A Celebration of Women Writers

Anna Lætitia Aikin Barbauld (1743-1825)

Biography: Bibliography: Additional Poems

Portrait of head and shoulders of lady in a cap and high collar, looking to the reader's left


Anna Lætitia Aikin was born on June 20th, 1743. Her family lived near the village of Kibworth Harcourt, in Leicestershire. Her father, John Aikin, was a Presbyterian minister and schoolteacher. Both he and her mother, Jane Jennings Aikin, were Presbyterian Dissenters. As a child, Anna received a conventional domestic education from her mother. She later convinced her father to teach her some Latin and Greek.

In 1758 Mr. Aikin moved to Warrington to act as theological tutor at a dissenting academy. In 1761, Joseph Priestley also moved to Warrington to teach. Anna Lætitia Aikin became a close friend of Priestley and his wife. Reading Priestley's verse is believed to have inspired her to write her own. One of her earliest dateable poems was written to Mrs. Priestley, when the Priestleys moved from Warrington to Leeds, in 1767. During the next few years, Corsica and other poems were increasingly circulated in manuscript form, mostly among teachers and students at Warrington Academy.

Anna's younger brother, John Aikin, strongly encouraged her to write and to publish. Her first published pieces were six poems in his book Essays on Song-Writing, 1771. In 1772, William Enfield included five of her hymns in his collection Hymns for Public Worship. In 1773, Miss Aikin published a major collection of her own Poems, which was very successful. The Poems are often quite personal, and show a number of sides to her character. Several reveal her affection for friends and family (cf. The Invitation to Miss B. and On the Death of Mrs. Jennings); others display her religious (cf. Hymns ) and political convictions (Corsica). Poems also includes an important statement about what it meant to her to be a woman and a poet, in her tribute to Elizabeth Singer Rowe (1674-1737). In Verses on Mrs. Rowe, Aikin seeks a model for both life and poetry.

In 1774 Anna Lætitia Aikin married Rochemont Barbauld, a descendant of the French Huguenot refugees. He had come to Warrington Academy in 1767, and while there converted from the Church of England to Presbyterian Dissent. At the time of their marriage, he was the minister of a church in Palgrave, Suffolk. A number of Barbauld's poems celebrate the love and friendship that she and her husband found in their marriage. To Mr. Barbauld, November 14, 1778 playfully chides him for his "studious looks" when the two of them can employ "a thousand pleasant arts" to pass away the time, and be happy together in spite of the world and its cares and concerns.

Together, the Barbaulds established a boarding school, which they managed until 1785. They had no children of their own, and in 1777 adopted her brother's third son, born in 1775, to raise as their own. Anna Barbauld drew heavily on her experience with children in her writing: publishing Devotional Pieces (1775) and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781), as well as several books on the education of small children. The Hymns are notable for their use of the natural world as a focus for awareness and celebration of God. Barbauld's stated intent is to encourage the child to love and praise God, through his creation (e.g. Hymn IV). She also deals sensitively with childhood fears of darkness (Hymn V) and death (Hymn XI.)

By 1790, however, Barbauld's published writing was focusing primarily on political and social concerns. She was strongly in favour of abolition, as shown by her Epistle to William Wilberforce, Esq. on the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade of 1791. Other concerns included freedom of religion, revolutionary politics, and international policy. It was a difficult time: Dissenters and other reformers were under attack from both the public and the government. (See "To Dr. Priestley, December 29, 1792".) The Barbaulds received both public criticism and threatening letters for Rochement Barbauld's refusal, as a Dissenter, to sign loyalty oaths to the government. In May 1792, a "Royal Proclamation against Seditious Writings and Publications" was issued. In spite of the hostile political climate, Anna Barbauld published the book Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation in 1793, in response to England's declaration of war against the French Republic.

Over the next few years, Anna Barbauld collaborated with her brother John Aikin in Evenings at Home and contributed to his Monthly Magazine. In 1802 the Barbaulds moved to Stoke-Newington, to be near John Aikin. Mrs. Barbauld became increasingly active in London literary circles. She edited the six volumes of Samuel Richardson's Correspondence (1804), and published a 50 volume collection, The British Novelists (1810), which included biographical essays and critical reviews.

