Mar 7

[Anna Seward to Rev. Dr Warner, 7 March 1786.]


I perfectly agree with you as to the genius and spirit of Cowper’s beautiful poem, The Task; yet I somewhat wonder at the confidence with which it inspires you in the goodness of his heart.  My doubts on that subject do not proceed alone from the severity of his satire, however ill I may think severity to human failings becomes a human creature.  But if a benevolent man may be induced to wield, with harsh asperity, the satiric scourge, yet surely he will not suffer ungenerous sentiments to descend from his pen.  But for the illiberal protest of this author against the generosity of encomium, against the gratitude of tributary praise, I should have read his poetry with pleasure unallayed, as I confess it was exquisite.

The Task certainly contains not only dazzling irradiations of fancy, but many noble sentiments.  Alas! it is not always, that either one or the other afford indubitable proof of an author’s virtue!  The depraved and selfish often wear these splendid veils of light, when all is darkness at the centre.[1]




Mar 11

[Mrs Henry Bates to her sister-in-law, Grace Furey, 11 March 1786]


Any Concert after the Ancients must go off flat

for you cannot conceive any thing more magnificent

than every thing about that Concert.  The

Room is beautiful, the company of the highest [752]

rank, The King, Queen, three Princesses and

Prince Edward with the usual state attendants

have been there every night and the Band is

perfection which I dare say you will readily believe

or Joah would have nothing to do with it.  The

Royal family being there makes the company

more dressed so that all together it is most delightful.

However we have one considerable draw back

upon the pleasure we should have there, which

is not being able to prevail on Mrs Bates to go.

She has taken an unconquerable aversion to Mr

Bates having any thing to do with it and we cannot

reason or flatter her into being satisfied about

it, and really after what the king said to your

Brother about it he could not with decency avoid

taking the organ.  Besides he enjoys such Music

beyond any thing in the world and if she did but

enter into it, it would make him extremely happy

... Mrs Wilmot plagues Mrs B. to sing which

is disagreeable to her but your Brother wishes

her to comply ... Mrs Bates seems desirous to

avoid singing so much that very few of her friends

ask her to do it now ... The King and Queen

have not enquired to Mrs Bates this winter.  They

probably hear that she declines singing and do

not chuse to pester her when they know she

dislikes it.[2]




Mar 31

To Edmond Malone,

Friday 31 March 1786.

Lanc<aster,> 31 March 1786

[…] And now for La Signora Piozzi[’s Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, which Boswell took as an act of betrayal and attack against him]…I must have the patience of [143] Job to bear the Book of Esther.  But I shall trim her recitativo and all her airs.[3]




May 23

[Frances Boscawen to Mary Delany, 23 May 1786]


            I long to know your opinion of Dr. Burney’s success, which I am sure has your good wishes, for the love you bear to his amiable daughter.  I heard they were both at Windsor last Sunday, and I have great hopes that His Majesty will think him worthy to succeed the late Mr. Stanley.[4]




The Commemoration of Handel.  A Poem.  The Second Edition.  4to.  1s.  Cadell.

The account of this exhibition, in honour of “the prince of song” (prince of tunes would probably be a more just appellation), is narrated in a style both easy and harmonious.  The  sense is not always so perfect as the versification.  Alluding to the illustrious dead in Westminster Abbey, the poet thus breaks forth.

            “See first, conspicuous and exalted high,

            Around no equal, and no second nigh;

            (His brow design’d the diadem to wear,

            His potent arm the sceptre’s weight to bear).”

We now naturally expect to be informed who this prince or hero can be, to whom, like Jupiter, non viget quidquam simile, aut secundum.  Instead of that we are only told that he is

            “Some god-like prince, who with supreme command

            Bade truth and virtue flourish through the land;

            Humbl’d the toe, made proud ambition cease,

            And aw’d th’ aspiring nations into peace!”

Surely such a character ought to have been identified.  We next have “some patriot statesman, some deep philosopher, some grave historian,” &c. mentioned in the same unsatisfactory manner.  We would advise the author to alter this, and a few other passages, in the third edition, particularly that in which we are told that our gracious queen is not only married to the king, but to the kingdom itself.

            “The lovely consort of his wide domain.”

The part which pleases us most, is the paraphrase of the passages in Scripture, selected and set to music by Handel, and performed at the Commemoration.[5]




May 27

[Frances Boscawen to Mary Delany, 27 May 1786]



            I had written so far on Saturday when my son call’d me to go to the rehearsal at Westminster Abbey, where I was well entertain’d till past 4, but much spent [355] (as it were), so one always feels after being affected with such fine musick.

