In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Miss Joy and Mrs HayterFreya Johnston

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: Poetry, Protest and Economic Crisis 
by E.J. Clery.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £75, June 2017, 978 1 107 18922 5
Show More
Show More

She​ started off with A and ended up at B: born in 1743 as Miss Aikin, Anna Letitia died in 1825 as Mrs Barbauld. Poet, editor, biographer, essayist, pamphleteer and children’s writer, she was once known only for finding ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ improbable. Many of her poems were lost: one survives only in the form of its title, but even that scrap – ‘Verses on the boy who would not say A lest he should be made to say B’ – follows alphabetical order while resisting it. The boy in question was probably Barbauld’s adopted son (and biological nephew) Charles Rochemont Aikin, who bore his mother’s maiden name as his surname and took his father’s first name as his middle name. (Miss Aikin married Rochemont Barbauld, a teacher of Huguenot descent, in 1774.) Such latticework sums up the complex, loving and productive exchanges of the Aikins, a brilliantly adaptable clan of rational dissenters whose achievements in literature, education and medicine spanned two centuries. Their interconnectedness was shown by the names they carried and swapped and passed on; in 1808, Charles Rochemont Aikin’s wife gave birth to another Anna Letitia, who duly grew up to be another writer.

In ‘Surnames’ (probably written in the 1790s), an unpublished jeu d’esprit first attributed to her in the 20th century, Barbauld toyed with the relationship of names given to and taken by the characters who wear them. Long ago you could rely on men being ‘surnamed from their shape or estate’, but now names (we are told) follow ‘the rule of contraries’. Modern men and women are consistently and precisely the opposite of what their names say they are:

Mr Wise is a dunce, Mr King is a Whig,
Mr Coffin’s uncommonly sprightly,
And huge Mr Little broke down in a gig
While driving fat Mrs Golightly.

The lines come to life when they begin to see names less as clues to the characters of their owners – whether faithfully reflected, or just as reliably not – than as temporary restrictions or skins to be shed. For this is a poem about second chances and moving on, as well as about enforced conformity to type or anti-type:

Miss Joy, wretched maid, when she chose Mr Love
Found nothing but sorrow await her:
She now holds in wedlock, as true as a dove
That fondest of mates, Mr Hayter.

Barbauld’s Miss Joy (a name related to her own; ‘Letitia’ means ‘joy’ or ‘pleasure’) both is and is not what she seems. On the terms of the poem, her name is a signpost of happiness that has condemned her to the opposite condition. Mr Love, her first choice, only enforced her joylessness. But then, on finding the mirror image of Mr Love in Mr Hayter, Miss Joy casts against type, and finds happiness. Changing your name may be what restores you to yourself. Miss Joy is truly joyful in the end, by virtue of becoming Mrs Hayter.

There is a romantic novel to be glimpsed in this stanza: how, we might ask, did Miss Joy part company with Mr Love? Did she only choose him, but not marry him? Did he ditch her at the altar, or leave her a grieving widow – a lovelorn Mrs Love? The poem proceeds to wrap things up briskly. The effect of ‘Surnames’, the way it immerses in and liberates its reader from what she expects, is not far from something Coleridge observed in John Bunyan: the way the allegorical characters of Pilgrim’s Progress step out of their types and suddenly become ‘real persons, who had been nicknamed by their neighbours’. Something of this unpredictable, arresting quality informs Barbauld’s character in general as a writer. Over the course of a long life – she died at the age of 81 – she never narrowed her views or ossified in her commitments, so that even in old age she remained open to new ideas and new people, always admirably hard to pin down.

When she married Rochemont Barbauld – in a spirit, according to her niece, of ‘desperate generosity’ – she presented him with ‘a Map of the Land of Matrimony’ and a poem that concluded: ‘Too strong relentless Fate has fixed her bars,/And I my destined captive hold too fast.’ Her husband, who had already experienced at least one attack of madness, eventually suffered a complete mental breakdown. In 1808, after 34 years of marriage, he violently assaulted his wife, who had to jump out of a window to escape him. Ten months later, he drowned himself.

