Anna Letitia Barbauld

Poetess Archive: Anna Barbauld's Prose Works

"Letters to Miss Dixon" (1777-1824)     TEI-encoded version


Page Images

Letters to Miss Dixon,

Afterwards Mrs. Beecroft


Palgrave, March 17th, 1777.

1.          Arachne, my dear Miss Dixon, -- so goes the story, -- was unfortunate enough to incur the mortal displeasure of Minerva by too pompous a display of her skill in embroidery; and since that event, very few ladies who have courted the favour of Minerva have chosen to run the hazard of provoking her by the delicacy of their needle-work. Now, as I do not believe that Arachne or Minerva either (no dispraise to her goddess-ship) ever wrought any thing prettier than the roses you have been so obliging as to send me, -- Flora, indeed, promises to produce some very like them in a few month, -- I wonder much at your being so great a favourite with the goddess as I find you are by the story which accompanied them, and that she thinks proper to encourage you in handling both your pen and your needle in the manner you do. Indeed, my dear, I was equally surprised


and flattered at the very obliging manner in which you have shown that you remember me; and though much struck with the elegance of your fancy and the skillfulness of your fingers, I am still more delighted with the proof they give me of your regard and affection.

2.         It is generally said, that at your age impressions of friendship are easily made and soon worn out; but it is not so with you; and to say the truth, I should be mortified if it were, for I have myself too lively and pleasing a remembrance of the happy and sportive hours we enjoyed together at Thorpe, not to wish they should be equally dear to your mind. My thoughts, as well as Mr. B.'s, have often pursued you since. We have figured you as amongst your sweet companions, at once improving your heart in sensibility, accomplishing yourself in all that is elegant, and enjoying without fear or anxiety all the simple, innocent, cheerful pleasures which belong to that period of life you are now in. Enjoy and relish them while you may. You will never be again -- I do not say so happy, for I hope your happiness will ever increase, -- but you will never enjoy again the same kind of happiness which you do now, nor with so little mixture of uneasiness; and the way to prolong it is to keep as late as possible that entire openness, simplicity and ingenuousness which is the beautiful characteristic of your age.

1.          Page Images


Palgrave, Nov. 11th.

1.         I have long been determined to seize the first moment of leisure to write to my dear Miss Dixon; but leisure is one of those things of which I enjoy the least, so I am at length determined to write without it. By the way, do you know the pedigree and adventures of Leisure?

2.          She was born somewhere amongst the Chaldean shepherds, where she became a favourite of Urania; and having been instructed in her sublime philosophy, taught men to observe the course of the stars, and to mark the slow revolution of seasons. The next we hear of her is in the rural mountains and valleys of Arcadia. In this delightful abode her charms make a conquest of the god Pan, who would often sit whole days by her side, tuning his pipe of unequal reeds. By him she had two beautiful children, Love and Poetry, the darlings of the shepherds, who received them in their arms, and brought them up amidst the murmur of bees, the falls of water, the lowing of cattle, and the various rural and peaceful sounds with which that region abounded. When the Romans spread the din of arms over the globe, Leisure was frightened from her soft retreats, and from the cold Scythian to the tawny Numidian could scarcely find a corner of the world to shelter


her head in. When the fierce Goth and Vandal approached, matters were still worse, and Leisure took refuge in a convent on the winding banks of the Seine, where she employed herself in making anagrams and cutting paper. Her retirement, however, did not pass without censure, for it is said she had an intrigue with the superior of the convent, and that the offspring of this amour was a daughter named Ennui.

3.         Mademoiselle Ennui was wafted over to England in a north-east wind, and settled herself with some of the best families in the kingdom. Indeed the mother seldom makes any long residence in a place without being intruded on by the daughter, who steals in and seats herself silently by her side.

4.          I hope, however, my amiable friend is now enjoying the company of the mother without fear of a visit from the daughter, whom her taste and liveliness will, I am sure, ever exclude from her habitation.

1.          Page Images


1.          Thanks to my dear Miss Dixon for her frank and affectionate letter. A thousand good wishes attend her; but as I hope to breath them soon from my lips, I shall spare my pen a task to which it is not adequate.

