This essay considers works published by two women writers as Britain was preparing for hostilities against revolutionary France in 1793: a Fast Day sermon, Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation, published anonymously by Anna Barbauld, Charlotte Smith’s novel The Old Manor House, and her blank verse poem The Emigrants. It considers how these works, which condemn the guilt arising from war, expose the problem of necessary acquiescence in what is condemned. Taken together, the writings illuminate two sides of the problem. As a Dissenter, Barbauld belonged to a social group that, during the early years of the French revolution, had reason to feel especially vulnerable to the threat of civil disorder; she therefore had a particular incentive to see the horrors of war abroad in relation to the fear of social unrest at home. For Smith, who identified herself publicly with the landowning classes, and who desired socially appropriate positions for her children, such horrors had to be set against the material opportunities made available by war. In both cases the representation of sympathy for the victims of war provides a way out of the moral impasse they encounter.

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