Unfortunately, the Barbauld's home life deteriorated tragically during this time. Rochemont Barbauld became mentally ill, and increasingly violent. By January 1808, he had attacked Anna Barbauld, grabbing a knife from the dinner table, and pursuing her about the room. She escaped by leaping through a window into the garden. The once-happy couple separated in March, due to concerns for Anna Barbauld's safety. On November 11, 1808, Rochemont escaped from a keeper to whom he had been committed, and drowned himself in the New River. Anna wrote of her grief and loss, seeking comfort in religious faith, in Dirge.

The last of Mrs. Barbauld's writings to be independently published was Eighteen Hundred And Eleven, A Poem. In it, Barbauld criticized the continuing war between Britain and France, prophesying that England, like other major powers of the past and future, would eventually dwindle and be surpassed. Her words, as applicable to major nations today as to England in 1811, provoked widespread, often vitriolic, criticism from those "who think their country just in all her projects, & inexhaustible in her resources" (John Aikin, in a letter to James Montgomery, 1812). Barbauld continued to write after this time, but did not attempt to publish further volumes of her work.

After her death in 1825, her niece, Lucy Aikin, published two collections of her works: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin (1825) and A Legacy for Young Ladies (1826). She selected material for the collections from Barbauld's manuscripts. In 1874, Barbauld's great-niece Anna Lætitia LeBreton included a few additional works in her Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld. Unfortunately, Barbauld's papers, which included a number of unpublished manuscripts, were destroyed in the bombing of London in September 1940. The most complete collection of Barbauld's work is the recent The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld (1994), which includes previously uncollected poems from journals and letters, and extensive footnotes on many poems.

Anna Lætitia Aikin Barbaud's writing spans a wide range, from the poetry that brought her both acclaim and rebuffs, to her essays, literary reviews, educational writings, and political works. During her own lifetime, she was acclaimed for her genius and talent. Oliver Goldsmith, the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth all admired her poetry. Wordsworth regreted that he had not composed the final lines of her poem Life. Poems such as "Ode to Spring" and "A Summer Evening's Meditation" were particularly noted for their elegance of structure and strength of expression.

In tone, Anna Lætitia Barbauld's poetry expresses a wide variety of emotions, from the light-hearted playfulness of Washing-day and An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study, to the joyful piety of The Epiphany, and the more sombre and reflective tone of On the King's Illness. Barbauld often wrote of home, of children, and of her faith, but she did so in an individual voice, speaking from personal conviction and generally avoiding cliches. Her educational and political writing also reflects her independence of thought, and strength of conviction. Clearly, she deserves more credit than she has received these past one hundred and fifty years.


Additional Poems:

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

A map of every country known,
With not a foot of land his own.
A list of folks that kicked a dust
On this poor globe, from Ptol. the First;
He hopes,indeed it is but fair,
Some day to get a corner there.
A group of all the British kings,
Fair emblem! on a packthread swings.
The Fathers, ranged in goodly row,
A decent, venerable show,
Writ a great while ago, they tell us,
And many an inch o'ertop their fellows.
A Juvenal to hunt for mottos;
And Ovid's tales of nymphs and grottos.
The meek-robed lawyers, all in white;
Pure as the lamb,at least, to sight.
A shelf of bottles, jar and phial,
By which the rogues he can defy all,
All filled with lightning keen and genuine,
And many a little imp he'll pen you in;
Which, like Le Sage's sprite, let out,
Among the neighbors makes a rout;
Brings down the lightning on their houses,
And kills their geese, and frights their spouses.
A rare thermometer, by which
He settles, to the nicest pitch,
The just degrees of heat, to raise
Sermons, or politics, or plays.
Papers and books, a strange mixed olio,
From shilling touch to pompous folio;
Answer, remark, reply, rejoinder,
Fresh from the mint, all stamped and coined here;
Like new-made glass, set by to cool,
Before it bears the workman's tool.
A blotted proof-sheet, wet from Bowling.
"How can a man his anger hold in?"
Forgotten rimes, and college themes,
Worm-eaten plans, and embryo schemes;
A mass of heterogenous matter,
A chaos dark, nor land nor water;
New books, like new-born infants, stand,
Waiting the printer's clothing hand;
Others, a motley ragged brood,
Their limbs unfashioned all, and rude,
Like Cadmus' half-formed men appear;
One rears a helm, one lifts a spear,
And feet were lopped and fingers torn
Before their fellow limbs were born;
A leg began to kick and sprawl
Before the head was seen at all,
Which quiet as a mushroom lay
Till crumbling hillocks gave it way;
And all, like controversial writing,
Were born with teeth, and sprung up fighting.
  "But what is this," I hear you cry,
"Which saucily provokes my eye?"
A thing unknown, without a name,
Born of the air, and doomed to flame.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I. 55-58.

