1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Frances Burney, 1798; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904-05) 5:418-21.



I was extremely surprised to be told by the maid a gentleman and lady had called at the door, who sent in a card and begged to know if I could admit them; and to see the names on the card were Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld. I had never seen them more than twice; the first time by their own desire, Mrs. Chapone carried me to meet them at Mr. Burrows's: the other time, I think, was at Mrs. Chapone's. You must be sure I could not hesitate to receive, and receive with thankfulness, this civility from the authoress of the most useful books, next to Mrs. Trimmer's, that have been yet written for dear little children; though this with the world is probably her very secondary merit, her many pretty poems, and particularly songs, being generally esteemed. But many more have written those as well, and not a few better; for children's books she began the new walk, which has since been so well cultivated, to the great information as well as utility of parents.

Mr. Barbauld is a dissenting minister-an author also, but I am unacquainted with his works. They were in our little dining-parlour — the only one that has any chairs in it — and began apologies for their visit; but I interrupted and finished them with my thanks. She is much altered, but not for the worse to me, though she is for herself, since the flight of her youth, which is evident, has taken also with it a great portion of an almost set smile, which had an air of determined complacence and prepared acquiescence that seemed to result from a sweetness which never risked being off guard. I remember Mrs. Chapone's saying to me, after our interview, "She is a very good young woman, as well as replete with talents; but why must one always smile so? It makes my poor jaws ache to look at her."

We talked, of course, of that excellent lady; and you will believe I did not quote her notions of smiling. The Burrows family, she told me, was quite broken up; old Mrs. Amy alone remaining alive. Her brother, Dr. Aiken, with his family, were passing the summer at Dorking, on account of his ill health, the air of that town having been recommended for his complaints. The Barbaulds were come to spend some time with him, and would not be so near without renewing their acquaintance. They had been walking in Norbury Park, which they admired very much; and Mrs. Barbauld very elegantly said, "If there was such a public officer as a legislator of taste, Mr. Lock ought to be chosen for it."

They inquired much about M. d'Arblay, who was working in his garden, and would not be at the trouble of dressing to appear. They desired to see Alex, and I produced him; and his orthographical feats were very well timed here, for as soon as Mrs. Barbauld said, "What is your name, you pretty creature?" he sturdily answered, "B, O, Y, boy."

Almost all our discourse was upon the Irish rebellion. Mr. Barbauld is a very little, diminutive figure, but well bred and sensible.

I borrowed her poems, afterwards, of Mr. Daniel, who chanced to have them, and have read them with much esteem of the piety and worth they exhibit, and real admiration of the last amongst them, which is an epistle to Mr. Wilberforce in favour of the demolition of the slave-trade, in which her energy seems to spring from the real spirit of virtue, suffering at the luxurious depravity which can tolerate, in a free land, so unjust, cruel, and abominable a traffic.

We returned their visit together in a few days, at Dr. Aiken's lodgings, at Dorking, where, as she permitted M. d'Arblay to speak French, they had a very animated discourse upon buildings, French and English, each supporting those of their own country with great spirit, but my monsieur, to own the truth, having greatly the advantage both in manner and argument. He was in spirits, and came forth with his best exertions. Dr. Aiken looks very sickly, but is said to be better: he has a good countenance.