London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825. First edition. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards with morocco labels to spines. All edges speckled red. Armorial bookplates of Vane Londonderry to front pastedowns. Internally with some mild offsetting from frontis, else fresh and surprisingly without the foxing common to the period. Collating lxxii, 344; vi, 470, [2, adverts]: complete, including half and full titles to both, frontis to Volume I, and adverts to rear of Volume II. A lovely set difficult to find in a collectible contemporary binding.
An influential teacher, essayist, and women's activist, Barbauld was one of the later generation members of the Bluestocking Circle which had included Maria Edgeworth and Hannah More. The daughter of Presbyterian dissenters, she was trained early on in classical and modern languages, history, and literature; this access to education shaped her work as she pushed for the expansion of women's education. The present title was a celebration of her life and writing, edited and brought to the public by her niece, Lucy Aikin, herself a successful biographer and historian who focused on women. Following her aunt's death, Aikin dedicated herself to ensuring Barbauld's legacy was recorded and proclaimed, and she released a number of Barbauld's unpublished or incomplete works to the public. "Anna Laetitia Barbauld is a name long dear to the admirers of genius and the lovers of virtue...To claim for this distinguished woman the praise of purity and the elevation of mind may well appear superfluous. Her education and connections, the course of her life, the whole tenour of her writings bear abundant testimony to this part of her character. It is a higher, or at least rarer, commendation to add that no one ever better loved "a sister's praise"...She was acquainted with almost all the principal female writers of her time; and there was not one of the number whom she failed frequently to mention in terms of admiration, esteem, or affection." For Aikin, someone picking up the mantle of female empowerment, Barbauld offers a standard around which to rally. Narrating this woman's education by women, her close-knit female community, her commitment to expanding women's education, and her promotion of rather than rivalry with other female writers, Aikin nearly canonizes her relative. In the process, she urges the next generation to follow and improve upon Barbauld's example by taking her lessons to heart. (Item #3982)