1.        In 1785 Anna Letitia Barbauld and her husband Rochemont resigned from the boys’ school at Palgrave in Suffolk, which they had made famous. Thereafter Anna Letitia did no further schoolteaching, but she remained a teacher: she took private pupils, sometimes teaching them in small groups and sometimes writing instructional letters to individuals. Most of the pupils identified today were the sons and daughters of family friends such as the Carrs of Hampstead—chiefly the daughters, for Barbauld devoted most of her post-Palgrave teaching to the education of girls and young women. Barbauld may have taken her first female pupil informally while still at Palgrave: Judith Dixon, of Norwich, afterwards Mrs. Beecroft, who was perhaps 14 when they met, and who as Mrs. Beecroft remained a friend. Barbauld’s friendship with Beecroft is documented by letters to her published by Lucy Aikin in The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1825). [1] After settling in Hampstead in the later 1780s, Barbauld tutored Flora Wynch, a paying pupil and the daughter of a neighbor. Other pupils were the daughters of Barbauld’s friend Susannah Taylor of Norwich, Grace Fletcher from Edinburgh (“I wished my dear child to have a high standard of intellectual and moral perfection, and in placing her with Mrs. Barbauld I had my wish accomplished,” wrote her mother), and “S. S. S.,” also from Edinburgh, who published a work of “young-adult” fiction called Thornton Hall; or, Six Months at School (1823) and dedicated it to Barbauld in thanks for “that kind care which I experienced, during those happy days of my childhood which I passed under your friendly roof.” [2] To some parents, Barbauld’s tutelage appeared to threaten gender or religious ideologies. Mary Anne Galton’s mother pulled Mary Anne back when Barbauld encouraged her to write for publication, and Sarah Hoare’s father, a Quaker, worried about Barbauld’s influence on his daughter’s religious views. [3]

2.        Pupils who came from a distance might live with the Barbaulds in Hampstead or, after September 1802, in Stoke Newington, for months at a time. S.S.S.’s memory of Barbauld’s “friendly roof” chimes with other recollections of Barbauld’s conduct as a mentor. Grace Fletcher felt put at ease by Barbauld’s “indulgence for the fancies and even follies of youth.” An American woman, Eliza Ware Rotch, remembered Barbauld “as a sweet-looking, lively old lady, wearing her gray hair, which was then very uncommon, and reading aloud to a circle of young people.” Rotch also remembered one of Barbauld’s teaching methods: after reading the description of the character Meg Merrilies in Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815), Barbauld “asked us all to draw the Gypsy as we imagined her.” [4] Simply to be in Barbauld’s company could be an instructional experience, as Harriet Martineau, a family friend but not formally a pupil, recalled: “I remember her gentle lively voice, and the stamp of superiority on all she said. We knew she was very learned, and we saw she was graceful, and playful, and kindly.” [5]

3.        Barbauld’s best-documented pupil today is Lydia Rickards (1784–1867), who came from Birmingham in the mid-1790s and settled, with her mother, in Hampstead in 1798. [6] Probably she came recommended (perhaps by a mutual friend [7]), and before she came Barbauld prepared her with a list of books she should read, a list that, today, looks formidable for a young teenager: works of history including Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788), Catharine Macaulay’s History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick Line (1763–1783), and Voltaire’s history of the reign of Charles XII; works of education and ethics such as Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque (1699; a favorite Barbauld book), and volumes of poetry by Milton, Akenside, Dryden, Gay, Gray, and Thomson. [8] Another young woman, Sarah Taylor, who came from Norwich, read Pope and Boileau (the latter in French), and was expected to keep up her Italian also. [9] Among the letters to be described below is a copy of one that Barbauld wrote to a Mr. “Douce,” apparently a tutor, recommending French books for a young reader who may have been Lydia. [10] While Lydia was still at Birmingham, probably before Barbauld had met her, Barbauld sent her three letters of a purely instructional nature (although also playful in manner). [11] For Lydia, afterwards, she wrote the letters on history published by Lucy Aikin in A Legacy for Young Ladies (1826), a letter on Homer, and a letter on the theory of language. [12]

