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Pests, parasites, and positionality: Anna Letitia Barbauld and "The Caterpillar".

READERS WHO WERE FIRST INTRODUCED TO ANNA LETITIA BARBAULD (1743-1825) as the prudish school matron who wrote prose hymns for children and complained that Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" lacks a "moral" (1) may be surprised to find this same woman supporting the thieves who prey immorally upon the rich:
 When a rich West India fleet has sailed into the docks, and wealth
 is flowing in full tides into the crammed coffers of the merchant,
 can we greatly lament that a small portion of his immense property
 is by these means [fraud and thievery] diverted from its course,
 and finds its way to the habitations of penury? (2)

Responding to A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis by Patrick Colquhoun (1796), Barbauld refuses to condemn the prowling poor who are "forever nibbling at our property," suggesting that such thieves should be seen, albeit in macrocosmic terms, as necessary to a balanced economy rather than as agents of injury or damage. "I would rather wish to consider them," she writes in her "Thoughts on the Inequality of Conditions" (1807), "as usefully employed in lessening the enormous inequality between the miserable beings who engage in them, and the great commercial speculators, in their way equally rapacious, against whom their frauds are exercised" (S 352-353). Barbauld recognizes, in other words, that the rich merchants in their colonizing and slave trading practices have no more right to their property than do the prowlers, and she ponders why the legal system protects the rich while perpetuating hegemony over the poor (S 347). Although she focuses in other texts on chastising the exploitative tyrants ("Corsica," "Epistle to Wilberforce," "Sins of Government," etc.), she strives in her "Thoughts" essay to sympathize with those who plunder out of need rather than greed. And although she cautions, in her role as middle class educator, that "fraud and robbery are not right" and that individuals with "higher notions of virtue" are forbidden to steal, she nevertheless returns to the immense satisfaction she receives from contemplating this "providential" system of "imposition and peculation" whereby "property is drawn off and dispersed, which would otherwise stagnate" (S 354).

The ability to see the whole system in motion, to appreciate relations among individuals as functions of a larger communal process, and to recognize the relative ethics of leveling practices regardless of the questionable contents raises Barbauld above the petty realm of technical morality to which Coleridgean scholars have often condemned her. (3) Indeed, her "great acuteness" of mind--which Coleridge admired and even envied in the early years of their acquaintance (4)--gives her insight into the dependencies and counter-dependencies underlying various subject positions and leads her to reject a static social system. "I am apt to suspect that the greatest good done by the numerous societies for the reformation of manners," she writes, "is by bringing the poor in contact with the rich" ("Thoughts" S 355). Somehow she recognizes that the basis of morality is more corporeal than love or pity. First comes a contact, a face to face meeting, a bodily interrelation. Only then is there some hope that hierarchical oppression will be unsettled: "The distress which might languish at a distance, will be amply relieved if it comes near enough to affect the nerves" (S 351). And yet, at what point do prowlers come too close for comfort? At what point do the weak become the strong, the useless become the basis of meaningful relation? And at what point do the relative positions one plays become more significant than the contents one professes? This essay traces several of these issues in Barbauld's poem "The Caterpillar," which struggles to articulate the interrelations between proprietor and prowler, privileged and unprivileged, victor and survivor, in conventional and yet potentially subversive ways. Touched by one caterpillar from her garden, the speaker considers her complex identification with and resistance to systems of power, engaging several discourses of biology, politics, and ethics, in a movement that does not end where it began. By the end, the reader is left to ponder the whole system of moral virtue: is it virtuous to protect pests and parasites as necessary parts of this system or is such protection merely an indulgent weakness of a virtuous mind?

Recent critical studies of Anna Letitia Barbauld have persuasively argued that much of her insight into communal ethics is due to her upbringing in a Unitarian home, (5) which necessitated a position of "double dissent." (6) This position involves allegiance to the non-conformist tradition of Dissent--promoting religious and political freedom and equality--but it also involves independence from restrictions of gender to which Dissenters still subscribed. (7) Indeed, double dissent helps to explain not only Barbauld's political agendas but also her otherness from male Romantic writers who periodically indulged in melancholic solipsism. (8) Despite the increasing suspicion towards Dissent in the early nineteenth century, she does not relinquish her drive toward equality and justice for all, although her insights and positions do not appear rigid or unchanging. Responding to varying historical stimuli, she shifts readily from subversive wit to sincere patriotism, from superficial pleasure to austere critique, or from skeptical hesitation to indulgent generosity. In the process, she engages the pests and parasites who haunt the borders of equality and threaten to overwhelm the virtuous sympathies of Dissent.

Barbauld's "The Caterpillar" was written several years after she was critically condemned in 1812 for publishing "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," a poetic castigation of British politics and society. By 1815, (9) Barbauld--age 72--had retreated from the public realm and was presenting herself as a tender-hearted and personable woman, an ethos that prevails throughout most of the caterpillar poem. Meanwhile, her fellow Britons had begun to soften towards Napoleon Bonaparte, who had dramatically returned from the Isle of Elba in March only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June. Seeming to echo this softening atmosphere, "The Caterpillar" moves from sympathy for a little insect to pity for a defeated enemy, employing a conventional analogy between garden pests and political adversaries. (10) But although the poem's kind sensibility brings a "fellowship of sense with all that breathes," the last lines suddenly announce that such sensibility is "not Virtue" (41; P 173). It is as if Barbauld regains her public voice and wins the emotional acquiescence of her audience, only to challenge their morality from the inside out. More is at stake than caterpillars and defeated soldiers. Oscillating between pest control and playfulness, parasitism and pity, positionality and piety, Barbauld's poem generates a dynamic revision of interpersonal ethics that extends beyond the preservation of humanity to which "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" appears to be dedicated and in the shadow of which "The Caterpillar" appears to crawl. To see the challenge in this oscillation and revisioning, we need to look at the poem from the beginning.


The opening of Barbauld's "The Caterpillar" depicts a moth larva that crawls out of the speaker's clothing, down her arm, and onto her hand. (11) Unlike the stereotypical female such as "Little Miss Muffet" in the Victorian nursery rhyme, she is not frightened by the sudden proximity of a moving insect. Instead, she creates a relationship of trust with the creature, treating it as if it were an innocent child requiring her protection rather than a conventionally reviled pest. She is intrigued with the caterpillar's beauty and she promises not to kill it:
 No, helpless thing, I cannot harm thee now,
 Depart in peace, thy little life is safe;
 For I have scanned thy form with curious eye,
 Noted the silver line that streaks thy back,
 The azure and the orange that divide
 Thy velvet sides; thee, houseless wanderer
 My garment has enfolded, and my arm
 Felt the light pressure of thy hairy feet;
 Thou hast curled round my finger; from its tip,
 Precipitous descent! with stretched out neck,
 Bending thy head in airy vacancy,
 This way and that, inquiring, thou hast seemed
 To ask protection; now, I cannot kill thee.
 (1-13; P 172-73)

The implication is that such a lovely creature is unable to fend for itself and certainly is not dangerous.

