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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 19, août 2000

New Texts and Textual Scholarship in British Literature, 1780-1830

Sous la direction de Anthony John Harding

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005940ar

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Article

The Anna Letitia Barbauld Web Page: 1773 meets 2000

Lisa Vargo

University of Saskatchewan


1

This essay is a meditation by someone relatively new to electronic editing on what hypertext posted on the World Wide Web might offer to textual scholarship. In its very transformation of the nature of the page from a contained and organized leaf of printed text to an infinitely expandable network of links, the Web can refresh our notions of the text and of the way in which we read the romantic period. I wish to consider how a facsimile version of a literary work might be made accessible to students and scholars, how electronic media has the potential to increase awareness of the material nature of the printed book and thereby aid our reception of long neglected writers who lack a continuous readership dating from the time that their works first appeared. Electronic publishing can facilitate the acquisition of a rich textual heritage of the sort already in the possession of canonical writers.

2

My specific focus, The Anna Letitia Barbauld Web Page, began with high aspirations and a modest research grant. My starting point of inquiry was the question of how poets unfamiliar to students and perhaps even to scholars might be recovered in a meaningful way. I was intrigued by the handful of poems by Anna Barbauld included in recent anthologies of late eighteenth-century and romantic writing. Because the same few works, including "Washing Day," "To a Mouse," "The Rights of Woman," "To Mr. S. T. Coleridge," and "A Summer Evening's Meditation," kept appearing, in a de facto way, a Barbauld canon was being created, despite the fact that her works were not readily available. I began to appreciate how writers long absent from the canon are perhaps not immediately comprehensible in spite of the best intentions to include their work in teaching and in scholarship. I wondered what role hypertext might have in promoting the reintroduction of Barbauld's poetry to literary studies. My project was initiated in 1997 as a small experiment to learn about hypertext, to explore collaborative work, and to consider how editing might be done in a different form from the paper edition. To this end I enlisted the help of a graduate student, Allison Muri, who had much experience in Web design, and we set to work on a very narrowly conceived project of creating hypertext editions of three poems. Since then our focus has changed, but aesthetically pleasing design and reliable scholarship has remained a priority, and the different skills we bring and share with one another have meant that our collaboration has become part of a process that, as I will suggest, has at least in some respects leveled the hierarchical division between professor and student and between publisher and consumer in something resembling the spirit that Barbauld herself aspired to as a Dissenting Protestant writer.

3

Anna Barbauld's writings took many forms over a long career. During her lifetime (1743-1825) she produced poems, essays, political tracts, reviews, works for children, and critical prefaces for editions of poetry and letters, as well as for a fifty-volume edition of British novels. She also edited an anthology for women entitled The Female Speaker. The daughter of a tutor at the Dissenting Academy at Warrington and for many years a teacher in her own right, she held a place in the British Dissenting culture and counted figures like Joseph Priestley, publisher Joseph Johnson, and Joanna Baillie among her friends. She was also well-known among her contemporaries as a poet. Her major works of poetry are Poems (1773), which went through five editions; two editions of "An Epistle to William Wilberforce" (1791), which was incorporated into an expanded edition of her poems in 1792; Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812) and a posthumously published edition of her poems, which includes poems that appeared in journals as well as unpublished verse, edited by her niece Lucy Aikin in 1825. Some additional poems appeared in Aikin's 1826 edition, A Legacy for Young Ladies. [1] And then, but for her lyric "Life! I know not what thou art," which received the attentions of nineteenth-century anthologists like Palgrave, Barbauld's poetry disappeared as the reputations of poets like Blake, Keats, and Shelley grew.

4

It is ironic that Barbauld's activities as an editor gave her a role in the formation of a British canon of literature from which she was eventually excluded. And yet Barbauld's writings fell victim to a process she herself recognized. As John Guillory has pointed out, a paradox exists with respect to the emergence during the eighteenth century of the notion of culture as property. According to Guillory 'the vernacular canon is at once conceived to be the property of everyone in the nation, "common" property, while it remains the case that literacy itself is by no means a universal possession.' [2] Within the context of Dissenting Protestant culture, creating a canon of English literature is a means through which those who lack cultural capital may acquire it, as one might acquire property. Such concerns are also often reflected in the subject of her poetry, be it the oppression of Corsica, the imprisonment of a mouse, a lady's handwriting, or a description of the Dissenting Academy at Warrington. Barbauld's concerns with culture as property and the fact that the means to this property, literacy, is not universal has a relevance to the Web page. Although accessibility means the Web witholds capital from some, nevertheless Web publishing demonstrates an awareness of the page as a form of capital and a desire to make that page the property of more people, if not everyone, both with respect to who has access to it and to how it is read. And in so doing, Barbauld herself might regain literary capital.