2.         You have rejoiced my heart by allowing me to


hope that we shall still see you at Palgrave before the important event takes place. If you had not acknowledged that you were going to be married, I should naturally have concluded it from your saying you have not time to read Cecilia. Not time to read a novel! -- that is so grave! -- Nay, if I had not known you, I should have supposed you had been actually married a dozen years at least. But you must read Cecilia, and you must read Hayley's poem, and you may read Scott's poems if you like, and at least you must look at the plates, &c.

1.          Page Images

Carcasonne, Feb. 15th, 1786.

1.          If at any time, and in any place, a letter from my dear Mrs. Beecroft has always given me a sensible pleasure, she will judge how grateful it must have been to my heart to be remembered by her with so much kindness and affection, and to be informed of her welfare, when the long absence, when the tracts of land and seas between us and those most dear to our hearts, render accounts from England doubly interesting. And indeed when I reflect that I am transported from the banks of the Waveney to the shores of the Mediterranean, I am ready to cry out with Simkin,

"Methinks we're a wonderful distance from home."

2.          The scenes we have passed through gratify cur-


iosity and fill the imagination; but you, my dear friend, in the mean time have found yourself in situations which awaken feelings the most tender and interesting ..... May you experience, may you feel, all the sympathies, all the tender charities of every relation, all of which you are so fitted to adorn!.

3.          The ladies of this country, if I may trust what their own countrymen say of them, are not found of these domestic ties; they wish not to be mothers of a numerous offspring; and their husbands, whose claim to the honour is somewhat more dubious, are still less flattered with being fathers to them. But let me give you some account of our route. From Calais we coasted, as I may say, the rich plains of Flanders and Artois, which however, had lost their peculiar beauty, as the harvest was got in. we passed through a part of Haute Picardi, and leaving Paris on our right, advanced into Champagne, where we first saw the production that most distinguishes the climate of France from ours, -- the boasted vineyards. Having visited the venerable cathedral of Rheims, we crossed several pleasant streams, and from Troyes traced the delightful windings of the Seine to its very source. We next visited Dijon in the midst of the vine-clad hills of Burgundy, and from thence, crossing the Saone, struck into Franche-comte; and from Dole to Besancon travelled along


the banks of the Doux, a fine, full stream, though a country more varied and rich with prospects than we had yet seen. From varied, the country became romantic, and from hilly, mountainous; Nature preparing, as it were, for her more majestic scenes, till at length she swells into full grandeur; and from the heights of Mount Jura the Alps are discovered to the astonished traveller.

4.          At Geneva we were greatly delighted with the society and the situation; but the winter advanced so fast upon us, that we were obliged to abandon our design of visiting Switzerland. From Geneva to Lyons we were still in the midst of les belles horreurs, steep mountains, cascades, and lakes. At Lyons the winter was still at our heels, so down the rapid Rhone we sailed in search of the climate of perpetual spring, but like some enchanted island it seemed to fly from our pursuit. At Lyons it was the vent du Phone, at Avgnon la bise, at Marseilles the mistral -- which opposed our wishes; till at length, in the orange groves of Hieres, we found the most delicious temperature of air and a verdure perpetually flourishing. But long before we reached Hieres, between Lyons and Avignon, we got amongst the olive-grounds, the figs, the almonds and pomegranates, which spread over all Provence and Languedoc. But they have not here the green pasture, the lowing herd, the hawthorne hedge, the haunt of birds, or


the various family of lofty trees which give us shade in summer and shelter in winter. As we have been chiefly at inns hitherto, I cannot say a great deal of the inhabitants in general: that they are more lively and eager in their gestures and manner than the English is evident; but as to that great air of gaiety you mention, and which one naturally expects to find in France, it has not struck us; perhaps it might if we were more intimately admitted into their families, and saw the young and gay; but this I can assure you, they are not to be found, even in Provence, singing and dancing under every green tree. We have lately visited Nismes, a place interesting by its antiquities. La Maison Carree is the most delicate and finished piece of architecture that can be conceived; and the amphitheatre gives the most striking idea of Roman greatness. It is calculated to hold 18,000 people; its vast cirque cannot be beheld from a distance without astonishment, -- all the other buildings sink into nothing before it. An antiquity perhaps more beautiful still than either of them is the Pont du Gard, some leagues from Nismes, constructed to convey water to the town. It looks great as if made by the hands of the giants, and light as if wrought by fairies. Nismes has likewise a more modern work, of which they boast much, -- the fountain, and walks belonging to it. This, as well as the Place


