Charlotte Grant

The sheer volume of poetry published by women increased dramatically during the eighteenth century: two collections of verse by women appeared in the first decade, whereas thirty were published in the final decade (Lonsdale 1989: xxi). Women writers made their mark across many literary genres. In Britain by the 1790s there were more female than male novelists, the theater was dominated by women, and in poetry women were "at least for a time, predominant" (Curran 1988: 186—7). Contemporaries commented on the phenomenon in different ways. Vicesimus Knox includes a satirical portrait of a young female poet, "Lesbia," in his essay "On Affectation of Female Learning." His caricature suggests the ubiquity of the image of the poetess by the late 1770s, but his trivializing account of the poetic genres she practices gives only a hint of the scope of women's poetic output in the preceding eighty years.

Lesbia, when very young, wrote a few rhymes, which, as her age was considered, were much applauded by her friends. Flushed with praise, she considered herself as a second Sappho, and has ever since been devoted to the muse. Her reading was chiefly confined to the poet's corner in news-papers, and her productions have rivalled her models. She composes enigmas, acrostics, rebusses, and songs, for those little red pocket-books which are annually published for the ladies, and she has had the honour of gaining the reward for expounding the Prize Riddle. Within the circle of her acquaintance, she is much admired. If a wedding happens among any of them, she pays for her bride-cake with an epithalamium; and she keeps in her drawers, like haberdashers wares in a shop, odes, elegies, and epigrams, adapted to every occasion. (Knox 1778-9: vol. 2, 362-3)

Knox's caricature of Lesbia raises many of the problems faced by female poets. Like all but the most privileged men, women rarely had access to a classical education, seen through much of the period as fundamental to any engagement with the English poetic tradition. However, "Lesbia's" use of a classically inspired pseudonym is typical: female poets adopted a variety of means to distance themselves from the commercial aspect of their writing practice. Pseudonyms such as "Louisa" or "Philomela" were common; as were the anonymous appellations, "by a lady" or "by a young lady." Knox is scathing in his condemnation of the lightweight verses Lesbia writes, and their models in the magazines and ladies' annuals, but his attack suggests the thriving commerce in poetry. Women's poetic activity reached its peak between the 1770s and 1790s, and in all 1,402 first editions by women poets were published between 1770 and 1835 (Jackson 1993: 394; Ashfield 1995: xvi). Knox's analogy with the haberdasher's shop is not flattering, linking Lesbia's writing to a largely female trade with frequently dubious moral associations. The image of poems emerging, like merchandise, from drawers, suggests the negotiation typical of women's poetry between the private and domestic, on the one hand, and the public and, by extension, the political on the other, one of the major themes I want to explore in this chapter.

In the first edition of Knox's essays Lesbia's lover is scared off by her poetic ravings. By the 1784 edition, Knox increases his censure by making his character a married woman, and condemning her for neglecting her maternal duty: "But, while she is soaring on the wings of poetical genius in her study, her poor little boys and girls are left to the company of the scullion in the kitchen. Her mind is extremely active, and it is but justice to allow that she neglects nothing but her duty" (Knox 1784: vol. 20).

That writing poetry endangers a woman's capacity to perform her appropriate social and domestic functions is a commonplace of critiques of female learning. Yet ironically many female poets, such as Charlotte Smith (1749—1806), wrote to support their children when faced with their husbands' debts or bankruptcy. Smith's collection Elegiac Sonnets (1784, 1797), instrumental in the Romantic sonnet revival, was fueled by a very real despair and material need. Since writing and the trades related to the rising professional (and literate) classes represented some of the few professions relatively accessible to women in this period, "the professionalisation of writing was of immediate material concern to many women" (Eger et al. 2001: 15).

The old assumption that poetry and domestic duty were inevitably incompatible was challenged throughout the century, as for example by Esther Lewis (fl. 1747—89) in "A Mirror for Detractors. Addressed to a Friend" (written 1748, published 1754). In this imagined eavesdropping on her acquaintance, both men and women attack Lewis's literary ambition. "The men," she suggests, "are mighty apt to say, / 'This silly girl has lost her way . . . / She ought to mind domestic cares, / The sex were made for such affairs' " (ll. 17—18, 25—6, in Lonsdale 1989). In a complaint which echoes Renaissance models, the last stanza asks:

But, Sir, methinks 'tis very hard From pen and ink to be debarred: Are simple women only fit To dress, to darn, to flower, or knit, To mind the distaff, or the spit? Why are the needle and the pen

Thought incompatible by men? May we not sometimes use the quill, And yet be careful housewives still? (ll. 144-52, in Lonsdale 1989)

Lewis is in many ways typical. A vicar's daughter from Wiltshire, she was relatively well educated. She published in the Bath Journal as "Sylvia" and received encouragement from another contributor of poems, probably the "friend" to whom this poem is addressed, Dr. Samuel Bowden, a local physician. Bowden's "To a Young Lady at Holt on her late Ingenius Poems" appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1749. Her poems were reprinted in other periodicals and commonplace books, and in 1789 as a collection, Poems Moral and Entertaining, to raise money for charities in Bath and Gloucester and Sunday schools in Tetbury.

