Journal Article

‘Merit in distress’: The Troubled Success of Mary Barber

Adam Budd

in The Review of English Studies

Volume 53, issue 210, pages 204-227
Published in print May 2002 | ISSN: 0034-6551
Published online May 2002 | e-ISSN: 1471-6968 | DOI:

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This article discusses the brief but illuminating literary career of Mary Barber (c. 1685–1755), a friend and protégée of Jonathan Swift, who published her expensive subscription volume, Poems on Several Occasions, in 1735. Her subscription list was, excepting Matthew Prior's 1718 folio, without precedent for its resplendent length and illustrious contents, and it was moreover remarkable given Barber's otherwise pedestrian social standing as an ailing Irish housewife. By examining the list of its eminent subscribers and their likely ambivalent relationship to Barber's means of attracting and maintaining literary patronage, the article suggests that the eighteenth‐century book trade allowed subscribers to sign for the book (and so list themselves in its pages) without paying for or collecting their copies. By discussing contemporary correspondence, publication costs, drawing‐room politics, and Mary Barber's remarkable ability to maintain the favour of important poets such as Gay, Pope, and Swift—despite notable social faux pas and her arrest and imprisonment for seditious conduct shortly before her quarto's anticipated release—the article argues that Mary Barber, ‘the Citizen's‐Housewife Poet’, employed a means of attracting subscribers which would itself enforce her subsequent financial collapse and long‐standing obscurity.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature) ; Literary Studies (American) ; Literary Studies (British and Irish)