An Introduction to the Arts & Sciences Owned by Three 18th & 19th Century Women

August 20, 2018

An Introduction to the Arts & Sciences Owned by Three 18th & 19th Century Women

This illustration of the solar system is from the second edition of Richard Turner's An Easy Introduction to the Arts and Sciences, published in 1787. Our copy is particularly special, as it contains the ownership signatures of three different women —"Margarate [sic] Haymes", "Mary Ann White", and "Mary Hantt" — making it an excellent example of changes in middle and upper class British women's education during the Georgian Era.

During the 16th and 17th centuries girls' education focused on practical skills such as "needlework, preserving fruit, making medicines for the household, and keeping accounts" (Martin, Wives & Daughters, p. 213). But during the Georgian era, while the goal was still to "produce girls who would be a credit to their parents, and would eventually make good marriages" (Martin, p. 213), a new emphasis was placed on polite learning, including history, art & literature, and natural philosophy, as a sign of social status.

An Easy Introduction to the Arts and Sciences, while not written specifically for young women, is a good example of an educational book that many British parents would have considered suitable for their daughters' educations. It covers a wide variety of subjects, including ancient and religious history, natural phenomena, astronomy, literature, grammar & rhetoric, geography, and mythology, and presents them all in a conventional philosophical framework emphasising respect for God and the contemporary social and religious hierarchy.

Its author, Richard Turner (1753-1788), was the son of the clergyman and educational writer of the same name. "His six extant published works were written primarily for the education of young people. The first, An heretical history, collected from original authors, in which is shewn the origin, doctrine, and changes of the several religious systems of the earlier Christian world, appeared in 1778... Subsequent general introductions to the arts and sciences, geography, and history were all either written ‘in series of letters to a youth at school’ or described as ‘adapted to the use of schools and academies’" (ODNB). An Easy Introduction to the Arts and Sciences was one of Turner's most popular works; published in 1783 it reached its 19th edition by 1825, being reprinted until at least 1832.

Much of the text is given in the conversational question and answer format that was popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This style reflected a growing female, middle class audience for this type of knowledge, as well as contemporary beliefs about the importance of informal conversation to children's mental training (Cohen, "Familiar Conversation", Educating the Child in Enlightenment Britain, pp. 99-116). 

In addition to the signature, this is a nice, unsophisticated copy in a contemporary binding. An Easy Introduction is an uncommon book, particularly in the first and second editions; Worldcat locates only two copies of the second edition and one of the first, all at the British Library.