The association with magazines in this period is not, despite Knox's insinuations, necessarily damning. The growth of magazines profoundly affected women's publishing, particularly from the 1730s onwards. Many of the period's major poets, both male and female, published in the Gentleman's Magazine, which was founded in 1731 [see ch. 7, "Poetry, Popular Culture, and the Literary Marketplace"]. Edmund Cave, its publisher, was among the major literary figures who, like Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson, actively supported female poets; his monthly poetry pages included writers such as the bluestocking scholar Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806) and the more obscure mother and daughter Jane (1685-1740) and Charlotte Brereton (b. c.1720).

In the same period publication by subscription, frequently with the patronage of a major literary figure, became another important means of publishing for women. Jonathan Swift, for example, put considerable effort into promoting a subscription edition of his compatriot Mary Barber's Poems published by Samuel Richardson in 1734. Mary Barber (c. 1690-1757), who also published in the Gentleman's Magazine, was, according to Lonsdale, "perhaps the first woman poet to make a virtue out of the original educational purposes of her poems (for her sons) and the domestic context of many of them" (Lonsdale 1989: xxvi). One poem, "Written for My Son, and Spoken by Him at His First Putting on Breeches" (1731), is a complaint about the clothes imposed by mothers:

What is it our mammas bewitches, To plague us little boys with breeches?

Our legs must suffer by ligation, To keep the blood from circulation.

Unlike "the wild inhabitants of air," boys are compelled to wear clothes that are not "contrived like these, / For use, for ornament and ease!" (ll. 31, 41-2). The poem uses the semi-serious mode to draw attention to the opposition of "Custom"

and "Reason" (ll. 3—4), embracing its domestic context, but highlighting potential absurdities. Another poem addressed to a friend asserts in the opening lines: " 'Tis time to conclude, for I make it a rule / To leave off all writing, when Con. comes from school" ("Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr. C—," ll. 1—2, in Lonsdale

Domestic duty is thus embodied and celebrated by Barber, providing a model for much later poetry by women. While the taint of scandal haunts many female writers, particularly early in the century, the period witnessed a shift from accusations of prostitution to a concern that writing detracts from domestic duty (Spencer 2003: 113). In this context Barber's deliberately domestic verse represents an important rhetorical move. In her preface Barber excuses her writing as being fueled first by maternal and then by charitable intentions:

My Aim being chiefly to form the Minds of my Children, I imagin'd that Precepts convey'd in Verse would be easier remember'd . . . Nor was I ever known to write upon any other Account, till the Distresses of an Officer's Widow set me upon drawing a Petition in Verse, having found that other Methods had proved ineffectual for her Relief. (Barber 1734: xvii—xviii)

Jane Spencer notes that "exactly this transition, from maternal duty within the family to a nurturing role in a wider society, was to authorize women's writing, and women's public activity generally, throughout the eighteenth century and beyond it" (Spencer 2003: 114). Notwithstanding the success of this model, concern about the propriety of publishing and the compatibility of writing with women's domestic duties and familial responsibilities never entirely dissipated, and re-emerged strongly in the conservative atmosphere of the 1790s, when it was also most strongly challenged by women poets such as Helen Maria Williams (?1761—1827), Mary Robinson (1758-1800), and Charlotte Smith.

In the rest of this essay I want to suggest the variety of genre and richness of poetic effect in poems written by women in this period, and draw attention to some common themes and characteristics. Knox may have cast aspersions on the trivial forms apparently favored by the magazines, but female poets took on the major forms of eighteenth-century verse to great effect. This sample will try to tease out some of the ways in which the apparently conflicting demands of duty, specifically domestic duty and labor, poetic endeavor, and the labor of writing are resolved by different poets. I have deliberately chosen poets from a variety of social and economic backgrounds in order to suggest the range of experience from which and about which women wrote poetry in this period. If Knox's caricature suggests an easy familiarity with the kinds of insubstantial verse supposedly written by the typical poetess, this brief sample aims to undermine any singular image of "the female poet," arguing instead for a diversity of effect, form, and intention, while simultaneously pointing to a conversation and series of shared concerns among women poets. Thus I have deliberately chosen poems which address a range of the major themes of particular interest to women poets in this period: nature, domestic labor, religious belief, the relation of the private to the public sphere, and female friendship.

