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Divisions within Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven
Anna Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven demonstrates Romantic-era Cosmopolitanism’s promotion of a global consciousness and transnational empathy. Cosmopolitan theory emerged as a result of Napoleon’s growing power, English imperialism and the development of a global economy. This theory, however, is marked by the limitations and stereotypes of the time, as it frequently advocates European and Anglo superiority. Anna Barbauld’s poem is no exception. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven criticizes Britain’s foreign policy of imperialism, but is divided in doing so, illustrating the limitations of Romantic Cosmopolitanism. This poem, however, should not be devalued for its displays of insularity. Instead, we must examine the divisions and stereotypes, as well as recognize its progressive promotion of transnational sympathy to gain a greater understanding of cosmopolitan thought during Barbauld’s time. This paper will examine the divisions and successes of the poem through a close reading of lines 31-38 and 73-82. I will examine the poetic details of the poem, indicating that they function to create serious political poetry. I will then address the thematic concerns of cosmopolitanism within these passages and the entire poem. Finally, I will relate Eighteen Hundred and Eleven to Kant’s cosmopolitan outlook in “Perpetual Peace” to develop a greater understanding of the nature of Romantic-era cosmopolitanism.
In completing a close reading of these specific passages, it is important to first identify the metrical form, rhyming structures and their implications. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven is written in heroic couplets, constructed with iambic pentameter lines with a masculine rhyme. At the time this poem was written, serious political poetry written in heroic couplet form was often associated with conventional and conservative politics. Barbauld obviously wrote this poem to have a serious impact on English politics and change the country’s foreign policy. Heroic couplet form is therefore used to give the poem a more serious, credible tone. The fact that the metrical form used is associated with conservative politics seems to make her radical criticism of British foreign policy even more shocking. Interestingly, Barbauld uses several trochees and spondees within the metrical form, interrupting the conventional stress pattern of iambic pentameter. This adds energy and force to the language and, in turn, her political message. An example of a trochee is line 31, “Frequent, some stream obscure, some uncouth name”. This line begins with a stress and a trochee that renews the fervor within the language and enlivens the next passage. An example of a spondee is line 35, “Or the spread map with anxious eye explores”. The words “spread” and “map” are both stressed, creating a spondee, giving greater emphasis to this important image. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’s combination of traditional metrical form of heroic couplets with the use of frequent trochees and spondees creates vibrant, energetic political poetry to forcibly deliver her political message.
The first passage, lines 31-38, describes the suffering of a female individual. The woman is not British, as depicted in line 31, “…some stream obscure, some uncouth name”. Her “husbands, brothers, friends” are killed in some global dispute and her suffering is illustrated. This is possibly an allusion to the War of 1812 and the woman could be a citizen of Napoleon’s empire is directly affected by British violence. The scene, however, is not explicit; this event could occur in any area, resulting from any global conflict. The woman is a universal individual. The reader easily relates and empathizes with her loss of family and sub sequential suffering. Barbauld creates empathy for the ‘other’ by particularizing the individual and describing their emotions in a universal manner. This is done in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven through the portrayal of individual’s within families, frequently women. The technique of a individuating a foreigner is used in works by different poets of this time to address the cosmopolitan concerns of abolitionism and women’s rights, for example, Yearsley’s A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade.
Barbauld alludes to British imperialism in lines 35-36, with the imagery describing a map and the dissection of the world into different nations through imperialism. Obviously, the description of “dotted boundaries and penciled shores” is a description of the negative effects of imperialism. Barbauld indicates that the downfall of the British Empire will come from resistance and uprising against Britain, as a result of their imperialistic lack of transnational sympathy. The passage demonstrates that those who suffer as a result of British aggression understandably hate Britain. The woman we empathize with, “Asks where the spot that wrecked her bliss is found,/ And learns its name but to detest the sound” (lines 37-38). Eighteen Hundred and Eleven warns Britain of this future and also warns them of the blame and guilt from their suppression of others; “Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe” (line 46). In this manner, Barbauld draws attention to the negative political consequences of British foreign policy, as well as the emotional repercussions.