But this is to offer a single, extreme version of events. The ‘yoke of wedlock’, as Barbauld calls it in ‘Washing-Day’ (1797), is portrayed by turns in her poetry as a flight from misery and a confirmation of it; it seems likely that for her it was both, and she soldiered on, making the best of it as long as she could. The ‘Memoir’ she wrote of her husband describes ‘more than thirty years’ of ‘the most tender and delicate attachment’. Barbauld was both resilient and versatile, qualities that express themselves in the peculiar, jaunty, imaginative visions she has of the state of domesticity, as well as of other forms of confinement. She can sometimes sound very like Robert Burns (both of them wrote poems about mice as the victims of human beings; hers, however, is entirely in the mouse’s voice). Low-roofed cots, cells, shells and alcoves; the caterpillar’s fold of silken web; the human womb: these cramped spaces are refuges for the vulnerable, and also casings which their inhabitants may be either unable to escape or reluctant to leave. She recounts the ways in which children and other tiny creatures shore themselves up, describing a beetle’s ‘wide domain’ as extending ‘O’er many an inch’, his ‘rich treasury’ swollen ‘with hoarded grain’. She depicts an ice-house as the prison cell of a personified Winter, whose ‘treasured snows’ lie piled around him. In ‘To a little invisible Being who is expected soon to become visible’ (c.1795), the maternal womb surrounding the foetus is said to be a ‘living tomb’, and the speaker urges its ‘little captive’ to ‘burst thy prison doors!/Launch on the living world, and spring to light!’

That image might stand for an author’s entrance into the limelight, as well as for the birth of a long-awaited baby. Anna Letitia Aikin grew up in a house full of schoolboys (including her much loved younger brother and fellow writer, John). This knockabout childhood produced neither the ‘prude’ nor the ‘hoyden’ her mother feared inevitable, but instead a robust, independently minded writer who learned very early on how to play to a crowd, compose on the hoof and defend her own opinions. In the collection of Poems that launched her career in 1772, she celebrated God’s ‘sacred’ and ‘awful’ name, as well as the various monikers, that is to say guises, of friendship, liberty and love. She never lost her fierce devotion to the ‘nobler name’ of Joseph Priestley, who had taught alongside her father at the Warrington Academy. When she herself became a teacher – at the celebrated dissenting school she ran with her husband in Suffolk – she enjoyed turning pupils’ names into riddles for the weekly newsletter. Samuel Johnson said this sort of writing was a waste of her ‘early cultivation’ and precocity, but it endeared countless boys to her for the rest of their lives.

Names matter to women partly because theirs change in adulthood more often than men’s. Among Jane Austen’s earliest writings are two spoof entries in a parish marriage register, where she published fictitious banns between Jane Austen of Steventon and Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam of London. A second entry announced the forthcoming nuptials of Edmund Arthur William Mortimer of Liverpool and the same plain Jane Austen of Steventon. These entries show her practising for her future profession, as well as indulging in a different sort of fantasy about who she might be when she grew up. When Coleridge turned against Barbauld, he took her marital surname as a weak point, nicknaming her ‘Mistress Bare and Bald’. Perhaps she had already made that joke herself: in lines addressed to her husband in 1778 she promises that they will ‘mock old Winter’s starving reign’ by dressing his ‘smooth bald head’ with flowers.

Changing our names is one way of signalling intent to forge a different character from the one we inherited at birth – a possibility aired and despaired of in a great deal of 18th-century writing. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67) is one long argument of this kind between nature and nurture, part of which concerns the hero being landed with the wrong name. Johnson begins an issue of the Rambler in 1750 by rehearsing the theory that we are all born ‘with the seeds of that malady, which, in time, shall bring us to the grave’. He was properly sceptical about attempts such as Alexander Pope’s to apply this argument to the mind or the feelings, arguing that inadequate proofs existed to support the idea ‘that each man is born with a mind formed peculiarly for certain purposes, and with desires unalterably determined to particular objects’. Both Barbauld and Johnson stressed throughout their lives the primacy of resolve and freedom of the will in human affairs – even if both also wavered in their confidence as to what those qualities might achieve in practice. As writers, both also managed to pluck real human beings from the allegorical or other confines of their lives. Pilgrim’s Progress was one of Johnson’s favourite books, and I don’t think anyone could be so keen on that story and not discern, as Coleridge did, flesh and blood people in it. Both Johnson and Barbauld wanted, on rational principles, to demarcate reality from fiction; both also wanted to publish fictions that plausibly embodied reality.