"Tuneful Singer, and great Winchilsea"

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661—1720), is perhaps best known for her poem "A Nocturnal Rêverie" (1713), which celebrates the natural world untroubled by human activity "whilst Tyrant-Man do's sleep" (l. 38, in Fairer and Gerrard 2004). Finch, born Anne Kingsmill, came from an aristocratic family, and in 1682 became maid of honour to the wife of James Stuart, Duke of York. While with the duchess she met Captain Heneage Finch, one of the duke's gentlemen of the bedchamber. They married in 1684 and became prominent members of Court when the Catholic James was crowned King in 1685. When the King went into exile following the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, their public careers ceased. Both came from royalist Anglican families and remained loyal to James II, refusing to swear the required oath of allegiance to William and Mary. After Captain Finch's arrest on charges of treason in 1690, and following the collapse of the case seven months later, they led a retired life in Kent, inheriting the titles of fourth Earl and Countess of Winchilsea in 1712.

Anne Finch's political isolation contrasts with the relatively public attention her poetry received. Many women, particularly those in more elevated social circles, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), tended to circulate their poetry in manuscript rather than publish; but Finch's poems, having first circulated in manuscript, were then published both separately and in collections. Pope, Swift, and Prior all corresponded with her in verse, and her collection Miscellany Poems was published in 1713, initially anonymously and then, later the same year, under her own name.

Female poets, in common with some male contemporaries, often maintained a rhetorical modesty, reiterating claims of diffidence, frequently praising retirement and seclusion from the potentially polluting atmosphere of the literary marketplace centered on London. In the context of her own social and political visibility, followed by an equally public retreat to rural retirement, Anne Finch's pleasure in the tran-quility of night in "A Nocturnal Rêverie" has a particular resonance. The poem is a single long sentence, structured by the recurring phrase "In such a Night" and clauses opening "When [ . . . ]," a construction repeated twelve times. This enforces a strong impression of the bounded space of calm the night offers, and allows Finch to present a thickly textured account of the aural, visual, and olfactory pleasures of the landscape and its animals at night. She focuses on her perception of the scene: we share her moment of fear followed by relief when alarming noises turn out to come from only a cow, a moment of comic particularity which personalizes and undercuts pastoral conventions. This particularity, typical of writing later in the period influenced by the growing interest in natural history, here allows the reader to experience the changing color of the foxglove in the dim light: "Whilst now a paler Hue the Foxglove takes, / Yet checquers still with Red the dusky brakes" (ll. 15-16). It prompts the central moment in the poem, which celebrates a different form of personal experience: female friendship. The mutability of the foxglove, and that of the "Glow-worms" which are visible only in the twilight, is contrasted in lines 17—20 with praise for Finch's friend Anne Tufton: "Whilst Salisb'ry stands the Test of every Light, / In perfect Charms, and perfect Virtue bright" (ll. 19—20). Thus the point of constancy, which implicitly, together with the recorded and remembered fleeting pleasures of the night, sustains the poet through the confusion of the day, comes from female friendship and virtue. The last two lines register the effort and apparent futility of the day's activities: "All's confus'd again; / Our Cares, our Toils, our Clamours are renew'd, / Or Pleasures, seldom reach'd, again pursu'd" (ll. 48—50).

"A Nocturnal Rêverie," then, combines many of the typical concerns of a poetry of retirement: an evocation of the natural world, an awareness of the poet's striving to approach that "Something, too high for Syllables to speak" (l. 42), and an implicit rejection of the "Cares" of the world (l. 49), along with a quietly stated praise of specific female friendship. It is this subtle but pointed praise of female friendship that, as Germaine Greer has shown, Wordsworth, who admired Finch's work, and this poem in particular, erased from his version of the poem included in the album presented to Lady Lowther in 1819 (Greer 1995: 245-58). Wordsworth admires Finch's evocation of the natural world, but denies the link she makes with female virtue.

While "A Nocturnal Rêverie" is in many ways typical of Finch's work, and central to her reputation, particularly as construed by Wordsworth, she also wrote in satiric and more public modes. "A Pindarick Poem Upon the Hurricane in November 1703, referring to this Text in Psalm 148. ver.8. Winds and Storms fulfilling his Word" is her response to the Great Storm of 26-7 November 1703. Like Defoe, in many of the supposed eye-witness accounts of the event published in his The Storm: or, a Collection Of the most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters Which happen'd in the Late Dreadful Tempest, she gives a providential account of the storm, addressing the winds in an elevated rhetorical mode: "Thus You've obey'd, you Winds, that must fulfill / The Great disposer's Righteous Will" (ll. 187-8, in Fairer and Gerrard 2004). Here the particular exceptional event motivates a moralizing poem of public address that ends with a sense of gratitude for what God has spared, and a pious wish: "And They are only safe, whom He alone defends. / Then let to Heaven our general Praise be sent, / Which did our farther Loss, our total Wreck prevent" (ll. 296-8). "Total Wreck" is both literal and metaphorical - God has provided man with the possibility of salvation, and Finch sees it as the poet's duty to direct her readers' thoughts toward God, as well as improving her own verse: "And let the Poet after God's own Heart / Direct our Skill in that sublimer part, / And our weak Numbers mend!" (ll. 301-3).

