Feb 11

[Mary Delany to Mrs Granville, 11 February 1788]


                  Mary is very well, and would have written if I had not, but she has many engagements on her hands for this week; the trial, the Richmond House Play, [...] and the oratorio at Tottenham Court, having had a ticket given her by the King.[1]





ART. XXIX.  The Works of Handel, in Score; correct, uniform, and complete.  Consisting of his Oratorios, Operas, Duets, Anthems, Concertos, Lessons, Te Deum, Trios, Fugues, &c. elegantly engraved, on large Folio Plates, under the immediate Direction and Inspection of Dr. Arnold, Organist and Composer to his Majesty.  In Numbers, at 3s. each common Paper, and 4s. fine Paper.  Printed for the Editor, and sold by Longman and Co.

To the extensive and splendid scheme of Dr. Arnold, of publishing all the works of one of the greatest of musical composers, in a uniform and complete manner, we feel it incumbent on us, as impartial reviewers, to give a very considerable share of praise.

An effort of such magnitude was never before attempted in the musical art, in our own or any other country.  Of this edition of Handel there are twenty numbers already published, in the first of which is given an apotheosis, engraved by Heath.  The note is clear, the paper good, and the printing is accurate.[2]




[first publication: 1788; dedication: 12 February 1782;

1789 edition has “1788.”]



—That musical mania, which tortures the times,

Provokes my regret, and gives birth to my rhimes:

But Prudence demands, Should that folly disgust us,

Which is nurtur’d by Taste, and upheld by AUGUSTUS!!!

—I would probe with the knife of Severity deep,

In this base motley beast [=Bowden], that can sing, laugh, and weep;

But such toil I disdain, as an OPERA at best,

Is an error-made monster, and national jest;

Manufactur’d the reason of man to affright,

Insulting our wit, while it flatters the sight; [31]

Like the deity JOS, who absolves China’s sins,

And is worship’d by fools, ’cause he’s ugly and grins.—

In opposing the follies and vice of the stage,

I must stand as a mark for the arrows of Rage;

Proscrib’d from those douceurs enjoy’d by that crowd,

Who are mean without merit, and servile tho’ loud;

If I fall by Resentment, effecting my plan,

I hope when I’m martyr’d, to fall—like a man.—

Oh!  I’m sick to the soul, to see MUSIC alone,

Stretch her negligent length on the Drama’s gay throne;

Where Muses more honour’d by Wisdom should sit,

To adorn the heart’s mirror, and fashion our wit.

Let the WENCH have her place, as a WENCH worth respecting,

But to wound her OLD SISTERS, is base and affecting:

As all the high orders of Science deplore,

That their use is neglected, and influence is o’er.—

See DIBDIN the vulgar, by Nonsense inflated,

While Vanity wounds what his genius created;

Obedient SHIELD charms the ear by his skill,

And exalts his meek name, by—resigning his will;

As LINLEY pens canzonets Pleasure holds dear,

Tho’ Pensiveness dims every note with a tear;

But ARNOLD steps forward with colossal stride,

To command in the van, and diminish their pride;

Unabash’d he disports with the Orphean lyre,

As Judgment and Harmony temper his fire;

While the spirit of HANDEL, with rapture impress’d,

Thinks the doomsday is o’er, and it flits mid the bless’d.






Apr 15

[the will of Mary Delany, who died on 15 April 1788]


                  The 12th codicil was to bequeath her harpsichord to her niece, G[eorgina]. M[ary]. A[nne]. Port, and all her written music-books, which harpsichord must have been often played upon by Handel, as well as by herself and Mr. Granville.)[4]






                  A drawing to illustrate “The Allegro,” described by Mrs. Delany as an imitation (or illustration) of Handel’s “Let me wander, &c.,”[5]




Apr 17

[Anna Seward to William Hayley, 17 April 1788.]