The Epiphany

  Deep in Sabea's fragrant groves retired,
  Long had the Eastern Sages studious dwelt,
  By love sublime of sacred science fired:
    Long had they trained the' inquiring youth,
  With liberal hand the bread of wisdom dealt,
  And sung in solemn verse mysterious truth.
  The sacred characters they knew to trace
    Derived from Egypt's elder race;
  And all that Greece, with copious learning fraught,
  Thro' different schools by various masters taught;
    And all Arabia's glowing store
  Of fabled truths and rich poetic lore:
  Stars, plants and gems, and talismans they knew,
And far was spread their fame and wide their praises grew.

    The' admiring East their praises spread:
  But with uncheated eyes themselves they viewed;
  Mourning they sat with dust upon their head,
    And oft in melancholy strain
      The fond complaint renewed,
How little yet they knew, how much was learned in vain.
    For human guilt and mortal woe
    Their sympathizing sorrows flow;
  Their hallowed prayers ascend in incense pure;
    They mourned the narrow bounds assigned
  To the keen glances of the searching mind,
    They mourned the ills they could not cure,
    They mourned the doubts they could not clear,
    They mourned that prophet yet, nor seer,
    The great Eternal had made known,
Or reached the lowest step of that immortal throne.

  And oft the starry cope of heaven beneath,
  When day's tumultuous sounds had ceased to breathe,
    With fixed feet, as rooted there,
  Through the long night they drew the chilly air;
      While sliding o'er their head,
      In solemn silence dread,
  The' ethereal orbs their shining course pursued,
  In holy trance enwrapt the sages stood,
  With folded arms laid on their reverend breast,
And to that Heaven they knew, their orisons addresst.

  A Star appears; they marked its kindling beam
  O'er night's dark breast unusual splendours stream:
    The lesser lights that deck the sky,
  In wondering silence softly gliding by,
    At the fair stranger seemed to gaze,
Or veiled their trembling fires and half withdrew their rays.

    The blameless men the wonder saw,
  And hailed the joyful sign with pious awe;
    They knew 'twas none of all the train
  With which in shadowy forms and shapes uncouth,
    Monsters of earth and of the main,
    Remote from nature as from truth,
  Their learned pens the sky had figured o'er:
  No star with such kind aspect shone before;
  Nor e'er did wandering planet stoop so low
To guide benighted pilgrims through this vale of woe.

    The heavenly impulse they obey,
    The new-born light directs their way;
  Through deserts never marked by human tread,
  And billowy waves of loose, unfaithful sand,
  O'er many an unknown hill and foreign strand
    The silver clue unerring led,
  And peopled towns they pass, and glittering spires;
No cloud could veil its light, no sun could quench its fires.

  Thus passed the venerable pilgrims on,
  Till Salem's stately towers before them shone,
  And soon their feet her hallowed pavements presst;
    Not in her marble courts to rest,
    From pomp and royal state aloof,
    Their shining guide its beams withdrew;
    And points their path, and points their view,
To Bethlehem's rustic cots, to Mary's lowly roof.
    There the bright sentinel kept watch,
    While other stars arose and set;
    For there, within its humble thatch,
  Weakness and power, and heaven and earth were met.
    Now, sages, now your search give o'er,
    Believe, fall prostrate, and adore!
Here spread your spicy gifts, your golden offerings here;
    No more the fond complaint renew,
    Of human guilt and mortal woe,
  Of knowledge checked by doubt, and hope with fear:
    What angels wished to see, ye view;
    What angels wished to learn, ye know;
Peace is proclaimed to man, and heaven begun below.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:129-133.