[...] I am sure you regret with me that Lord Salisbury had a favourite amongst the musical people, so as not to prefer the most worthy, and Dr. Burney is thus esteemed by so many people that I do not wonder they have given him the name of “the hare with many friends.”[6]




May 29

Monday [29 May 1786].  I[’]ve got a place for saturday next in the Directors Box in Westminster Abbey & on that account have made my excuse to Mrs Lloyd who that morning gives a great breakfast at Kensington [...] The Princess Amelia has subscribed a hundred pounds to the Musick in the Abbey.  She went this morning to the rehearsal and means to be present at the performance. [...][7]





[Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, Monday 29 May 1786]


{...} I am going to my quiet little hill, after having been in public today more than I purposed ever to be again.  I attended Princess Amelie to the rehearsal of Handel’s jubilee in Westminster Abbey, which I had been far from [648] meditating; but as she had the Bishop of Rochester’s gallery, it was quite easy, and I had no crowd to limp through.  The sight was really very fine, and the performance magnificent, but the chorus and kettle drums for four hours were so thunderful, that they gave me the headache, to which I am not at all subject.  Rubinelli’s voice sounded divinely sweet, and more distinctly than at the opera.  The Mara’s not so well, nor is she so much the fashion. {...}[8]




Jun 1

[Betsy Sheridan in Bath to Alicia LeFanu, 1 June 1786]


[...] I ask’d them all to tea the Next Evening [=Thursday 25 May] but the Elder Dr Kearney and his Lady were on the wing for London (where he goes purposely that She may hear the musick at the Abbey) [...][9]




Jun 3

Saturday [3 June 1786].  the weather continues fine but I fancy rain is wanted at ten O[’]clock. I went to Westminster Abbey.  it was at that time excepting the directors Box as full as it cou’d hold by going early I chose my place.  the King & Queen came at twelve & the musick was very fine indeed.  I found no difficulty in getting away.[10]




Jun 5

[Anna Seward to Mrs Martin, 5 June 1786.]


            AFTER a month’s whirl in the London vortex, the blooming and quiet shades of Lichfield have again received me; […]

            And now, from the much that I have observed, and the little which I have time to impart, what shall be selected?  Shall I talk to you of our animated literary breakfasting, [… 152 …] of the belle esprits of both sexes, whose genius, wit, and knowledge, made those little meetings so brilliant?—or shall I talk to you of the abbey-music,

                        “Loud as from numbers without number, sweet

                        As from blest voices uttering joy?”

            The last is the more popular theme; and therefore, if you please, it shall be ours.  People universally assert, that the world never produced any thing of equal effect in the art.  Indeed, I believe, that at these festivals, music touched her ne-plus ultra of excellence; for though, perhaps, every solo song has, from the impossibility of any single voice filling completely so immense a space, been heard in smaller scenes to greater advantage; yet, the sublimity of the harmonies, so full and complete in all those great effects which Handel’s matchless genius conceived, though, from the comparative nothingness of the best band those days could afford him, he heard them not complete with his mortal ears; the exclusion of every thing harsh, and disagreeably noisy, by the care taken that no order of instruments, or of voices, should preponderate; the exquisite delicacy with which the songs were accompanied, and the picturesque power of several of the [153] chorusses, that endued the ear with the powers of the eye;—all these admirables produced one grand result, that completely satisfied my imagination, high as report had taught me to set its claims.

            Now as to the individual performers.—I allow to your favourite, Harrison, correctness, elegance, and taste, and all the coyer graces of his science; but his voice, however sweet, and, even in its tone, however enriched with that free and perfect shake, is very limited in its compass, and very moderate in its powers; while his manner is wholly destitute of that fine enthusiasm, which is vital to the just execution of Handel’s glowing ideas, that breathe the soul of every passion in turn.


            Mrs Billington’s voice is of great sweetness, compass, power, and execution; and her skill cannot be questioned, who played finely on the harpsichord at ten years old.  Already she almost rivals Mara in the saramouch part of her performance; but has, however, too much sense to gambol like her in the sacred songs.—I breakfasted with Mr Bates, the director, and heard his seraphic wife excel in several of Handel’ finest airs, Mara, and every other syren of the orchestra and stage.  I observed to him, that Mara put too much gold fringe and tassels, upon [154] that solemn robe of melody, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”  Do not say gold, Madam, he replied, it was despicable tinsel.