Unfortunately, though, the coloring of the caterpillar belies its seeming innocence. Barbauld does not identify the caterpillar she describes, but her description matches entomological illustrations and identifications of the European tent caterpillar, Order Lepidoptera, Family Lasiocampidae, Species Malacosoma Neustria, also known as the larva of the Lackey moth. (12) No other caterpillar quite matches "the silver line that streaks thy back, / The azure and the orange that divide / Thy velvet sides" (4-6). This caterpillar has a bright blue base, including its head, with orange (and sometimes black) stripes on both sides of a middle white line. Moreover, the skin is covered with reddish-brown hairs which are pleasant to touch, like velvet, unlike the Brown-tailed Moth larvae and other caterpillars whose hairs are irritants, causing severe rash. What an unsuspecting reader might not realize is that this beautiful Lackey caterpillar has the potential to be a severe pest, defoliating and disfiguring apple and other deciduous trees from April to June, and living until it is full-grown in a communal silken tent spun over leaves and twigs. Erasmus Darwin's Economy of Vegetation (1791) includes the tent caterpillar among pests to be removed from the garden, citing as main aggravation the "gluey thread" which the caterpillar spins. (13) Still, the greatest damage concerns the eating of leaves during a prolific season. Although each caterpillar eats only a small fraction of the available leaf tissue, a community of caterpillars can defoliate an entire tree. (14) Even those plants that are not totally infested are weakened by the pillage, making Samuel Johnson's etymology of "caterpillar" rather apt: "from cates, food, and piller, to rob; the animal that eats up the fruits of the earth." (15)

Barbauld's "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" maligns a similar insect thief, an herbaceous worm that quickens the biological cycle of growth and decay for flowers and fruit. Eating from within the core, this worm metaphorically is strong enough to destroy a great nation:
 [...] fairest flowers expand but to decay;
 The worm is in thy core, thy glories pass away;
 Arts, arms and wealth destroy the fruits they bring;
 Commerce, like beauty, knows no second spring,
 ("Eighteen" 313-316; P 160-61)

Because decay is inevitable, all growth by nature is "in vain," including the flourishing of oranges and olives, the raising of youths and virgins, and the dreams of fancy and imagination. Even "angel charities in vain oppose" this worm that grows in wealth at the expense of the poor (319). Its pillage is not an act of God, but of culture feeding upon nature, being composed of "Arts, arms, and wealth"--the very things that made Britain strong in the eighteenth century and protected it from France at the beginning of the nineteenth: technology, war, and capitalism. Barbauld's choice of metaphor indicates that all three elements are pests, ravaging the bounty, even the transplanted bounty, of nature in their advances of progress, power, and profit. This idea was not new: eighteenth-century conservatives had already warned against excessive advances in commerce and industrialism, advocating moderation instead. Barbauld's suggestion, though, is that these advances are morally doom-ridden, like a worm inviting "Famine," "Disease and Rapine" (15-16; P 152), the very fatalism of her suggestion being cause for alarm. Since industrial innovation, colonial expansion, and financial success were promoted with such optimism in the early nineteenth century, no wonder that conservative and liberal critics alike denounced the poem's meddling in politics and business, attacking Barbauld as if she herself were the pest to be controlled (P 309-11).

In contrast to such doom, "The Caterpillar" appears to ignore the destructive nature of its subject. While the speaker in "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" complains about crime, fraud, want, and woe resulting from the cultural worm, the speaker in "The Caterpillar" does not articulate the damages. In fact, she does not mention the caterpillar's robbery of her garden at all, (16) presenting the creature as part of a community that appears innocently passive: "folded in their silken webs they lay / Thriving and happy" (18-19; P 173). Lackey larvae do, indeed, bask in their tents in the sun, since sunshine heightens their body temperature, aiding their digestion and growth (Fitzgerald 32, 157-66). But Barbauld implies that such basking is all that they do. She makes a similar claim of innocence in her poem "To Mrs. P[riestley], with some Drawings of Birds and Insects" in which she depicts "the Insect race" as living a life of pleasure--"their task all play" (95; P 8). One would never guess that "the main task" of a caterpillar is to eat. (17)

As "The Caterpillar" progresses, it nevertheless becomes clear that Barbauld's speaker sometimes sees the thriving insects as pests to be destroyed. Perhaps it is simply the profusion of the creatures that arouses suspicion. Or, perhaps the speaker succumbs to agricultural propaganda, obediently acting upon entomological indications that butterflies and their larvae are relatively harmless, whereas "a great number of injurious species" are present among moths and their larvae, which are responsible for the defoliation of orchards, gardens, farms, and forests. (18) Linnaeus in 1750 notes that % few little nocturnal moths can cause the loveliest orchards where neither labor nor money had been spared and which usually produce hundreds of tons of fruit to yield now no more than 100 apples or pears." (19) As the agricultural revolution advanced, increasing soil productivity, the necessity for eliminating hindrances to profit likewise increased. The London Aurelian Society was formed in 1801 not only to encourage standard classification of insect collections, but also "to point out to the public the readiest and most desirable methods of destroying such as possess properties that are inimical to the welfare of mankind," (20) thus making insecticide sound morally justified. The recommended pest control was a combination of mechanical and chemical methods, removing and destroying all caterpillars in sight and poisoning the rest with any toxic materials at hand, including "strong soapsuds, potash water, whitewash plus glue, whale oil soap plus Peruvian guano, and solutions of whale oil soap" (Dethier 108). In Barbauld's poem, the eradication of caterpillars is a completed action, meticulously directed against the whole Lackey community:
 Yet I have sworn perdition to thy race,
 And recent from the slaughter am I come
 Of tribes and embryo nations: I have sought
 With sharpened eye and persecuting zeal,
 Where, folded in their silken webs they lay
 Thriving and happy; swept them from the tree
 And crushed whole families beneath my foot;
 Or, sudden, poured on their devoted heads
 The vials of destruction. This I've done
 Nor felt the touch of pity.
 (14-23; P 173)

The speaker's lack of reference to any motives for killing and her reported lack of pity for the victims suggests that the pest control has been ideologically programmed to be common sense. Of course one must destroy unprofitable creatures that inhabit human terrain. That, after all, is sound anthrocentric husbandry: remove the worm, cut off the infested branch, and kill the caterpillars.