To Mr. Barbauld, November 14, 1778

     Come, clear thy studious looks awhile,
       'Tis arrant treason now
       To wear that moping brow,
     When I, thy empress, bid thee smile.

       What though the fading year
       One wreath will not afford
       To grace the poet's hair,
       Or deck the festal board;

     A thousand pretty ways we'll find
     To mock old Winter's starving reign;
     We'll bid the violets spring again,
     Bid rich poetic roses blow,
     Peeping above his heaps of snow;
     We'll dress his withered cheeks in flowers,
       And on his smooth bald head
       Fantastic garlands bind;
       Garlands, which we will get
   From the gay blooms of that immortal year,
     Above the turning seasons set,
Where young ideas shoot in Fancy's sunny bowers.

     A thousand pleasant arts we'll have
   To add new feathers to the wings of Time,
     And make him smoothly haste away:
       We'll use him as our slave,
     And when we please we'll bid him stay,
   And clip his wings, and make him stop to view
     Our studies, and our follies too;
How sweet our follies are, how high our fancies climb.

     We'll little care what others do,
     And where they go, and what they say;
     Our bliss, all inward and our own,
   Would only tarnished be, by being shown.
     That talking restless world shall see,
     Spite of the world we'll happy be;
       But none shall know
       How much we're so,
     Save only Love, and we.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:134-36.

On the Expected General Rising of the French Nation in 1792

Rise mighty nation! in thy strength,
And deal thy dreadful vengeance round;
Let thy great spirit rous'd at length,
Strike hordes of Despots to the ground.

Devoted land! thy mangled breast,
Eager the royal vultures tear:
By friends betray'd, by foes oppress'd,
And virtue struggles with despair.

The tocsin sounds! arise, arise,
Stern o'er each breast let country reign;
Nor virgin's plighted hand, nor sighs
Must now the ardent youth detain.

Nor must the hind who tills thy soil,
The ripen'd vintage stay to press,
Till rapture crown the flowing bowl,
And Freedom boast of full success.

Briareus-like, extend thy hands,
That every hand may crush a foe;
In millions pour thy generous bands,
And end a warfare by a blow.

Then wash with sad repentant tears,
Each deed that clouds thy glory's page;
Each phrensied start impell'd by fears,
Each transient burst of headlong rage.

Then fold in thy relenting arms
Thy wretched outcasts where they roam;
From pining want and war's alarms,
O call the child of Misery home.

Then build the tombO not alone,
Of him who bled in freedom's cause;
With equal eye the martyr own,
Of faith revered and antient laws.

Then be thy tide of glory stay'd,
Then be thy conquering banners furl'd,
Obey the laws thyself hast made,
And risethe model of the world!

First Publication: "To A Great Nation", "Written by a Lady", Cambridge Intelligencer, November 2, 1793.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. pp. 180-182.

To Dr. Priestley, Dec. 29, 1792.

Stirs not thy spirit, Priestley, as the train
With low obeisance, and with servile phrase,
File behind file, advance, with supple knee,
And lay their necks beneath the foot of power? 1
Burns not thy cheek indignant, when thy name,
On which delighted science lov'd to dwell,
Becomes the bandied theme of hooting crowds?
With timid caution, or with cool reserve,
When e'en each reverend Brother keeps aloof,
Eyes the struck deer, and leaves thy naked side
A mark for power to shoot at? Let it be.
"On evil days though fallen and evil tongues,"
To thee, the slander of a passing age
Imports not. Scenes like these hold little space
In his large mind, whose ample stretch of thought
Grasps future periods.Well can'st thou afford
To give large credit for that debt of fame
Thy country owes thee. Calm thou can'st consign it
To the slow payment of that distant day,
If distant, when thy name, to freedom's join'd,
Shall meet the thanks of a regenerate land.

First Publication: Morning Chronicle. 8th January 1793, unsigned and undated.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:183-184.

