- 1 Daniel Defoe, The Family Instructor. In Three Parts. With a Recommendatory Letter by the Rev (...)
- 2 See, in particular, A Brief Survey of the Legal Liberties of the Dissenters, London, 1714; a (...)
- 3 On the part played by The Family Instructor in the controversy sparked off by the Schi (...)
1Defoe broached the question of children’s education in some of his novels, including Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Captain Singleton (1720). He also tackled it in several didactic works, especially in The Family Instructor (1715-1718).1 This two-volume book dealt with a highly topical issue. In June 1714, the British Parliament had voted the Schism Act, which forbade Protestant Dissenters from being school-teachers and, therefore, from giving religious instruction in keeping with their beliefs in their schools. Defoe denounced this measure in several pamphlets,2 and tried to combat its effects through the publication of The Family Instructor.3 Descended from devotional literature, this work was intended to help Nonconformist parents to hand down to their children the main principles of their faith, which would no longer be taught in schools, even though The Family Instructor denies any sectarian intent, and claims to be aimed at Conformists as well. (FI, 2)
2The first volume of this book is divided into three parts, and the second volume into two. The first and third parts present five children (Tommy, George, Mary, William and Betty) and their parents. Faced with Tommy’s questions about the existence of God, the parents come to realize that they have neglected the religious education of their children, and they take drastic measures to make up for this omission, but they come up against the resistance of their two eldest children, George and Mary. The protagonists of the second part are two young apprentices, Thomas and William. The former, who was brought up in the Christian faith, is pious, while the latter, whose religious education was neglected, is an atheist. However, through his contact with Thomas, William changes his ways and experiences a genuine spiritual conversion. The theme of children’s education is missing from the fourth part, but it reappears in the fifth, which focuses on a young boy called Jacky and his nurse, Margy. Jacky’s parents do not see fit to give him a proper religious education, but Margy takes good care of it in place of them. Her efforts are quickly rewarded since Jacky turns out to be very pious at an extremely early age.
- 4 James Sutherland and Michael Shinagel stress the Puritanism of The Family Instructor. (...)
- 5 Richard A. Barney, Plots of the Enlightenment: Education and the Novel in Eighteenth-C (...)
3The issue of children’s education is thus central to The Family Instructor. In this work, Defoe expounds his views on the contents of children’s education as well as the pedagogical principles underlying it and its objectives. As we examine them, we shall consider the various traditions and influences which went into shaping Defoe’s educational methods as they are set forth in The Family Instructor, attempting to assess how far these methods were influenced by the vast Puritan literature on the subject,4 whether Anglican devotional manuals, guide books, pedagogical treatises and sermons on religious instruction also played a part in framing them, and whether John Locke’s educational theories influenced Defoe’s, as Richard A. Barney argues.5 While dealing with these questions, we shall wonder about the status of The Family Instructor and its main objectives, taking into account the political and intellectual contexts (marked by the passing of the Schism Act and the rise of heterodox religious views) in which it was written.
4In The Family Instructor, Defoe provides parents with numerous recommendations concerning the education of their child. First of all, it should contain a great deal of religious instruction. Defoe urges parents to acquaint their child with the main articles of the Christian faith at the earliest possible age. He presents these articles in the form of two catechisms in which the questions are asked in both cases by Tommy, who is not yet six years old. In the first catechism, he is answered by his father; in the second – which does little more than to take up and enlarge upon some of the points treated in the first – he receives his religious instruction from his mother. Defoe’s spokesman, the father, first mentions – quite conventionally – the existence of God, (FI, 5) and then proceeds to list his divine attributes: “God is one, infinite, eternal, incomprehensible, invisible being; the first cause of all things; the giver of life and being to all things; existing prior, and therefore superior to all things, infinitely perfect, great, holy, wise, and good”. (FI, 15) Tommy’s father stresses the fact that God is the creator of all things living and, as a consequence, of Tommy himself, thus establishing a connection between God and the child. Then, the father moves on to the question of original sin. Tommy realizes that this issue concerns him as well. Indeed, just like the rest of mankind, he is accountable for the sin committed by Adam and Eve: as one of their descendants, he is corrupt and naturally inclined to evil. (FI, 16, 18) He acknowledges the fact himself: “I begin to understand […] that I am born with a wicked heart”. (FI, 24) From the doctrine of original sin, Tommy’s father passes on to that of redemption. As he does so, he deals with the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and emphasizes the divinity of Christ: “Jesus Christ is essentially God, though in a second person; he is God co-equal, co-eternal, that is the same in being, nature and attributes; ‘God manifested in the flesh’, sent from heaven to redeem a lost world”. (FI, 18) Then, the child’s father mentions the role of the Holy Spirit, which leads him to vindicate the dogma of the Trinity: “The Godhead is received and understood by us in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: and these three are one God, the Maker and Judge of all”. (FI, 25) Besides, Tommy’s father deals at length with the notions of election, reprobation, and grace, and unambiguously upholds the doctrine of predestination: “We cannot say all are saved […] all those who are saved, are […] saved […] by the satisfaction of the blessed Redeemer, being chosen from eternity by the mere grace and god-will of God”. (FI, 20) Neither does Tommy’s father spare his pains to account for the doctrine of spiritual conversion, or regeneration, which is the key to salvation. It is only granted to the elect through God’s grace, and therefore will be bestowed on the fortunate Tommy, as he is one of them. Incidentally, the reader can witness the scene of Tommy’s actual conversion, as well as that of William, his fellow apprentice. (FI, 13-14, 170-177)
- 6 Ian Green, The Christian’s ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c. 1530-1740, Ox (...)