4.        As with other young women Barbauld mentored, Lydia became a friend with whom she visited and to whom she wrote social letters. [13] In 1808 Lydia married William Withering, son of an eminent botanist. Her afterlife was not happy: in 1815 she suffered an illness that caused permanent dementia; she died, childless, more than 50 years later. The letters Barbauld wrote to her remained in the Rickards family. In November 1891, a collateral descendant, Edith Cordelia Rickards (d. 1929), having sent up a trial balloon with the instructional letters in the Monthly Packet, published excerpts from the social letters in Murray’s Magazine. Those were the texts on which I had to depend in my biography of Barbauld, Voice of the Enlightenment (2008). In 2011, Lydia’s last collateral descendant died childless in a nursing home. By sheer good luck (so the story goes), the packet of letters was rescued by a visitor from what threatened to be disposal, and put to auction (house of Dominic Winter, Cirencester, 11 May 2011). The letters were purchased by a Canadian independent scholar, Joanna Kafarowski, who, five years later, sold them to me. After transcribing and photographing the letters, in August 2016 I delivered them to the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at the New York Public Library, their owner today. [14]

5.        Barbauld’s letters to Lydia constitute the only long series of Barbauld letters known to survive in manuscript. The collection consists of 39 autograph letters from Barbauld to Lydia (a few others are known to be missing); three from Barbauld to Lydia’s mother; a letter by Barbauld’s nephew and adopted son, Charles Rochemont Aikin, to Lydia; and several other documents. It does not include Lydia’s or her mother’s replies. Five of Barbauld’s surviving letters to Lydia are explicitly instructional and are slated to appear in volume 2 of Barbauld’s Collected Works in progress from Oxford University Press: those on language, Homer, and history, dating to 1800 or slightly later. That edition will not include Barbauld’s social letters. [15] Presented on this website are a total of 38 social letters, including the three from Barbauld to Lydia’s mother and the one from Charles Rochemont Aikin detailing the conditions that led to Barbauld’s separation from her husband. This online edition is intended to publish accurate transcriptions of all the social letters, with identifications of persons and places named in them. [16] For permission to publish the letters I am grateful to Catriona Brodribb and Simon Martyn, Barbauld’s living collateral descendants, and to Dr. Elizabeth C. Denlinger, curator of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Trust. For helpful suggestions concerning this project I am grateful also to Scott Krawczyk. And to the unknown person who intervened to rescue the letters from destruction, everyone interested in Anna Letitia Barbauld must be deeply grateful.

Editorial Practices

6.        The texts of the letters in this web edition represent as fully as practicable the written characteristics of the originals. They preserve Barbauld’s spelling, punctuation, capitalization, use of superscript letters and catchwords, and paragraphing (as far as it can be determined; her dashes sometimes, but not always, indicate new paragraphs). Her insertions are indicated by carats (^), her deletions, when readable, by strikethroughs (thus). Text lost to heavy deletions or defects in the paper is supplied, when inferable, within square brackets, and when not inferable by italicized x’s. Terminal punctuation is occasionally supplied editorially. Editorial notes appear as italicized interpolations within square brackets. Letters are introduced by their cover texts and postmarks (PM, when present); the physical dimensions and watermarks of their papers (WM) are noted, as are their Pforzheimer shelfmarks (SM). In all but a handful of exceptional instances, annotation is confined to identification of modern persons, places, and books mentioned in the letters.

Abbreviations Used In The Notes

ALB Anna Letitia Barbauld
CRA Charles Rochemont Aikin
JA John Aikin
LA Lucy Aikin
LR Lydia Rickards
ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.
OED The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
RB Rochemont Barbauld


[1]Barbauld herself did not always use the digraph æ in her middle name. I use the simpler spelling. BACK

[2]Eliza Fletcher, The Autobiography of Mrs. Fletcher (Carlisle, UK: privately printed, 1874), quoted in William McCarthy, Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008; hereafter cited as ALBVE), 493; S.S.S., Thornton Hall; or,Six Months at School (Edinburgh: Fairbairn, 1823), quoted in ALBVE, 492. "S.S.S." has not been identified. BACK