1 Beneath the foot of power: Joseph Priestley was a prominent figure in pro-French and Protestant Dissenter circles. On 14th July 1791, his house and property in Birmingham were destroyed by a mob. This act of violence marked the beginning of a period in which Dissenters and other reformers were harassed, threatened, and attacked. Some were accused of treason, and in May 1792, a Royal Proclamation was issued against "Seditious Writings and Publications." In this climate of fear, many Dissenters signed loyalty oaths to the crown. On December 20th, 1792, a meeting of the deputies of London's Protestant Dissenting Ministers held a special meeting to declare Dissenter support for King and government. Some ministers who opposed the declaration were instrumental in first publishing this poem, which had been written privately in sympathy to Priestley.

Inscription for an Ice-House

Stranger, approach! within this iron door
Thrice locked and bolted, this rude arch beneath
That vaults with ponderous stone the cell; confined
By man, the great magician, who controuls
Fire, earth and air, and genii of the storm,
And bends the most remote and opposite things
To do him service and perform his will,
A giant sits; stern Winter; here he piles,
While summer glows around, and southern gales
Dissolve the fainting world, his treasured snows
Within the rugged cave.Stranger, approach!
He will not cramp thy limbs with sudden age,
Nor wither with his touch the coyest flower
That decks thy scented hair. Indignant here,
Like fettered Sampson when his might was spent
In puny feats to glad the festive halls
Of Gaza's wealthy sons; or he who sat
Midst laughing girls submiss, and patient twirled
The slender spindle in his sinewy grasp;
The rugged power, fair Pleasure's minister,
Exerts his art to deck the genial board;
Congeals the melting peach, the nectarine smooth,
Burnished and glowing from the sunny wall:
Darts sudden frost into the crimson veins
Of the moist berry; moulds the sugared hail:
Cools with his icy breath our flowing cups;
Or gives to the fresh dairy's nectared bowls
A quicker zest. Sullen he plies his task,
And on his shaking fingers counts the weeks
Of lingering Summer, mindful of his hour
To rush in whirlwinds forth, and rule the year.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:188-189.


    ................. and their voice,
    Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
    And whistles in its sound. 2

The Muses are turned gossips; they have lost 3
The buskin'd step, and clear high-sounding phrase,
Language of gods. Come, then, domestic Muse,
In slip-shod measure loosely prattling on
Of farm or orchard, pleasant curds and cream,
Or drowning flies, or shoe lost in the mire
By little whimpering boy, with rueful face;
Come, Muse, and sing the dreaded Washing-Day.
Ye who beneath the yoke of wedlock bend,
With bowed soul, full well ye ken the day
Which week, smooth sliding after week, brings on
Too soon; for to that day nor peace belongs
Nor comfort; ere the first grey streak of dawn,
The red-arm'd washers come and chase repose.
Nor pleasant smile, nor quaint device of mirth,
E'er visited that day: the very cat,
From the wet kitchen scared, and reeking hearth,
Visits the parlour, an unwonted guest.
The silent breakfast-meal is soon dispatch'd
Uninterrupted, save by anxious looks
Cast at the lowering sky, if sky should lower.
From that last evil, oh preserve us, heavens!
For should the skies pour down, adieu to all
Remains of quiet; then expect to hear
Of sad disastersdirt and gravel stains
Hard to efface, and loaded lines at once
Snapped shortand linen-horse by dog thrown down,
And all the petty miseries of life.
Saints have been calm while stretched upon the rack,
And Guatimozin smil'd on burning coals; 4
But never yet did housewife notable
Greet with a smile a rainy washing-day.
But grant the welkin fair, require not thou
Who call'st thyself perchance the master there,
Or study swept, or nicely dusted coat,
Or usual 'tendance; ask not, indiscreet,
Thy stockings mended, tho' the yawning rents
Gape wide as Erebus, nor hope to find
Some snug recess impervious: should'st thou try
The 'customed garden walks, thine eye shall rue
The budding fragrance of thy tender shrubs,
Myrtle or rose, all crushed beneath the weight
Of coarse check'd apron, with impatient hand
Twitch'd off when showers impend: or crossing lines
Shall mar thy musings, as the wet cold sheet
Flaps in thy face abrupt. Woe to the friend
Whose evil stars have urged him forth to claim
On such a day the hospitable rites;
Looks, blank at best, and stinted courtesy,
Shall he receive. Vainly he feeds his hopes
With dinner of roast chicken, savoury pie,
Or tart or pudding:pudding he nor tart
That day shall eat; nor, tho' the husband try,
Mending what can't be help'd, to kindle mirth
From cheer deficient, shall his consort's brow
Clear up propitious; the unlucky guest
In silence dines, and early slinks away.
  I well remember, when a child, the awe
This day struck into me; for then the maids,
I scarce knew why, looked cross, and drove me from them;
Nor soft caress could I obtain, nor hope
Usual indulgencies; jelly or creams,
Relique of costly suppers, and set by
For me their petted one; or butter'd toast,
When butter was forbid; or thrilling tale
Of ghost, or witch, or murderso I went
And shelter'd me beside the parlour fire:
There my dear grandmother, eldest of forms,
Tended the little ones, and watched from harm,
Anxiously fond, tho' oft her spectacles
With elfin cunning hid, and oft the pins
Drawn from her ravell'd stocking, might have sour'd
One less indulgent.
At intervals my mother's voice was heard,
Urging dispatch; briskly the work went on,
All hands employed to wash, to rinse, to wring,
To fold, and starch, and clap, and iron, and plait.
Then would I sit me down, and ponder much
Why washings were. Sometimes thro' hollow bowl
Of pipe amused we blew, and sent aloft
The floating bubbles, little dreaming then
To see, Mongolfier, thy silken ball 5
Ride buoyant through the cloudsso near approach
The sports of children and the toils of men.
Earth, air, and sky, and ocean, hath its bubbles,
And verse is one of themthis most of all.

