The "Fellowship of Sense": Anna Letitia Barbauld and Interspecies Community.
Scholarly responses to Barbauld's treatment of the nonhuman have varied widely. Sylvia Bowerbank, Darren Howard, and Michelle Levy have construed the animal presence within Barbauld's poems and prose works as an apt vehicle to enlighten and educate children. (3) Similarly, Felicity James and Ian Inkster highlight Barbauld's symbolic significance as a Unitarian educator who deftly employed the trope of personification primarily for a pedagogical purpose. (4) With a focus on the Scientific Revolution, Julia Saunders and Mary Ellen Bellanca place Barbauld's animal poems within eighteenth-century women's engagement in science, moral philosophy, and theorization of feelings. (5) Indeed, the emotions of pity, sympathy, and benevolence Barbauld expresses in the face of vulnerable, helpless creatures are connected to crucial cultural discourses of sentiment that had been prominent in Britain since the mid-eighteenth century. Building on such historicist readings of Barbauld's treatment of nonhuman species, Laura Mandell and Alice G. Den Otter respectively investigate the intersection of the political and the literary: the former persuasively articulates the political dimension of Barbauld's use of personification, a literary device designed to "stimulate political activism" by contesting the status quo. (6) Den Otter, in a similar vein, connects Barbauld's representation of the caterpillar to contemporary British sympathy with the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the concomitant efforts at pest control in late eighteenth-century Britain. (7) Under the banner of disparate theoretical practices, these scholars share the common assumption that nonhuman species play a predominantly representational role in Barbauld's animal poems, providing Barbauld with a poetic subject instrumental for her references to supposedly broad and significant human realms of social and ethical concern. For example, the caterpillar--probably the most often-discussed poetic object in Barbauld's animal poems--has long been read as a metonym for suffering political subjects in the 1790s, including dissenters, women, slaves, and Corsicans.
This essay, however, argues that Barbauld's animal poems elucidate an eighteenth-century posthumanist formulation of self and community, one that arises from the poet's ability to register the beauty and vitality manifested in nonhuman species. (8) The birds, insects, flowers, and trees that populate Barbauld's poetry and prose constitute an integral part of both her ethical and aesthetic concerns. (9) Focusing on encounters between human observers and nonhuman creatures in poems like "The Caterpillar" (1816) and "The Mouse's Petition" (1773), I assert that these poetic meeting points epitomize a two-way street where a nonhuman tames a human subjectivity in profoundly ethical ways. (10) Conversely, Barbauld also reveals how the ethical human subject--one who discerns nonhuman agency and vitality--can help to create an affective community in which species differences are properly addressed and respected. The essay begins by exploring how the persona of Barbauld's poem "The Caterpillar" moves progressively from empirical observation to aesthetic experience as a means of theorizing ethical action. (11) I argue that Barbauld distinguishes herself from previous eighteenth-century theorists of aesthetics--Joseph Addison, Francis Hutcheson, Joseph Priestley, and Edmund Burke--through her understanding that colors are central to the experience of beauty: she ultimately revises traditional ideas of the beautiful, both by equating colors with the vitality of the nonhuman and by explicitly connecting the perception of beauty to the impulse toward ethics. In this context, I then discuss how Barbauld recognizes nonhuman creatures as proper members of what can best be called a cross-species community, one that is contingent on the varying temporalities of moral feeling. Finally, I argue that the kind of community envisioned in Barbauld's poems is meant to bridge the gaps between several of her disparate interests, including her practical concerns with the politics of tolerance, with transatlantic and colonial networks of knowledge, and with justice in the broadest sense.
Ways of Looking at the Caterpillar
What is notable in Barbauld's observation of the caterpillar is that its specificity is manifested through its vivid colors: the distinct index of non-human otherness and autonomy, as well as of its beauty. Indeed, as we shall see, the caterpillar's corporeal beauty and individuality command instant, immediate ethical action from the observer. Barbauld's poem charts a chain reaction in which the poet's disciplined attention to the object entails an aesthetic experience that distinguishes the caterpillar's individuality. The poet's recognition of the nonhuman animal's singularity then occasions her compassion and her impulse toward justice. "The Caterpillar" is an apt point of departure for examining Barbauld's aesthetic as well as ethical concerns with nonhuman species, to which her empirical approach to natural objects is integral. Despite its brevity, the poem reveals how the caterpillar's body is located at the juncture of eighteenth-century empirical, aesthetic, and ethical debates and such entanglements of the caterpillar with contemporary discourses testifies to its posthuman status.
"The Caterpillar," which begins with the poet's firm moral decision on behalf of an apparently pitiable natural object--"No, helpless thing, I cannot harm thee now" (1)--is coupled with the language of passion and enthusiasm in a way that anticipates Anna L. Tsing's discovery of mushrooms as natural bounty. (12) Tsing, one of the major environmental humanists of our century, nicely captures a sense of exuberance at the sight of a nonhuman species. (13) Barbauld's speaker limns her encounter with the caterpillar with a similar degree of excitement: Her initial ethical response, it turns out, is prompted by the discovery of the particulars of the caterpillar. The speaker's studious examination of the caterpillar yields a bulk of new knowledge about the object to her attentive eyes. Barbauld's use of the word "scan" reveals the degree of her curiosity as well as her conversance with empirical modes of observation and judgment:
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... (3-6)
At first glance, the intensity of the speaker's curiosity and her ensuing attention resonates with what Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz might term "prolonged scrutiny" as a "potentially more voluntary" act of attention than a momentarily passing glance at an object, in that her mode of observation echoes that governing experimental science. (14) The poet's documentation of the specific colors--"silver," "azure," and "orange"--along with the caterpillar's form and texture, however, underlines Barbauld's familiarity with contemporary aesthetic discourses. With regard to the relationship between an attention-drawing object and aesthetic experience, if Marcia Muelder Eaton observes that "the attention demanded is what characterizes the aesthetic," (15) Barbauld's case illustrates that a natural object that commands attention through its vital signs of beauty and specificity defines the ethical. But before I turn to the ethical dimension of aesthetic experience in light of Elaine Scarry's seminal work, it will be necessary to take a brief survey of eighteenth-century aesthetic discussions of color, since color functions as a fundamental component of sensorial experience in a way that can be readily applied to Barbauld's perception of the beautiful as manifested in "The Caterpillar." Working with and going beyond her predecessors in aesthetic theory, Barbauld elevates color perceptions--often described as an ancillary component of sense experience--to the status of being essential in apprehending an object's beauty and vitality.
