Abstract

Barbauld's poem "The Mouse's Petition" provides an entree to mid-century debate about scientific experiments on animals and animal "feeling" as well as to the dynamics of science and gender in Barbauld's work. A response to Joseph Priestley's use of live mice in his laboratory, the poem embodies tensions in both writers' work between the desire for knowledge and misgivings about its ethical costs. Barbauld's writings promote science knowledge "for both sexes" while reinforcing cultural strictures against advanced learning for women and critiquing male scientists' excessive ambition. Amid controversy over vivisection and new arguments that animals experience sensation and pain, Barbauld, like other women writers, urged sympathy for non-human creatures, and Priestley's own writings betray uneasiness about injuring them. The "Petition" is part of an ongoing dialogue in which Barbauld reminded her friend of his own commitment to "benevolence." Reportedly delivered in a mouse's trap "after breakfast," the poem infiltrates the workspace of science through the domestic spaces of Priestley's home; mock-serious in tone, it engages serious issues in the treatment of animals as it deploys the rhetoric of sensibility to imagine a subject creature as an effective speaking subject.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 47-67
Launched on MUSE
2003-10-07
Open Access
No
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