First Publication: Monthly Magazine. Unsigned. December, 1797, p. 452.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:202-206.

2 Motto: Shakespeare, As You Like It, a slight misquotation of II.vii.161-63.

3Muses: Nine sister goddesses of Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, and other arts and sciences.

4Guatimozin: The nephew and son-in-law of Montezuma was the last of the Mexican Emperors, killed by Cortez. (The 1797 publication names Montezuma here instead of Guatimozin.)

5Mongolfier: Joseph Michel (1740-1810) and Jacques Etienne (1745-1799) Montgolfier launched the first hot-air balloon in France in the summer of 1783. Anna Letitia Barbauld attended a ballooning exhibition in January 1784, at the Pantheon.

To Mr. S. T. Coleridge 6

Midway the hill of Science, after steep
And rugged paths that tire th' unpractised feet,
A Grove extends, in tangled mazes wrought,
And fill'd with strange enchantment:dubious shapes
Flit thro' dim glades, and lure the eager foot
Of youthful ardour to eternal chase.
Dreams hang on every leaf; unearthly forms
Glide thro' the gloom, and mystic visions swim
Before the cheated sense. Athwart the mists,
Far into vacant space, huge shadows stretch
And seem realities; while things of life,
Obvious to sight and touch, all glowing round
Fade to the hue of shadows. Scruples here
With filmy net, most like th' autumnal webs
Of floating Gossamer, arrest the foot
Of generous enterprize; and palsy hope
And fair ambition, with the chilling touch
Of sickly hesitation and blank fear.
Nor seldom Indolence these lawns among
Fixes her turf-built seat, and wears the garb
Of deep philosophy, and museful sits,
In dreamy twilight of the vacant mind,
Soothed by the whispering shade; for soothing soft
The shades; and vistas lengthening into air,
With moon beam rainbows tinted. Here each mind
Of finer mould, acute and delicate,
In its high progress to eternal truth
Rests for a space, in fairy bowers entranced;
And loves the softened light and tender gloom;
And, pampered with most unsubstantial food,
Looks down indignant on the grosser world,
And matter's cumbrous shapings. Youth belov'd
Of Scienceof the Muse belov'd, not here,
Not in the maze of metaphysic lore
Build thou thy place of resting; lightly tread
The dangerous ground, on noble aims intent;
And be this Circe of the studious cell
Enjoyed, but still subservient. Active scenes
Shall soon with healthful spirit brace thy mind;
And fair exertion, for bright fame sustained,
For friends, for country, chase each spleen-fed fog
That blots the wide creation
Now Heaven conduct thee with a Parent's love!

