Charlotte Palmer (circa 1762-1834) is an eighteenth century school teacher and author. Her publications include an epistolary text entitled Female Stability; or, the History of Miss Belville that was published in 1781 by Newbery. The same company published Three instructive tales for little folk, circa 1786. She is mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900, Volume 43. Other than a small page on Wikipedia, there is not a great deal of contextual information available to provide much more than a cursory glance at her life and her work.
Her writing demonstrates influences of a time that coincided with a change in attitude towards childhood. Whereas children were considered ‘little adults’ as recently as the fifteenth century, they were now recognised as a separate entity. Alongside the alteration in the social landscape, there followed an upsurge in literacy and the increased influence of the Gutenburg Press. Furthermore, the rise in the Puritan movement in the late sixteenth and seventeenth century led to an expansion in didactic literature and the practice of children "receiving religious instructions at a mother's knee” (Mandelbrote, 2016, p21).
As the eighteenth century continued, biblical interpretations became associated with individual circumstance. Thus, instead of scriptures being taught to children of both sexes on a rote learning basis, modes of teaching expanded towards a belief in how doing good "was more important than the recognition of doctrine" (Mandelbrote, 2016, p22). This aspect is prevalent in each of the extracts in this edition as the protagonists are offered a reward for choosing the high moral ground in terms of behaviour, fidelity and attitude to education. In doing so, there are also links to the views of contemporary English philosopher, John Locke (1632-1704), who believed in “the importance of self-experience” (Mandelbrote, 2016, p24) to assist in the development of children.
Alongside the alteration in eighteenth century teaching methods is the emergence of The Enlightenment to which John Locke is associated. A movement that focussed on science, philosophy and reason, its principles questioned the absolute authority of the monarchy and the church. The movement also advocated revisionary gender attitudes that anticipated notions of modern feminism and highlighted the need to create further opportunities for female education to ensure the enlightenment of young women.
Nonetheless, even though the number of educational establishments increased during the eighteenth century, “there were few advocates of schooling for girls” (Cohen, 2007, p227). Even amongst female voices, a negative response to proto feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) ensured that notions of conventional femininity were retained. Thus, instead of harnessing modern-day principles of sexual equality, it was largely believed that education should be confined to preparing young women "to be 'good wives and women' " (Taylor, 2007, p38). In addition, as early modern ideals gave way to the ethos of modernity, a character type was conceived by British Enlighteners to be polite, civilised and sympathetic and from the “feminine side of the gender axis” (Taylor, 2007, p40). As a result, rather than utilising their potential to learn and demonstrate intellect, eighteenth century women were expected to “set the standard for cultivated humanity" (Taylor, 2007, p40).
This annotated collection will explore the Morals, Modes and Modification that are prevalent in this edition. It will demonstrate a contrast to female writers associated with social criticism such as Anne Finch (1661-1720) who often created a “radically feminist statement” (McGovern, 1992, p5) to advocate Mary Wollstonecraft’s beliefs. Instead, it will highlight the manner in which Palmer’s publication adhered to didactic conventions in providing young women with a dutiful framework for success.