Mrs Barbauld’s Evenings at home (1792-1796)
Evenings at home was published in six volumes from 1792 to 1796. At the time, there was no formal education system for children. There were charity schools for the poor, Sunday schools for children who worked during the week, free grammar schools and ‘dame’ schools, but the children of wealthier families were taught at home.
The Enlightenment prompted a ‘new pragmatism’ in home education and Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825) was one of several authors to respond innovatively to changes in the educational climate towards the end of the 18th century.
Barbauld revolutionised books for children. Her lessons and lectures, drawn from everyday life, take the form of lively conversations between a mother and child, or between a tutor and pupil, and all subjects are covered, from botany and zoology to mathematics, chemistry and astronomy. In keeping with Enlightenment ideals, each practical evening lesson encourages a spirit of enquiry and even making a cup of tea is shown to be ‘properly an operation of chemistry’.
Barbauld’s books endured for several generations – the rather distressed condition of our copy is not unusual for a children’s book of this age. Both volumes in the Devon and Exeter Institution have loose or detached boards, damaged spines, worn edges and corners and torn pages and endpapers – and they need a good clean. Evidently, many children have loved and treasured this book over the last two hundred years – now it needs your help!