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Family. London: Methuen, 1958. Watson, Mary Sidney. "When Flattery Kills: the Silencing of Anna Laetitia Barbauld." Women's Studies, 28, no. 6 (December 1999): 17-43.
BARBER, MARY (1690-1757) While not a major poet, Mary Barber remains of interest because of her interaction with the far more famous poet Jonathan Swift. Little is known of her life previous to marriage to Jonathan Barber, an Englishman who relocated to Dublin to begin a draper business. They had four children; their son Rupert became a miniature painter and Constantine a physician. Barber explained in a preface to her Poems (1734) that she only wrote poetry to aid in the education of her children, who more easily learned lessons when in verse form. She published some poetry in Dublin previous to the release of her collection and gained an important patron in the person of Lady Carteret, wife of the lord-lieutenant of Ireland. One poem she titled "A Tale Being an Addition to Mr. Gay's Fables" (1728), addressing it to the queen in support of a pension for the poet John Gay.
By 1728 Barber had been introduced to Swift, who praised her in a letter to Lord Orrery printed as a preface to Poems. He believed her to be the most talented woman writer in their group and especially appreciated her willing acceptance of criticism. During Barber's visit to England in 1730 Swift decided to solicit subscriptions to a new edition of her poems. His letters to various English notables, including Alexander Pope, referred to her as a "poeticall Genius." Despite the fact that she annoyed Pope by asking for his help in correcting her work, he subscribed to her poems, as did Gay, Sir Robert Walpole, and Swift. Barber enjoyed London so much that she hoped to settle there, and Swift tried to aid her husband in finding employment.
Barber next decided the family would move to Bath, where her husband could continue trading as a woolen draper while she rented out lodgings. In fall 1732 she returned to Ireland to organize her family to make the move but had a crippling attack of what was labeled "gout." A decreased ability to use her legs delayed her plans, and then her husband apparently died, as no further mention of him after 1733 occurs in her circle's correspondence. She returned to England in 1734, attempting to smuggle into England a forbidden manuscript written by Swift and was arrested. After her release she did settle in Bath, expanding her plans for support to include selling Irish linen. Her son Rupert had studied painting in Bath and may have lived with or near her for a time. In 1734 Barber's Poems on Several Occasions was published in quarto form. Samuel Richardson, the later author of what was traditionally labeled the first epistolary novel, Pamela, served as her publisher. Some critics judged her work not poetic enough, a reason that the nontraditionalist Swift would have liked it.
Barber's physical condition worsened, but she stayed in England for a time, living on the subscription money. After concocting and discarding additional schemes, Barber at last returned by 1740 to Ireland, where her physician son may have cared for her. She corresponded with Richardson, thanking him for the copy of Pamela that he had presented her daughter, apparently expressing her opinion that the second rape attempt on Pamela was a bit strong for her taste. She wrote little later in life, publishing some comments about her illness in Gentleman's Magazine in 1737. Twenty-eight of her poems appeared in Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755), but only six were included in its 1780 revision. Not often anthologized in later centuries as a result of changing tastes, Barber's works included "Written for My Son, and Spoken by Him at His First Putting on Breeches," a work typical of her humorous approach.
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