Introduction to this Hypertext


The hypertext edition of Poems (1773) by Anna Lætitia Aikin (later Barbauld) reproduces a copy courtesy of the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta in Edmonton. It presents a faithful color facsimile of the first edition and text versions of the poems. While scholars wishing to consult the first edition may access the text, the facsimile also provides a means to introduce students to material aspects of book production and is intended to make the physical book have a reality and a bearing upon the experience of reading the poems. The edition is part of an ongoing collaborative venture on the part of an academic who is interested in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British women writers, and a graduate student with much experience in Web design. Several motives define the purpose of our project. We wish to transcend the limitations of the printed page to explore a different sort of editing in which the limits of what is possible to achieve in a printed edition might be extended. We want to raise questions about how works are produced by one age and how they are received by subsequent eras. We would like to think that our work might be seen as complementary to the number of recent anthologies that include Barbauld's work and to William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft's authoritative edition, The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld.

The purposes we have defined are echoed by Joel Haefner in a recent essay, "'In Tangled Mazes Wrought': Hypertext and Teaching Romantic Women Poets." Haefner begins the essay by quoting from Barbauld's poem to Coleridge to initiate a discussion of "how hypertext might affect the study of romantic literature" (46). He subsequently provides a powerful argument in favor of hypertext, as it "tends to undermine the hegemony of the canon" and "replaces the paradigm of the writer-who-writes alone with a collaborative interaction among a writer, other writers, and readers. The cross-fertilization that was truly characteristic of the romantic era may be better illustrated with hypertextual links among authors, across texts, genres, and geography" (47). Hypertext, Haefner believes, is accessible to students, helps to contextualize works culturally, reinforces associationism and fragmentation, and creates a new learning community in the classroom (48). At the end of his essay Haefner raises the challenge that "it may be liberating and invigorating to find ourselves confronted with the digital text, in tangled mazes caught" (50). Above all, hypertext offers an exciting means to respond to questions of how one may learn to read poetry by women writing in period of 1790-1830 after such long neglect. The poem web on "To a Lady's Writing" included in the edition demonstrates the power of image and text and link in a hypertextual environment. It is meant not only as a teaching tool, but as a model for hypertextual editing.

The Text

The volume, published by Joseph Johnson, St. Paul's Church-Yard, is the first publication by Anna Barbauld (1743-1825). The work went through five editions between 1773 and 1777: three in 1773, a fourth edition in 1774, and a fifth edition in 1777. A new and corrected edition of 1792 added the "Epistle to William Wilberforce" (published by itself in two editions in 1791). Poems was enormously influential, as is attested by the allusions and references other writers, including William Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth, make to the poems. And it should be remembered that Joseph Johnson was the publisher and friend of Joseph Priestley, John Aikin, Joel Barlow, William Blake, Erasmus Darwin, R. L. and Maria Edgeworth, Henry Fuseli, William Wordsworth, William Godwin, Tom Paine, John Horne Tooke, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Beddoes, and Humphry Davy. Barbauld was a part of Johnson's intellectual circle and joined his dinner table of friends when she and her husband Rochemont visited London. It is our intention to provide a version of the text as Barbauld's contemporaries would have experienced the poems.

Poems (1773) consists of thirty-three poems, which were written while Anna Aikin was living at the Dissenting academy at Warrington, Lancashire, where her father as a tutor. The year after their publication she married Rochemont Barbauld and they settled in Palgrave, Suffolk, and ran the Palgrave School until 1785. According to William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft, the poems were likely written beginning in 1767 and they circulated in manuscript among students and tutors at Warrington (and beyond) before they were published (xxix). Eleven of the poems were previously published; "Songs I-VI" appeared in her brother John's Essays on Song-Writing (1772) and William Enfield published five of her hymns in Hymns for Public Worship (1772) (McCarthy and Kraft xxx).

Using this hypertext

Users of this hypertext can choose to read the scanned edition or the transcription. Thumbnail versions of the facsimile appear on each page of text; click on the thumbnail page to view it in a larger format. Readers may access any of the poems through the Contents page or by using the forward and backward arrows on the transcript pages. The Contents page gives access to a contemporary review of Barbauld, a chronology of her life, a selected bibliography of Barbauld's works, and an example of a poem web. Enjoy!

Works Cited

Haefner, Joel. "'In Tangled Mazes Wrought': Hypertext and Teaching Romantic Women Poets." Approaches to Teaching British Women Poets of the Romantic Period. Ed. Stephen C. Behrendt and Harriet Kramer Linkin. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1997. 45-50.

McCarthy, William and Elizabeth Kraft, eds. The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld. Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 1994.