First Publication: "To Mr. Cge", unsigned, in Monthly Magazine Vol. 7 (April 1799) pp. 231-232.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:209-211.

6 Anna Lætitia Barbauld first met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in August 1797. This poem, written at that time, indicates both her liking for him and her assessment of his character. For many years an admirer, Coleridge increasingly criticized Barbauld and her work after 1812.

Written November 1808.

Pure spirit! O where art thou now!
  O whisper to my soul!
O let some soothing thought of thee,
  This bitter grief controul!

'Tis not for thee the tears I shed,
  Thy sufferings now are o'er;
The sea is calm, the tempest past,
  On that eternal shore.

No more the storms that wrecked thy peace
  Shall tear that gentle breast;
Nor Summer's rage, nor Winter's cold,
  Thy poor, poor frame molest.

Thy peace is sealed, thy rest is sure,
  My sorrows are to come;
Awhile I weep and linger here,
  Then follow to the tomb.

And is the awful veil withdrawn,
  That shrouds from mortal eyes,
In deep impenetrable gloom,
  The secrets of the skies?

O, in some dream of visioned bliss,
  Some trace of rapture, show
Where, on the bosom of thy God,
  Thou rest'st from human woe!

Thence may thy pure devotion's flame
  On me, on me descend;
To me thy strong aspiring hopes,
  Thy faith, thy fervours lend.

Let these my lonely path illume,
  And teach my weakened mind
To welcome all that's left of good,
  To all that's lost resigned.

Farewell! With honour, peace, and love,
  Be thy dear memory blest!
Thou hast no tears for me to shed,
  When I too am at rest.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:224-226.

Animula, vagula, blandula.

  Life! I know not what thou art,
  But know that thou and I must part;
  And when, or how, or where we met,
  I own to me's a secret yet.
  But this I know, when thou art fled,
  Where'er they lay these limbs, this head,
  No clod so valueless shall be,
  As all that then remains of me.
  O whither, whither dost thou fly,
  Where bend unseen thy trackless course,
    And in this strange divorce,
Ah tell where I must seek this compound I?

To the vast ocean of empyreal flame,
    From whence thy essence came,
  Dost thou thy flight pursue, when freed
  From matter's base encumbering weed?
    Or dost thou, hid from sight,
    Wait, like some spell-bound knight,
Through blank oblivious years th' appointed hour,
To break thy trance and reassume thy power?
Yet canst thou without thought or feeling be?
O say what art thou, when no more thou'rt thee?

    Life! we've been long together,
  Through pleasant and through cloudy weather;
  'Tis hard to part when friends are dear;
  Perhaps 'twill cost a sigh, a tear;
  Then steal away, give little warning,
    Choose thine own time;
Say not Good night, but in some brighter clime
    Bid me Good morning.

First Publication: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:261-262.

On The King's Illness

Rest, rest afflicted spirit, quickly pass 7
Thine hour of bitter suffering! Rest awaits thee,
There, where, the load of weary life laid down,
The peasant and the king repose together.
There peaceful sleep, thy quiet grave bedewed
With tears of those who loved thee. Not for thee,
In the dark chambers of the nether world,
Shall spectre kings rise from their burning thrones,
And point the vacant seat, and scoffing say
"Art thou become like us?" Oh not for thee:
For thou hadst human feelings, and hast liv'd
A man with men, and kindly charities,
Even such as warm the cottage hearth, were thine.
And therefore falls the tear from eyes not used
To gaze on kings with admiration fond:
And thou hast knelt at meek Religion's shrine
With no mock homage, and hast owned her rights 8
Sacred in every breast: and therefore rise,
Affectionate, for thee, the orisons
And mingled prayers, alike from vaulted domes
Whence the loud organ peals, and raftered roofs 9
Of humbler worship.Still, remembering this,
A Nation's pity and a Nation's love
Linger beside thy couch, in this the day
Of thy sad visitation, veiling faults
Of erring judgement, and not will perverse.
Yet, Oh that thou hadst closed the wounds of war! 10
That had been praise to suit a higher strain.
  Farewell the years rolled down the gulph of time!
Thy name has chronicled a long bright page
Of England's story, and perhaps the babe
Who opens, as thou closest thine, his eyes
On this eventful world, when aged grown,
Musing on times gone by, shall sigh and say,
Shaking his thin grey hairs, whitened with grief,
"Our fathers' days were happy." Fare thee well!
My thread of life has even run with thine
For many a lustre, and thy closing day
I contemplate, not mindless of my own,
Nor to its call reluctant.

