Anne Hunter's Poems (1802), was published when she was 60, but, as Caroline Grigson's biographical study makes plain, her songs, airs and canzonets had been circulating anonymously for at least 20 years before this. The 1802 collection was an important retrospect. It was an attempt to consolidate her work and establish herself as an authoritative poet. In it she laid claim by name to the many songs she had written. Through these she had achieved what every poet of the day—from Joanna Baillie to Wordsworth— longed for: the rooting of her lyrics in the popular culture of the song, the ballad and poem set to music. Such dissemination was a feat of print culture at the same time as it appeared to transcend the restricting conditions of the written word by going beyond the literate and communicating aurally. Most poets of this period aspired to it. But whereas Burns was the envy of poets who saw this widespread dissemination of songs as a sign of the democratic energy of poetry, Anne Hunter received no such recognition. Similarly, though she knew well some of the prominent female bluestockings of the time, she was not strongly associated with this group in public life. She was not, for instance, among The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain depicted by Richard Samuel in 1778, to celebrate contemporary eighteenth-century female intellectuals, though her friends Elizabeth Carter and Angelica Kauffman were included. The carefully wrought odes and historical poems included in the volume of 1802, which also included her political poems on the ravaging of American Indians and the exploitation of India, published earlier as broadsheets in 1780 and 1784 respectively, constitute a declaration of her sense of herself as a poet writing deliberately in and for the public sphere. Indeed, the grouping of the poems in the 1802 volume invites a new reading of the public sphere itself.
She was selective. Not all the published songs and airs were included. There are also many unpublished poems, some recently discovered. But these, and the poems published after 1802, begin to make sense when the ambitions of the 1802 volume come into focus.
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