The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 20. Poetesses

Not the least interesting feature of the present division is the reappearance, in something like force, of poetesses. They had, indeed, not been wanting since Lady Winchilsea, who, at her birth, or soon afterwards, took, all unwitting, the torch from the hands of “Orinda” and handed it on in almost the same fashion to the authoress of the Prayer for Indifference. There had been, more recently, Anna Seward, that swan of Lichfield, who sang so much and so long before her death that she has been entirely inaudible since; and Hannah More that “powerful versificatrix.” At one time, Anna Letitia Barbauld, by some extraordinary inspiration, had uttered the wonderful last stanza of her “Life” poem:

  • Life! we’ve been long together,
  • while, at other times, she had atoned partly for failing to understand The Ancient Mariner by writing one of the best of the many imitations of Collins’s Evening, and some verses, more or less “sacred,” which are not contemptible. Helen Maria Williams, though she became nearly as bad as any Della Cruscan, had, sometimes, been better. But the first thirty years or so of the nineteenth century, even before the definite appearance of Mrs. Browning, which does not concern us here, saw, in Joanna Baillie, Mrs. Hemans and “L.E.L.,” three persons who, for no short time and to no few or incompetent persons, seemed to be poetesses; while there were one or two others, such as Caroline Bowles, Southey’s second wife and, still more, Sara Coleridge, daughter of “S.T.C.” and sister of Hartley, who deserve to be added to them.