5

It is of course a matter of economics that prevents writers recently restored to literary studies from being known by more than a few poems. A Barbauld canon of sorts has been created through the anthologies produced by editors including Roger Lonsdale, Jennifer Breen, Andrew Ashfield, Paula Feldman, Duncan Wu, and Anne Mellor and Richard Matlak. [3] The most common means of access is a small group of texts that can only give a limited view of Barbauld's verse. Knowledge of the poetry beyond that provided by anthologies or by a visit to a rare books collection is available in two forms. A scholarly edition of the poems was produced by William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft in 1994. [4] Less canonical texts of the romantic period have been reproduced in facsimile form as parts of series by publishers and Barbauld is no exception. The Garland facsimile of the Hymns in Prose for Children (1781), Jonathan Wordsworth's Woodstock editions of Poems (1792) and Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, and a reprint of Anna Aikin's two volume edition of 1825 included in a twelve-volume set of women romantic writers published by Routledge reproduce key volumes of Barbauld works. [5] These texts are largely intended for library collections. Their cost makes them impossible to use in the classroom and few individuals are likely to purchase the texts. No paperback edition of the collected poetry is planned by University of Georgia Press, but a selected edition of Barbauld's poetry and prose edited by McCarthy and Kraft is forthcoming from Broadview Press.

6

At the very least the World Wide Web exists as a supplement to the printed book. It can serve as a stopgap until a paperback which makes a significant amount of Barbauld's poetry available appears. Furthermore, the Web, which provides downloadable texts free of charge, exists as an alternative that offers a means to access material and allow students and scholars to become aware of work by writers for whom there is not a long history of Penguins, Dover Thrift editions, Everymans, Norton Critical editions and Oxford English Texts. The Web then is a means to bypass the economic realities of the book trade, which necessarily excludes from some authors editions of collected works.

7

Nevertheless, any fear that the electronic edition will supplant the book seems ungrounded. In fact the opposite is entirely more likely. The Web page edition can surpass the ability of the page of the paper facsimile to give a sense of the material nature of the printed book when it is not possible to have access to the actual book. The very nature of the photographic reproduction on modern acid free paper using modern binding techniques cannot give the experience of reading a late-eighteenth century book as it was originally produced And among the facsimiles of Barbauld's work available, there is no edition of 1773, which is materially different from the 1792 edition created in facsimile by Woodstock. The smaller 12 x 20 cm format of 1792 does not allow the reader to see the beauty of the larger 21 x 26 cm format of the first edition (Jackson, p. 17). For example, the lyric "To a Lady, With Some Painted Flowers," as it exists in 1773 with "To a Lady" spread across the page in spaced capital letters the large initial "F"and the comfortable spacing of the text on the page, has a very different feel than the sparse and narrower text of the poem as it is presented in the smaller format of 1792. Having begun the Web page as an experiment in the critical editing of three poems, the benefits of producing a facsimile text using electronic media pushed the Barbauld Web project in a new direction. The librarians at the Bruce Peel Special Collections of the University of Alberta in Edmonton kindly allowed us to scan a copy of Poems (1773). A colour facsimile of the volume, scanned at a resolution suitable for viewing on a monitor, gives the viewer access to a copy of the first edition. We have also made text versions of the poem available; these are the site on which are working up a series of explanatory notes, textual variants, and hypertext links. The edition is available on the Romantic Circles Web site.

8

Our recovery project of Poems (1773) not only produces the text, but its physical state, as well as providing an example of how one copy of the text has weathered the inevitable processes of aging. Visitors to the Web site can experience the text more than two hundred years after it was produced. The unsigned title page, the poems as a discrete collection, and Barbauld's notes are there to experience. It is possible to see the foxing, holes in paper, the character of the paper, chain lines, the imprint of the type on the page, the type showing through the next page, the use of the long "s," the wide margins, and the catchwords and signatures. At the conclusion of the volume is a notice for a collection of English songs collected by Barbauld's brother John Aikin, in which Barbauld's "Songs" first appeared. Viewers can click through page by page and have a sense of reading the poems in the order that they were printed by Joseph Johnson in 1773, beginning with the bold political poem "Corsica" and concluding with the pensive "A Summer Evening's Meditation." An image of the leather spine is presented on the contents page to the edition. Of course our facsimile cannot act as a replacement for the physical handling the actual book in the rare books collection in Edmonton or another research library. There are also specialized matters of bibliographical study that the facsimile cannot provide. But the Web facsimile has the potential to allow anyone with access to a computer hooked up to the World Wide Web with a version of Netscape (4.0 or later versions) to see the work and to consider its materiality. While scholars wishing to consult the first edition may access the text, the facsimile offers a means to introduce students to material aspects of book production. It is intended to make the book have a reality and a bearing upon the experience of reading the poems.