Finch met another female poet, Elizabeth Rowe, at Longleat. Rowe (1674-1737), born Elizabeth Singer, came from a very different background: her father was a wealthy clothier in Frome, Somerset, having previously been a dissenting minister. Through her friendship with the Weymouth family at Longleat she was taught Italian and French and read Tasso along with their daughter Frances, later Countess of Hertford, who also wrote poetry and became a lifelong friend. Rowe met the poet Matthew Prior in 1703, and later the dissenter Dr. Isaac Watts. In 1694 and 1695 she had sent poems to the Athenian Mercury published by John Dunton, who in 1696 published her Poems on Several Occasions. Written by Philomela. Rowe, like Anne Finch, was praised as a model for the virtuous female poet by, among others, Jane Brereton, who in her "Epistle to Mrs Anne Griffiths. Written from London, in 1718" distances herself from the dangerous influence of Restoration poets Aphra Behn and Delariviere Manley, claiming instead that "Angelic wit and purest thoughts agree / In tuneful Singer, and great Winchilsea" (ll. 29-30, in Lonsdale 1989). Rowe's poetry, unlike Anne Finch's, remained widely read in the period. The religious poems she wrote after her husband's early death in 1715 were particularly popular, despite evincing what was sometimes seen as a tendency to religious enthusiasm. The fervor of those later poems reflects Rowe's heartfelt language of grief in "Upon the Death of her Husband" (1719), which expresses her devotion to her husband in quasi-religious terms:

For thee all thoughts of pleasure I forego, For thee my tears shall never cease to flow; For thee at once I from the world retire, To feed in silent shades a hopeless fire. My bosom all thy image shall retain, The full impression there shall still remain. As thou hast taught my tender heart to prove The noblest height and elegance of love, That sacred passion I to thee confine, My spotless faith shall be for ever thine.

Spencer suggests that Rowe combines both "ecstatic soul and domestic matron," especially as, following her husband's death, she returned to her father's house in Somerset and lived in retirement (Spencer 2003: 112).

"Perception Exquisite": "Stella" and "Lactilla"

The language of feeling explored by Rowe was central to the midcentury culture of sensibility [see ch. 9, "Poetry, Sentiment, and Sensibility"]. Drawing on the cen-trality afforded to the passions by the new disciplines of empiricism and moral sense philosophy, sentimental novels explored feeling as a means to a moral end. The elevation of feeling, as remarked by contemporaries and modern critics alike, privileged the feminine; but, as Stuart Curran observes, while celebrating the liberating power of sensibility, women writers needed to assert that "women, too, can think" (Curran 1988: 195). Curran points to Hannah More's 1782 poem "Sensibility: An Epistle to the Honourable Mrs Boscawen," which differentiates between genuine sensibility and feeling for feeling's sake, a debased sentimentalism: "While feeling boasts her ever-tearful eye, / Stern truth, firm faith, and manly virtue fly" (More 1782: ll. 237-8). True sensibility eludes affectation and prompts moral action:

Sweet Sensibility! thou keen delight!

Thou hasty moral! sudden sense of right!

Thou untaught goodness! Virtue's precious seed!

Thou sweet precursor of the gen'rous deed.

"Sensibility" celebrates contemporary artistic and literary figures, and is addressed to Mrs Boscawen, one of the midcentury circle of cultured women known as the "bluestockings." Hannah More (1745-1833) was the fourth of five daughters of a schoolmaster and a farmer's daughter. Educated at home, she later learnt Italian, Spanish, and Latin from the masters at the boarding school run by her eldest sister. Her financial independence derived from the £200 a year settled on her as compensation by William Turner, a local landowner to whom she was engaged, but who consistently delayed the wedding and finally ended the engagement after six years. More never married. She met David Garrick, having written to him after seeing his Lear during a visit to London in 1774. She also knew Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds, and Samuel Johnson, and in the 1770s and 1780s was part of the bluestocking circle despite being of a lower social rank than many of the others. Her varied output of plays, poetry, and, later, in the 1790s, the series of Cheap Repository Tracts - short moral tales aimed at a wide readership - complements her extensive involvement in education, counter-revolutionary politics, and the anti-slavery movement.

In "The Bas Bleu: or, Conversation. Addressed to Mrs Vesey" (1786), More describes the bluestockings' particular form of sociability, in which knowledge is shared through conversation: "Hail, Conversation, soothing Power, / Sweet Goddess of the social hour!" (More 1786: ll. 212-13). In a passage making striking use of the language of trade, she argues that many of the key attributes valued by her society derive their worth from the social and intellectual interaction practiced by the bluestocking salon:

If none behold, ah! wherefore fair? Ah! wherefore wise, if none must hear? Our intellectual ore must shine, Not slumber, idly, in the mine. Let Education's moral mint The noblest images imprint; Let Taste her curious touchstone hold, To try if standard be the gold; But 'tis thy commerce, Conversation, Must give it use by circulation; That noblest commerce of mankind, Whose precious merchandize is mind!