            Yet justice will confess, that she has a rich fulness in all the natural parts of her voice, which leave her fair public rivals, and the misshapen and snuff-begrimed Rubenelli, at considerable distance.

            Mrs Billington possesses a great deal of genuine beauty, and very unaffected and charming manners.  Fame has traduced her chastity; but there are no meretricious traits in her countenance or conversation, which I had opportunities of observing, often meeting her in private musical parties. […][11]




Jun 6, 11

[Tuesday, 6 June 1786] L[ad]y Mount Edgcumbe had been at the Abbey in the morning which was as full as ever.


[Sunday, 11 June 1786] L[ad]y Effingham was in waiting the last day of the musick in the Abbey.  She told me the little Princess Amelia who is not quite three years old when She saw the young Princes [sic] with their blue ribbons ask’d the King when he wou’d give it to her.[12]




Jun 20

[first performed on June 20, 1786.]



[written by Mr. Holcroft]


All things considered, now, while safety smiles,

And wealth inundates thus our Queen of isles;

While Vickery head defects so soon repairs,

And half unpeoples Greenland of her bears;

While exhibitions, galas and reviews,

Lisle-street, Vauxhall, the Abbey, Handel, Hughes,

Flutes, fiddles, trombos, double-drums, bassoons,

Mara, the speaking-figure, fish-balloons,

Earth-baths, live-eagles, such as never flew,

L’Hercule du Roy! and General Jackoo!

While these create a round of such delight,

Sure, we may hope, you will not frown to-night!

While farces numerous as these go down,

Our farce may in its turn amuse the town;

And, smiling thus on Folly’s vast career,

Sure not on us, alone, you’ll be severe![13]




Jul 3

[Mary Delany to Frances Hamilton, 3 July 1786]


I went to town at the anniversary of the Abbey music: the King gave me tickets, and Miss Port tickets [sic].  Though I suspected my own ability of being able to make use of them, I could not deprive Miss Port of the opportunity of going, but she was (I may say, happily) prevented, by falling ill of the measles, which, I thank God, she has now passed through as well as can be wished.  I enjoyed one performance of the music, and we returned to Windsor on the 16th of June.[14]




Jul 20

[Anna Seward to Miss Weston, 20 July 1786.]


            Ere I quit the critical theme, permit me to inveigh against the present senseless custom of excluding all capitals except at the beginning of sentences, and to actual proper names.  Such exclusion is of serious bad consequences to poetry, [164] I mean to the general taste for it, by rendering it more difficult to be understood by the common reader. […] When abstracted qualities are clothed and embodied by fancy, common sense revolts at their sneaking appearance with a little letter.  If we say, “We feel pleasure in contemplating the lovely scene,” it is proper to write pleasure with a small letter; but if we say, “Pleasure shed all her lustre over the scene,” the word requires a large one as much as any other proper name.  It was said to a public singer, who sung an energetic song of Handel’s too tamely, “Zounds, Sir, you spell God with a little g.”[15]




Jul 23

[Fanny Burney, Sunday 23 July 1786]


Charles Wesley played the organ; and after the service was over he

performed six or seven pieces by the king’s order.

They were all of Handel, and so well suited to the

organ, and so well performed on a remarkably good

instrument, that it was a great regale to me to hear





Aug 9

[Anna Seward to Mrs Stokes, 9 August 1786.]


            Yes, indeed, my expectations were more than answered by the abbey-music.  In smaller scenes the single songs have certainly been heard to more advantage; but all that resulted from the blended harmony, both of voices and instruments, was above description, and beyond compare.  The [168] picturesque powers of some of the chorusses seemed miraculous.  Above all others, in that celebrated one from Israel in Egypt, which describes the return of the Red-sea over the host of Pharaoh.  It is then that we felt the dire situation from the clang of the trumpets, the thunder of the drums, the sounds of wild dismay, which burst in vollies from every part of the vast orchestra, whilst a distinct melody was preserved amidst the fearful and mingled tones, as the horse and his rider were thrown into the sea.[17]




Sep 10

[Georgiana Mary Anne Port to John Port, 10 September 1786]


            We had the three youngest Princesses to breakfast with us during their Majesties[’] absence last week; and I entreated Princess Mary to play a lesson of Handel’s that mama does.—I gave her that as my reason for asking for it; and then she with all the sweetness in the world, played it twice.  When Princess Mary finished Princess Sophia said, “Now I will play to you if you like it,” and immediately played the Hallejuah [sic] Chorus in the Messiah; and she and Princess Mary sung it.  Princess Mary has really a fine voice, and Princess Sophia a weak but sweet one.  So between them both I was highly gratified, and I wished for mama to hear and see them, for they looked like little angels![18]




Oct 13

[Anna Seward to the Rev. Dr Warner, 13 October 1786.]


