SHE is Warrington’s forgotten woman – despite having two streets named after her!.
Stop someone in the street and ask them if they have ever heard of her and the chances are the answer will be in the negative.
Yet she was a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, long before the word “celebrity” was bandied about as it is today – and Warrington has two streets named after her.
She is Anna Letitia Barbauld, nee Aikin (1743-1825).
Historian Bill Cooke, in his recently published book “The Story of Warrington – the Athens of the North” describes her as “one of Warrington’s golden moments.”
In her day, she was rightly considered one of England’s leading creative writers, the daughter of John Aikin, a leading figure at Warrington Academy. Her fame survived her change of name on marriage – she was equally famous as Anna Letitia Aikin – and her works, poetry and prose, were lauded in America as well as in England.
Yet history has practically passed her by.
Just down the road in Knutsford, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) is still remembered well – perhaps because her novel “Cranford” was based on Knutsford, but more likely because some of her works have been adapted for television. Yet Gaskell was ready to admit that her novels were inspired by Anna Barbauld.
So again it must be asked – why has Anna been forgotten not just in Warrington but by the literary world in general.
It is true that much of her writing was for children and that her children’s books remained in print for a century after being published. But she also championed women’s rights and controversially ventured into the political arena. She tackled difficult subjects and the titles of her works did not exactly flow from the tongue – “Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts” for instance.
Others included “Thoughts on Devotional Taste” and “The Hill of Science: A Vision.”
Unlikely to appear on television any time soon.
Anna’s career ended when she published “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” in which she criticised Britain’s participation in the Napoleonic Wars. It was a pessimistic view which was seen as defeatist and unpatriotic. She was shocked by the vicious reviews it received and published nothing else in her lifetime.
She also predicted the demise of the British Empire – then the unquestioned power in the world – and the rise of America as the leading power. An unpopular view which, although it took rather a long time to do so, eventually came true.
Later generations of poets, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, who in their younger years had admired Anna and copied her work, turned against her.
All this, however, doesn’t explain why Warrington has forgotten her. Perhaps something more than naming streets after her needs to be done.
Anyone who wants to know more about Anna Letitia Barbauld (nee Aikin) could do worse than read Bill Cooke’s book, published by Matador www.troubador.co.uk/matador