Miller, Anna (DNB00)

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MILLER, ANNA, Lady (1741–1781), verse-writer, was the daughter of Edward Riggs, by his wife, Margaret Pigott, of the ancient house of Chetwynd, Shropshire. From her grandfather, Edward Riggs, for many years a member of the Irish House of Commons, and a commissioner of revenue, and a privy councillor in Ireland, she inherited much wealth (cf. Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 192). Her father became a commissioner of customs in London in 1741 (Gent. Mag. 1741, p. 387). Horace Walpole describes her mother in 1765 as ‘an old rough humourist, who passed for a wit’ (Letters, vi. 170). Miss Burney characterises Mrs. Riggs as ‘mighty merry and facetious’ (Diary, i. 364). In 1765 Anna married John Miller, a member of a poor Irish family seated at Ballicasey, co. Clare. As a lieutenant in Elliot's light horse, he had served through the seven years' war, but resigned his commission at the peace of 1763. His wife brought him a large fortune, and he, ‘full,’ according to Walpole, ‘of good-natured officiousness,’ adopted her maiden surname before his own. At extravagant cost he built a house at Batheaston, near Bath, and laid out a garden, of which Horace Walpole gives a detailed description (Letters, v. 20). The expenses incurred soon necessitated a retreat to France, in order to economise. In 1770–1771, Mrs. Miller and her husband made the tour of Italy. In 1776 the sprightly letters that she had sent during her travels to a friend were published anonymously in three volumes, ‘Letters from Italy, describing the Manners, Customs, Antiquities, Paintings, &c., of the Country, in 1770–1.’ A second edition, in two volumes, appeared in 1777. The book enjoyed some reputation. Horace Walpole, said, however: ‘The poor Arcadian patroness does not spell one word of French or Italian right through her three volumes of travel’ (ib. vi. 332). Boswell met John Miller at dinner at his wife's publishers (C. & E. Dilly) in 1775 and 1776.

Soon after returning to Batheaston, the husband, whose head had been turned, says Walpole, ‘with virtu,’ was created an Irish baronet (1778), and the wife, henceforth known as Lady Miller, instituted a literary salon at her villa. It bore some resemblance to the later follies of the Della Cruscans, which Gifford satirised in the ‘Baviad’ [see Merry, Robert]. She invited all persons of wit and fashion in Bath to meet once a fortnight at her house. An antique vase that had been purchased in Italy—it was dug up at Frascati in 1759—was placed on a modern altar decorated with laurel, and each guest was invited to place in the urn an original composition in verse. A committee was appointed to determine the best three productions, and their authors were then crowned by Lady Miller with wreaths of myrtle. The practice was continued until Lady Miller's death. The urn was then purchased by Edwyn Dowding, of Bath, and placed by him in the public park of the town. The society became famous, and was much laughed at. Anthony Morris Storer, writing to George Selwyn, says: ‘Their next subject is upon Trifles and Triflers. … You may try your hand at an ode, and I do not doubt but you may be crowned with myrtle for your performance’ (George Selwyn and his Contemporaries, iii. 266). Horace Walpole, in a letter to the Hon. H. S. Conway, says: ‘I am glad you went [to Bath], especially as you escaped being initiated into Mrs. Miller's follies at Bath-Easton’ (Letters, vii. 163). Miss Burney, while on a visit to Bath in 1780, was introduced to Lady Miller by Mrs. Thrale, and wrote: ‘Nothing here is more tonish than to visit Lady Miller. She is a round, plump, coarse-looking dame of about forty, and while all her aim is to appear an elegant woman of fashion, all her success is to seem an ordinary woman in very common life, with fine clothes on’ (Diary, i. 364).

In 1775 a selection of the compositions was published under the title of ‘Poetical Amusements at a Villa near Bath.’ The edition was sold out within ten days. A new edition appeared in 1776 with a second volume of poems. Horace Walpole calls the book ‘a bouquet of artificial flowers, and ten degrees duller than a magazine’ (Letters, vi. 169, 178). A third volume was published in 1777, and a fourth in 1781. The profits of the sale were applied to charity. Among the contributors were the Duchess of Northumberland, who wrote on a buttered muffin, Lord Palmerston, Lord Carlisle, Anstey, Mason, David Garrick, Miss Seward, and Lady Miller herself, to whom most of the writers paid extravagant compliments. Dr. Johnson held the collection in high contempt (Hill, Boswell, ii. 336). Sir Walter Scott states in his biography of Miss Seward, prefixed to her works (1810), that her poetical power was brought to light by Lady Miller, an obligation that Miss Seward acknowledged in her ‘Poem to the Memory of Lady Miller.’

Lady Miller died 24 June 1781, at the Hot Wells, Bristol, and was buried in the Abbey Church, Bath. On her monument by Bacon, erected in 1785, is an epitaph in verse, composed by Miss Seward (cf. Gent. Mag. 1781, p. 295, and 1785, pt. ii. p. 746). She left two children, a son and a daughter. Miss Burney mentions the latter in 1780 as a most beautiful little girl of ten (Diary, i. 364).

Sir John Riggs Miller, who inherited his wife's fortune, married, after 1786, the widow of Sir Thomas Davenport. He sat in parliament from 1784 to 1790, as member for Newport in Cornwall, and made various unsuccessful efforts to reform the system of weights and measures. He corresponded on the subject with Talleyrand. Settling in Bloomsbury Square, he became known in London society as an inveterate gossip and newsmonger, and was a well-known figure in many London clubs. He died suddenly on 28 May 1798, and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son by his first marriage, John Edward Augustus Miller (1770–1825) (cf. Gent. Mag. 1798, pt. ii. pp. 626–7, and 1825, pt. ii. p. 286).

Besides the works already mentioned, a volume by Lady Miller entitled ‘On Novelty, and on Trifles and Triflers,’ appeared in 1778.

[Allibone, ii. 1286; Miss Seward's preface to her Poem in Memory of Lady Miller; Collinson's Somerset, i. 103; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 495.]

E. L.