de Perou
at Montpelier, is laid out in a style which a Brown or a Shenstone would but little approve; long straight walks, trees cut into form, water stagnating in stone basons and exactly symmetrized. All this suits but ill with what we have been taught to call taste; yet there is an air of magnificence, and even of gaiety, that in its kind gives pleasure. The very exhibition of art and expense gives an air of grandeur. Its being a work made by men, suggests the cheerful idea that it was madefor men; whereas our more rustic scenes seem made, if not for melancholy, at least for solitary musing: and, in the last place, the exact proportion contrasts it with the surrounding country.

5.          You know, probably, that Montpelier is famous for perfumes. One man, who has got a large fortune by them, has planted a garden with rose-trees, several thousands in number, which in summer perfume the air to a considerable distance.

6.         I hoped to have finished this letter where I began it, at Montpelier; but not having been able to do it, gives me an opportunity to tell you, that we have seen at Pesenas an echantillon of the diversions of the Carnival. The young men of the town, with the young ladies, masked , followed by the paysans and paysannes, danced by torch-light in the streets, upon the esplanade, and all round the town, to the music of the drum and fife, fol-


lowed by a number of spectators of all ranks, all enjoying the cheerful scene. Pesenas is a delightful place; the peach and apricot already are in blossom there, so is the bean; numbers of almond-trees are in full bloom; various shrubs are green with spring, and some trees begin to put out. To crown all, we found there a very lovely English-woman, with whom and her husband we spent two pleasant days. We are now going to Bourdeaux, and so to Orleans and Paris; after which I am sure we shall long to return home.

London, July 7, 1786.

1.         I feel an impatience at being again on English ground, and yet not being able to hear news of you. My imagination pictures you with a lovely burden in your arms, -- whether boy or girl she is not able to determine, but a charming infant however, that exercises your sweet sprightliness in entertaining it, and delights your sensibility by its early notice. But of this delightful circumstance I want to be certain ...... In the mean time let me give you some account of ourselves. After having spent so much time at Paris that we were obliged to give up our original design of visiting Flanders, we returned by way of Chantilly .....


2.          I could not help being struck with the neatness and civility of all the inns on the road from Dover to London. In neatness the English are acknowledged to excell; and though the upper rank in France may practise politeness with more ease and grace than we do, yet it is certain that the lower order are much less respectful and more grossier than ours of the same class.

3.         I do not know how it is, I think verily London is a finer town than Paris; and yet it does not appear to me since my return so magnificent as it used to do: I believe the reason is, that Paris has so much the advantage in being built of stone. Another advantage to the environs derived from that is, that they are not fumigated by the abominable brick-kilns which are so numerous near our metropolis.

4.         There is not much new at present in French polite literature. M. Florian has published a didactic romance, Numa Pompilius, in imitation of Telemachus, but it is heavy.

1.          Page Images

Hampstead, May 1789.

1.          I often please my mind with the sweet scenes of domestic happiness which you must enjoy; yourself in the arms of Mr. and Mrs. Dixon, and your children in yours. Apropos of the sweet children, -- I should not be at all alarmed at their


speaking Norfolk; depend upon it it will be only temporary where the parent does not speak it: and after all, they should know the language of the country. I remember when I was in Lancashire being reproved for my affectation in not speaking as the country folks did, when in truth it was beyond my abilities.

2.         London is extremely full now: the trial, the parliamentary business, and fetes and illuminations, and the Shakespear Gallery, have all contributed to fill the great hive. But among these various objects, none is surely so interesting as the noble effort making for the abolition of the slave-trade. Nothing, I think, for centuries past, has done the nation so much honour; because it must have proceeded from the most liberal motives, -- the purest love of humanity and justice. The voice of the Negroes could not have made itself heard but by the ear of pity; they might have been oppressed for ages more with impunity, if we had so pleased.

