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Thrown upon the waves: an education of nature on Rousseau’s principles in Epping Forest, 1760s-1790s

Thrown upon the waves: an education of nature on Rousseau’s principles in Epping Forest, 1760s-1790s

Martin, Mary Clare ORCID: 0000-0002-3568-6423 (2019) Thrown upon the waves: an education of nature on Rousseau’s principles in Epping Forest, 1760s-1790s. In: International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Conference, 14-19 Jul 2019, Edinburgh, UK. (Unpublished)

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Emile ou l’education (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been regarded as having a seminal influence on eighteenth century and subsequent child-rearing. However, most well-publicised accounts of children brought up on his principles stress their disastrous consequences. Moreover, most texts consider only the experience of Rousseau’s “age of nature” (0-12) in which the child was supposed to roam freely in a natural environment, with tasks devised by a tutor. Transition to the subsequent stages in Rousseau’s scheme has barely been examined.

This paper will consider the relationship between Enlightenment identity and child-rearing, in the context of three generations of males in one family living on the edge of Epping Forest, on the borders of London, England, between the 1760s and the 1790s. Drawing on complex autobiographical material, and republished family letters, this paper will document the vivid memories of childhoods conducted on Rousseauvian principles. Despite the oft-debated problems of retrospective memory, such sources are striking in their evocation of the excitement of scientific experimentation and discovery in childhood and youth, facilitated by such an education.

Intergenerational change will also be analysed. Edward Forster the elder (1730-1812), a merchant and banker, was said to have cultivated every known plant in his garden, and had a close circle of literary and scientific friends. Although his grandson characterised his education on Rousseau’s principles as being “thrown upon the waves”, their history demonstrates, how the “age of nature” could be followed by intense and productive scientific and intellectual activity. Moreover, Edward Forster’s circle provided opportunities for sociability and scientific development, even for children, which complicate Rousseau’s imperative of withdrawal from society.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Additional Information: The paper was part of a panel, organised by myself, entitled, "Child-rearing, education and Enlightenment identity: the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau" The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-82) is frequently regarded as a pivotal Enlightenment figure, whether through influencing the political upheaval of the French Revolution, or having a major impact on child-rearing practice. Yet research about how his ideas were put into practice with the young is very limited. This panel, composed of two social historians and one literary scholar, will analyse the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on child-rearing in the second half of the eighteenth century, and shed new light on the ways his ideas were developed in the British context. The first paper, by Helen Esfandiary, will analyse how parents, especially mothers, and doctors, responded to Rousseau’s prescriptions and how these might contrast with their personal understanding of the optimal treatment of children’s bodies, in relation to ancient humoral theory. Gavin Budge will draw on the ideas of Erasmus Darwin to further develop the intellectual justification for education based on practical experience and the individualised education provided by a tutor. Mary Clare Martin examines an intergenerational case study to demonstrate the impact of an education which addressed the later stages of Rousseau’s scheme beyond the “age of nature”. In this family, the excitement of early experimentation, even if combined with possible neglect, could bear fruit in the form of considerable scientific and literary productiveness, assisted by like-minded adults associated with the family circle. The panel will therefore make a significant contribution to understanding of Enlightenment identities and child-rearing.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Rousseau, Forster, Epping Forest, enlightenment identity, child-rearing
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > School of Education (EDU)
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2019 10:55

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