Friday, February 10, 2012

Regency Education -- The books they used to teach...

When I began to write my book The Education of Portia, I did a considerable amount of research on education of girls in Regency England. I read about governesses, dame schools, visiting masters, and boarding schools. I read about good schools with solid curricula and schools that taught only the trifling accomplishments that society required.

One thing that struck me however was the quantity of books--we would call them textbooks--that were available to teachers who really wanted to impart knowledge to their students. I like to think they are the books Portia Crossmichael, the headmistress of the Mansion House Establishment for Young Ladies, would have used. In fact, I had hoped to be able to slip in some of the remarkable titles in my writing of the story, but in the end, I couldn't do that. And I'm glad I didn't!
Mansion House Establishment for Young Ladies - Est. 1802

Nevertheless the books are worth considering. In the halls of Eton and Harrow, the classics were nearly all that was taught. In the broader world, and particularly in the Dissenting Academies, more subjects were pursued, and there were books to work from in every area, some specifically written for young ladies.

John Greig is a name that frequently appears as a writer of such textbooks; he is described as "a Private Teacher of Writing, Geography and practical Mathematics". The titles of his books are a joy in themselves:

The Young Ladies' New Guide to Arithmetic; being a short and useful Selection; containing, besides the common and necessary Rules, the Application of each Rule, by a Variety of practical Questions, chiefly domestic Affairs; together with the Method of making out Bills of Parcels, Book Debts, Receipts, etc. etc. -- For the Use of Ladies Schools and private Teachers.
Another of his titles goes into even greater detail:
An Introduction to the Use of the Globes, for Youth of both Sexes; particularly designed for Schools and private Teachers. Containing Definitions and Problems in Geometry; the stereographic Projection of the Sphere; the Rise and Progress of Geography and Astronomy; the Description of the principal Lines on the Globes, with the Application of them by Forty-six Problems on the Terrestrial , and Twenty-two on the Celestial, with the Use of the Analemma and sliding Hour-Circle, selected with Particular Attention; likewise a Representation and Epitome of the Solar System, Armillary Sphere, Comets, fixed Stars, Constellations, etc. To which is added, a Variety of curious, entertaining and useful Paradoxes; with some Questions and Answers by Way of Application.
 Both of these titles were listed in The British Critic of 1805, and seemed still to be in publication fifty years later. That is one noticeable feature of these texts, they were reprinted in multiple editions over long periods. Some had first appeared in the late 1700's, and were still in print more than seventy years later.

John Walker's "Elements of Geography and of Natural and Civil History" comprised of nine sections, all detailed on the title page, was first published in 1788. Portions of it were in use in "The new Pocket Cyclopedaedia" in 1813, and it was still around in 1850 when John Worcester referenced it.

Every topic was covered:

"The New London Letter Writer: containing various forms of epistolary correspondence in love, friendship, business, etc." by Samuel Johnson

"The New and Complete History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Peace of Paris, 1814, in Question and Answer" by Charles Lowndes

"A Grammar of Chemistry, wherein the Principles of the science are familiarized by a variety of easy and entertaining Experiments..." by the Rev. D. Blair (a pseudonym of Sir Richard Phillips)

Sir Richard was an prolific writer of educational texts. He produced "A Grammar of Natural and Experimental Philosophy"again under the name of Rev. Blair, "A Geographical View of the World, embracing the manners, customs and pursuits of Every Nation" under the name of Rev. J. Goldsmith, as well as "An Easy Grammar of Geography" under the same name. Finally, he published "The Universal Preceptor; being a General Grammar of Arts, Sciences, and Useful Knowledge" encapsulating all his previous work in one comprehensive volume.

Morals were well covered by the educational writers of the time. "The Blessings of Morality", "Minor Morals", "A Mother's Advice to her Absent Daughter" were among the many volumes published. Likewise, young ladies, and gentlemen, were encouraged by books like "Letters on the Improvement of the Mind" by Hester Chapone, and "Improvement of the Mind" by Isaac Watts.

There was no dearth of educational material, and really no excuse for a school or a governess to teach only manners, dance, needlework, a little French, and 'the use of the globes'.

The school advertised above seems to offer at least a modicum of solid education: writing, accounts and geography, in addition to music, dancing and drawing. I wonder if they used any of the texts I have mentioned!

'Til next time,



Angelyn said...

Nice post--the heroine I've been blogging about chose to go to young ladies' academy after she fired her governess. But then, she's quite out of the common way. Thanks for the great research!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You are most welcome! I'm glad to be of help. Have a great weekend.

Phoebe's Sisters said...

Thank you for sharing! I love to learn about textbooks and learning process during the Regency!

Anne Gallagher said...

What a fantastic post. As a matter of fact, my latest heroine had graduated from Mrs. Delacorte's Finishing School for Young Ladies, and I'm so glad now I can actually allow her to have a "real" education instead of just spit and polish.

Have a great weekend, Lesley-Anne.