Barbauld​ is a great poet of blots and stains. What she describes in her lovely mock-Miltonic ‘Washing-Day’ as the everyday ‘sad disasters’ of ‘dirt and gravel’ becomes, in her late protest poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, a vision of the bloody spoils of imperial power. This poem, the subject of a fresh appraisal by E.J. Clery, strives to be at once patriotic and prophetic of national collapse. It was the second ever census year and a natural point at which to take stock. It was also a year with too much of everything and nothing good at all. Britain had two ineffectual monarchs of sorts: a mad king and (as of 5 February) a feckless regent. The country was involved in four wars: the Napoleonic (1803-15), the Anglo-Russian (1807-12), the Anglo-Swedish (1810-12) and the Peninsular (1808-14). The British population had increased by more than a million in the course of a decade, now standing at 10.1 million, provoking much talk of a nation bursting at the seams. One cheerless argument against such anxiety might have been that the rapidly expanding population was being cut down as quickly as it reached maturity, and perhaps Barbauld had the census in mind when she wrote in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven:

Fruitful in vain, the matron counts with pride
The blooming youths that grace her honoured side;
No son returns to press her widow’d hand,
Her fallen blossoms strew a foreign strand.

Barbauld repeatedly admonishes her nation’s leaders for treating the wars – and the mothers who supply its soldiers – so lightly; sometimes she admonishes them with bleak, declamatory grandeur, sometimes as if they were her naughtier pupils. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven is a blend of hopelessness and outrage, satire and celebration. If the poem can be seen as part of a long campaign of Unitarian protest against the government’s policy of economic warfare – a campaign that would contribute to parliamentary reform two decades later – it has to be acknowledged that Barbauld’s monumental defeatism is a risky way to proceed. Tonally uneven and hard to navigate, much of the work seems far from timely or dynamic; ‘glories pass away’ without hope of return, and ‘Commerce, like beauty, knows no second spring.’

Barbauld’s brother, John Aikin, was said to show a child’s ‘hatred of every thing unfair and unequitable’; indeed, this was ‘his leading principle and almost his ruling passion’. It must have been a family trait. Barbauld, like Wordsworth, was brilliant at entering into the child’s view of things, notably a sense of incomprehension at why adults do the things they do; it shapes not only her poems about domestic life and the schoolroom but also her larger-scale works. Whether the child’s view works on that larger public scale is questionable. However well-meant it may have been, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven isn’t the first poem you would give a reader who doesn’t know Barbauld’s name. Her sense of folly and injustice is far more moving, coherent and persuasive, it seems to me, in poems directed at particular people or voiced by children who were known to her. The intimate poems are, really, about the same thing as the grand ones: right and wrong, friendship and love, penitence and endurance. Barbauld isn’t committed to political causes so much as to human beings. Take her poem to her brother ‘on his Complaining that she neglected him’, in which she writes about a flaw in her own conduct that she can’t in all honesty defend but strives sincerely to repair: ‘idly busy as the moments flew/I thought, and only thought alas! of you.’ In setting aside anger and suspicion, in embracing history and sympathy and industry (her brother’s work as a doctor, bringing ‘the sick man health, the tortured ease’; her own ‘more humble works, and lower cares’), this poem enacts far more comprehensibly, and on the local level, the sort of behaviour that would cure Britannia’s failings if adopted by her subjects in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.

Writers whose careers see in a new century are perhaps inevitably received differently from those whose lives fall within a single century’s span. The century-straddling ones often seem to be placed on one side or the other of the break, understood as either backwards or forwards-looking; it’s a bit like dividing children between the daring-naughty-radical and the boring-good-conformist. This may explain why Eighteen Hundred and Eleven was thought to have been disastrously misjudged in its own day, or rather why we have been told a story of its disastrous misjudgment. Barbauld had apparently published what sounded like an 18th-century work in the early 19th century, and its hostile reception ended her literary career: like poor Keats, the ailing poetess was crushed by a savage review. As Clery painstakingly shows, this tale of death by review is as nonsensical in Barbauld’s case as it was in Keats’s; but it testifies to several attempts to write her out of literary history. Indeed, these attempts have been so frequent and have combined with other sorts of accident and disaster in so striking a way that – as her most recent biographer, William McCarthy, has written – it is as if ‘a malign power had set out to erase her from history … the papers even of her friends and associates came to violent ends.’*

The mystery remains: why did she infuriate so many readers during her own lifetime? Some are born with the gift of pleasing; some are born to put people’s backs up. In the latter group there is a subcategory: those who put people’s backs up by seeming too pleased with themselves. Perhaps Barbauld’s usual tendency to present herself as resolutely contented with her lot – something that can also be seen as a stoical endurance of suffering – contributed to her later obscurity. And yet, as one Victorian biographer wrote, ‘her works show great powers of mind, an ardent love of civil and religious liberty, and that genuine and practical piety which ever distinguished her character.’ She never turned a crisis into a drama.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.