1.          Page Images

Hampstead, Aug. 1789.

1.          ..... I do not doubt but your attention, as well as that of every one else, has been engaged lately by the affairs in France. We were much gratified a fortnight ago by seeing Lord Daer, who had been at Paris at the beginning of the com-


motions, and had seen the demolition of the Bastille, and with hundreds more ranged through that till now impregnable castle of Giant Despair. He told us, that after all the prisoners in the common apartments had been liberated, they heard for a long time the groans of a man in one of the dungeons, to which they could not get access, and were at length obliged to take him out by making a breach in the wall, through which they drew him out after he had been forty-eight hours without food; and they could not at last find the aperture by which he was put into the dungeon.

1.          Page Images

Sept. 1790.

1.         My Dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.         It is but lately that I heard you were returned from your delightful expedition, or I should have written sooner; for I am sure so kind and charming a letter as yours demanded an early acknowledgement. I do not say I envy you your party and your tour, because I have in some measure enjoyed it along with you. I have tracked you the top of Skiddaw; seen you impress the mountains with your light and nymph-like step, and skim over the lakes with a rapid and smooth motion, like a bird that just touches them with her wing without dipping it. I have contemplated the effect such scenes must produce on minds so turned to admire the beauties of nature as yours


and your poetical companions; and I have watched till imagination has kindled, and beauty has swelled into sublimity. Indeed, independently of scenes so wildly picturesque, a journey is the most favourable thing in the world of the imagination; which, like a wheel, kindles with the motion: I shall therefore certainly expect it to produce some fruit.

3.         I suppose you are now returned to your course of instructive reading, and your sweet employment of instructing your little charge. Pray have you seen Sacontala, an Indian drama translated by Sir William Jones? You will be much pleased with it. There is much fancy and much sentiment in it, -- much poetry too, and mythology: but these, though full of beauties, are often uncouth and harsh to the European ear. The language of nature and the passions is of all countries. The hero of the piece is as delicate and tender a lover as any that can be met with in the pages of modern romance; for I hope you can pardon him a little circumstance relative to the costume of the country, which is just hinted at in the poem: I mean the having a hundred wives besides the mistress of his heart. -- so much for works of entertainment! There is a publication of higher merit set on foot in France by Rabaut St. Etienne and some others, -- La Feuille Villageoise, of which I have seen the first number. The re-


spectable object of it is to instruct the country people (who are there remarkably ignorant) in morals, in the new laws and constitution of their country, in the state of the arts and new discoveries, as far as can be of practical use to them; and in short, to open their minds and make them love their duties. M. Berquin is engaged in something similar; but this is more extensive. There is room for all true patriots to exert themselves in every way in France, for their situation seems still but too precarious.

1.          Page Images

Hampstead, May 7th, 1791.

1.         ...... You ought, I think, to come to London every spring, to peep into the Exhibition and Shakespear Gallery, and to see our proud metropolis when she adorns her head with wreaths of early roses, and perfumes her crowded streets with all the first scents of spring. So uncommonly fine has the weather been this year, that in March, if you were in a flower-shop, you might have imagined it the glowing month of June.

2.         I last Sunday attended with melancholy satisfaction the funeral sermon of good Dr. Price, preached by Dr. Preistley, who, as he told us, had been thirty years his acquaintance, and twenty years his intimate friend. He well delineated the character he so well knew. I had just been reading an eloge of Mirabeau, and I could not help in my own mind comparing both the men and the tribute paid to their memories. The one died when a reputation raised suddenly, by extraordinary emergencies, was at its height, and very possibly might have ebbed again had he lived longer: the other enjoyed an esteem, the fruit of a course of labours uniformly directed through a long life to the advancement of knowledge and virtue, a reputation slowly raised, without and independent of popular talents. The panegyrist of the one was obliged to sink his private life, and to cover with the splendid mantle of public merit the crimes and failings of the man: -- the private character of the other was able to bear the severest scrutiny; neither slander, nor envy, nor party prejudice, ever pretended to find a spot in it. The one was followed even by those who did not trust him: the other was confided in and trusted even by those who reprobated his principles. In pronounc-


ing the eloge on Mirabeau, the author scarcely dares to insinuate a vague and uncertain hope that his spirit may hover somewhere in the void space of immensity, be rejoined to the first principles of nature; and attempts to soothe his shade with a cold and barren immorality in the remembrance of posterity. Dr. Priestley parts with his intimate friend with all the cheerfulness which an assured hope of meeting him soon


again could give, and at once dries the tear he excites.

