1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 226.



Mrs. Barbauld (1743-1825) was a native of Kibworth, Leicestershire. Her father, Mr. Aikin, kept a seminary for the education of boys; and Anna, under his guidance, became a classical scholar. In 1773 she published a volume of poems, which went through four editions in one year. Her often quoted Ode to Spring would be admirable if it were not too much an echo of Collins's Ode to Evening, the measure of which it reproduces. In 1774 she married the Rev. Mr. Barbauld, a French Protestant, and in 1776 they established themselves at Hampstead. Evenings at Home, the joint production of herself and her brother, Dr. John Aikin, is still a favorite work for children and youth. Johnson, who hated Dissenters, is credited by Boswell with a remark he perhaps regretted: "Miss Aikin was an instance of early cultivation; but how did it terminate? In marrying a little Presbyterian parson, who keeps an infant boarding-school, so that all her employment now is to 'suckle fools and chronicle small-beer!'" To which, if good nature permitted, it might be retorted that this same lady's "early cultivation" had not terminated even in her eighty-second year, when she wrote a little poem worth all the verse that Johnson ever produced in his prime. Of the poem entitled Life, Wordsworth remarked to Henry Crabb Robinson, "Well, I am not given to envy other people their good things; but I do wish I had written that." But even Wordsworth, like Johnson, was not without a flaw of bigotry; for in a letter to Mr. Dyce he says of Mrs. Barbauld: "She was spoiled as a poetess by being a Dissenter, and concerned with a Dissenting academy." Poor human prejudice! A memoir of Mrs. Barbauld by her grandneice, Anna Le Breton, was published in Boston in 1878.