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Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(b. June 20, 1743, Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire – d. March 9, 1825, 113 Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, Hackney, London )

Gender: F

Anna Laetitia Aikin (1743-1825) was the daughter of John and Jane Aikin. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and headmaster of the Dissenting academy at Kibworth Harcourt in Leicestershire. Her father allowed her to learn Latin, Greek, French and Italian, but her mother disapproved of what she saw as her masculine tendencies, and attempted to inculcate in her the traditional feminine virtues. In 1758 they moved to Warrington, where her father had been offered a position in the Warrington Academy. In 1773 she published a book of poems that was well-received, and also a miscellany of prose works, published jointly with her brother. In May 1774, despite some misgivings, she married Rochemont Barbauld (1749-1808), the grandson of a French Huguenot and a former pupil at Warrington. They spent eleven years running a boys’ school at Palgrave in Suffolk, offering a broader and more modern curriculum than the traditional classical studies. Anna taught in the school as well as managing its practical aspects. Her husband began to suffer from mental illness and they spent two years travelling in France; on their return in 1787 they moved to Hampstead and she began to publish a series of outspoken tracts on current political issues. These included An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1790), which urged the repeal of the civil restrictions on Dissenters, Epistle to William Wilberforce Esq. On the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade (1791) and Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation (1792), which argued that individuals bear collective responsibility for the actions of the nation. She also published a number of works for children, most notably Lessons for Children (1778-1788), which were ground-breaking in that they seriously took into account the requirements of the child reader. They developed a style of dialogue between parent and child that would dominate children's literature for a generation. Anna Barbauld edited the correspondence of Samuel Richardson, which was published in 1804 with her lengthy biographical introduction, and in 1810 she published an encyclopaedic series, The British Novelists, in fifty volumes. In 1802 they moved to Stoke Newington, but her husband’s mental condition deteriorated into violent insanity, and he drowned himself in the nearby river in 1808. In 1812 she published a poem, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812) that depicted England as a ruin; this was subjected to prolonged critical attack, and she never published again. She died at the age of 82 and was buried in Stoke Newington. An account of her life was published in 1874 by her great-niece, Anna Letitia le Breton. Elizabeth Montagu once had the idea of setting up an academy for the education of girls, and invited Anna Barbauld to become its head; she declined with the explanation that such an establishment would be inappropriate, for the best way for women to acquire knowledge was from rational conversation with their male relatives, “and by such a course of reading as they may recommend”.

Also known as:

  • Anna Laetitia Barbauld (née  Aiken)

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Please note that all dates and location information are provisional, initially taken from the library and archive catalogues. As our section editors continue to work through the material we will update our database and the changes will be reflected across the edition.

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