Nevertheless, the violence of the speaker's actions invites scrutiny since the exaggerated "perdition" and "slaughter" appear to indite not only the gardener, but also the agricultural scientists who have advocated such drastic measures. In her youth, Barbauld observed the work of natural historians whom she met while her father taught at the Dissenting Academy in Warrington. In a 1760s poem called "The Invitation: To Miss B ...," Barbauld describes those who study nature and experiment upon it:
 Some pensive creep along the shelly shore;
 Unfold the silky texture of a flower;
 With sharpen'd eyes inspect an hornet's sting,
 And all the wonders of an insect's wing.
 Some trace with curious search the hidden cause
 Of nature's changes, and her various laws;
 Untwist her beauteous web, disrobe her charms,
 And hunt her to her elemental forms.
 (155-62; P 14)

Although Barbauld does not voice overt disapproval in this poem, her verb choices nevertheless are troubling. "Untwist," "disrobe," and "hunt" suggest discomfort with the "meddling intellect" that William Wordsworth descries in "The Tables Turned"--"We murder to dissect." (21) Indeed, the words "curious" and "sharpened eye" reappear in "The Caterpillar" in a destructive context, turning common sense into "persecuting zeal." Pest control begins to appear like a slaughter of innocents that lacks motive or rationality.

The persecution, of course, is recounted in light of the one surviving caterpillar with which the poem begins, enhancing the speaker's former guilt so as to highlight her current generosity to this little pest. The tone almost implies a self-parody, using what William Keach calls "the deceptively familiar key of quasi-comic sentimentality" ("Barbauld" 50). Yet, the speaker is not as obviously playful as in Barbauld's earlier "Mouse's Petition" (composed 1771) or in Burns's "To A Mouse" (composed 1785), both of which make teasing comments about the insignificance of the little creature's thieving. In "The Caterpillar," the speaker seems to ignore any warrant for destruction, using the vocabulary of Romantic individuality to explain why she is making an exception for this particular being:
 but when thou,
 A single wretch, escaped the general doom,
 Making me feel and clearly recognise
 Thine individual existence, life,
 And fellowship of sense with all that breathes,
 Present'st thyself before me, I relent,
 And cannot hurt thy weakness.
 (23-29; P 173)

Other caterpillars might have escaped as well, flinging themselves out of sight on silken threads, only to return when the danger is past. But Barbauld's speaker does not consider that possibility. Nor does she consider that only one pair of moths is required to lay fertilized eggs on a leaf and enable a new colony of caterpillars to emerge the following spring. Instead she ponders her own resistance to completing the extermination, noting three times that she cannot kill this individual survivor: "I cannot harm thee" (1); "I cannot kill thee" (13); "I relent, / And cannot hurt thy weakness" (28-29). Somehow the caterpillar has shifted position from a pest, ruining the garden, to a parasite, a poor prowler who feeds on the sympathy of the speaker and profits from her generosity.


Samuel Johnson's Dictionary in 1755 defines "parasite" as "one that frequents rich tables, and earns his welcome by flattery." This definition was already present in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, (22) remaining the sole meaning until the late seventeenth century, when the word began to expand, via the adjective "parasitic," into the biological realm. By the early eighteenth century, Chambers' Cyclopedia (1727-1741) was using "parasite" to describe a type of plant that retied upon another plant for sustenance or support, such as "moss, lichens, and mistletoe," (23) although the social definition continued to predominate. Not until 1826 was the noun used by Kirby and Spence's manual on entomology to refer to animals who "live in or upon another organism" (OED), the definition most commonly associated with parasites today. This etymological development is well summarized by Michel Serres, who recognizes a continuity in conception: "The intuition of the parasitologist makes him import a common relation of social manners to the habits of little animals." (24) According to Serres, all parasites share the same systemic function: interrupting a normal flow (of food, of life, of power) and feeding upon the diverted energy (8). This interruptive function, as we shall see, operates subtextually in Barbauld's "The Caterpillar," giving the poem several parasitical dimensions.

The speaker's reason for saving the caterpillar are not that she forgives or suddenly appreciates the creature's foraging in her garden, but that its colorful beauty and charm interrupt her desire to kill it. She is seduced by its endearing movements upon her hand and interprets its gestures as communication, a request for asylum by a "houseless wanderer" (6), an uninvited guest, a social parasite. To kill such a creature would be contrary to codes of hospitality, as Barbauld argued wittily almost forty-five years earlier in "The Mouse's Petition": "Beware, lest in the worm you crush / A brother's soul you find" (33-34; P 37). Of course, in "The Caterpillar," the wariness is somewhat slow in being realized. "Whole families" of caterpillars are crushed mercilessly before the speaker finds a "brother's soul" for whom she feels a sense of responsibility. But this one survivor stops her, flattering her with its seemingly playful attention and vulnerable trust. Indeed, it appears to her as a kindred spirit, an individual worthy of respect, someone who makes her "feel and clearly recognize / Thine individual existence, life, / And fellowship of sense with all that breathes" (25-27). And so she allows the little parasite to remain on her property, eat from her trees, and interrupt the quality of her fruit.

The traditional problem with social parasites, of course, is that they interrupt not only a host's planned activities and food rations but also the reciprocity of regular gift exchange. (25) Although they certainly accept gifts such as food, shelter, clothing, or money from the host, they drain the host of resources by giving nothing in return. Or, more precisely, what they give in return for substantial gifts are insubstantial transiencies: entertainment, praise, perhaps even--as is the case in Barbauld's "Caterpillar"--"fellowship of sense" (27). Clearly, from a materialist perspective, parasites appear to give less than they receive. As Serres notes, the exchange is uneven--"voice for matter, (hot) air for solid, superstructure for infrastructure" (35)--allowing some parasites to grow rich from the material profit they thus accrue. No wonder that they are frequently mentioned in literature with contempt. Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, for example, curses the "smooth, detested parasites, / Courteous destroyers, affable wolves, meek bears" who do not return Timon's gifts when he is in need ( Similar disgust ensues in Thomas Paine's 1791 Rights of Man, where the French Revolution is hailed as the only way to cleanse "the Augean stable of parasites and plunderers." (26) Barbauld herself shows disrespect for parasites in her essay "Against Inconsistency in Our Expectations." Suggesting that one must adjust expectations to suit one's manner of living, she notes that anyone who expects to receive unearned dignities and preferments must give up scruples and "be a slave-merchant, a parasite, or--what you please" (S 231). That she would group the parasite with the slave-merchant, when she detests slavery, suggests she finds parasites despicable too.