1.          Page Images

Buxton, Oct. 1794.

1.         My dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.         Is it permitted me to renew a correspondence which has been too long interrupted, though our friendship, I trust, never has? -- strange indeed would it be, if the esteem and affection I owe you could ever subside, or if I could forget the marks of kindness and attention I have always received from you. How good it was of you to invite Mr. Barbauld while I have been rambling! I should have been more satisfied with being away if he had accepted your offer; for I should have known then, that he would have no occasion to regret any of the beautiful scenes I have enjoyed without him. I have been much pleased with Scotland. I do not know whether you ever extended your tour so far: if you have not seen it, let me beg that you will; for I do not think that in any equal part of England so many interesting objects are to be met with as occur in what is called the little tour; from Edinburgh to Stirling, Perth and Blair, along the pleasant windings of the Forth and Tay; then by the lakes, ending with Lock Lomond, the last and greatest, and so to Glasgow; then to the Falls of the Clyde, and back by Dumfries; which last, however, we did


not do; for we returned to Edinburgh. Scotland is a country strongly marked with character. Its rocks, its woods, its water, its castles, its towns, are all picturesque, generally grand. Some of the views are wild and savage, but none of them insipid, if you except the bleak, flat, extended moor. The entrance into the Highlands by Dunkeld is striking; it is a kind of gate. I thought it would be a good place for hanging up an inscription similar to that of Dante, "Per me si va ........."

3.         Edinburgh is so commanding a situation for a capital, I almost regretted it was not one, and that the fine rooms at Holyrood-house are falling into ruins. The Old and the New town make the fines contrast in the world: But beautiful as the New town is, I was convinced, after being some days in it, that its perfect regularity tends towards insipidity, and that a gentle waving line in a street, provided it is without affectation, and has the advantage of some inequality of ground, is more agreeable than streets that cut one another at right angles.

4.         We were much struck with the Falls of the Clyde and its steep banks richly wooded. Indeed, wherever the country is wooded it is beautiful, and it is every where improving in that respect: millions of trees are planted every year; but it is some time before planted trees form a feature of the country. A belt of wood, dotted


clumps, a circlet of firs on a hill, have not the easy and natural appearance of a wood that fills the hallow of a valley, and shapes itself to the bendings and risings of the ground. And now let me whisper in your ear that I long very much to be at home again; the limits which I had set myself not to exceed are expired; and besides, I do not like this country, which has all the dreariness without the grandeur of scenery of that which we have left. The Crescent, however, has a beautiful appearance in a deep hollow surrounded by hills. It looks like a jewel at the bottom of an earthen cup.

1.          Page Images

Sept. 2, 1795.

1.          ...... Your emigrants are very interesting people. I think the English character has never appeared in a more amiable light than in the kind and hospitable attentions which have been pretty generally shown to these unfortunate people. I was much amused with Louvet, and interested; though I confess the interest was somewhat weakened by the reflection that he was by profession a bookseller and a writer of romances; and I that one may discover a few traits de plume in the high colouring he gives to the attachment between himself and his wife. What has still more interested me, -- because I have a higher opinion of her character, and greater confidence in her sin-


cerity, -- is L'Appel de Madame Roland. What talents! what energy of character! what powers of description! But have you seen the second part, which has not been printed here, and which contains memoirs of her life from the earliest period to the death of her mother, when she was one-and-twenty? It is surely the most singular book that has appeared since the Confessions of Rousseau; a book that none but a Frenchwoman could write, and wonderfully entertaining. I began it with a certain fear upon my mind -- What is this woman going to tell me? Will it be any thing but what will lessen my esteem for her? If, however, we were to judge of the female and male mind by contrasting these confessions with those I just now mentioned, the advantage in purity, comme de raison, will be greatly on the side of our sex.