The sympathy evoked in this passage is indeed the foundation of Barbauld’s progressive cosmopolitanism, as well as her call to end British imperialism that causes this suffering throughout the world. The poem calls for a spread of this global consciousness and presents the benefits of this ideal. For example, lines 165-168 describe a diverse and cosmopolitan London where her vision of cosmopolitanism is practiced, “Streets, where the turban’d Moslem, bearded Jew,/ and wolly Afric, met the brown Hindu;/ Where through each vein spontaneous plenty flowed,/ where Wealth enjoyed, and Charity bestowed”. This empathy is sometimes limited by Barbauld’s preference for the local. For example, the passage introduces the foreign woman by indicating that her name is “uncouth”. This description emphasizes this woman’s otherness and can also be considered a demeaning by suggesting she is less cultured. Barbauld’s cosmopolitan vision is shown to be limited by its Anglo-centricity.
The second passage, lines 73-82, demonstrates these divisions between cosmopolitanism and insularism. Barbauld qualifies her notions of cosmopolitanism, as this passage celebrates the artistic and social accomplishments of Britain. The imagery and language insinuate the superiority of British culture. A specific example of this Euro-centric outlook is found in line 82, where Barbauld promotes the English language and accent as superior, and expresses joy that it has been spread throughout the world. The passage also includes the literary pattern of associating British culture with light, for example line 80, “Still from the lamp they streaming radiance pours”. This image associates Britain with the divine and, therefore, the enlightened and superior. Barbauld demonstrates her Anglo bias by elevating British accomplishments and uses language that devalues other cultures. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven subversively promotes anti-Muslim attitudes. For example, line 73 states, “Not like the dim cold Crescent shalt thou fade”. Note the use of a spondee to accent the words “cold” and “Crescent”, emphasizing this negative image of the Turkish Empire.
Barbauld’s Anglo-centricity limits her progressive cosmopolitan view greatly. The poem’s demeaning view of Muslim culture and promotion of Britain undermines the cosmopolitan ideal of transnational sympathy. However, this is the result of the limits of her time and society and Eighteen Hundred and Eleven should be assessed with this understanding. This Euro-centric qualification is found throughout Romantic-era cosmopolitan theory.
An interesting way in which to assess Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’s split between progressive cosmopolitanism and a more conservative insularity is to compare it with another example of Romantic-era cosmopolitanism, such as Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace”. These Romantic-era writers proscribe similar visions of global harmony that also display a divisive and limiting Euro-centric bias. Both Barbauld and Kant’s vision of cosmopolitanism both promote the virtues of international hospitality and sympathy. Barbauld does this by particularizing the suffering of an ‘other’ figure. Kant, on the other hand, does this though the philosophical assertion of national sovereignty and human rights. The works similarly call attention to the negative consequences of international aggression and violence, criticizing the “rules of states in particular, who are insatiable of war” (Kant 3). Barbauld illustrates the human loss and emotional suffering that result from these policies in a general manner. For example, the first passage describes the sufferings of a universal individual. Kant, on the other hand, cites specific examples of countries and conflicts that are suffering from the politics of aggression. These works are also similar because they give only abstract theories and ideals of cosmopolitanism, without any indication of how to actually implement them. Barbauld calls Britain to change their ways, but does not suggest how. Kant calls for a “league of nations” (Kant 16), but without giving any explanation as to how it should be organized or function in reality.
There are several differences between the two works. Obviously, they are written in very different forms, as Kant explains his ideas through political philosophical writing. Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” criticizes all of European politics and foreign policies. His ideas of political reformations and organizations apply to the entire globe. Barbauld, on the other hand, only criticizes Britain. Another very important distinction is that Kant’s cosmopolitan ideal of international hospitality does not apply to women. Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven draws a great deal of attention to women’s suffering throughout the world, indicating the need for a promotion of women’s rights.
Despite the differences in Kant and Barbauld’s cosmopolitanisms, they are both marked by the Euro-centricity of the time. Kant’s political model to establish world peace is proposes the implementation of a European construct throughout the world. The essay also displays inadvertent racism tendencies, similar to Barbauld. These two writers thought this way as a result of the beliefs of their society and time. This does not, however, discount the progressiveness of their works. We must identify, and learn from, the limitations of the Romantic-era in recognition of our own time’s faults. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, although problematic, is a highly progressive poem that advocates global empathy and the sympathy of the ‘other’. At the time of its publication, this poem was incredibly controversial, indicating just how radical her cosmopolitan ideals were. It also stands as a testament to the progress of women’s rights, as Barbauld boldly enters the world of male-dominated politics to promote national change and writes a serious, literary poem. Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven is so interesting because it exemplifies Romantic-era cosmopolitanism’s split between progressivism and nationalism.
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