Thursday, July 25, 2013

Featured Manuscript: Major André Series (André’s Letters to Seward and Sneyd)

As mentioned in the previous post, John André had been engaged to Honora Sneyd for a brief period before joining the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1771.  Although the relationship between André and Sneyd was short-lived, Anna Seward maintained hope in the years that followed that the two would rekindle their love.  In fact, throughout her “Monody on Major André,” Seward repeatedly alluded to the once passionate relationship.  Several passages suggest that Seward admired André’s passion for Sneyd.  Seward wrote:


 While with nice hand he mark’s the living grace,
And matchless sweetness of Honora’s Face,
Th’ enamour’d Youth the faithful traces blest,
That barb’d the dart of Beauty in his breast;
Around his neck th’ enchanting Portrait hung,
While a warm vow burst ardent from his tongue,
That from his bosom no succeeding day,
No chance should bear that Talisman away.[1]

Making reference to the picture of Honora that André carried with him at all times during their engagement, Seward’s words document the young man’s devotion to his fiancée.  Seward’s poem also touches on the heartbreak that André experienced as a result of the disintegration of his relationship with Sneyd.  Seward lamented, “Honora lost! My happy Rival’s Bride! / Swell ye full Sails! And roll thou mighty Tide! / O’er the dark Waves forsaken André bear / Amid the volleying Thunder of the War!”  Devastated by the loss of Sneyd, André abandoned the life he knew for a career in the British army.  Despite the loss of Sneyd, however, Seward presented André’s love for his former fiancée as unwavering.  She wrote, “To win bright Glory from my Country’s Foes / E’en in this ice of Love, my bosom glows.”[2]  There can be little doubt that Seward regarded André’s passion for Sneyd as worthy of admiration and praise.  This sentiment, as expressed throughout the “Monody on Major André,” was founded in large part on the letters André wrote to Seward during his engagement with Sneyd.  It was these letters which exposed the true nature of André’s love for Sneyd to Seward.  

On October 19, 1769, after André had returned to London from Lichfield to begin his career as a merchant, he revealed to Seward his longing to be by Sneyd’s side.   André wrote, “It is seven o’clock – You and Honora, with two or three more select friends, are now probably encircling your dressing-room fire-place. – What would I not give to enlarge that circle!”  In a passage which André hoped Seward would share with Sneyd, he confided, “Since I cannot be there in reality, pray imagine me with you; admit me to your conversations; – Think how I wish for the blessing of joining them! – and be persuaded that I take part in all your pleasures, in the dear hope, that er’r it be very long, your blazing hearth will burn again for me.”[3]  Clearly, André longed to be with his fiancée and he made no effort to conceal this desire from Seward. 
André reiterated his desire and devotion in another letter which he penned to Seward on November 1, 1769.  As was the case with the previous letter, André hoped that Seward would share his words with Sneyd, whose deteriorating health prevented her from carrying out the correspondence herself.  André confessed, “All my Mercantile calculations go to the tune of dear Honora. – When an impertinent consciousness whispers in my ear, that I am not of the right stuff for a merchant, I draw my Honora’s picture from my bosom, and the sight of that dear Talisman so inspirits my industry, that no toil appears oppressive.”[4]  It is clear that André believed his love for Sneyd endowed him with the strength to persevere through even the most burdensome experiences and pursuits.  Not particularly fond of his work as a merchant, André was nevertheless motivated to succeed by his passion for Sneyd and his eagerness to provide for her after their marriage.  Yet that marriage would never transpire.  Sneyd eventually wed Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1773.  Indeed, Sneyd and André would never see each other after their engagement dissolved in early 1771.  Nevertheless, Seward believed André’s love for Sneyd was so admirable that she incorporated it into her poem.  Thus, Seward’s “Monody on Major André” attempted not only to exalt André for his military gallantry, but also his uncompromising passion for Sneyd which the poet had observed a decade prior.[5]

[1] Anna Seward, “Monody on Major André” (Lichfield: J. Jackson, 1781), 5.
[2] Ibid., 8.
[3] Letter from John André to Anna Seward, 19 October 1769, in “Monody on Major Andre” (Lichfield: J. Jackson, 1781), 37-38.
[4] Letter from John André to Anna Seward, 1 November 1769, in “Monody on Major Andre” (Lichfield: J. Jackson, 1781), 46.
[5] Robert McConnell Hatch, Major John André: A Gallant in Spy’s Clothing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), 22-24. 

This blog entry by Michael King, Drew University. Read PART 1 and TWO of this series.

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