                  That ingenious Being [?Cowley], whom the muses condescended to visit in a saw-pit, the sometime [99] carpenter, now joint-master of a cotton-mill, passed a week here lately; the mornings of which we devoted to poetic studies, and the evenings to the sublime music of Handel, through the energetic tones of Giovanni, and the melting notes of his daughter.[6]





[…] Another oratorio, “The Messiah,” was given in April, 1788, [in Bristol] also for the benefit of [Henry] Burgum, who died in the following year.[7]




Jun 5

[Anna Seward to Tho. Swift, 5 June 1788.]


Thank you for your ingenious prologue; but the passage on music is not perhaps all it should be.  It confounds the distinctions between poetry and music.  Of the latter the ancients knew nothing more than melody.  The principles of harmonic combination, by which all the great independent effects of the science are produced, were utterly unknown to them.  We hear much, it is true, of the powers that music possessed over the passions in Greece,—but, in reality, those powers were given by the poetry they conveyed, to which music was merely a pleasing vehicle. [… 133 …] When the ancients spoke of music, they meant it generally as another term of poetry. […]

                  Since the harmonic principles were discovered, music has been a great independent science, capable of a sublime union with fine poetry, and greatest when thus united; but capable also of giving fascinating grace and awful grandeur to the plainest and most unpoetic language, provided it is not so coarse or absurd as to force ludicrous images upon the mind, which must ver counteract all its elevating effects.

                  It is, therefore, improper, when we speak upon music as a science, which obtained in Handel the ne plus ultra of its excellence, when we seek to do honour to him, and its other great, though to him subordinate masters, at once the rivals and the friends of our poets; it is, I say, improper to confound the two arts by beginning with examples [134] so far back as that period, in which it is impossible to separate them.

Handel is as absolute a monarch of the human passions as Shakespeare, and his everyway various excellencies bear the same comparison to the pretty, sweet, lazy, unvaried compositions of the Italian school, breathing no other passions than love and jealousy, as the plays of Shakespeare bear to those of Racine, Otway, Dryden, Rowe, Voltaire, and our modern tragedies on the French model.  Poetry itself, though so much the elder science, for music has been a science only since the harmonic combinations were discovered, possesses not a more inherent empire over the passions than music, of which Handel is the mighty master; than whom

“Nothing went before so great,

And nothing greater can succeed.”

When I speak of that empire, it must be remembered, that a certain mal-conformation of the auricular membrane as inevitably frustrates this effect, upon even the most susceptible heart and clearest intellect, as mediocrity of talents, and dulness of perception, frustrate the effects of poetry.  Where the ear does not readily [135] distinguish and recognize melodies, no sensibility of heart, no strength of imagination, will disclose the magic of the harmonic world.  Milton knew music scientifically, and felt all its powers.  To Sam Johnson, the sweetest airs and most superb harmonies were but unmeaning noise.  I often regret that Milton and Handel were not contemporaries; that the former knew not the delight of hearing his own poetry heightened as Handel has heightened it.  To produce the united effects resulting from the combination of perfect poetry with perfect music, it was necessary that Milton’s strains should be set by Handel and sung by Saville.  Of all our public singers, while many are masterly, many elegant, many astonishing, he only is sublime.  A superiority given by this enthusiastic perception of poetic, as well as of harmonic, beauty.  I should observe, that the Rev. Mr Benjamin Mence, once of St Paul’s and the King’s Chapel, was equally great in his expression of solemn music; but from the harmonic world that sun has long withdrawn its beams.  From Mr Mence Mr Saville first caught his energies, or rather, by his example, obtained courage to express them.  Mr Harrison has great correctness and delicacy, and some pathos; but he has no energy, and without energy Handel can have no justice from his performer.[8]




ART. XLIX.  The Musical Tour of Mr. Dibdin; in which, previous to his Embarkation for India, he finished his Career as a public Character.  4to.  443 p.  Published by Subscription.  Printed at Sheffield by Gales.