First Publication: Monthly Repository. 6, October, 1811: 608.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:263-265.

7 Afflicted spirit: King George III suffered from recurrent bouts of what was believed by his contemporaries to be madness. Modern physicians suspect that he suffered from porphyria. In late 1810 he suffered his fourth attack of the disease, and in February 1811, the Prince of Wales (later to be George IV) took over as Prince Regent.

8 Her rights: George III had recognized and protected the Protestant Dissenters' choice of worship.

9 Vaulted domes... raftered roofs: The vaulted domes refer to Anglican churches, the raftered roofs to the Dissenters' simpler places of worship.

10 Closed the wounds of war: During George III's reign, Britain was at war with both America and France.

A Thought on Death
November, 1814

When life, as opening buds, is sweet,
And golden hopes the fancy greet,
And youth prepares his joys to meet,
    Alas! how hard it is to die!

When just is seiz'd some valu'd prize,
And duties press, and tender ties
Forbid the soul from earth to rise,
    How awful then it is to die!

When, one by one, those ties are torn,
And friend from friend is snatched forlorn,
And man is left alone to mourn,
    Ah! then, how easy 'tis to die!

When faith is firm, and conscience clear,
And words of peace the spirit cheer,
And vision'd glories half appear,
    'Tis joy, 'tis triumph, then to die!

When trembling limbs refuse their weight,
And films, slow gathering, dim the sight,
And clouds obscure the mental light,
    'Tis nature's precious boon to die!

First Publication: Christian Disciple. (Boston) n.s. 3 (Nov-Dec 1821): 440.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:266.

On the Death of the Princess Charlotte 11

Yes Britain mourns, as with electric touch
For youth, for love, for happiness destroyed.
Her universal population melts
In grief spontaneous; and hard hearts are moved,
And rough unpolished natures learn to feel
For those they envied, levelled in the dust
By fate's impartial stroke; and pulpits sound
With vanity and woe to earthly goods,
And urge, and dry the tearYet one there is
Who midst this general burst of grief remains
In strange tranquillity; whom not the stir
And long drawn murmurs of the gathering crowd,
That by his very windows trail the pomp
Of hearse, and blazoned arms, and long array
Of sad funereal rites, nor the loud groans
And deep felt anguish of a husband's heart
Can move to mingle with this flood one tear.
In careless apathyperhaps in mirth
He wears the day. Yet is he near in blood,
The very stem on which this blossom grew,
And at his knees she fondled, in the charm
And grace spontaneous, which alone belongs
To untaught infancy:Yet O forbear
Nor deem him hard of heart, for, awful, struck
By heaven's severest visitation, sad,
Like a scathed oak amidst the forest trees
Lonely he stands; leaves bud, and shoot, and fall,
He holds no sympathy with living nature,
Or time's incessant change. Then, in this hour,
While pensive thought is busy with the woes
And restless change of poor humanity,
Think then, oh think of him, and breathe one prayer
From the full tide of sorrow spare one tear,
For him who does not weep!

First Publication: The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1818. (1819, ed. John Aikin) London: W. Otridge et al, p. 612, titled "Elegy" and signed Mrs. B__d.

This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:281-282.

11 Princess Charlotte Augusta was the daughter of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) and wife of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg. She was as strongly loved by the people of England as her father was disliked. She died on November 6th, 1817, at age 21, from complications of childbirth, after bearing a dead child. The loss of the potential queen and her heir was deeply felt. Tributes were written by a number of women poets, including Felicia Hemans as well as Anna Barbauld.