- 7 Green, 361. The Westminster Catechisms were drafted by the Long Parliament, or Westminster A (...)
- 8 Green, 350-386 (Ch. 8, “Predestination”).
- 9 John Tillotson, Six Sermons, I. Of Steadfastness in Religion. II. Of Family-Religion. (...)
- 10 Green, 385.
- 11 Katherine Clark, Daniel Defoe: The Whole Frame of Nature, Time and Providence, Houndmills, B (...)
- 12 John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, eds. John W. and Jean S. Yolton, Oxfor (...)
5The articles of faith set forth in Defoe’s catechism are perfectly adapted to the instruction of the children of his Nonconformist coreligionists. Indeed, the notions of election and reprobation are often – though not systematically – stressed in the catechisms used by Puritans and Nonconformists. They are given extended treatment in the catechetical writings of the Puritan clerics Thomas Cartwright and Alexander Grosse.6 More significantly, the widely-used Westminster Catechisms are overtly predestinarian, the Larger Westminster Catechism in particular. So are several expositions of the Shorter Catechism, including that of Thomas Vincent, who went to great lengths to vindicate God’s “decrees of election and reprobation of men”.7 On the other hand, these predestinarian notions are seldom to be found in Anglican catechisms. In the 1549 Common Prayer catechism, also called the Church catechism, owing to its widespread use among Conformists, the reference to God’s elect is cursory and worded in such a way as to undermine the very idea of predestination. Besides, the notions of election and reprobation are altogether missing from most of the expositions of the Church catechism. One looks for them in vain in the catechetical writings of Conformist ministers John Lewis and Josiah Woodward. Neither do these doctrines appear in the commentary on the Church catechism which William Wake wrote before he became Archbishop of Canterbury.8 Indeed, in his sermons on family religion and the education of children, John Tillotson, an earlier Archbishop of Canterbury, considers that controversial notions such as those of election and reprobation had better be left out of catechetical instruction, which should focus on the great principles of Christianity.9 However, predestination was one of the tenets of the Church of England, which was officially Calvinist, as article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Anglican Church showed: “So then, predestination or election to Life is entirely of God’s Grace and not resulting from any works of man”. Thus, while Defoe’s catechism may seem more adapted to his fellow Nonconformists, who tend to lay more store by the doctrines of election and reprobation than Conformists, it is also intended to suit Churchmen. In fact, there was much common ground between Puritan/ Nonconformist and Anglican/Conformist catechisms, as Ian Green has convincingly demonstrated.10 In The Family Instructor, Defoe addresses his readers as a Protestant rather than as a Nonconformist. Despite the fact that the Schism Act had provided Churchmen with a monopoly of public education at the expense of Nonconformists by compelling them to close down their schools, Defoe’s target in The Family Instructor is not, as so often, the Church of England, but Socinians, Arians, Deists and “atheists”, who were growing in importance every day, and seemed to be threatening Protestantism, both in its Nonconformist and Conformist forms. For Defoe, the Family Instructor was an opportunity to reassert Protestant religious orthodoxy, in particular the doctrine of the Trinity called into question by all kinds of free-thinkers.11 By contrast, the doctrinal contents of the plan for children’s religious education advocated by John Locke in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) would perfectly suit Socinians and Arians. According to Locke, children should only be inculcated with “a true Notion of God, as of the independent Supreme Being, Author and Maker of all Things, from whom we receive all our Good, who loves us, and gives us all Things”. It is needless “to distract their Thoughts with curious Enquiries into his inscrutable Essence and Being”.12
- 13 “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and cal (...)
- 14 “Cursed be the man that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people (...)