[…] The remarks on Mr. Sheridan, as a dramatic writer, we think perfectly judicious, but by no means subscribe to the majority of the decisions respecting Handel: that this wonderful composer often yields to the superior greatness and natural sublimity of Purcel we readily agree, but cannot allow the presumed transcendancy, or even competition of Arne.  The beauty, elegance, and sweetness of the latter composer will delight so long as music and the love of it exists; but Handel, to an equal claim to our admiration for those qualities, adds a demand on our applause and astonishment for a degree of elevation and greatness that Arne could never approach.[9]






FOR one short week I leave, with anxious heart,

Source of my filial cares, the Full of Days,

Lur’d by the promise of Harmonic Art

To breathe her Handel’s soul-exalting lays.





Oct 19

[Anna Seward to Helen Williams, 19 October 1788.]


                  It is only for one eight days that I have ventured to leave my father, since I wrote to you last.  A rich festival of oratorio music allured me to Sheffield. […][11]




Nov 6

[first performance: 6 November 1788]




I’m in talk a pedant musical,

In fine terms I lug intrusical,

Slap Bavura’s alt, the rage about,

Hayden, Mara, opera, stage about;


Cramers Florios;

Things at jubilee,

Neither he nor she,

Die at Syren’s note,

Tiny throat, petticoat,

This is amateur high musical.





[Chapter XX.]


The wind still continued contrary; a week, a dismal week, had she struggled [121] with her sorrows; and the struggle brought on a slow fever, which sometimes gave her false spirits.

The winds then became very tempestuous, the Great Deep was troubled, and all the passengers appalled.  Mary then left her bed, and went on deck, to survey the contending elements: the scene accorded with the present state of her soul; she thought in a few hours I may go home; the prisoner may be released.  The vessel rose on a wave and descended into a yawning gulph [sic]—Not slower did her mounting soul return to earth, for—Ah! her treasure and her heart was there.  The squalls rattled amongst the sails, which were quickly taken down; the wind would then die away, and the wild undirected waves rushed on every side with a tremendous roar.  In a little vessel in the midst of [122] such a storm she was not dismayed; she felt herself independent.

Just then one of the crew perceived a signal of distress; by the help of a glass he could plainly discover a small vessel dismasted, drifted about, for the rudder had been broken by the violence of the storm.  Mary’s thoughts were now all engrossed by the crew on the brink of destruction.  They bore down to the wreck; they reached it, and hailed the trembling wretches: at the sound of the friendly greeting, loud cries of tumultuous joy were mixed with the roaring of the waves, and with ecstatic transport they leaped on the shattered deck, launched their boat in a moment, and committed themselves to the mercy of the sea.  Stowed between two casks, and leaning on a sail, she watched the boat, and when a wave intercepted it from her [123] view—she ceased to breathe, or rather held her breath until it rose again.

At last the boat arrived safe along-side the ship, and Mary caught the poor trembling wretches as they stumbled into it, and joined them in thanking that gracious Being, who though He had not thought fit to still the raging of the sea, had afforded them unexpected succour.

Amongst the wretched crew was one poor woman, who fainted when she was hauled on board: Mary undressed her, and when she had recovered, and soothed her, left her to enjoy the rest she required to recruit her strength, which fear had quite exhausted.  She returned again to view the angry deep; and when she gazed on its perturbed state, she thought of the Being who rode on the wings of the wind, and stilled the noise of the sea; and the madness of the people—He [124] only could speak peace to her troubled spirit! she grew more calm; the late transaction had gratified her benevolence, and stole her out of herself.

One of the sailors, happening to say to another, “that he believed the world was going to be at an end;” this observation led her into a new train of thoughts: some of Handel’s sublime compositions occurred to her, and she sung them to the grand accompaniment.  The Lord God Omnipotent reigned, and would reign for ever, and ever!—Why then did she fear the sorrows that were passing away, when she knew that He would bind up the broken-hearted, and receive those who came out of great tribulation.  She retired to her cabin; and wrote in the little book that was now her only confident.  It was after midnight. [125]