Joseph Addison, Francis Hutcheson, and Joseph Priestley respectively illustrate how color perceptions function as either primary or secondary components of aesthetic experience in the eighteenth century. In his vision-centered aesthetic theory, Addison writes that our perception of second-tier beauty rests on the "gaiety or variety of colours," on "the symmetry and proportion of parts," and on "the arrangement and disposition of bodies or in a just mixture and concurrence of all together." (16) Here he admits that colors serve as a rudimentary component of aesthetic experience. Priestley postulates color properties as ancillary to the essence of an object; he illustrates examples of milk associated with white, gold with yellow. For Priestley, colors help to constitute the "whole" and "one impression." (17) Hutcheson, who laid out the foundations of eighteenth-century moral philosophy in conjunction with aesthetic and ethical concerns, also notes that color functions as a crucial sensorial stimulant, along with sound, smell, taste, and touch. In An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue in Two Treatises (1726), Hutcheson views the pleasurable experience stemming from beauty, regularity, and harmony as the result of encountering both concrete and abstract forms of beauty, such as visual art, architectural designs, and mathematical theorems.
Thus Hutcheson's An Inquiry demands a careful reading in relation to Barbauld's formulations of human perceptions of beauty, novelty, and justice. In it, Hutcheson champions religious, humanitarian ideals of beauty and justice; Barbauld's poetry resonates with his influence, particularly in her treatment of similar subject matter. Hutcheson starts from the Lockean premise that the mind can be a passive receptor of a broad spectrum of external stimuli: external objects act upon the body and the whole process is termed sensation.' (8) He puts forward three causes of pleasurable experience--beauty, regularity, and harmony--in a manner similar to Addison. Hutcheson goes on to list the kinds of things--both concrete and abstract--from which a subject can draw pleasure, ranging from nature to arts, and even to mathematical theorems. Once he lays out the foundations of the sensorial experience of pleasure and the perception of beauty, Hutcheson underlines that this whole process is not merely aesthetic, but also cognitive: "For Beauty, like other Names of the sensible Ideas, properly denotes the Perception of some Mind": (19)
Hence it plainly appears, 'that some Objects are immediately the Occasions of this Pleasure of Beauty, and that we have Senses fitted for perceiving it; and that it is distinct from that Joy which arises from Self-love upon Prospect of Advantage.' Nay, do we not often see Convenience and Use neglected to obtain Beauty, without any other prospect of Advantage in the Beautiful Form, that the suggesting the pleasant Ideas of Beauty? Now this shews us, that however we may pursue beautiful Objects from Self-love, with a view to obtain the Pleasures of Beauty, as in Architecture, Gardening, and many other Affairs; yet there must be a Sense of Beauty, antecedent to Prospects even of this Advantage, without which Sense, these Objects would not be thus Advantageous, nor excite in us this Pleasure which constitutes them advantageous. Our Sense of Beauty from Objects, by which they are constituted good to us, is very distinct from our Desire of them when they are thus constituted: Our Desire of Beauty may be counter-ballanc'd by Rewards or Threatenings, but never our Sense of it; even as Fear of Death, or Love of Lie, may make us chuse and desire a bitter Potion, or neglect those Meats which the Sense of Taste would recommend as pleasant; and yet no prospect of Advantage, or Fear of Evil, can make their Potion agreeable to the Sense, or Meat disagreeable to it, which was not so antecedently to this Prospect. (20)
In the passage cited above, Hutcheson analyzes the way in which the human mind registers a beautiful object: the object functions as a trigger for our perception of beauty, and the external stimulus leads the human subject to choose a certain form of beauty. That is evident so far. The process becomes complicated, however, when Hutcheson suggests the idea that we have an a priori perception of beauty--a preordained understanding of beauty common to all human minds, which is resonant with Kant's account of aesthetic perception in his third Critique. (21) After laying out the premise of our a priori understanding of beauty, Hutcheson then suggests that the actual choice of beauty associated with the good in this context can be affected by either "Reward" (i.e. pleasantness) or "Threatenings" (unpleasantness). With regard to the decision-making process surrounding the good and the beautiful, G. Gabrielle Starr, drawing on the methodology of cognitive neuroscience, notes that perceiving beauty, which actually had long been overlooked in the Western canon, does not actually provide a neat, cohesive picture of the human mind. Rather, she argues that "[t]here is yet more discontinuity, and even fragmentation." (22) Despite Hutcheson's attempt at providing a coherent understanding as to how human subjects perceive beauty, the diverging results of actual human choices of beautiful objects hints at the very fragmented, socially inflected dimension of aesthetic judgment and ethical action.
Hutcheson, however, regards colors as too simple to engender aesthetic pleasure in an observer. Edmund Burke's rather sketchy study of colors--wherein he suggests such vivid colors as white, green, yellow, blue, "pale red," violet, or even "deep purple" cannot occasion the sublime but do count as an experience of the beautiful--echoes Hutcheson's idea that colors are neither complex or serious enough to be deemed central to aesthetic experience. (23) In contrast to these theorizations of color as a secondary element comprising the experience of beauty, Barbauld takes colors to be a central marker of nonhuman specificity. More importantly, her recognition of the colors manifested in the body of the caterpillar marks her difference from contemporary understandings and practices of sympathy.
Barbauld's An Enquiry into Those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations (1773) provides a glimpse into the poet's recognition of beauty (or aesthetic pleasantness) in relation to the operation of sympathy. Here Barbauld explores not only the relationship between moral feelings and an object's desirability or beauty, but also the multiple shades of moral feeling prompted by the plight of others, ranging from pity to an "agreeable sympathy," and even to "sorrow":
A judicious author will never attempt to raise pity by any thing mean or disgusting. As we have already observed, there must be a degree of complacence mixed with our sorrows to produce an agreeable sympathy; nothing, therefore, must be admitted which destroys the grace and dignity of suffering; the imagination must have an amiable figure to dwell upon; there are circumstances so ludicrous or disgusting, that no character can preserve a proper decorum under them or appear in an agreeable light. (200-201)
If an object of attention proves to be faulty, disgusting, or unworthy of redemption, it fails to provoke further supposedly refined moral feelings, not to mention moral action--an idea that is echoed in Martha Nussbaum's framing of compassion in Political Emotions. (24) Nussbaum lays out three conditions to be met to arouse properly human compassion: the gravity of the plight a human observer witnesses, the guiltlessness of the suffering subject, and the placement of the suffering subject at the center of the observer's perceptual field. The passage quoted above, along with the way Barbauld highlights the distinctive beauty of the caterpillar, can be read as the poet's Aristotelian efforts to situate nonhuman others at precisely the center of attention that Nussbaum prioritizes.
