1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:276-77.



ANNA LETITIA BARBAULD, the daughter of Dr. John Aikin, was born at Kibworth Harcourt, in Leicestershire, in 1743. Her father at this time kept a seminary for the education of boys, and Anna received the same instruction, being early initiated into a knowledge of classical literature. In 1758 Dr. Aikin undertaking the office of classical tutor in a dissenting academy at Warrington, his daughter accompanied him, and resided there fifteen years. In 1773 she published a volume of miscellaneous poems, of which four editions were called for in one year, and also a collection of pieces in prose, some of which were written by her brother. In May 1774 she was married to the Rev. Rochmount Barbauld, a French Protestant, who was minister of a dissenting congregation at Palgrave, near Diss, and who had just opened a boarding-school at the neighbouring village of Palgrave, in Suffolk. The poetess participated with her husband in the task of instruction, and to her talents and exertions the seminary was mainly indebted for its success. In 1775 she came forward with a volume of devotional pieces compiled from the Psalms, and another volume of Hymns in Prose for children. In 1786, after a tour to the continent, Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld established themselves at Hampstead, and there several tracts proceeded from the pen of our authoress on the topics of the day, in all which she espoused the principles of the Whigs. She also assisted her father in preparing a series of tales for children, entitled Evenings at Home, and she wrote critical essays on Akenside and Collins, prefixed to editions of their works. In 1802 Mr. Barbauld became pastor of the congregation (formerly Dr. Price's) at Newington Green, also in the vicinity of London; and quitting Hampstead, they took up their abode in the village of Stoke Newington. In 1803 Mrs. Barbauld compiled a selection of essays from the Spectator, Tatler, and Guardian, to which she prefixed a preliminary essay; and in the following year she edited the correspondence of Richardson, and wrote an interesting and elegant life of the novelist. Her husband died in 1808, and Mrs. Barbauld has recorded her feelings on this melancholy event in a poetical dirge to his memory, and also in her poem of Eighteen Hundred and Eleven. Seeking relief in literary occupation, she also edited a collection of the British novelists, published in 1810, with an introductory essay, and biographical and critical notices. After a gradual decay, this accomplished and excellent woman died on the 9th of March 1825. Some of the lyrical pieces of Mrs. Barbauld are flowing and harmonious, and her "Ode to Spring" is a happy imitation of Collins. She wrote also several poems in blank verse, characterised by a serious tenderness and elevation of thought. "Her earliest pieces," says her niece, Mrs. Lucy Aikin, "as well as her more recent ones, exhibit in their imagery and allusions the fruits of extensive and varied reading. In youth, the power of her imagination was counterbalanced by the activity of her intellect, which exercised itself in rapid but not unprofitable excursions over almost every field of knowledge. In age, when this activity abated, imagination appeared to exert over her an undiminished sway." Charles James Fox is said to have been a great admirer of Mrs. Barbauld's songs, but they are by no means the best of her compositions, being generally artificial, and unimpassioned in their character.