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Anna Letitia Barbauld and Eighteenth-Century Visionary Poetics

Daniel P. Watkins

Publication Year: 2012

In this first critical study of Anna Letitia Barbauld’s major work, Daniel P. Watkins reveals the singular purpose of Barbauld’s visionary poems: to recreate the world based on the values of liberty and justice. Watkins examines in close detail both the form and content of Barbauld’s Poems, originally published in 1773 and revised and reissued in 1792. Along with providing careful readings of the poems, readings that situate the works in their broader political, historical, and philosophical contexts, Watkins explores the relevance of the introductory epigraphs and the importance of the poems’ placement throughout the volume. At the center of Watkins’s study is Barbauld’s effort to develop a visionary poetic stance. He argues that the deliberate arrangement of the poems creates a coherent portrayal of Barbauld’s poetic, political, and social vision, a vision born of her deep belief that the principles of love, sympathy, liberty, and pacifism are necessary for a secure and meaningful human reality. In tracing the contours of this effort, Watkins examines, in particular, the tension in Barbauld’s poetry between her desire to engage directly with the political realities of the world and her equally strong longing for a pastoral world of peace and prosperity. Scholars of British literature and women writers will welcome this important study of one of the eighteenth century’s foremost writers.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xiv

When I began writing this book, my aim was to examine three volumes of poetry, each by a separate writer: Anna Letitia Barbauld’s Poems (1773; 1792), Ann Yearsley’s Rural Lyre (1796), and Joanna Baillie’s Metrical Legends (1821). Despite their many differences...

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p. xv

This project would not have been possible without the interest and assistance of several students, colleagues, editors, and readers, all of whom contributed significantly to my efforts to understand Barbauld’s poetry. Because my interest in Barbauld began...

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pp. 1-33

It is a critical commonplace that visionary poetry and poetics became dormant and sank into obscurity after the age of Milton and reemerged during the later eighteenth century in the figure of William Blake, whose subversive and transformative engagement...

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1 Barbauld’s Poems in Context

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pp. 34-49

When the radical bookseller Joseph Johnson published the first edition of Anna Letitia Barbauld’s Poems in 1773, at which time Barbauld was thirty years old and writing under her maiden name of Aikin, as she was not yet married, England was still a relatively...

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2 Politics, Vision, and Pastoral

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pp. 50-78

The most distinctive features of Barbauld’s visionary poetics, at least in the early sections of Poems, are her restlessness and uncertainty as she works to construct a meaningful imaginative portrait of human experience. Especially in “Corsica,” the first poem in the volume, she ranges across various poetic interests— especially pastoral...

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3 Satire, Antipastoral, and Visionary Poetics

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pp. 79-93

“Corsica” and “The Invitation” are powerful examples of the difficulty that Barbauld faces in her efforts to imagine a world transformed, oriented on the principles of peace, justice, and liberty. The force of the poems’ resistance to her idealism— particularly...

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4 Personal Life and Visionary Poetics

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pp. 94-116

Barbauld’s cluster of satires and pastorals (or, perhaps more accurately, antipastorals) is followed by several poems that turn ostensibly to even smaller subjects, presumably in an eff ort to ground more securely the human focus of her visionary poetics. These...

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5 Reflections on Writing

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pp. 117-143

In the cluster of poems that follows on “To Wisdom”—“The Origin of Song- Writing,” “Songs,” “Delia,” and “Ovid to His Wife”— Barbauld faces directly the problem of writing in an effort to determine the extent to which she is capable of creating...

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6 The Personal and Biblical Principles of Poetic Vision

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pp. 144-172

The poems beginning with “Origin of Song- Writing” and concluding with “Ovid to His Wife” are among the most difficult and complex in Poems, insofar as they strive to work through many of the thorny issues— pastoral idealism, subjectivity, social engagement, the...

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7 God, Vision, and the Political Moment

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pp. 173-194

The biblical and religious interests of “Hymns” provide the spiritual foundation for the two following long poems, “An Address to the Deity” and “A Summer Evening’s Meditation,” which, in turn, prepare Barbauld’s reader for a return to politics...

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pp. 195-204

At the conclusion of Visionary Poetics, Joseph Wittreich remarks that “for Blake and for the other Romantics, Milton is a type of the renovator mundi, a liberator rather than an oppressor, who, like other such figures, appears under a number of guises—...


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pp. 205-222


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pp. 223-232


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pp. 233-245

E-ISBN-13: 9781421406619
E-ISBN-10: 1421406616
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404585
Print-ISBN-10: 1421404583

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 3 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 793012732
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Anna Letitia Barbauld and Eighteenth-Century Visionary Poetics

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Subject Headings

  • Poetics -- History -- 18th century.
  • Barbauld, Mrs. (Anna Letitia), 1743-1825 -- Philosophy.
  • Barbauld, Mrs. (Anna Letitia), 1743-1825. Poems.
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