Still, as we have seen with the West India fleets, Barbauld is able to condemn a thieving activity while appreciating its leveling role in a hierarchical economy. In "The Caterpillar," the speaker fights the plunder of her harvest while appreciating the individual caterpillar's ability to "mak[e]" her "feel and clearly recognize" that she is not the only living being in her garden (25-27). Indeed, she seems to consider this heightened awareness a suitable exchange for the caterpillar's eating, suggesting that parasites might not disrupt gift exchange so much as alter the dynamics of the relationship. J. Hillis Miller makes a similar point with respect to literary parasitism, arguing that the parasite not only "block[s] the endless chain of giving" but also "keeps the chain open, undecidable." (27) A lack of reciprocity on one level is thus an opening for fresh connections on another, inspiring more giving, more "fellowship of sense with all that breathes" ("Caterpillar" 27). Perhaps on this other level the parasite even enables the host to give the "pure gift" that Jacques Derrida considers to be "impossible": the gift that is given without any expectation of return. (28)

Barbauld's speaker certainly appears to expect nothing from the caterpillar to whom she gives hospitality, acting as if she has already received sufficient spiritual sustenance from its beauty and innocent individuality. Yet, it is odd that she expresses her own gift in negative terms: rather than offering food or shelter like a proper host, she merely says she "cannot" harm, kill, or hurt this one member of the tribe whom she has tried to exterminate. Burns's "To a Mouse," written fourteen years after Barbauld's caterpillar poem, enacts similar destruction and salvation, without expecting any return for generosity. But Burns's speaker at least refrains from killing in the first place, apologizing for ruining the mouse's nest, expressing sorrow at the human breach of "Nature's social union" and offering words of comfort to the frightened "little beastie." (29) Barbauld's speaker in "The Caterpillar" does none of this. If, as David Perkins points out, Burns's words are patronizing and self-serving, ultimately bestowing more sympathy on the speaker than on the mouse, (30) then how much more so are the words of Barbauld's speaker. She admits she killed the caterpillar's family without a "touch of pity," but instead of expressing remorse, she merely allows the individual who has attracted her admiration to leave unharmed. She neither promises future protection nor revises her stance on pest control, as her earlier mouse-speaker requests and as Burns's speaker appears to do. No wonder she expects no return. Even her gift of life is really no more than non-death--letting live what was already alive--the type of hollow gift that an opportunistic parasite would tend to give. (31) Could it be, as Serres notes so frequently in response to La Fontaine's parables, that "the feast changes hosts, and the guest changes roles" (62)?

Setting aside the possibility that Barbauld's speaker may just be following the burlesque conventions of eighteenth-century addresses to animals (e.g. Thomas Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat," or Robert Fergusson's "The Sow of Feeling"), we might note that she does use rhetorical skill to bend circumstances in her favor, much like a social parasite would tend to do. First she delights the audience with the caterpillar, following Sir Philip Sidney's insight that delight "gives so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any [one] to enter into it. (32) Then she flatters us with her trust--using an intimate first person singular rather than personified collectives (33)--and endears us with her vulnerability--confessing her pity, her violence, and her hesitation--thus creating an ethos that far exceeds the cold contempt of the speaker in "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven." Unlike the Cassandra-like prophet crying from the margins unwelcome and unheard, the speaker in "The Caterpillar" actively participates in her subject, enacting a middle-class gardener protecting her property, shifting to compassion, and sharing her profitable experience with others like herself. This active participation is a key component of her appeal, forming a common ground with the middle-class reader and inducing a willingness to be persuaded, for surely we can trust a speaker who is moved by beauty and lets a creature live.

At the same time, however, "The Caterpillar"'s establishment of a participatory ethos is more parasitical than the cynical and defeatist observations with which the speaker in "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" interrupts liberal expectations of egalitarian or patriotic sentiment. Exploiting the caterpillar narrative, Barbauld deftly reverses her public image of political pest-controller by appearing to be gentle and maternal, thus preparing her audience, through a kind of narrative appetizer, for what we shall see is a more subtle tirade against the vanity of British sympathies. When the poem abandons the caterpillar two thirds of the way, never mentioning it again, it appears that the narrative has less to do with the colorful, helpless larva than with the speaker's moral agenda. Why else would topic and tone shift so abruptly: "I relent / And cannot hurt thy weakness. So the storm / Of horrid war, o'erwhelming cities, fields, / And peaceful villages, rolls dreadful on" (28-31; P 173)? The caterpillar appears to bear no significance in itself, serving merely as pleasurable food for thought, a metaphorical device for the speaker to discuss the vices and virtues of slaughter and salvation.

When a second narrative appears, echoing the caterpillar episode but making no explicit connection other than the word "So," the speaker becomes omniscient, validating her earlier pest control by analogy to war which, despite being "horrid" and "dreadful," translates murder into "triumphant" victory and the killer into an empathetic "hero":
 So the storm
 Of horrid war, o'erwhelming cities, fields,
 And peaceful villages, rolls dreadful on:
 The victor shouts triumphant; he enjoys
 The roar of cannon and the clang of arms,
 And urges, by no soft relentings stopped,
 The work of death and carnage. Yet should one,
 A single sufferer from the field escaped,
 Panting and pale, and bleeding at his feet,
 Lift his imploring eyes,--the hero weeps;
 He is grown human, and capricious Pity,
 Which would not stir for thousands, melts for one
 With sympathy spontaneous.
 (29-41; P 173)

The parallelism with the speaker's pity for the caterpillar is obvious, although the aesthetic qualities of the "single sufferer" are eclipsed by his piteous state and the heroism of the victor. Clearly the sympathetic act is the focal point of the tale, depicting a typical Romantic valorization of the individual and the softening of the hero's heart. Barbauld's own distaste for war, announced so severely in "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," surges momentarily in lines 29-3 I, only to be ameliorated by this act of forgiveness between hero and enemy. The wonder is that a hard soldier can "grow[] human" and feel "sympathy spontaneous," despite his usual "work of death and carnage."

But there is a barbed ending, interrupting one's pleasure in the act of rescue, by suggesting that gardener and war hero have capitulated to the weakness of sensibility:
 "--'Tis not Virtue,
 Yet 'tis the weakness of a virtuous mind.
 (41-42; P 173)

Instantly the heroism is deflated. The hero is no longer a virtuous savior but a gullible innocent who has been flattered into letting down his or her defenses. That is how Prussia viewed Britain's refusal to execute Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, acquiescing to the Duke of Wellington's letter of remonstrance only "from esteem for the Duke and English weakness." (34) The saved enemy suddenly resumes pest status as potential destroyer, like the Trojan Horse, waiting to be accepted into the inner sanctum in order to wreak havoc. Virtue, presumably, would have acted on principle: an enemy is an enemy; a friend is a friend. The weaker mind, however, is overcome by excessive sensibility. As Barbauld notes in her earlier poem "A Character," what prevents one from being fully virtuous is "sensibility too finely wrought, / Too quickly roused, too exquisite for peace, / Too deeply thoughtful for unmingled ease" (14-16; P 69). Excess sensibility is too responsive to changing circumstance, whereas Virtue remains constant. Thus it is not Virtue to make exceptions for one "single sufferer," although the intent may be virtuous.