1.          Page Images

Hampstead, July 25, 1796.

1.          ..... I do not know the present cause of your reading, but I imagine that two works, at least, have employed the leisure of both of us; Roscoe's Lorenzo, and Mrs. D'Arblay's Camilla. The former is a very capital work: I only wish that instead of making Lorenzo the Magnificent the centre round which every thing revolves, he had made the history of literature itself the professed sub-


ject of his work, and taken the Medici only in connexion with that. -- And how do you like Camilla? Not so well, I am afraid, as the former publications from the same hand. I like, however, the story of Eugenia, where the distress is new; and the character of that amiable imbecille the uncle: and Mrs. Arlberry's character is very well drawn. I was struck on reading the work with the persuasion, that no second work of an author, who has written the first after being in full possession of his powers, can help falling off, and for this reason: -- every one has a manner of his own, a vein of thinking peculiar to himself; and on the second publication, though the incidents may be all new, the novelty resulting from this originality is gone for ever. I think Gibbon says, in his very entertaining Memoirs, that nothing can renew the pleasure with which a favourite author and the public meet one another for the first time.

2.         I am just now reduced to regret, my dear friend, that I have taken such small paper. It cuts short what I was going to tell you of General Paoli, whom I met the other day. Had it been thirty years ago, it would have made my heart beat stronger. He told us a good deal about his godson and aid-de-camp Buonaparte, who was going to write Paoli's annals, when he was called upon to give ample matter for his own annals.

Stoke Newington, Jan. 14, 1792.

1.         My dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.          Why have I not written to you? Ah, why indeed! I wish you would furnish me with a good reason. Long ago I should have done it, it is true .... And pray when do you and the lovely ---- and ---- go to France? for I take it for granted that you go; and indeed you ought to go: for who would reap more amusement and information, or communicate more of it to your friends, than yourself? I met with three of the tourists lately. Mr. ----, who was formerly a Grecian, is turned Egyptian: the Egyptians are the first people in the world, the tutors of the Greeks and the inventors of all arts and sciences. Mr. ---- deals in anecdotes and manners; and Mrs. ---- seems to have felt most enthusiasm for the great man. My enthusiasm is all gone, -- not for Buonaparte, for with regard to him I never had any, -- but for most things. I wish there were any process, electric, galvanic, or through any other medium, by which we might recover some of the fine feelings which age is so apt to blunt: it would be the true secret of growing young. One affection, however, I hope will never die in my heart -- the dear affection of friendship.

July 28th, 1803.

1.          I am glad to find you have spent the spring so pleasantly. But when you say you made the excursion instead of coming to London, you forget that you might have passed the latter end of a London winter in town after enjoying the natural spring in the country. We have been spending a week at Richmond, in the delightful shades of Ham walks and Twickenham meadows. I never saw so many flowering limes and weeping-willows as in that neighbourhood: they say, you know, that Pope's famous willow was the first in the country; and it seems to corroborate it, that there are so many in the vicinity. Under the shade of the trees we read Southey's Amadis, which I suppose you are also reading. As all Englishmen are now to turn knights-errant and fight against the great giant and monster Buonaparte, the publication seems very seasonable. Pray are you an alarmist? One hardly knows whether to be frightened or diverted on seeing people assembled at a dinner-table, appearing to enjoy extremely the fare and the company, and saying all the while, with a most smiling and placid countenance, that the French are to land in a fortnight, and that London is to be sacked and plundered for three days, -- and then they talk of going to watering-places. I am sure we do not


believe in the danger we pretend to believe in; and I am sure that none of us can even form an idea how we should feel if we were forced to believe it. I wish I could lose in the quiet walks of literature all thoughts of the present state of the political horizon.

2.          My brother is going to publish Letters to a young Lady on English Poetry; he is indefatigable. "I wish you were half as diligent!" say you. "Amen!" say I. Love to Eliza and Laura, and thank the former for her note. I shall always be glad to hear from either of them. How delightful must be the soft beatings of a heart entering into the world for the first time, every surrounding object new, fresh and fair, -- all smiling within and without! Long may every sweet illusion continue that promotes happiness, and ill befall the rough hand that would destroy them!

