Anna Letitia Barbauld

Poetess Archive: Anna Barbauld's Prose Works

"Letters to Dr. and Mrs. Estlin" (1799-1824)     TEI-encoded version


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Letters to Dr. and Mrs. Estlin

Hampstead, Dec. 5, 1799.

1.         My dear friends,

2.         It is now much longer than I wish it ever to be since any letter has passed between us: I wish, therefore, to hear news of you both; particularly as you are drawing near the end of a session, the fatigues of which must always more or less give some wear and tear to your health and exhaust your spirits. I hope you have not forgotten that, in order to recruit them, you proposed coming, both of you, to London this Christmas; and I hope that you have by no means forgot that it was a part of the plan to give us as much of your time at Hampstead as you can spare consistently with other engagements. Write us word, then, that you are preparing to pack off the boys and come to us; and I assure you we shall feel more enlivened by the news than by ten gallons of Dr. Beddoes's most vivifying air. How often do we recall the heartfelt pleasures we enjoyed in the daily and unrestrained intercourse of Southendown; the philosophic discussions, the infantile mirth, the caves, the rocks, and especially the two


nymphs, to whom, -- if they are now within your circle, -- we beg to be affectionately remembered ...

3.         We have been much entertained by the Annual Anthology; there are some charming pieces in it. To pass from poetry to divinity -- Have you seen a small piece, which has been much read and speculated upon here, Apeleutheros? Some attribute it to the one person, some to another; but the fact is, the author has kept his secret well. It is written with great candour, but slight, considering the importance of the subject to be discussed. It has not been published; and I cannot avoid a melancholy sensation on reflecting, that such are the times we live in, that a bookseller dares not publish a pamphlet written with perfect decency, and in which, moreover, there is not a word of politics. But we should not be better in France. How the revolutions of that country mock all calculation! I should suppose that the late events have not tended to bring newspapers into more request than they were at Southendown.

4.         May I soon receive a favourable answer with respect to your health, spirits, and good intentions with respect to London and Hampstead! -- Come, and brighten the chain of friendship, as the Indians say.

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Stoke Newington, Dec. 1813.

1.         ..... If you ask what I am doing -- nothing. Pope, I think, somewhere says, "The last years of life, like tickets left in the wheel, rise in value." The thought is beautiful, but false; they are of very little value, -- they are generally past either in struggling with pains and infirmities, or in a dreamy kind of existence: no new veins of thought are opened; no young affections springing up; the ship has taken in its lading, whatever it may be, whether precious stones or lumber, and lies idly flapping its sails and waiting for the wind that must drive it upon the wide ocean.

2.          Have you seen Lord Byron's new poem, The Bridge of Abydos? and have you read Madame de Stael's Germany? You will find in the latter many fine ideas, beautiful sentiments, and entertaining remarks on manners and countries: but in her account of Kant and the other German philosophers, she has got, I fancy, a little out of her depth. She herself is, or affects to be, very devotional; but her religion seems to be almost wholly a matter of imagination, -- the beau ideal impressed upon us at our birth, along with a taste for beauty, for music, &c. As far as I understand her account of the German school, there seems to be in many of them a design to reinstate the doctrine of innate ideas, which the cold philosophy,


as they would call it, of Locke discarded. They would like Beattei and Hutcheson better than Paley or Priestly. I do not like Lord Byron's poem quite so well as his last; and I cannot see any advantage in calling a nightingale bulbul,or a rose gul, except to disconcert plain English readers.

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Stoke Newington, Jan. 1814.

1.          Yes, my friends, 'tis as I said, you are snowed up at the Hyde, very comfortable I dare say, with a fine library and prints, &c,. and I hope a cheerful Christmas party; at least, if the party is there, you will make them so. But whether the inclosed will ever come to your hands is a melancholy consideration; for if you offer to stir, I expect you will be buried in the snow, in which case I intend to write you epitaph, -- "Here lies, &c. in candour and purity of mind equalling the snow that covers them:" -- or, "Reflecting light from heaven on the world around them:" -- or, "They were lovely in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided;" -- or,

"While far from home
They sought to roam,
By wandering fancies seized,
'Twixt earth and sky
They buried lie,
For so the Fates have pleased,"


2.          The lines, I own, are not very finished; but it is not worth while to take much pains about them, unless one were sure of the catastrophe. On the supposition, however, that you will be reading this comfortably by Mr. Coates's fire-side, accept, my dear friends, my thanks for the pleasant days, -- very pleasant, but very few, -- that you were so good as to bestow upon me: if you can enlarge the gift, most thankfully shall I receive it.

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1.         My days of travelling are now nearly over; yet I find a little variety as necessary, perhaps, to relieve the tedium of life, as once it was to recruit from its toils and avocations. I do not know how it is with you at Bristo, but in most places there has been lately a migration into France of almost all who could command money and time. I was amused with the contrast between a lively pleasant-tempered man and a poco curante. "How do you like France?" said I to the first. "I have spent," said he, "seven weeks of uninterrupted happiness," "How do you like France?" to the second. "I have been there, because one must go, one is ashamed not to have been, it is a thing over." "A lively nation?" "Manners quite spoiled, no agreeable company." "It is


possible they may not be partial to the English just now, as we have so lately been with fire and sword into their territory: -- but the museums?" "Valuable to be sure; but they do not properly belong to Paris." "The theatres, sir?" "Now and then, when Talma acts: but to visit all their little paltry theatres, and every evening, as some do, I had rather sit at home in my chamber and read." And so ended my dialogue with the poco curante. Not with such indifference, but with the strong feelings which you who witnessed the destruction of the Bastille can appreciate, Mr. ---- says he should abhor going to Paris. As to the ladies who go, they think of nothing but smuggling lace and silk shawls.