The poem pays tribute to the bluestockings, naming Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, Elizabeth Carter, Hester Chapone, and Frances Boscawen. Their example and patronage played an important part in fashioning the poetic landscape of the second half of the century, especially for women. One of the most direct, although ultimately ambivalent, recipients of that patronage was Ann Yearsley (1752—1806), a milk-woman from Clifton in Bristol. Yearsley's poetry came to the attention of Hannah More when she was shown it by her cook, and More arranged a subscription publication. A letter from More to Elizabeth Montagu that prefaces Yearsley's Poems, on Several Occasions (1785) stresses the poet's dire circumstances in the winter of 1783—4: near destitution, with six children and an ailing mother dependent on her and her husband. The successful collection, authored by "Lactilla," praised both Montagu and More (whom Yearsley terms "Stella"). In "On Mrs Montagu" Yearsley presents Montagu and More as a double act who have allowed her to realize her "innate spark" (l. 35), initially experienced as a burden:

The effort rude to quench the cheering flame Was mine, and e'en on Stella cou'd I gaze With sullen envy, and admiring pride, Till, doubly rous'd by Montagu, the pair Conspire to clear my dull, imprison'd sense, And chase the mists which dimm'd my visual beam.

(ll. 45-50, in Fairer and Gerrard 2004)

Yearsley's writing does not always conform to the stereotypes imposed on it by More and later readers: she may not have been to school, but her brother taught her to read, and when she met More she knew works by Pope, Milton, and Shakespeare as well as some of the classics in translation. In 1793 she opened and ran a circulating library. Her writing may reflect her acute awareness of her position in society, but is also informed by the conventions of much eighteenth-century poetry, and, particularly in her later collections, refuses any easy identification with the ideal of the "unlettered poet" (see Waldron 1999).

"Clifton Hill written in January 1785" celebrates the landscape Yearsley knew best. The "visual beam" of her poetic imagination and her particular experience as a milk-woman combine to give un unusual doubled angle on the landscape, producing a prospect poem which could perhaps be compared to the even more telling insights into labor contained in Mary Leapor's "Crumble-Hall" (1751). Yearsley alternates between a conventional poetic voice, with which she distances herself from the "clumsy music" and "rough delight" of sailors on the River Avon (l. 191) —

Yours be the vulgar dissonance, while I Cross the low stream, and stretch the ardent eye, O'er Nature's wilds; 'tis peace, 'tis joy serene, The thought as pure as calm the vernal scene.

— and an acknowledgment of her more physical encounter with the landscape and its animals: "half sunk in snow, / Lactilla, shivering, tends her fav'rite cow" (ll. 19—20). Indeed, Yearsley celebrates a Pythagoraean sympathy between human beings and animals, a theme explored by other women poets in this period, as Margaret Anne Doody has demonstrated (Doody 1999). Here, typically, Yearsley distinguishes, as Anne Finch had done earlier from a very different subject position, her relation to the landscape from that of men:

Ye bleating innocents! dispel your fears, My woe-struck soul in all your troubles shares; 'Tis but Lactilla — fly not from the green: Long have I shar'd with you this guiltless scene.

If "Clifton Hill" gains from Yearsley's ability to exploit her different subject positions, her poem "To Stella, on a Visit to Mrs Montagu" reveals an acute appreciation of the different degrees of connection enjoyed by herself and Montagu:

I neither ask, nor own th'immortal name Of Friend; ah, no! its ardors are too great, My soul too narrow, and too low my state; Stella! soar on, to nobler objects true, Pour out your soul with your lov'd Montagu; But, ah! shou'd either have a thought to spare, Slight, trivial, neither worth a smile or tear, Let it be mine.

(ll. 2-9, in Fairer and Gerrard 2004)

Like the manipulation of poetic voice in the landscape poetry, this plea is knowing. Yearsley embodies the dichotomy between sophisticated poet and nai've and sentimental subject, conflating and prefiguring the subject positions later ventriloquized by Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads.

Following the success of the collection, which raised £350, Yearsley felt that More, who with Montagu controlled the funds, mismanaged her earnings, and her bitter resentment led to a well-publicized rift. More's prefatory letter made clear that she had no intention of giving Yearsley either independence or the illusion that she could earn a living by her writing:

It is not intended to place her in such a state of independence as might seduce her to devote her time to the idleness of Poetry. I hope she is convinced that the making of verses is not the great business of human life; and that as wife and mother, she has duties to fulfil, the smallest of which is of more value than the finest verses she can write. (Yearsley 1785: xi)

This assertion of domestic and familial duty is typical of More's writing, and suggests the continued need to stress that poetic labor should not replace the domestic.

