1776 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anonymous, in "Particulars relating to Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Barbauld" Westminster Magazine 4 (June 1776) 284-85.



Mrs. Barbauld, who, with the name of Aikin, first darted into the poetical world a few years ago, and charmed all those who have a true relish for the effusions of a genius under the immediate inspiration of the Muses, still shines with a lustre sufficient to make the Mob of Gentlemen who write "about it, Goddess, and about it," appear like "little stars hiding their diminished rays" at the approach of the sun in his rising splendor. This Lady is not only poetically enchanting, but personally attractive. With a countenance in which every thing agreeable in a woman is strongly expressed, she prepossesses you extremely in her favour at first sight; and you are doubly pleased with the display of her intellectual powers in conversation with her, as she seems not to be conscious of an understanding superior to the greatest part of her sex. "Her eye speaks sense distinct and clear," when she is silent, and she never opens her lips to deliver her thoughts with an oracular sententiousness; nor does she ever converse with an oracular duplicity. She never speaks as if she attempted to command admiration; but she says nothing which does not deserve it. With her lettered friends she opens her mental stores with the least affectation to be imagined, and is doubly cautious, before the illiterate, to shade her talents with the veil of diffidence, that she may not force them to feel their inferiority. There is, indeed, a delicacy as well as propriety in her deportment uncommonly pleasing; which, joined to the mildness of her manners, and her affability to all kinds of people, throw an inexpressible charm over her whole person, and induce us to venerate the beauties of her mind.

With regard to Mrs. Barbauld's poetical compositions, there is a masculine force in them, which the most vigorous of our poets has not excelled: there is nothing, indeed, feminine belonging to them, but a certain gracefulness of expression (in which dignity and beauty are both included) that marks them for the productions of a Female Hand. Her style is perfectly Horatian, elegantly polished, and harmoniously easy. The "curiosa felicitas dicendi," which Genius alone and the ear that Nature has harmonized can produce, is frequently to be found in her beautiful Poems. She has also written some pieces in prose, which, in point of elegance, are as much superior to the laboured Essays of our sturdy Moralist as the easy motions of a fine Gentleman are, in point of grace, to the stiff attitudes of a Dancing-master.