George Sewell 1687-1726

George Sewell was born in Windsor, the son of John Sewell, treasurer and chapter-clerk to the deans and canons of Windsor. He was educated at Eton and Peterhouse College, Cambridge, graduating in 1709. He then studied medicine in Leiden and took an MD at Edinburgh University. He first practised medicine in London and then moved to Hampstead but was ultimately obliged to close his practice on account of increasing competition.

He has already started to write poetry whilst at university and had some of his verses published in Matthew Prior’s 1709 Collection of Poems. As his business languished he turned more and more to writing and became a bookseller’s hack, a freelance writer contributing to magazines and periodicals such as The Tatler and The Spectator. He had several poems published in 1712, including The Dying Man in His Garden, The Patriot and The Favourite. The following year he wrote An Epistle from Sempsonia to Cathegus, a satire on the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and attacked Bishop Burnett of Salisbury in five pamphlets and later his son Thomas in a satirical work.

In 1715 he wrote a poem to celebrate George I becoming king, A Poem on His Majesties Accession and a few years later had two volumes of poetry published, Poems on Several Occasions (1719) and Original Poems: Never Printed in Any Miscellany. He also wrote two plays, The Tragedy of Sir Walter Raleigh and The Tragedy of King Richard I of England. He twice defended Joseph Addison’s Cato in pamphlets issued in 1713 and 1716 and wrote the preface for Addison’s Miscellanies in Verse and Prose which included two translations by him, The Puppet Show and The Barometer. He also wrote The Force of Musick, a Fragment after the Manner of Spenser. His poetry is characterised by its spirit of liberty and his prose writing by its fearlessness and controversial nature. He was a clever wordsmith and contributed a number of noteworthy epigrammatic sayings to the English language, “Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt” being one of the best. He died in poverty of tuberculosis and in 1726 a volume of his works was published posthumously, edited by his brother Gregory.

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