Family, Nation, and the Radical Education of Anna Barbauld and John Aikin
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The attacks against Anna Barbauld, culminating in John Wilson’s Croker’s “outrageously abusive” review of her anti-war masterpiece, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, tell a familiar narrative about the narrowing of possibilities for political intervention on the part of female authors.1 Recent scholarship has dismissed these attacks as sexist or partisan, or both, an assault on the radical Dissenting community of which she was a part. And yet the hostility Barbauld incurred frequently went beyond the bounds of political opposition: it reflected a deeper if less vehement disagreement over the way in which authorial greatness was conceived. For if Dr. Johnson characterized her transition to educational writing as a “voluntary descent from possible splendour to painful duty,”2 while Croker deplored her movement from the nursery back to public verse, both critics are united in the opinion that, however “respectful and useful” Barbauld’s educational activities were, they occupied a lesser sphere of literary endeavor.3 The hierarchy of genres gave little weight to educational writing despite the enormous practical importance that Locke, among others, had vested in it, linking the success even of primary instruction to “the welfare and prosperity of the nation.”4 The belief that education had little to do with England’s political future was one that Barbauld and her brother (and life-long collaborator) John Aikin vigorously refuted.
KeywordsMoral Knowledge Rational Conversation Female Author Frame Narrative Fellow Creature
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