1.          Page Images

Dorkling, Sept. 1805.

1.         ..... We came hither to take lodgings somewhere in this beautiful country, but found none vacant; so we have been some time at Burford-Bridge, a little quiet sort of an inn in the centre of the pleasant walks; and a few days with our friends the C----s. This is very much of a corn country, and we are in the midst of harvest: the window at which I am now writing looks into a


corn-field, where a family have established their menage. The man and his wife are reaping the corn; a cradle with a young child in it is brought into the field by break of day, and set under a hedge; the mother makes a sort of tent with her red cloak to shelter it from the weather; and there she gives it suck, and there they take their meals: two older children either watch the cradle, or run about the fields. A young baronet here has incurred great and deserved odium by forbidding the poor to glean in his fields; and effectually to prevent them, the plough immediately follows the sickle: yet probably this man can talk of the wisdom of our forefathers, and the regard due to ancient observances. This country is remarkable for great richness of wood, which Autumn has as yet only touched with his little finger; -- in a month's time they will be enchanting. Another agrement here is, that you see no soldiers; though I confess you are put in mind of them by a military road lately cut over Box-hill, -- I hope a very needless precaution.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Jan. 1, 1813.

1.          Many happy new years to you, my dear friend, and may they bring you increasing joy in your children and your children's children, and in your circle of friends, and in the various occupations


of all sorts, which the exercise of your talents or the offices of kindness engage you in! To you I may wish this with cheerful hope of its fulfilment. At my time of life, to look forward to new years, is to contemplate the prospect of increasing languor and growing infirmities. Not, I am sure, that I have any reason to complain, for Time deals gently with me; and though I feel that I descend, the slope is easy; and greatly thankful I am that I have, so accessible and so near me, the friends and relations that were assembled at Christmas in order to help me to dispatch your noble turkey. It was indeed so large that I had some difficulty in persuading them that it came to me inclosed in a letter; but I pleaded your known veracity, and they submitted. Accept, by dear friend, my best thanks, and believe me, though my pen (it is a naughty pen) has been idle, I did not want it to put me in mind of so dear a friend.

2.          Yes, I have been at Bristol this summer, and spent there almost the only month that could be called summer in the last year. I spent some days at Bath, some at that delightful place Clifton; and I spent a day with Hannah More and her four sisters at her charming cottage under the Mendip hills, which she has named Barley Wood, and which is equally the seat of taste and hospitality. We have had a meeting here for an aux-


iliary Bible Society. Many ladies went, not indeed to speak, but to hear speaking; and they tell me they were much entertained and interested. I honour the zeal of these societies; but it is become a sort of rage, and I suspect outgoes the occasion.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Sept. 1813.

1.         We have had great pleasure in seeing again our friend Dr. H. after a tour through Spain, Sicily, and Greece. Pray do you intend to learn modern Greek? I suspect it will grow quite fashionable, from the many tourists to Athens we have had of late; particularly if Eustace succeeds in persuading us to have nothing to do with the French jargon, as he is pleased to call the language of Bossuet and of Racine. I suppose you have read Lord Byron's Giaour, -- and which edition? because there are five, and in every one he adds about fifty lines; so that the different editions have rather the sisterly likeness which Ovid says the Nereids had, than the identity expected by the purchasers of the same work. And pray do you say Lord Byron, or Byron, in defiance of the y and our old friend in Sir Charles Grandison? And do you pronounce Giaour hardg or softg? And do you understand the poem at first reading? -- because Lord Byron and the Edinburgh


Reviewers say you are very stupid if you don't; and yet the same Reviewers have thought proper to prefix the story to help your apprehension. All these, unimportant as you may think them, are matters of discussion here.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Jan. 1814.