            Fanatics have almost always cold hearts.  Mr Cowper, whose poetic talents have such glowing and creative powers, professes himself, in the Task, a contemner [sic] of all praise, which has not Deity for its exclusive object.  The plain meaning of what he says on the subject is just this;—”You fools, with your jubilee for your Shakespeare, and your commemoration for your Handel!  What is it to you, that one was the first poet, the other the first musician in the world?  What is it to you, if one employed his talents in promoting the moral virtues, and the other in exciting the spirit of devotion?  Neither of them can get you  better place in Heaven.  Away, then, with you idle disinterested encomiums and honours.  Praise only HIM who can permanently reward your praises.”  These are the maxims of [184] those cold-hearted devotionists, whose religion is composed of selfishness and terror.  I cannot think that the oblations of such mere parasites in religion can be acceptable as those of the benevolent man, whose piety is the result of blended gratitude to his Maker, and of kindling esteem and love for whatever is great and worthy in man; who praises such efforts, without coldly pausing to consider, whether he shall get any thing by his encomiums, here or hereafter.

            Since all the powers of the human mind in science and art, as well as in religion and morality, are the gift of God, to applaud and to commemorate their industrious cultivation, cannot be displeasing o their great Giver. […][19]




Nov 25

[first performed on November 25, 1786]



By Mr. COBB.



Prologues, like mirrors, which opticians place

In their shop windows, to reflect each face

That passes by—still mark how fashion varies;

Reflecting Ton in all her wild vagaries:

Point out when hats and caps are large or small,

And register when collars rise or fall.

Caricature the fashionable hobby;

And tell if boots or shoe-strings grace the lobby:

Nay, bolder grown, have sought for your applause,

With many a naughty joke on cork and gauze.

Yet howsoe’er the saucy comic muse

Delights fantastic fashion to abuse,

From pert Thalia’s wit let’s try to save her,

And see what can be said in fashion’s favour.

How many own immortal Handel’s sway,

Since fashion to the Abbey led the way!

There taking long neglected nature’s part,

She hail’d him Shakespeare of th’ harmonic art.

In vain had warbled Galatea’s woe,

If fashion had not bid the tear to flow.

“Hailstones and fire” had spent their rage in vain;

You might as well have heard a shower of rain.

But now, awaken’d to his magic song,

Folks wonder how the deuce they’ve slept so long. [xi]

His tortur’d airs, all voices made to suit,

His chorusses adapted for a flute.

Hand organ, hurdygurdy, tambourine;

In Handel’s praise all join the general din.

When Miss is teiz’d to sing by every guest;

And fond Mamma, too, joining with the rest,

Cries, “Get the new guittar Papa has bought you;

Play the last lesson Mr. Tweedle taught you.”

Miss hems and simpers—feigns a cold of course;

After the usual “Dear Sir, I’m so hoarse,”

Instead of a cotillon from her book,

Where favour’d Handel triumphs o’er Malbrouk.

By way of prelude to the charming squall,

Thrums like a minuet the March in Saul.

Papa too, who a connoisseur now grows,

Accompanies divinely—with his nose.

Since music is so universal grown,

Shall not our Mourning Bride its influence own?

Sure ’tis the wish of ev’ry female breast

That harmony may soothe her cares to rest.

Guided by harmony’s enchanting laws,

Her sweetest music will be your applause.[20]






Should our musical societies, at any near period of time, unite to commemorate Carolan, I sincerely hope that [his grand-daughter] Mrs. Mulvey, or her children, will be permitted to partake of the profits which may arise from the performance.

Having thus suggested a public tribute to the memory of Carolan, I will observe, that his Countrymen were called upon by an anonymous writer in the year 1784*, to institute a Concert in commemoration of him.  I will quote the passage at large.— [66]

It has been acknowledged by every nation in Europe, that music was cultivated in Ireland, when melody was scarcely known in other countries; music must have been its most distinguished characteristic, when it took the harp, as the conspicuous figure in its arms.  Lord Kaims is positive, that those airs, called the old Scots tunes, were original Irish compositions, which James the First (who was himself a fine musician) had adapted to the church-service.  Pope calls Ireland the mother of sweet singers.  Carolan, though a modern minstrel, has been admired as a first-rate musical Geniusan untaught phenomenon in the cultivation of harmony.  Why not commemorate Carolan here, as well as Handel on the other side of the water?  His music is in every body’s hands, and in the highest degree popular; therefore a selection of his best pieces might be brought forward, and performed in the Rotunda for the relief of the manufacturers, at which performance all the musical cognoscenti would be proud to contribute their assistance.



