If Anna Letitia Barbauld’s was a voice of the Enlightenment, it hasn’t, until now, carried very far. Known in her own time as a poet and controversial essayist, her fame in the fifty years after her death rested almost entirely on fond memories of her reading schemes for very small children. She struggled through to the twenty-first century with a handful of anthology pieces (‘The Mouse’s Petition’, ‘Washing-Day’, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven) and a reputation for worthiness: not the stuff to attract a wide readership.
William McCarthy’s twenty years of work on this author, which includes co-editorship of a fine Poems and Selected Poems and Prose, has now borne fruit in this monumental, quietly magnificent biography, which will surely do as much to promote Barbauld’s reputation as anyone could dream. McCarthy has no