she resided until her death. Miss Seward's intellectual precosity was zealously cherished by her admiring father; but as she advanced into womanhood, he withdrew that animating welcome which he had given to the first efforts of her muse.

It is unnecessary to enumerate her works - they are well and deservedly known. ‘The Elegy to Major Andre’, ‘The Death of Captain Cook’, the poetic novel ‘Louisa’, ‘The Epic Ode On the Return of General Elliot From Gibraltar’, are among the best of her productions.

Of her enduring attachment to Eyam, the place of her birth, she often warmly dilated; and an annual visit to her birthplace was the invariable testimony of her enthusiastic affection.

The highly celebrated lady died at Bishop's Place, 1809, in the sixty-seventh year of her age. Her remains repose at Lichfield.

Richard Furness has added much to the classic distinction of his native village. He was born at Eyam on August 2nd. 1791, and died at Dore, Dec. 13th, 1857.

This distinguished individual has reached a high niche in the temple of fame, and will be a subject of admiration and honour during the lapse of future generations. Through a chequered life he invariably testified a strong affection and love for the place of his birth, which feelings will be fully reciprocated by those who can duly estimate his great abilities.

In an old house, over the door of which may be seen this inscription (R 1615 F) cut in bold relief, the poet first saw the light; and very early in life those traits of genius which distinguished his maturer years, were perceived and admired.

At the age of fourteen he was bound apprentice to a currier at Chesterfield. His master, Mr. Joseph Graham, gave him an order to obtain books from a subscription library, which favour the young poet duly appreciated.

His biographer, G.C. Holland, M.D., thus graphically alludes to the most prominent manifestations of his genius: “The mind of Richard Furness had three tendencies - mathematics, poetry and music. This combination, in the degree in which it existed within him, is rarely observed. In the first he made considerable progress at this time, and greatly extended his knowledge in after life. The science was a deeply interesting study to him, and was seldom neglected. Of his poetical powers his productions afford ample evidence, and the candid critic will not deny that they contain poems, and numerous passages happily conceived, and powerfully expressed. They are the productions not of the mere rhymer, but of genius; and of an order that would under more favourable influences have attracted attention, and placed his biography in abler hands than my own”.

The ‘Rag Bag’, a satirical poem, was his first published production of any length, which was, and is much read and admired; but from sundry reasons, the author refused any re-publication of the work. ‘The Astrologer’ (or ‘Medicus Magus’) was his next poetical effort, and universal consent pronounces it to be a splendid work of genius. These, with numerous other shorter poems that he published occasionally, constitute the whole of his poetical works, which have been very recently published in one elegant volume, entitled ‘Furness' Poetical Works’. Dr. Holland has displayed great literary ability in editing the poems, and in his very interesting life of the author. Of the poetic merits of the work, the public press has given highly satisfactory expression, while criticism has placed the author among the best of one class of poets.

The author also left behind him the words of an Oratorio entitled ‘The Millennium’ partly selected, written and arranged, with instructions to the composer. The words are considered of the highest order, and specially adapted for music.

At the age of sixty-six, this distinguished individual passed from the stage of life, and as a philosopher and poet, for he was both, contemplated his end with calmness and dignified composure. Without a murmur he resigned himself to the will of God. He was interred at Eyam Church, Dec. 18th, 1857.

Marmaduke Middleton, Esq., Leam Hall, Eyam, was also in his day a candidate for poetical honours; he wrote ‘Sketches of a Poetical Tour’ , heretofore mentioned.

John Furness, controversialist and biographer, was born at Middleton Bank, in the parish of Eyam. He died some fifty-five years ago at Eyam, where he lies interred.

William Newton, known as the Peak Minstrel, was born at an obscure house called Cockey, near Abney, on the confines and within the ancient constablewick of Eyam. By trade he was a spinning-wheel maker; but his genius might be characterised as universal.

This romantic village has other, if less successful candidates for poetic honour: and of these there are a few whose effusions have only been perused by friends.

Next Chapter => FAMILIES OF DISTINCTION

This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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