The Anna Letitia Barbauld Web Page: 1773 meets 2000[Record]

  • Lisa Vargo

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  • Lisa Vargo
    University of Saskatchewan

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. 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. 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 ...