High up on one of my bookshelves – spine splitting and back missing is an 18th century anthology of prose pieces and poetry entitled

The Speaker, or Miscellaneous Pieces selected from the best English Writers with a view to promoting the improvement of youth in reading and speaking.

Compiled by William Enfield. My edition is a reprint dating from 1797.

the preface is addressed to John Carroll Worsley esq. Late President of Warrington Academy. Warrington was where I was born and raised and I still visit from time to time. The site of the old academy is now the headquarters of the local newspaper group.

Warrington Academy was  established in around  1756 and operated as a teaching establishment until 1782 when it transferred to Manchester. It  was a prominent dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by those who dissented from the state church in England. It was located in Warrington t was called "the cradle of Unitarianism" by Arthur Aikin Brodribb writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, who went on to say that it "formed during the twenty-nine years of its existence the centre of the liberal politics and the literary taste of the county of Lancashire".

One of the tutors at the academy was John Aikin, father of the poet, author and literary critic Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825).  Anna, born in Leicestershire moved to Warrington in 1758 when her father took up a teaching position at the new academy. The house where she lived remains to be seen, marked with a blue plaque and there is a Barbauld St in Warrington named after her.

One of the pieces of poetry in the book is Warrington Academy by Mrs Barbauld, this appears to be an long extract from another Barbauld poem, The Invitation. It does, however, include a few lines of description of the River Mersey as it flows through Warrington

While Mersey’s gentle current, which too long
By fame neglected, and unknown to song,
Between his rushy banks, (no poet’s theme)
Had crept inglorious, like a vulgar stream,
Reflects th’ ascending seats with conscious pride,
And dares to emulate a classic tide.
Soft music breathes along each op’ning shade,
And sooths the dashing of his rough cascade.
With mystic lines his sands are figur’d o’er,

This forms a sharp contrast to the Mersey through Warrington now, which rather than flowing between rushy banks tends to flow through the concrete of shopping centres, industrial parks and scrap yards. Indeed, in my childhood there were days when the river flowed with pink foam from the local soap works, which would blow bubbles across the road like a pink snowstorm on windy days.

Mrs Barbauld is part of Warrington’s literary heritage, in fact she probably more or less is Warrington’s heritage. The Academy grew up and moved on in her lifetime, It is a pity though that the river that she walked beside and wrote about is so changed today and would be totally unrecognisable if she were ever able to return.

Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,
The nursery of men for future years :
Here callow chiefs and embryo statesmen lie,
And unfledg’d poets short excursions try :
While Mersey’s gentle current, which too long
By fame neglected, and unknown to song,
Between his rushy banks, (no poet’s theme)
Had crept inglorious, like a vulgar stream,
Reflects th’ ascending seats with conscious pride,
And dares to emulate a classic tide.
Soft music breathes along each op’ning shade,
And sooths the dashing of his rough cascade.
With mystic lines his sands are figur’d o’er,

And circles trac’d upon the letter’d shore,
Beneath his willows rove th’ inquiring youth,
And court the fair majestic form of truth.
Here nature opens all her secret springs,
And heav’n-born science plumes her eagle wings :
Too long had bigot rage, with malice swell’d,
Crush’d her strong pinions, and her flight witheld ;
Too long to check her ardent progress strove :
So writhes the serpent round the bird of Jove ;
Hangs on her flight, restrains her tow’ring wing,
Twists its dark folds, and points its venom’d sting.
Yet still (if aught aright the Muse divine)
Her rising pride shall mock the vain design ;
On sounding pinions yet aloft shall soar,
And thro’ the azure deep untravel’d paths explore.
Where science smiles, the Muses join the train ;
And gentlest arts and purest manners reign.
Ye generous youth who love this studious shade,

How rich a field is to your hopes display’d !
Knowledge to you unlocks the classic page ;
And virtue blossoms for a better age.
Oh golden days! oh bright unvalued hours !
What bliss (did ye but know that bliss) were yours?
With richest stores your glowing bosoms fraught,
Perception quick, and luxury of thought ;
The high designs that heave the labouring soul,
Panting for fame, impatient of controul ;
And fond enthusiastic thought, that feeds
On pictur’d tales of vast heroic deeds ;
And quick affections, kindling into flame
At virtue’s, or their country’s honour’d name ;
And spirits light to every joy in tune ;
And friendship ardent as a summer’s noon ;
And generous scorn of vice’s venal tribe ;
And proud disdain of interest’s sordid bribe ;
And conscious honour’s quick instinctive sense ;

And smiles unforc’d ; and easy confidence ;
And vivid fancy, and clear simple truth ;
And all the mental bloom of vernal youth.

How bright the scene to fancy’s eye appears,
Thro’ the long perspective of distant years,
When this, this little group their country calls
From academic shades and learned halls,
To fix her laws, her spirit to sustain,
And light up glory thro’ her wide domain !
Their various tastes in different arts display’d,
Like temper’d harmony of light and shade,
With friendly union in one mass shall blend,
And this adorn the state, and that defend.
These the sequester’d shade shall cheaply please,
With learned labour and inglorious ease :
With those, impell’d by some resistless force,
O’er seas and rocks shall urge their vent’rous course ;

Rich fruits matur’d by glowing suns behold,
And China’s groves of vegetable gold ;
From every land the various harvest spoil,
And bear the tribute to their native soil :
But tell each land (while every toil they share,
Firm to sustain, and resolute to dare,)
MAN is the nobler growth our realms supply,
And SOULS are ripen’d in our northern sky.

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 :
Or prove what hidden powers in herbs are found

To quench disease and staunch the burning wound ;
With cordial drops the fainting head sustain,
Call back the flitting soul, and still the throbs of pain.

The patriot passion this shall strongly feel,
Ardent, and glowing with undaunted zeal ;
With lips of fire shall plead his country’s cause,
And vindicate the majesty of laws.
This cloath’d with Britain’s thunder, spread alarms
Thro’ the wide earth, and shake the pole with arms.
That to the sounding lyre his deeds rehearse,
Enshrine his name in some immortal verse,
To long posterity his praise consign,
And pay a life of hardships by a line.
While others, consecrate to higher aims,
Whose hallow’d bosoms glow with purer flames,
Love in their heart, persuasion in their tongue,
With words of peace shall charm the list’ning throng,

Draw the dread veil that wraps th’ eternal throne,
And launch our souls into the bright unknown.

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