Beginning with John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), the Georgian period engaged in a profound debate over education. Locke had suggested that the goal of education was to prepare the child to achieve future independence in the world. Even so, this meant controlling the child's true, perhaps unruly, nature. Boys were to be educated outside the home, safely removed from the "pernicious" domestic sphere of women and servants.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau revolutionized advanced English thinking on education in the 1760s by arguing that "experience," that is to say education, was a mixed blessing. According to Rousseau, the child should be allowed to run about "idly at hazard" until age twelve, protected from harmful experience of the world by a tutor or guide. While such ideas literally took root among only the wealthiest classes, his respect for childhood influenced educational theory on all levels. Indeed, more and more children received at least a rudimentary education, and artists recorded such instructional settings in picturesque fashion.
Books written expressly for children, including chapbooks (story books or nursery rhymes), alphabets, and readers, first flourished in the eighteenth century. Most of these books intended to awaken adult modes of perception in children. They promoted improvement, not pleasure. Many even sought to teach children, through word and image, about the likelihood of an early death. By contrast, William Blake hoped the ways of children would inspire adults to rekindle the visionary flame of childhood.
Prince George and Prince Edward Augustus with their Tutor
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 1/8 in. (63.5 x 76.5 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
William Ward, after George Morland
Thomas Barker of Bath
John Augustus Atkinson