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Religious Books, Bibles, Hyms, etc. 0400: Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Hymns in Prose for children

Author: Barbauld, Anna Laetitia (Aikin)
Title: Hymns in Prose for children by the author of 'Lessons for Children'. Nineteenth edition much enlarged
Cat. Number: 0400
Date: No date
1st Edition: 1781
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, and R. Hunter
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 140pp.
Size: 13.5 x 8 cm
Note: See 0398 for images of another edition

No digitised images of this text are currently available.

See 0398 for images of another edition.

Though the 'hymns' that Mrs. Barbauld produced for her collection are all in prose, most were written with an underlying semi-poetical rhythm and a rather liturgical cadence. The intention was not that they should be set to music and sung, but rather that they might be 'committed to memory, and recited', in 'the spirit of social worship', perhaps as a kind of liturgical chant (p.iv). Darton called Barbauld's writing here 'almost majestic', and noted that her language was deeply indebted to the Psalms. (Darton 1983: 153).

Another influence, acknowledged in her preface, was Isaac Watt's Hymns for Children (by which Barbauld might have meant The Cradle Hymn or Divine Songs: see 0461 and 0462-0465). But Barbauld also used her preface to object to poetry for children, her argument being that children should be 'kept from reading verse, till they are able to relish good verse' (p.iii). A great many authors ignored Barbauld's injunction, as the number of children's poetry collections in the Hockliffe Collection testifies. Even Barbauld's niece, Lucy Aikin, flouted her aunt's advice, her Poetry for Children appearing in 1801.

Most of the 'hymns' in Barbauld's collection are concerned with pointing out to a child the glories and great variety of nature, Barbauld insisting that this was the way to inspire an idea of the numinous in a child. F. J. Harvey Darton noted that Barbauld's method would have both pleased and angered Rousseau. She acquiesced in his belief 'that a child should steadily contemplate nature', but she would have affronted him by seeking to draw the child on from such contemplation to an orthodox belief in the Anglican God (Darton 1983: 152).

Hymns in Prose was Barbauld's second work, first published in 1781, three years after Lessons for Children (0482-0486). By this time Barbauld was married, to the Rev. Rochemont Barbauld, a minister in Palgrave, Suffolk, where the couple ran a school. Hymns in Prose and Lessons for Children were almost immediately successful, filling a gap in the market as R. L. Edgeworth, an early enthusiast, pointed out. Barbauld was able to withdraw from the Palgrave school and concentrate on her writing. Evenings at Home, mostly written by her brother John Aikin, was her final major publication for children (0052-0054). However, she went on to write and edit many important works aimed at adults in the 1790s and early nineteenth century.

The Hockliffe Collection contains several other editions of Hymns in Prose: 0398, 0399 and 0401.

Darton, F. G. Harvey, Children's Books in England: Five centuries of social life, Cambridge: CUP, 1932; third edition, revised by Brian Alderson, 1982

Darton, F. G. Harvey, Children's Books in England: Five centuries of social life, Cambridge: CUP, 1932; third edition, revised by Brian Alderson, 1982