Through this ending, which undercuts the romance of salvation, the speaker in "The Caterpillar" reveals her ultimate position of power. She no longer plays the kind gardener who, like the humane victor on the battlefield, acts out the contents of hospitality while giving the audience pleasure. Instead, she shifts to a higher moral ground, pronouncing judgment upon the producer of pleasurable sensibility and implying that both her involvement in the caterpillar narrative and her telling of the war narrative were mere rhetorical performances, designed to win assent from the audience so as to reinstate her political voice of righteous prophecy. Having related the pleasures of moral narratives, she now forces her audience to reconsider those pleasures. First she entices sympathy, then she subverts it, making "Virtue" itself an unfamiliar entity that relies on her rhetorical position for affirmation or disavowal. If only one understood her position, one could elude the "weakness of a virtuous mind." Thus she feeds on the comforts of the status quo, like a parasite who swallows up her audience's pleasures while making them dependent on her for moral enlightenment.


Barbauld often startles the reader with such barbed endings, popping the mock-heroic bubbles of "Washing Day" with the off-hand remark that "verse is one of them [the bubbles]--this most of all" (86; P 135), snagging her exaggerated call to arms in "The Rights of Woman" with the warning that "separate rights are lost in mutual love" (32; P 122), and halting her praise of "a Lady with Some Painted Flowers" with what could be either a compliment or an insult: "Your best, your sweetest empire is to please" (18; P 77). Such powerful conclusions lift Barbauld's poems beyond the positions of sensibility and sentiment with which her culture was saturated. As Isobel Armstrong points out, Barbauld assists in "getting away from the gush of the feminine regarded simply as a consent to nonrational and emotional experience." (35) Indeed, Barbauld does not occupy any simple position, often analyzing complex situations first one way, then another and leaving ambiguities for the reader to resolve.

The mobility of such shifting positions nevertheless requires attention, especially since the abrupt ending of "The Caterpillar" seems to undermine an admirable sympathy for "all that breathe." The whole poem seems to encourage a Romantic position of respect and pity for individuals who normally would be despised, only to conclude, without apparent justification, that such affect is "not Virtue," despite its virtuous intent. Perhaps William Wordsworth's reference to Barbauld as an "old snake" twice in a May 1812 letter (36) is not surprising, since her poetic habit does seem to imply a forked tongue. Praising an experience at one moment and then undermining it decisively at another appears to indicate duplicity rather than virtuous consistency. And yet, as Michel Serres notes with regard to La Fontaine's parables, characters who are most duplicitous are also those who increase the complexity of relations and excite system awareness since they are concerned not so much with the contents of isolated meals or fixed ideas as with the interconnections, the interplay of positions that enable further advantageous movement. According to Serres, "that is the meaning of the prefix para- in the word parasite: it is on the side, next to, shifted; it is not on the thing, but on its relation. It has relations, as they say, and makes a system of them. It is always mediate and never immediate" (38). Thus, Barbauld's shifting positions might, in fact, enable movement and communal responsibility, forcing us into reevaluation of what sympathy, pity, and even Virtue really entail.

Beyond this spur to activity, though, shifting positions might also be reactive, revealing sites of resistance to a repressive situation. Although Barbauld is vocal enough in critiquing plans and activities that threaten the public good, she seems hesitant to defend herself personally from attack, as if to do so would be to grant too much credibility to her opponents and too much importance to her own self image. Unable to object openly, perhaps because of her gendered position, Barbauld writes poems that mimic (with varying degrees of satire) the perspectives she finds problematic, only to undercut them with swift bursts of wit that contain enough ambiguity to be retractable if required. Such is the case with "The Rights of Woman" which responds to Wollstonecraft's condemnation of "To a Lady." And such is the case with "The Caterpillar," which I would argue responds to the condemnation Barbauld received by John Wilson Croker in June 1812 for her poem "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven." (37) Told to "desist from satire" so as to spare "both the victims and heroes of her political prejudices," Barbauld's public response was silence, as recommended by her best friend Maria Edgeworth: "silent contempt is the best answer." (38) If, as Josephine McDonagh suggests, gender bias was at stake in the negative onslaught, then this response too was gendered, being a woman's only respectable response. (39) Her shifting positionality, then, was her only remaining means of resistance, intervening in politics subversively, parasitically, so as to provoke revolutionary change.

"The Caterpillar," written four years later than the doomed poem, manages to insert a judgment about British sensibility that suggests Barbauld was by no means ready to recant. To a certain extent, "The Caterpillar"'s speaker does resume her domestic duty, superintending the garden nursery and using physical means to bring pests under control. But the whole poem resists traditional superintendence. The "intervention of a lady-author" returns, the very first word of the poem breaking silence with a "No" that establishes a refusal to follow expected behavior. Appearing to be in mid-conversation with a "helpless thing," the speaker almost repeats the "no" when rephrasing her initial "No ... I cannot harm thee" into "now, I cannot kill thee" (13), swerving only slightly to reduce the fuzzy impression that she is apologizing to the creature for being unable to end its life. The most powerful site of resistance, though, is the ambiguous pronoun reference at the end: "'Tis [It is] not Virtue." Here, I think, is where "The Caterpillar makes an intriguing rebuttal, subtly suggesting that the sympathies and caprices of the nineteenth-century middle-class audience lack Virtue, despite virtuous intentions. Because the pronoun is ambiguous, the suggestion slides away from counter-attack, opening to interpretation various positional possibilities.

If "'Tis" refers to "sympathy," which is the last noun preceding the pronoun, then the declaration "'Tis not Virtue, / Yet 'tis the weakness of a virtuous mind" appears to echo Bernard Mandeville's caution against pity in his Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices, Public Benefits:
 Pity, tho' it is the most gentle and the least mischievous of all
 our Passions, is yet as much a Frailty of our Nature, as Anger,
 Pride, or Fear. The weakest Minds have generally the greatest Share
 of it, for which Reason none are more Compassionate than Women and
 Children. It must be own'd, that of all our Weaknesses it is the
 most amiable, and bears the greatest Resemblance to Virtue; nay,
 without a considerable mixture of it the Society could hardly
 subsist: But as it is an impulse of Nature, that consults neither
 the publick Interest nor our own Reason, it may produce Evil as well
 as Good. (40)

Noting that pity has contributed to various corruptions, such as unchastity and bribery, Mandeville argues that it must be tempered with an awareness of the public good before it is to be commended. Pity, regarded in isolation, can lead one astray. Nevertheless, Mandeville is the first to suggest that private weaknesses and even vices could contribute to social good. Thievery, for example, is seen as increasing business for locksmiths and bailiffs as well as bringing more wealth into circulation. This is the premise to which Barbauld alludes in her essay on the "Thoughts on the Inequality of Conditions" in which she argues that the prevention of "lower orders from preying upon the property of the higher[[] would be a curse and not a blessing" (S 352). Indeed, she suggests that the "divine government" permits some vices in order to maintain a balanced universe. "We send the cat after the rat, and the bailiffs after the rogue," she writes, "but nature intended all should live" (S 353).