6For all the importance he attaches to the acquisition of the principles of the Christian faith, Defoe considers that this process is only one facet of children’s education, which also requires that the child should adopt religious and moral precepts. In The Family Instructor, Defoe insists that the child must learn the Ten Commandments very early and, above all, put them into practice. To be able to recite the Decalogue is not sufficient, as Tommy’s father points out: “We can all repeat the commandments by rote, and do every day at church say them over and over; but the little regard we have shown to them in the week, is too plain a proof of our thinking but little of what we say”. (FI, 100-101) Three Commandments catch Defoe’s attention more particularly: the third, which forbids people to profane God’s name; the fourth, which exhorts them to keep the Lord’s Day holy; and the fifth, which orders the child to honour his/her father and mother. Defoe highlights the necessity to prohibit the child from blaspheming. Parents are invited to follow the example of Margy, Jacky’s pious nurse, who, very early, gets her young charge to understand that God’s name must not be “taken in vain”. (FI, 600-612) If this rule is not respected, the child must be reminded that he/she is breaking the Third Commandment. (FI, 22) It is also possible to let him/her know that, in some cases, God chastises blasphemers by having them struck by lightning or having the ground open up before them. (FI, 175) The child should not follow the example of Mary, who lets out a torrent of swearwords when she fails to find her books in her closet, (FI, 66) but rather that of Jacky, who, not only never swears, but is very upset when a relative curses in his presence: “If his mother, or any of his sisters take God’s name in vain, if the boy be never so merry, he will turn grave and surly, and shew his disgust, and if they do it again, as sometimes the wicked creatures will do it on purpose to anger him; if it be his mother, he will cry, – if it be his sisters, he will fly at them, and tear their laces and headclothes, and any thing he can come at; and if it be any of his brothers, he will spit at them”. (FI, 602-603) Besides, parents must make sure that their child keeps the Lord’s Day holy from his/her earliest years. On that day, he/she must not go out to visit friends or get any recreation. Once the religious service is over, the child must stay at home to meditate, to pray and to read the Bible with his/her family, like Betty’s cousins, who were brought up in piety by their mother. (FI, 97-98) If, for some reason, the child fails to keep the Lord’s Day holy, the onus is on the parents to bring home to him/her the seriousness of the trespass by reminding him/her that he/she is breaking the Fourth Commandment. Mary does so when she realizes that her daughter has profaned the Lord’s Day by walking out in the public gardens: “Does not the Commandment say – ‘Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy, therefore God blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it?’” (FI, 87) In order to convince the child of sin, it is also advisable to refer to Isaiah 58:13-14,13 which confirms the injunction of the Decalogue. (FI, 118) Parents must see to it that their child submits to their authority. Here again, the Bible will prove most helpful. Parents are advised to require rebellious children to ponder over the Fifth Commandment, but also Deuteronomy 27:16 and Colossians 3:20.14 The duty of obedience of the child towards his/her parents is absolute; it suffers no exception. (FI, 80-81, 158, 556, 578, 580, 587-588) Betty, who is a very pious girl, is fully convinced of it: “I am not ashamed to own, that I obey my mother, and am willing to do so in every thing”. (FI, 81) Defoe urges parents to be very strict on the matter of Commandments. Any infringement against one of them is a sin against God. The child who commits it is therefore bound to be damned if he/she does not repent in due course. He/she is also likely to be chastised in this world, like George, who, for profaning God’s name, breaking the Sabbath, and defying his parents’ authority, is struck by a series of calamities, which are so many judgments passed on him by God: he loses one of his arms at war, squanders his property, falls ill, and dies unrepentant. (FI, 38, 269-274, 318-319, 331, 334-352)
- 15 Philip Goodwin, Religio Domestica Rediviva : or, Family-Religion Revived, London, 1655, (...)
- 16 Samuel Slater, An Earnest Call to Family-Religion: or, a Discourse Concerning Family-Worship(...)
7The importance attached by Defoe to the child’s learning of and respect for the Ten Commandments is in keeping with Puritan usage. The Puritan minister Philip Goodwin looks upon them as the cornerstone of the child’s education. He insists that “children [are] principally to be taught those TEN WORDS that God himself spoke in the ears of all the people, Exod. 20. And also those words that God spoke onely to Moses, and by him to be imparted to the people, and written of him for their profit”.15 According to the Nonconformist minister Samuel Slater, it makes all the more sense for children to learn the Ten Commandments as they bear the seal of reason. The onus is on parents to “show to [their children] the reasonableness of the Law of God, which hath been given out to Man for the Directory of his Life, and the Rule of his Actions, that it is pure, and perfect, and worthy both of our obedience, and our Love”. The Decalogue is intended for the child’s good: “Let [children] know, there is none of Gods Commandments but what doth evidently and directly make for Mans own good.” If the child breaks one of them, he or she will be punished by God for it, perhaps even in this world: “We frequently see that Sin doth carry its punishment along with it”.16
- 17 John Shower, Family Religion, in Three Letters to a Friend, London, 1694, 105-107.
- 18 Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications,  (...)
8The three Commandments particularly emphasized by Defoe are also stressed by Puritan educational writers. Quite predictably, the fifth (on the obedience due to parents) receives a large amount of attention. Its relevance is hammered home by the Nonconformist minister John Shower, who deplores children’s growing lack of submissiveness to and respect for their parents, hence his exhortation: “Let Children honour and obey their parents in the Lord: See that there be inward Reverence, Respect, and love: Despise not their Persons; slight not their Instructions, rebukes, or lawful Commands, or Government”. Children should “be content to have their own Wills crossed, that the Will of their Parents may be fulfilled; by not marrying without their knowledge, and consent; and by submitting to their just Reproofs, Rebukes, and Corrections; and obeying them especially in the things of God, and for the good of their Souls”. The parents’ condition cannot be used as a pretext for denying them the obedience due to them: “This Honour is due to Parents whether they be Rich or Poor, Wise or Weak, whether in vigorous health, or bowed down under Sickness, and the Infirmities of Old-Age: Remember still they are your parents”.17 That it is a duty for children to obey and honour their parents is also stressed by Richard Baxter, one of the most prominent Nonconformist theologians and educationalists of the 17th century: “Honour your parents both in your thoughts, and speeches, and behavior. Think not dishonourably or contemptuously of them in your hearts”. Like Defoe, Baxter considers that the children who disobey their parents are likely to be chastised for it before they reach the next world: “The dishonourers of parents have a special curse even in this life: and the justice of God is ordinarily seen in the execution of it; the despisers and dishonourers of their parents seldom prosper in the world”.18
- 19 Shower, 79.
