1868 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Emily Taylor, in Memories of Contemporary Poets; with Selections from their Writings (1868) 3-5.



I can have no hesitation about assigning the first place in this collection to the beloved and venerated Anna Letitia Barbauld. My own personal recollections of her are limited to what I saw at an advanced period of her life; but she was the long-tried, faithful friend of those who had been about me from childhood, and the cordiality of her welcome for their sakes was followed up by many acts of kindness extending ever several years of youth. Perhaps she never was seen to more advantage than at that time. The great storm of her life had passed ever her head, and outwardly her course was undisturbed, though her nature, always somewhat irritable, remained so to the last. Her clear, keen eye, her ready repartee, her emotion easily kindled by any affecting passage in reading or in real life, are what I most distinctly bear in my memory; but also the light thrown by her golden fancy ever even the smallest object that came in her way was a must attractive charm. She would surprise you with a beautiful extempore enigma, when you thought she was repeating a favourite passage of poetry. In this manner came out that little Poem, so perfect of its kind, on "Words," which I have here given.

Of course, to do her justice, far more and far higher poetry must he given than I have inserted here. The "Summer Evening's Meditation," the "Address to the Deity," and some of the Hymns, may really be called sublime. May they ever find their place among the best treasures of our literature! What I have (with much of hesitation) selected, are perhaps less known. The fine "Ode to Remorse" was written late in life, and was, I have reason to believe, considered by her as one of her best efforts. She read it in MS. to several of her intimate friends, and it was observed that when she came to that point in which small neglects of duty were referred to—

The purposed act too long deferred—

there was a perceptible tremor in her voice, showing that she was conscious of a tendency to those minor shortcomings in herself.

"The Dirge" is surely very pathetic. I have been told it was written off at once on hearing of the death of the being she had most deeply loved, and whose mental estrangement had brought her worst trial, and she handed it to her brother with a broken voice, and eyes streaming with tears.

I could not omit the noble "Easter Hymn." Then follow the lines on "Life," then the two Riddles, and, lastly, the two Fragments, which were found in her pocket-book after her decease. The idea of the last of these seems to have been in some degree adopted and worked out in a little poem by Miss Christina Rosetti ["Uphill"], which I venture to transcribe below.

I am glad to see that Sir Roundell Palmer has given us two more of Mrs. Barbauld's Hymns.

This, alas! is all that will be found here. Much, much remains; but it is something to have the opportunity of giving even this brief expression to some of one's earliest convictions respecting a woman whose heart was ever open to the claims of worth of every sort; and in whom the poorest, no less than the highest form of intellect, found kindness and sympathy, provided there were the substantial elements of goodness and truth.