We need to remember, of course, that Barbauld's "Caterpillar" poem appears a century after Mandeville, a century during which the concept of virtue shifted as commercial society gained prominence. According to J. G. A. Pocock, traditional masculine virtues of autonomy, rationality, and security were overthrown by commitments to the "soft, civilizing, and feminizing" virtues of sociability, sentimentality, and interdependence. (41) Sympathy toward merchants and peddlers and politeness toward clients enhanced trade while purchases of delicate commodities, such as poetry, proved the customer to have refined taste and artistic sensibility. Within such a context, sympathy imaginatively contributed to a union with nature while practically contributing to a continual flow of commerce. Still, the same sensibility encouraged by consumer capitalism could lead to what Erasmus Darwin calls "Sympathia Aliena," one of the "Diseases of Volition" listed in the medical section of his 1794-1796 Zoonomia. Darwin describes this disease as an excess of sympathy, warning that it can lead to self-annihilation:
 This sympathy, with all sensitive beings, has been carried so far by
 some individuals, and even by whole tribes, as the Gentoos, as not
 only to restrain them from killing animals for their support, but
 even to induce them to permit insects to prey upon their bodies.

Although sympathy might enable commerce, some self-interest is yet required for self-preservation, requiring rational virtues of discrimination rather than sympathy. That, at least, is Barbauld's position in her earlier political tract, "An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts" (1790), in which she boldly recommends fighting evil with the dispatch of sound husbandry: "Whatever is loose must be shaken, whatever is corrupted must be lopped away; whatever is not built on the broad basis of public utility must be thrown to the ground" (S 277). This excision of corruption is precisely the type of utilitarian action with which the speaker of "The Caterpillar" destroys the Lackey community, an act that is neither condemned nor validated by the end of the poem.

An alternative reading of the ambiguous "'Tis" leads to a more modulated position that is equally plausible. Instead of referring to "sympathy," it could refer to "capricious Pity"--which is, after all, the subject of the previous sentence. In this case, the speaker might not be questioning the virtue of pitying per se but rather the caprice by which it is offered only to certain kinds of individuals. "Capricious Pity," operating on whim or caprice, "would not stir for thousands" but "melts for one," an idiosyncratic melting that is not Virtue--capital V--unless extended from the one to the many. As Barbauld's 1771 "Mouse's Petition" argues, "The well taught philosophic mind / To all compassion gives; Casts round the world an equal eye, / And feels for all that lives" (25-28; P 36; my emphasis). Isolated and selective excesses of pity are not desirable, especially when the majority are threatened by war, poverty, and woe. Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman appears to support such a position, specifically criticizing uneducated and irrational women for engaging in capricious pity "just as the whim of the moment directs," (43) rather than extending generosity with equal fairness. Indeed, Wollstonecraft's complaint is that such women often show an excessive kindness to animals, gushing about the pathos of nature, while treating servants and children with contempt:
 The lady who sheds tears for the bird starved in a snare [...] will
 nevertheless, keep her coachman and horses whole hours waiting for
 her, when the sharp frost bites, or the rain beats against the
 well-closed windows which do not admit a breath of air to tell her
 how roughly the wind blows about. And she who takes her dogs to bed,
 and nurses them with a parade of sensibility, when sick, will suffer
 her children to grow up crooked in a nursery. (172-73)

Barbauld condemns similar caprices of sensibility in her essay "An Inquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations," suggesting that sympathy with the eccentric victims of Romance leaves "hardly any pity to spare for the common accidents of life" (S 207). Once again here is a demand for a more universal ethics. It is not Virtue to feel sympathy for one individual if one kills "without a touch of pity" an entire community.

There is yet one other possibility as antecedent for the reference of "'Tis" in "The Caterpillar." Since there are two dashes in the final sentence, the intervening words about the hero's sympathy might be read as a removable insertion, so that the words after the second dash actually refer to the defeated soldier before the first: "Yet should one, / A single sufferer from the field escaped, / Panting and pale, and bleeding at his feet, / Lift his imploring eyes,--/...]--'Tis not Virtue, / Yet 'tis the weakness of a virtuous mind" (35-42; P 173). Here Virtue would stand beyond self-preservation. The sufferer's pathetic supplication, regardless of the virtues of humility and suffering, is not Virtue, but weakness. Virtue would not beg for relief, like a helpless parasite, but would bear suffering with soldierly courage and fortitude. As Barbauld notes in "An Inquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations," "Virtue has a kind of self-sufficiency; it stands upon its own basis, and cannot be injured by any violence" (S 204). Adding "helplessness and imperfection" to a character, such as the sufferer's "escape" from the field of battle, might arouse "tenderness or familiar love," but it nevertheless detracts from a fully heroic stance (S 204). Virtue requires unalloyed strength, which sentimentally virtuous minds are too weak to accomplish. The problem with this last possibility, nevertheless, is that Barbauld praises tenderness and love in many of her works, suggesting that cold "Virtue" is not necessarily the ultimate ideal. For example, her 1795 poem "To the Poor" angrily mocks sermons preached to the hungry and oppressed during war time, exaggerating the advocacy of virtuous stoicism: "Bear, bear thy wrongs, fulfil thy destined hour, / Bend thy meek neck beneath the foot of power!" (11-12; P 129). Surely stoic Virtue on the part of victims enables exploitation to continue, a situation that Barbauld consistently opposes in her discussions of social responsibility.

Rather than resolve the ambiguity of the ending to "The Caterpillar," we might consider seeing all three possibilities as strands of a very complex positionality. The speaker plays between different positions, each of which is supportable by other works, but none of which is rigid or definitive, making Virtue multidimensional and even seemingly contradictory at times. Whereas "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" presents a single moral position, castigating a "profound disorder" (McDonagh 75) in society and politics, "The Caterpillar" presents a relative ethics that shifts as circumstances shift, presenting an assumed order that nevertheless is disjunctive, disrupting conventional analogies and comfortable sensibilities with a subversive style and an abrupt conclusion that provokes serious thought. Indeed, Barbauld's positionality encourages varying affinities, engaging and yet intervening in Romantic sensibility, supporting the prowling poor and yet forcing readers to rethink the ideological implications of sympathy and pity. These affinities are not exactly the same as double dissent, although the quest for equality, so central to non-conformist dissenters and disadvantaged women, certainly is crucial to Barbauld's varying voices. By remaining unfixed, however, Barbauld addresses both the dangers and the values of pests and parasites, adopting and then .jarring ethical considerations so that thought is opened toward wider flows of animate relations. This is not weakness but a Virtue.