- 20 Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (initially published as part of A Body of Practica (...)
9Although not as prominent as the Fifth Commandment, the Third (on blasphemy) is nevertheless mentioned in several educational writings. It is implicitly referred to by John Shower, who urges parents to “restrain their [children’s] tongues”.19 For his part, Reverend Thomas Watson, known for his many works of practical divinity, warns those children who might be tempted to break the Third Commandment against God’s judgments: “Sometimes God punishes swearing and blasphemy in this life […] German history tells of a youth, who was given to swearing, and inventing new oaths; the Lord sent a cancer into his mouth, which ate out his tongue, and from which he died”.20
- 21 The central position of the Fourth Commandment is highlighted by the Nonconformist biblical (...)
- 22 Slater, 231.
10The Fourth Commandment (on keeping the Lord’s Day) is discussed at greater length in the works of Nonconformist pedagogical writers owing to the centrality of Sabbath observance in Puritan thought and practice.21 Like Defoe, all of them exhort parents to make sure that their child keeps the Lord’s Day: “Take all possible care, that none under your Charge prophane the Lord’s-day: That is a day which God hath sanctified, by chusing it out of the rest of the days, and setting it apart for holy use”.22 Samuel Slater also provides parents with some more precise instructions to make the Sabbath a success for themselves and their children:
To do worldly business, to follow bodily recreations upon that day, is no less than Sacriledge, a robbing of God; Therefore take care of your families as to this; do not you set your Children […] about the affairs of your Callings on that day; see also that they mis-spend it not themselves, but in the performing acts of duty, preparing to wait upon God in the way of his Publick Ordinances, and thither do you carry them with you, not suffering them to stay lazying, sleeping or playing at home, or to go rambling abroad whither they themselves please.23
11Much is at stake, for, as Slater observes, “[t]he continuance of Religion in England doth under God very much depend upon a care of keeping the Sabbath”.24
- 25 William Fleetwood, A Discourse Concerning the Education of Children: with a Preface, Exhorti (...)
- 26 [Josiah Woodward], The Necessary Duty of Family-Prayer, and the Deplorable Condition of Pray (...)
12In A Discourse Concerning the Education of Children (1702), William Fleetwood, a future Anglican Bishop of Ely, considers the Puritan style of Sabbath observance to be too strict and a source of dread for children. He pleads for a more relaxed approach to keeping the Lord’s Day: “Away with that severe, sullen, morose religion, with which some Judaizing and mistaken Christians pass that day on one hand, and that prophane, contemptuous, court-like Observation of it on the other: but let a decent, Christian, and good natur’d Carriage, temper these Extreams; that your Children may neither dread the approach of Sunday above other Days, nor yet long for it, as a Day of sloth and idleness”. Besides, Fleetwood does not expect all children to keep the Lord’s Day, but only “as many of the Family as can be spar’d”.25 However, most Anglican educationalists adopted a stricter attitude on this issue. Like Defoe, the Church of England ministers Josiah Woodward and John Giffard stress the father’s duty to make sure that his child keeps the Lord’s Day: “There ought to be a peculiar regard to the Lord’s Day, in which the Master of the Family is requir’d, by the express law of God, to look to all within his Gates […], as in the Fourth Commandment”.26 According to Archbishop Tillotson, Sabbath observance is all the more necessary for children as they usually have little time to devote to religion during the week.
- 27 Tillotson, 46, 84.
- 28 Locke, 212 (§ 157).
- 29 John W. and Jean S. Yolton, “Introduction”, in Locke, 26.
13Besides, Tillotson points out the importance of the Decalogue as a guide for the child: “Children are to be carefully inform’d that […] God will love and reward those who do his will and keep his commandments, but will execute a dreadful punishment upon the workers of iniquity and the willful transgressors of his laws”.27 The role of the Decalogue in the child’s education is thus stressed by both Nonconformist and Conformist writers. Locke also considers that the child must learn the Ten Commandments and abide by them.28 However, when he mentions the obligation to respect God’s laws, he is thinking of natural laws, given to man by God and accessible through reason, rather than the Decalogue.29
14Not only must the child know who God is and obey Him, but he/she must also honour and glorify Him. Defoe asks parents to take their child to the Sunday service as soon as he/she can walk. This is a most serious mission, which should not be cancelled for futile reasons, such as those put forward by Tommy’s parents before their conversion: “When it rained, and I could not wear my best clothes, my mother would not let me go […] to church”. (FI, 28) Parents must make sure that their child listens to the minister attentively. He/she attends the Sunday service in order to receive God’s word, and not to be exhibited by his/her parents, as Tommy has been since he was six years old: “My mother has carried me to church a great many times; but I thought I was carried there only to show my new coat, and my fine hat. I don’t know what the man said when I went”. (FI, 27) Besides, it is desirable that the child should take part in family prayers, like Betty’s cousins. These prayers must be conducted by the head of family twice a day, in the morning and the evening. (FI, 96) Finally, it is incumbent upon parents to instil into their child the habit of praying in his/her closet when he/she gets up and before bedtime, preferably in a kneeling position. The child must learn the Lord’s Prayer and a few other prayers from pious books. But the praying should not be mechanical. It is necessary for the child to understand the meaning of his/her prayer and to pray with his/her heart. The child must also learn to address God freely in extempore prayers. (FI, 7, 11-12, 96, 105-106, 164-171, 184-185, 612, 619, 687)
- 30 Slater, 199-201.