Barbauld's focus on the colors of the caterpillar, her excitement at the sight of them, and her actual enunciation of the distinct colors altogether clarify her relationship to existing discourses in aesthetic theory. Not only is she aware of Hutcheson's notion that the experience of beauty is an amalgamation of aesthetic, ethical, and cognitive events, but Barbauld goes one step further, revising Hutcheson's philosophical understanding by recognizing the vitality of a nonhuman species. Barbauld expands contemporary thinking about aesthetics and ethics in two crucial ways: first, she views colors as the evidence of a nonhuman species' concrete vitality and beauty; and second, she elevates this seemingly lowly, insignificant nonhuman species to the level of deserved aesthetic attention and eventually to the realm of community.
At the same time, her animal poems register a tension borne of the poet's departure from contemporary ideas about community as well as subjectivity. Barbauld carefully constructs ethical and relational subjecthood by discerning the markers of beauty as indications of the caterpillar's own specificity and historicity. In doing so, she asserts that even a deceptively simple, insignificant natural object deserves human attention. Indeed, Barbauld's multifarious sensorial registers of the caterpillar resonate with Rosi Braidotti's critique of Giorgio Agamben: Braidotti astutely criticizes Agamben's configuration of the "bare life" as a term embracing liminal subjectivities across human and nonhuman species because it only underlines the "constitutive vulnerability" of these subjects: the bare life as a collective identity fails to recognize the "generative vitality" these liminal subjects manifest. (25) As she is fundamentally dissatisfied with Agamben's "overemphasis on the horizons of mortality and perishability," Braidotti promotes what she calls the "politics of life itself as a relentlessly generative force including and going beyond death." (26) Her stress on the vital force of liminal subjectivity is anticipated in the way Barbauld registers the sensory details of the caterpillar, basing an aesthetic recognition of the insect on firsthand empirical observation.
Barbauld's construction of ethical subjecthood also paves the way for Scarry's investigation into the relationship between beauty and justice, particularly her idea that when "something beautiful fills the mind [it] yet invites the search for something beyond itself." (27) Beauty, according to Scarry, expands the confines of our subjectivity, leading us to take action on behalf of the object of beauty: "The beholder, in response to seeing beauty, often seeks to bring new beauty into the world and may be successful in its endeavor. But those dedicated to goodness or truth or justice were also seeking to carry out acts that further the position of these things in the world." Scarry goes on to argue that the perception of beauty involves a mutually life-giving, contractual act between the object of beauty and the observer. What is indeed compelling in Scarry's account rests on her proposition that the perception of beauty ultimately entails the "radical decentering" of human subjectivity. (28) Hence Scarry's formulation of beauty and justice, and her examination of the interrelationship between these abstract terms, can be aligned with posthumanist formulations of aesthetic experience.
If particular colors function as the index of a nonhuman specificity that works independent of human wills in "The Caterpillar," Barbauld's apprehension of these particulars also works as the precondition for further sympathy and moral action: it is worth our attention that the poet's "curious eye" (line 3) recognizes the "silver line" on the caterpillar's back (4), and the "azure and orange" lines that fill the caterpillar's side (5) engender her decision to let it go unharmed. After witnessing the bodily details of the caterpillar, the speaker eventually reaches a moment of empathy when she is explicitly worried if the caterpillar might fall, imagining the potential harm to be caused by its "Precipitous descent" (10). Within about ten lines, the caterpillar in question is depicted as an autonomous but still vulnerable creature. Of course, it is potentially anthropocentric to assume such movement is a call for "protection," but the brief moment of encounter and the speaker's ensuing observations of the caterpillar definitely lead the speaker to take action for the "houseless wanderer" (6). Though Barbauld's depiction of the caterpillar is not entirely free of an anthropocentrism, I am more concerned to emphasize that Barbauld recognizes the agency of the caterpillar--it is her insistence on this agency that undergirds her post-humanist imagination. The speaker's sympathetic identification with the caterpillar reveals a feminist ethics of care acknowledging apparent power asymmetry between the caterpillar and herself. The suggestive reference to the "fellowship of sense" (27) nicely illustrates that the recognition of vulnerability and dependency between subjects is fundamental to the making of a community:
A single wretch, escaped the general doom, Making me feel and clearly recognize Thine individual existence, life, And fellowship of sense with all that breathes,-- Present'st thyself before me, I relent, And cannot hurt thy weakness.... (24-29, my emphases)
Near the end of the poem, the poet aptly illustrates how so-called "fellow-feeling" is elicited as a result of the observer's acquisition of specific knowledge about the object of her attention. Although Sarah Ahmed duly cautions against lumping together such various feelings as compassion, empathy, sympathy, and pity, here my focus is less on such subcategories of affect than on the fact that Barbauld's emotional response is bound up with sensorial experience. (29) The act of beneficence, to borrow Adam Smith's term, is invoked not by force, but by the vitality of the nonhuman being, characterized by colors, sound, texture, and mobility in this particular context. Thus, the caterpillar, rife with color, mobility, and even a certain weight, calls for both responsibility and care from the human observer. Simply put, its full corporeality suggests that it deserves not only sympathy but also legitimate membership within the community of humans and nonhumans. Barbauld's own short treatise on sympathy, An Enquiry into Those Kinds of Distress, argues that appropriate sympathy ought to be prompted by "a degree of complacence mixed with our sorrows" (200-201). Furthermore, the object of sympathy, Barbauld suggests, should be represented as a being of "grace and dignity" (201). Hence, Barbauld's representation of the caterpillar shows that the act of recognizing both species difference and the specificity of the nonhuman is crucial to ensuring the inclusion of nonhumans within an interspecies community.