9

Yet the facsimile is not merely a visual aid. To have some sense of what reading a book in 1773 was like is an important starting point for recovering Barbauld's poems. The 1773 volume was Barbauld's major collection of poetry, an influential volume whose poems were reprinted by Wollstonecraft and read by Blake, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. It is a seminal document for the first generation of romantics and enables students to see the volume that the canonical poets read. Most students of romantic literature have a working knowledge of the textual history of the work of the so-called Big Six poets. Blake's illuminated printing, the contents of the Lyrical Ballads volume, the versions of the Prelude, which lyrics accompanied Prometheus Unbound and the poems Keats published in his 1820 volume shape how the poems are read. [6] These contexts clung to the texts as they travelled through subsequent editions and contribute to our reading of the poems. A gap exists between the volumes Barbauld published and the scholarly edition of 1994, which illustrates the radical break in the reading of Barbauld's work. Therefore it is imperative that our experience of reading of Barbauld should include a version of the text her contemporaries saw.

10

If the physical recovery of the volume through the Web facsimile is one aspect of the restoration, hypertext might aid the reception of writers being restored to the canon by allowing for the presentation of a poem's socio-cultural and political contexts. There is no doubt that it is a challenge to recover long-unread poems as something more than as a historical curiosity. That Barbauld's poems lack the rich afterlife of more canonical writers gives the illusion that they are merely relics of another age. Certainly this relegation of Barbauld to the past is the spirit in which the McCarthy and Kraft edition was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. The reviewer suggested that the editors' claims about the technical accomplishment of her poetry 'are not strong', that the poems 'are tied closely to particular occasions' and to the contexts of the Warrington Academy. In the perspective of the reviewer they are for the most part written in a style that is 'the standard Pope-and-water of the later eighteenth century' and Barbauld is characterized as being 'at her most individual and at her closest to the Romantics whose work would so soon throw her own into shadow.' [7] And yet Barbauld's disappearance is not a simple matter of being overshadowed by younger, better poets. Her work was thrown into shadow by a complex interplay of cultural forces, including changing assumptions about the subject of women's poetry later in the nineteenth-century and her family's failure to produce the sort of collected edition that the heirs of Coleridge and Shelley, for instance, diligently created. And in turn, our own ability to read Barbauld has been thrown into shadow by our ingrained habit of reading late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century poets through the lens of the major male romantic poets, so much so that it sometimes seems difficult to read otherwise.

11

It is in addressing what is problematic about reading poetry by women writing in period of 1790-1830 after such long neglect that hypertext has a value. In an essay on hypertext and teaching Romantic women poets, Joel Haefner quotes from Barbauld's oft-anthologized poem to Coleridge to initiate his discussion of 'how hypertext might affect the study of romantic literature.' [8] He argues that

hypertext 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.

Haefner, p. 47

For Haefner hypertext is accessible to students, helps to contextualize works culturally, reinforces associationism and fragmentation, and creates a new learning community in the classroom (Haefner, p. 48). Haefner concludes, 'it may be liberating and invigorating to find ourselves confronted with the digital text, in tangled mazes caught' (Haefner, p. 50). Haefner aptly captures the value of electronic media as a means to deepen our understanding of the values which characterizes Barbauld's own work. It is in a spirit of contextualizing so as to encourage associationism in a new learning community that the Barbauld page is being created.

12

Beyond reproducing the material character of a text, hypertext invites consideration of the character of the material conditions in which a text was produced. To this end we have pursued two models—the hypertext annotated edition of a poem and what we call the 'Poem Web.' I have already explained that the Barbauld Web page began as an attempt to create hypertext (a series of links between related sections of text and graphic material) editions of three short poems: 'On a Lady's Writing' (1773), 'To Mr. C—ge' (1799), and 'Washing Day' (1797). All three poems have been the subject of misunderstanding on the part of modern readers because they have been read out of their contexts. This is a testament to the fact that we lack the rich, evolving critical heritage that writers like Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Keats possess. Our hypertext edition is a means to begin to understand Barbauld properly. Though this work is yet incomplete, it is clear that a return to the contexts of the poems contests how the poems have been read.