- 31 Shower, 59.
15Defoe’s defence of extempore, or “conceived”, prayers and the desirability of having the child use this method of addressing God is in keeping with Puritan practice. The Nonconformist pastor Samuel Slater points out that “all should endeavour […] to pray ex tempore by the Spirit.” He expresses reservations about set forms of prayer: “I […] do not like the imposing of them; neither some Mens taking upon them to impose them on others, nor that any man should impose one upon himself”. Extempore prayer is a much more rewarding experience: “Conceived Prayer […] hath a greater and more direct tendency to the affecting both the Soul of him that utters it, and the Souls of those that join with him, and towards the raising of them up to a due warmth of Affection, and preserving them in it”.30 Similarly, John Shower claims that extempore prayer makes it possible for one to express one’s self “out of the abundance of the heart”.31
- 32 Giffard, 52-53.
- 33 Tillotson, 47. See also 127.
16On the other hand, this way of addressing God is severely censured by the Church of England minister John Giffard, who claims that the “spirit of prayer” does not lie in the “Extempore Effusions” of Nonconformists, but only in the “Devoted and Fervent Zeal” of Conformists. Children should not learn the doubtful art of extempore prayer, but be taught the prayers of the Church of England: “The most Excellent Prayers of our Church, besides other Books of Devotion, are an abundant Supply with some of which, we ought, therefore, to Furnish our Children […] and see that they daily be us’d”.32 However, most Conformist pedagogical writers adopt a more moderate stance, as does Archbishop Tillotson. While he recommends the use of set forms of prayer, he does not consider extempore prayer to be unlawful. Set forms are desirable mainly because most children cannot do without them: “[Parents] ought to take care that their Children […] be furnish’d with such short Forms of Prayer and Praise, as are proper and suitable to their capacities […]; because there are but very few that know how to be set about and perform these Duties, especially at first, without some Helps of this kind”.33
- 34 Slater, 199.
- 35 John Evans (ed.), The Obligations from Nature and Revelation to Family-Religion and Worship, (...)
- 36 Slater, 199.
17Conversely, although they favour extempore prayer, as seen above, most Nonconformist pedagogical writers do not look upon set forms of prayer as altogether illegitimate. They may be somewhat inadequate, but, for those who, for some reason, find it difficult to pray extempore, they serve a turn: “For them a form of Prayer is as necessary as a Crutch is for a lame Man”.34 The Nonconformist minister John Evans recalls that the Puritans of old were not averse to forms of prayer as such, and that several prominent Nonconformists, including Richard Baxter, Robert Murray and Matthew Henry, had composed sets of prayers.35 The stance of Nonconformist pedagogical writers on the issue is best summed up by Samuel Slater: “It is far better to pray with a form than not to pray at all, better to go to God with a good Prayer composed by another, than with his own nonsense”.36 This is also Defoe’s position.
- 37 Lewis Bayley, The Practice of Piety ; Directing a Christian how to Walk, that he may Please (...)
18In order to discover God, follow his precepts and glorify Him, the child must be able to read the Bible as early as possible. Defoe recommends making it the child’s first reading-book. But the child must not only be able to read the Bible or to recite some of its verses; he/she must also understand it. Defoe urges parents to explain the passages which strike them as rather obscure to their child. Furthermore, each time he/she immerses himself in the Bible, the child must get into the habit of praying to God so that the Holy Spirit may help him/her to penetrate its mysteries. (FI, 17, 23-27, 166, 192, 620) Besides the Bible, the child will read with profit some devotional books, such as The Practice of Piety or The Whole Duty of Man.37 He/she will also benefit from consulting … The Family Instructor, which, its author argues, is intended for the child as much as for his/her instructor. (FI, 4) On the other hand, the child should not be allowed to lay his/her hands on romances or play-books. Admittedly, the latter contain some truths, but they are immoral, and reading them is a waste of time, as Betty points out. As a result, the child should not be permitted to go to the theatre, all the more so as he/she might meet there people not to be associated with. (FI, 79-80, 116)
- 38 See, for instance, Baxter, 479.
- 39 Locke, 211-214 (§§ 156-159).
- 40 Baxter, 245. John Morgan argues that Puritans disliked drama more than any other type of lit (...)