Barbauld's Contingent Community
Admittedly, community is a fraught term. Its definition and operations are fundamentally predicated on the demarcation of inside and outside, which in turn dictates the way in which justice within the community is formulated and realized. Constitutions of the ideal community vary widely depending on the political-theoretical position from which one begins. From the perspective of such right-based philosophers as Hannah Arendt, Seyla Benhabib, and Martha Nussbaum, the complexity surrounding community can be reduced to a simple question: upon whom should citizenship be conferred? But the approach taken by these humanist feminists, keen on revising the eighteenth-century legacy of social contracts and political civil rights, is circumscribed in that their imagination of community pertains exclusively to the human. By contrast, within the biopolitics camp as promulgated by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Cary Wolfe, community is configured as relatively permeable in that human and nonhuman bodies are equally inscribed by the representational network of power. In the feminist care tradition, the ethics of care engenders a much broader notion of community, one whose boundary is significantly porous. Such community is governed by compassion, not as opposed to or as a sole alternative to justice, but rather suggesting what Carol J. Adams and Lori Gruen call "dualistic thinking," a frame that allows the mutually reinforcing work of compassion and justice. (30)
Barbauld's version of community takes such an eclectic form, situated between the community of care and a residual form of dissenter liberalism. The ecofeminist reading of Barbauld's poems is crucial to understanding their affective as well as political stakes, as such an approach allows us to see the way Barbauld integrates compassion and justice in her envisioning of a community. Barbauld's recognition of nonhuman others enables her to envision a community firmly built on a sympathy and benevolence that are applicable even to nonhuman animals. Although other equally weighty sociocultural factors--her Unitarian upbringing, her conversance with late eighteenth-century sensibility discourses, and the ascendancy of benevolence in the post French Revolution era--can be viewed as major influences upon Barbauld, here I focus on her aesthetic formulations of things coupled with empirical observation as the buttress of her conceptualization of a cross-species community. (31) This particular community is built not only on such sociopolitical concepts as benevolence and justice, but also on sense-based affects. As Barbauld's idealization of a "fellowship of sense" indicates, her posthumanist imagination is closely bound up with corporeal, sensorial experiences--experiences with nonhuman others that are informed by the contemporary cultural discourses of compassion, benevolence, and justice.
In "The Caterpillar" Barbauld's move from an immediate sympathetic decision not to kill the caterpillar to the act of acknowledging the species becomes evident in her diction. The mid-section of "The Caterpillar," where the speaker confesses her past inadvertent wrongdoings against this nonhuman species, is rich with mock-confessional tone, as Sharon Smith points to the mock-heroic convention in Barbauld's poems:
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;... (14-19)
While Smith analyzes the authorial distance of Barbauld's speaker as a way of understanding the poem's distinctions between the human and the non-human, I argue that Barbauld's use of politically-charged language in the passage above underlines the independent nationhood of nonhuman species: her repetitive use of the words "race," "tribes," and "embryo nation" is neither coincidental nor exaggerated. (32) Barbauld's acknowledgement of the caterpillar's individuality (as discussed in the previous section) paves the way for the poet to present this group of nonhuman animals as a kind of independent polity. She not only appreciates the individual body of the caterpillar, but also takes a further step to embrace the collective body of nonhumans as a proper object of her consideration. Despite the speaker's microscopic focus on the "single sufferer from the field" (36), "The Caterpillar" registers the way her empirical, aesthetic concern--in the form of a poetics of care and attention--is expanded into the constitution of political community, which, the speaker tacitly suggests, ought to embrace non-human life forms. Of course, this community does not refer to an actual, visible entity governed by universality; rather, Barbauld's interspecies community is characterized by multiplicity and heterogeneity. (33) Hence, "The Caterpillar" in its compact length illustrates how Barbauld's community of care is expanded from the microcosmic encounter between the speaker and the caterpillar to a broader relationship between the speaker and the entire "race" of insects and, ultimately, to a rather idealized notion of political community between humans and nonhumans.
"The Mouse's Petition" (1771, "Petition" hereafter) envisages more complex aspects of Barbauld's interspecies community. Its complexity emerges in part from the immediate historical background of the poem, in part from the use of a speaking animal, and in part from the employment of the petition as a medium to provide a voice for the nonhuman species. The way Barbauld stages the mouse illustrates what Karen Barad terms "post-humanist performativity," as the mouse defies the "excessive power granted to language to determine what is real." (34) My deployment of post-humanist performativity in reading the "Petition" shines a different light on Barbauld's establishment of a community, which has long been discussed with a particular focus on Barbauld's biography. (35) Taken as an immediate response to Joseph Priestley's animal experiments, the "Petition" has been read in heavily biographical or political ways. From its initial publication, the poem sparked heated debates on Barbauld's agenda in relation to Priestley's animal experiments. Of course, Priestley was not alone in experimenting with animals, but Barbauld's friendship with him and his wife as discerned in her poems--such as "To Mrs. P," "An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study," and "To Dr. Priestley. Dec. 29, 1792"--made it easier for literary critics to single out Priestley as her ready target. Many associated the voice of the mouse with Barbauld's criticism of human cruelty perpetrated against animal life. Barbauld, baffled by such a one-sided reading of her poem, admits she "is concerned to find, that what was intended as the petition of mercy against justice" has been received as a "plea for humanity against cruelty." (36) In her defense of Priestley, Barbauld ends up watering down her original intent of composing the "Petition," as is suggested by the fact that she fails to specify whose mercy, or whose justice this poem articulates. I would rather suggest that the poem was originally intent on criticizing the animal experiment Priestley performed the night Barbauld visited the household, but her efforts not to disrupt her longstanding friendship with the Priestleys and to protect her close friend from ongoing contemporary attacks aimed at him and fellow dissenters made her publish this densely clustered apologetica. Felicity James, in her examination of Francesco Bartolozzi's 1791 engraving that renders an imagined Aikin-Barbauld family portrait as focused on a mouse, argues that the portrait deliberately belies the scale and significance of the public image of both Priestley and Barbauld. In the case of Priestley himself, he had been the target of public outrage and hatred primarily because of his dissenter background. (37)
Despite the fact that Barbauld's well-intended defense of Priestley in the face of such criticism against animal abuse did not succeed, her letter underscores the key concepts concerning contemporary moral debates centered on the conceptual definition of justice, mercy, cruelty, and humanity. Again, suffused with the language of Hutcheson and Smith, Barbauld's poems underline how the language of care is implicated in both humanist and animal discourses. Hutcheson once notes that virtuous life--the culmination of happiness--is predicated on benevolence, which results from free will. Thus for him liberty is the primary condition for a happy virtuous life, to which Barbauld attests by extending compassion to animal life in her poetry. Barbauld's poem on the mouse clearly highlights how her hands-on experience with contemporary experimental science--the kind of experiment predicated on the sacrifice of nonhuman life--intersects with the equally pressing ethical concerns exemplified in "The Caterpillar." In putting forward the idea that benevolence and political freedom ought to be shared by humans and nonhumans alike, Barbauld establishes affective and ethical foundations for an alternative, interspecies community.