“At this solemn hour, the great day of judgment fills my thoughts; the day of retribution, when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed; when all worldly distinctions will fade away, and be no more seen.  I have not words to express the sublime images which the bare contemplation of this awful day raises in my mind.  Then, indeed, the Lord Omnipotent will reign, and He will wipe the tearful eye, and support the trembling heart—yet a little while He hideth his face, and the dun shades of sorrow, and the thick clouds of folly separate us from our God; but when the glad dawn of an eternal day breaks, we shall know even as we are known.  Here we walk by faith, and not by sight; and we have this alternative, either to enjoy the pleasures of life, [126] which are but for a season, or look forward to the prize of our high calling, and with fortitude, and that wisdom which is from above, endeavour to bear the warfare of life.  We know that many run the race; but he that striveth obtaineth the crown of victory.  Our race is an arduous one!  How many are betrayed by traitors lodged in their own breasts, who wear the garb of Virtue, and are so near akin; we sigh to think they should ever lead into folly, and slide imperceptibly into vice.  Surely any thing like happiness is madness!  Shall probationers of an hour presume to pluck the fruit of immortality, before they have conquered death? it is guarded, when the great day, to which I allude, arrives, the way will again be opened.  Ye dear delusions, gay deceits, [127] farewel! and yet I cannot banish ye for ever; still does my panting soul push forward, and live in futurity, in the deep shades o’er which darkness hangs.—I try to pierce the gloom, and find a resting-place, where my thirst of knowledge will be gratified, and my ardent affections find an object to fix them.  Every thing material must change; happiness and this fluct[u]ating principle is not compatible.  Eternity, immateriality, and happiness,—what are ye?  How shall I grasp the mighty and fleeting conceptions ye create?”

After writing, serenely she delivered her soul into the hands of the Father of Spirits; and slept in peace.[13]





    So have I sung Alcanor and the fair,

Thro’ the slow walk and long beloiter’d day

Of early summer.  Let him read that will;

And blame me not, if in an afternoon

I hardly stray a single mile from home.

It is my humour.  Let him speed that will,

And fly like cannon-shot from post to post;

I love to stop, and quit the public road,

To gain a summit, take a view, or pluck

An unknown blossom.  What if I dismount,

And leave my steed to graze the while I sit

Under the pleasant lee, or idly roam

Athwart the pasture, diligent to mark

What passes next?  ’Tis English blood that flows

Under the azure covert of these veins.

I love my liberty; and if I sing,

Will sing to please myself, bound by no rule,

The subject of no law.—I cannot think

The path of excellence is only hit

By servile imitation.  In a path [60]

Peculiarly his own great Handel went,

And justly merits our applause, tho’ not

The Homer of his art.  In a new path

Went Shakespear [sic], nobly launching forth,

And who shall say he has not found perfection,

Tho’ not a Sophocles.  Ye shallow wits,

Who bid us coast it in the learned track,

Nor quit the sight of shore, there is in art

A world unknown, whose treasures only he

Shall spy, and well deserve, who proudly scorns

The wither’d laurel, and exulting steers

    Far from the custom’d way. […]

[… 125]

    The Poet silent, long with rapture heard.

The Shakespear [sic] of another art succeeds. [126]

Sweet Music wakes, and with transporting air

Handel begins.  What mortal is not rapt

To hear his tender wildly-warbled song

Where’er he strays; but chiefly when he sings

Messiah come, and with amazing shout

Proclaims him King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,

For ever and for ever, Hallelujah.

Great soul, O say from what immortal fount

Thou hast deriv’d such never-failing power

To win the soul, and bear it on the wings

Of purest extacy [sic], beyond the reach

Of ev’ry human care.  From whence thine art

To lift us from the earth, and fix us there

Where pure devotion with unsparing hand

Pours on the altar of the living God

The hallow’d incense of the grateful heart.

O mighty Handel, what seraphic power

Gave inspiration to thy sacred song?

Thyself perchance was some supernal spirit,

Permitted to reside on earth awhile, [127]

To teach us here what Music is in Heaven.

If ev’ry Angel that attends the throne

Of clouded Deity, such song inspire,

Let but our mortal ears one chorus hear,

And all the world were gather’d into Heaven.

The very Devils surely were drawn up

To listen at the golden doors of light,

And Hell left wasteful, wide, and desolate.







