Mary Barber


Life
?1690-?1757 [pseud. ‘Sapphira’]; m. Jonathan Barber, English-born woolen-draper on Capel St., Dublin; begun writing for her four children; a member of Swift's circle described by him as ‘a virtuous modest gentlewoman, with a great deal of good sense’ who was ‘poetical given, and for a women, had a sort of genius that way’; issued Poems on Several Occasions (1734) with his encouragement, containing 115 poems, with a list of subscribers that of Samuel Richardson;
 
she was friendly with Laetitia Pilkington and Constantia Grierson (also members of Swift’s ‘female senate’) and stood on friendly terms with the Viceroy Lord Carteret and with Dr. Patrick Delany as well as John Boyle (Earl of Orrery), to whom she dedicated her Poems (1734); suspected of forging a letter from Swift recommending her to Queen Anne; permitted by him to publish his Polite Conversations (1738), thus becoming the copyright owner, and lived tolerably well on proceeds;
 
published Memoirs, contains unreliable anecdotes of Swift; gave up poetry and took to selling Irish linen, and letting out lodgings in Bath; d. Dublin; written down by Leslie Stephen as ‘a respectable and sensible woman’ who ‘clearly had no delicacy in turning Swift’s liberality to account’ (Swift, 1882); a son, Constantine became President of College of Surgeons (Dublin); another son, Rupert, became a painter and engraver. RR CAB ODNB PI DIW FDA ATT OCIL DIL

[ top ]

Works
Poems on Several Occasions: The Works of Mary Barber (London: C. Rivington MDCCXXXIV [1734], rep. 1735), lxiv, 290, [13] pp., 8o.; rep. as The Poetry of Mary Barber, ed. Bernard Tucker (Lewiston: Lampeter E. Mellen Press 1992); Poems on Several Occasions (London: C. Rivington 1934).

[ top ]

Criticism
Oliver W Ferguson, ‘The Authorship of “Apollo’s Edict”’, PMLA, 70 (1955), pp.433-40; Andrew Carpenter, ‘On a manuscript of poems catalogued as by Mary Barber in the Library of TCD’, Hermathena, 109 (1969), pp.54-64; Joyce Fullard, ‘Mary Barber [“Sapphira”]’ in Janet Todd, ed., A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1600-1800 (London: Methuen 1984), p.38; Carpenter, ‘“Our Chief Poetess”: Mary Barber and Swift’s Circle”, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 19, 2 (Dec. 1993), pp.31-44; Bernard Tucker, ‘“Swift’s Female Senate”, Three Forgotten Poets’, in Irish Studies Review, No. 7 (Summer 1994), pp.7-10.

[ top ]

Commentary
Bernard Tucker, The Poetry of Mary Barbour ?1690-1757 (Edwin Mellen Press 1992), poems transcribed from Poems on Several Occasions (1734), copy in Bodleian Library, Oxford; ‘enlarge[s] for the 20th c. reader not only the body of eighteenth-century poetry but also help[s] to balance the often frivolous and cynical view presented by the male poets of the period [and illuminates] the complex personality of Jonathan Swift [throwing] light on the Dean’s supposed misogyny.’

[ top ]

References
Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. I, contains a biographical sketch (p.28).

Roger Lonsdale, ed. Eighteenth-century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology (OUP 1989), selects several poems.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, selects “An Epigram on the Battle of the Books”, p. 455, and “On Sending My Son, as a Present, to Dr Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, on his Birth-day”, pp.458-59.

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), selects “Advice to her Son on Marriage” (from Conclusion of a Letter to Rev. Mr C- ) [150].

Belfast Public Library holds a copy of Poems (MDCCXXXIV) [1734].

[ top ]

Quotations
Woman’s province: ‘I am sensible that a woman steps out of her province whenever she presumes to write for the Press, and therefore think it necessary to inform my readers, that my Verses were written with a very different View from any of those which other Attempters in Poetry have proposed to themselves, My aim being chiefly to form the Minds of Children, I imagined that Precepts convey’d in Verse [... &c.]. (Prefatory page to Poems, 1734, p. xviii; photo rep. in in Bernard Tucker, ‘[...] Three Forgotten Poets’, Irish Studies Review, No.7, 1994, p.8.)

Advice to Her Son on Marriage - from The Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr C—

When you gain her Affection, take care to preserve it;
Lest others persuade her, you do not deserve it.
Still study to heighten the Joys of her Life;
Not treat her the worse, for her being your Wife.
If in Judgment she errs, set her right, without Pride:
’Tis the Province of insolent Fools, to deride.
A Husband’s first Praise, is a Friend and Protector:
Then change not these Titles, for Tyrant and Hector.
Let your Person be neat, unaffectedly clean,
Tho’ alone with your wife the whole Day you remain.
Chuse Books, for her study, to fashion her Mind,
To emulate those who excell’d of her Kind.
Be Religion the principal Care of your Life,
As you hope to be blest in your Children and Wife:
So you, in your Marriage, shall gain its true End;
And find, in your Wife, a Companion and Friend.

Given at Poetry Foundation - online; accessed 10.08.2016.

[ top ]

Notes
Bio-dates: The dates of Mary Barber's life are uncertain. Estimates for her birth range from 1690 to 1712, with the earlier being more probable, and from 1755 to 1757 for her death.

Defending Ireland: Trinity College Library holds On the defence of Ireland, including observation on some other subjects connected therewith (Dublin: P. Byrne 1795), formerly the property of Mrs Barber and afterwards of David Ross [COPAC].

[ top ]