In the "Petition" Barbauld's nonhuman subject prominently stages its suffering and simultaneously allows readers to process the array of feelings elicited by its predicament. By rendering only the mouse's voice audible without overt mediation, Barbauld comments on the relationship between the proprietorship of language and membership in community. If the caterpillar is a muted entity, whose individuality is revealed through its colors but is still couched in vulnerability and dependency, the mouse's voice spells out the explicit need for the poet's intervention, mainly because the voice lacks authority. It is important to note that the act of speaking for someone--what Tobias Menely calls "[r]epresentation in an ethicopolitical sense"--is a form of "remediation," which illustrates his concern with communicative media and its political stakes. (38) Foregrounding an animal that actually speaks up on its own account presupposes a community to whom the animal narrator addresses an issue that begs immediate, radical redress. Menely's focus on the "creaturely voice" in the configuration of the community to which the voice is addressed underlines how the voice of nonhuman species is indispensable in establishing a community of sympathy, sensibility, and justice. (39) In light of Menely's case about the nonhuman voice, the mouse's agency in Barbauld's "Petition" can be interpreted as a telling sign that the poet attempts to establish a community that recognizes the nonhuman subject. The desperate mouse from the start evokes readers' attention by identifying its petition as a "pensive prisoner's prayer" (1). Identifying itself as a prisoner, the speaker articulates its abject condition by insistently mentioning its confined state: "for here forlorn and sad I sit, / Within the wiry grate" (5-6). Because of its unwanted, undue imprisonment, the mouse calls for "liberty" (2) from the "tyrant's chain" (10) and from "strong oppressive force" (11). Hence, by juxtaposing the mouse subjected to human cruelty intrinsic to scientific experiments with politically marginalized human subjects in her age, Barbauld expands the parameters of political community by opening it to nonhuman subjects.
To unravel the semantic layers of the poem, I wish to delineate what constitutes the tyranny both in and outside of the poem that suppresses the mouse. This term might refer to systematic forms of oppression: animal experimentation, slavery and the slave trade, and anti-Dissenter bills. The oppressors themselves can easily be interpreted as a group of people or a collective body that denies "native and inalienable rights" to either non- or subhuman species in the eighteenth century. (40) And yet, to narrow down the scope of my discussion to animal discourses, I will return to the grounds of moral action that the mouse calls for:
Beware, lest in the worm you crush A brother's soul you find; And tremble lest thy luckless hand Dislodge a kindred mind. Or, if this transient gleam of day Be all of life we share, Let pity plead within thy breast That little all to spare. (33-40)
In these two stanzas, the mouse highlights a bond forged across species by arguing that the mouse himself is a "brother" and a "kindred spirit." Also, the mouse presents himself as an entity endowed with a "soul" (34)--a synonym for nonhuman intelligence that defies Cartesian underpinning of the nonhuman as machine--and with a "well taught philosophic mind" (25) that merits "all compassion" (26). All these stated qualities of the mouse imply his intelligence, a mental quality that proves he is not inferior to human counterparts. He goes on to argue that even the "worm you crush" has a "brother's soul" in it (33, 34). By presenting this nonhuman species as an equally sentient being through his own voice, Barbauld expresses her perennial concern with interspecies community. (41) Barbauld, keenly aware of contemporary abolitionist thought and rhetoric, lodges the language of the mouse within the critical discourse against human chattel, thereby underscoring uncomfortable truths about widespread practices of slavery and imprisonment in the century. The mouse's insistence on brotherhood, on the other hand, marks a watershed in which benevolence is foregrounded as a moral concept that is widely circulated later as the almost overused moral currency associated with patriotism particularly in post-1789 Britain. (42)
In addition to the apparent overlaps between the abolitionist rhetoric and Barbauld's construction of the creaturely voice, crucial to her deployment of the mouse is her presaging of zoopoetics. Barbauld carefully foregrounds close affinities between the mouse and the human. First, the poet underlines a truism that his animal life and human lives are alike fleeting: both human and nonhuman animals share the "transient gleam of day" (37). Set against the scheme of divine temporality, their time is equally measured. Barbauld draws on the distinction between the natural timeline and the divine timeline to stress how creaturely life is dictated by the same temporality as human life, and eventually subject to divine judgment. For that reason, the poet exhorts that time should be committed to demonstrating benevolence and virtue. It is not as explicitly stated as in Barbauld's Hymns, but Barbauld situates this particular poem and her defense of humanity and justice in the working of divine temporality. Anticipating her spirited inculcation in An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal, here the reference to political liberty is more resonant with contemporary legislation concerning animal welfare at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Throughout the poem it is evident that the poet's concern lies with the undeniable fact that animals can suffer. Barbauld's agenda as manifested in "The Petition" has more to do with animals' ability to feel and thus suffer pain: her authorial attention falls squarely on the imprisoned state of the laboratory mouse, which can be interpreted in numerous ways, as Barbauld's contemporaries did. (43)
In tracking Barbauld's imagining of interspecies community, we see that she expands the scale of her social vision from the aesthetic to the ethical, and from the intimately individual to the political. She suggests a poetic alternative to the status quo political community in late eighteenth-century Britain--the polity already mired in oppression against dissenters and African slaves, not to mention women--by laying out an affective as well as moral foundation. Barbauld's community as formulated in the poems is rather prompted by recognizing the beauty and vitality of nonhuman species. It is then made up of the voices of the nonhuman, acknowledging their particular forms of plight, demonstrating moral feelings for them. Reckoning the individual historicity of nonhuman others is fundamental to the constitution of this alternative, interspecies community within Barbauld's animal poems. It is at the same time important to note that the very alternative community has its own lifecycle, primarily owing to the (short) lifespan of compassion itself.