13

Above all, the poems seem to suffer for their lack of a reading tradition. The hypertext links we have assembled invite readers to navigate through a series of documents so as to work from a sense of reading the poems when they were produced. Such contexts prevent the possibility of readings that relegate the poem to historical curiosity or to inferior literature. I chose the three poems featured in my initial project for their variety and for the fact that they have attracted some critical interest. One of the most intriguing is also one of Barbauld's shortest poems. A critic suggests that in the six-line poem 'On a Lady's Writing' Barbauld 'refuses to consider women's writing as anything but "correct" strokes of the pen.' [9] The poem contains no such refusal; it is an exploration of handwriting and the conduct book as forms of social control. We have assembled a collections of documents and images about penmanship, writing, and the conduct book. These contexts demonstrate Barbauld's awareness of how the training of the hand reinforces the body politic and women's place in her culture. How and what women write is related to prescriptions for middle class women in conduct books of the period. From her perspective as a Dissenting thinker Barbauld asks ladies to use their literacy to change society's inscription of bourgeois women.

14

Dissenting culture also plays a role in the poem addressed to the poet Coleridge, which has been characterized in terms of debates about gender. Because it is a work addressed to a canonical writer, it often appears in anthologies of romantic writing. But to read the poem primarily as part of the struggle between male and female writers is understandable because the poem's contexts have been overshadowed by Coleridge's oft-repeated comment recorded in his Table Talk about Barbauld as an obtuse reader of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' The poem to Coleridge was written in 1797 but remained unpublished until April 1799, when it appeared in the Monthly Magazine, whose literary editor was Barbauld's brother John Aikin (McCarthy and Kraft, p. 296n), a few months after Coleridge turned down an offer of the Dissenting ministry at Shrewsbury. The poem's contexts in poems by Coleridge, including Religious Musings, the influence of Joseph Priestley, echoes with Barbauld's Bunyanesque allegory 'The Hill of Science, A Vision' (1773), and Coleridge's later verbal attacks on Barbauld suggest that the poem is part of a larger dialogue about the role of the poet and intellectual from the perspective of religious Dissent.

15

One of Barbauld's better know poems is the mock-heroic 'Washing Day.' Elizabeth Kraft has addressed the fact that it 'is a poem endangered by misreading.' [10] By considering the contexts of a reference to the Montgolfier balloon and Barbauld's interest in science, Kraft moves interpretation of the poem from a celebration of women's labour to a discussion about the imagination. The poem, Kraft has shown, is a 'celebration of the creative imagination' that 'places the poem firmly in the centre of the late eighteenth century's preoccupation with both creativity and change'(Kraft, p. 37). A copy of her essay is posted on the site and we have been able to supplement Kraft's insights by assembling documentary, visual, and musical material about laundry and about the scientific contexts of the poem.

16

The hypertext editions just described present a decentred page, organized only in the respect that the collection of links share a relation to a specific poem. A second model seeks to present a more directed form of hypertext. The interplay between text, hypertext link, and critical commentary is something we have pursued on the Romantic Circles edition of Poems 1773 through what we call a 'Poem Web.' In preparing the facsimile we recast the hypertext edition of 'On a Lady's Writing' and took the idea of providing background for the poem one step further. We hope it provides an example of what hypertext can achieve in creating a sustained essay that nevertheless has the poem as its centre and that resists being read in a continuous linear manner. While it offers a more directed reading experience than the hypertext, it is more fluid than the critical essay. The 'Poem Web' might be seen as a first step for the communication of research that could be then worked up in a more formal domain of the printed essay and the critical monograph.

17

It is through electronic publishing that we are especially interested in considering the value of associationism and fragmentation so germane to romanticism with respect to creating a new learning community that Haefner describes. In establishing these contexts we have assembled relevant documents (in full or in part), engravings, colour images, performance of music, explanatory notes, biographical material, modern critical essays and bibliographies for further reading. It is the choice of the viewer how much will be consulted and in which order. The poems themselves can be read in and of themselves without any encumbrance of note or other contextual material. As Michael Joyce suggests, hypertext has the potential to challenge and even obviate the distinction between reader and writer, which in the case of teaching can contribute to a different sort of pedagogy in the classroom as well as invite the possibility for networks of communication among scholars. [11]

