- Literary Cultures and Eighteenth-Century Childhoods ed. by Andrew O'Malley
Readers of Eighteenth-Century Studies will find in this collection several entry points into children's literature studies, and the group as a whole makes a strong case for why eighteenth-century scholars should be paying attention to that field. The essays in this collection engage both the print culture for young people that first emerged in this period and demonstrate the centrality of childhood to questions about legal personhood, poetic diction, religious piety, and what distinguishes humans from animals. As Andrew O'Malley points out, our modern image of the child rests on a "fundamental contradiction": children simultaneously embody both "the promise of futurity" and "an ideal of, and longing for, a lost past." This contradiction has its roots in the long eighteenth century, drawing together Enlightenment ideals of progress with Romantic nostalgia (3).
In the first and last essays of the collection, Teresa Michals and Jennifer Thorn show how the social construction of childhood overlaps and complicates discourses about, respectively, class and race. Each shows how the accepted hierarchy placing adults above children intersects with and complicates other hierarchies. Because Some Thought Concerning Education prohibits physical punishment and encourages rational development, John Locke is often credited with providing the philosophical basis for the children's literature that emerged at mid-century: John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744), often considered the progenitor of the genre, owes a clear debt to Locke's work. But for Locke, "children are like servants and servants are like children" (15). Social status is at least as fundamental a category as age. Rather than encouraging them to put away childish things, Locke "tried to separate young gentlemen from actual servants and from the servile or 'slavish' qualities of character" (16). As becomes evident in light of his other writings, Locke rejects flogging young gentlemen "not because it is developmentally inappropriate for children as a group but because beating is appropriate to [End Page 520] servants, not masters" (25). By borrowing Locke's ideas and cultural authority, writers like Newbery attempted "a broader revision of childhood itself" (16). It was the emerging genre of children's literature, Michals argues, that finally unbundled childhood from servitude.
Jennifer Thorn's essay, the last in the collection, addresses religious doctrine in New England, from the Great Awakening through the end of the century. Robin Bernstein's Racial Innocence has shown how Romantic ideals of childhood innocence intersect with racial ideologies, as depictions of black and white children diverged in the early nineteenth century.1 Thorn provides a fascinating counterpoint: a century earlier, rigid religious ideology could undermine other social hierarchies, including race and age. Puritan doctrine called for "submission to God above all things," and early New Englanders acknowledged "that spiritual hierarchy was not the equivalent of, and mattered more than, social hierarchy" (284). The case of Lemuel Haynes reveals a "loophole" opened by this doctrine. Haynes's piety "enabled a legibility as a 'child' that might otherwise have been denied him," and he grew up to become "first black pastor of an all-white congregation in America" (283). Mid-century religious writings illustrate a "potential for an ambiguous empowerment of children and non-whites via the slippage between these two kinds of hierarchies" (288). But in the next century, emerging ideas about "racial innocence" (to use Bernstein's phrase) shut down that potential: in 1818, Haynes was forced out of the position he had held for three decades.
Lissa Paul's essay on Eliza Fenwick also considers the American side of the Atlantic. Fenwick is best known for her children's books like Visits to the Juvenile Library (1805), which is the centerpiece of Paul's monograph about the eighteenth-century book trade.2 In the 1790's, Fenwick was a novelist and "an active participant in the intellectual, political, and literary circles surrounding Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin" (212). But in the early nineteenth century she moved to Barbados to open a school with...