[Pindar pleads innocent of hating the King. 

Should he hate him because of his preference to Handel or West?]



[...]Peter denieth all odium towards his Sovereign, for a jealousy of the [iv]

 PRINCE OF WALES, for his rage for HANDEL, and enthusiasm for Mr. WEST—[...]


Hate him, because, untir’d, the Monarch pores

On HANDEL’s manuscript old scores,

And schemes successful daily hatches,

For saving notes o’erwhelm’d with scratches;

Recovering from the blotted leaves

Huge cart-horse minims, dromdary breves;

Thus saving damned bars from just damnation,

By way of brightning Handel’s reputation?

Who, charm’d with ev’ry crotchet Handel wrote,

Heav’d into TOT’NAM STREET each heavy note:

And forcing on the house the tuneless lumber,

Drove half to doors, the other half to slumber?[15]




No, Sir! you never offer’d me a pension—

But then I guess it is your kind intention—

Yes, Sir, you mean a small douceur to proffer;

But give me leave, Sir, to decline the offer.


I’m much oblig’d t’ye, Sir, for your good will;

  But Oratorios have half undone ye:

’Tis whisper’d, too, that thieves have robb’d the Till

  Which kept your milk and butter money. [16]


So much with saving wisdom are you taken,

Drury and Covent Garden seem forsaken—

Since cost attendeth those theatric borders,

Content you go to RICHMOND HOUSE with orders.




For money matters, I am sure,

  The Abbey music was put off;

Because the Royal purse is poor,

  Plagu’d with a dry consumptive cough; [18]

Yet in full health again that purse may riot,

By God’s grace, and a skim-milk diet.[16]









 “I WOULD not enter on my list of friends,

“Tho’ grac’d with polish’d manners,” tho’ endow’d

With talents destin’d to immortal fame,

But wanting generosity, the man

Who darts the blighting of satiric wit,

Lanc’d from a spleenful heart, or sullen weaves

The dark anathemas of Calvin’s school

Against a nation’s praise, its grateful praise, [6]

Pour’d for the assiduous culture of those gifts

Bestow’d by Heaven,—not on the general mind,

But on the chosen Few, ordain’d to prove

In what full portion to the human soul

God can impart intelligence; the rays

Destin’d to stream from their eternal source

Through future ages.  O’er each feeling heart

Shed they not transport which allays each ill,

Sickness, and pain, and sorrow; lift the mind,

Seating its pleasures high, till waste expense

And frivolous pursuits, fatigue or pall,

While all the grosser train of sensual joys

Prove vapid as they are guilty?—Read we not

On Inspiration’s page, “Who loves not man

Whom he hath seen, how should he love his GOD,

Yet unbeheld?”  So he, who would repress

The fervent tribute of each thankful heart

For true delights and pure, receiv’d from Man,

May fear his MAKER, but will never know

The nobler piety, that fits the soul

For happiness and HEAVEN.  O! wintry Spirit,

Hurling thine icy bolt of sarcasm

Against the loveliest and most generous rites

That e’er an honest, grateful nation paid [7]

At the bright shrine of Genius!  Look’st thou back

With grudging eyes on those applausive hours

When Poesy and Music, with twin’d arms,

Attended jubilant?—to Avon’s bank

From the remotest confines of our isle,

Her silver shores, and mast-aspiring towns,

Her tower’d cities and her villa’d hills,

Her lakes, her rivers, and her golden vales, [8]

Summon’d those glowing votaries, who with hearts

Exulting in their country’s proudest boast,

And by the patriot passion taller grown,

Stood tiptoe on Avona’s brink, and there

Strew’d all the rifled Summer’s bloomy stores;

The incense of the warmer Orient toss’d;

Pour’d in loud paeans the triumphant song,

Sprinkled the bright libation; tree, that fell

At the harsh dictate of a kindred mind,

Kindred in spleen, though much unlike in power,

To thine, Misanthropist!  Nor singly rose

This murmur, cold and dreary as the rill

That ink-like huddles through the russet moor,

Powerless to fertilize.  Lo! in a strain

Fanatic and illiberal as the lay

Maligning Avon’s festival, thou scorn’st

Thy country, marshalling in holy shrines

The harmonic strength of Europe, to fulfil [sic]

The great designs Briarean Handel plann’d; [9]


[Scott:] l. 20.     “Strong in new arms, lo! giant Handel stands,

                                                      “Like bold Briareus with his hundred hands!” [9]

He certainly composed his Oratorios for a band whose complete number

the comparative fewness of musical performers rendered then unattainable.