The particular interspecies community Barbauld formulates does not take on a tangible form, but is structured by the way in which compassion is provoked and performed. In her study of myriad forms and shapes of compassion and benevolence, Lauren Berlant focuses on the "performance of compassion" to make sense of the troubling relationship between benevolence and justice: that is, compassion and benevolence do not always entail justice. (44) Unlike eighteenth-century liberal moral philosophers like Hutcheson, Smith, or Hume, Berlant strives to make very clear distinctions between well-meaning moral feelings. In doing so, she elucidates the fact that even the same kind of compassion can come in disparate shapes and have different lifecycles: it can be manifested as obligated attention to the sufferer, a detached observation, or refusal to take action for further amendment. This multiplicity illustrates that a community's affective structure (or the way its active members frame feelings) determines not only the texture, but also the sustainability of that particular community. Unarguably, Barbauld's engagement with the abolitionist movement and dissenter politics defines the historically specific contexts of her social vision. And yet, her poems that epitomize alternative interspecies community testify to the possibility that the duration of compassion is vital to the perpetuation of the vision.
"The Caterpillar" and the "Petition" thus allegorize the making of community, by showing that the community of "sense" is fundamentally predicated on feelings: affective community does not remain as fixed as the poet's persona might have hoped, because the durability of compassion and benevolence can vary depending on the subject's moral intent. And the very moment when Barbauld admits the varying lifespan of moral virtues, and thus the perennially contingent nature of any community built on moral senses and affects, she distinguishes her moral position from that of Hutcheson. Contrary to the early eighteenth-century moral philosopher who has a firm conviction in inner benevolence as the unshakable foundation for moral community, Barbauld saw that even with the Test and Corporate Acts repealed, slaves were still maimed and animals were still subjected to the same human cruelty. These experiences affected her envisioning of community. The emotional undercurrent of Barbauld's community (as well as her ethical subjectivity) is sympathy, compassion, benevolence, and justice, which admittedly come in many shapes and forms. But Barbauld's acknowledgement of the vagaries of human emotions and systems does not capsize her political ideals or moral engagements; rather, she comes to terms with the variegated duration of human affects and seeks to devise ethical codes for both individuals and communities. In the following section, I argue that Barbauld's imagined community--characterized by benevolence forged across the divides between species and races--hints at her transnational imagination by suggesting a social vision untethered to geographical, territorial boundaries.
Coda: Community, Entanglements, and Barbauld's Transnational Imagination
While benevolence was widely circulated as a cultural currency that defined the staple national characteristics of Britain--particularly nearing the late eighteenth century--Barbauld's poems demonstrate that her alternative, albeit contingent, community is seldom circumscribed by the patriotic sentiments attendant upon benevolence, or by the narrow application of the concept. As many have pointed out, Barbauld's pitch of moral feelings or ethical actions is firmly grounded in specific knowledge, and thus read as cognitive in the end. Her persistent interest in the wellbeing of nonhumans is reinforced by her knowledge of global geography and the expanding British colonial network. This conclusion is committed to showing that Barbauld's apprehension of the caterpillar's global significance presumably informed by Maria Sibylla Merian's 1705 Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium might enable her to theorize a transnational posthuman community beyond Barbauld's own local, domestic sphere in Britain. The wide-ranging archive of Barbauld's concerns--animals, slaves, Corsicans, and so on--illustrates that the poet's social vision gestates a transnational, interspecies imagination. (45)
Jan Swammerdam and Oliver Goldsmith's The Natural History of Insects (1792) also gives due credit to Merian, an early eighteenth-century botanist, for compiling specific discoveries about the caterpillar, in terms of its metamorphoses, dietary pattern, and colors. Merian's empirical observations and encyclopedic organization of the caterpillar are almost identical with those of Barbauld's speaker in "The Caterpillar": "Merian took notice of a green Caterpillar that fed on the rose bush, with a black head. When it was touched, it let itself down by a thread, and got up again by frame. In May it turned to an aurelia, and fourteen days after to a small Butterfly, that shone like gold." (46) Merian's fastidious field note registers the details of the caterpillar's color, metamorphosis, and the exact duration of each phase. It is predominantly factual on a surface level, but the combined knowledge of distinct colors and changed forms results in a sense of wonder. McCarthy's argument that Barbauld must have seen Merian's original color drawings at the British Museum is bolstered by Barbauld's perennial interest in the expanding colonial world and in the details of insect bodies. Londa Schie-binger, however, has analyzed the colonial implications of the scientific investigation surrounding caterpillars. Schiebinger's account of Merian illustrates that the early modern female botanist's research, funded by the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, was enmeshed in both commercial ventures and scientific pursuits:
Like many male naturalists Merian also joined commercial interests to her scientific voyage. In the same way that Sloane sought a substitute for the valuable Peruvian bark in Jamaica, Merian sought other varieties of caterpillars in Surinam that, like silkworms, might produce fine thread. Silk was, in this period, big business. In 1700, the Academy of Sciences in Berlin tried (unsuccessfully) to fund their scientific endeavors through a silk monopoly; Merian's own stepuncle was in the silk trade in Frankfurt. Silk indeed became important in colonial manufactory: in the late eighteenth century, the "Lady Governess" of the English East India Company in India, for instance, directed a plantation of mulberry trees at the female orphanage in Madras where at least one hundred girls were profitably engaged producing silk. (47)
Against the colonial and scientific network of contemporary Britain, caterpillars in Surinam drew attention due primarily to their utility, their practical use value. They are associated with the potential for enormous profit through their production of silk, another word for money. Merian's own empirical observation of the caterpillar--the discovery that a caterpillar created a thread of distinct color--supports my claim that the caterpillar can be interpreted as a natural object (or a commodity in Merian's context) implicated in the web of European colonialism. The very colonial context of the British consumption of caterpillars adds a nuance to Barbauld's caterpillar, which is most often viewed as an ahistorical object notable for its beauty and individuality. Schiebinger's postcolonial analysis of the circulation of caterpillars in and outside of eighteenth-century Britain highlights the moment when the specific history of the nonhuman species is imbricated in the globalized network of science and colonialism. Building on the postcolonial lens, I suggest here that Barbauld's renewed recognition of the caterpillar illustrates increasing moral awareness of the interconnectivity in the global context of the long eighteenth century.