[3]See ALBVE, 494–95. Barbauld’s religious views were not well known in detail, but they were known to be liberal. BACK

[4]For all three preceding quotations, see ALBVE, 508. BACK

[5]Harriet Martineau, Autobiography (vol. 1, 1877; rpt. London: Virago, 1983), quoted in ALBVE, 509. BACK

[6]The Hampstead Poor-Rate Books (Camden Local Studies Library, London Borough of Camden) first show Lydia Rickards (Lydia’s mother) in the assessment dated 22 Sept. 1798. For further details on Lydia see ALBVE, 392–93 and 644n9. BACK

[7]The friend may have been the Rev. Thomas Belsham: See Letter 12 below. How Barbauld obtained her pupils is not known, but that she obtained them through a combination of word-of-mouth and her national reputation as a writer is most likely. BACK

[8]E. C. Rickards, "Mrs. Barbauld and Her Pupil," Murray’s Magazine 10 (1891): 709. A good idea of the English literature Barbauld expected her young-woman pupils to read can be gathered from her anthology for young women, The Female Speaker (1811). Its contents, organized by genre, include excerpts from works by Hannah More, William Law, John Gregory, Hester Mulso Chapone, Pope, Thomson, Matthew Prior, Isaac Watts, Swift, Addison, Johnson, Maria Edgeworth, Gibbon, Goldsmith, Milton, William Cowper, Erasmus Darwin, Shakespeare, and a surprising number of essays from periodical essay series such as The Adventurer. The number of recent and contemporary writers represented indicates that Barbauld expected young women to be up-to-date on current writing as well as acquainted with English classics. BACK

[9] ALBVE, 493. BACK

[10]Misc. MS 4379, Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library. It is expected to appear in volume 2 of Barbauld’s Collected Works, in progress from Oxford University Press. “Douce” may be the “J. Dowse” to whom Barbauld wrote in 1810 recommending books on ancient history for young readers (printed in Betsy Rodgers, Georgian Chronicle: Mrs Barbauld and her Family [London: Methuen, 1958], 232–33; cited hereafter as GC). BACK

[11]They were published by E. C. Rickards as "Unpublished Letters of Mrs. Barbauld," Monthly Packet, n.s., 1 (1891): 276–85, and are to be reprinted in volume 2 of Barbauld’s Collected Works. More about E. C. Rickards below. BACK

[12]All of these are slated to appear in volume 2 of Barbauld’s Collected Works. There is reason to believe that the texts of the "Letters on History" published by Lucy Aikin in A Legacy for Young Ladies (1826) represent Barbauld’s revisions of the letters she originally wrote for Lydia. See letter 35 below, 18 May 1813. BACK

[13]Similarly, with Flora Wynch and her father Barbauld toured Scotland in 1794 (ALBVE, 364). Wynch was a favorite pupil; for her Barbauld wrote "On Fashion: A Vision," afterwards published in John Aikin’s Monthly Magazine 3 (April 1797): 254–56. Whether Barbauld corresponded with Flora after Flora became Mrs. Willis in 1795 is not known. BACK

[14]This account of the history of the letters is quoted from my note in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, with permission of the editor. See n. 16 below. BACK

[15]An exception is letter 1 below, which is both social and pedagogic. It can be argued that even a social letter from Barbauld to a young woman had a pedagogic aspect, for in modeling attention to events and surroundings it encouraged such attention in its recipient. BACK

[16]In 2019, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature published transcriptions of 31 of the social letters to Lydia and her mother. Barbauld’s handwriting is often hard to decipher, and, as I argued in a note on them, the transcriptions contain numerous errors that I seek to correct here. See Jessica W. H. Lim, "Unsettled Accounts: Anna Letitia Barbauld's Letters to Lydia Rickards," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 38, no. 1 (2019): 153-200, and William McCarthy, "The Lim Transcriptions of Anna Letitia Barbauld's Letters to Lydia Rickards: A Critique," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 39, no. 1 (2020): 151–54. BACK