1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 23 October 1802; Letters, ed. Thomas Noon Talfourd (1837) 1:235-36.



Mrs. Barbauld's stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newbery's hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.'s and Mrs. Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about. Knowledge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.'s books convey, it seems, must come to a child in the "shape" of knowledge, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learnt, that a horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a horse, and such like: instead of that beautiful interest in wild tales, which made the child a man, while all the time he suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil? Think of what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!