VIII.  We will now conclude with a few Observations on the State of Music in this Kingdom, during the last, and in the present Century.

Soon as the Hanoverian Succession was firmly established, the Gates of the Temple of Janus were closed in both kingdoms.  Parties, indeed, for a while, ran high: but the sword had returned into its scabbard.  The English now pursued with ardour the cultivation of the fine Arts: the Irish crept slowly after.  Both vocal and instrumental Musicians were bought, at an enormous expence, from Italy to London; and the Italian music began to reign with despotic sway in that great City.  Its influence spread so wide, that it reached these shores.  Our musical taste became refined, and our sweet melodies and native Musicians fell into disrepute…This refinement may be said to remove the ear so far from the heart, that the essence of music (an appellation by which melody deserves to be distinguished) cannot reach it.  Nor is it necessary in this age, that the ear and heart should be closely connected.  For modern music is calculated only to display the brilliant execution of the performer, and to occasion a gentle titillation in the organ of hearing…

In the year 1740, the sublime Genius of Handel roused our feelings from the lethargy into which they had fallen.  Banished from London by the spirit of party, he sought protection in Dublin (i).  Here he was kindly received, and due regard was paid to his extraordinary merit.  Soon after his arrival, he performed that matchless Oratorio, The MESSIAH, for the benefit of the City Prison.  This was a masterstroke; for by means of it he conciliated the affections of the People, and established his Fame on a permanent foundation.  Assisted by his associate, Mathew Dubourg (k),—whose powers on the Violin are still [160] the theme of many a tongue—he diverted the thoughts of the people from every other pursuit.




[1] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:255.

[2] Betty Matthews, “Joah Bates: A remarkable amateur,” The Musical Times 126 ([no. 1714, December] 1985), 749–53: 751, 753.

[3] James Boswell, The Correspondence and other Papers of James Boswell relating to the Making of the Life of Johnson, edited by Marshall Waingrow (New York and Toronto: McGraw-Hill, [1969?]), 142–43.

[4] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:352.

[5] The Critical Review 62 (July–December 1786): 152.

[6] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:354–55.

[7] “Lady Mary Coke’s Journals, 1786”; Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

[8] Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with Sir Horace Mann and Sir Horace Mann the Younger IX (“The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, Vol. 25”), edited by W. S. Lewis, Warren Hunting Smith and George l. Lam (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 647–48.

[9] Betsy Sheridan’s Journal: Letters from Sheridan’s sister, 1784–1786 and 1788–1790, edited by William LeFanu (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, [1960]), 84.

[10] “Lady Mary Coke’s Journals, 1786”; Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

[11] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:151–54.

[12] “Lady Mary Coke’s Journals, 1786”; Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

[13] [Elizabeth Inchbald], The Widow’s Vow (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1786), no pagination.

[14] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:365.

[15] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:163–64.

[16] Betty Matthews, “Charles Wesley on Organs,” The Musical Times 112 ([no. 1544, October] 1971), 1007–10: 1007.

[17] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:167–68.

[18] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:387.

[19] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:183–84.

[20] [Hannah] Cowley, A School for Greybeards; or, The Mourning Bride (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1786), x–xi.

* Vide MAGEE’s Weekly Packet for June 5th, 1784.

i Vide Mem. Of the Life of Handel.  Oct. and Dr. BURNEY’s masterly Sketch of his Life.  Handel’s banishment to Ireland will not be forgotten so long as POPE’s Dunciad is read.—The Genius of the Italian Opera thus expresses her apprehensions, and instructs Dulness:

But soon, ah soon, Rebellion will commence,

If Music meanly borrows aid from Sense:

Strong in new arms, lo! Giant HANDEL stands,

Like bold Briareus with a hundred hands;

To stir, to rouse, to shake the soul he comes.

And Jove’s own thunders follow Mars’s drums.

Arrest him, Empress; or you sleep no more—

She heard—and drove him to th’ Hibernian shore.

                                                                                                            B. 4. line 63.

k […]

[21] Joseph C. Walker, Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (London: T. Payne and Son, and G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1786).