Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825)

Educationist, poet, and writer for children. With her brother, the physician and writer, John Aikin (1747–1822), Barbauld was a member of an intellectual Dissenter circle including the Edgeworths, Erasmus Darwin, and others, whose influence as educationists remained widespread and reflected in Ruskin’s early reading and writing, although their politics of many in this circle belonged to a bygone revolutionary fervor. Aikin and Barbauld’s Evenings at Home (1792–96) is likely to have formed part of the Ruskin family library, F. J. Sharp (1880–1957) acquiring from Brantwood what he believed to be Ruskinʼs boyhood copy of that book (Viljoen, Sharp Collection, 8), as well as a copy of Barbauld’s Hymns in Prose (1781). The influence of Evenings at Home is discernible in what is probably Ruskin’s earliest extant poem, “The Needless Alarm”, and in “The Adventures of an Ant”.
According to Lucy Aikin, the selections in Evenings at Home attributable to Barbauld are “The Young Mouse”, “The Wasp and the Bee”, “Alfred: A Drama”, “Animals and Countries”, “Canute’s Reproof”, “The Masque of Nature”, “Things by Their Right Names”, “The Goose and the Horse”, “On Manufacture”, “The Flying‐fish”, , “The Phoenix and the Dove”, “The Manufacture of Paper”, “The Four Sisters”, and “Live Dolls”. All other pieces were composed by John Aikin (Barbauld, Works, ed. Aikin, 1:xxxvi–xxxvii).
One of Barbauld’s ideas that is strongly present in Ruskin’s youthful writing is compassionate sympathy for animals. For the presence of Barbauld’s ideas in Ruskin’s home education, as well as her continuing influence over Ruskin’s thinking in maturity—particularly the significance of the dialogue, “Eyes, and No Eyes; or, the Art of Seeing” from Evenings at Home, see Lightman, “John Ruskinʼs Debt to Anna Barbauldʼs Books for Children”.
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