1.         My dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.         There are animals that sleep all the winter; -- I am, I believe, become one of them: they creep into holes during the same season; --I have confined myself to the fireside of a snug parlour. If, indeed, a warm sunshiny day occurs, they sometimes creep out of their holes; -- so, now and then, have I. They exist in a state of torpor; -- so have I done: the only difference being, that I have all the while continued the habit of eating and drinking, which, to their advantage, they can dispense with. But my mind has certainly been asleep all the while; and whenever I have attempted to employ it, I have felt an oppression in my head which has obliged me to desist. What wonderful events have passed during the last few months! How new is the very name of peace to us all; and to those of thirty and under, it is a state that, since they were able to reflect at all on public affairs, they have never known. London seems to have nothing to do now but to give feasts and pop away all the spare gun-


powder in rockets and feux-de-joie in honour of its illustrious guests. Everybody has been idle since these royal personages came amongst us. It is in vain even to bespeak a pair of shoes, -- not a man will work; and I imagine Alexander must be greatly puzzled, when the concourse in the streets from morning till night shows how many there are that are doing nothing, and the shops and manufactures how much has been done.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Jan. 1815.

1.         My dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.         Thanks for your kind letter, and for the finest turkey I ever saw, which arrived without accident, and fulfilled the end of its being, -- its fattening at least, -- last Tuesday amid the commendations of the whole party. I cannot tell where the spirit went; but I hope it is animating some other vehicle, and rising by degrees in the scale of existence, till perhaps it may come at length (who knows) to eat turkeys itself.

3.         I give you joy of the peace. It ought to last at least for this next twenty years: for though I am afraid war and peace must always take their turns, like day and night in the natural world, I think War ought to be satisfied, as the other dark and unlovely power is, with share and share alike. The two striking features of the present times in


Britain are religion and charity; and I should think they are both of them well inclined to pacific measure.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Nov. 14, 1818.

1.         Our tourists are mostly now returned. Such numbers have resided more or less abroad, that I cannot help thinking the intercourse must influence in some degree the national manners, which I find by Madame de Stael are not yet to be respectable, but they plainly intimate they do not think us amiable. When I read such censure, I cannot help saying in my mind to the author, -- I wish you knew such a one, and such a one, of my acquaintance; I am sure you could not but love them. -- Yet, after all, I fear we must acknowledge something about us dry, cold, and reserved; more afraid of censure, than gratified by notice; very capable of steadiness in important pursuits, but not happy in filling up the pauses and intervals of life with ingenious trifles and spontaneous, social hilarity ........

2.         It seems to me that there is more room for authors in history than in any other department. It is continually growing. It is like a tree, the dead leaves and branches of which are continually pruned and cleared away, and fresh green shoots


arising. How much less interesting since the French Revolution are the glories and conquests of Louis XIV.! What is the whole field of ancient history, which knew no sea but the Mediterranean, to the vast continent of America, with its fresh and opening glories! Will they be wise by our experience, peaceable, moderate, virtuous? No: they will be learned by our learning, but not wise by our experience. Each country, as each man, must buy his own experience.

1.          Page Images

Stoke Newington, Feb. 1824.

1.         My dear Mrs. Beecroft,

2.         The state of my eyes, which have been very weak of late, and are giving me a hint that they have served me nearly long enough, have hindered me for some time from answering your kind letter. -- Long may you enjoy that activity and flow of spirits which make life indeed a blessing; and which by conversation, by the very look of a happy and social spirit, communicates pleasure to all within its influence. But, you will say, a social spirit often leads one to mourn. It is very true: we are just now sympathizing with ...... But what is all this to you? will you say: these are not your acquaintance or connexions. Why, that is very true; but I have so long been accustomed to see you take part with ready and


affectionate sympathy in the habits, connexions, and trains of ideas of your friends, that I am always apt to suppose that where I am intimate, you cannot be a stranger; and that where I am interested, you cannot be indifferent. I heard a lady say once, that she should not at all care or interest herself about any thing which might happen to her friends or relations when she was out of the world; -- I mean, if she were to know it now. How unnatural! I need not tell you, I think, that she was not a parent. Nor do I like those metaphysical moralists, who, by a refinement of subtle investigation, assert that our anxiety for our friends proceeds only from a wish to avoid, for ourselves, the pain we are conscious we should feel whenever they suffer: -- Miserable evasions of Nature's best feelings!

1.          Page Images

Date: 1825 (revised 01/25/2005) Author: Anna Letitia Barbauld (revised Zach Weir).
The editing on this page is copyrighted; this page may be used according to the rules of fair use.