Anna Letitia Barbauld

Poetess Archive: Anna Barbauld's Prose Works

"Letters to Mrs. Carr" (1797-1822)     TEI-encoded version


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Letters to Mrs. Carr


Pit Cot, near Bridgend, July 18, 1797.

1.         ...... We flattered ourselves with seeing some of the beauties of South Wales in coming hither, but we were completely disappointed by the state of the weather. This country is bleak and bare, with fine views of the sea, and a bold rocky coast, with a beach of fine hard sand. We have been much pleased with watching the coming in of the tide among the rocks, against which it dashes, forming columns of spray twenty and thirty foot high, accompanied with rainbows, and with a roar like distant cannon. There are fine caverns and recesses amongst the rocks; one particularly, which we took the opportunity of visiting yesterday, as it can only be entered at the ebb of the spring-tides. It is very spacious, beautifully arched, and composed of granite rocks finely veined with alabaster, which the imagination may easily form into a resemblance of a female figure, and is of course the Nereid of the grotto. We wished to have stayed longer; but our friend hurried us away, lest the tide should rush in,


which it is supposed to do from subterranious caverns, as it fills before the tide covers the sand of adjacent beach. I was particularly affected with the fate of two lovers, (a young gentleman and lady from Clifton,) whose friends were here for the sake of sea-bathing. They stole out early one morning by themselves, and strolled along the beach till they came to this grotto, which, being then empty, they entered. They admired the strata of rock leaning in different directions: they admired the incrustation which covers part of the sides, exactly resembling honeycomb; various shells imbedded in the rock; the sea-anemone spreading its purple fringe, -- an animal flower clinging to the rocks. They admired the first efforts of vegetation in the purple and green tints occasioned by the lichens and other mosses creeping over the bare stone. They admired these together; they loved each other the more for having the same tastes; and they taught the echoes of the cavern to repeat the vows which they made of eternal constancy. In the mean time the tide was coming in: of this they were aware, as they now and then glanced their eye on the waves, which they saw advancing at a distance; but not knowing the peculiar nature of the cavern, they thought themselves safe; when on a sudden, as they were in the furthest part of it, the waters rushed in from fissures in the rock with terrible


roaring. They climbed from ledge to ledge of the rocks, -- but in vain; the water rose impetuously, and at length filled the whole grotto. Their bodies were found the next day, when the tide was out, reclining on a shelf of rock; he in the tender attitude of supporting her, in the very highest accessible part, and leaning his own head in her lap, -- so that he must have died first. Poor lovers! If, however, you should be too much grieved for them, you may impute the whole, if you please, to a waking dream which I had in the grotto.

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Bristol, August 1797.

1.         We are here very comfortably with our friend Mr. Estlin, who, like some other persons that I know, has the happy art of making his friends feel entirely at home with him: -- he and Mrs. E. follow their occupations in the morning, and we our inclinations. The walks here on both sides the river are delightful; and the scenery at St. Vincent's rocks, whether viewed from above or below, is far superior, in my opinion, even to the beautifully dressed scenes that border the Thames, though these exceed it in fine trees .....

2.         I have seen Dr. Beddoes, who is a very pleasant man: his favourite prescription at present to ladies is, the inhaling the breath of cows; and as he does not, like the German doctors, send the ladies


to the cow-house, the cows are to be brought into the lady's chamber, where they are to stand all night with their heads within the curtains. Mrs. ---, who has a good deal of humor, says the benefit cannot be mutual; and she is afraid, if the fashion takes, we shall eat diseased beef. It is fact, however, that a family have been turned out of their lodgings, because the people of the house would not admit the cows: they said they had not built and furnished their rooms for the hoofs of cattle.

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Hampstead, Oct. 1801.

1.         My Dear Mrs. Carr,

2.         Though I hope the time approaches when we shall be within reach of one another again, I feel the want of our accustomed intercourse too strongly not to wish to supply it in some manner by a letter. Besides, I want to wish you joy on the peace, which came at last so unexpectedly, and almost overwhelmed us with the good news. We have hardly done illuminating and bouncing and popping upon the occasion. The spontaneous joy and mutual congratulations of all ranks show plainly what were the wishes of the people, though they dared not declare them. And now France lies like a huge loadstone on the other side the Channel, and will draw every mother's child of us to it. Those who know French are


refreshing their memories, -- those who do not, are learning it; and every one is planning in some way or other to get a sight of the promised land.

3.         Our Hampstead neighbours are returning to us from the lakes, and the sea, and the ends of the earth. I have been puzzling myself to account for this universal disposition amongst us to migrate at a certain time of the year and change our way of life; and I have been fancying that we English lie under the same spell which the fairies are said to do, -- by which during a month every year they are obliged to be transformed, and to wander about exposed to adventures. So some of our nymphs are turned into butterflies for the season, others into Naiads, and sport about till the sober months come, when they resume their usual appearance and occupation of notable housewives, perhaps in Cheapside or Borough. As to you, you carry your cares with you, and therefore must be pretty much the same, except the dripping locks of the Naiad; but Sarah, I imagine, is at this moment skimming along the shore like a swallow, or walking with naked feet like a slender heron in the water, or nestling among the cliffs. Wherever she is, my love to her.

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Southampton, July 10th.

1.         My Dear Mrs. Carr,

2.         Have you ever seen the isle of Wight? if not, you have not seen the prettiest place in the king's dominions. It is such a charming little island! In this great island, which we set foot on half an hour ago, the sea is at such a distance from the greater part of it, that you have no more acquaintance with it than if you were in the heart of Germany; and even on the coast, England appears no more an island to the eye than France does; but in this little gem of the ocean called the isle of Wight, you see and feel you are in an island every moment. The great ocean becomes quite domestic; you see it form every point of view; you have it on the right hand, you look and you have it on the left also; you see both sides of the island at once, -- you look into every creek and corner of it, which produces a new and singular feeling. We have taken three different rides upon and under high cliffs, corn-fields and villages down to the water's edge, and a fine West India fleet in view, with the sails all spread, and her convoy most majestically sailing by her. We saw Lord Dysart's seat, and Sir Richard Worsley's: at the former there is a seat in the rock which shuts out every object but the shoreless ocean, -- for it looks towards France: at the latter there is an


attempt at an English vineyard; the vines are planted on terraces one above another. Another day's excursion was to the Needles; we walked to the very point, the toe of the island: the seagulls were flying about the rock like bees from a hive, and little fleets of puffins with their black heads in the water. Allum bay looks like a wall of marble veined with different colours. The freshness of the sea air, and the beauty of the smooth turf of the downs on which we rode or walked, was inexpressibly pleasing. The next day we visited the north side of the island, richly wooded down to the water's edge, and rode home over a high down with the sea on both sides and a rich country between; the corn beginning to acquire the tinge of harvest time. In short, I do believe that if Buonaparte were to see the isle of Wight, he would think it a very pretty appanage for some third or fourth cousin, and would make him king of it -- if he could get it.

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Stoke Newington, Oct. 1882.

1.         My Dear Mrs. Carr,

2.         I think I never was so long without seeing you since we were acquainted. May I hope that it will not be much longer? I want to know of the health and welfare of every individual of you ...... My love to your young ladies; tell them


I am sorry they must wait to be married till Parliament meets again; but every body says it is the most difficult thing in the world. Dr. ----, indeed, has accomplished it in spite of obstacles; but he is a man of energy and perseverance. Englishmen are said to love their laws; -- that is the reason, I suppose, they give us so many of them, and in different editions.

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Date: 1825 (revised 01/26/2005) Author: Anna Letitia Barbauld (revised Zach Weir).
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