1853 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Frederic Rowton, in Female Poets of Great Britian (1853) 242-43.



Anna Laetitia Barbauld was the daughter of the Reverend John Aikin, D.D. of Kibworth Harcourt, in Leicestershire, where she was born in 1743. She very early evinced a remarkable aptitude for study; even in infancy she was described by her mother, as "a little girl who was as eager to learn as her instructors could be to teach her; and who, at two years old, could read sentences and little stories in her "wise book," roundly, without spelling, and, in half a year more, could read as well as most women."

Her father appears to have feared that she would become too fond of letters; for, until she was fifteen years of age, he resolutely refused her his permission to study the learned languages. We find, notwithstanding, that she acquired considerable knowledge of both Latin and Greek.

Her first volume of poems was published in 1773, she being then thirty years of age. The success of the work was remarkably great: it passed through four editions in the first year.

In 1774 she became the wife of the Reverend Rochemont Barbauld, a dissenting minister. For a considerable number of years, Mrs. Barbauld was engaged with her husband in the laborious work of tuition: and many individuals now alive can testify to the singular talent she displayed in her arduous vocation. Lord Denman, William Taylor, Esquire, of Norwich, and other eminent persons, whose names escape me, were amongst Mr. Barbauld's pupils.

After a continental tour in 1785, Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld settled at Hampstead, where they remained until 1802; in which year they removed to Stoke Newington, where Mrs. Barbauld continued her literary pursuits with great ardour. The death of her husband in 1808, however, interrupted her labours; and, though she resumed them in 1810, they were not destined to be of long continuance: for some unjust and unkind criticisms upon a poem published in 1812, led her to resolve upon retiring from the literary world. She lived for many years in undisturbed peace, and died in 1825, in the eighty-second year of her age, deeply and deservedly lamented.

Mrs. Barbauld's poetry exhibits, in a high degree, the characteristic qualities of female genius. The quick intuitive perception, the chaste tenderness, the delicate, musical flow of thought, that distinguished the female mind, are very forcibly and fully developed by Mrs. Barbauld. In these respects she is second only to Mrs. Hemans; whilst in many other points of view she is decidedly a greater and more instructive writer.