Monday, January 3, 2022

The Pedantic and the Silly -- books for educating children circa 1805

 In 1826, there was a book written "by an experienced teacher" titled "The Complete Governess; a Course of Mental Instruction for Ladies, with a notice of the Principal Female Accomplishments".

from The Governess, or The Little Female Academy 1820

In its Introduction, "The Complete Governess" castigates the books published to educate children.
"The existing books may be divided into two classes; the pedantic and the silly; the former being handed down, with only slight changes in the form, from the days of the schoolmen [a teacher in a university in medieval Europe or a scholastic theologian]; and the latter, chiefly the produce of ignorant persons..."

The author of this book who, it can be assumed, is female goes on to say "Whoever takes the trouble to examine the grammars, and epitomes, and catechisms, of the different arts and sciences that are introduced...must at once see how ill they are adapted for communicating anything like valuable information."

Confirmation of this opinion comes when one considers the book published in 1806, titled 

"A Museum for Young Gentlemen and Ladies
or, a Private Tutor for Little Masters and Misses
containing a variety of useful subjects...
with Letters, Tales, and Fables, for Amusement and Instruction"

The 1806 publication was its 17th edition, placing the original publication date probably in the 1780s. It uses a typeface of that era, with the replacement of some s by f. The few woodcuts are archaic:

 One of the sections of the book is titled "An Account of the Solar System, Adapted to the Capacities of Children" and includes an up-to-date, at least in the 1780s, reference to Georgium Sidus (the original name of the planet Uranus). 

Then there is "The Instructive Remembrancer: being an Abstract of the various
Rites and Ceremonies of the Four Quarters of the Globe for the use of schools"
by Sarah Wilkinson
This may be the most appalling collection of  erroneous, insensitive and inaccurate information ever presented to children. Even the frontispiece is offensive:

The 'facts' presented in this book are too awful even to be reproduced here.

The reading book "A Spelling Book with Easy Reading Lessons, beginning with
Words of Three Letters and proceeding gradually to those of as many syllables" presented in 
1805 by the author of several other instruction manuals, which were advertised in the back of the book. 

The author's name is never declared, and I can see why. The maxims that are used as examples for reading toward the end of the book, are cloying, and presented in oblique formality:

Finally there is a book I have mentioned in another blog "A Book explaining the Ranks and Dignities of British Society intended chiefly for the instruction of Young Persons"
Dedicated (by permission) to Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth

Published in 1809 this little book is, unlike its counterparts, useful and mostly accurate. But even it was prey to oddity. At its very end, after lists and descriptions of the orders of nobility and church, precedence, and court dress, there is a small strange section titled "A Scotch Highlander". The highlander is described mainly in favourable terms but the book also states, "they do not appear to have possessed that degree of refinement in sentiment and manners that is ascribed to them by some writers..."  

I cannot imagine why this small section was even included in an otherwise sensible and well-organized book!

The author of "The Complete Governess" declares that "to the uninstructed all subjects are equally difficult". It is fortunate that she pointed out the inadequacy of the educational books available at the time. Perhaps some parents took note, and did not send their children into the world primed with inaccurate and flawed learning from a number of these books.

Happy New Year!

'Til next time,


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