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1.         My dear Mrs. Estlin,

2.         I have just been reading, as probably you have also, six close volumes of Miss Seward's letters, which, she informs us, was only a twelfth part of her correspondence in, I think, twenty years. I have also been reading a letter of the poet M ----'s to my brother, in which, apologizing for his long silence, he says, "I verily believe, that if I had been an antediluvian, I could have let a hundred years pass between every letter, and feel the most violent twinges of conscience every day


of that century for my omission, without their working any reformation in that respect." Now I look upon myself to be between both these characters, -- to which I approximate most I must leave you to determine.

3.         Everybody has been abroad this uncommonly fine summer, but my brother and sister and myself. I spent one day only at Hampstead, where I met Walter Scott, the lion of this London season, and one day at Chigwell. The road to Chigwell is through a part of Hainault Forest; and we stopped to look at Fairlop oak, one of the largest in England; a complete ruin, but a noble ruin, which it is impossible to see without thinking of Cowper's beautiful lines, "Who lived when thou wast such." The immoveable rocks and mountains present us rather with an idea of eternity than of long life. There they are, and there they have been before the birth of nations. The tops of the everlasting hills have been seen covered with snow from the earliest records of time. But a tree, that has life and growth like ourselves, that, like ourselves, was once small and feeble, that certainly some time began to be, -- to see it attain a size so enormous, and in its bulk and its slow decay bear record of the generations it has outlived, -- this brings our comparative feebleness strongly in view. "Man passeth away, and where is he?" while "the oak


of our fathers" will be the oak of their children, and their children.

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1.         My dear Mrs. Estlin,

2.         I was just going to write to you when I received your kind letter; for I had heard of your son's marriage, and wished to congratulate you on the event: but I do it with much more pleasure, now that I learn from you letter the full satisfaction and pleasure that you feel in the match. You are fortunate, my dear friend, in having so excellent and well-principled a son; fortunate in having him married agreeably to your wishes; and very fortunate in having him and your other children within a walk of your door or within it.

3.         We are all pretty much as usual: for myself, indeed, I am sensible I grow weaker both in mind and body, and I am sensible it is natural and right it should be so. How many friends have I survived! A very dear one Mrs. Kenrick was: I had no prospect, indeed, of ever seeing her again, nor, with the privations she suffered, (of which her almost total deafness was the severest,) could I wish her to live; yet there is a melancholy in the thought, Gone for ever! which no other separation can inspire. -- But why do I write in


this strain to you, when I write on purpose to congratulate you on a wedding? -- How soon children become, from playthings, subjects of education; then objects of anxiety for their settling in the world; and then, very often, are transplanted wide away form their parents' home -- perhaps to America. The more particularly fortunate you: -- so I began, and so I conclude.

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Stoke Newington, Jan. 1824.

1.         My dear Mrs. Estlin,

2.          I will not say I was not disappointed in being obliged to give up the hope of seeing you this year; but you know best the time that suits you, and I dare say you have done what is right and proper. With regard to myself, I do not reckon much upon any enjoyment that has months between it and me. I am arrived at a period when life has no more to give, and every year takes away from the powers both of body and mind; when the great tendency is to inaction and rest, and when all subject of thankfulness or congratulation must be, not how much you enjoy, but how little you suffer. Then the powers of man strive -- how vainly! -- to penetrate the veil; to pierce the thick darkness that covers the future: life seems of no value but for what lies beyond it;


and even our views of the future are perhaps cheerful or gloomy according to the weather or our nerves.

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Stoke Newington, Nov. 23, 1824.

1.         It is so long since I heard of you or yours, that I begin to be impatient, and moreover I am disappointed; for you certainly did flatter me some time ago with the idea that I should see you here before this summer was ended. And now, while I had hardly finished my sentence, your kind letter arrives, -- Let me beg of you to give up your reasons against paying me a visit before this year is concluded. Think of my age, and come to me while my eyes serve me to look on your countenance, and my ears can catch your words, and my heart can be exhilarated by the conversation of a friend.

2.         I think nothing flourishes more in Newington than schools. We have several set up lately, besides charity-schools, of which so many have been established, that I should imagine there is not an individual among the lower order who cannot get his son instructed, if he really desires it. We have some little Greek boys here, who, in their national costume, are great objects of curiosity. They are protected by Mr. Bowring. By the way, are you not sorry Lord Byron is dead, just when he was


going to be a hero? He has filled a leaf in the book of fame, abut it is a very blotted leaf.

3.          It is amazing how building increases everywhere near London, though, as I said, my neighbours decrease. This is the necessary lot of age. One of our ministers prays, that when we come to die we may have nothing to do but to die. In one sense the petition is rational: but if it means, nothing to do for ourselves; nothing to do for others; nothing to do in any of the useful stations of life; the languor and privations, if not the sufferings of age, more than balancing its few enjoyments; then, truly, I do not think the blessing is much to be prayed for. I am rather getting into a melancholy vein, and I ought not, for I have much to be thankful for, and shall have more when your next letter comes to tell me, as I hope it will, Such a day, such an hour, I have taken my place for London, thence to proceed to Newington, -- where you will be sincerely welcomed by, dear Mrs. Estlin, your affectionate friend.

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Date: 1825 (revised 01/28/2005) Author: Anna Letitia Barbauld (revised Zach Weir).
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