Lessons for Children and Teaching Mothers: Mrs. Barbauld's Primer for the Textual Construction of Middle-Class Domestic Pedagogy

Document Type


Publication Date



Come hither Charles, come to Mamma. Make haste. Sit in Mamma's lap. Now read your book. Where is the pin to point with? Here is a pin. Do not tear the book. Only naughty boys tear books. Charles shall have a pretty new lesson. Spell that word.Good boy. Now go and play.

These opening lines from her 1778 Lessons for Children announced Anna Aikin Barbauld's proposal for a meaningful middle-class feminine social role. Through images emphasizing a mutually empowering mother-son-teacher-learner interaction, her primer for home-based reading instruction attracted an enthusiastic Anglo-American audience well into the nineteenth century via continued repackagings by editors and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. Thus, while the sheer number of editions testifies to Barbauld's ongoing influence on the social construction of middle-class feminine subjectivity models, accurately characterizing the culture-shaping power exercised by her texts is complicated by significant variations in those same reissuings of the Lessons. With easily identifiable interventions ranging from such seemingly innocuous moves as modernizing (or, in some cases Americanizing) vocabulary to more overt reshapings of the physical presentation of the text, later versions of her primer series often looked quite different from the original. Even more significant, however, was the cumulative effect of efforts by a variety of editors, beginning with her niece Lucy Aikin, to subsume Barbauld and her pedagogy into the emerging, contested ethos of nineteenth-century, middle-class domesticity. In particular, whereas Barbauld herself had refrained from claiming in her Lessons "advertisement" to be offering a female teaching model intended for widespread replication in other middle-class homes, her later editors consistently characterized her text and its implied program as such