Miss Joy and Mrs Hayter

Freya Johnston

  • Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: Poetry, Protest and Economic Crisis by E.J. Clery
    Cambridge, 326 pp, £75.00, June 2017, ISBN 978 1 107 18922 5

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.

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[*] Seamus Perry reviewed McCarthy’s Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment in the LRB of 15 February 2010.