"A British Muse"

Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825), born Anna Aikin and brought up in the liberal intellectual circle of the nonconformist Warrington Academy where her father taught, was a prolific and accomplished writer. Encouraged by Joseph Priestley, she published a collection of poems in 1773. Later she published in the Monthly Magazine, wrote very popular children's literature, ran a school with her husband, and undertook such enormous editing and publishing projects as the fifty-volume The British Novelists (1810). The dissenting academy at Warrington provided a nurturing intellectual environment for Barbauld, and her poetry circulated among a group of family and friends prior to its wider publication. Daniel White has charted the circle's "familial mode of literary production characteristic of the Aikins and the national Dissenting community" (White 1999: 512), and points in particular to the practice whereby students left anonymous compositions in the workbag belonging to Joseph Priestley's wife Mary. Through this game, poetry written by Anna and others was simultaneously associated with domestic labor (through the workbag) and given a semi-public reading as it was disseminated among an enlarged familial and pedagogic circle before being published (White 1999: 519).

I want to look in some detail at two contrasting poems from Barbauld's first published collection: one public, "Corsica"; the other, "Washing Day," ostensibly domestic. Lonsdale describes a "striking confidence and authority" in Barbauld's Poems of 1773, and notes that "there was no female precedent for the accomplishment of the blank verse in her 'Corsica' " - a fact that alarmed her reviewer William Woodfall, who, while recognizing the poem's "smoothness and harmony, equal to that of our best poets," felt that she "trod too much in the footsteps of men" rather than being content with "feminine beauties" (Lonsdale 1989: xxxiii).

Written during the enthusiasm for Corsica's battle for independence from France, and inspired by, and drawing much of its detail from, James Boswell's An Account of Corsica, The Journal of a Tour to that Island; and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli, published in February 1768, Barbauld's 200-line poem exalts Corsica and its leader Paoli as a model of liberty. As in her later long poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, one of the features which marks Barbauld's style is the ability to negotiate between the large-scale and abstract, and minute detail. Given the date of the poem's composition, during the period of the "Wilkes and Liberty" campaign in England in 1768, the abstract quality of liberty is an ideal already manifest in contemporary British experience (Fairer and Gerrard 2004: 512). In the poem, Barbauld grounds liberty firmly in the physical detail of the Corsican landscape: "And glows the flame of liberty so strong / In this lone speck of earth!" The evocation and personification of liberty is combined with almost forensic details of Corsica's particular geography and flora. The details may come from Boswell, but they remind us of the richness of female poets' involvement in botanical writing in this period. "Corsica" deserves to be read alongside Charlotte Smith's "Beachy Head" (1807), which reads British political and natural history in parallel. Smith, who published Conversations Introducing Poetry, Chiefly on Subjects of Natural History for the Use of Children and Young Persons in 1804, was influenced by Barbauld's brother John Aikin's 1777 "Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry." Aikin described the relationship between natural history and poetry as mutually beneficial, bringing knowledge to a wider audience and improving "the most exalted and delightful of all arts, that of poetry" through the introduction of new forms of description motivated by the "searching and distinguishing eye" which could alleviate the experience of the "lover of poetry . . . wearied and disgusted with a perpetual repetition of the same images, clad in almost the same language" (Aikin 1777: 1-2; Grant 2003: xix-xxii).

A typical passage of "Corsica" is this, from the first third of the poem:

Thy swelling mountains, brown with solemn shade

Of various trees, that wave their giant arms

O'er the rough sons of freedom; lofty pines,

And hardy fir, and ilex ever green,

And spreading chestnut, with each humbler plant,

And shrub of fragrant leaf, that clothes their sides

With living verdure; whence the clust'ring bee

Extracts her golden dews: the shining box,

And sweet-leav'd myrtle, aromatic thyme,

The prickly juniper, and the green leaf

Which feeds the spinning worm; while glowing bright

Beneath the various foliage, wildly spreads

The arbutus, and rears his scarlet fruit

Luxuriant, mantling o'er the craggy steeps;

And thy own native laurel crowns the scene.

(ll. 48-62, in Fairer and Gerrard 2004)

While Barbauld was writing the poem, news broke that, contrary to earlier accounts of the Corsicans' success, they had in fact been defeated by the French. The poem breaks abruptly at line 183 and is resumed in a different mood. A series of short sentences contrasts with the preceding confidence with which she declared the pastoral after-effects of peace: "Then shall the shepherd's pipe, the muse's lyre, / On Cyrnus' shores be heard" (ll. 172-3). Barbauld had already introduced herself as an inadequate but enthusiastic muse earlier in the poem:

Success to your fair hopes! a British muse, Tho' weak and powerless, lifts her fervent voice, And breathes a prayer for your success. Oh could

She scatter blessings as the morn sheds dews, To drop upon your heads!