19The emphasis which Defoe lays on the Bible – whether it be mere Bible reading or Bible study – is one of the hallmarks of Protestantism; it does not bear the exclusive seal of Puritanism (or Nonconformity). On the other hand, Defoe’s exhortation to have the child learn to read from the Bible belongs to a more specifically Puritan tradition.38 Anglican authors do not encourage it. Locke, for his part, strongly disapproves of it, on the grounds that the Bible is too complex to be used as a reading-book. It makes much better sense to have them learn to read from Aesop’s fables.39 Besides, as regards Defoe’s commendation of books of devotion, it is noteworthy that, of the two works which he praises, one – The Practice of Piety – was written by a Puritan, while the other – The Whole Duty of Man – was the most successful Anglican piece of devotional literature. This is further evidence of Defoe’s intention to address both Nonconformists and Conformists, and to close Protestant ranks against the common foes: Arians, Deists, “atheists”, and other free-thinkers. Finally, when Defoe recommends forbidding the child – presumably a teenager by then – from reading romances and play-books, he is taking up one of the main themes of Puritan pedagogical writers. For instance, Richard Baxter castigates “the reading of vain books, play-books, romances, and feigned histories”. He blames these works for “corrupting the fancy and affections, and breeding a diseased appetite, and putting [readers] out of relish to necessary things”.40 Conformist educationalists may have been slightly less vocal in their denunciation of young boys’ and girls’ attraction to romances and plays, but nevertheless such titillating works stood no chance of finding their way into the reading lists which they proposed for the edification of youth at the end of their pedagogical tracts.
- 41 It should be noted that Defoe is using the wax metaphor only to suggest the malleability of (...)
20Beyond the advice which Defoe gives parents concerning the notions to be transmitted to their child, it is possible to discern some general educational principles. First of all, the child’s education must start at the earliest possible age: three years old seems quite appropriate. It is at this age that Mary’s husband decides to acquaint his son with the first principles of the Christian faith. The child can build up an idea of God as soon as he/she can speak. It is necessary to instil this idea as soon as the creator endows him/her with the means to assimilate it, for the Devil is on the watch, ready for mischief, and if we do not see to it that we plant good in the heart of the child, Satan will take care to sow evil instead. (FI, 295-296, 301-302) Taking up Locke’s soft wax metaphor, Defoe stresses the malleability of the young child’s mind: “How soft! How pliable the minds of little children are! How like wax they lie, ready to be moulded into any form, and receive any impression, that the diligent application of parents thinks fit to make upon them!”41 (FI, 59) As years go by, this malleability disappears. The child becomes more difficult to educate. Thus, when the parents of George and Mary, both aged eighteen at the time, decide to forbid their children some activities which they used to practice, such as the reading of plays or walks in the public park on Sunday, the siblings jib at the idea. They point out that they are no longer little children: “We are past tutelage, out of our minority […] We are brought up now, she [our mother] cannot educate us over again”. Mary is indignant: “Are we to turn babies again, and say our catechism?” George and Mary’s mother herself admits that it would have been easier to educate them if she had started to do so before: “What would have been easily taught, and easily learned before, will be hard now both ways”. (FI, 94, 128, 130)
- 42 Locke, 103 (§ 34). See also 104 (§ 35), 108-111 (§ 38-44).
- 43 Goodwin, 396.
- 44 Josiah Woodward, The Great Charity of Instructing Poor Children. A Sermon Preached at St. Bo (...)
21The point of starting the child’s education early is stressed by Locke in Some Thoughts Concerning Education: “The great Mistake I have observed in people’s breeding their Children has been, that this has not been taken care enough of in its due Season; That the Mind has not been made obedient to Discipline and pliant to Reason, when at first it was most tender, most easy to be bowed”.42 However, this was hardly an original principle. Several English Protestant educationalists defended it before Locke. Among them, the Puritan minister Philip Goodwin: “’Tis good to begin early with children and to teach them betimes, before sin be too deeply settled, and Satan firmly possessed”. To bring his message home Goodwin uses botanical metaphors: “Old oaks and strong trees cannot be stirred, but young plants and tender twigs may be bowed, childhood being the fittest age to be taught”.43 Goodwin’s position is shared by the Church of England minister Josiah Woodward: “The Time of Youth is the most proper Time in Nature for good Instruction. Children are apt to catch at every Thing they hear, and to retain it, and repeat it. Their faculties are fresh and vigorous; and they perceive themselves void of Knowledge, and are greedy to take Information, and soft and capable of any Impression”.44
22Another principle hammered home by Defoe is that parents must set the right example to their child, as parental influence is likely to have a great impact on their behavior. While any bad example is bound to have harmful consequences on the child’s attitude, this is even truer if the bad example is set by his/her father or mother, since it provides the child with a pretext to justify his own reprehensible conduct, and cannot fail to undermine parental authority. (FI, 35-36, 55, 59, 303-304, 591, 665) George and Mary’s situation is a case in point. These siblings’ parents were far from exemplary until their conversion: they often broke the Sabbath; they kept going to the theatre; they did not pray to God regularly. Quite naturally, their children followed in their footsteps. Mary highlights her parents’ responsibility for her mistakes and her brother’s: “Who gave us the example? Who bred us up in that liberty? Did not my father and mother always go out with us to the park on Sundays, and go with us to the play? Nay, did they not lead us into it by their example? And did not my mother give me most of those very books she threw into the fire, out of her own closet?” (FI, 286)
- 45 Locke, 143 (§ 82). See also 107 (§ 37), 126 (§ 67), 133 (§ 71).
- 46 Goodwin, 405.
- 47 Shower, 75.
- 48 Baxter, 453.
- 49 Fleetwood, “The Preface”.
- 50 [Allestree], 190.