Barbauld's boundless curiosity about world geography and her semiencyclopedic knowledge of its zoological habitants are revealed in her poem "Animals, and Their Countries," in which the speaker, drawing on a nursery rhyme, matches animals with their respective origins. The lion, for example, belongs in Africa boasting of his pompous walk. The boar belongs in German forests. Lapland is described as the habitat for a peasant working with reindeer. Through this list, the speaker suggests a kind of world travel by pinpointing apparently exotic species to her British audiences. Some poems conjectured to be Barbauld's own, such as "India," "Lapland," and "Canada," bespeak the poet's keen interest in the expanding British colonies. Such poems might be connected to Barbauld's long-held interest in those who suffer the most in the status quo. Barbauld produced many works that demonstrate her profound engagement with current affairs that demand sympathetic and practical resolution: take, for example, poems like "The Rights of Woman" and "To the Poor," Barbauld's spirited political response entitled An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts (1790), and even more aesthetic and ethical prose works like An Enquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite agreeable Sensations (1773). Barbauld continuously attempted to identify who exactly was suffering from preventable, unnecessary forms of inequality and mistreatment, regardless of distinctions based on species, political allegiance, and gender. The range of her objects of care can be read as quite expansive. Therefore, Barbauld's deliberate choice of the caterpillar suggests that her aesthetic pleasure is profoundly bound up with her envisioning of transnational community.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, an era characterized by empiricism, sensibility, sympathy, and vitality, Barbauld's animal poems illustrate that her attentiveness to nonhuman life forms is lodged in her training as an empirical subject. While she avoids the pitfall of what Adela Pinch calls the "pale versions of self"--the concept scholars adopt to describe Lockean underpinnings of self as the passive receptor of the object world--Barbauld spells out the basis for intersubjective community across the divide between species. (48) Her two major animal poems reveal that Barbauld's impulse toward ethical acts of compassion stems primarily from her sustained attention to the corporeal individuality of the caterpillar, which in turn amplifies her perception of beauty. This poem nicely captures how interspecies encounter can be a cognitive as well as an aesthetic event through which a human observer seizes the opportunity to appreciate and discern the beauty of a small insect. The speaker's decision to release the caterpillar, despite her previous history of killing other insects without much self-consciousness, indicates that a sensorial recognition made possible by the encounter can actually result in an act of attention and care. "The Mouse's Petition," loaded with explicit political implications, rather works as a case study of eighteenth-century community governed by compassion, sympathy, and immediate political action in that Barbauld frames the mouse's suffering and feeling in the form of a petition. Barbauld's aesthetic experience with nonhuman species provides a significant impetus for envisioning an alternative community by embracing non-human entities in it. Barbauld's animal poems testify to the possibility that an empirical, aesthetic experience can extend to the realm of care and justice on a global scale. (49)
Incheon National University, South Korea
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48. Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemology of Emotion, Hume to Austen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 17.
49. Thanks are due to Anthony Pollock, my former doctoral advisor, for critical comments on earlier drafts of this essay.
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(1.) McCarthy, "Introduction: Anna Letitia Barbauld Today," in Anna Letitia Barbauld: New Perspectives," ed. McCarthy and Olivia Murphy (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2014), 1.
(2.) Over the last few decades, the posthuman--a sticky theoretical concept or a discrete identity that embraces broad-ranging nonhuman subjects--has taken center stage in myriad debates across disciplines, and even across often-territorial periodic distinctions. The plasticity of the term 'posthuman' has enabled scholars to examine from a new methodological perspective the allegedly nonhuman, such as animals, plants, machinery, along with racialized and gendered bodies, and the entangled relationship between human subjects and the material environment. For more, see Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin," Environmental Humanities 6 (2015): 159-65; Rosi Braidotti, Posthuman (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013); Karen Barad, "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (2003): 801-31; and Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
(3.) See Bowerbank, Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), esp. ch. 5; Howard, "Talking Animals and Reading Children," SiR 48, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 641-66; and Levy, "The Radical Education of Evenings at Home," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 19, no. 1-2 (2006-7): 123-50.
(4.) James and Inkster, ed. Religious Dissent and the Aikin-Barbauld Circle, 1740-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
(5.) Saunders, "'The Mouse's Petition': Anna Laetitia Barbauld and the Scientific Revolution," The Review of English Studies 53 (2002): 500-516; Bellanca, "Science, Animal Sympathy, and Anna Barbauld's 'The Mouse's Petition.'" Eighteenth-Century Studies 37, no. 1 (2003): 47-67.
(6.) Mandell, " 'Those Limbs Disjointed of Gigantic Power': Barbauld's Personifications and the (Mis)Attnbution of Political Agency," SiR 37, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 27-41, 29.
(7.) Den Otter, "Pests, Parasites, and Positionality: Anna Letitia Barbauld and The Caterpillar," SiR 34, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 209-30.
(8.) Such works as Jonathan Bate's Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (New York: Routledge, 1991), Mary Jacobus's Romantic Things: A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), and Timothy Morton's Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007) envisage the way Romanticists address human entanglements with nature. These works in common demystify the nature within Romantic poetry, particularly focusing on Romantic poets like Wordsworth. My analysis of Barbauld's animal poems is grounded in the similar acknowledgement that nature is not a simple, passive backdrop. Yet this essay distinguishes itself from the ecocritical Romantic scholarship by focusing on Barbauld's astute interest in nonhuman agency, one that is particularly compounded by the senses of beauty and sympathy. With regard to understanding the autonomy of nonhuman species as the defining characteristic of the posthuman, the feature translated as either "thingliness" or "vitality" in the different varieties of new materialism, see Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).
(9.) In addition to Barbauld's poems, Evenings at Home (1792-96)--Barbauld's collaboration with her brother John Aikin--registers her perennial interest in nonhuman species. A casual conversation between students and a teacher about ordinary natural phenomena such as "nature's manufacture [dandelion head]" as exemplified in the sixth volume of the collection not only underscores the empiricist ethos of dissenter education, but also suggests that induction from natural singularities is intricately tied to the perception of beauty. See Aikin and Barbauld, Evenings at Home, vol. 6:2.