In this final section that rhetorical inadequacy is followed by a failure of communication - Corsica has fallen and the poem's optimism has been crushed:

So vainly wish'd, so fondly hop'd the Muse:

Too fondly hop'd: The iron fates prevail,

And Cyrnus is no more. Her generous sons,

Less vanquish'd than o'erwhelm'd, by numbers crush'd,

Admir'd, unaided fell.

Barbauld recoups the poem, if not the political situation, through a return to the language of traditional poetic observation: "So strives the moon / In dubious battle with the gathering clouds, / And strikes a splendour thro' them" (ll. 188-90), and the color purple, signifying both blood and imperial Rome. Her apology -

Forgive the zeal

That, too presumptuous, whisper'd better things And read the book of destiny amiss

- is heartfelt, and facilitates the final move of the poem which, having precipitately celebrated political freedom, is forced to retreat instead to the abstract and the intellectual:

There yet remains a freedom, nobler far Than kings or senates can destroy or give; Beyond the proud oppressor's cruel grasp Seated secure; uninjur'd; undestroy'd; Worthy of Gods: The freedom of the mind.

Perhaps it is because Barbauld is "a British muse," who, by virtue of her gender, is "weak and powerless," that she can accomplish this relatively successful final turn to the abstract. The poem, having grounded the concept of liberty, personified and contrasted with luxury, in the particular ground of Corsica, is forced into a retreat which is, at least in part, facilitated by the poet's awareness of her doubled limitations as woman and English poet rather than one of the "rough sons of freedom" the poem offers as models for English lovers of liberty. It is after all, not merely Barbauld who has been unable to help Paoli: he "fell" "admir'd" but "unaided." There is then, in addition to a painful awareness of the poet's own limitations, a critique of English political apathy in relation to the Corsican struggle.

A later poem of Barbauld's, "Washing-Day" from 1797, provides a striking contrast with the scale and political aspirations of "Corsica." The poem is a conscious retreat to the feminine and the domestic, which, while initially apparently embracing the mock-heroic in good spirits, ends with a more painful sense of limitation. It opens with an appeal to the "domestic Muse," and a play on the embodiment of the muses, not as elevated contemporaries but as gossips, whose very poetic measures are "slipshod":

The Muses are turned gossips; they have lost The buskined step, and clear high-sounding phrase, Language of gods. Come then, domestic Muse, In slipshod measure loosely prattling on Of farm or orchard, pleasant curds and cream, Or drowning flies, or shoe lost in the mire By little wimpering boy, with rueful face; Come, Muse, and sing the dreaded Washing-Day.

Through sympathy with the "red-armed washers" who rise before dawn (l. 15), the master who wants his coat "nicely dusted" (l. 35), and the guest who dreams in vain of "dinner of roast chicken, savoury pie, / Or tart or pudding" (ll. 51—2), the poem moves to specific memories of childhood. Here, recalling the treats of "buttered toast, / When butter was forbid" (ll. 64—5) and the "thrilling tale / Of ghost or witch, or murder" which were unforthcoming from the maids on washing day (ll. 65—6), Bar-bauld evokes the pleasures of childhood. The poem finds a moment of savored rest as the poet remembers retreating to the "parlour fire" and her "dear grandmother" who submitted to her grandchildren's teasing (ll. 67—8):

Anxiously fond, though oft her spectacles With elfin cunning hid, and oft the pins Drawn from her ravelled stocking, might have soured One less indulgent.

The moment is broken by "my mother's voice" "urging dispatch" (ll. 74—5) — and in two lines Barbauld gives a real sense of the number of tasks involved in washing in this period:

All hands employed to wash, to rinse, to wring, To fold, and starch, and clap, and iron, and plait.

Their physical activity prompts her reflections on "Why washings were" (l. 79). The poem ends with, in the last four lines, a dramatic scaling up toward the heroic in the form of a reference to Montgolfier's celebrated balloon rides of the 1780s, prompted by the visual analogy of soap bubbles. This moment of liberation from the mundane toward the heroic achievements of the future is then, however, sharply curtailed as Barbauld registers, through the pun on the literal and the metaphorical "bubble," that this verse is particularly ephemeral:

Sometimes through hollow bowl

Of pipe amused we blew, and sent aloft

The floating bubbles; little dreaming then

To see, Montgolfier, thy silken ball

Ride buoyant through the clouds - so 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 them - this most of all.

Perhaps part of the somewhat bitter ending is the awareness of the relative scale and pleasures of "the toils of men," which approach near the sports of children, but clearly transcend them in spectacular style in the case of Montgolfier, whereas the "work" (rather than the more poetic "toil") of women which the poem catalogues is always going to be menial, repetitive, and tedious. Finally, Barbauld's domestic Muse, given her topic, can only prattle to create an ephemeral "bubble."