23In this Defoe brings nothing new to the debate. The importance of setting a good example for children is emphatically set out by Locke: “Of all the Ways whereby Children are to be instructed, and their Manners formed, the plainest, easiest and most efficacious, is, to set before their Eyes the Examples of those Things you would have them do, or avoid”.45 This same principle was vindicated by most English Protestant educationalists writing either before or at the same time as Locke. The Puritan Philip Goodwin admits that “our teaching will do little, if we do not what we teach”.46 His words are echoed by the Nonconformist minister John Shower: “All your good Precepts and Counsels will be as Water spilt on the ground, if not accompanied by a good Example”.47Like Defoe, the Nonconformist pastor Richard Baxter points out that “the example of parents is most powerful with Children, both for good and evil”.48 So does the Conformist cleric William Fleetwood, who gives parents the following piece of advice: “Whilst you are teaching, and your Children learning, all these Things, you must be sure, of all Things in the World, to go before them with a good Example; that is, to recommend, impress, and make your lessons Credible. They will understand, believe, and practice better, if they see you live as you teach them to live”.49 His fellow Anglican Richard Allestree insists on the evil consequences of parents’ setting a bad example for their child: “The child, that sees his father drunk, will surely think he may be so too, as well as his father. So he that hears him swear will do the like; and so for all other vices”.50
24The third pedagogical principle advocated by Defoe in The Family Instructor is that it is necessary to find a happy medium between laxity and excessive severity. Defoe urges parents to refrain from being too indulgent with their child and spoiling him/her. Undue familiarity should be avoided, failing which parents may lose the respect which their child feels for them. They must make sure that their authority is respected, (FI, 56-57, 84-85, 113-114, 562-569) but without abusing it. They are required to show patience and kindness towards their child. They should not shrink, when appropriate, from showing their affection, nay, from revealing their emotions to him/her – if need be by crying in the child’s presence. When the child makes a mistake, they must explain to him/her that the act is reprehensible and should not be committed again. If the child offends again, then it becomes necessary to admonish him/her. Only when explanations and admonition have failed can corporal punishment be considered, and even then, it must follow some very strict rules: one ought to make sure that the child has actually committed the crime of which he/she is accused; the punishment ought to be proportional to the crime, and never be excessive, (FI, 70-71, 258-259, 511-521, 523-543, 570-572, 697) and, above all, its sole objective should be the child’s good; it should not be administered in anger: “Passion destroys the very nature of correction”. (FI, 522)
- 51 Locke, 110-114 (§§ 43-52), 137-138 (§ 77), 142-147 (§ 81-87). On this feature of Locke’s ped (...)
- 52 Tillotson, 86, 107-109, 142-143, 146.
- 53 Fleetwood, 26-33.
- 54 Goodwin, 400.
- 55 See, for instance, C. John Sommerville, The Rise and Fall of Childhood, revised ed., N (...)
- 56 Slater, 225-226.
- 57 Shower, 96.
- 58 Philip Doddridge, Sermons on the Religious Education of Children. Preached at Northampton, L (...)
25When he pleads for a happy medium between laxity and undue severity in the relationships between parents and their child, Defoe is certainly at one with Locke. Most of the arguments Defoe uses to defend this position are to be found in Some Thoughts Concerning Education,51 but they also appear in Archbishop Tillotson’s sermons on the education of children. While he observes that “parents must take great care to maintain their Authority over their children” and that “Good Education” includes “Reproof and Correction”, Tillotson warns them against excessive severity. Correction should only be a last resort: “Where a mild and gentle Rebuke will do the business, Reproof may stop there without proceeding further: or when that will not do, if a sharp word and a severe admonition will be effectual, the Rod may be spared”. Like Defoe, Tillotson argues that “severity must be proportioned to the crime”. Besides, when parents finally decide to correct their child, they must not do it in anger: “How misbecoming a thing would it be to see a judge pass sentence upon a man in Choler? It is the same thing to see a Father in the heat and fury of his Passion correct his Child. If a father could but see himself in this Mood, and how ill his Passion becomes him, instead of being Angry with his Child he would be out of patience with himself”. Tillotson proposes an alternative approach to education: “The first experiment that should be made upon Children should be to allure them to their Duty, and by reasonable inducements to gain them to the love of Goodness; by Praise and Reward, and sometimes by Shame and Disgrace: And if this will do, there will be no occasion to proceed to Severity; especially not to great Severities, which are very unsuitable to Human Nature”.52 Tillotson’s fellow Conformist William Fleetwood recommends stricter educational methods. Emphasizing the sinfulness and willfulness of the child, Fleetwood considers that the parents’ first educational task consists in breaking the child’s will – even though this might boil down to “bending” it, rather than altogether “breaking” it if this job is done early enough. Sin can only be eradicated by correction, which is “necessary and unavoidable”. Fleetwood continually stresses “the necessity there is of bringing up […] Children under an early and severe discipline”.53 This emphasis on discipline and “breaking the child’s will” is reminiscent of Puritan educational methods, exemplified by Philip Goodwin’s propensity to resort to the rod: “Where nails do not easily enter, we strike the harder. Thus must we labour in teaching”.54 However, the disciplinarianism of Puritan parents and educationalists has often been overstated and caricatured.55 If the Bible requires them not to “spare the rod”, it also commands them not to “provoke their children to wrath”. The Nonconformist Samuel Slater urges parents to show some restraint in the way they discipline their children: “Provoke them not by giving them undue, unreasonable Correction; the rod is sometimes as necessary as bread, but it must always be used with a prudent love; let not your rod be too smart, nor your hand too heavy”; “Do not irritate your children by too much severity; remember the Authority you have over them is parental, therefore your government should be sweet and easy”.56 The Nonconformist John Shower is even more explicit in his rejection of harsh treatment. Like Defoe, he pleads for a happy medium between fond laxness and excessive strictness: “Beg of God to teach you the true Medium between the Errours of Education, on either Extreme; either that of humouring [children] in Vanity, and indulging them in Sin, or that of Frowardness, Harshness, and too much Severity”.57 So does the 18th-century Nonconformist minister Philip Doddridge, who would obviously have sympathized with Defoe’s lachrymose Family Instructor (George’s father). Indeed, while he deplores the lack of parental discipline, Doddridge does not object to parents’ crying in the presence of their child to show affection or compassion: “If tears should rise while you are speaking, do not suppress them; there is a language in them, which may perhaps affect beyond words. A weeping parent is both an awful and a melting sight”.58
- 59 For a discussion of the tension between Protestants’ belief in predestination and their trus (...)
