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Barbauld, Anna Letitia.

Sins of Government, Sins of Nation; or, a Discourse for the Fast, appointed on April 19, 1793.


Barbauld, Anna Laetitia. Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation; Or, a Discourse for the Fast, appointed on April 19, 1793. By a volunteer. The second edition. London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1793.
8vo.; plain wrappers, string-tied; apparently disbound; edgeworn. In a specially made cloth folder.
Second edition, of this essay denouncing Britain's entry into war with France during the Revolution, with Barbauld's suggestions on how to rectify the problems of the current government. OCLC lists various editions of this book, it is not specified if the second edition is located institutionally; there may be only one or two known copies of this particular edition.
With an inked emendation on page 31, where the word "by" has been written in front of the word "answered," six lines up from the bottom of the page, and a series of annotations on page 36, likely in Barbauld's hand. Though faded, most of the annotations are legible. The word "but," has been struck through; the word measures has been changed to "duties"; and a sentence has been altered from: "Every good man owes it to is country and to his own character, to lift his voice against a ruinous war, an unequal tax, or an edict of persecution: and to oppose them, temperately, but firmly, by all the means in his power…" to read: "Every man owes it to his country and to his own character, to lift his voice against a [   ] state, or an unequal tax: and to oppose it, temperately, but firmly, by all the means in his power…" (36).
Barbauld calls for citizens to take on more national responsibility, especially during wartime: "we are called upon to repent of national sins, because we can help them, and because we ought to help them" (5). She continues with her ideas on how repentance can be achieved:
Societies being composed of individuals, the faults of societies proceed from the same bad passions, the same pride, selfishness and thirst of gain, by which individuals are led to transgress the rules of duty; they require therefore the same curb to restrain them, and hence the necessity of a national religion. You will probably assert, that most nations have one; but, by a national religion, I do not mean the burning of a few wretches twice or thrice in a year in honour of God, nor yet the exacting subscription to some obscure tenets, believed by few, and understood by none; nor in the investing a certain order of men dressed in a particular habit, with civil privileges and secular emolument; by national religion I understand, the extending of those affairs in which we act in common and as a body, that regard to religion, by which, when we act singly, we all profess to be guided. (7)
She further explains that a national "religion" would constitute uniform standards of public and private behavior: it would regulate laws that to prevent the wrongful persecution of the poor, it would resist the insubordination others, it would make extinct the faults of "faction, sedition, and tyranny" (11). She blames the extravagance, pride, cruelty and oppression by people in power for many of the governmental problems; and these "sins" had manifested themselves in Britain's participation in the war against France. Though she denounces war, she also questions, "How far, as individuals, are we really answerable for the guilt of national sins?" (33). An intelligently reasoned and persuasively argued essay.
Barbauld (1743-1825) had a lengthy and varied career. When she was in her mid-20s she started writing poetry, and published her first book, Poems (1773) when she was thirty. This book went through five editions in just as many years, and was lauded as a popular and critical success. Its popularity might have been attributed to the ranges of styles and topics addressed in the poems; she writes about zoology, politics, humane treatment of animals, religion and friendship, and she summoned writing styles that varied from humorous to sublime. A year after publishing this book, she married Reverend Rochement Barbauld; they had no biological children, but they adopted Charles Rochement Aikin, her nephew.
In 1774, the newlyweds opened a school for boys in Suffolk, which was a resounding success, drawing pupils from as distant as New York and the West Indies. During this period, Barbauld published two of her most well-known books, the four volume Lessons for Children (1778-9), which she was spurred to write in order to teach Charles how to read, and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781). In 1785, the Barbauld's traveled around France and became interested in the French political scene, after meeting with political people involved in the pre-Revolutionary activities. These contacts inspired Barbauld to publish politically inspired tracts, like An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1790), An Epistle to William Wilberforce, esq…on the Rejection of the Bill of Abolishing the Slave Trade (1791) and Remarks on Mr. Gilbert Wakefield's Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship (1792).
Around this time, she began editing and contributing to various periodicals, including Monthly Magazine and Annual Review, which were run by her brother and her nephew, respectively. She wrote prefaces to several books by writers including William Collins and Addison and Steele, and she was praised for the work she did as the editor of Samuel Richardson's correspondence, in 1804. She also compiled a literary anthology for women, titled The Female Speaker (1811); and, published a scathing and ambitious poem titled Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812), in which she critiqued Britain's involvement in the Napoleonic war.
It is unclear why Barbauld stopped publishing after this poem, but she seems to have maintained an active social life filled with literary intellectuals including Joanna Baillie, Maria Edgeworth, William Godwin and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She died of asthma in 1825. Her niece brought out two posthumous volumes; one, Works (1825), which printed fifty-two unpublished poems, almost doubling the number of Barbauld's poems that had already been published, and A Legacy for Young Ladies (1826), which included pedagogic works and essays.
McCarthy, William. "Barbauld , Anna Letitia (1743-1825)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2008. 3 Apr. 2008 <>

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