18

In a small way this communication has begun. Certainly The Anna Letitia Barbauld Web Page builds upon the work of many others. One need only consult Alan Liu's The Voice of the Shuttle to see our hypertextual forebears. We are linked with Daniel White's on-line bibliography of Barbauld. We are working in a cooperative way with Molly Beverstein and Laura Mandell's project to digitize Barbauld's prose writings. There are, however, impediments. The creation of a hypertext is slow. Copyright issues are complicated and cannot be ignored. Some institutions are simply unwilling to give permissions, which are easily granted in the case of the printed text. The hypertext is always a work in progress and its sense of the incomplete often exhausts both funds and commitment to the project. It is also still the object of scepticism on the part of scholars, if perhaps much less so in the minds of computer literate students. It has become a commonplace to speculate that the electronic media spell the death of the book. Yet seldom does communications technology work in such absolute terms. As the advent of printing did not obliterate the production of manuscripts and nor did the telephone—or even e-mail—eradicate the letter, the book will no doubt co-exist with the electronic text. The demise of the book seems yet another exaggerated prognostication. Brian Lang, Chief Executive, British Library suggests in a recent newspaper debate abut the death of the book, 'The internet has a lot going for it. So has the book, because it's still our cleverest invention and we shall not, and need not, do without all its wonderful features.' [12] But we are not always clever readers, which leads to a second charge about the internet—that it takes away from the integrity of the author. In fact the Web allows an opportunity to make the material nature of the printed book more widely known that we might read volumes from the past with informed intelligence and vision.


 Remerciements

I benefited from the suggestions of Allison Muri, and some of my many conversations with her have influenced my thinking here. I wish to thank the University of Saskatchewan for financial support of the Anna Barbauld Web Page.

 

Notes

[1]

See J. R. de J. Jackson, Romantic Poetry by Women: A Bibliography, 1770-1835 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) pp. 17-19; hereafter abbreviated as Jackson.

[2]

John Guillory, 'Literary capital. Gray's "Elegy," Anna Laetitia Barbauld, and the vernacular canon,' in Early Modern Conceptions of Property, eds. John Brewer and Susan Staves (London and New York: Routledge, 1995) pp. 389-410.

[3]

See Jennifer Breen's Women Romantic Poets (London: Everyman, 1992), Roger Lonsdale's Eighteenth- Century Women Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), Jerome McGann's New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), Andrew Ashfield's Women Romantic Poets: 1770-1838 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), Duncan Wu's Romanticism: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), Anne K. Mellor and Richard E. Matlak's British Literature, 1780-1830 (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996) and Paula R. Feldman's British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Other recent anthologies that include Barbauld's works include The Norton Anthology, 6th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993), Robert W. Uphaus and Gretchen M. Foster's The Other Eighteenth Century (East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1991), David Perkins's English Romantic Writers, 2nd ed. (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995) and The Longman Anthology of British Literature, vol. 2: "The Romantics and Their Contemporaries" ed. Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1999).

[4]

The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld, eds. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1994); hereafter abbreviated as McCarthy and Kraft.

[5]

Hymns in Prose for Children, introd. Miriam Kramnick (New York: Garland Publishers, 1977); Poems (1792), introd. Jonathan Wordsworth (Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books, 1993); Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, introd. Jonathan Wordsworth (Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books, 1995); Romantics: Women Poets, 12 vols. (London and New York: Routledge, 1996).

[6]

See Neil Fraistat, The Poem and the Book: Interpreting Collections of Romantic Poetry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985).

[7]

Grevel Lindop, 'Warrington's muse - Review of The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld, ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft,' Times Literary Supplement (16 December 1994) 24.

[8]

Joel Haefner, '"In Tangled Mazes Wrought": Hypertext and Teaching Romantic Women Poets,' in Approaches to Teaching British Women Poets of the Romantic Period, eds. Stephen C. Behrendt and Harriet Kramer Linkin (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1997) p. 46; hereafter abbreviated as Haefner.

[9]

Richard Sha, The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) p. 111.

[10]

Elizabeth Kraft, 'Anna Letitia Barbauld's "Washing-Day" and the Montgolfier Balloon,' Literature and History 4:2 (1991) 25; hereafter abbreviated as Kraft.

[11]

Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds: Hypertext, Pedagogy, and Poetics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995) p. 19.

[12]

Simon Waldman and Brian Lang, 'Will the book be supplanted by electronic technology?,' TheGuardianOnline (31 July 1999) n. pag. 15/3/2000. <http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3888175,00.html>

Auteur : Lisa Vargo
Titre : The Anna Letitia Barbauld Web Page: 1773 meets 2000
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 19, août 2000
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005940ar
DOI : 10.7202/005940ar

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