"Washing-Day" shares with "Corsica" a pleasure in moving between the particular and the general, and an awareness of the effects of scale; but, unlike the earlier poem, it remains trapped by the constraints of its circumstances. If in "Corsica" Barbauld manages to enact a liberation of the mind which recoups, to a certain extent, the poetic labor expended in vain in her pre-emptive celebration of the island's liberation, here in "Washing-Day" the bubble bursts. Despite the flight of fancy briefly embodied by the vision of Montgolfier, domestic duty and the sheer weight of domestic labor crush the jaunty mock-heroics of the opening. The poem may remain a "bubble," but it, like earlier poems by laboring women, does make vivid the experience of a majority of women whose labor had, until this period, remained largely ignored by poetry.

See also chs. 1, "Poetry, Politics, and the Rise of Party"; 7, "Poetry, Popular Culture, and the Literary Marketplace"; 9, "Poetry, Sentiment, and Sensibility"; 16, "Mary Leapor, 'Crumble-Hall' "; 31, "The Constructions of Femininity."

References and Further Reading

Aikin, John (1777). An Essay on the Application Poets 1770—1838: An Anthology. Manchester and of Natural History to Poetry. Warrington and New York: Manchester University Press.

London: J. Johnson. Barber, Mary (1734). Poems on Several Occasions.

Ashfield, Andrew, ed. (1995). Romantic Women London: C. Rivington.

Curran, Stuart (1988). "The I Altered." In Anne K. Mellor (ed.), Romanticism and Feminism, 185207. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Curran, Stuart (1999). "Romantic Women Poets: Inscribing the Self." In Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain (eds.), Women's Poetry in the Enlightenment: The Making of a Canon, 17301820, 145-66. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Doody, Margaret Anne (1999). "Sensuousness in the Poetry of Eighteenth-Century Women Poets." In Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain (eds.), Women's Poetry in the Enlightenment: The Making of a Canon, 1730—1820, 3-32. Basing-stoke: Macmillan.

Eger, Elizabeth (1999). "Fashioning a Female Canon: Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and the Politics of the Anthology." In Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain (eds.), Women's Poetry in the Enlightenment: The Making of a Canon, 1730-1820, 201-15. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Eger, Elizabeth; Grant, Charlotte; O' Gallchoir, Cliona; and Warburton, Penny, eds. (2001). Women, Writing and the Public Sphere 1700-1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fairer, David, and Gerrard, Christine, eds. (2004). Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Grant, Charlotte, ed. (2003). Flora. Vol. 4 of Literature and Science 1660-1834, 8 vols., gen. ed. Judith Hawley. London: Pickering & Chatto.

Greer, Germaine (1995). Slip-Shod Sybils: Recognition, Rejection and the Woman Poet. Harmond-sworth: Viking Penguin.

Jackson, J. R. de J. (1993). Romantic Poetry by Women: A Bibliography, 1770-1835. Oxford: Clarendon.

Kairoff, Claudia Thomas (2001). "Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Readers." In John Sitter (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 157-76. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Knox, Vissessimus (1778-9). Essay no. XXXVI: "On Affectation of Female Learning." In Essays Moral and Literary, 2 vols., vol. 2, 356-67. London: Edward & Charles Dilly.

Knox, Vicesimus (1784). Essay no. LXXXVI: "On the Ostentatious Affection of the Character of a learned Lady, without sufficient learning, and without judgment." In Essays Moral and Literary, 2 vols., vol. 2, 17-21. London: Charles Dilly.

Landry, Donna (1990). The Muses of Resistance: Labouring-Class Women's Poetry in Britain 17391796. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lonsdale, Roger, ed. (1989). Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

More, Hannah (1782). Sacred Dramas: chiefly intended for Young Persons: the subjects taken from the Bible. To which is added, Sensibility, a Poem. London: T. Cadell.

More, Hannah (1786). Florio: A Tale, for fine Gentlemen and fine Ladies: And, the Bas Bleu; or Conversation: two poems. London: T. Cadell.

Prescott, Sarah (2003). Women, Authorship and Literary Culture, 1690-1740. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Prescott, Sarah, and Shuttleton, David E. (2003). "From Punk to Poetess." In Sarah Prescott and David E. Shuttleton (eds.), Women and Poetry, 1660-1750, 1-14. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Spencer, Jane (2003). "Imagining the Woman Poet: Creative Female Bodies." In Sarah Prescott and David E. Shuttleton (eds.), Women and Poetry, 1660-1750, 99-117. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Waldron, Mary (1999). " 'This Muse-born Wonder': The Occluded Voice of Ann Years-ley, Milkwoman and Poet of Clifton." In Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain (eds.), Women's Poetry in the Enlightenment: The Making of a Canon, 1730-1820, 113-26. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

White, Daniel E. (1999). "The 'Joineriana': Anna Barbauld, the Aiken Family Circle, and the Dissenting Public Sphere." Eighteenth-Century Studies 32: 4, 511-33.

Yearsley, Ann (1785). Poems, on Several Occasions. London: T. Cadell.

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