- 60 Shower, 22.
26What are the ends of education according to The Family Instructor? It must enable the child to grow into a virtuous human being – Defoe perfectly agrees with Locke on this point. But, above all, education must turn the child into a good Christian, so as to avoid punishment by God in this world, and to ensure the salvation of his/her soul in the next. (FI, 30-31, 46, 99, 107-108, 521, 602-607) For Defoe, as for most 17th-century and early 18th-century Puritan and Anglican pedagogical writers, the aim of education is therefore mainly soteriological. Is a good education a guarantee of salvation? According to Protestant doctrine, it is not, in so far as salvation requires a spiritual conversion, which depends exclusively on God’s free grace.59 However, Defoe suggests that, in most cases, the child will be saved if he receives a good education. (FI, 595, 605) This position is also defended by most moderate Protestant educationalists, including the Nonconformist John Shower: “It might be hoped, that if Parents did their part in the use of God’s first appointed Means, to sanctify their Children; he would usually bless their Indeavours in order to his saving Grace”.60
27In The Family Instructor, Defoe provides parents with many pieces of advice concerning the – primarily religious – education of their child. The Puritan influence is obvious in his catechism, in which the notions of election and reprobation are stressed; it is also patent in his considerations on Sabbath observance, extempore prayers and the theatre. This would tend to confirm Irving N. Rothman’s thesis that The Family Instructor was primarily intended for Nonconformist readers. However, most of the recommendations expressed in this work, in keeping with Defoe’s stated irenic purpose, were not likely to offend Anglican readers. The theological positions and educational views which he expresses in The Family Instructor were shared, albeit with various degrees of support, by the majority of Conformist authors, Tillotson in particular. For Defoe, the Family Instructor was an opportunity to reassert Protestant religious orthodoxy, in particular the doctrine of the Trinity, called into question by all kinds of free-thinkers. Among the various pedagogical instructions given by Defoe in The Family Instructor, some, as we have seen, seem to bear the stamp of Locke’s educational thought, but most are not specifically Lockean, and appear in the works of other Protestant educationalists, some of which were published before Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693). The influence of Locke’s pedagogical thought on The Family Instructor may thus have been somewhat overstated by Richard A. Barney.
- 61 In a stimulating article, Andrew Cambers and Michelle Wolfe have shown that in 17th-century (...)
- 62 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, London: Panthers Book (...)
- 63 See, for instance, Matthew Henry, A Church in the House. A Sermon Concerning Family-Religion(...)
- 64 Evans, iv-v.
- 65 Daniel Defoe, A New Family Instructor; in Familiar Discourses Between a Father and his Child (...)
28Defoe’s efforts to promote children’s education in The Family Instructor were part of a wider attempt to revive family worship. This practice consisted of domestic catechizing, Bible reading, psalm-singing and praying. These activities were conducted by the head of family, sometimes assisted by his wife. Besides the master of the household, his wife and their children, the apprentices and servants who lived under their roof were also expected to join in the worship. Family religion was a Protestant phenomenon. Although it was more widespread among Puritans/Nonconformists, it was also practised by some Anglicans /Conformists.61 It reflected a process which Christopher Hill identified as “the spiritualization of the household”.62 While the father was invested with semi-priestly powers, the family was conceived as a church in miniature,63 but family worship was not generally intended to supersede public worship but rather to complement it.64 This practice had been quite widespread in the early days of English Protestantism, but, in the early 18th century, it was definitely on the decline, in spite of the recent efforts of several clerical authors to revive it. Like them, Defoe viewed family worship as the best way to stop the rise of irreligion and immorality which he diagnosed with concern in the English society of his time. Whether his endeavour to promote family religion was successful or not, The Family Instructor sold well. This induced Defoe to write a sequel to it entitled A New Family Instructor (1727),65 which was even more explicit than its predecessor in its denunciation of heterodox religious beliefs.