I've been totally spoilt this Valentine's with a remarkable gift - what's thought to be a first edition of Anna Seward's sentimental verse novel, Louisa, published in Lichfield in 1784.
Before I tell you the story of the book, allow me to do a quick recap. You'll remember that I wrote about Seward (above), who was a poet of some renown by the 1780s (dubbed The Swan of Lichfield, and credited by Erasmus Darwin as the inventor of a poetic form, the epic elegy). She lived almost her entire life in the cathedral city and knew many of the major artistic and scientific figures of her day, including Samuel Johnson (whom she thought 'an overrated ranter') and James Boswell ('nought but a Scottish coxcomb'). In fact, Boswell rather fancied her; she rebuffed his attentions twice but did give him a lock of hair tied with pink ribbon, which was found in his papers after his death.
We still have Seward to thank for preserving aspects of Lichfield which survive to this day: in 1773, she approached the town clerk with an idea to stop Minster Pool from silting up (she proposed it should be 'serpentined' by digging out certain areas), and she decried attempts by the church authorities to remove every other lime tree from The Dean's Walk, comparing it to 'removing every other tooth from a mouth'. The monument to her in Lichfield Cathedral (below) carries an epitaph by Walter Scott.
Anyway, my partner, knowing my interest in Seward, tracked down Louisa from a bookseller in Delanson, New York, who then shipped it back home to the place it was published over 200 years ago. When it arrived in Lichfield, he was surprised to find just a bundle of pages, so he contacted a bookbinder called Henry Mills, a family business since 1855, based in Aston, near Birmingham, and got it bound, complete with the beautiful marbled end papers (below). You can see that the pages are brown with age; I can't begin to describe the excitement of handling them.
But the biggest thrill was on the back page (see bottom picture), which Seward appears to have signed. Could this have been one of her own copies, kept in her house, The Bishop's Palace, just a stone's throw from where we live? I'd like to think so!