Lakehead University, Ontario

(1.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge reports Barbauld's complaint in a March 1832 entry of his Table Talk, ed. C. Woodring, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990) 1: 272-73: "Mrs. Barbauld once told me that she admired the Ancient Mariner very much, but that there were two faults in it: it was improbable, and had no moral. As for the probability, I owned that that might admit some question but as to the want of a moral, I told her that in my own judgment the poem had too much; and that the only, or chief fault, if I might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of pure imagination." For detailed discussions of this episode, see Deirdre Coleman, "The Unitarian Rationalist and the 'Winged Spider': Anna Letitia Barbauld and Samuel Taylor Coleridge," Imperfect Apprehensions: Essays in English Literature in Honour of G. A. Wilkes, ed. Geoffrey Little (Sydney, AU: Challis, 1996) 148-63 and Lisa Vargo, "The Case of Anna Laetitia Barbauld's 'To Mr C[oleridge],'" Charles Lamb Bulletin 102 (April 1998): 55-63. Vargo particularly cautions readers not to continue reading Barbauld as a footnote to Coleridge.

(2.) Anna Letitia Barbauld, "Thoughts on the Inequality of Conditions," Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview P, 2002) 353. Subsequent citations from this edition appear parenthetically in the text as S followed by page number.

(3.) William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft note the marginalization in their introduction to The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld (Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1994) xxxv. Subsequent citations from this edition appear parenthetically in the text as P followed by page number.

(4.) Coleridge, in Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956) 1.578, ends a letter to John Prior Estlin on March 1, 1800, with the following postscript: "The more I see of Mrs Barbauld the more I admire her--that wonderful Propriety of Mind!--She has great acuteness, very great--yet how steadily she keeps it within the bounds of practical Reason. This I almost envy as well as admire."

(5.) Mitzi Myers, "Of Mice and Mothers," Feminine Principles and Women's Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric, ed. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and Janet Emig (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995) 259.

(6.) Marlon Ross, "Configurations of Feminine Reform," Re-visioning Romanticism, ed. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner (College Park: U of Pennsylvania P, 1994) 93.

(7.) William Keach, "Barbauld, Romanticism and the Survival of Dissent," Romanticism and Gender, ed. Anne Janowitz (London: Brewer, 1998) 49-50.

(8.) Laura Mandell, "Transcending Misogyny: Anna Letitia Barbauld Writes Her Way Out," Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1999) 130.

(9.) Editors William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft use the fairly chronological arrangement of Lucy Aiken's edition of The Works of Anna Letitia Barbauld. With a Memoir, 2 vols. (London: Longman, Hurt, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, 1825; further referenced as W with volume and page) to suggest that "The Caterpillar" was composed around 1816 (P 322). However, several factors suggest 1815 might be a more likely date. First of all, Barbauld was not actively composing in 1816, according to her letter on August 23rd to Maria Edgeworth, which appears in Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld including Letters and Notices of Her Family and Friends, ed. Anna Letitia Le Breton (London: George Bell, 1874) 164: "Writing anything I have not felt equal to [thanks to ill health], and reading has at times been a task to me, but at present I feel better." Secondly, as Jonathan Bate has pointed out in "Living with the Weather," SiR 35.3 (1996): 431-40, the summer of 1816 was the "year without a summer," with below average temperatures, minimal sunshine, and abundant rainfall from April onwards. It is unlikely that caterpillars were abundant that year (or the following, which was similarly cool), since cold, inclement weather is unfavorable to their growth. See Terrence D. Fitzgerald, The Tent Caterpillars (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995) 212-15. Thirdly, the poem mentions that "horrid war [.../...] rolls dreadful on" (30-31), implying that Britain is still at war, which no longer was true in 1816. Nor was it true in June 1814, when Barbauld wrote to Mrs. Fletcher about the peace of Paris and Napoleon Bonaparte's abdication, calling the latter a tyrannical "despot" (W 2: 140). The most feasible alternative would be June 1815, after Napoleon had dramatically returned from the Isle of Elba in March. Although Napoleon requested peace with Britain, and although many of the British believed Britain should make peace with him, Parliament nevertheless voted in favor of renewed warfare. By June 1815, the war resumed its ferocity, both French and British commanders appearing to "enjoy / The roar of cannon and the clang of arms" ("The Caterpillar" 32-33). By the time Napoleon surrendered to the British in July, after his defeat at Waterloo on June 18, caterpillar season was over.

(10.) As my colleague Mike Richardson has pointed out, this convention was particularly active in the Renaissance. Stephen Gosson's The Shoole [sic] of Abuse, which prompted Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poetry in the sixteenth century, includes the following subtitle: Conteining a Plesaunt Invective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Iesters, and Such Like Caterpillers of a Commonwealth (London: Thomas Woodcocke, 1579). Similarly, gardeners in William Shakespeare's Richard II (III.iv.46-47) grumble about keeping the royal grounds in perfect order when the whole country is like a ruined garden "Swarming with caterpillars." Indeed, "caterpillar" is defined figuratively by the Oxford English Dictionary as "a rapacious person, one who preys upon society." Shakespeare references are from The Complete Works, ed. Arthur Henry Bullen (Oxford: Shakespeare Head P, 1904) and will henceforth appear parenthetically in the text in the following format: act, scene, line.

(11.) McCarthy and Kraft mention an anonymous poem from 1804 entitled "The Caterpillar" in which the speaker argues that the caterpillar on a lady's gown has a soul. McCarthy and Kraft add "We do not know whether ALB had seen this poem" (P 322).

(12.) Jim Porter, The Colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars of the British Isles (London: Viking, 1997) 21, 81; W. J. Stokoe, The Caterpillars of British Moths, ed. G. H. T. Stovin (London: Warne, 1948) 92-93.

(13.) Erasmus Darwin, The Economy of Vegetation, part I of The Botanic Garden; A Poem in Two Parts (London: Johnson, 1791) 201: 494.

(14.) Although Priscilla Wakefield's Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insects (London, 1816) does not mention European tent caterpillars or Lackey moths per se, she does note that some caterpillars can be "so numerous, as to cause great destruction to the verdure of the country" (86).

