Author photo. 1775 Wedgewood cameo of Anna Letitia Barbauld

1775 Wedgewood cameo of Anna Letitia Barbauld

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Anna Letitia Aikin was the daughter of the headmaster of the Dissenting academy in Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, who was also a Presbyterian minister. She was called "Nancy," an 18th-century nickname for Anna, all her life. The family enjoyed a comfortable standard of living. Anna was taught the classics of Latin and Greek and many other subjects at home by her father. In 1773 she published her first book of poetry, and became a respected literary figure as a result. The following year she married Rochemont Barbauld, a grandson of French Huguenots and a former student of her father. The couple established and ran a boarding school at Palgrave, Suffolk. Her Hymns in Prose (1781) were written especially for the students there. Anna Letitia Barbauld had a successful writing career at a time when there were few female professional writers. Her poetry is considered foundational to the development of Romanticism in England. In addition, she wrote radical political pieces, especially at the onset of the French Revolution. An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1790) shocked readers who discovered that it was produced by a woman. In 1791, she published her Epistle to William Wilberforce Esq,. On the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade. In 1792, she issued an anti-war piece entitled Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation. Anna's husband became violent and died insane in 1808. Her longest poetic work, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812), a gloomy prognosis of the country's current state and future, effectively ended her career because it criticized British involvement in the Napoleonic wars. Anna Letitia Barbauld was largely forgotten until the rise of feminist literary criticism in the 1980s renewed interest in her works and restored her place in literary history.
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