Thursday, 28 August 2008

A dissenter's satirical prayer

I had never thought of the genre of satirical prayers before reading the prayer below from the 18th century by Anna Laetitia Barbauld in Janet Wootton's excellent article on a Dissenter's view of Anglicanism and Disestablishment - about which more at a later date.

‘God of love, father of all the families of the earth,

we are going to tear in pieces our brethren of mankind,
but our strength is not equal to our fury,
we beseech thee to assist us in the work of slaughter . . . .
Whatever mischief we do, we shall do it in thy name;
we hope, therefore, thou wilt protect us in it.
Thou, who hast made of one blood all the dwellers upon the earth,
we trust thou wilt view us alone with partial favour,
and enable us to bring misery upon every other quarter of the globe.’
(From: An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, 1790)

In 1811, at the height of the war with France, Barbauld paid highly for her satire, never writing again after the publication of her poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven drew wounding and harsh criticism from Wordsworth, Coleridge and much of the literary and political establishment.
Until the advent of feminist literary criticism Barbauld was almost forgotten, or remembered as writer of books for children.
She adopted the pen name "A Dissenter" which Wootton is proud to take up again in the title to her article. As her satire shows, to dissent is not to destroy or be unconstructive, but it is to say that the cosy world view of the establishment or the established church does not represent the whole truth.