(15.) Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (1755; rpt. New York: AMS, 1967). Further references appear in the text. Note that the Oxford English Dictionary offers an alternative possible source from OF chatepelose, literally "hairy or downy cat."

(16.) Nor do most entomological publications from the period. For example, Moses Harris' English Lepidoptera: Or, The Aurelian's Pocket Companion (1775; rpt. Hampton, Middlesex: Classey, 1969) includes the food of various caterpillars (including the Lackey) since they tend to be specialist eaters and are most easily found on their preferred plants. But Harris does not condemn their eating or suggest any pest control.

(17.) Bernhard Grzimek et al, eds., Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 2: Insects (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1975) 321.

(18.) Ralph Howard Davidson and Leonard Marion Peairs, Insect Pests of Farm, Garden, and Orchard, 6th ed. (New York: John Wiley, 1966) 37.

(19.) Linnaeus (Carl Linne), as quoted by V. G. Dethier, Man's Plague? Insects and Agriculture (Princeton, NJ: Darwin P, 1976) 57.

(20.) Proceedings of the London Aurelian Society, quoted by L. O. Howard, A History of Applied Entomology (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1930) 217.

(21.) William Wordsworth, "The Tables Turned," Selected Poems and Prefaces, ed. Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965) 107, lines 26, 28.

(22.) Cynthia Damon indicates in her book The Mask of the Parasite: A Pathology of Roman Patronage (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997) that Greek parasites tended to arrive at rich homes without an invitation, being obsessed by the desire for free food, whereas their Roman counterparts were often patronized by their hosts and perceived by observers as opportunistic dependents who claimed to earn their food through various entertainments and obsequious services. The Roman model persisted well into the Romantic era, enabling Mary Wollstonecraft's 1790 Vindication of the Rights of Man, in Political Writings, ed. Janet Todd (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993) to use "parasites" to describe "men of some abilities [who] play on the follies of the rich" (24).

(23.) Chambers, Cyclopedia (1727-1741), as cited by the Oxford English Dictionary. Further citations from the dictionary appear parenthetically in the text as OED.

(24.) Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982) 7. Further references appear parenthetically in the text. Serres also notes a third type of "parasite" that is present as a noun in French, but appears only adjectivally in English: the acoustical parasite, also known as static, the noise that distorts meaning and interferes in the normal transmission of sound (8). One Oxford English Dictionary definition of "parasitic" is "unwanted subsidiary phenomena and effects."

(25.) Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967), describes gift exchange as an obligatory and ongoing back-and-forth pattern of social relations involving gifts, return-gifts, counter-return gifts, ad infinitum. Each return gift must be of equal or slightly greater value than the gift previously received so as to preserve social respect and to encourage further gift giving.

(26.) Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791; rpt. New York: Doubleday, 1989) 283.

(27.) J. Hillis Miller, "The Critic as Host," Critical Inquiry 3.3 (1977); 446, 444. Miller defends deconstructive literary critics from accusations of parasitism upon a text by arguing that critics are not parasites but hosts who give meaning to the text. It is the text which is parasitically dependent upon intertexts and interpretations for meaning.

(28.) Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Willis (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995) 112.

(29.) Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," The Longman Anthology of British Literature, vol. 2A, ed. Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning (New York: Longman, 1999), lines 8, 1; page 302.

(30.) David Perkins, "Human Mouseness: Burns and Compassion for Animals," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 42.1 (2000): 9, 12-13.

(31). Serres notes that parasites use language so skillfully that they can make even nonevents, such as the averting of disaster, appear to be gifts: "You [the vulnerable host] live with no other need, and suddenly, someone [the parasite] claims to have saved your country, protected your class, your interests, your family, and your table. And you have to pay him for that [...]" (22).

(32.) Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, ed. Jan Van Dorsten (1966; rpt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978) 144.

(33.) Laura Mandell, "'Those Limbs Disjointed of Gigantic Power': Barbauld's Personifications and the (Mis)Attribution of Political Agency," SiR 37 (1998): 27-41, suggests that Barbauld typically employs personification and demystification of abstractions in her poetry.

(34.) David Hamilton-Williams, The Fall of Napoleon (New York: Wiley, 1994) 255. Napoleon's life was spared several times during and after the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Ironically the motive for such kindness might not have been sympathy so much as an attempt on Wellington's part to redeem his character, having been reproached by Parliament for signing the allied declaration against Napoleon (Hamilton-Williams 254).

(35.) Isobel Armstrong, "The Gush of the Feminine: How Can We Read Women's Poetry of the Romantic Period?" Romantic Women Writers: Voices and Counter Voices, ed. Paula It.. Feldman and Theresa M. Kelley (Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 1995) 15.

(36.) William Wordsworth, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, vol. 8, ed. Alan G. Hill (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) 72, 79. Wordsworth's distrust of Barbauld was partly based upon the mistaken assumption that she was the nasty reviewer of Charles Lamb's John Woodvil (Vargo 56), and partly a response to her poetic editions of Akenside, Collins, and others in which she forestalled "natural feeling and judgment" through misconceived prefaces (William Wordsworth, The Critical Opinions of William Wordsworth, ed. Markham L. Peacock [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1950] 181). As Laura Mandell points out, Wordsworth shared with Coleridge and Lamb an increasing dislike for "the cursed Barbauld crew" (Lamb, qtd. in Mandell, "Transcending" 129).

(37.) John Wilson Croker, "Review of 'Eighteen Hundred and Eleven,'" Quarterly Review 7 (1812), argues that Barbauld has "miserably mistaken both her powers and her duty, in exchanging the birchen for the satiric rod, and abandoning the superintendance [sic] of the 'ovilia' of the nursery, to wage war on the 'reluctantes dracones,' statesmen, and warriors, whose misdoings have aroused her indignant muse." Repeatedly sending Barbauld back to the domestic realm, Croker expresses dismay at this "intervention of a lady-author," suggesting that "the interests of Europe and of humanity" would be better served by her silence.

(38.) Edgeworth, in Le Breton 157. Most of the twenty poems Barbauld wrote after 1812 remained unpublished until her death in 1825. William Keach, "A Regency Prophecy and the End of Anna Barbauld's Career," SiR 33 (1994): 571, notes that Croker's criticism effectively ended Barbauld's publishing endeavours: "A prolific and influential literary career came to an end."

(39.) Josephine McDonagh, "Barbauld's Domestic Economy," Romanticism and Gender 63-64.

(40.) Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees; or Private Vices, Public Benefits (1712); rpt. Eighteenth-Century English Literature, ed. Geoffrey Tillotson et al (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969) 277.

(41.) J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 253.

(42.) Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, 2 vols. (1794-1796; rpt. New York: AMS P, 1974) 2: 384.

(43.) Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Carol Poston, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1988) 48.
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Author:Den Otter, Alice G.
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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