1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anonymous, "Memoirs of Mrs. Anna-Laetitia Barbauld" New London Magazine 5 (November 1789) 532-33.



This lady is no less celebrated for her intellectual than her personal endowments. She is the daughter of the Rev. John Aikin, D.D. tutor in divinity at the academy at Warrington for several years, who, though not known to the world at large as an author, his modesty having unhappily prevented him from appearing in print, was uncommonly revered by all that knew him, for the wonderful extent of his knowledge, for the mild dignity of his character, and for the various excellencies which adorned the scholar, the tutor, and the man. He died about the latter end of the year 1780.

Our authoress had the advantage of an excellent education from her respectable father, and seems early to have shewn her poetical genius. The first publication our authoress gave the public was a volume of poems in 4to. in 1773, which hath been since several times reprinted. It contains some pieces which have a smoothness and harmony equal to that of our best poets; with a justness of thought and vigour of imagination which would lose no credit by a comparison with the greatest names in English literature. The excellence of these poems was immediately acknowledge by the world: and Mr. Garrick, soon after their publication, recognized the writer as one who "sung the sweetest lay," in an epilogue spoken at Bath. In the same year were published, "Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, 8vo." These were written by Miss Aikin, with the assistance of her brother, a gentleman who has since both instructed and edified the world by many useful and entertaining works. In the year following Miss Aikin united herself in marriage with the Rev. Mr. Barbauld, and published "Devotional Pieces, compiled from the Psalms and the Book of Job. To which are prefixed, Thoughts on the Devotional Taste, on Sects, and on Establishments, 8vo." This is the last publication of importance which Mrs. Barbauld has produced. Since her marriage, she seems to have devoted her attention to the initiation and improvement of children in letters, and has printed several little pieces adapted to their capacities. These useful and unambitious performances have received the best eulogium that can be given to works of this kind, a general reception arising from proofs of their value.

We shall conclude this account of Mrs. Barbauld by observing, that every part of her works exhibit marks of a refined and vigorous imagination, of cultivated genius, elegant manners, unbigotted religion, and unenthusiastic devotion.