That mighty, matchless German, who attun’d

His lyre seraphic to thy native tongue!—

Thou heard’st with grudging and disgusted ear

Those great designs attain’d, when, thro’ the aisles

Of the vast ancient fane, in torrents burst

Those floods of harmony, that lift the soul

Upon their swelling and tumultuous waves

Up to the Throne of God.—O! what is Virtue,

If praise of those, who thus their talents ten

Ardent improv’d, is folly, or is vice?


[Scott:] l. 10.  Is vice—The appropriation of those sums to charitable

purposes which were collected at the Handelian commemorations, places

the injustice of Cowper’s sarcasm upon a level with its absurdity,

accusing them, as it does, of a profane and idolatrous tendency.

[… 14 …]

[Scott:…] When this Remonstrance to Cowper was written, its author [i.e. Seward] only knew him in his publications.  Mr Hayley’s Biography of that unfortunate man softens, by excited pity, the indignation which had arisen from the ungenerous passages reprobated here;—but the delineation of Cowper’s character, and the records of his life, compared with the illiberal censures which disgrace the interesting and beautiful pages of the TASK, teach us, more than ever, to deplore the dire Calvinistic principles, which ruined his peace, and which could so freeze and narrow a heart, which Nature had made warm and expansive.  They taught him to anathematize for departed genius, sublimer and more extensive than his own, Shakespear [sic] and Handel, that praise for the magnificent talents they had cultivated, which his published letters prove him to have been desirous to obtain for his own poetry.  March 1806.[17]



[1] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:474.

[2] The Analytical Review 1 (1788): 101.

[3] Anthony Pasquin [=John Williams], The Children of Thespis.  A Poem.  Part the Third, 2nd edition (London: J. Strahan, 1788), 30–31; reprinted in Poems, 2 vols (London: J. Strahan, [1789]), 2:213–15.

[4] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:491.

[5] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:500.

[6] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 2: 98–99.

[7] John Latimer, The Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century (Bristol: the author, 1893; reprinted, Bath: Kingsmead Reprints, 1970), 480.

[8] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 2:132–35.

[9] The Analytical Review 2 (1788): 232.

* [Scott:] This poem was written August 1788, on a journey through Derbyshire, to a music-meeting at Sheffield. […]

[10] The Poetical Works of Anna Seward; with Extracts from her Literary Correspondence, edited by Walter Scott, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Co., 1810), 3:1.

[11] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 2:178.

[12] John O’Keeffe, “The Highland Reel,” in The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe, Esq., 4 vols. (London: the author, 1798), 4:158.

[13] [Mary Wollstonecraft], Mary, A Fiction (London: J. Johnson, 1788), 120–27.

[14] [James Hurdis], The Village Curate, A Poem (London: J. Johnson, 1788), 59–60, 125–27.

[15] Peter Pindar [=John Wolcot], Brother Peter to Brother Tom.  An Expostulatory Epistle (London: G. Kearsley, 1788), iii–iv, 15.

[16] Peter Pindar [=John Wolcot], Peter’s Pension.  A Solemn Epistle to a Sublime Personage (London: G. Kearsley, 1788), 15–16, 17–18.

* [Scott:] These verses were not sent to Mr Cowper, on account of the reported depression on his spirits, and were during his lifetime, for the same reason, with-held from the press.

[17] The Poetical Works of Anna Seward; with Extracts from her Literary Correspondence, edited by Walter Scott, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Co., 1810), 3:5–14.