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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. V. 1802-1803
William Godwin to William Cole, 2 March 1802

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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Produced by CATH
March 2, 1802.

Sir,—Your question is much too copious to admit of being properly answered in an extemporary letter, and it may happen that my opinions upon some parts of the subject are so singular that they can stand little chance of obtaining your approbation without a further explanation than I can here give. I will, however, give you a proof of my willingness to oblige you on this point by giving you such an answer as I can.

“You enquire respecting the books I think best adapted for the education of female children from the age of two to twelve. I can answer you best on the early part of the subject, because in that I have made the most experiments; and in that part I should make no difference between children male and female.

“I have no difficulty in the initiatory part of the business. I think Mrs Barbauld’s little books, four in number, admirably adapted, upon the whole, to the capacity and amusement of young children. I have seen another little book in two volumes, printed for Newbury, entitled ‘The Infants’ Friend, by Mrs Lovechild,’ which I think might, without impropriety, accompany or follow Mrs Barbauld’s books.

“I am most peremptorily of opinion against putting children extremely forward. If they desire it themselves, I would not baulk them, for I love to attend to these unsophisticated indications. But otherwise, Festina lente is my maxim in education. I think the worst consequences flow from overloading the faculties of children, and a forced maturity. We should always remember that the object of education is the future man or woman; and it is a miserable vanity that would sacrifice the wholesome and gradual development of the mind to the desire of exhibiting little monsters of curiosity.


“As far as Mrs Barbauld’s books I have no difficulty. But here my judgment and the ruling passion of my contemporaries divide. They aim at cultivating one faculty, I should aim at cultivating another. A whimsical illustration of this occurred to me the other day in a silly bookseller, who was observing to me what a delightful book for children might be made, to be called ‘A Tour through Papa’s House.’ The object of this book was to explain all the furniture, how carpets were made, the history and manufacture of iron, &c., &c. He was perfectly right: this is exactly the sort of writing for children which has lately been in fashion.

“These people, as I have said, aim at cultivating one faculty, and I another. I hold that a man is not an atom less a man, if he lives and dies without the knowledge they are so desirous of accumulating in the heads of children. Add to which, these things may be learned at any age, while the imagination, the faculty for which I declare, if cultivated at all, must be begun with in youth. Without imagination there can be no genuine ardour in any pursuit, or for any acquisition, and without imagination there can be no genuine morality, no profound feeling of other men’s sorrow, no ardent and persevering anxiety for their interests. This is the faculty which makes the man, and not the miserable minutenesses of detail about which the present age is so uneasy. Nor is it the only misfortune that these minutenesses engross the attention of children: I would proscribe them from any early share, and would maintain that they freeze up the soul, and give a premature taste for clearness and exactness, which is of the most pernicious consequence.

“I will put down the names of a few books, calculated to excite the imagination, and at the same time quicken the apprehensions of children. The best I know is a little French book, entitled ‘Contes de ma Mere, or Tales of Mother Goose.’ I should also recommend ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Fortunatus,’ and a story of a Queen and a Country Maid in Fenelon’sDialogues of the Dead.’ Your own memory will easily suggest to you others which would carry on this train, such as ‘Valentine and Orson,’
The Seven Champions of Christendom,’ ‘Les Contes de Madame Darmon,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ if weeded of its method, ism, and the ‘Arabian Nights.’ I would undoubtedly introduce before twelve years of age some smattering of geography, history, and the other sciences; but it is the train of reading I have here mentioned which I should principally depend upon for generating an active mind and a warm heart.—I am, Sir, yours, &c.,

W. Godwin.”