Occasioned by reading a Poem entitled, "The Female Right to Literature, in a Letter to a young Lady from Florence," by ---, 1773

Hail generous Bard! Oh could my grateful Heart

Describe the transports which thy Strains impart

In Language worthy of thy Theme and Thee,

Sublime yet soft, and regular yet free,

How vain the wish! – too languid is my lay,

Too cold, my Heart’s warm feelings to convey.

Ah! why has Modesty conceal’d that Name

Which every Muse should consecrate to Fame?

Tho’ Indolence, with fascinating Pow’r,

Detains me captive in her Syren Bow’r,

Tho’ long this drooping Heart has ceas’d to glow,

New Life thy animating Strains bestow.

Display’d by Thee, see pleasures all refin’d

With sweet attraction court the enraptur’d Mind!

Science assumes her soul enchanting Mien

And smiling Virtue crowns the blissful scene.

Oh Lov’d and Hon’d! tho’ unknown whose Soul

Unlimited by Custom’s low Controul

With generous Ardor pleads the Female cause

Against thy Sex’s arbitrary Laws.

How few like Thee would bid a female Mind

Take every Knowledge in of every kind.

Alas, ev’n some on whom the sacred Ray

Of Learning pours an intellectual Day

Would limit Female Genius and deny

The paths of science to the longing Eye,

The noblest Gift of Heaven with selfish Pride

Forever from our hapless Sex would hide.

But thou with generous Ardor bids’t us soar

And all unfetter’d Learning’s paths explore.

The grateful Lay let every female raise

And every Shade grow vocal with thy Praise.

Nor let thy candid generous Mind refuse

This humble tribute from a rustic Muse;

If yet thy Feet thro’ Life’s long Labyrinth stray

Still may the Muses prompt the tuneful Lay,

To Thee may Heaven its choicest Gifts impart

And be thy Bliss as ample as thy Heart.

Text: MS, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, STE 5/5/iv; also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 3, p. 90. ‘The Female Right to Literature, in a Letter to a Young Lady, from Florence’ was a poem by Thomas Seward (1708-90), Prebend of Lichfield and father of the poet and popular literary figure, Anna Seward (1747-1809). The poem appeared anonymously in Robert Dodsley’s Collection of Poems. By Several Hands (London, 1748), vol. 2, pp. 295-302. The Steeles may have owned the Dodsley volume, or it may have come to Broughton by way of Mary Scott during her extended stay at the Steeles in late 1772-early 1773, for Scott also uses some lines from Seward’s poem as an inscription to The Female Advocate.