Williams, Anna

, an ingenious English lady, was the daughter of a surgeon and physician in South Wales, where she was born in 1706. Her father, Zachariah Williams, during his residence in Wales, imagined that he had discovered, by a kind of intuitive penetration, what had escaped the rest of mankind. He fancied that he had been fortunate enough to ascertain the longitude by magnetism, and that the variations of the needle were equal, at equal distances, east and west. The idea fired his imagination; and, prompted by ambition, and the hopes of splendid recompence, he determined to leave his business and habitation for the metropolis. Miss Williams accompanied him, and they arrived in London about 1730; but the bright views which had allured him from his profession soon vanished. The rewards which he had promised himself ended in disappointment; and the ill success of his schemes may be inferred from the only recompence which his journey and imagined discovery procured. Hg was admitted a pensioner at the Charter-house. When Miss Williams first resided in London, she devoted no inconsiderable portion of her time to its various amusements. She visited every object that merited the inspection of a polished and laudably-inquisitive mind, or could attract the attention of a stranger. At a later period of life she spoke familiarly of these scenes, of which the impression was never erased, though they must, however, have soon lost their allurements. Mr. Williams did not long continue a member of the Charter-house. A dispute with the masters obliged him to remove from this asylum of age and poverty. In 1749 he published in 4to A true Narrative," &c. of the treatment he had met with. He was now exposed to severe trials, and every succeeding day increased the gloominess of his prospects. In 1740 Miss Williams lost her sight by a cataract, which prevented her, in a great measure, from assisting his distresses, and alleviating | his sorrows. She still, however, felt her passion for literature equally predominant. She continued the same attention to the neatness of her dress; and, what is more extraordinaryj continued still the exercise of her needle, a branch of female accomplishment in which she had before displayed great excellence. During the lowness of her fortune she worked for herself with nearly as much dexterity and readiness as if she had not suffered a loss so irreparable. Her powers of conversation retained their former vigour. Her mind did not sink under these calamities; and the natural activity of her disposition animated her to uncommon exertions:

"Though fallen on evil days;

On evil days though fallen;

In darkness, and with dangers compass’d round.

And solitude!"

In 1746, notwithstanding her blindness, she published the “Life of the emperor Julian, with notes, translated from the French of F. La Bleterie.” In this translation she was assisted by two female friends, whose names were Wilkinson. This book was printed by Bowyer, in whose life, by Nichols, we are informed, that he contributed the advertisement, and wrote the notes, in conjunction with Mr. Clarke and others. The work was revised by Markland and Clarke. It does not appear what pecuniary advantages Miss Williams might derive from this publication. They were probably not very considerable, and afforded only a temporary relief to the misfortunes of her father. About this time, Mr. Williams, who imparted his afflictions to all from whom he hoped consolation or assistance, told his story to Dr. Samuel Johnson; and, among other aggravations of distress, mentioned his daughter’s blindness. He spoke of her acquirements in such high terms, that Mrs. Johnson, who was then living, expressed a desire of seeing her; and accordingly she was soon afterwards brought to the doctor’s house by her father; and Mrs. Johnson found her possessed of such qualities as recommended her strongly for a friend. As her own state of health, therefore, was weak, and her husband was engaged during the greater part of the day in his studies, she gave Miss Williams a general invitation: a strict intimacy soon took place; but the enjoyment of their friendship did not continue long. Soon after its commencement, Mrs. Johnson was attended by her new companion in an illness which terminated fatally. | Dr. Johnson still retained his regard for her, and in 17 $2? by his recommendation, Mr. Sharp, the surgeon, undertook to perform the operation on Miss Williams’s eyes, which is x usual in such cases, in hopes of restoring her sight. Her own habitation was not judged convenient for the occasion. She was, therefore, invited to the doctor’s. The surgeon’s skill, however, proved fruitless, as the crystalline humour was not sufficiently inspissated for the needle to take effect. The recovery of her sight was pronounced impossible. Afrer this dreadful sentence, she never left the roof which had received her during the operation. The doctor’s kindness and conversation soothed her melancholy situation: and her society seemed to alleviate the sorrows which his late loss had occasioned.

When Dr. Johnson, however, changed his residence, she returned to lodgings; and, in 1755, her father published a book, in Italian and English, entitled “An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the longitude at sea, by an exact Theory of the magnetical Needle.

In 1755, Mrs. Williams’s circumstances were rendered more easy by the profits of a benefit-play, granted her by the kindness of Mr. Garrick, from which she received 200l. which was placed in the stocks. While Mrs. Williams enjoyed so comfortable an asylum, her life passed in one even tenour. It was chequered by none of those scenes which enliven biography by their variety. The next event of any consequence, in the history of Mrs. Williams, was the publication of a volume of “Miscellanies in Prose and Verse,” in 1766. Her friends assisted her in the completion of this book, by several voluntary contributions; and 100l. which was laid out in a bridge-bond, was added to her little stock by the liberality of her subscribers. About 1766, Dr. Johnson removed from the Temple, where he had lived, for some time, in chambers, to Johnson’s-court, Fleet-street, and again invited to his house the worthy friend of Mrs. Johnson. The latter days of Mrs. Williams were now rendered easy and comfortable. Her wants were few, and, to supply them, she made her income sufficient. She still possessed an unalterable friend in Dr. Johnson. Her acquaintance was select rather than numerous. Their society made the infirmities of age less intolerable, and communicated a cheerfulness to her situation, which solitary blindness would otherwise have rendered truly deplorable. | She died at the house of her friend, in Bolt-court, Fleetstreet (whither they removed about 1775), on the 6th of September, 1783, aged seventy-seven years. She bequeathed all her little effects to a charity, which had been instituted for the education of poor deserted girls, and supported by the voluntary contributions of several ladies. 1


Gent. Mag. vols. XX. LIII. and Lvit. London Mag. Life. Kawtiss’s Life of Johnson. Boswell 's Life of Johnson. Nichols’s Bowyer.