Hymns in Prose for Children
Barbauld and her husband were concerned that they would never have a child of their own and in 1775, after only a year of marriage, Barbauld suggested to her brother, John Aikin, that they adopt one of his children:
I am sensible it is not a small thing we ask; nor can it be easy for a parent to part with a child. This I would say, from a number, one may more easily be spared. Though it makes a very material difference in happiness whether a person has children or no children, it makes, I apprehend, little or none whether he has three, or four; five, or six; because four or five are enow [sic] to exercise all his whole stock of care and affection. We should gain, but you would not lose.
Eventually her brother conceded and the couple adopted Charles; it was for him that Barbauld wrote her most famous books: Lessons for Children (1778–9) and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781).
Barbauld’s Lessons for Children and Hymns in Prose for Children were a revolution in children’s literature. For the first time, the needs of the child reader were seriously considered. Barbauld demanded that her books be printed in large type with wide margins so that children could easily read them and, even more importantly, she developed a style of “informal dialogue between parent and child” that would dominate children’s literature for a generation.
Lessons for Children and Hymns in Prose had, for children’s books, an unprecedented impact; not only did they influence the poetry of William Blake and William Wordsworth, they were also used to teach several generations of school children. Although both Samuel Johnson and Charles James Fox ridiculed Barbauld’s children’s books and believed that she was wasting her talents, Barbauld herself believed that such writing was noble and she encouraged others to follow in her footsteps. As Betsy Rodgers, her biographer explains, “she gave prestige to the writing of juvenile literature, and by not lowering her standard of writing for children, she inspired others to write on a similar high standard.” In fact, because of Barbauld, Sarah Trimmer and Hannah More were inspired to write for poor children as well as organize a large-scale Sunday School movement, Ellenor Fenn wrote and designed a series of readers and games for middle-class children and Richard Lovell Edgeworth began one of the first systematic studies of childhood development which would culminate in not only an educational treatise authored by Maria Edgeworth and himself but also in a large body of children’s stories by Maria herself.
- Qtd. in Rodgers, 68.
- McCarthy, “Mother of All Discourses," 88–9.
- McCarthy, "Mother of All Discourses," 85–6.
- Rodgers, 71.
- Rodgers, 72.
- Myers, 261.
- Ferguson, Frances (May 2017). "The Novel Comes of Age: When Literature Started Talking with Children". differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, special issue: Bad Object. Duke University Press. 28 (1): 37–63. doi:10.1215/10407391-3821688.
- McCarthy, William (Winter 1999). "Mother of All Discourses: Anna Barbauld's Lessons for Children" (pdf). Princeton University Library Chronicle. Princeton University. 60 (2): 196–219.
- Myers, Mitzi. "Of Mice and Mothers: Mrs. Barbauld's 'New Walk' and Gendered Codes in Children's Literature." Feminine Principles and Women's Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Eds. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and Janet Emig. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-8229-5544-3
- Rodgers, Betsy. Georgian Chronicle: Mrs. Barbauld and Her Family. London: Methuen, 1958.