Sewell, George (DNB00)

SEWELL, GEORGE (d. 1726), controversialist and hack-writer, born at Windsor, was the eldest son of John Sewell, treasurer and chapter-clerk to the dean and canons of Windsor, and was descended from the ancient family of Sewell living at Great Henny in Essex. He was educated at Eton, and his poem of ‘The Favourite, a simile,’ embodies reminiscences of his Eton life (cf. Southey, Later Poets, i. 253–4). He then went to Peterhouse, Cambridge, and graduated B.A. in 1709; for a time he studied medicine under Boerhaave at the university of Leyden, and about July 1725 he took the degree of M.D. at Edinburgh.

Sewell practised at first in London, but without success. He then retired to Hampstead, where he met with better fortune, until three other physicians came to the same place, and ruined his practice. Under the pressure of want he became a booksellers' hack, publishing numerous poems, translations, and political and other pamphlets. He died of consumption at Hampstead, in great poverty, on 8 Feb. 1725–6. On 12 Feb. he was accorded a pauper's funeral. His pathetic verses, prophetic of his death, are cited in Campbell's ‘Specimens of the British Poets’ (1841, p. 345).

In early life Sewell inclined to toryism, and was a bitter critic of Bishop Burnet, whom he attacked in five pamphlets (1713–1715). His animosity extended to the bishop's son, and he brought out anonymously in 1715 a satirical ‘True Account of the Life and Writings of Thomas Burnet.’ Sewell also wrote in the tory interest ‘Remarks upon a Pamphlet intituled [Observations upon the State of the Nation’] (anon.) 1713 (3rd edit., 1714); and ‘Schism destructive of the Government: a Defence of the Bill for preventing the Growth of Schism;’ 2nd edit. 1714, in which he answered the arguments of Sir Richard Steele. Afterwards he attached himself to the cause of Sir Robert Walpole, and issued ‘The Resigners vindicated: by a Gentleman,’ 1718, which went through four editions in that year, and was succeeded by ‘The Resigners, Part ii. and last,’ 1718.

Sewell's best-known production in general literature was his ‘Tragedy of Sir Walter Raleigh, as it is acted at the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields,’ 1719; 5th edit. with a new scene (and prefatory verses from Amhurst and others), 1722; 6th edit. 1745. The author traded on the national hatred of Spain. Quin played the part of the hero in this piece, which was produced on 16 Jan. 1718–1719, and was often repeated. It was revived for one night at Drury Lane, 14 Dec. 1789 (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 412).

Sewell contrived to link his name with those of many illustrious writers of this period. Verses by him are in Prior's ‘Collection of Poems,’ 1709 (cf. Poems of Prior, 1742, pp. xlvi–l; cf. ii. 75). He twice defended Addison's ‘Cato,’ in pamphlets issued in 1713 and 1716 (cf. Johnson, Lives, ed. Cunningham, ii. 139). He wrote the preface for Addison's ‘Miscellanies in Verse and Prose,’ 1725, which include two translations by him (viz. the ‘Puppet-show,’ pp. 20–4, and ‘The Barometer,’ pp. 29–32). A copy of verses by him was added to ‘Sir Richard Steele's Recantation’ (Aitken, Steele, ii. 74). Sewell bore a principal part in the fifth volume of the ‘Tatler,’ sometimes called ‘The spurious Tatler,’ which was edited by William Harrison, and in the ninth or ‘spurious’ volume of the ‘Spectator.’ He wrote a ‘Life and Character of Mr. John Philips,’ author of ‘The Splendid Shilling’ (2nd edit. 1715; 3rd edit. 1720), which was also issued with the works of Philips, and down to 1760 was often reprinted. To Pope's edition of Shakespeare (1725) Sewell added a seventh volume, containing ‘Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, Miscellany Poems, Essay on the Stage, Glossary and remarks on the Plays.’ The same pieces formed the eighth volume of a Dublin edition issued in 1725 and 1726, and the tenth volume of a London edition in 1728. It was perhaps in consequence of this unsolicited contribution that Pope, in the first edition of his ‘Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,’ wrote of ‘Sanguine Sew—’ (line 164), which was afterwards altered to ‘Slashing Bentley’ (Works, ed. Courthope, iii. 254). To George Cheyne's ‘History of Himself’ (1743, pp. 44–49) was added Sewell's account of Archibald Pitcairne, of whose ‘medical dissertation’ Sewell issued a translation with J. T. Desaguliers in 1717. He assisted in the translation of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses’ (1717), which was projected in opposition to that of Garth, although Sewell addressed the latter ‘as his dear friend’ in a poem in his ‘New Collection’ (anon.), 1720. He contributed to, and probably supervised, a volume of ‘Sacred Miscellanies’ (circa 1713), and he prepared in 1717 a very bad edition of the ‘Poems of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, viii. 301, 304; Pope, Works, ed. Courthope, v. 208).

Others of his publications in general literature were:

  1. ‘The Patriot: a Poem. Inscribed to Robert, Earl of Oxford,’ 1712; in his ‘Posthumous Works’ (1728) the name of the representative patriot was changed to Walpole.
  2. ‘An Epistle from Sempronia to Cethegus, with Reply’ (anon.), 1713: a satire on the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.
  3. ‘The Proclamation of Cupid, or a Defence of Women: a Poem from Chaucer,’ 1718, reprinted in No. 5 infra.
  4. ‘Poems on several Occasions,’ 1719.
  5. ‘A new Collection of original Poems’ (anon.), 1720.
  6. Posthumous Works, viz. ‘Tragedy of King Richard I,’ ‘Essays and Poems,’ 1728; edited by his brother, Gregory Sewell.

Some of his poems are inserted in Nichols's ‘Collection,’ vii. 133–49, and in Bell's ‘Fugitive Poetry,’ vi. 111–15. Long letters to and from him are in the correspondence of John Dennis (1721), i. 122–5, and in the works of Aaron Hill (1753), i. 9–19, ii. 406–13 (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 423).

[Jacob's Poetical Register, i. 177–8, 328; Park's Hampstead, pp. 323–7; Brit. Essayists, ed. Chalmers, vol. i. p. lxxxi, vol. v. p. lxxii; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, iv. 188–91; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. Lit. ii. 1245, 1716, iii. 2158, 2184, iv. 2660.]

W. P. C.