(10.) My case is thus that Barbauld does not just regard the caterpillar as one of what Den Otter calls the "little pest" to be eradicated, but the nonhuman implicated in the transnational network of commerce and knowledge dissemination. See Den Otter, "Pests, Parasites, and Positionality," 218.
(11.) Contrary to the chronological order of publication, "The Caterpillar" is discussed first in this essay in order to pay due attention to the colors of the caterpillar and to facilitate a discussion from eighteenth-century aesthetic discourses to ethical ones.
(12.) Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2001). All references to Barbauld's work are from this edition and are cited in the text.
(13.) In "Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species," Tsing registers the multi-sensorial pleasures she enjoys in the forest, where she is constantly exposed to the vitality and companionship of mushrooms. In addition to her discernment of the visual, olfactory information within the landscape, Tsing recognizes mushrooms as a vital and aesthetically pleasing companion species. See "Unruly Edges," Environmental Humanities 1 (2012): 141-54, 142.
(14.) Leibniz quoted in Margaret Koehler, Poetry of Attention in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Palgrave, 2012), 25.
(15.) Eaton, "Art and the Aesthetic," in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, ed. Peter Kivy (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 72.
(16.) Addison, The Spectator, No. 412 (1712), in The Spectator in Four Volumes, ed. Gregory Smith (Dutton, NY: Everyman's Library, 1945), 281.
(17.) Priestley, "The Associationist," in Priestley's Writings on Philosophy, Science, and Politics. ed. John A. Passmore (New York: Collier Books, 1965), 43.
(18.) Hutcheson, An Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, and etc, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue in Two Treatises (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004), 19.
(19.) Hutcheson, An Inquiry, 27. This is later contradicted by Kant's claim that aesthetic judgment is neither cognitive nor logical. See Immanuel Kant's "Analytic of the Beautiful" in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 89-90.
(20.) Hutcheson, An Inquiry, 25.
(21.) This premise that the human subject is equally endowed with a common faculty of discerning beauty is central to moral sense theory in eighteenth-century Britain. As Starr points out, "the investigation of beauty [serves] as a way to discover the basis of community standards and the bonds that link us together." See Starr, Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2013), xiv. This view is reinforced by Hutcheson's ensuing emphasis on the unity of the universal. Given the primary function of beauty perception as a way of determining community ethics, and a kind of anthropocentric one, I argue in the following section that Barbauld's poems suggest a departure from anthropocentric aesthetics and ethical investigation through her acknowledgement of the very vibrancy of nonhuman species.
(22.) Starr, Feeling Beauty, xiii.
(23.) Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. Adam Philips (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 75.
(24.) Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013).
(25.) Braidotti, Posthuman, 21.
(26.) Braidotti, Posthuman, 121.
(27.) Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 29.
(28.) Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 88, 109.
(29.) Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), 31.
(30.) Adams and Gruen, "Introduction," Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 3.
(31.) Evan Radcliffe maintains that immediately after the French Revolution the conceptual parameter of benevolence became controversial. Especially the concept of universal benevolence--a moral virtue applicable evenly to all beings--preoccupied the mind of late eighteenth-century thinkers such as William Godwin and Jonathan Edwards. For more, see Radcliffe, The French Revolution Debate in English Literature and Culture, ed. Lisa Plummer Crafton (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 59-81.
(32.) For more, see Sharon Smith, "'I Cannot Harm Thee Now': The Ethics of Satire in Anna Barbauld's Mock-Heroic Poetry," European Romantic Review 26 (2015): 551-73.
(33.) At this point it might be worth noting N. Katherine Hayles's definition of the post-human as "an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction." In a similar way, the cross-species envisioned in "The Caterpillar" epitomizes heterogeneity. See Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 3.
(34.) Barad, "Posthumanist Performativity," 802.
(35.) Over the last few decades, literary scholars have situated the "Petition" at the intersections of gender, sensibility, and late eighteenth-century empirical science. Julia Saunders asserts that Barbauld's conversance with contemporary science is "more than a passing" interest, and that her "use of scientific imagery demonstrates that women writers were also able to use the potentially explosive combination of verse mixed with chemistry in the cause of radical politics," ("The Mouse's Petition," 502). Mary Ellen Bellanca's reading of the "Petition" situates the poem against the backdrop of the late eighteenth-century rhetoric of sensibility evoked both by the political iniquities acted against dissenters, and by the troubled relationship between women and science. While Saunders and Bellanca use the "Petition" poem effectively as a window to examine Barbauld's attempts to participate in male-dominant science and to provide an alternative ethical perspective on it, my focus lies with the entanglements between human and nonhuman actors.
(36.) Quoted in Selected Poetry and Prose, 69.
(37.) James, "An Introduction," 2-3.
(38.) Menely, The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 80.
(39.) Menely, The Animal Claim, 2.
(40.) Barbauld uses this phrase in line 20 of "Epitaph on a Goldfinch" (1774), when conveying a similar protest by a goldfinch. Also this indicates the cogency of previous scholarly attempts to construe nonhumans as representations of anthropocentric concerns. See note 45 below for my position about such metonymic readings of the nonhuman.
(41.) The mouse's emphasis on brotherhood, on the one hand, echoes the confluence of contemporary sensibility rhetoric with the anti-slavery rhetoric pervasive in the British Isles. Resonant with the widely circulated image of an African slave pleading for his liberty and equal treatment in its suppliant tone, the "Petition" urges attention and redress to the mouse and its fellow nonhuman species.
(42.) It is important to note that the term benevolence is politically inflected by the shifting climates after the French Revolution.
(43.) Mary Robinson's "The Linnet's Petition" (1775) epitomizes a similar nonhuman voice that inculcates the immediate intervention of human audiences through the bird's specific address to Stella.
(44.) Berlant, ed. Compassion: The Culture and Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004), 9.
(45.) Hence, I acknowledge the relevance of reading Barbauld's nonhuman species as a metonym for the suppressed subjects in Barbauld's era. In addition to the possibility of this metonymic reading of nonhumans, however, I propose here the importance of understanding the mouse in Barbauld's poem as a mouse, and her caterpillar as a caterpillar.
(46.) Swammerdam and Goldsmith, The Natural History of Insects (Perth: Printed by R. Morrison, Jr., 1792), 169.
(47.) Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 34.
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